Page images
PDF
EPUB

sparing hand It was natural that he should be angry with them, and especially angry with Addison. But what above all seems to have disturbed Sir Richard was the elevation of Tickell, who, at thirty, was made by Addison under-secretary of state; while the editor of the Taller and Spectator, the author of the Crisis, the member for Stockbridge who had been persecuted for firm adherence to the house of Hanover, was, at near fifty, forced, after many solicitations and complaints, to. content himself with a share in the patent of Drury-lane theatre. Steele himself says, in his celebrated letter to Congreve, that Addison, by his preference of Tickell, "incurred the warmest resentment of other gentlemen;" and every thing seems to indicate that, of those resentful gentlemen Steele was himself one.

While poor Sir Richard was brooding over what he considered as Addison's unkindness, a new cause of quarrel arose. The whig party, already divided against itself, was rent by a new schism. The celebrated bill for limiting the number of peers had been brought in. The proud Duke of Somerset, first in rank of all nobles whose religion permitted them to sit in Parliament, was the ostensible author of the measure. But it was supported, and, in truth, devised by the prime minister.

We are satisfied that the bill was most pernicious; and we fear that the motives which induced Sunderland to frame it were not honourable to him. But we cannot deny that it was supported by many of the best and wisest men of that age. Nor was this strange. The royal prerogative had, within the memory of the generation then in the vigour of life, been so grossly abused, that it was still regarded with a jealousy which, when the peculiar situation of the house of Brunswick is considered, may perhaps be called immoderate. The prerogative of creating peers had, in the opinion of the whigs, been grossly abused by Queen Anne's last ministry; and even the tories admitted that her majesty, in swamping, as it has since been called, the Upper House, had done what only an extreme case could justify. The theory of the English constitution, according to many high authorities, was, that three independent powers, the monarchy, the nobility, and the commons, ought constantly to act as checks on each other. If this theory were sound, it seemed to follow that to put one of these powers under the absolute control of the other two, was absurd. But if the number of peers were unlimited, it could not be denied that the Upper House was under the absolute control of the crown and the commons, and was indebted only to their moderation for any power which it might be suffered to retain.

Steele took part with the opposition; Addison with the ministers. Steele, in a paper called the "Plebeian," vehemently attacked the bill. Sunderland called for help on Addison, and Addison obeyed the call. In a paper called the "Old.Whig," he answered, and indeed refuted, Steele's arguments* It seems to us, that the premises of both the controversialists were unsound; that, pn those premises,

Addison reasoned well and Steele ill; and that consequently Addison brought out a false conclusion, while Steele blundered upon the truth. In style, in wit, and in politeness, Addison maintained his superiority, though the Old Whig is by no means one of his happiest performances.*

At first, both the anonymous opponents observed the laws of propriety. But at length Steele so far forgot himself as to throw an odious imputation on the morals of the chiefs of the administration. Addison replied with severity; but, in our opinion, with less severity than was due to so grave an offence against morality and decorum; nor did he, in his just anger, forget for a moment the laws of good taste and good breeding. One calumny which has been often repealed, and never yet contradicted, it is our duty to expose. It is asserted in the Biographia Britannica, that Addison designated Steele as "little Dicky." This assertion was repeated by Johnson, who had never seen the Old Whig, and was therefore excusable. It has also been repeated by Miss Aikin, who has seen the Old Whig, and for whom, therefore, there is less excuse. Now, it is trne that the words "little Dicky" occur in the Old Whig, and that Steele's name was Richard. It is eqtlally true that the words "little Isaac" occur in the Duenna, and thai Newton's name was Isaac. But we confidently affirm that Addison's little Dicky had no more to do with Steele, than Sheridan's little Isaac with Newton. If we apply the words "little Dicky" to Steele, we deprive a very lively and ingenious passage, not only of all its wit, but of all its meaning. Little Dicky was evidently the nickname of some comic actor who played the usurer Gomez, then a most popular part, in Dryden's Spanish Friar.f

The merited reproof which Steelt had received, though softened by some kind and courteous expressions, galled him bitterly. He replied with little force and great acrimony; but no rejoinder appeared. Addison was fast hastening to his grave; and had, as we may well suppose, linle disposition to prosecute a quarrel with an old friend. His complaint had terminated in dropsy. He bore up long and manfully. But at length he abandoned all hope, dismissed his physicians, and calmly prepared himself to die.

