S WIFT'S wit makes us laugh, but it leaves us on the whole, perhaps, a little sad. Now we come to a satirist of quite another spirit whose wit, it has been said, "makes us laugh and leaves us good and happy."
Joseph Addison was the son of a Dean. He was born in 1672 in the quaint little thatched parsonage of Milston, a Wiltshire village, not far from that strange monument of ancient days, Stonehenge. When he was old enough Joseph was sent first to schools near his home, and then a little later to the famous Charterhouse in London. Of his schooldays we know little, but we can guess, for one story that has come down to us, that he was a shy, nervous boy. It is said that once, having done something a little wrong, he was so afraid of what punishment might follow that he ran away. He hid in a wood, sleeping in a hollow tree and feeding on wild berries until he was found and taken home to his parents.
At Charterhouse Joseph met another boy named Dick Steele, and these two became fast friends although they were very different from each other. For Dick was merry, noisy, and fun-loving, and although Joseph loved fun too it was in a quiet, shy way. Dick, who was a few weeks older than Joseph, was the son of a well-to-do lawyer. He was born in Ireland, but did not remain there long. For, as both his father and mother died when he was still a little boy, he was brought to England to be taken care of by an uncle.
From Charterhouse Joseph and Dick both went to Oxford, but to different Colleges. Dick left the University without taking his degree and became a soldier, while Joseph stayed many years and became a man of learning.
Joseph Addison had gone to College with the idea of becoming a clergyman like his father, but after a time he gave up that idea, and turned his thoughts to politics. The politicians of the day were always on the lookout for clever men, who, by their writings, would help to sway the people to their way of thinking. Already at college Addison had become known by his Latin poetry, and three Whig statesmen thought so highly of it that they offered him a pension of £300 a year to allow him to travel on the Continent and learn French and so add to his learning as to be able to help their side by his writing. Addison accepted the pension and set out on his travels. For four years he wandered about the Continent, adding to his store of knowledge of men and books, meeting many of the foremost men of letters of his day. But long before he returned home his friends had fallen from power and his pension was stopped. So back in London we find him cheerfully betaking himself to a poor lodging up three flights of stairs, hoping for something to turn up.
These were the days of the War of the Spanish Succession and of the brilliant victories of Marlborough of which you have read in the history of the time of Anne. Blenheim had been fought. All England was ringing with the praises of the great General in prose and verse. But the verse was poor, and it seemed to those in power that this great victory ought to be celebrated more worthily, so the Lord Treasurer looked about him for some one who could sing of it in fitting fashion. The right person, however, seemed hard to find, and the laureate of the day, an honest gentleman named Nahum Tate, who could hardly be called a poet, was quite unable for the task. To help the Lord Treasurer out of his difficulty one of the great men who had already befriended Addison suggested him as a suitable writer. And so one morning Addison was surprised in his little garret by a visit from no less a person than the Chancellor of the Exchequer.
A shy boy at school, Addison had grown into a shy, retiring man, and no doubt he was not a little taken aback at a visit from so great a personage. The Chancellor, however, soon put him at his ease, told him what he had come about, and begged him to undertake the work. "In short, the Chancellor said so many obliging things, and in so graceful a manner, as gave Mr. Addison the utmost spirit and encouragement to begin that poem, which he afterwards published and entitled The Campaign."
The poem was a great success, and besides being paid for the work, Addison received a Government post, so once more life ran smoothly for him. He had now both money and leisure. His Government duties left him time to write, and in the next few years he published a delightful book of his travels, and an opera.
Shy, humorous, courteous, Addison steadily grew popular. Everything went well with him. "If he had a mind to be chosen king he would hardly be refused," said Swift. He, however, only became a member of Parliament. But he was too shy ever to make a speech, and presently he went to Ireland as Secretary of State. Swift and Addison already knew each other, and Addison had sent a copy of his travels to Swift as "to the most agreeable companion, the truest friend, and the greatest genius of his age." Now in Ireland they saw much of each other, and although they were, as Swift himself says, as different as black and white, they became fast friends. And even later, in those days of bitter party feeling, when Swift left his own side and became a Tory, though their friendship cooled, they never became enemies. Swift's bitter pen was never turned against his old friend. Addison with all his humor and his satire never attacked any man personally, so their relations continued friendly and courteous to the end.
