Thomas Babington Macaulay Macaulay.

Critical, historical, and miscellaneous essays online

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like the Fi'ench wit, nor, like the Irish wit, throws a
double portion of severity into his countenance while
laughing inwardly ; but preserves a look peculiarly his
own, a look of demure serenity, disturbed only by an
arch sparkle of the eye, an almost imperceptible eleva-
tion of the brow, an almost imperceptible curL of the
lip. His tone is never that either of a Jack Pudding
or of a Cynic. It is that of a gentleman, in whom the
quickest sense of the ridiculous is constantly tempered
by good nature and good breeding.

We own that the humour of Addison is, in our opin-
ion, of a more delicious flavour than the humour of
either Swift or Voltaire. Thus much, at least, is cer-
tain, that both Swift and Voltaire have been success-
fully mimicked, and that no man has yet been able to
mimic Addison. The letter of the Ahh6 Coyer to
Pansophe is Voltaire all over, and imposed, during a
long time, on the Academicians of Paris. There are
passages in Arbuthnot's satirical works which we, at
least, cannot distinguish from Swift's best writing. But
of the many eminent men who have made Addison
their model, though several have copied his mere diction
with happy effect, none have been able to catch the
tone of his pleasantry. In the World, in the Connois-
seur, in the Mirror, in the Lounger, there are numer-
ous papers written in obvious imitation of his Ta tiers
and Spectators. Most of these papers have some merit ;




many are very lively and amusing ; but there is not a
single one which could be passed off as Addison's on a
critic of the smallest perspicacity.

But that which chiefly distinguishes Addison from
Swift, from Voltaire, from almost all the other great
masters of ridicule, is the grace, the nobleness, the
moral purity, which we find even in his merriment.
Severity, gradually hardening and darkening into
misanthropy, characterizes the works of Swift. The
nature of Voltaire was, indeed, not inhuman ; but be
venerated nothing. Neither in the masterpieces of art
nor in the purest examples of virtue, neither in the
Great First Cause nor in the awftil enigma of the grave,
could he see any thing but subjects for drollery. The
more solemn and august the theme, the more monkey-
like was his grimacing and chattering. The mirth of
Swift is the mirth of Mephistophiles ; the mirth of Vol-
taire is the mirth of Puck. If, as Soame Jenyns oddly
imagined, a portion of the happiness of Seraphim and
just men made poifect be derived from an exquisite
perception of the ludicrous, their mirth must surely be
none other than the mirth of Addison ; a mirth oonstst*
ent with tender compassion for all that is fiail, and with
profound reverence for all that is sublime. Nothing
great, nothing amiable, no moral duty, no doctrine of
natuml or revealed religion, has ever been associated by
Addison with any degrading idea. His humanity is
without a parallel in literary history. The highest
jiroof of virtue is to possess boundless power witliout
abusing it No kind of power is more formidable than
the power of making men ridiculous ; and that power
Addkon possessed in boundless measure. How grossly
that ])ower was abused by Swift and by Voltaire is well
known. But of Addison it mav be confidently affirmed




fchat he has blackened no man's character, nay, tliat it
would be difficult, if not impossible, to find in all the
volumes which he has left us a single taunt wliich can
be called ungenerous or unkind. Yet he had detractors,
whose malignity might have seemed to justify as terri-
ble a rexenge as that which men, not superior to him
in genius, wreaked on Bettesworth and on Franc de
Pompignan. He was a politician ; he was the best
writer of his party ; he lived in times of fierce excite-
ment, in times when persons of high character and
station stooped to scurrility such as is now practised
only by the basest of mankind. Yet no provocation
and no example could induce him to return railing for

Of the service which his Essays rendered to morality
it is difficult to speak too highly. It is true, that, when
the Tatler appeared, that age of outrageous profnneness
and licentiousness which followed the Restoration had
passed away. Jeremy Collier had shamed the theatres
into something which, compared with the excesses of
Etherege and Wycherley, might be called decency.
Yet there still lingered in the pubUc mind a pernicious
notion that there was some connection between genius
and profligacy, between the domestic virtues and the
sullen formality of the Puritans. That error it is the
glory of Addison to have dispelled. He taught the na*
tion that the faith and the morality of Hale and Tillot-
son might be found in company with wit more sparkling
than the wit of Congreve, and with humour richer than
the humour of Vanbrugh. So effectually, indeed, did
he retort on vice the mockery which had recently been
directed against virtue, that, since liis time, the open
violation of decency has always been considered among
us as the mark of a fool. And this revolution, the




greatest and most salutary ever effected by any satirist,
he accomplished, be it remembered, ii^ithout writing one
personal lampoon.

