Thomas Babington Macaulay Macaulay.

Critical, historical, and miscellaneous essays online

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But, whatever be the literary merits or defects of
the Epistle, it undoubtedly does honour to the prin-
ciples and spirit of the author. Halifax had now
nothing to give. He had fallen from power, had been
held up to obloquy, had been impeached by the House
of Commons, and, though his Peers had dismissed the
impeachment, had, as it seemed, little chance of ever
again filling high office. The Epistle, written at such
a time, is one among many proofs that there was no
mixtm'e of cowardice or meanness in the suavity and
moderation which distinguished Addison from all the
other public men of those stormy times.

At Geneva, the traveller learned that a pardal
change of ministry had taken place in England, and
that the Earl of Manchester had become Secretary of
State. Manchester exerted himself to serve his young



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UFK AND WRITINGS OF ADDISON. 351

friend. It was thought advisable that an English
agent should be near the person of Eugene in Italy ;
and Addison, whose diplomatic education was now
finished, was the man selected. He was preparing to
enter on his honourable functions, when all his pros-
pects were for a time darkened by the death of William
the Third.

Anne had long felt a strong aversion, personal, po-
litical, and religious, to the Whig party. That aversion
appeared in the first measures of her reign. Man-
chester was deprived of the seals, after he had held
them only a few weeks. Neither Somers nor Halifax
was sworn of the Privy Council. Addison shared the
fete of his three patrons. His hopes of employment
in the public service were at an end ; his pension was
stopped ; and it was necessary for him to support
himself by his own exertions. He became tutor to a
young English traveller, and appears to have rambled
with his pupil over great part of Switzerland and
Germany. At this time l}e wrote his pleasing treatise
on Medals. It was not published till after his death ;
but several distinguished scholars saw the manuscript,
and gave just praise to the grace of the style, and to
the learning and ingenuity evinced by the quotations.

From Germany Addison repaired to Holland, where
he learned the melancholy news of his father's death.
After passing some months m the United Provinces,
he returned about the close of the year 1703 to Eng-
land. He was there cordially received by his friends,
and introduced by them into the Kit Cat Club, a
society in which were collected all the various talents
and accomplishments which then gave lustre to the
Whig party.

Addison was, during some months after his retuni



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352 LIFK AND WRITINGS OF ADDISON.

from the Continent, hard pressed by pecuniary difficul-
ties. But it was soon in the power of his noble patrons
to serve him effectually. A poHtical change, silent and
gradual, but of the highest importance, was in daily
progress. The accession of Anne had been hailed by
the Tories with transports of joy and hope ; and for a
time it seemed that the Whigs had fallen never to rise
again. The throne was surrounded by men sup]>os(Kl to
be attached to the prerogative and to the Church ; and
among these none stood so high in the favour of the
sovereign as the Lord Treasurer Godolphin and the
Captain General Marlborough.

The country gentlemen and country clergymen had
fully expected that the policy of these ministers would
be directly opposed to that which had been almost con-
stantly followed by William ; that the landed interest
would be favoured at the expense of trade ; that no ad-
dition would be made to the funded debt ; that the privi-
leges conceded to Dissenters by the late King would be
curtailed, if not withdrawn ; that the war with France,
if there must be such a war, would, on our port, be al-
most entirely naval ; and that the Government would
avoid close connections with foreign powers, and, above
all, with Holland.

But the countiy gentlemen and coimtry clergymen
were fated to be deceived, not for the last time. The
prejudices and passions which raged without control in
vicarages, in cathedral closes, and in the manor-houses
of foxhunting squires, were not shared by the chiefs of
the ministry. Those statesmen saw that it was both for
the public interest, and for their own interest, to adopt
a Whig pohcy, at least as respected tlie alliances of
the country and the conduct of the war. But, if the
foreign policy of the Whigs were adopted, it was im-



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LIFE AND WRITINGS OF ADDISON, 35S

po^ible to abstain from adopting also their financial
jiolicy. The natural consequences followed. The rigid
Tories were alienated from the Government. The
votes of the Whigs became necessary to it. The votes
of the Whigs could be secured only by further conces-
sions ; and fturther concessions the Queen was induced
to make.

