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THE LAY PREACHER.
There is not a name in the annals of English literature more widely associated with pleasant recollections than that of Addi
His beautiful hymns trembled on our lips in childhood; his cheerful essays first lured us, in youth, to a sense of the minor
, philosophy of life; we tread his walk at Oxford with loving steps ; gaze on his portrait, at Holland House or the Bodleian Gallery, as on the lineaments of a revered friend; recall his journey into Italy, his ineffectual maiden speech, his successful tragedy, his morning studies, his evenings at Button's, his unfortunate marriage, and his holy death-bed, as if they were the experiences of one personally known, as well as fondly admired; and we muse beside the marble that designates his sepulchre in Westminster Abbey, between those of his first patron and his most cherished friend, with an interest such as is rarely awakened by the memory of one familiar to us only through books. The harmony of his character sanctions his writings; the tone of the Spectator breathes friendliness as well as instruction; and the tributes of contemporaries to his private worth, and of generations to his literary excellence, combine with our knowledge of the vicissitudes of his life, to render his mind and person as near to our sympathies as they are high in our esteem. Over his faults we throw the veil of charity, and cherish the remembrance of his benevolence and piety, his refinement and wisdom, as the sacred legacy of an intellectual benefactor.
This posthumous regard is confirmed by the appreciation of his coëvals.. Not only did Addison find a faithful patron in Halifax and a cordial recognition from the public, but these testimonies to the merit of the author were exceeded by the love and deference bestowed on the man. Sir Richard Steele, with all his frank generosity, was jealous of Tickell's place in the heart of their common friend, Tickell's elegiac tribute to whom has been justly pronounced one of the most feeling and graceful memorials of departed excellence in English verse. When Budgell, a contributor to the Spectator, became a suicide, he endeavored to justify the rash act by the example and reasoning of Addison's Cato. When Pope turned his satirical muse upon the gentle essayist, he polished the terms and modified the censure, as if involuntary respect chastened the spirit of ridicule. Dryden welcomed him to the ranks of literature, and Boileau greeted him with praise on his first visit to France. Throughout his life, the distinction he gained by mental aptitude and culture was confirmed by integrity and geniality of character. Even party rancor yielded to the moral dignity and kindliness of Addison; and his opponents, when in power, respected his intercession, and would not suffer difference of opinion to chill their affection. Lady Montagu thought his company delightful. Lord Chesterfield declared him the most modest man he had ever seen. When he called Gay to his bedside and asked forgiveness, with his dying breath, for some unrecognized negligence with regard to that author's interest, the latter protested, with tearful admiration, that he had nothing to pardon and everything to regret. Swift's jealousy of Addison is an emphatic proof of his merit; the literary gladiator, unsatisfied with his triumphs, obviously turned a jaundiced eye upon the literary artist, whose object was social reform and intellectual diversion, instead of party warfare and intolerant satire. “I will not,” says the cynical dean, “meddle with the Spectator, let him fair sex it to the world's end." The allusion to the improvement of women, to which this new form of literature so effectually ministered, is unfortunate, as coming from a man who, at the very time, was ruthlessly trifling with the deepest instincts of the female heart. Woman is, indeed, indebted to Addison and his fraternity, for giving a new impulse to her better education, and a more generous scope to her intellectual tastes. So much was this aim and result of the Spectator recognized, that Goldoni, in one of his comedies, alludes to a female philosopher as made such by the habitual perusal of it. Johnson's observations on Addison are reverent as well as critical; he pays homage to his character, and advises all, who desire to acquire a pure English style, to make a study of his writings. Nor have such tributes ceased with the fluctuations of taste and the progress of time. Of all the eloquent illustrations of English literary character which Macaulay's brilliant rhetoric has yielded, not one glows with a warmer appreciation, or more discriminating yet lofty praise, than the beautiful essay on Addison's Life and Writings, prefixed to the American edition, which is the most complete and best annotated that has yet appeared.