In the Journal to Stella we find many entries about this difficulty between the friends, "Mr. Addison and I are as different as black and white, and I believe our friendship will go off by this business of party. But I love him still as much as ever, though we seldom meet." "All our friendship and dearness are off. We are civil acquaintance, talk words of course, of when we shall meet, and that's all. Is it not odd?" Then later the first bitterness of difference seems to pass, and Swift tells how he went to Addison's for supper. "We were very good company, and I yet know no man half so agreeable to me as he is."
It was while Addison was in Ireland that Richard Steele started a paper called the Tatler. When Addison found out that it was his old friend Dick who had started the Tatler he offered to help. And he helped to such good purpose that Steele says, "I fared like a distressed prince who calls in a powerful neighbour to his aid. I was undone by my own auxiliary; when I had once called him in, I could not subsist without dependence on him."
This was the beginning of a long literary partnership that has
become famous. Never perhaps were two friends more different in
character. Yet, says Steele, long after, speaking of himself and
Addison, "There never was a more strict friendship than between
those gentlemen, nor had they ever any difference but what
from their different way of pursuing the same thing.
The one with patience, foresight, and temperate address, always
waited and stemmed the torrent; while the other often plunged
himself into it, and was as often taken out by the temper of him
who stood weeping on the brink for his safety, whom he could not
dissuade from leaping into
The Tatler, like Defoe's Review, was a leaflet of two or three pages, published three times a week. The Review and other papers of the same kind no doubt prepared the way for the Tatler. But the latter was written with far greater genius, and while the Review is almost forgotten the Tatler is still remembered and still read.
In the first number Steele announced that:—"All accounts of gallantry, pleasure and entertainment, shall be under the article of White's Chocolate-House; Poetry under that of Wills' Coffee-House; learning under the title of Grecian; foreign and domestic news you will have from Saint James's Coffee-House; and what else I have to offer on any other subject shall be dated from my own apartment."
The coffee-houses and chocolate-houses were the clubs of the day. It was there the wits gathered together to talk, just as in the days of Ben Jonson they gathered at the Mermaid Tavern. And in these still nearly newspaperless days it was in the coffee-houses that the latest news, whether of politics or literature or sheer gossip, was heard and discussed. At one coffee-house chiefly statesmen and politicians would gather, at another poets and wits, and so on. So Steele dated each article from the coffee-house at which the subject of it would most naturally be discussed.
Steele meant the Tatler to be a newspaper in which one might find all the news of the day, but he also meant it to be something more.
You have heard that, after the Restoration, many of the books
that were written, and plays that were acted, were coarse and
wicked, and the people who read these books and watched these
plays led coarse and wicked lives. And now a rollicking soldier,
noisy, good-hearted Dick Steele, "a rake among scholars, and a
scholar among rakes"
made up his mind to try to make things
better and give people something sweet and clean to read daily.
The Tatler, especially after Addison joined with Steele in
producing it, was a great success. But, as time went on,
although it continued to be a newspaper, gradually more room was
given to fiction than to fact, and to essays on all manner of
subjects than to the news of the day. For Addison is among the
greatest of our essayists. But although these essays were often
meant to teach something, neither Steele nor Addison are always
trying to be moral or enforce a lesson. At times the papers
fairly bubble with fun. One of the best humorous articles in the
Tatler is one in which Addison gives a pretended newly found
story by our friend Sir John Mandeville. It is perhaps as
delightful a lying tale as any that "learned and worthy knight"
ever invented. Here is a part of
"We were separated by a storm in the latitude of 73, insomuch that only the ship which I was in, with a Dutch and French vessel, got safe into a creek of Nova Zembla. We landed, in order to refit our vessels, and store ourselves with provisions. The crew of each vessel made themselves a cabin of turf and wood, at some distance from each other, to fence themselves against the inclemencies of the weather, which was severe beyond imagination.
