« AnteriorContinuar »
when all his prospects were for a time dark. ened by the death of William III.
which he preferred even to those of the Va- | preparing to enter on his honourable functions, tican. He then pursued his journey through a country in which the ravages of the last war were still discernible, and in which all men were looking forward with dread to a still fiercer conflict. Eugene had already descended from the Rhætian Alps, to dispute with Catinat the rich plain of Lombardy. The faithless ruler of Savoy was still reckoned among the allies of Louis. England had not yet actually declared war against France. But Manchester had left Paris; and the negotiations which produced the grand alliance against the house of Bourbon were in progress. Under such circumstances, it was desirable for an English traveller to reach neutral ground without delay. Addison resolved to cross Mont Cenis. It was December; and the road was very different from that which now reminds the stranger of the power and genius of Napoleon. The winter, however, was mild, and the passage was, for those times, easy. To this journey Addison alluded, when, in the ode which we have already quoted, he said that for him the Divine goodness had "warmed the hoary Alpine hills."
It was in the midst of the eternal snow that he composed his Epistle to his friend Montagu, now Lord Halifax. That Epistle, once widely renowned, is now known only to curious readers; and will hardly be considered by those to whom it is known as in any perceptible degree heightening Addison's fame. It is, however, decidedly superior to any English composition which he had previously published. Nay, we think it quite as good as any poem in heroic metre which appeared during the interval between the death of Dryden and the publication of the "Essay on Criticism." It contains passages as good as the second rate passages of Pope, and would have added to the reputation
of Parnell or Prior.
But, whatever be the literary merits or defects of the Epistle, it undoubtedly does honour to the principles and spirit of the author. Halifax had now nothing to give. He had fallen from power, had been held up to obloquy, had been impeached by the House of Commons; and, though his peers had dismissed the impeachment, had, as it seemed, little chance of ever again filling high office. The Epistle, written at such a time, is one among many proofs that there was no mixture of cowardice or meanness in the suavity and moderation which distinguished Addison from all the other public men of those stormy times. At Geneva, the traveller learned that a partial change of ministry had taken place in England, and that the Earl of Manchester had become secretary of state. Manchester exerted himself to serve his young friend. It was thought advisabie that an English agent should be near the person of Eugene in Italy; and Addison, whose diplomatic education was ow finished, was the man selected. He was
Anne had long felt a strong aversion, personal, political, and religious, to the whig party. That aversion appeared in the first measures of her reign. Manchester was deprived of the seals after he had held them only a few weeks. Neither Somers nor Halifax was sworn of the Privy Council. Addison shared the fate of his three patrons. His hopes of employment in the public service were at an end; his pension was stopped; and it was necessary for him to support himself by his own exertions. He became tutor to a young English traveller; and appears to have rambled with his pupil over great part of Switzerland and Germany. At this time he wrote his pleasing treatise on "Medals." It was not published till after his death; but seve ral distinguished scholars saw the manuscript, and gave just praise to the grace of the style, and to the learning and ingenuity evinced by the quotations.
From Germany Addison repaired to Holland, where he learned the news of his father's death. After passing some months in the United Provinces he returned about the close of the year 1703 to England. He was there cordially received by his friends, and introduced by them into the Kit-Cat Club-a society in which were collected all the various talents and accomplishments which then gave lustre to the whig party.
Addison was, during some months after his return from the Continent, hard pressed by pe cuniary difficulties. But it was soon in the power of his noble patrons to serve him effect ually. A political change, silent and gradual, but of the highest importance, was in daily progress.* The accession of Anne had been hailed by the tories with transports of joy and hope; and for a time it seemed that the whigs had fallen never to rise again. The throne was surrounded by men supposed to be attached to the prerogative and to the church; and among these none stood so high in the favour of the sovereign as the lord-treasurer Godolphin and the captain-general Marlborough.