At the beginning of the year 1704, the state of par-
ties bore a close analogy to the state of parties in 1826.
In 1826, as in 1704, there was a Tory ministry divi-
ded into two hostile sections. The position of Mr.
Canning and his friends in 1826 corresponded to that
which Marlborough and Godolphin occupied in 1704.
Nottingham and Jersey were, in 1704, what Lord El-
don and Lord Westmoreland were in 1826. The Whigs
of 1704 were in a situation resembling that in wliich
the Whigs of 1826 stood. In 1704, Somers, Halifax,
Sunderland, Cowper, were not in office. There was
no avowed coalition between them and the moderate
Tories. It is probable that no direct communication
tending to such a coalition had yet taiken place ; yet all
men saw that such a coalition was inevitable, nay, that
it was already half formed. Such, or nearly such, was
the state of things when tidings arrived of the great
battle fought at Blenheim on the 13th August, 1704.
By the Whigs the news was hailed with transports of
joy and pride. No fault, no cause of quarrel, could
be remembered by them against the Commander whose
genius had, in one day, changed the face of Europe,
saved the Imperial throne, humbled the House of
Bourbon, and secured the Act uf Settlement against
foreign hostility. The feeling of the Tories was very
difierent. They could not indeed, without imprudence,
openly express regret at an event so glorious to their



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854 LIFE AND WRITINGS OF ADDISON.

country ; but their congratulations were so cold and
sullen as to give deep disgust to the victorious general
and his friends.

Godolphin was not a reading man. Whatever time
he could spare from business he was in the habit of
spending at Newmarket or at the c&rd table. But he
was not absolutely indifferent to poetry ; and he waa
too intelligent an observer not to perceive that litera-
ture was a formidable engine of political war&re, and
that the great Whig leaders had strengthened their
party, and raised their character, by extending a liberal
and judicious patronage to good writers. He was mor-
tified, and not without reason, by the exceeding bad-
ness of the poems which appeared in honour of the
battle of Blenheim. One of these poems has been res-
cued from oblivion by the exquisite absurdity of three
lines.

** Think of two thonsnnd gentlemen nt least,
And each mnn moanted on bis capering beast;
Into the Danube they were pushed by shoals.*'

Where to procure better verses the Treasurer did not
know. He understoinl how to negotiate a loan, or re-
mit a subsidy : he was also well versed in the history
of running horses and fighting cocks ; but his acquaint-
ance among the poets was very small. He consulted
Halifax ; but Hali&x affected to decline the office of
adviser. He had, he said, done his best, when he had
|)ower, to encoumge men whose abilities and acquire-
ments might do honour to their country. Those times
were over. Other maxims had prevailed. Merit was
suffered to pine in obscurity ; and the public money was
squandered on the undeserving. " I do know," he add-
chI, " a gentleman who would celebrate the battle in a
manner worthy of the subject ; but I will not name



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LIFE AND WRITINGS OF ADDISON. 355

liim." Godolphin, who was expert at the soft answer
which tumeth away wrath, and who was under the
necessity of paying court to tlie Whigs, gently repHed
that there was too much ground for Halifax's com-
plaints, but that what was amiss should in time be rec-
tified, and that in the mean time the services of a man
such as Halifax had described should be liberally re-
warded. Halifax then menticmed Addison, but, mind-
ful of the dignity as well as of the pecuniary interest
of his friend, insisted that the Minister should apply in
the most courteous manner to Addison himself; and
this Godolphin promised to do.

Addison then occupied a garret up three pair of stairs,
over a small shop in the Haymarket. In this humble
lodging he was surprised, on the morning which fol-
lowed the conversation between Godolphin and Halifax,
by a visit from no less a person than the Right Hon-
ourable Henry Boyle, then Chancellor of the Exche-
quer, and afterwards Lord Carleton. This high-bom
minister had been sent by the Lord Treasurer as am-
bassador to the needy poet. Addison readily under-
took the proposed task, a task which, to so good a Whig,
was probably a pleasure. When the poem was Uttle
more than half finished, he showed it to Godolphin,
who was delighted with it, and particularly with the
famous similitude of the Angel. Addison was instantly
appointed to a Commissionership worth about two hun-
dred pounds a year, and was assured that this appoint-
ment was only an earnest of greater favours.