"We soon observed, that in talking to one another we lost several of our words, and could not hear one another at above two yards' distance, and that too when we sat very near the fire. After much perplexity, I found that our words froze in the air before they could reach the ears of the persons to whom they were spoken. I was soon confirmed in this conjecture, when, upon the increase of the cold, the whole company grew dumb, or rather deaf. For every man was sensible, as we afterwards found, that he spoke as well as ever, but the sounds no sooner took air than they were condensed and lost.
"It was now a miserable spectacle to see us nodding and gaping at one another, every man talking, and no man heard. One might observe a seaman that could hail a ship at a league distance, beckoning with his hands, straining his lungs, and tearing his throat, but all in vain.
"We continued here three weeks in this dismal plight. At length, upon a turn of wind, the air about us began to thaw. Our cabin was immediately filled with a dry clattering sound, which I afterwards found to be the crackling of consonants that broke above our heads, and were often mixed with a gentle hissing, which I imputed to the letter S, that occurs so frequently in the English tongue.
"I soon after felt a breeze of whispers rushing by my ear; for those, being of a soft and gentle substance, immediately liquified in the warm wind that blew across our cabin. These were soon followed by syllables and short words, and at length by entire sentences, that melted sooner or later, as they were more or less congealed; so that we now heard everything that had been spoken during the whole three weeks that we had been silent; if I may use that expression.
"It was now very early in the morning, and yet, to my surprise, I heard somebody say, 'Sir John, it is midnight, and time for the ship's crew to go to bed.' This I knew to be the pilot's voice, and upon recollecting myself I concluded that he had spoken these words to me some days before, though I could not hear them before the present thaw. My reader will easily imagine how the whole crew was amazed to hear every man talking, and seeing no man opening his mouth."
When the confusion of voices was pretty well over Sir John proposed a visit to the Dutch cabin, and so they set out. "At about half a mile's distance from our cabin, we heard the groanings of a bear, which at first startled us. But upon inquiry we were informed by some of our company, that he was dead, and now lay in salt, having been killed upon that very spot about a fortnight before, in the time of the frost."
Having reached the Dutch cabin the company was almost stunned by the confusion of sounds, and could not make out a word for about half an hour. This, Sir John thinks, was because the Dutch language being so much harsher than ours it "wanted more time than ours to melt and become audible."
Next they visited the French cabin and here Sir John says, "I was convinced of an error into which I had before fallen. For I had fancied, that for the freezing of the sound, it was necessary for it to be wrapped up, and, as it were, preserved in breath. But I found my mistake, when I heard the sound of a kit playing a minuet over our heads."
The kit was a small violin to the sound of which the Frenchmen had danced to amuse themselves while they were deaf or dumb. How it was that the kit could be heard during the frost and yet still be heard in the thaw we are not told. Sir John gave very good reasons, says Addison, but as they are somewhat long "I pass over them in silence."
Addison and Steele carried on the Tatler for two years, then it was stopped to make way for a far more famous paper called the Spectator. But meanwhile the Whigs fell from power and Addison lost his Government post. In twelve months, he said to a friend, he lost a place worth two thousand pounds a year, an estate in the Indies, and, worst of all, his lady-love. Who the lady-love was is not known, but doubtless she was some great lady ready enough to marry a Secretary of State, but not a poor scribbler.
As Addison had now no Government post, it left him all the more time for writing, and his essays in the Spectator are what we chiefly remember him by.
The Spectator was still further from the ordinary newspaper than the Tatler. It was more perhaps what our modern magazines are meant to be, but, instead of being published once a week or once a month, it was published every morning.
In order to give interest to the paper, instead of dating the articles from various coffee-houses, as had been done in the Tatler, Addison and Steele between them imagined a club. And it is the doings of these members, their characters, and their lives, which supply subjects for many of the articles. In the first numbers of the Spectator these members are described to us.
First of all there is the Spectator himself. He is the editor of
the paper. It is he who with kindly humorous smile and grave
twinkle in his eye is to be seen everywhere. He is seen, and he
sees and listens, but seldom opens his lips. "In short," he
says, "I have acted in all the parts of my life as a looker-on."