The country gentlemen and country clergy. men had fully expected that the policy of these ministers would be directly opposed to that which had been almost constantly followed by William; that the landed interest would be favoured at the expense of trade; that no addi tion would be made to the funded debt; that the privileges conceded to dissenters by the late king would be curtailed, if not withdrawn; that the war with France, if there must be such a war, would, on our part, be almost entirely na val; and that the government would avoid
We are sorry to say that in the account which Miss Aikin gives of the politics of this period, there are more errors than sentences. Rochester was the queen's uncle; Miss Aikin calls him the queen's cousin. The battle of Blenheim was fought in Marlborough's third campaign; Miss Aikin says that it was fought in Marlborough's arose in 1703, between the two Houses, about Lord Halifax, with the dispute about the Aylesbury men, which was terminated by the dissolution of 1705. These mistakes, and four or five others, will be found within the space of about two pages, (i. 165, 166, 167.)
Miss Aikin says, (i. 121,) that the Epistle was writ-second campaign. She confounds the dispute which ten before Halifax was justified by the Lords. This is a mistake. The Epistle was written in December, 1701; the impeachment had been dismissed in the preceding June.
+ Miss Aikin misdates this event by a year, (i. 93.)
close connections with foreign powers, and, above all, with Holland.
But the country gentlemen and country clergymen were fated to be deceived, not for the last time. The prejudices and passions which raged without control in vicarages, in cathedral closes, and in the manor-houses of fox-hunting squires, were not shared by the chiefs of the ministry. Those statesmen saw that it was both for the public interest, and for their own interest, to adopt a whig policy; at least as respected the alliances of the country and the conduct of the war. But if the foreign policy of the whigs were adopted, it was impossible to abstain from adopting also their financial policy. The natural consequences followed. The rigid tories were alienated from the government. The votes of the whigs became necessary to it. The votes of the whigs could be secured only by further concessions; and further concessions the queen was induced to
rescued from oblivion by the exquisite ab surdity of three lines:
"Think of two thousand gentlemen at least, And each man mounted on his capering beast Into the Danube they were pushed by shoals. Where to procure better verses the treasurer did not know. He understood how to negotiate a loan, or remit a subsidy. He was also well versed in the history of running horses and fighting cocks; but his acquaintance among the poets was very small. He consulted Halifax; but Halifax affected to decline the office of adviser. He had, he said, done his best, when he had power, to encourage men whose abilities and acquirements might do honour to their country. Those times were over. Other maxims had prevailed. Merit was suffered to pine in obscurity; the public money was squandered on the undeserving. "I do know," he added, "a gentleman who would celebrate the battle in a manner worthy of the subject. But I will not name him." Godolphin, who was expert at the soft answer which turneth away wrath, and who was under the necessity of paying court to the whigs, gently replied, that there was too much ground for Halifax's complaints, but that what was amiss should in time be rectified; and that in the mean time the services of a man such as Halifax had described should be liberally rewarded. Halifax then mentioned Addison, but, mindful of the dignity as well as of the pecuniary interest of his friend, insisted that the minister should apply in the most courteous manner to Addison himself; and this Godolphin promised to do.
At the beginning of the year 1704, the state of parties bore a close analogy to the state of parties in 1826. In 1826, as in 1704, there was a tory ministry divided into two hostile sections. The position of Mr. Canning and his friends in 1826, corresponded to that which Marlborough and Godolphin occupied in 1704. Nottingham and Jersey were, in 1704, what Lord Eldon and Lord Westmoreland were in 1826. The whigs of 1704 were in a situation resembling that in which the whigs of 1826 stood. In 1704, Somers, Halifax, Sunderland, Cowper, were not in office. There was no avowed coalition between them and the moderate tories. It is probable that no direct communication Addison then occupied a garret up three tending to such a coalition had yet taken place; pair of stairs, over a small shop in the Hay yet all men saw that such a coalition was in- market. In this humble lodging he was sur evitable, nay, that it was already half formed. prised, on the morning which followed the Such, or nearly such, was the state of things conversation between Godolphin and Halifax, when tidings arrived of the great battle fought by a visit from no less a person than the Righ at Blenheim on the 13th August, 1704. By the Honourable Henry Boyle, then chancellor of whigs the news was now hailed with transports the exchequer, and afterwards Lord Carleton. of joy and pride. No fault, no cause of quar- This high-born minister had been sent by the rel, could be remembered by them against the lord-treasurer as ambassador to the needy commander whose genius had, in one day, poet. Addison readily undertook the proposed changed the face of Europe, saved the impe- task, a task which, to so good a whig, was rial throne, humbled the House of Bourbon, probably a pleasure. When the poem was and secured the act of settlement against foreign little more than half finished, he showed it to hostility. The feeling of the tories was very Godolphin, who was delighted with it, and pardifferent. They could not, indeed, without im- ticularly with the famous similitude of the prudence, openly express regret at an event so angel. Addison was instantly appointed to a glorious to their country; but their congratula- commissionership, with about two hundred tions were so cold and sullen as to give deep dis-pounds a year, and was assured that this apgust to the victorious general and his friends.pointment was only an earnest of greater faGodolphin was not a reading man. What-vours.