• Miss Aikin says that these pieces, never having been reprinted, are now of extreme rarity. This is a mistake. They have been reprinted, and may be obtained without the smallest difficulty. The copy now lying before us bears the date of 1789.

t We will transcribe the whole paragraph. How It can ever have been misunderstood is unintelligible to us.

"But our author's chief concern is for the poor House of Commons, whom he represents as naked and defenceless, when the crown, by losing this prerogative, would be less able to protect them against the power of a House of Lords. Who forbears laughing when the Spanish Friar represents little Dicky, under the person of Gomea, insulting the Colonel that was able to frigiit him out nf his wits with a single frown 1 This Gomez, says he, flew upon hitn like a dragon, got him down, the Devil being strong in him, and gave him bastinado on bastinado, and buffet on buffet, which the poor Colonel, being prostrate, suffered with a most Christian patience. The improbability of the fact never fails to raise mirth in the audience ; and one may venture to answ er for a British HouM of Commons, if we may guess from its conduct hitherto, that it will scarce l.c either so tame or so weak out author supposes."

His works he intrusted to the care of Tickell; and dedicated them a very few days before his death to Craggs, in a letter written with the sweet and graceful eloquence of a Saturday's Spectator. In this, his last composition, he alluded to his approaching end in words so manly, so cheerful, and so tender, that it is difficult lo read them without tears. At the same time he earnestly recommended the interests of Tickell to the care of Craggs.

Within a few hours of the time at which this dedication was written, Addison sent to beg Gay, who was then living by his wits about town, to come to Holland House. Gay went and was received with great kindness. To his amazement his forgiveness was implored "by the dying man. Poor Gay, the most goodnatured and simple of mankind, could not imagine what he had to forgive. There was, however, some wrong, the remembrance of which weighed on Addison's mind, and which he declared himself anxious to repair. He was in a state of extreme exhaustion; and the parting was doubtless a friendly one on both sides. Gay supposed that some plan to serve him had been in agitation at court, and had been frustrated by Addison's influence. Nor is this improbable. Gay had paid assiduous court to the royal family. But in the queen's days he had been the eulogist of Bolingbroke, and was still connected with many tories. It is not strange that Addison, while heated by conflict, should have thought himselfjustified in obstructing the preferment of one whom he might regard as a political enemy. Neither is it strange that, when reviewing his whole life, and earnestly scrutinizing all his motives, he should think that he had acted an unkind and ungenerous part, in using his power against a distressed man of letters, who was as harmless and as helpless as a child.

One inference may be drawn from this anecdote. It appears that Addison, on his deathbed, called himself to a strict account; and was not at ease till he had asked pardon for an injury which it was not even suspected that he had committed—for an injury which would have caused disquiet only to a very tender conscience. Is it not then reasonable to infer that, if he had really been guilty of forming a base conspiracy against the fame and fortunes of a rival, he would have expressed some remorse for so serious a crime 1 But it is unnecessary to multiply arguments and evidence for the defence, when there is neither argument nor evidence for the accusation.

The last moments of Addison were perfectly serene. His interview with his son-in-law is universally known. "See," he said, "how a Christian can die!" The piety of Addison was, in truth, of a singularly cheerful character. The feeling which predominates in all his devotional writings, is gratitude. God was to him the all-wise and all-powerful friend, who had watched over his cradle with more than maternal tenderness; who had listened to his cries before they could form themselves in prayer; who had preserved his youth from the

snares of vice;.who had made his cup run over with worldly blessings; who had doubled the value of those blessings, by bestowing a thankful heart to enjoy them, and dear friends to partake them; who had rebuked the waves of the Ligurian gulf, had purified the autumnal air of the Campagna, and had restrained the avalanches of Mont Cenis. Of the Psalms, his favourite was that which represents the Ruler of all things under the endearing image of a shepherd, whose crook guides the flock safe, through gloomy and desolate glens, to meadows well watered and rich with herbage. On that goodness to which he ascribed all the happiness of his life, he relied in the hour of death with the love which casteth out fear. He died on the 17th of June, 1719. He had just entered on his forty-eighth year.

