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Lord Lieutenant of Ireland; he was Keeper of the Irish Records; he was a Lord of Trade ; and finally he became full Secretary of State. When he retired from public life in 1718, he was granted a retiring pension of £1600. So far as is known, too, he performed his public duties faithfully and well.
All the while he remained a man of letters. In 1705 he published an account of his travels on the Continent. In 1707 he brought out an English opera, Rosamond. The failure of this is generally attributed to the badness of the music which was set to it;? whoever has had the courage to read the lines, however, must have found their flat triviality quite enough to account for their reception. All along, too, he published more or less political writing, of which the interest, if any, is merely historical. The writings which have made his name permanent in English literature were wholly different from those yet mentioned.
In April, 1709, Steele began to publish the Tatler. Originally meant to be a newspaper, in the form of gossipy notes on whatever transpired, and purporting to emanate from one Isaac Bickerstaff, an astrologer, lately invented by Swift, the Tatler gradually developed into a series of periodical essays Addison's first contribution to this series bears date of May
From that time until the last number of the Spectator, the periodical which succeeded the Tatler in 1711 and was published daily until December, 1712, Addison kept constantly producing essays, on all manner of topics, which
1 The music for Rosamond was composed by Thomas Clayton. For an account of his life, with further references to notices of him, see Dict. Nat. Biog., XI, 20–21. Hawkins (History of Music, V, 137 ff.) gives a technical criticism and some specimens of the score.
2 See Steele to Maynwaring, Steele’s Letters, London, 1787, II, 293 ff., and also Steele's preface to the Tatler. On Swift's use of the name Bickerstaff and on the Swift-Partridge controversy, see Arber's English Garner, VI, 469-502; for John Partridge, see Dict. Nat. Biog., XLIII, 428.
remain, by common consent, the masterpieces of this kind of literature.
In 1713 he brought out a tragedy called Cato. Though vastly admired at the time as a model of classic elegance, and popular for political reasons, it nowadays seems very dull. In 1714 the Spectatorwas revived for a few months. Addison's subsequent writings are generally similar in character to those which have already been named.
In August, 1716, he was married to the Countess Dowager of Warwick. Tradition has it that he was henpecked. He died at her residence, Holland House, on June 17, 1719.
The writings of Addison have a distinct individuality, traceable alike in the commonplace poems, travels, political works, Dialogues upon Medals, and so on, and in the far from commonplace essays which have made his name permanent. Apart from the individuality thus revealed, we have surprisingly little trace of his real temperament. The chief fact about it is that his friends were generally sincerely attached to him. Swift's Journal to Stella, for example, shows that Addison firmly retained the personal affection of a man who was at once far from amiable in disposition and generally a political opponent. Steele's letters, too, now and again show Addison in a friendly light; 8 but then Steele was a winning kind of person who at some time or another was sure to like everybody. What 1 See Bibliography, p. lii.
Friendly references to Addison in Swift's Journal (Swift's Prose Wks., ed. Temple Scott, London, 1897 ff., vol. II): p. 7 (9 Sept., 1710); p. 75 (14 Dec., 1710); p. 242 (14 Sept., 1711); p. 447 (28 March, 1712– 1713). See also two letters from Swift quoted in Miss Aikin's Life of Addison, I, 245, and in Aitken's Steele, I, 101.
3 Friendly references to Addison in Steele's letters: The Epistolary Correspondence of Sir Richard Steele, ed. John Nichols, London, 1787, II, 290, 340, 389, 479, 495-496, 499.
chiefly distinguishes Addison from Swift and from Steele is that while their journals and letters are so frank that before long we feel as if we knew the writers well, the extant letters of Addison are more impersonal than his published writings. Many of them, to be sure, are to people with whom he was on rather formal terms, and are therefore full of empty, conventional compliment. One, to an otherwise unknown gentleman, shows a spirit akin to that displayed in the more familiar one in which, on June 16, 1703, Addison declined to become travelling tutor to a son of the Duke of Somerset for so small a sum as a hundred guineas a year and expenses. The letter to the stranger runs as follows : 1
BLOIs, December, 1699. Sir,
I am always as slow in making an enemy as a friend, and am therefore very ready to come to an accommodation with you ; but as for satisfaction, I do not think it is due on either side when the affront is mutual. You know very well, that, according to the opinion of the world, a man would as soon be called a knave as a fool, and I believe most people would be rather thought to want legs than brains. But I suppose whatever we said in the heat of discourse is not the real opinion we have of each other, since otherwise you would have scorned to subscribe yourself, as I do at present,
Sir, your very, &c. To Monsieur L'Espagnol.