In the early contributions of Addison to the Tatler
his pecuKar powers were not ftilly exhibited. Yet
^fi'om the first, his superiority to all his coadjutors was
evident. Some of his later Tatlers are fully equal to
any thing that he ever wrote. Among the portraits, we
most admire Tom Folio, Ned Softly, and the Political
Upholsterer. The proceedings of the Court of Honour,
the Thermometer of Zeal, the story of the Frozen
Words, the Memoirs of the Shilling, are excellent spec-
imens of that ingenious and lively species of fiction in
which Addison excelled all men. There is one still bet-
ter paper of the same class. But though that paper, a
hundred and thirty-three years ago, was probably thought
as edifying as one of Smalridge's sermons, we dare not
indicate it to the squeamish readers of the nineteenth

During the session of Parliament which commenced
in November 1709, and which the impeachment of
Sacheverell has made memorable, Addison appears to
have resided in London. The Tatler was now more
popular than any periodical paper had ever been ; and
nis connection with it was generally known. It was
not known, however, that almost every thing good in
the Tatler was his. The truth is, that the fifty or
sixty numbers which we owe to him were not merely
the best, but so decidedly the best that any five of
them are more valuable than all the two hundred
numbers in which he had no share.

He required, at this time, all the solace which he
could derive from literary success. The Queen had
always disliked the Whigs. She had during some




years disliked the Marlborough family. But, reigning
by a disputed title, she t^ould not venture directly to
oppose herself to a majority of both Houses of Parlia-
ment ; and, engaged as she was in a war on the event
of which her own Crown was staked, she could no!
venture to disgrace a great and successful genera!.
But at length, in the year 1710, the causes which had
restrained her from showing her aversion to the Low
Church party ceased to operate. The trial of Sache-
verell produced an outbreak of pubHc feeling scarcely
less violent than the outbreaks which we can ourselves
remember in 1820, and in 1831. The country gentle-
men, the country clergymen, the rabble of the towns,
were all for once, on the same side. It was clear that,
if a general election took place before the excitement
abated, the Tories would have a majority. The ser-
vices of Marlborough had been so splendid that they
were no longer necessary. The Queen's throne was
secure from all attack on the part of Lewis. Indeed,
it seemed much more likely that the English and Ger-
man armies would divide the spoils of Versailles and
Marli than that a Marshal of France would bring back
the Pretender to St. James's. The Queen, acting by
the advice of Harley, determined to dismiss her ser-
vants. In June the change commenced. Sunderland
was the first who fell. The Tories exulted over his
fall. The Whigs tried, during a few weeks, to per-
suade themselves that her Majesty had acted only from
personal dislike to the Secretary, and that she medi-
tated no ftirther alteration. But, early in August,
Godolphin was surprised by a letter from Anne, which
directed him to break his white staff*. Even after
this event, the irresolution or dissimulation of Harley
kq>t up the hopes of the Whigs during another month ;




and then the ruin became rapid and violent. The
Parliament was dissolved. The Ministers were turned
out. The Tories were called to office. The tide of
popularity ran violently in favour of the High Church
party. That party, feeble in the kte House of Comr
mons, ^vas now in*esistible. The power whicli the
Tories had thus suddenly acquired, they used with
bHnd and stupid ferocity. The howl which tlie whole
pack set up for prey and for blood appalled even him
who had roused and uncluuned them. When, at this
distance of time, we calmly review the conduct of the
discarded ministers, we cannot but feel a movement
of indignation at the injustice with which they were
treated. No bo^ly of men had ever administered the
government with more energy, ability, and moderation ;
and their success had been proportioned to their wis-
dom. They had saved Holland and Germany. They
had humbled France. They had, as it seemed, all
but torn Spain from the House of Bourbon. They
had made England the first power in Europe. At
home they had united England and Scotland. They
had respected tlie rights of conscience and the liberty
of the subject They retired, leaving their countrj-
at the height of prosperity and glory. And yet they
were pursued to their retreat by such a roar of obloquy
as was never raised against the government which
threw away tliirteen colonies, or against the govern-
ment which sent a gallant army to perish in the ditches
of Walcheren.