His body lay in stale in the Jerusalem Chamber, and was borne thence to the Abbey at dead of night. The choir sang a funeral hymn. Bishop Atterbury, one of those tories who had loved and honoured the most accomplished of the whigs, met the corpse, and led the procession by torch-light, round the shrine of Saint Edward and the graves of the Plantagenets, to the chapel of Henry the Seventh. On the north side of that chapel, in the vault of the house of Albemarle, the coffin of Addison lies next to the coffin of Montagu. Yet a few months—and the same mourners passed again along the same aisle. The same sad anthem was again chanted. The same vault was again opened; and the coffin of Craggs was placed close to the coffin of Addison.

Many tributes were paid to the memory of Addison. But one alone is now remembered. Tickell bewailed his friend in an elegy which would do honour to the greatest name in our literature; and which unites the energy and magnificence of Dryden to the tenderness and purity of Cowper. This fine poem was prefixed to a superb edition of Addison's works, which was published in 1721, by subscription. The names of the subscribers proved how widely his fame had been spread. That his countrymen should be eager to possess his writings, even in a costly form, is not wonderful. But it is wonderful that, though English literature was then little studied on the Continent, Spanish grandees, Italian prelates, marshals of France, should be found in the list. Among the most remarkable names are those of the Queen of Sweden, of Prince Eugene, of the Grand Duke of Tuscany, of the Dukes of Parma, Modena, and Guastalla, of the Doge of Genoa, of the Regent Orleans, and of Cardinal Dubois. We ought to add, that this edition, though eminently beautiful, is in some important points defective: nor, indeed, do we yet possess a complete collection of Addison's writings.

It is strange that neither his opulent and noble widow, nor any of his powerful and attached friends, should have thought of placing even a simple tablet, inscribed with his name, on the walls of the Abbey. .It was not till three generations had laughed and wept over his pages that the omission was supplied by the public veneration. At length, in our own time, his image, skilfully graven, appeared in Poet's Corner. It represents him, as we can conceive him, clad in his dressing-gown, and freed from his wig, stepping from his parlour at Chelsea into his trim little garden, with the account of the Everlasting Club, or the Loves of Hilpa and Shalum, just finished for the next day's Spectator, in his hand. Such a mark of national respect was due to the unsullied ■tat««man, to the accomplished scholar, to the

master of pure English eloquence, to the consummate painter of life and manners. It was due, above all, to the great satirist, who alone knew how to use ridicule without abusing it, who, without inflicting a wound, effected a great social reform, and who reconciled wit and virtue, after a long and disastrous separation, during which wit had been lrd astray by profligacy, and virtue by fanaticism.

BARERE'S MEMOIRS/

[edinburgh Review, April, 1844.]

This book has more than one title to our rerious attention. It is an appeal, solemnly made to posterity by a man who played a conspicuous part in great events, and who represents himself as deeply aggrieved by the rash and malevolent censure of his contemporaries. To such an appeal we shall always give ready audience. We can perform no duty more useful to society, or more agreeable to our own feelings, than that of making, as far as our power extends,reparation to the slandered and persecuted benefactors to mankind. We therefore promptly took into our consideration this copious apology for the life of Berlrand Barere. We have made up our minds; and we now propose to do him, by the blessing of God, full and signal justice. .

It is to be observed that the appellant in this case does-not come into court alone. He is attended to the bar of public opinion by two compurgators who. occupy highly honourable stations. One of these is M. David of Angers, member of the Institute, an eminent sculptor, and, if we have been rightly informed, a favourite pupil, though not kinsman, of the painter who bore the same name. The other, to whom we owe the biographical preface, is M. Hippofyte Carnot, member of the Chamber'of Deputies, and son of the celebrated Director. In the judgment of M. David, and of M. Hippolyte Carnot, Barere was a deserving and an ill-used man, a man who, though by no means faultless, must yet, when due allowance is made for the force of circumstances and the infirmity of human nature, he considered as on the whole entitled to our esteem, It will be for the public to determine, after a full hearing, whether the editors have, by thus connecting their names with that of Barere, raised his character or lowered their own.

