A sudden star, it shot through liquid air, And drew behind a radiant trail of hair,
and thus, and always, it
Adds new glory to the shining sphere.
With these simple and meagre materials, Pope has constructed an harmonious poem in which the sylphs, gnomes, and other sprites of the Rosicrucian philosophy find appropriate place and service. It failed in its principal purpose of reconciliation, but it has given us the best mock-heroic poem in the language. As might have been expected, it called forth bitter criticisms from Dennis; and there were not wanting those who saw in it a political significance. Pope's pleasantry was aroused at this, and he published A Key to the Lock, in which he further mystifies these sage readers: Belinda becomes Great Britain; the Baron is the Earl of Oxford; and Thalestris is the Duchess of Marlborough.
THE MESSIAH.—In 1712 there appeared in one of the numbers of The Spectator, his Messiah, a Sacred Eclogue, written with the purpose of harmonizing the prophecy of Isaiah and the singular oracles of the Pollio, or Fourth Eclogue of Virgil. Elevated in thought and grand in diction, the Messiah has kept its hold upon public favor ever since, and portions of it are used as hymns in general worship. Among these will be recognized that of which the opening lines are:
Rise, crowned with light, imperial Salem, rise; Exalt thy towering head and lift thine eyes.
In 1713 he published a poem on Windsor Forest, and an Ode on St. Cecilia's Day, in imitation of Dryden. He also furnished the beautiful prologue to Addison's Cato.
TRANSLATION OF THE ILIAD.—He now proposed to himself a task which was to give him more reputation and far greater emolument than anything he had yet accomplished—a translation of the Iliad of Homer. This was a great desideratum, and men of all parties conspired to encourage and reward him. Chapman's Homer, excellent as it was, was not in a popular measure, and was known only to scholars.
In the execution of this project, Pope labored for six years—writing by day and dreaming of his work at night; translating thirty or forty lines before rising in the morning, and jotting down portions even while on a journey. Pope's polished pentameters, when read, are very unlike the full-voiced hexameters of Homer; but the errors in the translation are comparatively few and unimportant, and his own poetry is in his best vein. The poem was published by subscription, and was a great pecuniary success. This was in part due to the blunt importunity of Dean Swift, who said: "The author shall not begin to print until I have a thousand guineas for him." Parnell, one of the most accomplished Greek scholars of the day, wrote a life of Homer, to be prefixed to the work; and many of the critical notes were written by Broome, who had translated the Iliad into English prose. Pope was not without poetical rivals. Tickell produced a translation of the first book of the Iliad, which was certainly revised, and many thought partly written, by Addison. A coolness already existing between Pope and Addison was increased by this circumstance, which soon led to an open rupture between them. The public, however, favored Pope's version, while a few of the dilettanti joined Addison in preferring Tickell's.
The pecuniary results of Pope's labors were particularly gratifying. The work was published in six quarto volumes, and had more than six hundred subscribers, at six guineas a copy: the amount realized by Pope on the first and subsequent issues was upwards of five thousand pounds—an unprecedented payment of bookseller to author in that day.
VALUE OF THE TRANSLATION.—This work, in spite of the criticism of exact scholars, has retained its popularity to the present time. Chapman's Homer has been already referred to. Since the days of Pope numerous authors have tried their hands upon Homer, translating the whole or a part. Among these is a very fine poem by Cowper, in blank verse, which is praised by the critics, but little read. Lord Derby's translation is distinguished for its prosaic accuracy. The recent version of our venerable poet, Wm. C. Bryant, is acknowledged to be at once scholarly, accurate, and harmonious, and will be of permanent value and reputation. But the exquisite tinkling of Pope's lines, the pleasant refrain they leave in the memory, like the chiming of silver bells, will cause them to last, with undiminished favor, unaffected by more correct rivals, as long as the language itself. "A very pretty poem, Mr. Pope," said the great Bentley; "but pray do not call it Homer." Despite this criticism of the Greek scholar, the world has taken it for Homer, and knows Homer almost solely through this charming medium.
The Iliad was issued in successive years, the last two volumes appearing in 1720. Of course it was savagely attacked by Dennis; but Pope had won more than he had hoped for, and might laugh at his enemies.
With the means he had inherited, increased by the sale of his poem, Pope leased a villa on the Thames, at Twickenham, which he fitted up as a residence for life. He laid out the grounds, built a grotto, and made his villa a famous spot.
Here he was smitten by the masculine charms of the gifted Lady Mary Wortley Montagu, who figures in many of his verses, and particularly in the closing lines of the Epistle of Eloisa to Abelard. It was a singular alliance, destined to a speedy rupture. On her return from Turkey, in 1718, where her husband had been the English ambassador, she took a home near Pope's villa, and, at his request, sat for her portrait. When, later, they became estranged, she laughed at the poet, and his coldness turned into hatred.
THE ODYSSEY.—The success of his version of the Iliad led to his translation of the Odyssey; but this he did with the collaboration of Fenton and Broome, the former writing four and the latter six books. The volumes appeared successively in 1725-6, and there was an appendix containing the Batrachomiomachia, or Battle of the Frogs and Mice, translated by Parnell. For this work Pope received the lion's share of profits, his co-laborers being paid only L800.
Among his miscellaneous works must be mentioned portions of Martinus Scriblerus. One of these, Peri Bathous, or Art of Sinking in Poetry, was the germ of The Dunciad.
Like Dryden, he was attacked by the soi-disant poets of the day, and retorted in similar style and taste. In imitation of Dryden's MacFlecknoe, he wrote The Dunciad, or epic of the Dunces, in the first edition of which Theobald was promoted to the vacant throne. It roused a great storm. Authors besieged the publisher to hinder him from publishing it, while booksellers and agents were doing all in their power to procure it. In a later edition a new book was added, deposing Theobald and elevating Colley Cibber to the throne of Dulness. This was ill-advised, as the ridicule, which was justly applied to Theobald, is not applicable to Cibber.
ESSAY ON MAN.—The intercourse of the poet with the gifted but sceptical Lord Bolingbroke is apparent in his Essay on Man, in which, with much that is orthodox and excellent, the principles and influence of his lordship are readily discerned. The first part appeared in 1732, and the second some years later. The opinion is no longer held that Bolingbroke wrote any part of the poem; he has only infected it. It is one of Pope's best poems in versification and diction, and abounds with pithy proverbial sayings, which the English world has been using ever since as current money in conversational barter. Among many that might be selected, the following are well known:
All are but parts of one stupendous whole Whose body nature is, and God the soul.
Know thou thyself, presume not God to scan; The proper study of mankind is man.
A wit's a feather, and a chief's a rod; An honest man's the noblest work of God.
Among the historical teachings of Pope's works and career, and also among the curiosities of literature, must be noticed the publication of Pope's letters, by Curll the bookseller, without the poet's permission. They were principally letters to Henry Cromwell, Wycherley, Congreve, Steele, Addison, and Swift. There were not wanting those who believed that it was a trick of the poet himself to increase his notoriety; but such an opinion is hardly warranted. These letters form a valuable chapter in the social and literary history of the period.
POPE'S DEATH AND CHARACTER.—On the 30th of May, 1744, Pope passed away, after a long illness, during which he said he was "dying of a hundred good symptoms." Indeed, so frail and weak had he always been, that it was a wonder he lived so long. His weakness of body seems to have acted upon his strong mind, which must account for much that is satirical and splenetic in his writings. Very short, thin, and ill-shaped, his person wanted the compactness necessary to stand alone, until it was encased in stays. He needed a high chair at table, such as children use; but he was an epicure, and a fastidious one; and despite his infirmities, his bright, intellectual eye and his courtly manners caused him to be noted quite as much as his defects.
THE ARTIFICIAL SCHOOL.—Pope has been set forth as the head of the Artificial School. This is, perhaps, rather a convenient than an exact designation. He had little of original genius, but was an apt imitator and reproducer—what in painting would be an excellent copyist. His greatest praise, however, is that he reduced to system what had gone before him; his poems present in themselves an art of poetry, with technical canons and illustrations, which were long after servilely obeyed, and the influence of which is still felt to-day.
And this artificial school was in the main due to the artificial character of the age. Nature seemed to have lost her charms; pastorals were little more than private theatricals, enacted with straw hats and shepherd's crook in drawing-rooms or on close-clipped lawns. Culture was confined to court and town, and poets found little inducement to consult the heart or to woo nature, but wrote what would please the town or court. This taste gave character to the technical standards, to which Pope, more than any other writer, gave system and coherence. Most of the literati were men of the town; many were fine gentlemen with a political bias; and thus it is that the school of poets of which Pope is the unchallenged head, has been known as the Artificial School.