ever time he could spare from business he The "Campaign" came forth, and was as was in the habit of spending at Newmarket or much admired by the public as by the minisat the card-table. But he was not absolutely ter. It pleases us less on the whole than the indifferent to poetry; and he was too intelli-"Epistle to Halifax." Yet it undoubtedly gent an observer not to perceive that literature ranks high among the poems which appeared was a formidable engine of political warfare; uring the interval between the death of Dryand that the great whig leaders had strength- den and the dawn of Pope's genius. ened their party, and raised their character, by chief merit of the "Campaign," we think, is extending a liberal and judicious patronage to that which was noticed by Johnson-the manly good writers. He was mortified, and not with- and rational rejection of fiction. The first great out reason, by the exceeding badness of the poet whose works have come down to us sang poems which appeared in honour of the battle of Blenheim. One of these poems has been
*Miss Aikin says that he was afterwards Lord Orrery. This is a mistake, (i. 170.)
"Churchill, viewing where
Addison, with excellent sense and taste, de parted from this ridiculous fashion. He re served his praise for the qualities which made Marlborough truly great, energy, sagacity, mi
of war long before war became a science or a | detestable fashion was copied in modern times, trade. If, in his time, there was enmity be- and continued to prevail down to the age of tween two little Greek towns, each poured Addison. Several versifiers had described forth its crowd of citizens, ignorant of disci- William turning thousands to flight by his pline, and armed with implements of labour single prowess, and dyeing the Boyne with rudely turned into weapons. On each side ap- Irish blood. Nay, so estimable a writer as peared conspicuous a few chiefs, whose wealth John Philips, the author of the "Splendid Shill had enabled them to procure good armour, ing," represented Marlborough as having won horses, and chariots, and whose leisure had the battle of Blenheim merely by strength of enabled them to practise military exercises. muscle and skill in fence. The following lines One such chief, if he were a man of great may serve as an example:strength, agility, and courage, would probably be more formidable than twenty common men; and the force and dexterity with which he hurled his spear might have no inconsiderable share in deciding the event of the day. Such were probably the battles with which Homer was familiar. But Homer related the actions of men of a former generation-of men who sprang from the gods, and communed with the gods face to face-of men, one of whom could with ease hurl rocks which two sturdy hinds of a later period would be unable even to lift. He therefore naturally represented their martial exploits as resembling in kind, but far surpassing in magnitude, those of the stoutest and most expert combatants of his own age. Achillitary science. But, above all, the poet extolled les, clad in celestial armour, drawn by celestial coursers, grasping the spear which none but himself could raise, driving all Troy and Lycia before him, and choking the Scamander with dead, was only a magnificent exaggeration of the real hero, who, strong, fearless, accustomed to the use of weapons, guarded by a shield and helmet of the best Sidonian fabric, and whirled along by horses of Thessalian breed, struck down with his own right arm foe after foe. In all rude societies similar notions are found. There are at this day countries where the life-guardsman Shaw would be considered as a much greater warrior than the Duke of Wellington. Bonaparte loved to describe the astonishment with which the Mamelukes looked at his diminutive figure. Mourad Bey, distinguished above all his fellows by his bodily strength, and by the skill with which he managed his horse and his sabre, could not believe that a man who was scarcely five feet high, and rode like a butcher, was the greatest soldier in Europe.
