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
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'
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
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,
"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
"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,
When the confusion of voices was pretty well over
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,
Next they visited the French cabin and here
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.
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
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
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
After Mr. Spectator, the chief member of the Club was
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
"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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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."
Books To Read
Sir Roger de Coverley.
The Coverley Papers, edited by