The Campaign came forth, and was as much ad-
mired by the public as by the Minister. It pleases us
less on the whole than the Epistle to Halifax. Yet it
undoubtedly ranks high among the poems which ap;
peared during the interval between the death of Dry-



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356 LIFE /VND WRITINGS OF ADDISON.

den and tlie dawn of Pope's genius. The chief merit
of the Campaign, we think, is that which was notic^nl
by Johnson, the manly and rational rejection of fiction.
The first great poet whose works have come down to
us sang of war long before war became a science or a
trade. If, in his time, there was enmity between two
little Greek towns, each poured forth its crowd of citi-
zens, ignorant of discipline, and armed with implements
of labour rudely turned into weapons. On each side
appeared conspicuous a few chiefe, whose wealth had
enabled them to procure good armour, horses, and char-
iots, and whose leisure had enabled them to practise
military exercises. One such chief, if he were a man
of great strength, agility, and courage, would probably
be more formidable than twenty common men ; and
the force and dexterity with which he flung his spear
might have no inconsiderable share in deciding the
event of the day. Such were probably the battles
with which Homer was familiar. But Homer related
the actions of men of a former generation, of men who
sprang from the Gods, and communed with the Gods
face to fiice, of men, one of whom could with ease hurl
rocks which two sturdy hinds of a later period would
be unable even to lift. He therefore naturally repre-
sented their martial exploits as resembling in kind, but
far surpassing in magnitude, those of the stoutest and
most expert combatants of his own age. Achilles, clad
in celestial armour, drawn by celestial coursers, grasp-
ing the spear which none but himself could raise, driv-
ing all Troy and Lycia before him, and choking Sca-
mander with dead, was only a magnificent exaggeration
of the real hero, who, strong, fearless, accustomed to
the use of weapons, guarded by a shield and helmet of
the best Sidonian fabric, and whirled along by horses



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LIFE AND WRITINGS OF ADDISON. 867

of Thessalian breed, struck down with his own riglit
arm foe after foe. In all rude societies similar notions
are found. There are at this day countnes where the
Liieguardsman Shaw would be considered as a much
greater warrior than the Duke of WelHngton. Buona-
parte loved to describe the astonishment with which
the Mamelukes looked at his diminutive figure. Mou-
rad Bey, distinguished above all liis fellowa by his bodily
strength, and by the skill Mritli which he managed his
horse and his sabre, could not believe that a man who
was scarcely five feet high, and rode like a butcher,
could be the greatest soldier in Europe.

Homer's descriptions of war had therefore as much
truth as poetry requires. But truth was altogether
wanting to the performances of those who, writing
about battles which had scarcely any thing in common
with the battles of his times, servilely imitated his man-
ner. The folly of Silius Italicus, in particular, is posi-
tively nauseous. He undertook to record in verse the
vicissitudes of a great struggle between generals of the
first order : and his narrative is made up of the hideous
wounds which these generals inflicted with their own
bands. Asdrubal flings a spear which grazes the shoul-
der of the consul Nero ; but Nero sends his spear into
Asdrubal's side. Fabius slays Thuris and Butes and
Maris and Arses, and the longhaired Adherbes, and
the gigantic Thylis, and Sapharus and Monaesus, and
the trumpeter Morinus. Hannibal runs Perusinus
through the ^roin with a stake, and breaks the back-
bone of Telesinus with a huge stone. This detestable
fashion was copied in modem times, and continued to
prevail down to the age of Addison. Several versifiers
bad described William turning thousands to flight by
his single prowess, and dyeing the Boyne with Irish



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858 LIFE AND WRITINGS OF ADDISON.

blood. Nay, so estimable a writer as John Philips, the
author of the Splendid Shilling, represented Marl-
borough as having won the battle of Blenheim merely
by strength of muscle and skill in fence. The follow-
ing lines may serve as an example :

" Churchill, viewing where
The violence of TalJard most prevailed,
Came to oppose his slaughtering arm. With speed
Precipitate he rode, urging his way
0*er hills of gasping heroes, and /alien steeds
Rolling in death. Destruction, grim with blood,
Attends his furious course. Around his head
The glowing balls play iuuocout, while he
With dire impetuous sway deals fatal blows
Among the flying Gauls. In Gallic blood
He dyes his reeking sword, and strews the ground
With Headless ranks. What can they do? Or how
Withstand his wide-destroying sword?"

Addison, with excellent sense and taste, departed
from tliis ridiculous fashion. He reserved his praise for
the qualities which made Mai'lborough truly great, en-
ergy, sagacity, military science. But, above all, the
poet extolled the firmness of that mind which, in the
midst of confusion, uproar, and slaughter, examined and
disposed every thing with the serene wisdom of a
higher intelligence.