In the passage of time, and with the increase of literature, the real merits of Pope were for some time neglected, or misrepresented. The world is beginning to discern and recognize these again. Learned, industrious, self-reliant, controversial, and, above all, harmonious, instead of giving vent to the highest fancies in simple language, he has treated the common-place—that which is of universal interest—in melodious and splendid diction. But, above all, he stands as the representative of his age: a wit among the comic dramatists who were going out and the essayists who were coming in; a man of the world with Lady Mary and the gay parties on the Thames; a polemic, who dealt keen thrusts and who liked to see them rankle, and who yet writhed in agony when the riposte came; a Roman Catholic in faith and a latitudinarian in speech;—such was Pope as a type of that world in which he lived.
A poet of the first rank he was not; he invented nothing; but he established the canons of poetry, attuned to exquisite harmony the rhymed couplet which Dryden had made so powerful an instrument, improved the language, discerned and reconnected the discordant parts of literature; and thus it is that he towers above all the poets of his age, and has sent his influence through those that followed, even to the present day.
OTHER WRITERS OF THE PERIOD.
Matthew Prior, 1664-1721: in his early youth he was a waiter in his uncle's tap-room, but, surmounting all difficulties, he rose to be a distinguished poet and diplomatist. He was an envoy to France, where he was noted for his wit and ready repartee. His love songs are somewhat immoral, but exquisitely melodious. His chief poems are: Alma, a philosophic piece in the vein of Hudibras; Solomon, a Scripture poem; and, the best of all, The City and Country Mouse, a parody on Dryden's Hind and Panther, which he wrote in conjunction with Mr. Montague. He was imprisoned by the Whigs in 1715, and lost all his fortune. He was distinguished by having Dr. Johnson as his biographer, in the Lives of the Poets.
John Arbuthnot, 1667-1735: born in Scotland. He was learned, witty, and amiable. Eminent in medicine, he was physician to the court of Queen Anne. He is chiefly known in literature as the companion of Pope and Swift, and as the writer with them of papers in the Martinus Scriblerus Club, which was founded in 1714, and of which Pope, Gay, Swift, Arbuthnot, Harvey, Atterbury, and others, were the principal members. Arbuthnot wrote a History of John Bull, which was designed to render the war then carried on by Marlborough unpopular, and certainly conduced to that end.
John Gay, 1688-1732: he was of humble origin, but rose by his talents, and figured at court. He wrote several dramas in a mock-tragic vein. Among these are What D'ye Call It? and Three Hours after Marriage; but that which gave him permanent reputation is his Beggar's Opera, of which the hero is a highwayman, and the characters are prostitutes and Newgate gentry. It is interspersed with gay and lyrical songs, and was rendered particularly effective by the fine acting of Miss Elizabeth Fenton, in the part of Polly. The Shepherd's Week, a pastoral, contains more real delineations of rural life than any other poem of the period. Another curious piece is entitled, Trivia, or the Art of Walking the Streets of London.
Thomas Parnell, 1679-1718: he was the author of numerous poems, among which the only one which has retained popular favor is The Hermit, a touching poem founded upon an older story. He wrote the life of Homer prefixed to Pope's translation; but it was very much altered by Pope.
Thomas Tickell, 1686-1740: particularly known as the friend of Addison. He wrote a translation of the First Book of Homer's Iliad, which was corrected by Addison, and contributed several papers to The Spectator. But he is best known by his Elegy upon Addison, which Dr. Johnson calls a very "elegant funeral poem."
Isaac Watts, 1674-1765: this great writer of hymns was born at Southampton, and became one of the most eminent of the dissenting ministers of England. He is principally known by his metrical versions of the Psalms, and by a great number of original hymns, which have been generally used by all denominations of Christians since. He also produced many hymns for children, which have become familiar as household words. He had a lyrical ear, and an easy, flowing diction, but is sometimes careless in his versification and incorrect in his theology. During the greater part of his life the honored guest of Sir Thomas Abney, he devoted himself to literature. Besides many sermons, he produced a treatise on The First Principles of Geology and Astronomy; a work on Logic, or the Right Use of the Reason in the Inquiry after Truth; and A Supplement on the Improvement of the Mind. These latter have been superseded as text-books by later and more correct inquiry.
Edward Young, 1681-1765: in his younger days he sought preferment at court, but being disappointed in his aspirations, he took orders in the Church, and led a retired life. He published a satire entitled, The Love of Fame, the Universal Passion, which was quite successful. But his chief work, which for a long time was classed with the highest poetic efforts, is the Night Thoughts, a series of meditations, during nine nights, on Life, Death, and Immortality. The style is somewhat pompous, the imagery striking, but frequently unnatural; the occasional descriptions majestic and vivid; and the effect of the whole is grand, gloomy, and peculiar. It is full of apothegms, which have been much quoted; and some of his lines and phrases are very familiar to all.
He wrote papers on many topics, and among his tragedies the best known is that entitled The Revenge. Very popular in his own day, Young has been steadily declining in public favor, partly on account of the superior claims of modern writers, and partly because of the morbid and gloomy views he has taken of human nature. His solemn admonitions throng upon the reader like phantoms, and cause him to desire more cheerful company. A sketch of the life of Young may be found in Dr. Johnson's Lives of the Poets.
ADDISON, AND THE REIGN OF QUEEN ANNE.
The Character of the Age. Queen Anne. Whigs and Tories. George I. Addison—The Campaign. Sir Roger de Coverley. The Club. Addison's Hymns. Person and Literary Character.
THE CHARACTER OF THE AGE.
To cater further to the Artificial Age, the literary cravings of which far exceeded those of any former period, there sprang up a school of Essayists, most of whom were also poets, dramatists, and politicians. Among these Addison, Steele, and Swift stand pre-eminent. Each of them was a man of distinct and interesting personality. Two of them—Addison and Swift—presented such a remarkable contrast, that it has been usual for writers on this period of English Literature to bring them together as foils to each other. This has led to injustice towards Swift; they should be placed in juxtaposition because they are of the same period, and because of their joint efforts in the literary development of the age. The period is distinctly marked. We speak as currently of the wits and the essayists of Queen Anne's reign as we do of the authors of the Elizabethan age.
A glance at contemporary history will give us an intelligent clue to our literary inquiries, and cause us to observe the historical character of the literature.
To a casual observer, the reign of Queen Anne seems particularly untroubled and prosperous. English history calls it the time of "Good Queen Anne;" and it is referred to with great unction by the laudator temporis acti, in unjust comparison with the period which has since intervened, as well as with that which preceded it.
QUEEN ANNE.—The queen was a Protestant, as opposed to the Romanists and Jacobites; a faithful wife, and a tender mother in her memory of several children who died young. She was merciful, pure, and gracious to her subjects. Her reign was tolerant. There was plenty at home; rebellion and civil war were at least latent. Abroad, England was greatly distinguished by the victories of Marlborough and Eugene. But to one who looks through this veil of prosperity, a curious history is unfolded. The fires of faction were scarcely smouldering. It was the transition period between the expiring dynasty of the direct line of Stuarts and the coming of the Hanoverian house. Women took part in politics; sermons like that of Sacheverell against the dissenters and the government were thundered from the pulpit. Volcanic fires were at work; the low rumblings of an earthquake were heard from time to time, and gave constant cause of concern to the queen and her statesmen. Men of rank conspired against each other; the moral license of former reigns seems to have been forgotten in political intrigue. When James II. had been driven out in 1688, the English conscience compromised on the score of the divine right of kings, by taking his daughter Mary and her husband as joint monarchs. To do this, they affected to call the king's son by his second wife, born in that year, a pretender. It was said that he was the child of another woman, and had been brought to the queen's bedside in a warming-pan, that James might be able to present, thus fraudulently, a Roman Catholic heir to the throne. In this they did the king injustice, and greater injustice to the queen, Maria de Modena, a pleasing and innocent woman, who had, by her virtues and personal popularity alone, kept the king on his throne, in spite of his pernicious measures.
When the dynasty was overthrown, the parliament had presented to William and Mary A Bill of Rights, in which the people's grievances were set forth, and their rights enumerated and insisted upon; and this was accepted by the monarchs as a condition of their tenure.
Mary died in 1695, and when William followed her, in 1702, Anne, the second daughter of James, ascended the throne. Had she refused the succession, there would have been a furious war between the Jacobites and the Hanoverians. In 1714, Anne died childless, but her reign had bridged the chasm between the experiment of William and Mary and the house of Hanover. In default of direct heirs to Queen Anne, the succession was in this Hanoverian house; represented in the person of the Electress Sophia, the granddaughter of James I., through his daughter, Elizabeth of Bohemia. But this lineage of blood had lost all English affinities and sympathies.