We are not conscious that, when we opened this book, we were under the influence of any feeling likely to pervert our judgment. Undoubtedly we had long entertained a most unfavourable opinion of Barere; but to this opinion we were not tied by any passion or by any interest. Our dislike was a reasonable dislike, and might have been removed by reason. Indeed, our expectation was, that these Memoirs would in some measure clear Barerc's fame. That he could vindicate himself from all the charges which had befin brought against ^>im,we knew to be impossible: and his editors admit that he has not done so. But we thought it highly probable that some grave accusations would be refuted, and that many offences to which he would have been forced to plead guilty would be greatly extenuated. We were not disposed to be severe. We were fully

* Mhtwire* de Bertram! Berire; publics par MM. Hippolyte Caakot, Mcmbrc de In Clmmbre dea !-><'v'lt^a, et David d'Angerei, Mcnibre de l'lnsliLul: pr£

<i'd's ii Tvoiice ihstorique par II. Carnot. 4

rumet. Paris: 1343.

aware that temptations such as those to which the members of the Convention and of the committee of public safety were exposed, must try severely the strength of the firmest virtue Indeed, our inclination has always been to> regard with an indulgence, which to some rigid moralists appears excessive, those faults into which gentle and noble spirits are sometimes hurried by the excitement of conflict, by the maddening influence of sympathy, and by illregulated zeal for a public cause.

With such feelings we read this book, and compared it with other accounts of the events in which Barere bore a part. It is now our duty to express the opinion to which this investigation has led us.

Our opinion then is this, that Barere approached nearer than any person mentioned in history or fiction, whether man or devil, to the idea of consummate and universal depravity. In him the qualities which are the proper objects of hatred, and the qualities which are the proper objects of contempt, preserve an exquisite and absolute harmony. In almost every Sarticular sort of wickedness he has had rivals. [is sensuality was immoderate; but this was a failing common to him with many great and amiable men. There have been many men as cowardly as he, some as cruel, a few as mean, a few as impudent. There may also have been as great liars, though we never met with them or read of them. But when we put every thing together, sensuality, poltroonery, baseness, effrontery, mendacity, barbarity, the result is something which in a novel .we should condemn as caricature, and to which we venture to say, no parallel can be found in history.

It would be grossly unjust, we acknowledge, to try a man situated as Barere was by a severe standard. Nor have we done so. We have formed our opinion of him by comparing him, not with politicians of stainless character, not with Chancellor D'AguesseaU, orGeneral Wash. ington, or Mr. Wilberforce, or Earl Gray, but with his own colleagues of the Mountain. That party included a considerable number of the worst men that ever lived; but we see in it nothing like Barere. Compared with him, Fouche seems honest; Billaud seems humane1; Hebert seems to rise into dignity. Every other chief of a parly, says M. Hippolyte Carnot, has found apologists; one set of men exalts the Girondists; another set justifies Danton; a third deifies Robespierre; but Barere remains without a defender. We venture to suggest a very simple solution of this phenomenon. All the other chiefs of parties had some good qualities, and Barere had none. The genius, courage, patriotism, and humanity of the Girondist statesmen, more than atoned for what was culpable in their conduct, and should have protected them from the insult of being compared with such a ihing as Barere; Danton and Robesp'erre were, indeed, bad men; but in both of them some important parts of the mind remained sound. Danton was brave and resolute, fond of pleasure, of power, and of distinction, with vehement passions, with lax principles, but with some kind and manly feelings, capable of great crimes, but capable also of friendship and of compassion. He, therefore, naturally finds admirers among persons of bold and sanguine dispositions. Robespierre was a vain, envious, and suspicious man, with a hard heart, wealr nerves, and a gloomy temper. But we cannot with truth deny that he was, in the vulgar sense of the word, disinterested, that his private life was correct, or that he was sincerely zealous for his own system of politics and morals. He therefore naturally finds admirers among honest but moody and bitter democrats. If no class has taken the reputation of Barere under its patronage, the reason is plain: Barcre had not a single virtue, nor even the semblance of one.