Homer's descriptions of war had therefore as much truth as poetry requires. But truth was altogether wanting to the performances of those who, writing about battles which had scarcely any thing in common with the battles of his times, servilely imitated his manner. The folly of Silius Italicus, in particular, is positively nauseous. He undertook to record in verse the vicissitudes of a great struggle between generals of the first order; and his narrative is made up of the hideous wounds which these generals inflicted with their own hands. Asdrubal flings a spear which grazes the shoulder of consul Nero; but Nero sends his spear into Asdrubal's side. Fabius slays Thuris, and Butes, and Maris, and Arses, and the long-haired Adherbes, and the gigantic Thylis, and Sapharus, and Monæsus, and the trumpeter Morinus. Hannibal runs Perusinus through the groin with a stake, and breaks the
bone of Telesinus with a huge stone. This
the firmness of that mind which, in the midst of confusion, uproar, and slaughter, examined and disposed every thing with the serene wis dom of a higher intelligence.
Here it was that he introduced the famous comparison of Marlborough to an angel guid ing the whirlwind. We will not dispute the general justice of Johnson's remarks on this passage. But we must point out one circum stance which appears to have escaped all the critics. The extraordinary effect which this simile produced when it first appeared, and which to the following generation seemed in explicable, is doubtless to be chiefly attributed to a line which most readers now regard as a feeble parenthesis
"Such as of late, o'er pale Britannia pass'd.” Addison spoke, not of a storm, but of the storm. The great tempest of November, 1703, the only tempest which in our latitude has equalled the rage of a tropical hurricane, had left a dreadful recollection in the minds of all men. No other tempest was ever in this country the occasion of a parliamentary address or of a public fast. Whole fleets had been cast away. Large mansions had been blown down. One prelate had been buried beneath the ruins of his palace. London and Bristol had presented the appearance of cities just sacked. Hon dreds of families were still in mourning. The prostrate trunks of large trees, and the ruins of houses, still attested, in all the southern counties, the fury of the blast. The popularity which the simile of the angel enjoyed among Addison's contemporaries, has always seemed to us to be a remarkable instance of the ad vantage which, in rhetoric and poetry, the par ticular has over the general.
Soon after the Campaign, was published Addison's Narrative of his Travels in Italy, The first effect produced by this narrative was disappointment. The crowd of readers who expected politics and scandal, speculations on
Arne; and was performed with complete suc cess. Several passages long retained their po pularity, and were daily sung, during the latter part of George the Second's reign, at all the harpsichords in England.
While Addison thus amused himself, his prospects, and the prospects of his party were constantly becoming brighter and brighter. In the spring of 1705, the ministry were freed from the restraint imposed by a House of Com mons, in which tories of the most perverse class had the ascendancy. The elections were favourable to the whigs. The coalition which had been tacitly and gradually formed was now openly avowed. The great seal was given to Cowper. Somers and Halifax were sworn of the council. Halifax was sent in the following year to carry the decorations of the garter to the electoral prince of Hanover, and was ac
the projects of Victor Amadeus, and anecdotes | than it now does. Some years after his death, about the jollities of convents and the amours "Rosamond" was set to new music by Doctor of cardinals and nuns, were confounded by finding that the writer's mind was much more occupied by the war between the Trojans and Rutulians than by the war between France and Austria; and that he seemed to have heard no scanda. of later date than the gallantries of the Empress Faustina. In time, however, the judgment of the many was overruled by that of the few; and before the book was reprinted, it was so eagerly sought that it sold for five times the original price. It is still read with pleasure: the style is pure and flowing; the classical quotations and allusions are numerous and happy; and we are now and then charmed by that singularly humane and delicate humour in which Addison excelled all men. Yet this agreeable work, even when considered merely as the history of a literary tour, may justly be censured on account of its faults of omission. We have already said that, though rich in ex-companied on this honourable mission by Adtracts from the Latin poets, it contains scarcely dison, who had just been made under-secretary any references to the Latin orators and his- of state. The secretary of state under whom torians. We must add that it contains little, Addison first served was Sir Charles Hedges, a or rather no information, respecting the history tory. But Hedges was soon dismissed to make and literature of modern Italy. To the best of room for the most vehement of whigs, Charles, our remembrance, Addison does not mention Earl of Sunderland. In every