« PreviousContinue »
It was not a success, and its failure placed Steele in the position "of being the only English dramatist who had had a piece damned for its piety." Foote afterward readapted it as The Liar,' in which form it is still played.
In May, 1707, he was appointed to the office of Gazetteer, the work of which he performed with care and faithfulness. In the same year he married for the second time, borrowing from Addison a thousand pounds to "set up house," and the thousand was repaid within a year.
On April 12, 1709, he published the first number of his Tatler, "for the use of the good people of England," in which he candidly declared that he was an "author writing for the public, who expected from the public payment for his work, and that he preferred this to gambling for the patronage of men in office." The first eighty numbers of the publication he produced entirely out of his own resources, but the mental strain must have been great, and no doubt he welcomed the return of Addison from Ireland, as it gave him an opportunity of inducing his friend to join him in the work.
On Jan. 2, 1711, The Tatler was discontinued, after a career of great usefulness and influence, and on the first of the following March appeared the first number of The Spectator, that living monument to the friendship of two honest men. The Spectator was even a greater success than The Tatler, and on the articles contributed to it to please his friend now chiefly rests Addison's fame-a fame which Steele took every opportunity of enlarging. In the fiftyfifth number of The Spectator proper, Steele brought it to a conclusion; but a year and a half later Addison revived it. After the production of eighty numbers he gave it up, and his supplementary Spectator was allowed to become the eighth volume of the complete series.
On March 12, 1713, Steele issued the first number of his Guardian, the plan of which gave him more liberty to write as a politician, which on entering Parliament he found was desirable. The Guardian, however, he brought to an end, of his own free will, on the first of October, when it had reached 175 numbers, and five days later he issued the first number of The Englishman. The Englishman did not live very long, but for the writing of its last number, as well as for the celebrated Crisis,' he was expelled from the House of Commons. Swift attacked the 'Crisis' with all his force in 'The Public Spirit of the Whigs.' In the 'Crisis' Steele indulged in no personalities, unless we call his praise of the Scottish nation such. Swift, on the other hand, indulged in personal abuse of his manly opponent and one-time friend, and launched his bitterest satire at the poverty and greed of the Scotch.
Steele now wrote An Apology for Himself and his Writing,' which may be found in his Political Writings,' published in 1715. Shortly after he produced a deservedly forgotten treatise entitled 'Romish Ecclesiastical History of Late Years,' and in the same year two papers called The Lover and The Reader.
On the accession of George I. Steele was appointed surveyor of the royal stables, governor of the Royal Company of Comedians, and a magistrate for Middlesex, He was knighted in April, 1715,
and in George's first Parliament he was chosen member for Boroughbridge. After the suppression of the rebellion in the north he was made one of the commissioners of the forfeited estates. In this year, 1715, he published An Account of the Roman Catholic Religion Throughout the World,' as well as 'A Letter from the Earl of Mar to the King.' In 1816 he produced a second volume of The Englishman; in 1718 'An Account of the Fishpool'; in 1719 The Spinster,' a pamphlet; and A Letter to the Earl of Oxford concerning the Bill of Peerage.' This bill he opposed in the House of Commons as in The Plebeian. Addison replied to his criticism in the Old Whig, and thus, a year before the death of the latter, a coolness sprang up between the two friends. In 1720 Steele wrote two pieces against the South Sea scheme : one 'The Crisis of Property,' the other' A Nation a Family.' In January of the same year, under the assumed name of Sir John Edgar, he commenced a paper called The Theater, which he continued till the following 5th of April. During its existence his patent as governor of the Royal Company of Comedians was revoked. This, which wa sa heavy loss to him, he discussed calmly in a pamphlet called 'The State of the Case.' In 1721, on the accession of Walpole to power, he was reinstated in his post, and in 1722 his 'Conscious Lovers' was produced with great
His health now began to decline, and he moved from London to Bath, and from there to Llangunnor, near Caermarthen. In 1726 he had an attack of palsy, and died Sept. 1, 1729. "It was," says Professor Morley, "the firm hand of his friend Steele that helped Addison up to the place in literature which became him. . . . There were those who argued that he was too careless of his own fame in unselfish labor for the exaltation of his friend, and no doubt his rare generosity of temper has been often misinterpreted. But. knew his countrymen, and was in too genuine accord with the spirit of a time then distant, but now come, to doubt that, when he was dead, his whole life's work would speak for him to posterity."
In proof of this let it be remembered that of the essays in The Tatler, The Spectator, and The Guardian, 510 were written by Steele and 369 by Addison, while Steele was in addition projector, founder, and editor of all three. The Spectator flourished when he was at the helm, without him it floundered and foundered.
SIR ROGER AND THE WIDOW.
From The Spectator.'
-Hærent infixi pectore vultus." -Virgil's Eneid, iv. "Her looks were deep imprinted in his heart."