And that is the meaning of Spectator—the looker-on. This
on-looker, there can be
little doubt, was meant to be a picture of
Addison himself. In a later paper he tells us that "he was a man
of a very short face, extremely addicted to
After Mr. Spectator, the chief member of the Club was Sir Roger de Coverley. "His great-grandfather was inventor of that famous country dance which is called after him. All who know that shire (in which he lives), are very well acquainted with the parts and merits of Sir Roger. He is a gentleman that is very singular in his behaviour, but his singularities proceed from his good sense, and are contradictions to the manners of the world, only as he thinks the world is in the wrong." He was careless of fashion in dress, and wore a coat and doublet which, he used laughingly to say, had been in and out twelve times since he first wore it. "He is now in his fifty-sixth year, cheerful, gay, and hearty; keeps a good house both in town and country; a great lover of mankind; but there is such a mirthful cast in his behaviour, that he is rather beloved than esteemed. His tenants grow rich, his servants look satisfied. All the young women profess love to him and the young men are glad of his company. When he comes into a house he calls the servants by their names, and talks all the way upstairs to a visit."
Next came a lawyer of the Inner Temple, who had become a lawyer not because he wanted to be one, but because he wanted to please his old father. He had been sent to London to study the laws of the land, but he liked much better to study those of the stage. "He is an excellent critic, and the time of the play is his hour of business. Exactly at five he passes through New Inn, crosses through Russell Court, and takes a turn at Wills' till the play begins. He has his shoes rubbed and his periwig powdered at the barber's as you go into the Rose."
Next comes Sir Andrew Freeport, "a merchant of great eminence in
the City of London." "He abounds in several frugal maxims,
amongst which the greatest favorite is, 'A penny saved is a penny
"Next to Sir Andrew in the Club room sits Captain Sentry, a gentleman of great courage, good understanding, but invincible modesty. He was some years a captain, and behaved himself with great gallantry in several engagements and at several sieges. But having a small estate of his own, and being next heir to Sir Roger, he has quitted a way of life in which no man can rise suitably to his merit, who is not something of a courtier as well as a soldier. The military part of his life has furnished him with many adventures, in the relation of which he is very agreeable to the company, for he is never overbearing, though accustomed to command men in the utmost degree below him, nor ever too obsequious, from an habit of obeying men highly above him.
"But that our society may not appear a set of humorists, unacquainted with the gallantries and pleasures of the age, we have among us the gallant Will Honeycomb, a gentleman who, according to his years, should be in the decline of his life. But having ever been very careful of his person, and always had a very easy fortune, time has made but very little impression, either by wrinkles on his forehead, or traces in his brain. His person is well turned, of a good height. He is very ready at that sort of discourse with which men usually entertain women. He has all his life dressed very well, and remembers habits as others do men. He can smile when one speaks to him, and laugh easily." He is in fact an old beau, a regular man about town, "a well-bred, fine gentleman," yet no great scholar, "he spelt like a gentleman and not like a scholar," he says.
Last of all there is a clergyman, a man of "general learning, great sanctity of life, and the most exact breeding." He seldom comes to the Club, "but when he does it adds to every man else a new enjoyment of himself."
This setting forth of the characters in the story will remind you a little perhaps of Chaucer in his Prologue to the Canterbury Tales. As he there gives us a clear picture of England in the time of Edward III, so Addison gives us a clear picture of England in the time of Anne. And although the essays are in the main unconnected, the slight story of these characters runs through them, weaving them into a whole. You may pick up a volume of the Spectator and read an essay here or there at will with enjoyment, or you may read the whole six hundred one after the other and find in them a slight but interesting story.
You know that the books many of your grown-up friends read most are called novels. But in the days when Joseph Addison and Richard Steele wrote the Spectator, there were no novels. Even Defoe's stories had not yet appeared, and it was therefore a new delight for our forefathers to have the adventures of the Spectator Club each day with their morning cup of tea or chocolate. "Mr. Spectator," writes one lady, "your paper is part of my tea equipage, and my servant knows my humour so well, that calling for my breakfast this morning (it being past my usual hour) she answered, the Spectator was not yet come in, but that the tea-kettle boiled, and she expected it every moment."