Here it was that he introduced the famous compari-
son of Marlborough to an Angel guiding the whirlwind.
We will not dispute the general justice of Johnson's re-
marks on this passage. But we must point out one
circumstance which appears to have escaped all the
critics. The extraordinary effect which this simile pro-
duced when it first appeared, and which to the following
generation seemed inexplicable, is doubtless to be chiefly
attributed to a line which most readers now regard as a
feeble parenthesis,

*' Such as, of lute, o*er pale Britutuiia paM*d.*'



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LIFE AND WRITINGS OF ADDISON. 359

Addison spoke, not of a storm, but of the storm. The
great tempest of November 1703, the only tempest
which in our latitude has equalled the rage of a tropical
hurricane, had left a dreadful recollection in the minds
of all men. No other tempest was ever in this country
the occasion of a parliamentary address or of a public
fast. Whole fleets had been cast away. Large man-
sions had been blown down. One Prelate had been
buried beneath the ruins of his palace. London and
Bristol had presented the appearance of cities just
sacked. Hundreds of families were still in mourning.
The prostrate trunks of large trees, and the ruins of
houses, still attested, in all the southern counties, the
fury of the blast The popularity which the simile of
the angel enjoyed among Addison's contemporaries,
has always seemed to us to be a remarkable instance of
the advantage which, in rhetoric and poetry, the partic-
ular has over the general.

Soon after the Campaign, was published Addison's
Narrative of his Travels in Italy. The first effect
produced by this Narrative was disappointment. The
crowd of readers who expected politics and scandal,
speculations on the projects of Victor Amadeus, and
anecdotes about the jolhties of convents and the amours
of cardinals and nuns, were confounded by finding that
the writer's mind was much more occupied by the war
between the Trojans and Rutulians than by the war
between France and Austria ; and that he seemed to
luive heard no scandal of later date than the gallantries
of the En^ress Faustina. In time, however, the judg-
ment of the many was overruled by that of the few ;
ind, before the book was reprinted, it was so eagerly
sought that it sold for five times the original price. It
Is still read with pleasure : the style is pure and flow-



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860 LIFE AND WRITINGS OF ADDISON.

ing ; the classical quotations and allusions are numerous
and happy ; and we are now and then charmed by that
singularly humane and delicate humour in whicli Ad-
dison excelled all men. Yet this agreeable work, even
when considered merely as the history of a literary
tour, may justly be censured on account of its faults of
omission. We have already said that, though rich in
extracts from the Latin poets, it contains scarcely any
references to the Latin orators and historians. We
must add, that it contains little, or rather no informa-
tion, respecting the history and Kterature of modem
Italy. To the best of our remembrance, Addison does
not mention Dante, Petrarch, Boccaccio, Boiardo,
Berni, Lorenzo de'Medici, or Machiavelli. He coldly
tells us that at Ferrara he saw the tomb of Ariosto,
and that at Venice he heard the gondoliers sing verses
of Tasso. But for Tasso and Ariosto he cared far less
than for Valerius Flaccus and Sidonius Apolinaris.
The gentle flow of the Ticin brings a line of Silius to
his mind. The sulphurous steam of Albula suggests
to him several passages of Martial. But he has not a
word to say of the illustrious dead of Santa Croce ; he
crosses the wood of Ravenna without recoUecting the
Spectre Huntsman, and wanders up and down Rimini
without one thought of Francesca. At Paris he had
eagerly sought an introduction to Boileau ; but he
seems not to have been at all aware that at Florence
he was in the vicinity of a poet with whom Boileau
could not sustain a comparison, of the greatest lyric
poet of modern times, Vincenzio Filicaja. This is the
more remarkable, because Filicaja was the favourite poet
of the accomplishe<l Somers, under whose protection
Addison travelled, and to whom the account of the
Travels is dedicated. The truth is, that Addison knew



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LfFK AND WRITCNGS OF ADDISON. 361

little, and cared less, about the literature of modem
Italy. His favourite models were Latin. His favourite
critics were French. Half the Tuscan poetry that he
had read seemed to him monstrous, and the other half
tawdry.