Meanwhile, the child born to James II., in 1688, had grown to be a man, and stood ready, on the death of Queen Anne, to re-affirm his claim to the throne. It was said that, although, on account of the plottings of the Jacobites, a price had been put upon his head, the queen herself wished him to succeed, and had expressed scruples about her own right to reign. She greatly disliked the family of Hanover, and while she was on her death-bed, the pretender had been brought to England, in the hope that she would declare him her successor. The elements of discord asserted themselves still more strongly. Whigs and Tories in politics, Romanists and Protestants in creed, Jacobite and Hanoverian in loyalty, opposed each other, harassing the feeble queen, and keeping the realm in continual ferment.
WHIGS AND TORIES.—The Whigs were those who declared that kingly power was solely for the good of the subject; that the reformed creed was the religion of the realm; that James had forfeited the throne, and that his son was a pretender; and that the power justly passed to the house of Hanover. The Tories asserted that monarchs ruled by divine right; and that if, when religion was at stake, the king might be deposed, this could not affect the succession.
Anne escaped her troubles by dying, in 1714. Sophia, the Electress of Hanover, who had only wished to live, she said, long enough to have engraved upon her tombstone: "Here lies Sophia, Queen of England," died, in spite of this desire, only a few weeks before the queen; and the new heir to the throne was her son, George Louis of Brunswick-Luneburg, electoral prince of Hanover.
He came cautiously and selfishly to the throne of England; he felt his way, and left a line of retreat open; he brought not a spice of honest English sentiment, but he introduced the filth of the electoral court. As gross in his conduct as Charles II., he had indeed a prosperous reign, because it was based upon a just and tolerant Constitution; because the English were in reality not governed by a king, but by well-enacted laws.
The effect of all this political turmoil upon the leading men in England had been manifest; both parties had been expectant, and many of the statesmen had been upon the fence, ready to get down on one side or the other, according to circumstances. Marlborough left the Tories and joined the Whigs; Swift, who had been a Whig, joined the Tories. The queen's first ministry had consisted of Whigs and the more moderate Tories; but as she fell away from the Marlboroughs, she threw herself into the hands of the Tories, who had determined, and now achieved, the downfall of Marlborough.
Such was the reign of good Queen Anne. With this brief sketch as a preliminary, we return to the literature, which, like her coin, bore her image and carried it into succeeding reigns. In literature, the age of Queen Anne extends far beyond her lifetime.
ADDISON.—The principal name of this period is that of Joseph Addison. He was the son of the rector of Milston, in Wiltshire, and was born in 1672. Old enough in 1688 to appreciate the revolution, as early as he could wield his pen, he used it in the cause of the new monarchs. At the age of fifteen he was sent from the Charter-House to Oxford; and there he wrote some Latin verses, for which he was rewarded by a university scholarship. After pursuing his studies at Oxford, he began his literary career. In his twenty-second year he wrote a poetical address to Dryden; but he chiefly sought preferment through political poetry. In 1695 he wrote a poem to the king, which was well received; and in 1699 he received a pension of L300. In 1701 he went upon the Continent, and travelled principally in France and Italy. On his return, he published his travels, and a Poetical Epistle from Italy, which are interesting as delineating continental scenes and manners in that day. Of the travels, Dr. Johnson said, "they might have been written at home;" but he praised the poetical epistle as the finest of Addison's poetical works.
Upon the accession of Queen Anne, he continued to pay his court in verse. When the great battle of Blenheim was fought, in 1704, he at once published an artificial poem called The Campaign, which has received the fitting name of the Rhymed Despatch. Eulogistic of Marlborough and descriptive of his army manoeuvres, its chief value is to be found in its historical character, and not in any poetic merit. It was a political paper, and he was rewarded for it by the appointment of Commissioner of Appeals, in which post he succeeded the philosopher Locke.
The spirit of this poem is found in the following lines:
Fiction may deck the truth with spurious rays, And round the hero cast a borrowed blaze; Marlboro's exploits appear divinely bright, And proudly shine in their own native light.
If we look for a contrast to this poem, indicating with it the two political sides of the question, it may be found in Swift's tract on The Conduct of the Allies, which asserts that the war had been maintained to gratify the ambition and greed of Marlborough, and also for the benefit of the Allies. Addison was appointed, as a reward for his poem, Under-Secretary of State.
To this extent Addison was the historian by purpose. A moderate partisan, he eulogized King William, Marlborough, Lord Somers, Lord Halifax, and others, and thus commended himself to the crown; and in several elegant articles in The Spectator, he sought to mitigate the fierce party spirit of the time.
SIR ROGER DE COVERLEY.—But it is the unconscious historian with whom we are most charmed, and by whom we are best instructed. It is in this character that Addison presents himself in his numerous contributions to The Spectator, The Tatler, and The Guardian. Amid much that is now considered pedantic and artificial, and which, in those faults, marks the age, are to be found as striking and truthful delineations of English life and society in that day as Chaucer has given us of an earlier period.
Those who no longer read The Spectator as a model of style and learning, must continue to prize it for these rare historic teachings. The men and women walk before us as in some antique representation in a social festival, when grandmothers' brocades are taken out, when curious fashions are displayed, when Honoria and Flavia, Fidelia and Gloriana dress and speak and ogle and flirt just as Addison saw and photographed them. We have their subjects of interest, their forms of gossip, the existing abuses of the day, their taste in letters, their opinions upon the works of literature, in all their freshness.
The fullest and most systematic of these social delineations is found in the sketch of The Club and Sir Roger de Coverley. The creation of character is excellent. Each member, individual and distinct, is also the type of a class.
THE CLUB.—There is Will Honeycomb, the old beau, "a gentleman who, according to his years, should be in the decline of his life, but having ever been careful of his person, and always had an easy fortune, time has made but very little impression, either by wrinkles on his forehead or traces on his brain." He knew from what French woman this manner of curling the hair came, who invented hoops, and whose vanity to show her foot brought in short dresses. He is a woman-killer, sceptical about marriage; and at length he gives the fair sex ample satisfaction for his cruelty and egotism by marrying, unknown to his friends, a farmer's daughter, whose face and virtues are her only fortune.
Captain Sentry, the nephew of Sir Roger, is, it may be supposed, the essayist's ideal of what an English officer should be—a courageous soldier and a modest gentleman.
Sir Andrew Freeport is the retired merchant, drawn to the life. He is moderate in politics, as expediency in that age would suggest. Thoroughly satisfied of the naval supremacy of England, he calls the sea, "the British Common." He is the founder of his own fortune, and is satisfied to transmit to posterity an unsullied name, a goodly store of wealth, and the title he has so honorably won.
In The Templar, we have a satire upon a certain class of lawyers. It is indicative of that classical age, that he understands Aristotle and Longinus better than Littleton and Coke, and is happy in anything but law—a briefless barrister, but a gentleman of consideration.
But the most charming, the most living portrait is that of Sir Roger de Coverley, an English country gentleman, as he ought to be, and as not a few really were. What a generous humanity for all wells forth from his simple and loving heart! He has such a mirthful cast in his behavior that he is rather loved than esteemed. Repulsed by a fair widow, several years before, he keeps his sentiment alive by wearing a coat and doublet of the same cut that was in fashion at the time, which, he tells us, has been out and in twelve times since he first wore it. All the young women profess to love him, and all the young men are glad of his company.
Last of all is the clergyman, whose piety is all reverence, and who talks and acts "as one who is hastening to the object of all his wishes, and conceives hope from his decays and infirmities."
It is said that Addison, warned by the fate of Cervantes,—whose noble hero, Don Quixote, was killed by another pen,—determined to conduct Sir Roger to the tomb himself; and the knight makes a fitting end. He congratulates his nephew, Captain Sentry, upon his succession to the inheritance; he is thoughtful of old friends and old servants. In a word, so excellent was his life, and so touching the story of his death, that we feel like mourners at a real grave. Indeed he did live, and still lives,—one type of the English country gentleman one hundred and fifty years ago. Other types there were, not so pleasant to contemplate; but Addison's Sir Roger de Coverley and Fielding's Squire Allworthy vindicate their class in that age.
ADDISON'S HYMNS.—Addison appears to us also as the writer of beautiful hymns, and has paraphrased some of the Psalms. In this, like Watts, he catered to a decided religious craving of that day. In a Protestant realm, and by reason of religious controversy, the fine old hymns of the Latin church, which are now renewing their youth in an English dress, had fallen into disrepute: hymnody had, to some extent, superseded the plain chant. Hymns were in demand. Poets like Addison and Watts provided for this new want; and from the beauty of his few contributions, our great regret is that Addison wrote so few. Every one he did write is a gem in many collections. Among them we have that admirable paraphrase of the Twenty-third Psalm:
The Lord my pasture shall prepare, And feed me with a shepherd's care;
and the hymn
When all Thy mercies, O my God, My rising soul surveys.