Thus the Spectator had then become part of everyday life just as our morning newspapers have now, and there must have been many regrets among the readers when one member of the supposed Club died, another married and settled down, and so on until at length the Club was entirely dispersed and the Spectator ceased to appear. It may interest you to know that the paper we now call the Spectator was not begun until more than a hundred years after its great namesake ceased to appear, the first number being published in 1828.
It was after the Spectator ceased that Addison published his tragedy called Cato. Cato was a great Roman who rebelled against the authority of Caesar and in the end killed himself. His is a story out of which a good tragedy might be made. But Addison's genius is not dramatic, and the play does not touch our hearts as Shakespeare's tragedies do. Yet, although we cannot look upon Addison's Cato as a really great tragedy, there are lines in it which every one remembers and quotes, although they may not know where they come from. Such are, for instance, "Who deliberates is lost," and
" 'Tis not in mortals to command success,
But we'll do more, Sempronius, we'll deserve it."
But although Cato is not really great, the writer was perhaps the most popular man of his day, and so his tragedy was a tremendous success. With Cato Addison reached the highest point of his fame as an author in his own day, but now we remember him much more as a writer of delightful essays, and as the creator or at least the perfecter of Sir Roger, for to Steele is due the first invention of the worthy knight.
Fortune still smiled on Addison. When George I came to the throne, the Whigs once more returned to power, and Addison again became Secretary for Ireland. He still wrote, both on behalf of his Government and to please himself.
And now, in 1716, when he was already a man of forty-four, Addison married. His wife was the Dowager Countess of Warwick, and perhaps she was that great lady whom he had lost a few years before when he lost his post of Secretary of State. Of all Addison's pleasant prosperous life these last years ought to have been most pleasant and most prosperous. But it has been said that his marriage was not happy, and that plain Mr. Addison was glad at times to escape from the stately grandeur of his own home and from the great lady, his wife, to drink and smoke with his friends and "subjects" at his favorite coffee-house. For Addison held sway and was surrounded by his little court of literary admirers, as Dryden and Ben Jonson before him.
But whether Addison was happy in his married life or not, one sorrow he did have. Between his old friend, Dick Steele, and himself a coldness grew up. They disagreed over politics. Steele thought himself ill-used by his party. His impatient, impetuous temper was hurt at the cool balance of his friend's, and so they quarreled. "I ask no favour of Mr. Secretary Addison," writes Steele angrily. During life the quarrel was never made up, but after Addison died Steele spoke of his friend in his old generous manner. Under his new honors and labours Addison's health soon gave way. He suffered much from asthma, and in 1718 gave up his Government post. A little more than a year later he died.
He met his end cheerfully and peacefully. "See how a Christian can die," he said to his wild stepson, the Earl of Warwick, who came to say farewell to his stepfather.
The funeral took place at dead of night in Westminster Abbey. Whig and Tory alike joined in mourning, and as the torchlight procession wound slowly through the dim isles, the organ played and the choir sang a funeral hymn.
"How silent did his old companions tread,
By midnight lamps, the mansions of the dead,
Thro' breathing statues, then unheeded things,
Thro' rows of warriors, and thro' walks of Kings!
What awe did the slow solemn knell inspire,
The pealing organ, and the pausing choir;
The duties by the lawn-robed prelate paid,
And the last words, that dust to dust conveyed!
While speechless o'er thy closing grave we bend,
Accept these tears, thou dear departed Friend!"
So our great essayist was laid to rest, but it was not until many years had come and gone that a statue in his honor was placed in the Poets' Corner. This, says Lord Macaulay, himself a great writer, was "a mark of national respect due to the unsullied statesman, to the accomplished scholar, to the master of pure English eloquence, to the consummate painter of life and manners. It was due, above all, to the great satirist, who alone knew how to use ridicule without abusing it, who, without inflicting a wound, effected a great social reform, and who reconciled wit with virtue, after a long and disastrous separation, during which wit had been lead astray by profligacy, and virtue by fanaticism."
Sir Roger de Coverley.
The Coverley Papers, edited by O. M. Myers.