Page images
PDF
EPUB

reproaches for inconsistency the knight replied, “Mr. Whiston, you can walk on foot, but I cannot.” Steele's spirit was, however, by no means formed for implicit submission; and for his opposition in 1719 to the peerage bill, supported by the ministry, he was deprived of his theatrical patent. ' He appealed to the public in a paper called “ The Theatre;” and in 1720 he pleaded the cause of the nation by a pamphlet against the pernicious South-sea scheme. He was restored in the next year to his authority at Drury-lane theatre, and soon after made an addition both to his fame and fortune by his comedy of “The Conscious Lovers,” first acted in 1722. This piece was received with extraordinary applause, and long stood at the head of comedies of the moral and sentimental class. The King niunificently presented him with 5001. for the dedication but his habitual pecuniary embarrassments still pressed upon him, and obliged him to sell his share in the playhouse. He had the additional misfortune of maintaining a lawsuit with the managers, which was decided against him. Broken now equally in fortune and constitution, he retired to his estate in Wales, where

;

a paralytic stroke first impaired his understanding, and finally terminated his life in September, 1729.

Sir Richard Steele appears to have been much beloved in society, for the benevolent warmth and openness of his disposition, and his entire frecdom from jealousy or malevolence. In point of understanding he is perhaps rather to be called a man of parts, than a man of genius, none of his productions rising higher than the efforts of a lively fancy, exercised on a variety of topics, but with little force or accuracy. His style and his train of thinking are equally lax and incorrect. He was a lover of virtue, and often painted it in pleasing and attractive colours, but neither his example nor precept were unexceptionable. His reputation as a writer seems to have been much indebted to the partnerships he formed ; but his name is certainly entitled to a place among those which throw peculiar lustre upon that period of English literature.

Such are the outlines of the life of SIR RICHARD STEELE. To have entered more into detail would have led us into a very wide field, which to most readers would have been barren of entertainment. The TATLER rose

from small beginnings. It does not appear that STEELE foresaw to what perfection this method of writing might be brought. The first paper, as has been already noticed, made its appearance on Tuesday, April 12, 1709, and the days of publication were fixed to be Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays.

STEELE appears to have begun the TATLER without any concert, or hope of other assistance than what might come spontaneously. His chief dependence was on his intelligence, which gave him a superiority over his contemporaries, who were merely news-writers, and had never discovered that a periodical paper might furnish instruction of a better and more lasting kind.

Addison is said to have first discovered STEELE to be the author of the Tatler by a criticism of his own introduced in No. 6. ADDISON was at this time in Ireland, secretary to Lord WHARTON, Lord Lieutenant, and gave STEELE an early proof of his regard by sending contributions to his work. In N° 18, the Distress of News-writers' is certainly his ; and the first part of the paper on sign-posts has very much of his manner. No 20 is likewise assigned to him. His

other påpers are assigned on indubitable authority.

Such an assistant as Addison was of incalculable value to STEELE; by his union his views became enlarged, and public' attention more generally drawn to the paper, and he soon rose to the dignity of a teacher of wisdom and morals. His improvement is visible from about No 82 or 83; N° 92, 95, 109, 132, may be referred to for their great excellence. STEELE's admirable papers on duelling were among the first successful attempts on that remnant of barbarism.

It is thought that some part of the popularity of the Tatlers, during their first publication, was owing to an opinion, that the characters described in an unfavourable light, and held up to ridicule or contempt, were real; and the authors, being aware that nothing can render a work more popular than the supposition that it contains a proportion of scandal or personal history, were not very anxious to deprive themselves of a hold on the public mind which they could, and had the virtue, to turn to the best of purposes."

Thirty-four of the TATLERS are attributed to STEELE and ADDISON in conjunction,

Forty-one are given to ADDISON alone, of which N» 132, 216, 220, 224, 250, 253, 256, 259, and 264, are admirable examples of that exquisite humour which afterwards became habitual in this author's writings, and flowed from a disposition of mind, easy, equable, and fertile in ridicule, yet delicate in sentiment and expression beyond any kind of wit that had hitherto appeared.

Among the occasional contributors to the TATLER, SWIFT has been often mentioned. He is said to have wrote, in N° 9, the • Description of the Morning :' in N° 32, the his. tory of Madonella : in N° 35, from internal evidence, the family of Ix: in N° 59, the letter signed Obadiah Greenhat: in N° 63, Madonella’s Platonic College: in No 66, the first article, on pulpit oratory: in N° 67, the proposal for a Chamber of Fame: in N° 68, a continuation of the same : in N° 70, a letter on oratory, signed Jonathan Rosehat: in N° 71, a letter on the irregular conduct of a clergyman; N° 230, entire ; in N° 238, the poetical description of a shower; and N° 258, a short letter on the words Great Britain.' These are all the communications that can with any confidence be ascribed to SWIFT.

« PreviousContinue »