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bitter rival, adds: “ His conversation had something in it more charming than I have found in any other man." These sayings express the whole talent of Addison : his writings are conversations, masterpieces of English urbanity and reason; nearly all the details of his character and life have contributed to nourish this urbanity and this reasoning.
At the age of seventeen we find him at Oxford, studious and peaceful, loving solitary walks under the elm-avenues, and amongst the beautiful meadows on the banks of the Cherwell. From the thorny brake of school education he chose the only flower--a withered one, doubtless, Latin verse, but one which, compared to the erudition, to the theology, to the logic of the time, is still a flower. He celebrates, in strophes or hexameters, the peace of Ryswick, or the system of Dr. Burnet; he composes little ingenious poems on a puppet-show, on the battle of the pigmies and cranes; he learns to praise and jest—in Latin it is true—but with such success that his verses recommend him for the rewards of the ministry, and even come to the knowledge of Boileau. At the same time he imbues himself with the Latin poets; he knows them by heart, even the most affected, Claudian and Prudentius; presently in Italy quotations will rain from his pen; from top to bottom, in all its nooks, and under all its aspects, his memory is stuffed with Latin verses. We see that he loves them, scans them with delight, that a fine cæsura charms him, that every delicacy touches him, that no hue of art or emotion escapes him, that his literary tact is refined, and prepared to relish all the beauties of thought and expression. This inclination, too long retained, is a sign of a little mind, I allow; a man ought not to spend so much time in inventing centos. Addison would have done better to enlarge his knowledge—to study Latin prose-writers, Greek literature, Christian antiquity, modern Italy, which he hardly knew. But this limited culture, leaving him weaker, made him more refined. He formed his art by studying only the monuments of Latin urbanity; he acquired a taste for the elegance and refinements, the triumphs and artifices of style; he became self-contemplative, correct, capable of knowing and perfecting his own tongue. In the designed rèminiscences, the happy allusions, the discreet tone of his little poems, I find beforehand many traits of the Spectator.
1 Addison's Works, vi. 729.
Leaving the university, he traveled for a long time in the two most polished countries in the world, France and Italy. He lived at Paris, in the house of the ambassador, in the regular and brilliant society which gave fashion to Europe; he visited Boileau, Malebranche, saw with somewhat malicious curiosity the fine curtsies of the painted and affected ladies of Versailles, the grave and almost stale civilities of the fine speakers and fine dancers of the other sex. He was amused at the complimentary intercourse of Frenchmen, and remarked that when a tailor accosted a shoemaker, he congratulated himself on the honor of saluting him. In Italy he admired the works of art, and praised them in a letter, in which the enthusiasm is rather cold, but very well expressed. He had the fine training which is now given to young men of the higher ranks. And it was not the amusements of Cockneys or the racket of taverns which employed him. His beloved Latin poets followed him everywhere. He had read them over before setting out; he recited their verses in the places which they mention. “I must confess, it was not one of the least entertainments that I met with in travelling, to examine these several descriptions, as it were, upon the spot, and to compare the natural face of the country with the landscapes that the poets have given us of it."3 These were the pleasures of an epicure in literature; there could be nothing more literary and less pedantic than the account which he wrote on his return. Presently this refined and delicate curiosity led him to coins. "There is a great attinity," he says, “between thein and poetry;" for they serve as a commentary upon ancient authors; an effigy of the Graces makes a verse of Horace visible. And on this subject he wrote a very agreeable dialogue, choosing for personages well-bred men: “all three very well versed in the politer parts of learning, and had travelled into the most refined nations of Europe. . . . Their design was to pass away the heat of the summer among the fresh breezes that rise from the river (the Thames), and the agreeable mixture of shades and fountains in which the whole country naturally abounds." Then, with a gentle and well-tempered gaiety, he laughs at pedants who waste life in discussing the Latin toga or sandal, but pointed out, like a man of taste and wit, the services which coins might render to history and the arts. Was there ever a better education for a literary man of the world? He had already a long time ago acquired the art of fashionable poetry, I mean the correct verses, which are complimentary, or written to order. In all polite society we look for the adornment of thought; we desire for it rare, brilliant, beautiful dress, to distinguish it from vulgar thoughts, and for this reason we impose upon it rhyme, metre, noble expression; we keep for it a store of select terms, verified metaphors, suitable images, which are like an aristocratic wardrobe, in which it is hampered but must adorn itself. Men of wit are bound to make verses for it, and in a certain style just as others must display their lace, and that after a certain pattern. Addison put on this dress, and wore it correctly and easily, passing without difficulty from one habit to a similar one, from Latin to English verse. His principal piece, The Campaign, is an excellent model of the agreeable and classical style. Each verse is full, perfect in itself, with a clever antithesis, a good epithet, or a concise picture. Countries have noble names; Italy is Ausonia, the Black Sea is the Scythian Sea; there are mountains of dead, and a thunder of eloquence sanctioned by Lucian; pretty turns of oratorical address imitated from Ovid; cannons are mentioned in poetic periphrases, as later in Delille.3 The poem is an official and decorative amplification, like that which Voltaire wrote afterwards on the battle of Fontenoy. Addison does yet better; he wrote an opera, a comedy, a much admired tragedy on the death of Cato. Such writing was always, in the last century, a passport to a good style and to fashionable society. A young man in Voltaire's time, on leaving college, had to write his tragedy as now he must write an article on political economy; it was then a proof that he could converse with ladies, as now it is a proof that he can argue with men. He learned the art of being amusing, of touching the heart, of talking of love; he thus escaped from dry or special studies; he could choose among events or sentiments those which interest or please; he was able to hold his own in good society, to be sometimes agreeable there, never to offend. Such is the culture which these works gave Addison; it is of slight importance that they are poor. In them he dealt with the passions, with humor. He produced in his opera some lively and smiling pictures; in his tragedy some noble or moving accents; he emerged from reasoning and pure dissertation; he acquired the art of rendering morality visible and truth expressive; he knew how to give ideas a physiognomy, and that an attractive one. Thus was the finished writer perfected by contact with ancient and modern, foreign and national urbanity, by the sight of the fine arts, by experience of the world and study of style, by continuous and delicate choice of all that is agreeable in things and men, in life and art.
