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The Spectator had many contributors ; and Steele, whose negligence kepr him always in a hurry, when it was his turn to furnish a paper, called loudly for the Letters, of which Addison, whose materials were more, made little use ; having recourse to sketches and hints, the product of his former studies, which he now reviefred and completed : among these are named by Tickell the Essays on Wit, those on the Pleasures of the Imagination, and the Criticism on Milton.
When the House of Hanover took possession of the throne, it was reasonable to expect that the zeal ef Addison would be suitably rewarded. Before the arrival of King George, he was made secretary to the regency, and was required by his office to send notice to Hanover that the Queen was dead, and that the throne was vacant. To do this would not have been difficult to any man but Addison, who was overwhelmed with the greatness of the event, and so distracted by choice of expression, that the lords, who could not wait for the niceties of criticism, called Mr. Southwell, a clerk in the house, and ordered him to dispatch the message. Southwell readily told what was necessary in the common style of business, and valued himself upon having done what was too hard for Addison.
He was better qualified for the Freeholder, a paper which he published twice a week, from Dec. 23, 1715, to the middle of the next year. This was undertaken in defence of the established government, sometimes with argument, sometimes with mirth. In argument he had many equals; but his humour was singular and matchless. Bigotry itself must be delighted with the Tory-Fox-hunter.
There are however some strokes less elegant, and less decent ; such as the Pretender's Journal, in which one topick of ridicule is his poverty:- This mode of abuse had been employed by Milton against king Charles II.
Jacobai. “ Centum exulantis viscera marsupii regis.” And Oldmixon delights to tell of some alderman of London, that he had more money than the exiled princes; but that which might be expected from Milton's savageness, or Oldmixon's mcanncss was not suitable to the delicasy of Addison.
Steele thought the humour of the Freeholder too nice and gentle for such noisy times; and is reported to have said that the ministry made use of a love, when they should have called for a trumpet.
This year (1716 *) be married the courtess dowager of Warwick, whom he had solicited by a very long and anxious courtship, perhaps with beliaviour not very unlike that of Sir Roger to his disdainful widow; and who, I
am a fraid, diverted herself often by playing with his passion. He is said to have first known her by becoming tutor to her son *. “ le forined," said Tonson, “ the design of getting that lady, from the time when he was first Cc recommended into the family.” In what part of his life he obtained the j'ecommendation, or how long, and in why manner he lived in the family, I know not. His advances ai fi: st were certainly timorous, but grew bolder as his repuration and influence increased; till at last the ludy was persuaded to marry him on terms much like those on which a Turkish princess, is espoused, to whom the sultan is reported to pronounce, “ Daughter, I give “thce this man for thy slave.” The marriage, if uncontradicted report can be credited, mzde no addition to his happiness; it neither found them nur made them <quai. She always remembered her own rank, and thought herself entitled to treat with very little ceremony the tutor of her son. Rowe ballad of the Despairing Shepherd is said to have been written, either before or after marriage, upon this memorable pair; and it is certain that Addison has left behind him no encouragement for ambitious love.
The year after (1717), he rose to his highest elevation, being made secte tary of state. For this employment he miglir be justly supposed qualified by long practice of business, and by his regular ascent through other offices; bar expectation is often disappointed ; it is universally confessed that he was unequal to the duties of his place. In the house of commons he cculd nog speak, and therefore was useless to the defence of the governmeðț. In the office, says Pope t, he could not issue an order without losing his time in quest of fine expressions. What he gained in rank, he lost in credit; and, finding by experience his own inability, was forced to solicit his dismission, with a pension of fifteen hundred pounds a year. His friends palliated this relinquishment, of u hich both friends and enemies knew the true reason, with an account of declining health, and the necesssity of recess and quiet.
He now returned to his vocation, and began to plan literary occupations for his future life. He purposed a tragedy on the death of Socrates ; a story of which, as Tickell remarks, the basis is narrow, and to which I know not how love could have been appended. There would however have been no tant either of virtue in the sentiments, or elegance in the language.
He engaged in a nobler work, a defence of the Christian Religion, of which rart was published after his death; and he designed to have made a new poetical version of the Psalms.
These pious compositions Pope imputed | to a selfish motive, upon the credit, as he owns, of Tonson; who having quarrell’d with Aldison, and not loving him, said, that, when he laid down the secretary's office, he intended
to take orders, and obtain a bishoprick;" for,” said he, “ I always thought " him a priest in his heart."
That Pope should have thought this conjecture of Tonson worth remembrance, is a proof, but indeed so far as I have found, the only proof, that he retained some malignity from their ancient rivalry. Tonson pretended but to guess it ; no other mortal ever suspected it ; and Pope might have reflected, that a man who had been secretary of state, in the ministry of Sunderland, knew a nearer way to a bişhoprick than by defending Religion, or translating the Psalms.
It is related that he had once a design to make an English Dictionary, and that he considered Dr. Tillotson as the writer of highest authority, There was formerly sent to me by Mr. Locker, clerk of the Leathersellers Company, who was eminent for curiosity and literature, a collection of examples selected from Tillotson's works, as Locker said, by Addison. It came too late to be of use, so I inspected it but slightly, and remember it indistinctly. I thought the passages too short.
Addison however did not conclude his life in peaceful studies ; but relapsed, when he was near lais end, to a political dispute.