J. ADDISON. Occasionally, too, one comes across pleasantly humorous passages, like the following from a letter of 1702 thanking one Mr. Dashwood for the gift of a snuffbox :
You know Mr. Bays? recommends snuff as a great provocation to wit, but you may produce this letter as a standing evidence
1 Bohn, V, 328.
2 A character in the Duke of Buckingham's burlesque play The Rehearsal. Addison's memory, however, is at fault. See The Rehearsal, ii, 1: Bays. But I must give you this caution by the way, be sure you never take snuff, when you write. -Smith. Why so, Sir? Bays. Why, it spoil'd me once, egad, one of the sparkishest plays in all England.”
against him. I have, since the beginning of it, taken above a dozen pinches, and still find myself more inclined to sneeze than to jest. From whence I conclude that wit and tobacco are no: inseparable, or to make a pun of it, though a man may be master of a snuff box,
Non cuicunque datum est habere Nasum.1 In general, however, one may say that no surviving letter of Addison's is informal.
This fact is probably in itself characteristic. The trait for which Addison stands supreme in English literature is politeness; and one element of politeness is courteous personal reti
To bother people with one's own little affairs, though always tempting and sometimes amusing, is never precisely civil. At best it is the habit of confidential chat, not of society. That Addison even in his own time was what he remains in tradition, far more of a personage than one might have expected from his rank, seems partly due to the fact that he never permitted himself the luxury of unrestrained intimacy.
To some degree this may have been a matter of deliberate policy; to a greater extent it was temperamental. All accounts agree that he was naturally shy; though in a small company, where he felt at ease, he was often the best talker of all, he was silent in general society. There is a tradition, too, that under such circumstances he sometimes observed that custom of his time which sanctioned the use of wine as a mental stimulant to such a degree that honest gentlemen frequently went to bed with their boots on. Against this tradition, to be sure, may be set the familiar note of somebody who saw Addison at the first performance of Cato, and recorded that though “a very sober man,” he was compelled by the nervous depression which preceded the rise of the curtain to keep up his spirits
1 Not everybody can have a nose. - MARTIAL, Epigrams, i, 41, 18.
2 Cf. Swift's Journal to Stella, 1 Jan., 1710-1711; Spence's Anecdotes ed. 1820, pp. 199, 286; Tatler, ed. Nichols, London, 1797, IV, 300.
with burgundy and champagne. The one thing which seems clear is that Addison was constitutionally self-contained. Whatever his merits, he could never have been the sort of good fellow with whom everybody feels instantly at ease.
Such a temperament often gives rise to misunderstanding. Particularly when a shy man happens to be successful, he is often supposed to be far more deliberately self-seeking than is really the case. The very diffidence which is his burden is mistaken for cold-blooded prudence. Misunderstanding, however, is too mild a word for the best known contemporary attack on Addison - for the verses of Pope were certainly malicious. In Mr. Courthope's Life of Addison, the circumstances of the quarrel with Pope are adequately discussed. The real trouble appears to have been that Pope was jealous of Addison's literary success, and with characteristic malignity expressed his jealousy in these lines :
Yet then did Gildon 3 draw his venal quill;
1 See Spectator, ed. Gregory Smith, New York, 1897–1898, II, 323. But note that Dr. Johnson says (Lives, ed. Cunningham, II, 138), on the authority of Mrs. Porter, who played Lucia, that the author “wandered through the whole exhibition behind the scenes with restless and unappeasable solicitude.”
2 Chap. vii. See also Blackstone's note under “ Addison ” in Biographia Britannica ; Disraeli, Quarrels of Authors; and the references under “ Addison ” and “Pope” in Dict. Nat. Biog.
3 Charles Gildon (1665-1724) published anonymously, in 1714, A New Rehearsal, or Bays the Younger; containing ... a word or two on Mr. Pope's Rape of the Lock. Pope's accusation that Gildon had abused him in a life of Wycherley is apparently untrue. See Elwin's ed., III, 234, 537. Pope attacked Gildon in the Dunciad, iii, 1, 173.
4 John Dennis (1657–1734), critic and playwright. He attacked Pope in various “ Reflections” and “Remarks” on the Essay upon Criticism, Rape of the Lock, Dunciad, and the translation of Homer. Dennis's attack on Addison in Remarks on Cato (1713) is well known.