None, however, is so beautiful, stately, and polished as the Divine Ode, so pleasant to all people, little and large,—
The spacious firmament on high.
HIS PERSON AND CHARACTER.—In closing this brief sketch of Addison, a few words are necessary as to his personality, and an estimate of his powers. In 1716 he married the Countess-Dowager of Warwick, and parted with independence to live with a coronet. His married life was not happy. The lady was cold and exacting; and, it must be confessed, the poet loved a bottle at the club-room or tavern better than the luxuries of Holland House; and not infrequently this conviviality led him to excess. He died in 1719, in his forty-eighth year, and made a truly pious end. He wished, he said, to atone for any injuries he had done to others, and sent for his sceptical and dissolute step-son, Lord Warwick, to show him how a Christian could die. A monument has been erected to his memory in the Poets' Corner of Westminster Abbey, and the closing words of the inscription upon it calls him "the honor and delight of the English nation."
As a man, he was grave and retiring: he had a high opinion of his own powers; in company he was extremely diffident; in the main, he was moral, just, and consistent. His intemperance was in part the custom of the age and in part a physical failing, and it must have been excessive to be distinguished in that age. In the Latin-English of Dr. Johnson, "It is not unlikely that Addison was first seduced to excess by the manumission which he obtained from the servile timidity of his sober hours." This failing must be regarded as a blot on his fame.
He was the most accomplished writer of his own age, and in elegance of style superior to all who had gone before him.
In the words of his epitaph, his prose papers "encouraged the good and reformed the improvident, tamed the wicked, and in some degree made them in love with virtue." His poetry is chiefly of historical value, in that it represents so distinctly the Artificial School; but it is now very little read. His drama entitled Cato was modelled upon the French drama of the classical school, with its singular preservation of the unities. But his contributions to The Spectator and other periodicals are historically of great value. Here he abandons the artificial school; nothing in his delineations of character is simply statuesque or pictorial. He has done for us what the historians have left undone. They present processions of automata moving to the sound of trumpet and drum, ushered by Black Rod or Garter King-at-arms; but in Addison we find that Promethean heat which relumes their life; the galvanic motion becomes a living stride; the puppet eyes emit fire; the automata are men. Thus it is, that, although The Spectator, once read as a model of taste and style, has become antiquated and has been superseded, it must still be resorted to for its life-like portraiture of men and women, manners and customs, and will be found truer and more valuable for these than history itself.
STEELE AND SWIFT.
Sir Richard Steele. Periodicals. The Crisis. His Last Days. Jonathan Swift—Poems. The Tale of a Tub. Battle of the Books. Pamphlets. M. B. Drapier. Gulliver's Travels. Stella and Vanessa. His Character and Death.
Contemporary with Addison, and forming with him a literary fraternity, Steele and Swift were besides men of distinct prominence, and clearly represent the age in which they lived.
SIR RICHARD STEELE.—If Addison were chosen as the principal literary figure of the period, a sketch of his life would be incomplete without a large mention of his lifelong friend and collaborator, Steele. If to Bacon belongs the honor of being the first writer and the namer of the English essay, Steele may claim that of being the first periodical essayist.
He was born in Dublin, in 1671, of English parents; his father being at the time secretary to the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland. He received his early education at the Charter-House school, in London, an institution which has numbered among its pupils many who have gained distinguished names in literature. Here he met and formed a permanent friendship with Addison. He was afterwards entered as a student at Merton College, Oxford; but he led there a wild and reckless life, and leaving without a degree, he enlisted as a private in the Horse Guards. Through the influence of his friends, he was made a cornet, and afterwards a captain, in the Fusileers; but this only gave him opportunity for continued dissipation. His principles were better than his conduct; and, haunted by conscience, he made an effort to reform himself by writing a devotional work called The Christian Hero; but there was such a contrast between his precepts and his life, that he was laughed at by the town. Between 1701 and 1704 he produced his three comedies. The Funeral, or Grief a la Mode; The Tender Husband, and The Lying Lover. The first two were successful upon the stage, but the last was a complete failure. Disgusted for the time with the drama, he was led to find his true place as the writer of those light, brilliant, periodical essays which form a prominent literary feature of the reign of Queen Anne. These Essays were comments, suggestions, strictures, and satires upon the age. They were of immediate and local interest then, and have now a value which the writers did not foresee: they are unconscious history.
PERIODICALS.—The first of these periodicals was The Tatler, a penny sheet, issued tri-weekly, on post-days. The first number appeared on the 12th of April, 1709, and asserted the very laudable purpose "to expose the deceits, sins, and vanities of the former age, and to make virtue, simplicity, and plain-dealing the law of social life." "For this purpose," in the words of Dr. Johnson, "nothing is so proper as the frequent publication of short papers, which we read not as study, but amusement. If the subject be slight, the treatise is short. The busy may find time, and the idle may find patience." One nom de plume of Steele was Isaac Bickerstaff, which he borrowed from Swift, who had issued party-pamphlets under that name.
The Tatler was a success. The fluent pen of Addison gave it valuable assistance; and in January, 1711, it was merged into, rather than superseded by, The Spectator, which was issued six days in the week.
In this new periodical, Steele wrote the paper containing the original sketch of Sir Roger de Coverley and The Club; but, as has been already said, Addison adopted, elaborated, and finished this in several later papers. Steele had been by far the larger contributor to The Tatler. Of all the articles in The Spectator, Steele wrote two hundred and forty, and Addison two hundred and seventy-four; the rest were by various hands. In March, 1713, when The Spectator was commencing its seventh volume, The Guardian made its appearance. For the first volume of The Guardian, Addison wrote but one paper; but for the second he wrote more than Steele. Of the one hundred and seventy-six numbers of that periodical, eighty-two of the papers were by Steele and fifty-three by Addison. If the writings of Addison were more scholarly and elegant, those of Steele were more vivacious and brilliant; and together they have produced a series of essays which have not been surpassed in later times, and which are vividly delineative of their own.
THE CRISIS.—The career of Steele was varied and erratic. He held several public offices, was a justice of the peace, and a member of parliament. He wrote numerous political tracts, which are not without historical value. For one pamphlet of a political character, entitled The Crisis, he was expelled from parliament for libel; but upon the death of Queen Anne, he again found himself in favor. He was knighted in 1715, and received several lucrative appointments.
He was an eloquent orator, and as a writer rapid and brilliant, but not profound. Even thus, however, he catered to an age at once artificial and superficial. Very observant of what he saw, he rushed to his closet and jotted down his views in electrical words, which made themselves immediately and distinctly felt.
HIS LAST DAYS.—Near the close of his life he produced a very successful comedy, entitled The Conscious Lover, which would have been of pecuniary value to him, were it not that he was already overwhelmed with debt. His end was a sad one; but he reaped what his extravagance and recklessness had sown. Shattered in health and ruined in fortune, he retreated from the great world into homely retirement in Wales, where he lived, poor and hidden, in a humble cottage at Llangunnor. His end was heralded by an attack of paralysis, and he died in 1729.
After his death, his letters were published; and in the private history which they unfold, he appears, notwithstanding all his follies, in the light of a tender husband and of an amiable and unselfish man. He had principle, but he lacked resolution; and the wild, vacillating character of his life is mirrored in his writings, where The Christian Hero stands in singular contrast to the comic personages of his dramas. He was a genial critic. His exuberant wit and humor reproved without wounding; he was not severe enough to be a public censor, nor pedantic enough to be the pedagogue of an age which often needed the lash rather than the gentle reproof, and upon which a merciful clemency lost its end if not its praises. He deserves credit for an attempt, however feeble, to reward virtue upon the stage, after the wholesale rewards which vice had reaped in the age of Charles II.
Steele has been overshadowed, in his connection with Addison, by the more dignified and consistent career, the greater social respectability, and the more elegant and scholarly style of his friend; and yet in much that they jointly accomplished, the merit of Steele is really as great, and conduces much to the reputation of Addison. The one husbanded and cherished his fame; the other flung it away or lavished it upon his colleagues. As contributors to history, they claim an equal share of our gratitude and praise.
JONATHAN SWIFT.—The grandfather of Swift was vicar of Goodrich, in Herefordshire. His father and mother were both English, but he was born in Dublin, in the year 1667. A posthumous child, he came into the world seven months after his father's death. From his earliest youth, he deplored the circumstances among which his lot had been cast. He was dependent upon his uncle, Godwin Swift, himself a poor man; but was not grateful for his assistance, always saying that his uncle had given him the education of a dog. At the University of Dublin, where he was entered, he did not bear a good character: he was frequently absent from his duties and negligent of his studies; and although he read history and poetry, he was considered stupid as well as idle. He was more than once admonished and suspended, but at length received his degree, Speciali gratia; which special act of grace implied that he had not fairly earned it. Piqued by this, he set to work in real earnest, and is said to have studied eight hours a day for eight years. Thus, from an idle and unsuccessful collegian, he became a man of considerable learning and a powerful writer.