[graphic]

It is true that he was not, as far as we are able to judge, originally of a savage disposition; but this circumstance seems to us only to aggravate his guilt. There are some uuhappy men constitutionally prone to the darker passions, men all whose blood is gall, and to whom bitter words and harsh actions are as natural as snarling and biting to a ferocious dog. To come into the world with this wretched mental disease is a greater calamity than to be born blind or deaf. A man who, having such a temper.keeps it in subjection,and constrains himself to behave habitually with justice and humanity towards those who are in his power, seems to us worthy of the highest admiration. There have been instances of this self-commaiid; and they are among the most signal triumphs of philosophy and religion. On the oilier hand, a man who, having been blessed by nature wilh a bland disposition, gradually brings himself to inflict misery on his fellowcreatures with indifference, with satisfaction, and at length with a hideous rapture, deserves to be regarded as a portent of wickedness; and such a man was Barere. The history of his downward progress is full of instruction. Weakness, cowardice, and fickleness were born with him; the best quality which he received from nature was a good temper. These, it is true, are not very promising materials; yet out of materials as unpromising, high sentiments of piety and of honour have sometimes made martyrs and heroes. Rigid principles often do for feeble minds what stays do for feeble bodies. But Barere had no principles at all. His character was equally destitute of natural and of acquired strength. Neither in the commerce of life, nor in books, did we ever become acquainted with any mind so unstable, so utterly destitute of tone, so incapable of independent thought and earnest preference, so ready to take impressions and so ready to lose them. He resembled those creepers which must lean on something, and which as soon as their prop is removed, fall down in utter helplessness. He could no more stand up, erect and self-supported, in any cause, than the ivy can rear itself like the oak, or the wild vine shoot to heaven

Vex. V.—f9

like the cedar of Lebanon. It is barely possible that, under good guidance and in favourable circumstances, such a man might have slipped through life without discredit. But the unseaworthy craft, which even in still water would have been in danger of going down from its own rottenness, was launched on a raging ocean, amidst a storm in which a whole armada of gallant ships were cast away. The weakest and most servile of human beings found himself on a sudden an actor in a devolution which convulsed the whole civilized world. At first he fell under the influence of humane and moderate men, and talked the language of humanity and moderation. But he soon found himself surrounded by fierce and resolute spirits, scared by no danger and restrained by no scruple. He had to choose whether he would be their victim or their accomplice. His choice was soon made. He tasted blood, and felt no loathing: he tasted it again, and liked it well. Cruelly became with him, first a habit, then a passion, at last a madness. So complete and rapid was the degeneracy of his nature, that within a very few months after the time when he passed for a good-natured man, he had brought himself to look on the despair and misery of his fellow-creatures with a glee resembling that of the fiends whom Dante saw watching the pool of seething pitch in Malebolge. He had many associates in guilt; but he distinguished himself from them all by the Bacchanalian exultation which he seemed to feel in the work of death. He was drunk wilh innocent and noble blood, laughed and shouted as he butchered, and howled strange songs and reeled in strange dances amidst the carnage. Then came a sudden and violent turn of fortune. The miserable man was hurled down from the height of power to hopeless ruin and infamy. The shock sobered him at once. The fumes of his horrible intoxication passed away. But he was now so irrecoverably depraved, that the discipline of adversity only drove him further into wickedness. Ferocious vices, of which he had never been suspected, had been developed in him by power. Another class of vices, less hateful, perhaps, but more despicable, was now developed in him by poverty and disgrace. Having appalled the whole world by great crimes perpetrated under tho pretence of zeal for liberty, he became the meanest of all the tools of despotism. It is not easy to settle thv order of precedence among his vices; but we are inclined to think that his baseness was, on the whole, a rarer and more marvellous thing than his cruelty.

This is the view which we have long taken of Barere's character; but, till we read these Memoirs, we held our opinion with the diffidence which becomes a judge who has heard only one side. The case seemed strong, and in parts unanswerable ; yet we did not know what the accused party might have to say for him self; and, not being much inclined to take our fellow-creatures either for angels of light or for angels of darkness, we could not but feei some suspicion that his offences had »«en evaggeraled. That suspicion is now at an end The vindication is before us. It occupies iout volumes. It was the work of tony years. ■'. 9 6

« PreviousContinue »