department of the Dante, Petrarch, Boccaccio, Boiardo, Berni, state, indeed, the high churchmen were compelled Lorenzo de' Medici, Machiavelli. He coldly to give place to their opponents. At the close tells us, that at Ferrara he saw the tomb of of 1707, the tories who still remained in office Ariosto, and that at Venice he heard the gon- strove to rally, with Harley at their head. But doliers sing verses of Tasso. But for Tasso the attempt, though favoured by the queen, who and Ariosto he cared far less than for Valerius had always been a tory at heart, and who had Flaccus and Sidonius Apollinaris. The gentle now quarrelled with the duchess of Marlboflow of the Ticin brings a line of Silius to his rough, was unsuccessful. The time was not mind. The sulphurous stream of Albula sug- yet. The captain-general was at the height ot gests to him several passages of Martial. But popularity and glory. The low-church party he has not a word to say of the illustrious dead had a majority in Parliament. The country of Santa Croce; he crosses the wood of Ra- squires and rectors, though occasionally uttervenna without recollecting the Spectre Hunts-ing a savage growl, were for the most part in man; and wanders up and down Rimini without one thought of Francesca. At Paris, he eagerly sought an introduction to Boileau; but he seems not to have been at all aware, that at Florence he was in the vicinity of a poet with whom Boileau could not sustain a comparison, of the greatest lyric poet of modern times, of Vincenzio Filicaja. This is the more remarkable, because Filicaja was the favourite poet of the all-accomplished Somers, under whose protection Addison travelled, and to whom the account of the Travels is dedicated. The truth is, that Addison knew little, and cared less, about the literature of modern Italy. His favourite models were Latin. His favourite critics were French. Half the Tuscan poetry that he had read seemed to him monstrous, and the other half tawdry.
His Travels were followed by the lively opera of "Rosamond." This piece was ill set to music, and therefore failed on the stage; but it completely succeeded in print, and is indeed excellent in its kind. The smoothness with which the verses glide, and the elasticity with which they bound, is, to our ears at least, very pleasing. We are inclined to think that if Addison had left heroic couplets to Pope, and blank verse to Rowe, and had employed himself in writing airy and spirited songs, his reputation as a noet would have stood far higher
a state of torpor, which lasted till they were roused into activity, and indeed into madness, by the prosecution of Sacheverell. Harley and his adherents were compelled to retire. The victory of the whigs was complete. At the general election of 1708, their strength in the House of Commons became irresistible; and, before the end of that year, Somers was made lord-president of the council, and Wharton lord-lieutenant of Ireland.*
Addison sat for Malmsbury in the House of Commons which was elected in 1708. But the House of Commons was not the field for
* Miss Aikin has not informed herself accurately as to the politics of that time. We give a single specimen. We could easily give many. "The Earl of Sunderland," she says, "was not suffered long to retain his hard-won secretaryship. In the last month of 1708 he was dismissed to make room for Lord Dartmouth, who ranked with the tories. Just at this time the Earl of Wharton, being appointed Lord-lieutenant of Ireland, named Mr. not dismissed to make room for Dartmouth till June, Addison his chief secretary." (i 235.) Sunderland was 1710; and most certainly Wharton would never have been appointed lord-lieutenant at all, if he had not been ap pointed long before Sunderland's dismissal. Miss Aikin's mistake exactly resembles that of a person who should relate the history of our times as follows: "Lord John Russell was dismissed in 1839 from the Home-Office, to make room for Sir James Graham, who ranked with the tories; but just at this time Earl Fortescue was appointed lord-lieutenant of Ireland, with Lord Morpeth for his secretary." Such a narrative would give to posterity Queen Victoria's days.
rather a strange notion of the ministerial revolutions of
two great chiefs of parties. Pulteney, when leader of the opposition, and possessed of £30,000 a year, edited the "Craftsman.” Walpole, though not a man of literary habits, was the author of at least ten pamphlets; and retouched and corrected many more. These facts sufficiently show of how great im portance literary assistance then was to the contending parties. St. John was, certainly, in Anne's reign, the best tory speaker; Cowper was probably the best whig speaker. But it may well be doubted whether St. John did so much for the tories as Swift, and whether Cow per did so much for the whigs as Addison. When these things are duly considered, it will not be thought strange that Addison should have climbed higher in the state than any other En glishman has ever, by means merely of literary talents, been able to climb. Swift would, in all probability, have climbed as high, if he had not been encumbered by his cassock and his pudding-sleeves. As far as the homage of the great went, Swift had as much of it as if he had been lord-treasurer.
