« PreviousContinue »
MARCH 1, 1711.
"It was,” said Steele, recalling his slow and groping process preceded the first remembrance of his long friend- triumphant event. Nathaniel Butters, ship with Addison, and the warmest whom, oddly enough, no satiated vicof welcomes accorded to the poor and tim of the Press has yet connected fatherless boy at Lichfield, “it was an with the mystical number 666, had set unspeakable pleasure to visit or sit at a the ball rolling far back in 1622 with meal with that family.” And though his Weekly News, the first of that swarm during the last days of Addison's life of newspapers we read to-day with a somewhat heated disagreement on greediness but without respect. Hotthe contemporary peerage question foot after him came all the entirely ruffled their old intimacy, the two terrestrial Mercuries, until to John Dun. friends never had any difference of ton occurred in 1690 the happy thought opinion “but what proceeded from their of a sheet that should entertain the different ways of pursuing the same public with “all the most nice and cuthing,” and when they met, “talked as rious questions propounded by the inunreservedly as ever, without pressing genious of either sex.” Questions, that (what they knew impossible) to con- is, which will continue to be asked and vert each other.” The words come a answered until the last trump, or a little oddly, perhaps, from such an very fat Blue-book, shall resolve them ardent partisan as Steele, but he was once and for all. In 1704 Defoe's Regetting old when he wrote them, and view appeared, with its "Scandal Club." less eager than wise. Addison was In 1707 Steele was appointed editor of dead, and his own sun in the west. the London Gazette, and given the man Friendships as loyal, though few more and the office, the precedent and the opfamous than theirs, have brightened portunity all together, the Tatler was a the records of the irritable tribe of au- foregone conclusion. thors, but to none is the world under But many numbers of the Tatler a pleasanter obligation. It made their were to go by before it took its ripe and few years' collaboration in journalism final shape. Steele gradually dropped one of the most delightful things in lit- out mere news, even the tastiest piece erature. Day after day the two men, of which "loseth its flavor when it hath at one in their main object, without been an hour in the air,” and began to sign of jealousy, even of rivalry, kept swell out his little essays until they the shuttlecock of the Spectator deftly took up whole numbers. Before the bobbing over the net of public ap- Tatler set to tattling practically all proval; and when the game was fin- newspapers had been true to their ished it fell as naturally to the gener- name. They retailed in all its natural ous and impulsive heart of Steele to nakedness what meagre information give Addison all the glory as it has they could procure, and left reflection, fallen almost with one accord to their criticism, and commentary to their countless readers since to share it readers. "Isaac Bickerstaff” began equally between them.
deliberately peering into matters of Like most unusually happy achieve public taste-discourse, dress, behavior; ments, that of launching and keeping he took upon himself the censorship afloat the Spectator seems in retrospect of Great Britain, and set out frankly to as easy as it was inevitable. But a instruct men what to think, only a less difficult and dangerous business than trality, and was pery well versed in that of instructing them how to think. the Theory of an Husband, or But though in his lucubrations he was Father”—Mr. Spectator' himself, in a good deal more generous with his fact, made his bow to the world from physic than most editors of a later age Little Britain; and his għost; cartonhave had the courage or the funds to ized and beloved, has never since left dare to be, he endeared and won over the stage. bis readers with a judiciously generous Perhaps the most remarkable feature admixture of jam. If, then, Defoe of the old Spectator to a reader of the may be called the father, it is not present day is its admirable continuity. straining a point to call Steele the god- Number after number may be read at father, of English journalism. Ånd
à sitting, on subjects ranging from when with the eightieth number' of Babylon to Bouts Rimnés, from Platonic 'the Tatler Addison joined his old Love to Rope dancing, from "Tom, the schoolfellow, whose hånd he had al- Tyrant at the Coffee House' to the ready detected in what had gone be- Mohocks in Fleet-street and the Tombs fore, the infant was short-coated anà in Westminster Abbey;'ana the same well on its way to' fending for itself; rippling philosophy bears'them all on, well on its way, indeed, to the usurpa- with the same equable ease. Shrewa tion of that editorial “We” that was good-humor is the keynote, their score to prove, as time went by, more pow- the heart of man, “from the Depths of erful than Henry VIII., more capri- Stratagem to the Surface of Atrectacious than Elizabeth.
tion.” ""Is it not much better to be let So far as Steele's immediate purpose into the Knowledge of one's Selt than was concerned, he was in one thing at to hear what passes in Muscovy' or a real but easily avoidable disadvan- Poland ?" This, the least wearying tage. All his life he was a strong and branch of all human knowledge, they fearless, occasionally an extreme, party treat of without pomposity or flippancy, man. He could not, in his and, above all, without "the least imstrength, succeed in keeping politics propriety of language."
