was always, like the great Micawber, in a state of financial embarrassment; and now there seemed to present itself, thanks to his official position, a chance which his racy Irish humour might improve to his permanent advantage. Many other papers,weekly, tri-weekly, or daily, were being circulated in town; it was the year of Malplaquet; rumours of war and negociation filled the air; and the public mind was in that eager and excited condition which made it ready to entertain and hear all appeals to its judgment, though of the most various origin and nature. Steele gave to his new paper the name of 'The Tatler,' meaning that it was for the reading of all companies and ordinary societies of men and women; he ascribed its authorship to * Isaac Bickerstaff,' because that was the assumed name under which Swift had issued his Predictions for the year 1708, which, with the various other satirical pieces suggested by the fury of poor Partridge the almanack-maker, (who found his trade of charlatan taken out of his hands by this master of mystification), and published under the same name of Bickerstaff, had, as Steele says”, “rendered it famous through all parts of Europe.' Poor Steele was always thinking of and working for a reformation of society, but never succeeded in making an effectual beginning with himself. “Arrest thyself,' says Carlyle, 'out of the number of the fools and dastards;' then there will at least be one less. Steele ardently desired to stop all the men and women whom he saw around him from falling into the snares of folly and vice; at the same time he could not cure himself of a sad propensity to drink, a trick of muddling away his money, and a generally dissipated and irregular mode of existence. In the Tatler he proposed to give his 'advices and reflections' to mankind three times a week, on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays. There was to be in it something which may be of entertainment to the fair sex;' and according to the nature of the subjects treated, the place of writing was to vary; poetry and criticism were to be dated from Will's coffee house, Covent Garden ; learning from the Grecian in the Strand; "accounts of gallantry, pleasure, and entertainment’ from White's in St. James' Street; foreign and domestic news from St. James' in the same street; and papers on any other subject from my own apartment.' 1

1 Preface to Vol. I of the Tatler.

[blocks in formation]

The first number of the Tatler appeared on the 12th April, 1709. Addison was then in Ireland; but he soon detected the authorship of his old friend and school-fellow, (they had been at the Charter House and at Oxford together,) for in the sixth number there was a remark on the appropriateness with which Virgil, as compared with Homer, distributes his epithets, which Addison knew that he himself, the father of the thought, had communicated to Steele. From that time Addison began to contribute to the Tatler, at first notes and sketches, which Steele was to work up, afterwards finished papers. He is said to have been concerned in the authorship of sixty-nine out of the two hundred and seventy-one papers contained in the Tatler. A large proportion of these are visions, dreams, or allegories, and most of the rest are humorous delineations of manners, among which the papers composing the “Journal of the Court of Honour' must be included. But towards the end of the Tatler Addison began to indulge his serious vein, and No. 267, which discusses the principle of religious retreats, is quite in the character of many Saturday papers in the Spectator. The fickle Steele had got tired of his undertaking by this time, and he availed himself of the excuse that, with No. 271, the printer informed him that there was sufficient matter to fill four substantial volumes, to take a graceful leave of his subscribers. Swift, in his Journal to Stella, says that it was high time, for that ‘he grew cruel dull and dry.' In the preface to the octavo edition of 1711, Steele, with that charming generous frankness which makes us inclined to be lenient to his peccadillos, admits that Addison had assisted him in the Tatler with such force of genius, humour, wit, and learning, that I fared like a distressed prince who calls in a powerful neighbour to his aid; I was undone by my auxiliary; when I had once called him in, I could not subsist without dependence on him.'

The Tatler came to an end in the first week of 1711, and Addison had finally returned from Ireland in the preceding August. For a man naturally shy and retiring, yet fond of fame, the anonymous publication of thoughts and images which he had been accumulating during many years of foreign travel or home observation, in a form calculated to attract a large circle of readers, was exactly that mode of self-utterance which suited him. The genius of Addison, curious and observant rather than

penetrating, was allied to a virtuous character, a love of his fellow-men, a reverence for antiquity, and a keen sense of humour. He belonged to a generation which had seen all its political and religious aspirations successively disappointed,-all its ideals by turns discredited, -and which was beset by counsellors, the wits and the deists, who, practically, were inviting it to acquiesce in a life of reckless animalism, as though truth were unattainable, and virtue a dream. The sons of Puritan fathers,— of men who had fought for the good old cause and borne it aloft through a long succession of victories-had seen them die in the sad consciousness that after all they had wrought no deliverance upon the earth;' that that glorious theocracy which they had dreamed of, and fancied for a moment they had set up, was as far off as ever, and that of all their conquests they had now no other fruit than a somewhat contemptuous toleration. Toleration ! what a chilling and disenchanting sound must the word have had for a party which had been in its day, not tolerated, but triumphant; which over all the land had cut down the hydra of Erastian prelacy, destroyed as far as they could the remaining tokens and emblems of popish superstition, established, as they deemed, a pure spiritual worship; and-only tolerating sectarian differences among themselves—had avowed its intention of extirpating, wherever their power extended, the liturgical Christianity of Catholic Europe? And now this party in its various forms ---Independents, Baptists, Millenarians, Levellers, Brownists, Quakers, &c.,—was barely tolerated; just allowed to exist; while prelacy and monarchy were to outward appearance as dominant as ever. On the other hand, the sons of the Cavaliers knew that, in spite of the Restoration, their fathers had not passed away before many a pang and sad misgiving as to the present and future of England had distressed their souls. A queen indeed was reigning, and a Stuart ; but on what terms ! by virtue of a kind of popular appointment, not by right divine; and her successor was to be an alien prince, foisted in by Whig adroitness and Puritan disaffection to occupy the throne of the exiled Stuarts. The Church of England, indeed, was again