The tranquil and religious atmosphere of an English parsonage chastened the early days of Addison ; and although a few traditions indicate that he was given to youthful pranks, it is evident that the tenor of his character was remarkably thoughtful and reserved. During his ten years' residence at Oxford he was a devoted and versatile student, and it is to the discipline of classical acquirements that we owe the fastidious correctness of his style. The mastery he obtained over the Latin tongue revealed to him the nice relations between thought and language; and he wrote English with the simplicity, directness, and grace, which still render the Spectator a model of prose composition. Seldom has merely correct and tasteful verse, however, been so lucrative as it proved to him. His Latin poems first secured his election to Magdalen College ; his translations of a part of the Georgics, and their inscription to Dryden, drew from that veteran author the warmest recognition ; his poem to King William obtained for him the patronage of Lord Somers, Keeper of the Great Seal, to whom it was addressed. His poetical epistle to Montagu from Italy was but the graceful acknowledgment of the Chancellor's agency in procuring him a pension of three hundred pounds. His poem of “The Campaign," written at the request of Lord Godolphin, to celebrate the victory of Hochstadt, gained him the office of Commissioner of Appeals; and thenceforth we find him appointed to successive and profitable offices, from that of Keeper of the Records in Birmingham's Tower, to that of Secretary of State, from which he retired with a pension of fifteen hundred pounds. Besides official visits to Hanover and Ireland, soon after his literary qualifications had won him the patronage of Halifax, he made a tour abroad, remained several months at Blois to perfect himself in French, mingled with the best circles of Paris, Rome, and Geneva, and surveyed the historical scenes of the Italian peninsula with the eyes of a scholar. These opportunities to study mankind and to observe nature were not lost upon Addison. He was ever on the alert for an original specimen of humanity, and interested by natural phenomena, as well as cognizant of local associations derived from a thorough knowledge of Roman authors. We can imagine no culture more favorable to the literary enterprise in which he subsequently engaged, than this solid basis of classical learning, followed by travel on the Continent, where entirely new phases of scenery, opinions, and society, were freely revealed to his intelligent curiosity, and succeeded by an official career that brought him into responsible contact with the realities of life. Thus enriched by his lessons of experience, and disciplined by accurate study, when Addison first sent over from Ireland a contribution to his friend Steele's Tatler, he unconsciously opened a vein destined to yield intellectual refreshment to all who read bis vernacular, and to ally his name to the most agreeable and useful experiment in modern literature.
Never did the art of writing prove a greater personal blessing than to Addison. His knowledge, wit, and taste, were not at his oral command, except in the society of intimate friends. The
presence of strangers destroyed his self-possession ; and, as a · public speaker, he failed through constitutional diffidence. Yet
no one excelled him in genial and suggestive conversation. The fuency and richness of his colloquial powers were alike remarkable; but the world knew him only as a respectable poet and scholar, and a faithful civic officer, until the Spectator inaugurated that peculiar kind of literature which seemed expressly made to give scope to such a nature as his. There he talked on paper in association with an imaginary club, and under an anonymous signature. No curious eyes made his tongue falter ;
no pert sarcasm brought a flush to his cheek.
In the calm exercise of his benign fancy and wise criticism, he made his daily comments upon the fashion, literature, and characters of the day, with all the playful freedom of coffee-house discussion, united to the thoughtful style of private meditation. Thus his sensitive mind had full expression, while his native modesty was spared; and the Spectator was his confessional, where he uttered his thoughts candidly in the ear of the public, without being awed by its obvious presence. Taste, and not enthusiasm, inspired Addison ; hence his slender claim to the title of a poet. His rhymes, even when faultless and the vehicles of noble thoughts, rarely glow with sentiment. They are usually studied, graceful, correct, but devoid of poetic significance; and yet, owing to the dearth of poetry in his day, and the partialities incident to friendship and to faction, Addison enjoyed an extensive reputation as a poet. There are beautiful turns of expression in his " Letter from Italy,” — usually considered the best of his occasional poems. The famous simile of the angel and some animated rhetoric redeem “The Campaign " from entire mediocrity; and scholars will find numerous instances of felicitous rendering into English verse in his translations. Yet these incidental merits do not give Addison any rank in the highest department of literature to readers familiar with Burns and Byron, Coleridge and Wordsworth. He was an eloquent rhymer, but no legitimate votary of the Muse. It is the dying soliloquy of “ Cato" alone that now survives; and yet few English tragedies, of modern date, were introduced with such éclat, or attended by more tributary offerings. Pope, Steele, and Dr. Young, sounded its praises in verse; the Whig party espoused it as a classic embodiment of liberal principles; and its production has been called the grand climacteric of Addison's reputation. On the night of its first representation, we are told that the author wandered behind the scenes with restless and unappeasable solicitude.” So far as immediate success may be deemed a test of ability, he had reason to be satisfied with the result. The play was acted at London and Oxford for many nights, with great applause. “Cato," writes Pope, “was not so much the wonder of Rome in his days, as he is of Britain in ours.” What revolutions in