They are out of his paper. And so in part, rarely hurried' or professional. "They perhaps, for personal reasons connected scold without heat, preach without with Harley, and in part because Ad- anathematizing, satirize without bitterdison clearly perceived that a dispenser ness; and so much of a length they are, and critic of what is common to all so dexterously they oscillate between sociable humanity and nourishing to grave and gay, that one might almost both sexes is apt to lose in persuasive- talk of a Spectatorial metre. Brilliance ness and acceptability by any obvious is constitutionally intermittent, and bias to a particular party, on January many a newspaper has flared its unre2, with its 274th number, the Tatler turning way into extinction. But both came to a calm but glorious end. A Addison and Steele had talent in abund. few weeks afterwards, on March 1, ance to ballast their genius. So sure two hundred years ago, introduced by and deft was their guiding hand that Addison, now at leisure after the fall the Spectator could without danger afof the Whigs, the Silent Man, the ford to be rather ponderous now and Looker-on, the quiet, attentive fre again with poor Budgell, could burst quenter of all the humming Coffee into a transitory limelight with' poems houses, the Stander-by who had never by '“a great genius not ashamed to espoused any party with violence, who employ his wit in the praise of his was resolved to observe an exact neu Maker,” and could thin itself out oc
casionally with the namby-pambyisms alist whose rigidity must look to a of that minor poet, loyally befriended hereafter for its full recognition. by Addison, of whom the same "great Swift and Macaulay, neither of them genius” was afterwards to remark:- an exactly lovable man, had each his 'Twas all the ambition bis high soul own contemptuous fling at that “rakcould feel,
ish, wild, drunken Spark," "poor To wear red stockings, and to dine Dick," "the vilest of mankind." "He with Steele.
was only tolerable company when he Even Steele himself could at times ven- had a bottle in bis head.” To be tolture to thump the cushion a little more erable in any circumstances is not lustily than usual, and Addison enjoy given to us all. And a man of whom a few halcyon hours of lofty criti- it could be said warmly that he was cism. In the long run all was in a friend to the friendless, a father of keeping.
every orphan, and the most agreeable, It is a curiously blended personality and the most innocent rake that ever that is the secret of it all. And first trod the rounds of indulgence, a man, and last, what held the Spectator to- too, for whom the gallant young Lord gether and kept it going was the im- Finch could fight but could not speak, pulse and energy, the simple, frank, need have no dread of the world's and understandable humanity of Rich- judgment while it remains human. ard Steele. He was now on the bor- In judging Steele's contributions to ders of forty, had seen and been seen the Spectator, the fact that on him lay by the world. Always an Irishman, the burden of getting his daily sheet he had been a Guardsman, had fought out with promptitude and despatch a duel, written perhaps the only play must not be forgotten. Each was a that has ever been “damned for its web spun from within. The news of piety," had sought the philosopher's the day lent only a twig to fix it to. A stone (afterwards discovered in the few genuine letters from enthusiastic possession of Addison), and at one correspondents might be knit into a crisis risked his capital in an ingenious number. On one occasion a Mr. Bart, but unsuccessful effort to cheapen Lon- a dissenting minister, supplied a verdon salmon from an extortionate 5s. a sion of the “Song of Solomon" in pound. His was
an earthly story, rhymed couplets. But when supplies but it had a very real claim to a ran low Steele had often to write in heavenly meaning. There is always haste, while Addison could pause and in the world a numerous audience eager ponder and polish at leisure. If to for such a story, and a select few not this accident is due something of the less eager to approve its sad lessons. formlessness and desultoriness, as well And it is because in every sermon that as the spontaneity, dash, and gusto, of Steele preached-often in haste, at Steele's work it is also an additional length, and meanderingly-his absolute testimony to Addison's exquisite litsincerity is childlike and clear; because,
erary gift. For though Addison in whenever he had need of a warning he his show-pieces could, and undoubtedly would look within, was always self-con- did, take his time, we know from cerned but never self-conscious, that Steele himself that he could dictate bis his homilies may be tedious but are contributions "with as much ease and never thin and hypocritical, never hate freedom as anybody could write them ful. Weaknesses that bring their pun- down." Addison's was the very rare ishment on this side of the grave are grace of facility without thinness. harshly judged only by the rigid mor- Style is born, not made.
A man may
labor to clarify and disencumber; he cannot create his style.
It is a personal emanation. And if Steele's is the warm bodily presence in the Spectator, the spirituelle is Addison's. Both were indispensable. We may talk of the Spectator and bless Steele; but when it comes to reading it, we read for the most part Addison. Without him—its daintiest, its airiest, keenest, wittiest, its most searching, most blandly satirical—its bouquet is gone. Steele is companionable, face to face with us, hearty and downright, Addison is the artist-subtle, economical, aloof. Steele's easy, inventive mind frequently sowed the seed, Addison brought the bloom to perfection.