His Travels were followed by the lively Opera of
Rosamond. This piece was ill -set to music, and there-
fore failed on the stage, but it completely succeeded in
print, and is indeed excellent in its kind. The smooth-
ness with which the verses glide, and the elasticity with
which tliey bound, is, to our ears at least, very pleasing.
We are inclined to think that if Addison had left
heroic couplets to Pope, and blank verse to Rowe, and
had employed himself in writing airy and spirited songs,
his reputation as a poet would have stood far higher
than it now does. Some years after his death, Rosa-
mond was set to new music by Doctor Ame ; and was
performed with complete success. Several passages
long retained their popularity, and were daily sung,
during the latter part of George the Second's reign, at
all the harpsichords in England.

While Addison thus amused himself, his prospects,
and the prospects of his party, were constantly becom-
ing brighter and brighter. In the spring of 1705 the
ministers were freed from the restraint imposed by a
House of Commons in which Tories of the most per-
verse class had the ascendency. The elections were
fiivourable to the Whigs. The coalition which had been
tacitly and gradually formed was now openly avowed.
The Great Seal was given to Cowper. Somers and
Halifax were sworn of the Council. Halifax was sent
in the following year to carry the decorations of the
order of the garter to the Electoral Prince of Hanover,
and was accompanied on this honourable mission by

VOL. V. 16



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862 LIFE AND WUrnN(5S OK ADDISON.

Addison, who had just been made Undersecretary of
State. The Seci-etary of State under whom Addison
first sei'ved was Sir Cliarles Hedges, a Toiy. But
Hedges was soon dismissed to make room for the most
vehement of Whigs, Charles, Earl of Sunderland. In
every department of the state, indeed, the High Church-
men were compelled to give place to their opponents.
At the close of 1707, the Tories who still remained in
office strove to rally, with Harley at their head. But
the attempt, though favoured by the Queen, who had
always been a Tory at heart, and who had now quar-
relled with the Duchess of Marlborough, was unsuc-
cessfiil. The time was not yet. The Captain General
was at tlie height of popularity and glory. The Low
Church party had a majority in Parliament. The
country squires and rectors, though occasionally utter-
ing a savage growl, were for the most part in a state of
torpor, which lasted till they were roused into activity,
and indeed into madness, by the prosecution of Sachev-
erell. Harley and his adherents were compelled to
retire. The victory of the Whigs was complete. At
the general election of 1708, their strength in the
House of Commons became irresistible ; and before the
end of that year, Somers was made Lord President of
the Council, and Wharton Lord Lieutenant of Ireland.
Addison sat for Malmsbury in the House of Com-
mons which was elected in 1708. But the House of
Commons was not the field for him. The bashfiilness
of his nature made his wit and eloquence useless
in debate. He once rose, but could not overcome his
diffidence, and ever afler remained silent. Nobody
can think it strange that a great writer should fail as
9 speaker. But many, probably, will think it strange
that Addison's failure as a speaker should have had



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LIFE AND WRITINGS OF ADDISON. 863

DO unfavourable effect on his success as a politician.
In our time, a man of high rank and great fortnn¬Ђ
might, though speaking very httle and very ill, hold
a considerable post. But it would now be inconceiva-
ble that a mere adventurer, a man who, when out of
office, must live by his pen, should in a few years be-
come successively Undersecretary of State, chief Sec-
retary for Ireland, and Secretary of State, witliout
some oratorical talent. Addison, without high birth,
and with little property, rose to a post which Dukes,
the heads of tlie great houses of Talbot, Russell, and
Bentinck, have tliought it an honour to fill. Without
opening his hps in debate, he rose to a post, the highest
that Chatham or Fox ever reached. And this he did
before he had been nine years in Parliament. We must
look for the explanation of this seeming miracle to the
peculiar circumstances in which that generation was
placed. During the interval which elapsed between the
time when the Censorship of the Press ceased, and tlie
time when parliamentary proceedings began to be freely
reported, literary talents were, to a pubUc man, of much
more importance, and oratorical talents of much less
importance, than in our time. At present, the best
way of giving rapid and wide publicity to a fact or an
argument is to introduce that fact or argument into a
speech made in Parliament. If a political tract were
to appear superior to the Conduct of the Allies, or to
the best numbers of the Freeholder, the circulation of
such a tract would be languid indeed when compared
Mrith the circulation of every remarkable word uttered
in the deliberations of the legislature. A speech made



Online LibraryThomas Babington Macaulay MacaulayCritical, historical, and miscellaneous essays → online text (page 27 of 84)