None of the Whigs suftered more in the general
wreck than Addison. He had just sustained some
heavy pecuniary losses, of the nature of which we are
imperfectly informed, when his Secretaryship waa
taken from him. He had reason to believe diat he


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sbouid also be deprived of the small Irish office which
he held by patent. He had just resigned his Fellow-
ship. It seems probable that he had ah'eady ventured
to raise his eyes to a great lady, and that, while his
poKtical friends were in power, and while his own
fortunes were rising, he had been, in the phrase <rf the
romances which were then ^shionable, permitted to
hope. But Mr. Addison the ing^ous writer, and
Mr. Addison the chief Secretary, were, in her lady-
ship's opinion^ two very different persons. AH tliese
calamities united, however, could not disturb the serene
cheerfulness of a mind conscious of innocence, and rich
in its own wealth. He told his friends, with smiling
resignation, that they ought to admii'e his philosophy,
that he had lost at once his fortune, his place, his
fellowship, and his mistress, that he must think of
turning tutor again, and yet that his spirits were as
|rood as ever.

He had one consolation. Of the unpopularity which
his friends had incurred, he had no share. Such was
llie esteem with which he was regarded that, while
the most violent measures were taken for the purpose
of forcing Tory members on Whig corporations, he
was returned to Parliament without even a contest.
Swift, who was now in London, and who had already
determined on quitting the Whigs, wrote to Stella in
these remarkable words : " The Tories carry it among
the new members six to one. Mr. Addison's election
has passed easy and undisputed ; and I believe if he
had a mind to be king he would hardly be refused."

The good will with which the Tories regarded
Addison is the more honourable to him, because it had
not been purchased by any concession on his part.
Ehmng the general election he published a political




Journal, entitled the Whig Examiner. Of that
Jouraal it may be sufficient to say that Johnson, in
spite of his strong poHtical prejudices, pronounced it to
be superior in wit to any of Swift's writings on the
other side. When it ceased to appear, S^dft, in a
letter to Stella, expressed his exultation at the death of
so formidable an antagonist. ^^ He might well rejoice,"
says Johnson, ^^ at the death of that which he could
not have killed." " On no occasion," he adds, " was
the genius of Addison more vigorously exerted, and on
none did the superiority of his powers more evidently

The only use which Addison appeal's to have made
of the favour with which he was regarded by the
Tories was to save some of his friends from tlie general
ruin of the Whig party. He felt himself to be in a
situation which made it his duty to take a decided
part in politics. But the case of Steele and of Ambrose
Phillipps was different. For Phillipps, Addison even
condescended to solicit, >vith what success we have not
ascertained. Steele held t^vo places. He was Gazetr
teer, and he was also a Commissioner of Stamps. The
Gazette was taken from him. But he was suffered to
retain his place in the Stamp Office, on an implied
understanding that he should not be active against the
new government ; and he was, during more than two
years, induced by Addison to observe this armistice
with tolerable fidelity.

Isaac Bickcrstaff accordingly became silent upon
politics, and the article of news which had once formed
about one third of his paper, altogether disappeared.
The Tatler had completely changed its character. It
was now nothing but a series of essays on books,
morals, and manners. Steele therefore resdved to




oriiig it to a close, and to commence a new work on an
unproved plan. It was announced that this new work
would be published daily. The undertaking was gener-
ally regarded as bold, or rather rash; but the event
amply justified the confidence with which Steele relied
on the fertility of Addison's genius. On the second of
January 1711, appeared the last Tatler. At the
beginning of March following appeared the first of an
incomparable series of papers, containing observations
on life and literature by an imaginary Spectator.