The jolly, careless "sketch in chalk" in No. 2 of Sir Roger, for instance, will not bear too close a scrutiny. It is not quite of one piece; Sir Roger is as yet only a stalking horse. Addison, in No. 106, receives an invitation “to pass away a month with him in the country," and at once the Squire steps out of the page to greet us, with a presence and individuality as living and real as any in English fiction. In a dozen lines he is an old friend, in a page he is immortal. Not even Steele, who had conceived the Knight, could refuse Addison the privilege of killing him off at last "to save him from being murdered.” The wonder is that either could have tolerated any kind of meddling with him. That limpid water-color, Will Wimble, again, is Addison's; his is the quintessence of the old beau, Honeycomb. The rest of the Club, Sir Andrew Freeport, Captain Sentry, the Batchelour of the Inner Temple, are only phantoms of the half-created. An ever-surprising purity of vision, a keen, whimsical insight, and a nimble, methodical faculty of observation characterize Addison's most trifling papers. His satire is simply a deft method of presenting his facts. He embalms the poor fly in the
flawless clarity of bis prose, detesting "the authors who by obscurity take pains to be ridiculous." By some miracle his fastidiousness and sensitiveness never betray him into prudery. The thinnest ice carries him without a creak. His sharpest censure is a suave irony delivered with a fastidiously affable sangfroid. Even in his atrocious gallery of Widows there is nothing Sour, nothing vindictive, Whatever his subject, he is free from sentiment, self-possessed, and however much in earnest, in earnest with a finish. Steele's pulpiteering might sometimes convict the sinner; Addison's better served to reassure and reestablish the righteous.
"Delicacy, virtue, and modesty were his avowed aim in his writings, but it was not merely an afterthought that added “discretion." The Secretary of State "who was born to be a Bishop," of whom it was said, too, that “when he turns to heaven, a Sabbath comes over that man's mind," often appears in full canonicals in the Spec tator, as also does the critic who in spite of their "horrifying habits" borrowed freely from the French, and the scholar who had written a Latin signally belauded by Boileau. To this cultured side of Addison are due the rather shallow essays on that tiresome old tandem, Imagination and Fancy, the elaborate appreciation of "Paradise Lost," and the eloquent but somewhat dispiriting description of the Pleasures of the State of Bliss we call Heaven. These, the dreams and the allegories, and the Oriental fantasias, "the saturnine" may best enjoy. "The mercurial,” the other of the two categories into which Addison divided his readers, will prefer the more approachable Mr. Spec, almost sheepishly shy before strangers, open and charming to intimates, and certainly on paper “the best company in the world.” This is the Addison who so frequently
Qeserted. his Bayle's Dictionary "to go country and listen to the great world abroad in search of game," who with without from behind a window. It is all his seriousness did not know what getting towards evening; candles are it is to be melancholy, who used to go gleaming in these teacup times. Gone on from Button's to, șit for five hours beyond recall is the glorious morning at a stretch, and, far into the of the Elizabethans, The bullion of night, among his cronies at a tavern. their noble prose has been thinned and on his own confession, it was odd twisted into an exquisite filigree. , The and uncommon company that de- comparison is difficult to avoid, though lighted Addison, and, fortunately for not less ungracious than it is unfair. posterity, to that serene philosopher at The Spectator deliberately set itself least pine-tenths of the world must up to be the genial but candid physiþave seemed both. Nothing in life, cian of a sophisticated age, and even from area to attic, from bụçkle to those who had no need of its adyice wig, that concerned social man in the paid tribute to its skill, the vastness social London of that most social age of its practice, and its immense succame amiss to him.
It cannot entirely be acquitted But far beyond everything, else it of nursing its public, of innocent logwas the most beautiful Pieces in Hu- rolling, of, occasionally matching its map Nature” that never, never came morals to its advertisements. But all amiss to the Spectator. Twenty thou- its main policy was based upon consand.copies of it were sold in its hey- viction. “Much might be said on both day every morning, and Addison reck- șides,” was Mr. Spectator's famous oned that each of these beguiled at verdict on the sign of the Saracen, and least twenty readers. Of that two- the aphorism held good for him in all fifths of a million, how many, we won- problems where “virtue" was not conder, were of the fair sex? Without cerned. The Spectator stood soundly them the Spectator would have been and bravely for wholesomeness and Eden without Eve, Punch without common sense; its constant effort was Judy. Dulciniara, Hecatissa, Orestilla, to shine like a cheerful beacon above and the rest, fortuned and unfortu- the shoals and quicksands of life, to pate, their dress, their manners, their make
of the vicious. morals, tongues, hair, paint, vapors, England, in the words of Coleridge, caprices, “dangers,” naked shoulders, has been through the throes of three and shrunken souls were
silent revolutions—when the profespetual and inexhaustible inspiration. sions fell from the Church; when litWhether tired of marriage, irked with erature fell from the professions; when spinsterhood, or crossed in love, they the Press fell from literature. So far are preached at, flattered, warned, ca- as literature is concerned, the Specjoled, made fun of at least six days of tator, with all its limitations, marks the week.
high tide. Its eight volumes can be This intensive culture makes the at- read to-day with almost as much freshmosphere a little spent and rarefied. ness and delight as they had for their What men or gods are these? what readers from one end of England to maidens loth?" Human nature be- the other two centuries ago. How comes a little marionettish.
will our really popular contemporary indoors to the Spoctator into a long, journalism answer a like test two low, pretty parlor, and look at the hundred years hence?