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THE course of English literature was now becoming more correct, regular, and artificial, descending from Dryden, as from a new fountain of English thought, expression, and harmony, but losing in its progress some of the old native power and freedom. To be retined and critical, rather than original and inventive, was the ambition of our authors. The poets enjoyed a degree of worldly prosperity and importance in society that has too rarely blessed the general community of authors. Some filled high diplomatic and other official situations, or were engaged in schemes of politics and ambition. The reigns of Queen Anne and George I. have been designated the Augustan age of English literature, but excepting in the amount of patronage extended to authors, this eulogy has not been confirmed by later generations. The writings preceding the Restoration and those of our own times are more original, more imaginative, and at the same time more natural. The poetry of this period, exquisite as much of it is in the works of Prior ard Pope, possesses none of the lyrical grandeur and enthusiasm which redeem so many errors in the elder poets. Where excellence is attained, it is seldom in the delineation of strong passion, and never in bold fertility of invention. Pope was at the head of this school of artificial life and manners, He was master of higher powers; he had access to the haunted ground of imagination, but it was not bis favourite or ordinary walk. Others were content with humbler worship, with propitiating a minister or a mistress, reviving the forms of classic mythology, or satirising without seeking to reform the fashionable follies of the day. Several authors, however, were, each in his own line, masters. Satire, conveyed in language forcible and copious, was certainly carried to its utmost pitch of excellence by Swift. The wit of Arbuthnot is not yet eclipsed. The art of describing the manners and discussing the morals of the passing time was practised with unrivalled felicity by Steele and Addison; and with all the licentiousness of Congreve and Farquhar, it may fairly be said that English comedy was in their hands what it had never been before, and what it has scarcely in an y instance but that of Sheridan subsequently attained.
WALSH-CHARLES MONTAGU. Among the minor poets, contemporaries of Dryden, may be mentioned WILLIAM WALSH (1663–1708), who was popular as a critic and scholar, and author of some miscellaneous pieces in prose and verse. These are now all forgotten, and Walsh is remembered only as the friend of Dryden and Pope. He directed the youthful studies of Pope, invited him to his seat of Abberley, in Worcestershirewhich country Walsh represented in parliament—and generally extended to the young poet a degree of favour and kindness which was generous and never forgotten. The great patron of poetry at this time was CHARLES MONTAGU, Earl of Halifax (1661–1715), who first distinguished himself by some verses on the death of Charles II. and by joining with Prior in a burlesque poem, “The City Mouse and the Country Mouse,' written in ridicule of Dryden's 'Hind and Panther.' Becoming a member of the House of Commons, Montagu evinced à knowledge of public affairs and talents for business which soon raised him to honours and emoluments. He filled some of the highest offices of the state; in 1700 he was created Baron Halifax, and on the accession of George I. he was made Earl of Halifax, Knight of the Garter, and first commissioner of the Treasury. Halifax was, as Pope says, “fed with soft dedication all day long.' Steele, Congreve, Rowe, Tickell, and numerous other authors, dedicated works to the literary statesman; Swift solicited his patronage, but was disappointed; Pope said Halifax was one of the first to favour him, but the poet afterwards satirised him in the character of Bufo ; Addison -whom Halifax nobly patronised-inscribed to him his best poetical production, 'A Letter from Italy. Thus Halifax continued the liberal patronage of literature begun in the previous reign by the Earl of Dorset ; and the Tory leaders, Harley and Bolingbroke, ‘vied with the chiefs of the Whig party,' as Macaulay remarks, 'in zeal for the encouragement of letters.' This fostering influence declined under the House of Hanover ; but during the period now before us. the change was little felt.
JOSEPH ADDISON. JOSEPH ADDISON, the son of an English dean, was born at Milston, Wiltshire, in 1672. His prose works constitute the chief source of his fame; but his muse proved the architect of his fortune, and led him first to distinction. From his character, station, and talents, no man of his day exercised a more extensive or beneficial influence on literature. He distinguished himself at Oxford by his Latin poetry, and appeared first in English verse by an address to Dryden, written in his twenty-second year. It opens thus:
How long, great poet! shall thy sacred lays
The Roman genius in its last decays. The youthful poet's praise of his great master is confined to his translations, works which a modern eulogist would scarcely select as the peculiar glory of Dryden. Addison also contributed an Essay on Virgil's Georgics,' prefixed to Dryden's translation. His remarks are brief, but finely and clearly written. At the same time, he translated the fourth ‘Georgic,' and it was published in Dryden's ‘Miscellany,' issued in 1693, with a warm commendation from the aged poet on the most ingenious Mr. Addison of Oxford.' Next year, he ventured on a bolder flight-'An Account of the Greatest English Poets,' addressed to Mr. H. S. (the famous Dr. Henry Sacheverell), April 3, 1694. This' Account'is a poem of about 150 lines, containing sketches of Chaucer, Spenser, Cowley, Milton, Waller, &c. We subjoin the lines on the author of the ‘Faery Queen,' though, if we are to believe Spence, Addison had not then read the poet he ventured to criticise:
Old Spencer next, warmed with poetic rage,
And all the pleasing landscape fades away. This subdued and frigid character of Spenser shews that Addison wanted both the fire and the fancy of the poet. And, strange to say, he does not mention Shakspeare! His next production is equally tame and commonplace, but the theme was more congenial to his style: it is ‘A Poem to his Majesty, Presented to the Lord-keeper.' Lord Somers, then the keeper of the great seal, was gratified by this compliment, and became one of the steadiest patrons of Addison. In 1699, he procured for him a pension of £300 a year, to enable him to make a tour in Italy. The government patronage was never better bestowed. The poet entered upon his travels, and resided abroad two years, writing from thence a poetical ‘Letter from Italy to Charles Lord Halifax,' 1701. This is the most elegant and animated of all his poetical productions. The classic ruins of Rome, the heavenly figures' of Raphael, the river Tiber, and streams “immortalised in song,' and all the golden groves and flowery meadows of Italy, seem, as was justly remarked, to have raised his fancy, and brightened his expressions. There was also, as Goldsmith observed, a strain of political thinking in the ‘Letter, that was then new to our poetry. He returned to England in 1703.