He was a distant connection of Sir William Temple, through Lady Temple; and he went, by his mother's advice, to live with that distinguished man at his seat, Shene, in Moor Park, as private secretary.
In this position Swift seems to have led an uncomfortable life, ranking somewhere between the family and the upper servants. Sir William Temple was disposed to be kind, but found it difficult to converse with him on account of his moroseness and other peculiarities. At Shene he met King William III., who talked with him, and offered him a captaincy in the army. This Swift declined, knowing his unfitness for the post, and doubtless feeling the promptings of a higher ambition. It was also at Shene that he met a young girl, whose history was thenceforth to be mingled with his in sadness and sorrow, during their lives. This was Esther Johnson, the daughter of Temple's housekeeper, and surmised, at a later day, to be the natural daughter of Temple himself. When the young secretary first met her, she was fourteen years of age, very clever and beautiful; and they fell in love with each other.
We cannot dwell at length upon the events of his life. His versatile pen was prolific of poetry, sentimental and satirical; of political allegories of great potency, of fiction erected of impossible materials, and yet so creating and peopling a world of fancy as to illude the reader into temporary belief in its truth.
POEMS.—His poems are rather sententious than harmonious. His power, however, was great; he managed verse as an engine, and had an entire mastery over rhyme, which masters so many would-be poets. His Odes are classically constructed, but massive and cumbrous. His satirical poems are eminently historical, ranging over and attacking almost every topic, political, religious, and social. Among the most characteristic of his miscellaneous verses are Epigrams and Epistles, Clever Tom Pinch Going to be Hanged, Advice to Grub Street Writers, Helter-Skelter, The Puppet Show, and similar odd pieces, frequently scurrilous, bitter, and lewd in expression. The writer of English history consults these as he does the penny ballads, lampoons, and caricatures of the day,—to discern the animus of parties and the methods of hostile factions.
But it is in his inimitable prose writings that Swift is of most value to the historical student. Against all comers he stood the Goliath of pamphleteers in the reign of Queen Anne, and there arose no David who could slay him.
THE TALE OF A TUB.—While an unappreciated student at the university, he had sketched a satirical piece, which he finished and published in 1704, under the title of The Tale of a Tub. As a tub is thrown overboard at sea to divert a whale, so this is supposed to be a sop cast out to the Leviathan of Hobbes, to prevent it from injuring the vessel of state. The story is a satire aimed against the Roman Catholics on the one hand, and the Presbyterians on the other, in order that he may exalt the Church of England as, in his judgment, free from the errors of both, and a just and happy medium between the two extremes. His own opinion of its merits is well known: in one of his later years, when his hand had lost its cunning, he is said to have exclaimed, as he picked it up, "What a genius I had when I wrote that book!" The characters of the story are Peter (representing St. Peter, or the Roman Catholic Church), Martin (Luther, or the Church of England), and Jack (John Calvin, or the Presbyterians). By their father's will each had been left a suit of clothes, made in the fashion of his day. To this Peter added laces and fringes; Martin took off some of the ornaments of doubtful taste; but Jack ripped and tore off the trimmings of his dress to such an extent that he was in clanger of exposing his nakedness. It is said that the invective was so strong and the satire so bitter, that they presented a bar to that preferment which Swift might otherwise have obtained. He appears at this time to have cared little for public opinion, except that it should fear his trenchant wit and do homage to his genius.
THE BATTLE OF THE BOOKS.—In the same year, 1704, he also published The Battle of the Books, the idea of which was taken from a French work of Courtraye, entitled "Histoire de la guerre nouvellement declaree entre les Anciens et les Modernes." Swift's work was written in furtherance of the views of his patron, Temple, who had some time before engaged in the controversy as to the relative merits of ancient and modern learning, and who, in the words of Macaulay, "was so absurd as to set up his own authority against that of Bentley on questions of Greek history and philology."
The Battle of the Books is of present value, as it affords information upon the opinions then held on a question which, in various forms, has been agitating the literary world ever since. In it Swift compares Dryden, Wotten, and Bentley with the old authors in St. James's Library, where the battle of the books is said to have taken place.
Upon the death of Sir William Temple, in 1699, Swift had gone to London. He was ambitious of power and money, and when he found little chance of preferment among the Whigs, he became a Tory. It must be said, in explanation of this change, that, although he had called himself a Whig, he had disliked many of their opinions, and had never heartily espoused their cause. Like others already referred to, he watched the political horizon, and was ready for a change when circumstances should warrant it. This change and its causes are set forth in his Bickerstaff's Ridicule of Astrology and Sacramental Test.
The Whigs tried hard to retain him; the Tories were rejoiced to receive him, and modes of preferment for him were openly canvassed. One of these was to make him Bishop of Virginia, with metropolitan powers in America; but it failed. He was also recommended for the See of Hereford; but persons near the queen advised her "to be sure that the man she was going to make a bishop was a Christian." Thus far he had only been made rector of Agher and vicar of Laracor and Rathbeggin.
VARIOUS PAMPHLETS.—His Argument Against the Abolition of Christianity, Dr. Johnson calls "a very happy and judicious irony." In 1710 he wrote a paper, at the request of the Irish primate, petitioning the queen to remit the first-fruits and twentieth parts to the Irish clergy. In 1712, ten days before the meeting of parliament, he published his Conduct of the Allies, which, exposing the greed of Marlborough, persuaded the nation to make peace. A supplement to this is found in Reflections on the Barrier Treaty, in which he shows how little English interests had been consulted in that negotiation.
His pamphlet on The Public Spirit of the Whigs, in answer to Steele's Crisis, was so terrible a bomb-shell thrown into the camp of his former friends, and so insulting to the Scotch, that L300 were offered by the queen, at the instance of the Scotch lords, for the discovery of the author; but without success.
At last his versatile and powerful pen obtained some measure of reward: in 1713 he was made Dean of St. Patrick's, in Dublin, with a stipend of L700 per annum. This was his greatest and last preferment.
On the accession of George I., in the following year, he paid his court, but was received with something more than coldness. He withdrew to his deanery in Dublin, and, in the words of Johnson, "commenced Irishman for life, and was to contrive how he might be best accommodated in a country where he considered himself as in a state of exile." After some misunderstanding between himself and his Irish fellow-citizens, he espoused their cause so warmly that he became the most popular man in Ireland. In 1721 he could write to Pope, "I neither know the names nor the number of the family which now reigneth, further than the prayer-book informeth me." His letters, signed M. B. Drapier, on Irish manufactures, and especially those in opposition to Wood's monopoly of copper coinage, in 1724, wrought upon the people, producing such a spirit of resistance that the project of a debased coinage failed; and so influential did Swift become, that he was able to say to the Archbishop of Dublin, "Had I raised my finger, the mob would have torn you to pieces." This popularity was increased by the fact that a reward of L300 was offered by Lord Carteret and the privy council for the discovery of the authorship of the fourth letter; but although it was commonly known that Swift was the author, proof could not be obtained. Carteret, the Lord Lieutenant, afterwards said, "When people ask me how I governed Ireland, I said that I pleased Doctor Swift."
Thus far Swift's literary labors are manifest history: we come now to consider that great work, Gulliver's Travels,—the most successful of its kind ever written,—in which, with all the charm of fiction in plot, incident, and description, he pictures the great men and the political parties of the day.
GULLIVER'S TRAVELS.—Lemuel Gulliver, a surgeon's mate, finds himself shipwrecked on the shore of the country of Lilliput, the people of which are only six inches in height. His adventures are so vividly described that our charmed fancy places us among them as we read, and we, for a time, abandon ourselves to a belief in their reality. It was, however, begun as a political satire; in the insignificance of the court of pigmies, he attacks the feebleness and folly of the new reign. Flimnap, the prime minister of Lilliput, is a caricature of Walpole; the Big Indians and Little Indians represent the Protestants and Roman Catholics; the High Heels and Low Heels stand for the Whigs and Tories; and the heir-apparent, who wears one heel high and the other low, is the Prince of Wales, afterwards George II., who favored both parties in order to gain both to his purpose.
