Imágenes de páginas




RICHARD STEELE, though descended from Eng

lish parents, was born in Dublin, about the year 1675. His family was very respectable, and a branch of it possessed considerable landed property in the county of Wexford.

Of his father and mother we know little more than that he was a counsellor at law, and secretary to James the first duke of Ormond, and that she was a very beautiful woman, and of a noble spirit. For his parents Steele ever cherished the warmest gratitude and affection; nor is there a more pathetic passage in all his writings, than where he describes his sensation of grief for the loss of his father when yet but quite a child. "The first sense of sorrow I ever knew," says he, was upon the death of my father, at


which time I was not quite five years of age; but was rather amazed at what all the house

[ocr errors]

I re

meant, than possessed with a real understanding why nobody was willing to play with me. member I went into the room where his body lay, and my mother sat weeping alone by it. I had my battledore in my hand, and fell a beating the coffin, and calling Papa;' for, I know not how, I had some slight idea that he was locked up there. My mother catched me in her arms, and, transported beyond all patience of the silent grief she was before in, she almost smothered me in her embrace; and told me in a flood of tears, 'Papa could not hear me, and would play with me no more, for they were going to put him under ground, whence he could never come to us again? She was a very beautiful woman, of a noble spirit, and there was a dignity in her grief amidst all the wildness of her transport, which, me. thought, struck me with an instinct of sorrow, that before I was sensible of what it was to grieve, seized my very soul, and has made pity the weakness of my heart ever since."

[ocr errors]

Through the influence, of the Duke of Ormond, the patron of the family, and who was at that time one of the governors of the Charter-houseschool in London, Steele, whilst yet very young, was placed at that seminary, one of the most for

Tatler, No. 181.

tunate occurrences of his life, as it was here he first met Addison, with whom he formed an intimacy and friendship which death alone had power to interrupt.

From the Charter-house he removed, in 1692, to Merton College, Oxford, and his name stands at the head of the Postmasters admitted that year. His taste for elegant literature was in this place expanded and improved; and so much genius and diligence did he shew in the prosecution of his studies, that he obtained no little celebrity, as a scholar among his fellow collegians. His love for dramatic composition, which he afterwards indulged with so much success and reputation to himself, first discovered itself, while resident at Oxford; here he planned and finished a comedy, for which, as it is natural to suppose, being the first product of his muse, he entertained the highest opinion and regard. With eager hope and expectation he requested the criticism of Mr. R. Parker, one of his bosom companions; nor could he probably have intrusted his piece to better hands. The judgment of this gentleman immediately discovered its defects; his sentence condemned it to oblivion; and it tells highly to the credit of Steele that he submitted to the mortifying decision of his friend without a


It was in the year 1695, that he came before the bar of the public as an author and a poet. The death of Queen Mary furnished him a subject. It was, however, ill adapted to his powers, which were not calculated to shine in the higher departments of poetry, and was a proof that he knew not at that time where the strength of his genius lay. The Funeral Procession, for such was the title, has, notwithstanding some claim to notice. It paints the charity and compassion of the Queen, who had liberally relieved her famishing subjects during a dearth of provisions, in a very pleasing light. The following passage, which vividly represents the affliction of the poor for the loss they had sustained by her death, is not unworthy of transcription.

The poor, her first and deepest mourners are,
First in her thoughts, and earliest in her care;
All, hand in hand, with common friendly woe,
In poverty, our native state, they go,
Some, whom unstable errors did engage,
By luxury in youth, to need in age;

Some, who had virgin vows to wedlock broke,
And where they help expected, found a yoke;
Others, who in their want feel double weight,
From the remembrance of a wealthier state.
There mothers walk, who oft despairing stood,
Pierc'd with their infants' eager sobs for food;

Then to a dagger run, with threatening eyes,
To stab their bosoms, and to kill their noise.
But in the thought they stopt, their locks they tore,
Threw down their steel, and cruelly forbore.
The innocents their parents' love forgive,
Smile at their fate, nor know they are to live.

About this time our author had unfortunately imbibed a predilection for the army, and had embraced the resolution of joining it the moment he could obtain a suitable appointment. On this occasion he gave the first instance of a disposition which attended him through life, the unqualified preference of his inclination to his interest. Though he received every remonstrance against the scheme on the part of his friends, who had offered all their influence to promote him in a civil line, he was determined to carry his wishes into execution, and, failing to obtain a commission, he entered himself as a private in the horseguards. The immediate result of this rash step was the loss of his succession to a good estate in Ireland. His relation in the county of Wexford had made him his heir; but on learning the humiliating situation into which he had plunged himself, he instantly altered his will, and left his property to one whom he esteemed more worthy of the donation.

This event was so far from making any proper impression on the mind of Steele, that he ever

« AnteriorContinuar »