1. If,' wrote Cromwell to the delegates who desired to treat for the surrender of Ross,' by liberty of conscience you mean a liberty to exercise the mass, I judge it best to use plain dealing, and to let you know, where the parliament of England have power, that will not be permitted.'

[blocks in formation]

erect, but it was infested by liberals and latitudinarians, and governed by men, some of whom were bishops only in name, but rank dissenters or Socinians in their hearts. The dream which flattered the imaginations of Whitgift, Andrewes, and Laud, of a decently ordered Protestant church, co-extensive with the nation which supported it, moderating between the superstitions of Rome and the fanaticism of Geneva,-must now be resigned for ever; for Whiggism had given toleration to the dissenters, and they were using it to spread themselves and their tenets with an ever increasing alacrity. It was this pervading sense of disappointment which gave rise to the strange irritability and discontent so noticeable among the educated classes in the reigns of William III and Anne. But the depression bore less hardly on the Whigs, because, though the representatives of the republicans of 1649, they had honestly renounced republicanism, and looked for political and other reforms only through the working of a monarchical constitution, tempered by Whiggism. Addison was a typical Whig; though a warm supporter of the Revolution of 1688, his aim was not to establish any theoretically perfect government, but merely to replace an unmanageable by a manageable branch of the royal family; while helping to keep out Charles I's grandson, he spoke of Charles I himself as the 'Royal Martyr;' and, though favourable to toleration, he personally preferred the church as by law established. It was a comfortable system, and it suited the times and the circumstances ;—if it rested on no reasoned-out philosophy of the things of heaven and earth, that did not disparage it in the eyes of Addison, whose mind, as we have said, was widely sympathetic and observant rather than penetrating. He might naturally feel that the best advice to be given to an Englishman in 1711 was, 'Spartam, quam nactus es, orna; '--this new settlement of the Crown, this house of Hanover, though nobody loves them, represent the best practicable compromise; this is the system,

,-as M. Thiers lately said of the republic in France,—which divides men the least; let us adopt it then without more ado, and, keeping within its limits, embellish and elevate what remains of life:

"Ηδ' εστίν ή σώζουσα, και ταύτης έπι
Πλέοντες όρθης, τους φίλους ποιήσομεν.

1 Soph. Antig.

Such being his fundamental principles, Addison turned his kindly heart to the consideration of what, in the shape of literature, would be likely to do the most good to the greatest number of persons, men and women alike; and the Spectator was the result. To abstain from party politics, the animosities arising from which are generally out of all proportion to the importance of the question at stake, in religious and moral subjects to make 'guesses at truth, by throwing the light of sober reflection on many a secluded tract and bypath of speculation which had never before been popularly treated, on social customs and minor morals to be humorous, didactic, and judicially censorious,--such was the programme of the new periodical.

In the Tatler there had been no machinery, or next to none; the authorship is supposed to be in the hands of the snuffy astrologer, mountebank, and quack-doctor, Isaac Bickerstaff, assisted sometimes by his half-sister Jenny Distaff; no one else has anything to do with it. In the Spectator care was taken at the outset to provide more attractive machinery; and the success corresponded to the attempt. The Spectator does not, like the Tatler, frequent the various noted coffee-houses in town, and write from each to the public that which was in keeping with the place and company; he belongs to a small select club imagined for the occasion, the members of which, representing the gentry, the learned professions, commerce, the army, and the town, are supposed to take a lively interest in what their odd silent colleague, the Spectator, either publishes from his own resources, or receives from his various correspondents. Yet the existence of the club seems to have little to do with the promotion of the work of criticism and reform which the Spectator has undertaken. None of the members are supposed to contribute papers except the Spectator himself; a few letters indeed of their composition are inserted; but the most prominent among them, Sir Roger de Coverley, does not take part in the work even to this extent. The club itself supplies the Spectator with materials for some of his most humorous and delightful papers; but it takes no share in elaborating them; it is for the most part passive machinery, not active. But his intimacy with Sir Roger de Coverley, arising from this club connection, makes it easy and natural for the Spectator to give us that full length portrait of an English country gentleman, generous, ignorant, loyal, patriotic, and prejudiced,

« ForrigeFortsett »