In his second voyage, that to Brobdignag, his satirical imagination took a wider range—European politics as they appear to a superior intelligence, illustrated by a man of sixty feet in comparison with one of six. As Gulliver had looked with curious contempt upon the united efforts of the Lilliputians, he now found himself in great jeopardy and fear when in the hands of a giant of Brobdignag. As the pigmy metropolis, five hundred yards square, was to London, so were London and other European capitals to the giants' city, two thousand miles in circumference. And what are the armies of Europe, when compared with that magnificent cavalry manoeuvring on a parade-ground twenty miles square, each mounted trooper ninety feet high, and all, as they draw their swords at command, representing ten thousand flashes of lightning?
The third part contains the voyage of Gulliver—no less improbable than the former ones—to Laputa, the flying island of projectors and visionaries. This is a varied satire upon the Royal Society, the eccentricities of the savans, empirics of all kinds, mathematical magic, and the like. In this, political schemes to restore the pretender are aimed at. The Mississippi Scheme and the South Sea bubble are denounced. Here, too, in his journey to Luggnagg, he introduces the sad and revolting picture of the Struldbrugs, those human beings who live on, losing all their power and becoming hideously old.
In his last voyage—to the land of the Houyhnhnms—his misanthropy is painfully manifest. This is the country where horses are masters, and men a servile and degraded race; and he has painted the men so brutish and filthy that the satire loses its point. The power of satire lies in contrast; we must compare the evil in men with the good: when the whole race is included in one sweeping condemnation, and an inferior being exalted, in opposition to all possibility, the standard is absurd, and the satirist loses his pains.
The horses are the Houyhnhnms, (the name is an attempt to imitate a neigh,) a noble race, who are amazed and disgusted at the Yahoos,—the degraded men,—upon whom Swift, in his sweeping misanthropy, has exhausted his bitterness and his filth.
STELLA AND VANESSA.—While Swift's mysterious associations with Stella and Vanessa have but little to do with the course of English Literature, they largely affect his personality, and no sketch of him would be complete without introducing them to the reader. We cannot conjure up the tall, burly form, the heavy-browed, scowling, contemptuous face, the sharp blue eye, and the bushy black hair of the dean, without seeing on one side and the other the two pale, meek-eyed, devoted women, who watch his every look, shrink from his sudden bursts of wrath, receive for their infatuation a few fair words without sentiment, and earnestly crave a little love as a return for their whole hearts. It is a wonderful, touching, baffling story.
Stella he had known and taught in her young maidenhood at Sir William Temple's. As has been said, she was called the daughter of his steward and housekeeper, but conjectures are rife that she was Sir William's own child. When Swift removed to Ireland, she came, at Swift's request, with a matron friend, Mrs. Dingley, to live near him. Why he did not at once marry her, and why, at last, he married her secretly, in 1716, are questions over which curious readers have puzzled themselves in vain, and upon which, in default of evidence, some perhaps uncharitable conclusions have been reached. The story of their association may be found in the Journal to Stella.
With Miss Hester Vanhomrigh (Vanessa) he became acquainted in London, in 1712: he was also her instructor; and when with her he seems to have forgotten his allegiance to Stella. Cadenus, as he calls himself, was too tender and fond: Vanessa became infatuated; and when she heard of Swift's private marriage with Stella, she died of chagrin or of a broken heart. She had cancelled the will which she had made in Swift's favor, and left it in charge to her executors to publish their correspondence. Both sides of the history of this connection are fully displayed in the poem of Cadenus and Vanessa, and in the Correspondence of Swift and Vanessa.
CHARACTER AND DEATH.—Pride overbearing and uncontrollable, misanthropy, excessive dogmatism, a singular pleasure in giving others pain, were among his personal faults or misfortunes. He abused his companions and servants; he never forgave his sister for marrying a tradesman; he could attract with winning words and repel with furious invective; and he was always anxiously desiring the day of his death, and cursing that of his birth. His common farewell was "Good-bye; I hope we may never meet again." There is a painful levity in his verses On the Death of Doctor Swift, in which he gives an epitome of his life:
From Dublin soon to London spread, 'Tis told at court the dean is dead! And Lady Suffolk, in the spleen, Runs laughing up to tell the queen: The queen, so gracious, mild, and good, Cries, "Is he gone? it's time he should."
At last the end came. While a young man, he had suffered from a painful attack of vertigo, brought on by a surfeit of fruit; "eating," he says, in a letter to Mrs. Howard, "an hundred golden pippins at a time." This had occasioned a deafness; and both giddiness and deafness had recurred at intervals, and at last manifestly affected his mind. Once, when walking with some friends, he had pointed to an elm-tree, blasted by lightning, and had said, "I shall be like that tree: I shall die first at the top." And thus at last the doom fell. Struck on the brain, he lingered for nine years in that valley of spectral horrors, of whose only gates idiocy and madness are the hideous wardens. From this bondage he was released by death on the 19th of October, 1745.
Many have called it a fearful retribution for his sins, and especially for his treatment of Stella and Vanessa. A far more reasonable and charitable verdict is that the evil in his conduct through life had its origin in congenital disorder; and in his days of apparent sanity, the character of his eccentric actions is to be palliated, if not entirely excused, on the plea of insanity. Additional force is given to this judgment by the fact that, when he died, it was found that he had left his money to found a hospital for the insane, illustrating the line,—
A fellow-feeling makes us wondrous kind.
In that day of great classical scholars, Swift will hardly rank among the most profound; but he possessed a creative power, a ready and versatile fancy, a clear and pleasing but plain style. He has been unjustly accused by Lady Montagu of having stolen plot and humor from Cervantes and Rabelais: he drew from the same source as they; and those suggestions which came to him from them owe all their merit to his application of them. As a critic, he was heartless and rude; but as a polemic and a delineator of his age, he stands prominently forth as an historian, whose works alone would make us familiar with the period.
OTHER WRITERS OF THE AGE.
Sir William Temple, 1628-1698: he was a statesman and a political writer; rather a man of mark in his own day than of special interest to the present time. After having been engaged in several important diplomatic affairs, he retired to his seat of Moor Park, and employed himself in study and with his pen. His Essays and Observations on Government are valuable as a clue to the history. In his controversy with Bentley on the Epistles of Phalaris, and the relative merits of ancient and modern authors, he was overmatched in scholarship. In a literary point of view, Temple deserves praise for the ease and beauty of his style. Dr. Johnson says he "was the first writer who gave cadence to English prose." "What can be more pleasant," says Charles Lamb, "than the way in which the retired statesman peeps out in his essays, penned in his delightful retreat at Shene?" He is perhaps better known in literary history as the early patron of Swift, than for his own works.
Sir Isaac Newton, 1642-1727: the chief glory of Newton is not connected with literary effort: he ranks among the most profound and original philosophers, and was one of the purest and most unselfish of men. The son of a farmer, he was born at Woolsthorpe, in Lincolnshire, after his father's death,—a feeble, sickly child. The year of his birth was that in which Galileo died. At the age of fifteen he was employed on his mother's farm, but had already displayed such an ardor for learning that he was sent first to school and then to Cambridge, where he was soon conspicuous for his talents and his genius. In due time he was made a professor. His discoveries in astronomy, mechanics, and optics are of world-wide renown. The law of gravitation was established by him, and set forth in his paper De Motu Corporum. His treatise on Fluxions prepared the way for that wonderful mathematical, labor-saving instrument—the differential calculus. In 1687 he published his Philosophiae Naturalis Principia Mathematica, in which all his mathematical theories are propounded. In 1696 he was made Warden of the Mint, and in 1699 Master of the Mint. Long a member of the Royal Society, he was its president for the last twenty-four years of his life. In 1688 he was elected member of parliament for the university of Cambridge. Of purely literary works he left two, entitled respectively, Observations upon the Prophecies of Daniel and the Apocalypse of St. John, and a Chronology of Ancient Kingdoms Amended; both of which are of little present value except as the curious remains of so great a man.
Viscount Bolingbroke (Henry St. John), 1678-1751: as an erratic statesman, a notorious free-thinker, a dissipated lord, a clever political writer, and an eloquent speaker, Lord Bolingbroke was a centre of attraction in his day, and demands observation in literary history. During the reign of Queen Anne he was a plotter in favor of the pretender, and when she died, he fled the realm to avoid impeachment for treason. In France he joined the pretender as Secretary of State, but was dismissed for intrigue; and on being pardoned by the English king, he returned to England. His writings are brilliant but specious. His influence was felt in the literary society he drew around him,—Swift, Pope, and others,—and, as has been already said, his opinions are to be found in that Essay on Man which Pope dedicated to him. In his meteoric political career he represents and typifies one phase of the time in which he lived.
