« PreviousContinue »
HISTORICAL AND BIOGRAPHICAL
If we are allowed to consider the popular Essay as a new species of composition, we may without hesitation affirm, that it arrived nearly at perfection in the hands of the first inventors. In real value as well as in estimation with the public, no work has ever exceeded that of which we are now to trace the history. The irregularities, whether of plan or execution, which may be discovered in the TATLER, are excluded from its immediate successor, which, although not altogether faultless, is more uniform in all the valuable purposes of instruction, and all the excellencies of style and invention. STEELE and AddiSon appear to have used the TATLER as a kind of exercise, a trial of skill, to determine what they could produce, and what the public expected, “ quid ferreant humeri, quid recusant," and having made suitable preparations, they entered conjointly on that structure which “should bear the name of ThE MONUMENT*," a work on which praise has been exhausted, and which we shall find it difficult to characterize without the repe
* Preface to the Tatler, Life of STEELE.
tition of acknowledged truths. Succeeding EsSayists have presented to the world lalvours of a similar kind both in purpose and accomplishment, which have justly entitled them to distinguished fame, but none of them have provoked or wished to provoke, any comparison with the general merit of the SPECTATOR. It has subsisted in the plenitude of its original popularity for nearly a century, and no composition merely human, has been so frequently printed and read. It has been so universally the delight of every youth of taste or curiosity, that perhaps our fondness for this work might be ranked among the prejudices of education, had it not stood the test of maturer years and fastidious criticism.
When STEELE had once secured the services of Addison, when he saw not only what they had produced, but what they might produce, he could not but review the imperfections and inequalities of the Tatler with a wish that his potent auxiliary had been called in sooner, and that instead of improving an indigested plan, he had been invited to take a share in one concerted with more regularity. It cannot be rash to conjecture that such reflections might pass in STEELE's mind, when he determined to conclude the Tatler, a measure which Swirt ignorantly attributes to scanziness of materials, or want of public encouragement. It appears from many parts of Swift's private correspondence, that he looked with a jaundiced eye on the labours of STEELE and AdDISON, and most probably envied a popularity gained by writings so remote from the genius of his own, and which, instead of promoting or opposing the turbulence of faction, instead of pulling down one ministry and setting up another, were calculated to lead the public mind to the
cultivation of common duties and social manners*.
It is stated on the same authority, as well as on that of TICKELL, that ADDISON was ignorant of the conclusion of the TATLER, which, if we allow, it appears to have been a circumstance of little importance; nor did the work “suffer much,” says JOHNSON,“ by his unconsciousness of its commencement, or his absence at its cessation, for he continued his assistance to Dec. 23, and the paper stopped on January 2.” If Swift or others, therefore, affected to be surprised that STEELE should conclude without giving Addison notice, it was a surprise that could not last long. It is indeed highly probable that STEELE immediately communicated with ADDISON on the subject, unless we were to suppose, contrary to all evidence, and all sense of interest and propriety, that he disregarded Addison's services, when chiefly he experienced the benefit arising from them, and discontinued the TaTLER that he might begin another work without his aid.
We have already seent that STEELE assigns as a reason for giving up the TaTLER, that he became known as the author: this, however, savours a little of the cant of authorship. He was known long before the TATLER had reached half its progress, as appears from the personal attacks made upon him by his contemporaries; but the length of the work affords one reason why it should not be protracted until it became too bulky, and a still better reason was, the design evidently formed of beginning a new paper. The event
• “I will not meddle with the SPECTATOR, let him fair sex it to the world's end. Swift's Works, crown 8vo. vol. xxiii. p. 158.
+ Pref. Hist. and Biog. to the TATLER.
proves that STEELE and Addison immediately formed the plan of the SPECTATOR, probably communicated to each other the first sketch of the club, and determined that the work should be free from political intelligence at least, if not from political discussion; and that each paper should consist of one entire Essay, unless when the subject required to be treated in the form of correspondence by themselves, or when real correspondence should be thought worthy of inser. tion.
Addison was prepared with ample resources, which STEELE must have known before he could consent to adventure on a daily paper, a task far beyond the abilities of any one man who had not secured the most copious supplies, or such assistants as might enable him to answer a demand to which temporary leisure and casual opportunity or aid never could have been adequate. Doctor BEATTIE* was once informed, but had forgot on what authority, lhat Addison had collected three manuscript volumes of materials. TICKELL says, perhaps with truth, “ that it would have been impossible for Mr. Addison, who made little or no use of letters sent in by the numerous correspondents of the SPECTATOR, to have executed his large share of this task in so exquisite a manner, if he had not ingrafted into it many pieces that had lain by him in little hints and minutes, which he from time to time collected, and ranged in order, and moulded into the form in which they now appear. Such are the Essays upon Wit, the Pleasures of the Imagination, and the Critique upon Miltont."
* Notes on the Life of Addison, prefixed to an edition of his works, by Dr. BEATTIE, 4 vols. 8vo. 1790, Edirburgh.
I TICKELL's Life of ADDISON.
The first paper appeared on Thursday, March, 1, 1710-11; in it ADDISON gives an account of the birth, education, &c. of the SpecTATOR, and sketches the silent character he was to preserve, with great felicity of humour.
The second, by STEELE, delineates the characters of the Club, or the dramatis persona of the work, the princi. pal of whom is SIR ROGER DE COVERLEY. Dr. Johnson's remarks on this character demand our attention on many accounts.
“ It is recorded by BUDGELL, that of the characters feigned or exhibited in the SPECTATOR, the favourite of ADDISON was Sir ROGER DE CoVERLEY, of whom he had formed a very delicate and discriminated idea, which he would not suf. fer to be violated; and therefore when STEELE had shewn him innocently picking up a girl in the Temple, and taking her to a tavern, he drew upon himself so much of his friend's indignation, that he was forced to appease him by a promise of forbearing Sir Roger for the time to come.
“ The reason which induced CERVANTES to bring his hero to the grave, para mi sola nacio Don
Quixote, y yo para el, made Addison declare, with an undue vehemence of expression, that he would kill Sir Roger, being of opinion that they were born for one another, and that any other hand would do him wrong.
“ It may be doubted whether Addison ever filled up his original delineation. He describes the Knight as having his imagination somewhat warped, but of this perversion he has made very litile use. The irregularities in Sir ROGER's conduct seem not so much the effects of a mind deviating from the beaten track of life, by the perpetual pressure of some overwhelming idea, as