« PreviousContinue »
The Spectator's Club
Richard Steele and Joseph Addison
CASSELL AND COMPANY, LIMITED
RICHARD STEELE and JOSEPH ADDISON were almost of the same age. They were both born in the year 1672– Steele, & lawyer's son, in Dublin, about the 12th of March (1671, old style); Addison in a Wiltshire parsonage on the following ist of May. Steele had already lost both father and mother, and was very friendless, when he was sent to Charterhouse School as a boy on the foundation. There he first met Joseph Addison.
Addison came of a clerical family ; his father, Lancelot, had been a poor clergyman. His grandfather had held á poor living in Westmoreland. His mother was a clergyman's daughter. An uncle became Bishop of Bristol when that see gave the title of Bishop with an income of £400 a year. Addison's father, however, was an able man, and had a friend in Joseph Williamson, afterwards Sir Joseph, and a Secretary of State, wbo gave him the living of Milston, in Wiltshire, worth £120 a year. On this he had married, and the firstborn of the marriage was gratefully nanıed Joseph, after the patron who had made marriage possible. The same patron continued his good offices, and Lancelot Addison had become Dean of Lichfield when he sent his son Joseph to the Charterhouse.
Steele and Addison as schoolboys were alike in deepseated religious feeling, and in the possession of that genius which has made their names still pleasant in our ears. They differed greatly in external accidents of character. Steele, with an Irish warmth of kindliness, was frank, social, forgetful of himself ; Addison was reserved, shy, and, except in free intercourse with a few intimate friends, embarrassed by self-consciousness. These were mere differences of temperament that made each
friend more delightful to the other; the bond that held them friends for life came of their likeness in essentials.
At different dates, Addison and Steele went from school to different colleges at Oxford. Addison distinguished himself by scholarship, and excelled in writing Latin verse. He wrote also some pieces of English verse which Dryden printed in a volume of his “ Miscellanies," and he sent, in 1695, to King William, through Lord Somers, a paper of verses on the capture of Namur. In 1697, Addison sent to the other chief among Whig statesmen, Charles Montagu, who was himself a wit and scholar, some Latin verses on the Peace of Ryswick. In 1699, Somers and Montagu drew Addison from preparation for the Church by offering him a travelling allowance of £300 a year to enable him to prepare himself for diplomatic service, and he had received a first appointment when the death of King William put an end to Addison's allowance, and to public occupation for the time. Addison, however, continued his travels, probably as companion or tutor to a young gentleman. Before his return to England his father died, and a little money came to him that enabled him to pay, with interest, his college debts. After Addison's return to England, Charles Montagu, remembering how the promising young Whig had been drawn aside, by promise of old Whigs, from the career for which he had been intended, took an early opportunity of helping Addison to recover his foothold on the path he had been asked to choose. At Montagu's suggestion, Godolphin invited Addison to write a poem on the Battle of Blenheim, gave him at once a small office of £200 a year as a Commissioner of Appeal in the Excise, and promised more. The poem written upon such invitation was “ The Campaign," and upon its success Addison obtained further advancement.
Steele, at a time of public danger, had left college to enlist as a private in the Coldstream Guards, and had been made secretary to the colonel of the regiment, Lord Cates, who gave him an ensign's commission. guardsman, Steele had published, in 1701, his “Christian Hero : an Argument proving that no Principles but