The Spectator liimself was conceived and drawn by
Addison ; and it is not easy to doubt that the portrait
was meant to be in some features a likeness of the
painter. The Si)ectator is a gentleman who, after
passing a studious youth at die university, has travelled
on classic ground, and has bestowed much attention on
carious points of antiquity. He has, on his return,
&xed his residence in London, and has observed all the
forms of life which are to be found in that great city,
has daily listened to the wits of Will's, has smoked
with the philosophers of the Grecian, and has mingled
with the parsons at Child's, and with the politicians at
the St. James's. In the morning, he oflen listens to
the hum of the Exchange ; in the evening, his face is
constantly to be seen in the pit of Drury Lane theatre.
But an insurmountable basiifulness prevents liim from
opening his mouth, except in a small circle of intimate

These friends were first sketched by Steele. Four
of the club, the templar, the clergyman, the soldier, and
the merchant, were uninteresting figures, fit only for a
background. But the other two, an old country bar-
onet and an old town rake, though not delineated with
• very delicate pencil, had some good strokes. Addison

rouy. 17




took the rude outlines into his own hands, njtonclnJ
them, coloured them, and is in truth the creator of the
Sir Roger de Coverley and the Will Honeycomb with
whom we are all familiar.

The plan of the Spectator must be allowed to >^
both original and eminently happy. Every valuable
essay in the series may be read with pleasure separately ;
yet the five or six hundred essays form a whole, and n
whole which has the interest of a novel. It must M
remembered, too, that at that time no novel, griving »
lively and powerful picture of the common life and
manners of England, had appeared. Richardson was
working as a compositor. Fielding was robbing birds*
nests. Smollett was not yet bom. The narrative,
therefore, which connects together the Spectator's E^,-
says, gave to our ancestors their first taste of an ex-
quisite and untried pleasure. That narrative was indeed
'•onstructed with no art or labour. The events were
such events as occur every day. Sir Roger comes up
to tov^Ti to see Eugenio, as the worthy baronet alv/ays
calls Prince Eugene, goes with the Spectator on the
water to Spring Gardens, walks among the tombs in
the Abbey, and is frightened by the Mohawks, but
conquers his apprehension so far as to go to the theati'e
when the Distressed Mother is acted. The Spectator
pays a visit in the summer to Coverley Hall, is charmed
with the old house, the old butler, and the old chaplain,
eats a jack caught by Will Wimble, rides to the assizes,
and hears a point of law discussed by Tom Touciiy.
At last a letter from the honest butler brings to the
club the news that Sir Rc^r is dead. Will Honey-
comb marries and reforms at sixty. The club breaks
up; and the Spectator resigns his functions. Such
events can hardly be said to form a plot ; yet they are




related with such tnith, such grace, such wit, such hu-
mour, such pathos, such knowledge of the human heart,
sucli knowledge of the ways of the world, that they
charm us on the hundredth perusal. We have not the
least doubt that if Addison had written a novel, on an
extensive plan, it would have been superior to any that
we possess. As it is, he is entitled to be considered
not only as the greatest of the English essa3n[sts, but as
the forerunner of the great English novelists.

We say this of Addison alone ; for Addison is the
Spectator. About three sevenths of the work are his ;
and it is no exaggeration tofsay, that his worst essay
is as good as the best essay of any of his coadjutors.
His best essays approach near to absolute perfection ;
nor is their excellence more wonderful than their variety.
His invention never seems to flag ; nor is he ever under
the necessity of repeating himself, or of wearing out a
subject. There are no dregs in his wine. He regales
OS after the feshion erf that prodigal nabob who held that
there was only one good glass in a bottle. As soon as
we have tasted the first sparkhng foam of a jest, it is
withdrawn, and a fresh draught of nectar is at our lips.
On the Monday we have an allegory as lively and in-
genious as Lucian's Auction of Lives ; on the Tuesday
an Eastern apologue, as richly coloured as the Tales of
Scherezade ; on the Wednesday, a character described
with the skill of La Bruyere ; on the Thursday, a scene
from common life, equal to the best chapters in the
Vicar of Wakefield ; on the Friday, some sly Horatian
pleasantry on fashionable follies, on hoops, patches, or
puppet shows ; and on the Saturday a religious medita-
don, which will bejir a comparison with the finest pa*-
sages in Mass! lion.