The death of King William deprived him of his pension, and appeared to crush his hopes and expectations ; but being afterwards engaged to celebrate in verse the battle of Blenheim, Addison so gratified the lord-treasurer, Godolphin, by his .gazette in rhyme,' that he was appointed a commissioner of appeals. This successful poem, “The Campaign,' was published in 1705, and the same year appeared the account of the poet's travels, entitled ' Remarks on several Parts of Italy,' &c. dedicated to Lord Somers. Early in 1706, Addison, by the recommendation of Lord Godolphin, was appointed Under Secretary of State, and about a twelvemonth afterwards (March 4, 1706–7) his dramatic poem or opera, Rosamond,' was produced at Drury Lane, but acted only for three nights. The story of fair Rosamond would seem well suited for dramatic representation; and in the bowers and shades of Woodstock, the poet had materials for scenic description and display. The genius of Addison, however, was not adapted to the drama; and bis opera being confined in action, and written wholly in rhyme, possesses little to attract either readers or spectators. He wrote afterwards a comedy, 'The Drummer, or the Haunted House,' which Steele brought out after the death of the author. This play contains a fund cf quiet natural humour, hut has not strength or breadth enough of character or action for the stage. In 1709, when the Marquis of Wharton was appointed Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, Addison accompanied him as secretary, and was made keeper of records, with a salary of £300 a year. In the summer of that year he was elected M.P. for Cavan, and in the journals of two sessions his name frequently appears-occasionally as a debater in the Irish Parliament. He had also entered upon his brilliant career as an essayist.
The 'Tatler' was commenced by Steele on the 12th of April 1709 ; Addison's first contribution to it appeared on the 26th of May. By his papers in the “Tatler,' 'Spectator,' and 'Guardian,' Addison left all his contemporaries far behind in this delightful 'department of literature. In these papers, he first displayed that chaste and delicate bumour, refined observation, and knowledge of the world, which now form his most distinguishing characteristics; and in his 'Vision of Mirza,' his 'Reflections in Westminster Abbey,' and other of his graver essays, he evinced a more poetical imagination and deeper Fein of feeling than his previous writings had at all indicated. In 1713, his tragedy of Cato' was brought upon the stage. Pope thought the piece deficient in dramatic interest, and the world has confirmed his judgment; but he wrote a prologue for the tragedy in
his happiest manner, and it was performed with almost unexampled success. Party-spirit ran high: the Whigs applauded the liberal sontiments in the play, and their cheers were echoed back by the Tories, to shew that they did not apply them as censures on themselves. After all the Whig enthusiasm, Lord Bolingbroke sent for Booth the actor, who personated the character of Cato, and presented him with fifty guineas, in acknowledgment, as he said, of his defending the cause of liberty so well against a perpetual dictator (a bit at the Duke of Marlborough). Poetical eulogiums were showered upon the author, Steele, Hughes, Young, Tickell, and Ambrose Phillips being among the writers of these encomiastic yerses. The queen expressed a wish that the tragedy should be dedicated to her, but Addison had previously designed this honour for his friend Tickell; and to avoid giving offence either to his loyalty or his friendship, he published it without any dedication. It was translated into French, Italian, and German, and was performed by the Jesuits in their college at St. Omer. Being,' says Sir Walter Scott, 'in form and essence rather a French than an English play, it is one of the few English tragedies which foreigners have admired.' The unities of time and place have been preserved, and the action of the play is consequently much restricted. Cato abounds in generous and patriotic sentiments, and contains passages of great dignity and sonorous diction ; but the poet fails to unlock the sources of passion and natural emotion. It is a splendid and imposing work of art, with the grace and majesty, and also the lifelessness of a noble antique statue.
Addison was now at the height of his fame. He had long aspired to the hand of the Countess-dowager of Warwick, whom he had first known by becoming tutor to her son, and he was united to her in 1716. The poet is said to have married discord in a noble wife.' His marriage was reported to be as unhappy as Dryden's with Lady Elizabeth Howard, and that both ladies awarded to their husbands the ‘heraldry of hands, not hearts,' but in the case of Addison we have no direct trustworthy information on the subject. Addison received his highest political honour in 1717, when he was made secretary of state, but he held the office only for a short time. He wanted the physical boldness and ready resources of an effective public speaker, and was unable to defend his measures in parliament. He is also said to have been slow and fastidious in the discharge of the ordinary duties of office. When he held the situation of under-secretary, he was employed to send word to Prince George at Hanover of the death of the queen, and the vacancy of the throne; but the critical nicety of the author overpowered his official experience, and Addison was so distracted by the choice of expression, that the task was given to a clerk, who boasted of having done what was too hard for Addison. The vulgar love of wonder may have exaggerated the . poet's inaptitude for business, but it is certain he was no orator. He retired from the principal Secretaryship with a pension of £1500 per