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WHEN, having refreshed our memories by a reperusal of the Essays of Addison in an earlier volume of this series, we read the delightful “lucubrations,’ as their author quaintly styles them, in the present little volume, it is but just to remember that it was Richard Steele who gave to Addison the opportunity to speak those words of wit and wisdom which have charmed many generations of English readers in the pages of the Tatler, Spectator, and Guardian. To Isaac Bickerstaff belongs, exclusively, the honour of having initiated that form of periodical literature which so admirably suited the genius of his great collaborator; and although the latter maintains more effectively and consistently a higher level of style and exhibits a greater variety of subject than does the friend who so generously acknowledged his superiority, we can say with all truth that there is many an essay from Steele's pen which more than equals Addison at his best, and many also which are possessed of a peculiar charm —the charm of spontaneity and artless enthusiasm— which we sometimes miss in the more finely wrought
and more scholarly essays of the greater writer.
It is inevitable that the close relationship of the two men, both in their lives and work, should suggest comparison; but it can be safely instituted without disparaging, as has too often been the case, the claims of the one with the object of magnifying those of the other. It is strange that Steele, of all men, should have suffered in this way, for he was always ready, with a chivalry and generosity by no means common in the world of letters, to sink his own claims in the presence of the friend to whom, as he asserts over and over again, he owed so much. But with a fuller knowledge of Steele's life and labours, a higher appreciation of his character and of his work has come, and the misrepresentations of Lord Macaulay and the picturesque inaccuracies of Thackeray may be forgiven and forgotten. For, indeed, of the writers of the so-called Augustan Period, there is not one who speaks so straight from the heart, nor one who wins our affections so truly, as does Richard Steele. His delightful abandonment, his genial and buoyant spirit, his transparent sincerity, his unaffected chivalry, and his consistent advocacy of what is pure and good, combine to make him the pleasantest and most wholesome of companions. With all his faults, venial for the most part because they spring from an excess of good qualities, he will always be a most attractive personality to numbers of readers who, without abating one jot of their admiration for Addison, yet feel sometimes that the ethical superiority of the one chills, where the less disciplined humanity of the other warms the heart. If fidelity to friends, if generous acknowledgment of services rendered, if a readiness to make every reparation for injury unwittingly done—and Steele never wittingly offended—entitle a man to be called good, then Steele may indeed claim that high designation. As so many new facts in Steele's life have of recent years come to light, it may not be amiss to embody them in a brief outline of his strenuous and vigorous career. Although there are not a few features of his character which may be attributed to his Irish origin, it is remarkable that there is not a trace in his writings of what it is nowadays the fashion to call the Celtic spirit; nor indeed in those of any of the Irishmen who have taken a high place in the bead-roll of the great English writers. It would seem as if it were not to be in the land of its birth that Irish genius was to find inspiration; but Ireland in the eighteenth century was by no means a place to develop the Celtic or indeed any other worthy spirit. The few landmarks associated with the early years of the founder of The Tatler can now no longer be indicated. The little Dublin church of St. Bride, in which Richard Steele, the son of Richard Steele, a Dublin attorney, was baptized in 1672, has now been swept away; and the country house which his father owned at Monkstown, County Dublin, within sight of the castle in which Ludlow lived in the previous generation, can no longer be identified. Although the fact of Steele's Irish origin was a subject for contempt with two or three of his detractors—such as John Dennis and Mrs. Manley—he always referred to his origin and to his country as matters of which he was notashamed. “Whoever talks with me,’ he asserts on one occasion, “is speaking to a gentleman born'; and in The Tatler, under the name of Isaac Bickerstaff, he declares that, “My family, from which I am descended, came originally out of Ireland; this has given me a kind of natural affection for the country!” How differently does Swift view his connection with the city and country of his birth and residence For him they are ‘wretched Dublin, in miserable Ireland’; but then Swift's nature was not that of kindly Steele. With the events of his early childhood, his connection with Ireland practically ceased ; except it be for one of his many curious projects, called ‘the FishPool,' a scheme to bring salmon in a tank-boat from Ireland to the London market, which, like too many of Steele's enterprises, failed ignominiously, with the usual serious consequences to his own pocket. Steele was twice married. His first wife was a widow, a Mrs. Stretch, whose maiden name was Margaret Ford, and whose possessions in Barbadoes supplied her husband with the means to enter upon that unfortunate career of speculation and consequent disaster, of which so much has been made by his enemies. Careful investigation has however shown, that, although frequently in debt, Steele succeeded by hard work and determined effort in paying off his creditors; and we may fairly conclude that before his death his affairs were in such a state that his honest heart was not disturbed by thoughts which could not be otherwise than distressing to him. After two years of married life his wife died, and within a few months he married Mary or ‘Molly' Scurlock, the ‘Dear Prue' of a correspondence which is without a parallel in the range of amusing and artless letter-writing. Although an exacting beauty, a born coquette, fashionable, uneconomical, and given to diplomatic attacks of the “vapours, Mistress Mary
Scurlock must have been possessed of certain estimable qualities—not very apparent from her letters—to claim such unbounded devotion as she did from her warmhearted husband ; and it is remarkable that her peevishness and perversity never seriously shook Steele's faith in her or in her sex, and never affected the chivalrous and noble spirit which inspired the many excellent essays in which he champions the rights and condemns the wrongs of womankind ; and if we would understand the code by which Steele secured domestic bliss under such adverse circumstances, we have but to turn to that admirable essay on ‘Matrimonial Happiness, one of the most finished of his contributions, to learn the secret. It has been said, not without a touch of exaggeration, that “Addison would have died with narrow fame had he never had a friendship with Sir Richard Steele.’ If it is implied by this that Addison would never have “found himself,” but for the happy project of The Tatler and its two delightful successors, there is certainly an element of truth in the assertion. But the converse is no less true; for it is impossible to think that Steele, brilliant though he was, could, without Addison, have conducted for any length of time, or with any prospect of success, the periodicals which he had started—the casual assistance which he obtained from Swift, Budgell, and a few others, being quite a negligible quantity. It was under the stimulating influence of friendly rivalry that the best of both was given to the world; it is the happy combination of Steele's keen and enthusiastic initiative power, with Addison's scholarly and philosophic charm, that makes