| Addison's Works, 4 vols. 4to, Tonson, 1721, vol. i. 43. A letter to Lord Halifax (170).
2 “Renowned in verse, each shady thicket grows,
And every stream in heavenly numbers flows. ...
With circling notes and labyrinths of sound.”-Ibid. 3 Preface to Remarks on Italy, ii.
* Remarks on Italy.
1 First Dialogue on Medals, i. 435.
2 On the victory of Blenheim, i. 63. 3“With floods of gore that from the vanquished fell
The marshes stagnate and the rivers swell,
Rows of hollow brass,
His politeness received from his character a singular bent and charm. It was not external, simply voluntary and official; it came from the heart. He was gentle and kind, of refined sensibility, so shy even as to remain silent and seem dull in a large company or before strangers, only recovering his spirits before intimate friends, and confessing that only two persons can converse together. He could not endure an acrimonious discussion; when his opponent was intractable, he pretended to approve, and for punishment, plunged him discreetly into his own folly. He withdrew by preference from political arguments; being invited to deal with them in the Spectator, he contented himself with inoffensive and general subjects, which could interest all whilst offending none. It would have pained him to give others pain. Though a very decided and steady Whig, he continued moderate in polemics; and in an age when the winners in the political fight were ready to ruin their opponents or to bring them to the block, he confined himself to show the faults of argument made by the Tories, or to rail courteously at their prejudices. At Dublin he went first of all to shake hands with Swift, his great and falleri adversary. Insulted bitterly by Dennis and Pope, he refused to employ against them his influence or his wit, and praised Pope to the end. What can be more touching, when we have read his life, than his essay on kindness ? we perceive that he is unconsciously speaking of himself:
“There is no society or conversation to be kept up in the world without good-nature, or something which must bear its appearance, and supply its place. For this reason mankind have been forced to invent a hind of artifi. cial humanity, which is what we express by the word good-breeding. ... The greatest wits I have conversed with are men eminent for their humanity. ... Gool-nature is generally born with us; health, prosperity, and kind treatment from the world are great cherishers of it where they find it.'} 1
It so happens that he is involuntarily describing his own charm and his own success. It is himself that he is unveiling; he was very prosperous, and his good fortune spread itself around him in affectionate sentiments, in constant consideration for others, in calm cheerfulness. At college he was distinguished; his Latin verses made him a fellow at Oxford; he spent ten years there in grave amusements and in studies which pleased him. Dryden, the prince of literature, praised him in the highest terms, when Addison was only twenty-two. When he left Oxford, the ministry gave him a pension of three hundred pounds to finish his education, and prepare him for public service. On his return from his travels, his poem on Blenheim placed him in the first rank of the Whigs. He became twice Secretary for Ireland, Under-Secretary of State, a member of Parliament, one of the principal Secretaries of State. Party hatred spared him ; amid the almost universal defeat of the Whigs, he was re-elected member of Parliament; in the furious war of Whigs and Tories, both united to applaud his tragedy of Cato; the most cruel pamphleteers respected him ; his uprightness, his talent, seemed exalted by common consent above discussion. He lived in abundance, activity, and honors, wisely and usefully, amid the assiduous admiration and constant affection of learned and distinguished friends, who could never have too much of his conversation, amid the applause of all the good men and all the cultivated minds of England. If twice the fall of his party seemed to destroy or retard his fortune, he maintained his position without much effort, by reflection and coolness, prepared
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