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The first paper appeared on Thursday, March, 1, 1710-11; in it Addison gives an account of the birth, education, &c. of the SPECTATOR, and sketches the silent character he was to preserve, with great felicity of humour. The second, by STEELE, delineates the characters of the Club, or the dramatis persone of the work, the principal of whom is Sir Roger de COVERLEY. Dr. Johnson's remarks on this character demand our attention on many accounts.
“It is recorded by BUDGELL, that of the characters feigned or exhibited in the SPECTATOR, the favourite of ADDISON was Sir ROGER DE COVERLEY, of whom he had formed a very delicate and discriminated idea, which he would not suffer to be violated; and therefore when STEELE had shewn him innocently picking up a girl in the Temple, and taking her to a tavern, he drew upon himself so much of his friend's indignation, that he was forced to appease him by a promise of forbearing Sir ROGER for the time to come.
“ The reason which induced CERVANTES to bring his hero to the grave, para mi sola nacio Don Quixote, y yo para el, made ADDISON declare, with an undue vehemence of expression, that he would kill Sir Roger, being of opinion that they were born for one another, and that any other hand would do him
wrong. • It may be doubted whether ADDISON ever filled up his original delineation. He describes the Knight as having his imagination somewhat warped, but of this perversion he has made very lit
The irregularities in Sir Roger's conduct seem not so much the effects of a mind deviating from the beaten track of life, by the per-. petual pressure of some overwhelming idea, as
of habitual rusticity, and that negligence which solitary grandeur naturally generates.
“ The variable weather of the mind, the flying vapours of incipient-madness, which from time to time cloud reason without eclipsing it, it rerequires so much nicety to exhibit, that ADDISON seems to have been deterred from prosecuting his own design*.''
To this opinion the following judicious remarks may be opposed.
" With Johnson's masterly delineation of the peculiarity of Addison's humour,” says Doctor BEATTIE, “I know not how to reconcile some remarks he has made on the character of Sir RoGER DE COVERLEY; I am inclined to suppose, that the learned biographer had forgotten some things relating to that gentleman.
“He seems to think that Addison had formed an idea of Sir Roger which he never exhibited complete; that he has given a small degree of discomposure to the Knight's mind, but made very little use of it; that Sir Roger's irregularities are the effects of habitual rusticity, and of negligence created by solitary grandeur; and, in short, that Addison was deterred from prosecuting his own design with respect to Sir ROGER.
“Now I beg leave to observe, in the first place, that it never was, or could be, Addison's purpose to represent Sir ROGER as a person of disordered understanding. This would have made his story either not humorous at all, or humorous in that degree of extravagance, which Addison always avoided, and for avoiding which Dr. Johnson justly commends him. Sir Roger has peculiarities ; that was necessary to make him a
* Johnson's Life of ADDISON,
comic character; but they are all amiable, and tend to good: and there is not one of them that would give offence, or raise contempt or concern,
any rational society. At Sir Roger we never laugh, though we generally smile ; but it is a smile, always of affection, and frequently of esteem.
“ Secondly, I cannot admit that there is in this character any thing of rusticity (as that word is generally understood) or any of those habits or ways of thinking that solitary grandeur creates. No man on earth affects grandeur less, or thinks less of it, than Sir Roger; and no man is less solitary. His affability, good humour, benevolence, and love of society, his affection to his friends, respect to his superiors, and gentleness and attention to his dependents, make him a very different being from a rustic, as well as from an imperious landlord, who lives retired among flatterers and vassals. Solitary grandeur is apt to engender pride, a passion from which our worthy Baronet is entirely free ; and rusticity, as far as it is connected with the mind, implies awkwardness and ignorance, which, if one does not despise, one may pity and pardon, but cannot love with that fondness with which every heart is attached to Sir ROGER.
“ How could our author be deterred from prosecuting his design with respect to this personage? What could deter him? It could only be the consciousnes of his own inability, and that this was not the case he had given sufficient proof, by exemplifying the character so fully, that every reader finds himself intimately acquainted with it. Considering what is done, one cannot doubt the author's ability to have supported the character through a much greater variety
of conversations and adventures. But the SPECTATOR, according to the first plan of it, was now drawing to a conclusion; the seventh volume being finished about six weeks after the Knight's death ; and perhaps the tradition may be true, that ADDISON, dissatisfied with STEELE's idle story of Sir ROGER at a tavern (Spect. No. 410) swore (which he is said never to have done but on this one occasion) that he would himself kill Sir Roger, lest somebody else should murder him*."
No addition is necessary to this vindication of the character of Sir ROGER DE COVERLEY in the general; but it has not been attended to by ei. ther of these critics, that Sir ROGER was not the ereature of ADDISON's, but of STEELE's fancy; and it is not easy to discover why all writers on this subject should appear ignorant of a fact so necessary to be known, and so easily ascertained.f In Tickell's edition of ADDISON's works, and in every subsequent edition, (Dr. BEATTIE's not excepted) No. 2 is reprinted, but ascribed to STEELE, with an apology for joining it with ADDison's papers, on account of its connection with what follows. STEELE, in truth, sketched the character of every member of the club, except that of the SPECTATOR. The merit, therefore, of what Dr. JOHNSON calls “the delicate and discriminated idea,” or “the original delineation" of Sir Roger, beyond all controversy belongs to
* BEATTIE's Notes, ubi supra. BUNGELL relates this last story in one of the numbers of the BEE, at a time when the public was very little disposed to give him credit.
† “ Natural humour was the primary talent of ADDISON. His character of Sir ROGER DE COVERLEY, though far inferior, is only inferior to SHAKSPEARE's Falstaff.” Royal and noble Authors. LORD OR FORD's Works, vol. i. p. 590 art. Nugent, Note.
him, and the character of the Baronet, it must be observed, is in that paper very different from what 'Dr. Johnson represents. His “ singularities proceed from his good sense,” not, I allow, a very common source of singularities, in the usual acceptation of that word; and before he was “ crossed in love by the perverse widow, he was a gay man of the town."
And with respect to the care Addison took of the Knight's chastity, and his resentment of the story told in No. 410, which is certainly a deviation from the character as he completed it, we may observe, that the original limner represents him as “ humble in his desires after he had forgot his cruel beauty, insomuch that it is reported he has frequently offended in point of chastity with beggars and gipsies,” though he qualifies this by adding, that “this is looked upon, by his friends, rather as matter of raillery than truth.” He is represented as now in his fifty-sixth year, and the story therefore of his endeavouring to persuade a strumpet to retire with him into the country, as related in No. 410, some think by TICKELL, was certainly not very probable.
The truth appears to have been, that Addison was charmed with his colleague's outline of Sir Roger, thought it capable of extension and improvement, and might probably determine to make it in some measure his own, by guarding, with a father's fondness, against any violation that might be offered. How well he has accomplished this needs not to be told. Yet he neither immediately laid hold on what he considered as STEELE's property, nor did he wish to monopolize the worthy Knight. Sir ROGER's notion, that none but men of fine parts deserve to be hanged,” and his illustration of this curious position in No. 6, were