Page images

scious of his superiority is only saying that he was conscious of what his opponents have never denied. In that species of composition, which gained him popularity, he had thon no rival, and has had no rival since, whose pretensions it would not be absurd to admit. Amidst many revolu. tions of taste, the judgment of all readers, learn ed and illiterate, has selected his papers as excelling in the milder graces of composition, and the fascinations of wit,

It may not, however, be improper to advert to one circumstance in his private history, which has of late been brought before the public, it is hoped with some exaggeration.

“ Narratur et prisei Catonis,

" Sæpe mero oaluisse virtus." Dr. JOHNSON has mentioned this failing with moderation and delicacy. "He (ADDISON) often sat late, and drank too much wine. In the bottle discontent seeks for comfort, cowardice for courage, and bashfulness for confidence. It is not unlike. ly that ADDISON was first seduced to excess by the manumission which he obtained from the servile timidity of his sober hours. He that foels oppress sion from the presence of those to whom he knows himself superior, will desire to set loose the powor's of conversation : and who, that ever asked succour from Bacchus, was able to preserve himself from being enslaved by his auxiliary ?"

The same fact has been related by others in coarser language, and with an apparent design to depreciate a character not easily assailable in other points. That Addison did, however, indulge too imuch in the pleasures of the tavern is reported. with great confidence, and an excuse has beon at. tempied, by attributing the vexations he thus un

deavoured to alleviate to the capricious conduct of his wife. An excuse for what is in itself wrong is generally, what it ought to be, very unsatisfactory. It were to be wished, therefore, that some cause could be discovered more adequate to the effect, than what has been commonly alleged. JOHNSON seems to consider Addison's propensis ty as an original habit, and this appears to me most consistent with probability. It was the vice of the day among the wits, and wits have seldom discovered that it is a vice.

As to Addison's domestic vexations, the case stands thus. After a tedious courtship he obtained the hand of the Dowager COUNTESS OF WARWICK, with whom he is said to have lived unhappily,* but of the nature of this unhappiness we have no information in any of the memoirs of his life, except hints that she presumed on the supe. riority of her rank. But to suppose that she despised or vexed Addison on that account will not supply the place of fact, and will obscure the few facts we possesss. We cannot easily imagine that any woman would think herself superior to Ad. Dison by a rank which in her was merely adventitious, for she was not of a noble family, and of which she had lost all but the bare title; and if we do form this theory, how can we reconcile the long admiration and incessant pursuit of such a woman with his knowledge of the world, and acute discernment of character? “If,” says an author to whoin I have often referred, “she was a woman of such a despicable understanding; that

t Mr. Tyers, in his unpublished Bssay on Addison's Life and Writings, says, “Holland-House is a large mansion; but could not contain Mr. ADDISON, the CountESS OF WARWICK, and one guest, Peace.” Addison became possessed of this house by his marriage, and dicd in it.

such a woman should have engaged, for years, the attention of so consummate a judge of human pature as Addison, is not to be imagined. Considering his character and accomplishments, and that at the time of his marriage he was a member of parliament, and soon after Secretary of state, the inequality of condition was not very great.*"

It is generally agreed, however, that in one way or other, she made his life uncomfortable; that he had frequent recourse to the society of his friends at a tavern; and that here he indulged to excess: and we may conjecture that in the character of such a man, this failing would soon be observed, and that they who reported it would probably not be anxious to lessen the extent or frequency of an indulgence which brought Addison for a time on a level with his inferiors. It is far more probable that he had always been fond of society, a fondness which cannot often be indulged with impunity, than that he had first recourse to the bottle as a cure for domestic vexa. lions. The latter supposition scems inconsistent with his general character. It is indeed a frequent remcdy, but principally with men of weak ininds and of low manners.

But whatever deviations of this kind might have been observed in Addison's conduct, there is reason to think they have been exaggerated, because they certainly were not accompanied by their usual effects, debasement of manners or morals. His religious principles remained unshaken: thosc principles had influenced his whole life: they appear predominant in all his writings, and they gladdened his latter days with screnity. Of this happy effect his biographers have recor



ded an instance so affecting and so salutary, that no plea of brevity can excuse the omission of it wherever his character is the object of contemplation. It was first related by Dr Youno, in "Conjectures, on Original Composition," from which it is here copied

" After a long and manly, but vain struggle with his distemper, Adison dliginigsed his plıy. sicians, and willi them all hopes of life. But will his hopes of lile he dismissed not his concern for the living, but sent for a youth nearly relatedl," (the Eart of WARWICK, who did not live long alier this alterting interview,) "and finely accomplished, yet not above being the better for good impressions from a dying friend. lle came; but lile now glimmering in the socket, the dying friend was silent. After a decent and proper pause, the youth said, 'Dear Sir, you gent Tor me : I believe, and I hope that you have some commands: I shall hold them most sacred.' May distant ages not only hear but feel the reply! Porcibly grasping the youth's hand, he soltly said, SEE IN WHAT PEACE A CHRISTIAN CAN belle spoke with difliculty and soon expia ted."

Appidon died on June 17, 1919, in the 48111 year of his age, leaving a daughter by the CounTasg of WARWIC#, of whom we are told that she was bred up with little veneration for his memo. ry, that she had a marked dislike to his writing, and an unconquerable aversion to the perusad uf them, that she discovered very early in lile as great an ulikeness and inferiority iu ADDISON in respret of filial sentiment, as ili point of 11derstanding, but that afterwards the conceived # great reverence for her father's memory, and

a suitable regard for his writings.* This lady died single, at an advanced age, a few years ago, and after her death, her father's library, which had been in her possession, was sold in Londont.

Addison's contributions to the SPECTATOR are ascertained on the best authority. The principal writers of this work were distinguished by signature letters: and much has been said of those adopted by ADDISON, because they form the name of the muse Clio:

“When panting Virtue her last efforts made,

You brought your Clio to the virgin's aid." But it is not very likely that Addison intended this compliment to his papers, and it has therefore been conjectured that his signatures refer to the places in which he happened to write, C. Chelsea, L. London, I. Islington, and 0. his of fice.

We have better authority for asserting, that no man could be more scrupulous in correcting both the errors of the press and such as had escaped him in the hurry of writing. Dr. WARTON relates, that the press was often stopped, that Addison might make a trilling correction. In the folio edition are many proofs of his being rather fastidious in little things, but when he had once corrected the press, he considered his business as completed; the alterations made afterwards, when the work was published in volumes, are very few and not very important. It ought also to be mentioned, that Addison was, in

general, singularly happy in the choice of his Mottos.

* Annotations on the TATLER, No. 235, edit. Oct. 1806. † See an account of this lady in the Gentleman's Mugazinc, vol. Ixvii. p. 256 and 385.

« PreviousContinue »