George Berkeley, 1684-1753: he was educated at Trinity College, Dublin, and soon engaged in metaphysical controversy. In 1724 he was made Dean of Derry, and in 1734, Bishop of Cloyne. A man of great philanthropy, he set forth a scheme for the founding of the Bermudas College, to train missionaries for the colonies and to labor among the North American Indians. As a metaphysician, he was an absolute idealist. This is no place to discuss his theory. In the words of Dr. Reid, "He maintains ... that there is no such thing as matter in the universe; that the sun and moon, earth and sea, our own bodies and those of our friends, are nothing but ideas in the minds of those who think of them, and that they have no existence when they are not objects of thought; that all that is in the universe may be reduced to two categories, to wit, minds and ideas in the mind." The reader is referred, for a full discussion of this question, to Sir William Hamilton's Metaphysics. Berkeley's chief writings are: New Theory of Vision, Treatise Concerning the Principles of Human Knowledge, and Dialogues Between Hylas and Philonous. His name and memory are especially dear to the American people; for, although his scheme of the training-college failed, he lived for two years and a half in Newport, where his house still stands, and where one of his children is buried. He presented to Yale College his library and his estate in Rhode Island, and he wrote that beautiful poem with its kindly prophecy:
Westward the course of empire takes its way: The four first acts already past, A fifth shall close the drama with the day; Time's noblest offspring is the last.
THE RISE AND PROGRESS OF MODERN FICTION.
The New Age. Daniel Defoe. Robinson Crusoe. Richardson. Pamela, and Other Novels. Fielding. Joseph Andrews. Tom Jones. Its Moral. Smollett. Roderick Random. Peregrine Pickle.
THE NEW AGE.
We have now reached a new topic in the course of English Literature—contemporaneous, indeed, with the subjects just named, but marked by new and distinct development. It was a period when numerous and distinctive forms appeared; when genius began to segregate into schools and divisions; when the progress of letters and the demands of popular curiosity gave rise to works which would have been impossible, because uncalled for, in any former period. English enterprise was extending commerce and scattering useful arts in all quarters of the globe, and thus giving new and rich materials to English letters. Clive was making himself a lord in India; Braddock was losing his army and his life in America. This spirit of English enterprise in foreign lands was evoking literary activity at home: there was no exploit of English valor, no extension of English dominion and influence, which did not find its literary reproduction. Thus, while it was an age of historical research, it was also that of actual delineations of curious novelties at home and abroad.
Poetry was in a transition state; it was taking its leave of the unhealthy satire and the technical wit of Queen Anne's reign, and attempting, on the one hand, the impostures of Macpherson and Chatterton,—to which we shall hereafter refer,—and, on the other, the restoration of the pastoral from the theatrical to the real, in Thomson's song of the Rolling Year, and Cowper's pleasant Task, so full of life and nature. Swallow-like, English poetry had hung about the eaves or skimmed the surface of town and court; but now, like the lark, it soared into freer air—
Coetusque vulgares et udam Spernit humum fugiente penna.
In short, it was a day of general awakening. The intestine troubles excited by the Jacobites were brought to an end by the disaster of Culloden, in 1745. The German campaigns culminating at Minden, in 1759, opened a door to the study of German literature, and of the Teutonic dialects as elements of the English language.
It is, therefore, not astonishing that in this period Literature should begin to arrange itself into its present great divisions. As in an earlier age the drama had been born to cater to a popular taste, so in this, to satisfy the public demand, arose English prose fiction in its peculiar and enduring form. There had been grand and desultory works preceding this, such as Robinson Crusoe, The Pilgrim's Progress, and Swift's inimitable story of Gulliver; but the modern novel, unlike these, owes its origin to a general desire for delineations of private life and manners. "Show us ourselves!" was the cry.
A novel may be defined as a fictitious story of modern life describing the management and mastery of the human passions, and especially the universal passion of love. Its power consists in the creation of ideal characters, which leave a real impress upon the reader's mind; it must be a prose epic in that there is always a hero, or, at least, a heroine, generally both, and a drama in its presentation of scenes and supplementary personages. Thackeray calls his Vanity Fair a novel without a hero: it is impossible to conceive a novel without a heroine. There must also be a denouement, or consummation; in short, it must have, in the words of Aristotle, a beginning, middle, and ending, in logical connection and consecutive interest.
DANIEL DEFOE.—Before, however, proceeding to consider the modern novel, we must make mention of one author, distinctly of his own age as a political pamphleteer, but who, in his chief and inimitable work, stands alone, without antecedent or consequent. Robinson Crusoe has had a host of imitators, but no rival.
Daniel Foe, or, as he afterwards called himself, De Foe, was born in London, in the year 1661. He was the son of a butcher, but such was his early aptitude, for learning, that he was educated to become a dissenting minister. His own views, however, were different: he became instead a political author, and wrote with great force against the government of James II. and the Established Church, and in favor of the dissenters. When the Duke of Monmouth landed to make his fatal campaign, Defoe joined his standard; but does not seem to have suffered with the greater number of the duke's adherents.
He was a warm supporter of William III.; and his famous poem, The True-Born Englishman, was written in answer to an attack upon the king and the Dutch, called The Foreigners. Of his own poem he says, in the preface, "When I see the town full of lampoons and invectives against the Dutch, only because they are foreigners, and the king reproached and insulted by insolent pedants and ballad-making poets for employing foreigners and being a foreigner himself, I confess myself moved by it to remind our nation of their own original, thereby to let them see what a banter they put upon themselves, since—speaking of Englishmen ab origine—we are really all foreigners ourselves:"
The Pict and painted Briton, treach'rous Scot, By hunger, theft, and rapine hither brought; Norwegian pirates, buccaneering Danes, Whose red-haired offspring everywhere remains; Who, joined with Norman-French, compound the breed From whence your true-born Englishmen proceed.
In 1702, just after the death of King William, Defoe published his severely ironical pamphlet, The Shortest Way with the Dissenters. Assuming the character of a High Churchman, he says: "'Tis vain to trifle in the matter. The light, foolish handling of them by fines is their glory and advantage. If the gallows instead of the compter, and the galleys instead of the fines, were the reward of going to a conventicle, there would not be so many sufferers." His irony was at first misunderstood: the High Churchmen hailed him as a champion, and the Dissenters hated him as an enemy. But when his true meaning became apparent, a reward of L50 was offered by the government for his discovery. His so-called "scandalous and seditious pamphlet" was burnt by the common hangman: he was tried, and sentenced to pay two hundred marks, to stand three times in the pillory, and to be imprisoned during the queen's pleasure. He bore his sentence bravely, and during his two years' residence in prison he published a periodical called The Review. In 1709 he wrote a History of the Union between England and Scotland.
ROBINSON CRUSOE.—But none of these things, nor all combined, would have given to Defoe that immortality which is his as the author of Robinson Crusoe. Of the groundwork of the story not much need be said.
Alexander Selkirk, the sailing-master of an English privateer, was set ashore, in 1704, at his own request, on the uninhabited island Juan Fernandez, which lies several hundred miles from the coast of Chili, in the Pacific Ocean. He was supplied with clothing and arms, and remained there alone for four years and four months. It is supposed that his adventures suggested the work. It is also likely that Defoe had read the journal of Peter Serrano, who, in the sixteenth century, had been marooned in like manner on a desolate island lying off the mouth of the Oroonoque (Orinoco). The latter locality was adopted by Defoe. But it is not the fact or the adventures which give power to Robinson Crusoe. It is the manner of treating what might occur to any fancy, even the dullest. The charm consists in the simplicity and the verisimilitude of the narrative, the rare adaptation of the common man to his circumstances, his projects and failures, the birth of religion in his soul, his conflicting hopes and fears, his occasional despair. We see in him a brother, and a suffering one. We live his life on the island; we share his terrible fear at the discovery of the footprint, his courage in destroying the cannibal savages and rescuing the victim. Where is there in fiction another man Friday? From the beginning of his misfortunes until he is again sailing for England, after nearly thirty years of captivity, he holds us spellbound by the reality, the simplicity, and the pathos of his narrative; but, far beyond the temporary illusion of the modern novel, everything remains real: the shipwrecked mariner spins his yarns in sailor fashion, and we believe and feel every word he says. The book, although wonderfully good throughout, is unequal: the prime interest only lasts until he is rescued, and ends with his embarkation for England. The remainder of his travels becomes, as a narrative, comparatively tiresome and tame; and we feel, besides, that, after his unrivalled experience, he should have remained in England, "the observed of all observers." Yet it must be said that we are indebted to his later journey in Spain and France, his adventures in the Eastern Seas, his caravan ride overland from China to Europe, for much which illustrates the manners and customs of navigation and travel in that day.
Robinson Crusoe stands alone among English books, a perennial fountain of instruction and pleasure. It aids in educating each new generation: children read it for its incident; men to renew their youth; literary scholars to discover what it teaches of its time and of its author's genius. Its influence continues unabated; it incites boys to maritime adventure, and shows them how to use in emergency whatever they find at hand. It does more: it tends to reclaim the erring by its simple homilies; it illustrates the ruder navigation of its day; shows us the habits and morals of the merchant marine, and the need and means of reforming what was so very bad.