It is dangerous to select where there is so much that

Digitized by VjOOQIC


deserves the highest praise. We will venture, however,
to say, that any person who wishes to form a notion of
the extent and variety of Addison's powers, will do well
to read at one sitting the following papers, the two Visits
to the Abbey, the Visit to the Exchange, the Journal
of the Retired Citizen, the Vision of Mirza, the Trans-
migrations of Pug the Monkey, and the Death of Sir
Roger de Coverley.^

The least valuable of Addison's contributions to the
Spectator are, in tlie judgment of our age, his critical
papers. Yet his critical papers are always luminous,
and often ingenious. The very worst of them must be
regaixled as creditable to him, when the character of
the school in which he had been trained is fairly con-
sidered. The best of them were much too good for his
readers. In truth, he was not so far behind our gener-
ation as he was before his own. No essays in the
Spectator were more censured and derided than those
in which he raised his voice against the contempt with
which our fine old ballads were regarded, and showeci
the scoffers that the same gold which, burnished and
polished, gives lustre to the -iineid and the Odes of
Horace, is mingled with the rude dross of Chevy

It is not strange that the success of the Spectator
should hav^ been such as no similar work has ever ob-
tained. The number of copies daily distributed was at
first three thousand. It subsequently increased, and
had risen to near four thousand when the stamp tax
was imposed. That tax was fatal to a crowd of jour-
nals. The Spectator, however, stood its ground,
doubled its price, and, though its circulation fell ofiT,

1 Nos. 26, 829, 69, 317, 159, 843, 617. These papers are all in the first
seven volnmes. The eighth mnst be considered as a separate work.




Still yielded a large revenue both to the state and to the
authora. For particular papers, the demand was im-
mense ; of some, it is said, twenty thousand copies were
required. But this was not alL To have the Sj
tor served up every mpming with the bohea and
was a luxury for the few. The majority were co
to wait till essays enough had appeared to form i
ume. Ten thousand copies of each volume wer
mediately taken off, and new editions were calle<
It must be remembered, that the population of En,
was then hardly a third of what it now is. The
ber of Englishmen who were in the habit of reading
probably not a sixth of what it now is. A shopk
or a farmer who found any pleasure in literature, '
rarity. Nay, there was doubtless more than one k
of the shire whose country seat did not contaii
books, receipt books and books on farriery incl
In these circumstances, the sale of the Spectator
be considered as indicating a popularity quite as
as that of the most successful works of Sir Walter
and Mr. Dickens in our own time.

At the close of 1712 the Spectator ceased to ap
It was probably felt that the shortfaced gentlemai
his club had been long enough before the town ;
that it was time to withdraw them, and to replace
by a new set of characters. In a few weeks th<
number of the Guardian was published. Bui
Guardian was unfortunate both in its birth and
death. It began in dulness and disap])eared in a
pest of Action. The original plan was bad. Ad
contributed nothing till sixty-six numbers had appei
and it was then impossible to make the Guardian
the Spectator had been. Nestor Ironside and the
Lizards were people to whom even lie could impa




interest. He could only furnish some excellent little
ptssays, both serious and comic ; and this he did.

Why Addison gave no assistance to the Guardian,
during the first two months of its existence, is a question
which has puzzled the editors and biographers, but
which seems to us to admit of a very easy solu*
tion. He was then engaged in bringing his Cato on
the stage.

The first four acts of this drama had been lying in
his desk since his return from Italy. His modest and
sensitive nature shrank from the risk of a pubUc and
shameful failure ; and, though all who saw the manu-
script were loud in praise, some thought it possible that
an audience might become impatient even of very good
rhetoric, and advised Addison to print the play without
hazarding a representation. At length, afler many fits
of apprehension, the poet yielded to the urgency of his
political friends, who hoped that the public would dis-
cover some analogy between the followers of Csesar and
the Tories, between Sempronius and the apostate
Whigs, between Cato, struggling to the last for the lib-
erties of Rome, and the band of patriots who still stood
firm round Hali&x and Wharton.

Addison gave the play to the managers of Drury

Online LibraryThomas Babington Macaulay MacaulayCritical, historical, and miscellaneous essays → online text (page 29 of 84)