In my first description of the company in which I pass most of my time, it may be remembered that I mentioned a great affliction which my friend Sir Roger had met with
in his youth; which was no less than a disappointment in love. It happened this evening that we fell into a very pleasing walk at a distance from his house. As soon as we came into it, "It is," quoth the good old man, looking round him with a smile, "very hard that any part of my land should be settled upon one who has used me so ill as the perverse widow did; and yet I am sure I could not see a sprig of any bough of this whole walk of trees, but I should reflect upon her and her severity. She has certainly the finest hand of any woman in the world.
"You are to know, this was the place wherein I used to muse upon her; and by that custom I can never come into it, but the same tender sentiments revive in my mind, as if I had actually walked with that beautiful creature under these shades. I have been fool enough to carve her name on the bark of several of these trees; so unhappy is the condition of men in love, to attempt the removing of their passion by the methods which serve only to imprint it deeper. She has certainly the finest hand of any woman in the world."
Here followed a profound silence; and I was not displeased to observe my friend falling so naturally into a discourse, which I had ever before taken notice he industriously avoided. After a very long pause, he entered upon an account of this great circumstance in his life, with an air which I thought raised my idea of him above what I had ever had before; and gave me the picture of that cheerful mind of his before it received that stroke which has ever since affected his words and actions. But he went on as follows:
"I came to my estate in my twenty-second year, and resolved to follow the steps of the most worthy of my ancestors who have inhabited this spot of earth before me, in all the methods of hospitality and good neighborhood, for the sake of my fame; and in country sports and recreations, for the sake of my health. In my twenty-third year I was obliged to serve as sheriff of the county; and in my servants, officers, and whole equipage, indulged the pleasure of a young man (who did not think ill of his own person) in taking that public occasion of showing my figure and behavior to advantage. You may easily imagine to yourself what appearance I made, who am pretty tall, rid
well, and was very well dressed, at the head of a whole county, with music before me, a feather in my hat, and my horse well bitted. I can assure you, I was not a little pleased with the kind looks and glances I had from all the balconies and windows as I rode to the hall where the assizes were held. But when I came there, a beautiful creature, in a widow's habit, sat in court to hear the event of a cause concerning her dower.
"This commanding creature (who was born for the destruction of all who behold her) put on such a resignation in her countenance, and bore the whispers of all around the court with such a pretty uneasiness, I warrant you, and then recovered herself from one eye to another, until she was perfectly confused by meeting something so wistful in all she encountered, that at last, with a murrain to her, she cast her bewitching eye upon me. I no sooner met it but I bowed like a great surprised booby; and knowing her cause was to be the first which came on, I cried, like a great captivated calf as I was, "Make way for the defendant's witnesses." This sudden partiality made all the county immediately see the sheriff also was become a slave to the fine widow. During the time her cause was upon trial, she behaved herself, I warrant you, with such a deep attention to her business, took opportunities to have little billets handed to her counsel, then would be in such a pretty confusion, occasioned, you must know, by acting before so much company, that not only I, but the whole court, was prejudiced in her favor; and all that the next heir to her husband had to urge was thought so groundless and frivolous, that when it came to her counsel to reply, there was not half so much said as every one besides in the court thought he could have urged to her advantage.
"You must understand, sir, this perverse woman is one of those unaccountable creatures that secretly rejoice in the admiration of men, but indulge themselves in no further consequences. Hence it is that she has ever had a train of admirers, and she removes from her slaves in town to those in the country, according to the seasons of the year. She is a reading lady, and far gone in the pleasures of friendship. She is always accompanied by a confidant, who is witness to her daily protestations against our sex,
and consequently a bar to her first steps towards love, upon the strength of her own maxims and declarations.
"However, I must needs say this accomplished mistress of mine has distinguished me above the rest, and has been known to declare Sir Roger de Coverley was the tamest and most humane of all the brutes in the country. I was told she said so by one who thought he rallied me; but upon the strength of this slender encouragement of being thought least detestable, I made new liveries, new paired my coach horses, sent them all to town to be bitted, and taught to throw their legs well, and move altogether, before I pretended to cross the country, and wait upon her. As soon as I thought my retinue to the character of my fortune and youth, I set out from hence to make my addresses. The particular skill of this lady has ever been to inflame your wishes, and yet command respect.
"To make her mistress of this art, she has a greater share of knowledge, wit, and good sense, than is usual even among men of merit. Then she is beautiful beyond the race of women. If you will not let her go on with a certain artifice with her eyes, and the skill of beauty, she will arm herself with her real charms, and strike you with admiration instead of desire. It is certain that if you were to behold the whole woman, there is that dignity in her aspect, that composure in her motion, that complacency in her manner, that if her form makes you hope, her merit makes you fear. But then again, she is such a desperate scholar, that no country gentleman can approach her without being a jest. As I was going to tell you, when I came to her house, I was admitted to her presence with great civility; at the same time she placed herself to be first seen by me in such an attitude as I think you call the posture of a picture, that she discovered new charms, and I at last came towards her with such an awe as made me speechless. This she no sooner observed but she made her advantage of it, and began a discourse to me concerning love and honor, as they both are followed by pretenders, and the real votaries to them. When she discussed these points in a discourse, which I verily believe was as learned as the best philosopher in Europe could possibly make, she asked me whether she was so happy as to fall in with my sentiments on these important particulars.