To the influence which Addison derived from his literary talents, was added all the influence which arises from character. The world, always ready to think the worst of needy political adventurers, was forced to make one exception. Restlessness, violence, audacity, laxity of principle, are the vices ordinarily
him. The bashfulness of his nature made his | thoughts, letters, answers, remarks, than these wit and eloquence useless in debate. He once rose, but could not overcome his diffidence, and ever after remained silent. Nobody can think it strange that a great writer should fail as a speaker. But many, probably, will think it strange that Addison's failure as a speaker should have had no unfavourable effect on his success as a politician. In our time, a man of high rank and great fortune might, though speaking very little and very ill, hold a considerable post. But it is inconceivable that a mere adventurer, a man who, when out of office, must live by his pen, should in a few years become successively under-secretary of state, chief secretary for Ireland, and secretary of state, without some oratorical talent. Addison, without high birth, and with little property, rose to a post which dukes, the heads of the great houses of Talbot, Russell, and Bentinck, have thought it an honour to fill. Without opening his lips in debate, he rose to a post the highest that Chatham or Fox ever reached. And this he did before he had been nine years in Parliament. We must look for the explanation of this seeming miracle to the peculiar circumstances in which that generation was placed. During the interval which elapsed between the time when the censorship of the press ceased and the time when parliamentary proceedings began to be freely reported, literary talents were, to a public man, of much more importance, oratorical talents of much less im-attributed to that class of men. But faction portance, than in our time. At present, the best way of giving rapid and wide publicity to a statement or an argument, is to introduce that statement or argument into a speech made in Parliament. If a political tract were to appear superior to the conduct of the Allies, or to the best numbers of the Freeholder, the circu-versy, his zeal was tempered by a regard for ⠀ lation of such a tract would be languid indeed truth, humanity, and social decorum; that no when compared with the circulation of every outrage could ever provoke him to retaliation remarkable word uttered in the deliberations of unworthy of a Christian and a gentleman; and the legislature. A speech made in the that his only faults were a too sensitive deli House of Commons at four in the morning, cacy, and a modesty which amounted to bashis on thirty thousand tables before ten. A fulness. speech made on the Monday is read on the Wednesday by multitudes in Antrim and Aberdeenshire. The orator, by the help of the short-hand writer, has to a great extent superseded the pamphleteer. It was not so in the reign of Anne. The best speech could then produce no effect except on those who heard it. It was only by means of the press that the opinion of the public without doors could be influenced; and the opinion of the public without doors could not but be of the highest importance in a country governed by parliaments; and indeed at that time governed by triennial parliaments. The pen was, therefore, a more formidable political engine than the tongue. Mr. Pitt and Mr. Fox contended only in Parliament. But Walpole and Pulteney, the Pitt and Fox of an earlier period, had not done half of what was necessary, when they sat down amidst the acclamations of the House of Commens. They had still to plead their cause before the country, and this they could do only by means of the press. Their works are now forgotten. But it is certain that there were in Girub street few more assiduous scribblers of
itself could not deny that Addison had, through all changes of fortune, been strictly faithful to his early opinions, and to his early friends; that his integrity was without stain; that his whole deportment indicated a fine sense of the becoming; that, in the utmost heat of contro
He was undoubtedly one of the most popular men of his time; and much of his popularity he owed, we believe, to that very timidity which his friends lamented. That timidity often prevented him from exhibiting his talents to the best advantage. But it propitiated Nemesis. It averted that envy which would otherwise have been excited by fame so splendid, and by so rapid an elevation. No man is so great a favourite with the public, as he who is at once an object of admiration, of respect, and of pity; and such were the feelings which Addison in spired. Those who enjoyed the privilege of hearing his familiar conversation, declared with one voice that it was superior even to his writings. The brilliant Mary Montagu said that she had known all the wits, and that Ad dison was the best company in the world. The malignant Pope was forced to own, that there was a charm in Addison's talk which could be found nowhere else. Swift, when burning with animosity against the whigs, could not but confess to Stella, that, after all, he had never known any associate so agreeable as Addison. Steele, an excellent judge of lively