Defoe's style is clear, simple, and natural. He wrote several other works, of which few are now read. Among these are the Account of the Plague, The Life and Piracies of Captain Singleton, and The Fortunes and Misfortunes of Moll Flanders. He died on the 24th of April, 1731.
RICHARDSON.—Samuel Richardson, who, notwithstanding the peculiar merits of Defoe, must be called the Father of Modern Prose Fiction, was born in Derbyshire, in 1689. The personal events of his life are few and uninteresting. A carpenter's son, he had but little schooling, and owed everything to his own exertions. Apprenticed to a printer in London, at the age of fifteen, he labored assiduously at his trade, and it rewarded him with fortune: he became, in turn, printer of the Journals of the House of Commons, Master of the Stationers' Company, and Printer to the King. While young, he had been the confidant of three young women, and had written or corrected their love-letters for them. He seems to have had great fluency in letter-writing; and being solicited by a publisher to write a series of familiar letters on the principal concerns of life, which might be used as models,—a sort of "Easy Letter-Writer,"—he began the task, but, changing his plan, he wrote a story in a series of letters. The first volume was published in 1741, and was no less a work than Pamela. The author was then fifty years old; and he presents in this work a matured judgment concerning the people and customs of the day,—the printer's notions of the social condition of England,—shrewd, clever, and defective.
Wearied as the world had been by what Sir Walter Scott calls the "huge folios of inanity" which had preceded him, the work was hailed with delight. There was a little affectation; but the sentiment was moral and natural. Ladies carried Pamela about in their rides and walks. Pope, near his end, said it was a better moral teacher than sermons: Sherlock recommended it from the pulpit.
PAMELA, AND OTHER NOVELS.—Pamela is represented as a poor servant-maid, but beautiful and chaste, whose honor resists the attack of her dissolute master, and whose modesty and virtue overcome his evil nature. Subdued and reclaimed by her chastity and her charms, he reforms, and marries her. Some pictures which are rather warmly colored and indelicate in our day were quite in keeping with the taste of that time, and gave greater effect to the moral lesson assigned to be taught.
In his next work, Clarissa Harlowe, which appeared in 1749, he has drawn the picture of a perfect woman preserving her purity amid seductive gayeties, and suffering sorrows to which those of the Virgin Martyr are light. We have, too, an excellent portraiture of a bold and wicked, but clever and gifted man—Lovelace.
His third and last novel, Sir Charles Grandison, appeared in 1753. The hero, Sir Charles, is the model of a Christian gentleman; but is, perhaps, too faultless for popular appreciation.
In his delineations of humbler natures,—country girls like Pamela,—Richardson is happiest: in his descriptions of high life he has failed from ignorance. He was not acquainted with the best society, and all his grandees are stilted, artificial, and affected; but even in this fault he is of value, for he shows us how men of his class at that time regarded the society of those above them.
These works, which, notwithstanding their length, were devoured eagerly as soon as they appeared, are little read at present, and exist rather as historical interpreters of an age that is past, than as present light literature: they have been driven from our shelves by Scott, Dickens, Thackeray, and a host of charming novelists since his day.
Richardson lived the admired of a circle of ladies,—to whose sex he had paid so noble a tribute,—the hero of tea-drinkings at his house on Parson's Green; his books gave him fame, but his shop—in the back office of which he wrote his novels, when not pressed by business—gave him money and its comforts. He died at the age of seventy-two, on the 4th of July, 1761.
He was an unconscious actor in a great movement which had begun in France. The brilliant theories of Voltaire, Rousseau, Montesquieu, and Dalembert—containing much truth and many heresies—were felt in England, and had given a new impetus to English intellect; indeed, it is not strange, when we come to consider, that while Richardson's works were praised in English pulpits, Voltaire and the French atheists declared that they saw in them an advance towards human perfectibility and self-redemption, of which, if true, Richardson himself was unconscious. From the amours of men and women of fashion, aided by intriguing maid-servants and lying valets, Richardson turned away to do honor to untitled merit, to exalt the humble, and to defy gilded vice. Whatever were the charms of rank, he has elevated our humanity; thus far, and thus far only, has he sympathized with the Frenchmen who attacked the corruptions of the age, but who assaulted also its faith and its reverence.
HENRY FIELDING.—The path of prose fiction, so handsomely opened by Richardson, was immediately entered and pursued by a genius of higher order, and as unlike him as it was possible to be. Richardson still clung to romantic sentiment, Fielding eschewed it; Richardson was a teacher of morality, Fielding shielded immorality; Richardson described artificial manners in a society which he did not frequent, Fielding, in the words of Coleridge, "was like an open lawn on a breezy day in May;" Richardson was a plebeian, a carpenter's son, a successful printer; Fielding was a gentleman, the son of General Fielding, and grandson of the Earl of Denbigh; Richardson steadily rose, by his honest exertions, to independent fortune, Fielding passed from the high estate of his ancestors into poverty and loose company; the one has given us mistaken views of high life, the other has been enabled, by his sad experience, to give us truthful pictures of every grade of English society in his day from the lord, the squire, and the fop to the thief-taker, the prostitute, and the thief.
Henry Fielding was born on the 22d of April, 1707, at Sharpham Park, Somersetshire. While yet a young man, he had read Pamela; and to ridicule what he considered its prudery and over-righteousness, he hastily commenced his novel of Joseph Andrews. This Joseph is represented as the brother of Pamela,—a simple country lad, who comes to town and finds a place as Lady Booby's footman. As Pamela had resisted her master's seductions, he is called upon to oppose the vile attempts of his mistress upon his virtue.
In that novel, as well as in its successors, Tom Jones and Amelia, Fielding has given us rare pictures of English life, and satires upon English institutions, which present the social history of England a century ago: in this view our sympathies are not lost upon purely ideal creations.
In him, too, the French illuminati claimed a co-laborer; and their influence is more distinctly seen than in Richardson's works: great social problems are discussed almost in the manner of a Greek chorus; mechanical forms of religion are denounced. The French philosophers attacked errors so intertwined with truth, that the violent stabs at the former have cut the latter almost to death; Richardson attacked the errors without injuring the truth: he is the champion of purity. If Joseph Andrews was to rival Pamela in chastity, Tom Jones was to be contrasted with both in the same particular.
TOM JONES.—Fielding has received the highest commendations from literary men. Byron calls him the "prose Homer of human nature;" and Gibbon, in noticing that the Lords of Denbigh were descended, like Charles V., from Rudolph of Hapsburg, says: "The successors of Charles V. may despise their brethren of England, but the romance of Tom Jones—that exquisite picture of human manners—will outlive the Palace of the Escurial and the Imperial Eagle of Austria." We cannot go so far; we quote the praise but doubt the prophecy. The work is historically valuable, but technically imperfect and unequal. The plot is rambling, without method: most of the scenes lie in the country or in obscure English towns; the meetings are as theatrical as stage encounters; the episodes are awkwardly introduced, and disfigure the unity; the classical introductions and invocations are absurd. His heroes are men of generous impulses but dissolute lives, and his women are either vile, or the puppets of circumstance.
ITS TRUE VALUE.—What can redeem his works from such a category of condemnation? Their rare portraiture of character and their real glimpses of nature: they form an album of photographs of life as it was—odd, grotesque, but true. They have no mysterious Gothic castles like that of Otranto, nor enchanted forests like that of Mrs. Radcliffe. They present homely English life and people,—Partridge, barber, schoolmaster, and coward; Mrs. Honor, the type of maid-servants, devoted to her mistress, and yet artful; Squire Western, the foul and drunken country gentleman; Squire Allworthy, a noble specimen of human nature; Parson Adams, who is regarded by the critics as the best portrait among all his characters.
And even if we can neither commend nor recommend heroes like Tom Jones, such young men really existed, and the likeness is speakingly drawn: we bear with his faults because of his reality. Perhaps our verdict may be best given in the words of Thackeray. "I am angry," he says, "with Jones. Too much of the plum-cake and the rewards of life fall to that boisterous, swaggering young scapegrace. Sophia actually surrenders without a proper sense of decorum; the fond, foolish, palpitating little creature. 'Indeed, Mr. Jones,' she says, 'it rests with you to name the day.' ... And yet many a young fellow, no better than Mr. Thomas Jones, has carried by a coup-de-main the heart of many a kind girl who was a great deal too good for him."
When Joseph Andrews appeared, and Richardson found that so profane a person as Fielding had dared to burlesque his Pamela, he was angry; and his little tea-drinking coterie was warm in his defence; but Fielding's party was then, and has remained, the stronger.