It so happened that (1718-19), a controversy was agitated with great vehemence between those friends of long continuance, Addison and Steelę. It may be asked, in the language of Homer, what power or what cause could set them at variance. The subject of their dispute was of great inaportance. The earl of Sunderland proposed an act called The Feerage Bi!! ; by which the number of Peers should be fixed, and the king restrained from any new creation of nobility, unless when an old family should be extinct. To this the lords would naturally agree ; and the king, who was yet little acquainted with his own prerogative, and, as is now well known, almost indifferent to the possessions of the Crown, had been persuaded to consent. The only difficulty was found among the commons, who were not likely to approve the perpetual exclusion of themselves and their posterity. The bill therefore was eagerly opposed, and among others by Sir Robert Walpole, whose speech was published.
The lords might think their dignity diminished by improper advancements, and particularly by the introduction of twelve new peers at once, to produce a majority of Tories in the last reign; an act of authority violent enough, yet certainly legal, and by no means to be compared with that contempt of national right, with which some time afterwards, by the instigation of Whiggism, the commons, chosen by the people for three years, chose themselves for seven. But, whatever might be the disposition of the lords, the people had no wish to increase their power. The tendency of the bill, as Steele observed in a letter to the earl of Oxford, was to introduce an Aris
tocracy ; for a majority in the house of lords, so limited, would have been despotick and irresistable.
To prevent this subversion of the ancient establishment, Steele, whose pen readily seconded his political passions, endeavoured to alarm the nation by a pamphlet called The Plebeion ; to this an answer was published by Addison, under the Title of The Old Whig, in which it is not discovered that Steele was then known to be the advocate for the commons. Steele replied by a 'second Flehian; and, whether by igno' ance or by courtesy, confined himself to his question, without any personal notice of his opponent. Nothing hitherto was commitied against the laws of friendship, or proprieties of decency; but controvertists cannot long retain their kindness for each other. The Old Whig answered the Flebeian, and could not forbear some contempt of " little Dicky, whose trade it was to write pamphlets.” Dicky however did not lose his settled veneration for his friend; but contented himself with quoting some lines of Cato, which were at once detection and reproof. The bill was laid aside during that session, anel Addison died before the next, in which its commitment was rejected by two hundred sixty-five to one hundied seventy-seven.
Every reader surely must regret that these two illustrious friends, after so many years past in confidence and endearment, in unity of interest, conformity of opinion, and fellowship of study, should finally part in acrimonious opposition. Such a controversy was, “ Bellum plusquam civile,” as 'Lucan expresses it. Why could not faction find other advocates ? But, among the uncertainties of the human state, we are doomed to number the instability of friendship.
Of this dispute I have little knowledge but from the Biographia Britannica. The Old Whig is not inserted in Addison's works, nor is it mentioned by Tickell in his life; why it was onnitted, the biographers doubtless give the true reason ; the fact was too recent, and those who had been heared in the contention were not yet cool.
The necessity of complying with times, and of sparing persons, is the great impediment of biography. History may be formed from permanent monuments and records; but Lives can only be written from personal
knowledge, which is growing every day less, and in a short time is lost 'for ever. What is known can seldom be immediately told; and when it
might be told, it is no longer known. The delicate features of the mind, ihe nice discriminations of character, and the minute peculiarities of conduct, are soon obliterated ; and it is surely better that caprice, obstinacy, frolick, and folly, however they might delight in the description, should be silently forgotten, than that, by wanton merriment and unseasonable detection, a pang should be given to a widow, a daughter, a brother, or a friend. As the process of these narratives is now bringing me among my
contemporaries, I begin to feel myself " walking upon ashes under which " the fire is not extinguished," and coming to the time of which it will be proper rather to say “ nothing that is false, than all that is true."
The end of this useful life was now approaching.- Addison had for some time been oppressed by shortness of breath, which was now aggravated by a dropsy; and, finding his danger pressing, he prepared to die conformably to his own precepts and professions.
During this lingering decay, he sent, as Pope relates *, a message by the eart of Warwick to Mr. Gay, desiring to see him, Gay, who had not visited him for some time before, obeyed the summons, and found himself received with great kindness. The purpose for which the interview bad been solicited was then discovered. Addison told him that he had injured him ; but that, if he recovered, he would recompence him. What the injury was he did not explain; nor did Gay ever know; but supposed that some preferment designed for him had, by Addison's intervention, been with-held.
Lord Warwick was a young man of very irrregular life, and perhaps of loose opinions. Addison, for whom he did not want respect, had very diligently endeavoured to reclaim him ; but his arguments and expostulations had no effect. One experiment, however, remained to be tried: when he found his life near its end, he directed the young lord to be called ; and when he desired, with great tenderness, to hear his last injunctions, told him, “I have sent for you that you may see how a Christian can die." What effect this awful scene had on the earl, I know not; he likewise died himself in a short time.
In Tickell's excellent Erēgy on his friend are these lines :
He taught us how to live ; and, oh! too high
In which he alludes, as he told Dr. Young, to this moving interview.
Having given directions to Mr. Tickell for the publication of his works, and dedicated them on his death-bed to his friend Mr. Craggs, he died June 17, 1719, at Holland-house, leaving no child but a daughter.
Of his virtue it is a sufficient testimony, that the resentment of party 'has transmitted no charge of any crime. He was not one of those who are praised only after death; for his merit was so generally acknowledged, that Swift, having observed that his election passed without a contest, adds, thai, if he proposed himself for king, he would hardly have been refused.
His zeal for his party did not extinguish his kindness for the merit of his
opponents : when he was secretary in Ireland, be refused to intermit his acquaintance with Swift.