Page images


[ocr errors][graphic]


JOSEPH ADDISON. Born at Milston, Wiltshire, England, May 1, 1672; died at Holland House, June 17, 1719. A scholar of the Charterhouse, London, and at King's College, Oxford. He was the author of the tragedy “Cato," "Travels in Italy,” and of many famous contributions to the Spectator and Tatler, of which Richard Steele was editor.

Addison's style is simple, clear, and graceful; his literary work well-balanced and delicately finished.

In reading Addison, we meet a refined gentleman, of a calm and lofty mind, never ruffled, never morbid, never sharply sarcastic, of genial humor, always charitable and sweet-spirited.

Modern society owes a great debt to the press issues conducted by Addison and Steele. They lived in a rude age, when newspapers and pamphlets were usually coarse and vulgar; but the Tatler and the Spectator were prepared by them for intelligent and refined women, as well as for men.


Pallida mors aequo pulsat pede pauperum tabernas

Regumque turres, O beate Sexti !
Vitae summa brevis spem nos vetat inchoare longam.

Jam te premet nox, fabulaeque manes,
Et domus exilis Plutonia.

- HOR. OD. i. 4. 13.

With equal foot, rich friend, impartial Fate
Knocks at the cottage, and the palace gate:
Life's span forbids thee to extend thy cares,
And stretch thy hopes beyond thy years:
Night soon will seize, and you must quickly go
To storied ghosts, and Pluto's house below.


WHEN I am in a serious humor, I very often walk by myself in Westminster Abbey; where the gloominess of the place, and the use to which it is applied, with the solemnity of the building, and the condition of the people who lie in it, are apt to fill the mind with a kind of melancholy, or rather thoughtfulness, that is not disagreeable. I yesterday passed a whole afternoon in the churchyard, the cloisters, and the church, amusing myself with the tombstones and inscriptions that I met with in those several regions of the dead. Most of them recorded nothing else of the buried person, but that he was born upon one day, and died upon another; the whole history of his life being comprehended in those two circumstances that are common to all mankind. I could not but look upon these registers of existence, whether of brass or marble, as a kind of satire upon the departed persons; who had left no other memorial of them, but that they were born, and that they died. They put me in mind of several persons mentioned in the battles of heroic poems, who have sounding names given them, for no other reason but that they may be killed, and are celebrated for nothing but being knocked on the head. Γλαυκόν τε, Μέδοντά τε, Θερσίλοχόν τε.

Hom. Il. p. 216. Glaucumque, Medontaque, Thersilochumque. - VIRG. Glaucus, and Medon, and Thersilochus.

The life of these men is finely described in holy writ by “the path of an arrow," which is immediately closed up and lost.

Upon my going into the church, I entertained myself with the digging of a grave; and saw in every shovel-ful of it that was thrown up, the fragment of a bone or skull intermixed with a kind of fresh moldering earth that some time or other had a place in the composition of a human body. Upon this I began to consider with myself, what innumerable multitudes of people lay confused together under the pavement of that ancient cathedral; how men and women, friends and enemies, priests and soldiers, monks and prebendaries, were crumbled amongst one another, and blended together in the same common mass; how beauty, strength, and youth, with old age, weakness, and deformity, lay undistinguished in the same promiscuous heap of matter.

After having thus surveyed this great magazine of mortality, as it were in the lump, I examined it more particularly by the accounts which I found on several of the monuments which are raised in every quarter of that ancient fabric. Some of them

« PreviousContinue »