Abbildungen der Seite
PDF
EPUB

edition of the Biographia, and still more in the second; but the life prefixed to his poems, in Dr. Johnson's edition, is, with few exceptions, the most faithful and the most candid. This biographer had long revered Addison's character, and in one of the RAMBLERS, in which he is about to offer some criticisms on Milton, he modestly admits that “he may fall below the illustrious writer that has so long dictated to the commonwealth of learning." Nor was this the compliment of a junior, willing to recommend himself by deference to those who were already in possession of the public opinion. Thirty years afterwards, when his praise had its weight and value, he vindicated the originality and utility of Addison's criticisms with equal spirit and justice. · The limits of this preface will not admit us to dwell so long as would be agreeable on a character which every man loves to contemplate. “Of Addison's virtue it is a sufficient testimony, that the resentment of party has transmitted no charge of any crime.” From the charge brought against him by the friends of Pope, he has been amply vindicated in the second edition of the Biographia, by Mr. Justice BLACKSTONE: but for the publication of PoPE's abusive character of him after his death, no apology has yet been offered. That Addison had the jealousy of an author is an accusation which he shares in common, with, perhaps, every author of celebrity*, and that he was con

* “How noble does the character of ADDISON appear, who though equally (with Pope) attacked by Dennis as a critic, yet never mentioned his name with asperity, and refused to give the least countenance to a pamphlet which Pope had written upon the occasion of Dennis's strictures on Cato ?” BOWLES's edition of POPE, vel. iv. p. 28. ADDIson's conduct to Pope is also ably vindicated in p. 39-44, and vol. vii. p. 292.

scious of his superiority is only saying that he was conscious of what his opponents have never denied. In that species of composition, which gained him popularity, he had then no rival, and has had no rival since, whose pretensions it would not be absurd to admit. Amidst many revolutions of taste, the judgment of all readers, learned and illiterate, has selected his papers as excelling in the milder graces of composition, and the fascinations of wit.

It may not, however, be improper to advert to one circumstance in his private history, which has of late been brought before the public, it is hoped with some exaggeration.

“ Narratur et prisci Catonis,

Sæpe mero caluisse virtus." Dr. Johnson has mentioned this failing with moderation and delicacy. “He (ADDISON) often sat late, and drank too much wine. In the bottle discontent seeks for comfort, cowardice for courage, and bashfulness for confidence. It is not unlikely that ADDISON was first seduced to excess by the manumission which he obtained from the servile timidity of his sober hours.

He that feels oppression from the presence of those to whom he knows himself superior, will desire to set loose the powers of conversation : and who, that ever asked succour from Bacchus, was able to preserve himself from being enslaved by his auxiliary?”

The same fact has been related by others in coarser language, and with an apparent design to depreciate a character not easily assailable in other points. That Addison did, however, indulge too much in the pleasures of the tavern is reported with great confidence, and an excuse has been attempted, by attributing the vexations he thus endeavoured to alleviate to the capricious conduct of his wife. An excuse for what is in itself wrong is generally, what it ought to be, very unsatisfactory. It were to be wished, therefore, that some cause could be discovered more adequate to the effect, than what has been commonly alleged. JOHNSON seems to consider Addison's propensi. ty as an original habit, and this appears to me most consistent with probability. It was the vice of the day among the wits, and wits have seldom disco. vered that it is a vice.

As to Addison's domestic vexations, the case stands thus. After a tedious courtship he obtained the hand of the Dowager COUNTESS OF WARWICK, with whom he is said to have lived unhappily,* but of the nature of this unhappiness we have no information in any of the memoirs of his life, except hints that she presumed on the superiority of her rank. But to suppose that she despised or vexed Addison on that account will not supply the place of fact, and will obscure the few facts we possesss. We cannot easily imagine that any woman would think herself superior to ADDISON by a rank which in her was merely adventitious, for she was not of a noble family, and of which she had lost all but the bare title; and if we do form this theory, how can we reconcile the long admiration and incessant pursuit of such a woman with his knowledge of the world, and acute discernment of character? “ If,” says an. author to whom I have often referred, “she was a woman of such a despicable understanding; that

# Mr. Tyers, in his unpublished Essay on Addison's Life and Writings, says, “Holland-House is a large mansion; but could not contain Mr. ADDISON, the COUNTESS OF WARWICK, and one guest, PEACE.” ADDISON became possessed of this house by his marriage, and died in it.

such a woman should have engaged, for years, the attention of so consummate a judge of human nature as Addison, is not to be imagined. Considering his character and accomplishments, and that at the time of his marriage he was a member of parliament, and soon after Secretary of state, the inequality of condition was not very great. *"

It is generally agreed, however, that in one way or other, she made his life uncomfortable ; that he had frequent recourse to the society of his friends at a tavern; and that here he indulged to excess: and we may conjecture that in the character of such a man, this failing would soon be observed, and that they who reported it would probably not be anxious to lessen the extent or frequency of an indulgence which brought Addison for a time on a level with his inferiors. It is far more probable that he had always been fond of society, a fondness which cannot often be indulged with impunity, than that he had first res course to the bottle as a cure for domestic vexations. The latter supposition seems inconsistent with his general character. It is indeed a frequent remedy, but principally with men of weak. minds and of low manners.

But whatever deviations of this kind might have been observed in ADDISON's conduct, there is reason to think they have been exaggerated, because they certainly were not accompanied by their usual effects, debasement of manners or morals. His religious principles remained unshaken: those principles had influenced his whole life : they appear predominant in all his writings, and they gladdened his latter days with serenity. Of this happy effect his biographers have recorded an instance so affecting and so salutary, that no plea of brevity can excuse the omission of it wherever his character is the object of contemplation. It was first related by Dr. Young, in “ Conjectures, on Original Composition," from, which it is here copied.

* BEATTIE.

“ After a long and manly, but vain struggle with his distemper, Addison dismissed his physicians, and with them all hopes of life. But with his hopes of life he dismissed not his concern for the living, but sent for a youth nearly related," (the EARL of WARWICK, who did not live long after this affecting interview, and finely accomplished, yet not above being the better for good impressions from a dying friend. He came; but life now glimmering in the socket, the dying friend was silent. After a decent and proper pause, the youth said, “Dear Sir, you sent for me: I believe, and I hope, that you have some commands: I shall hold them most sacred.'May distant ages not only hear but feel the reply! Forcibly grasping the youth's hand, he softly said, SEE IN WHAT PEACE A CHRISTIAN CAN DIE. He spoke with difficulty and soon expired.”

ADDISON died on June 17, 1719, in the 48th year of his age, leaving a daughter by the CounTESS of WARWICK, of whom we are told that she

up

with little veneration for his memory; that she had a marked dislike to his writings, and an unconquerable aversion to the perusal of them; that she discovered very early in life as great an unlikeness and inferiority to ADDISON in respect of filial sentiment, as in point of understanding; but that afterwards she conceived a great reverence for her father's memory, and

was bred

[blocks in formation]
« ZurückWeiter »