BOOKS TO READ
Stories of Gulliver, by J. Lang. Gulliver's Travels. Gulliver's Travels (Everyman's Library).
NOTE:—These two last are both the same text and are illustrated by A. Rackham. It is the edition in Temple Classics for Young People that is recommended, not that in the Temple Classics.
Chapter LXV ADDISON—THE "SPECTATOR"
SWIFT'S wit makes us laugh, but it leaves us on the whole, perhaps, a little sad. Now we come to a satirist of quite another spirit whose wit, it has been said, "makes us laugh and leaves us good and happy."*
Joseph Addison was the son of a Dean. He was born in 1672 in the quaint little thatched parsonage of Milston, a Wiltshire village, not far from that strange monument of ancient days, Stonehenge. When he was old enough Joseph was sent first to schools near his home, and then a little later to the famous Charterhouse in London. Of his schooldays we know little, but we can guess, for one story that has come down to us, that he was a shy, nervous boy. It is said that once, having done something a little wrong, he was so afraid of what punishment might follow that he ran away. He hid in a wood, sleeping in a hollow tree and feeding on wild berries until he was found and taken home to his parents.
At Charterhouse Joseph met another boy named Dick Steele, and these two became fast friends although they were very different from each other. For Dick was merry, noisy, and fun-loving, and although Joseph loved fun too it was in a quiet, shy way. Dick, who was a few weeks older than Joseph, was the son of a well-to- do lawyer. He was born in Ireland, but did not remain there long. For, as both his father and mother died when he was still a little boy, he was brought to England to be taken care of by an uncle.
From Charterhouse Joseph and Dick both went to Oxford, but to different Colleges. Dick left the University without taking his degree and became a soldier, while Joseph stayed many years and became a man of learning.
Joseph Addison had gone to College with the idea of becoming a clergyman like his father, but after a time he gave up that idea, and turned his thoughts to politics. The politicians of the day were always on the lookout for clever men, who, by their writings, would help to sway the people to their way of thinking. Already at college Addison had become known by his Latin poetry, and three Whig statesmen thought so highly of it that they offered him a pension of 300 pounds a year to allow him to travel on the Continent and learn French and so add to his learning as to be able to help their side by his writing. Addison accepted the pension and set out on his travels. For four years he wandered about the Continent, adding to his store of knowledge of men and books, meeting many of the foremost men of letters of his day. But long before he returned home his friends had fallen from power and his pension was stopped. So back in London we find him cheerfully betaking himself to a poor lodging up three flights of stairs, hoping for something to turn up.
These were the days of the War of the Spanish Succession and of the brilliant victories of Marlborough of which you have read in the history of the time of Anne. Blenheim had been fought. All England was ringing with the praises of the great General in prose and verse. But the verse was poor, and it seemed to those in power that this great victory ought to be celebrated more worthily, so the Lord Treasurer looked about him for some one who could sing of it in fitting fashion. The right person, however, seemed hard to find, and the laureate of the day, an honest gentleman named Nahum Tate, who could hardly be called a poet, was quite unable for the task. To help the Lord Treasurer out of his difficulty one of the great men who had already befriended Addison suggested him as a suitable writer. And so one morning Addison was surprised in his little garret by a visit from no less a person than the Chancellor of the Exchequer.
A shy boy at school, Addison had grown into a shy, retiring man, and no doubt he was not a little taken aback at a visit from so great a personage. The Chancellor, however, soon put him at his ease, told him what he had come about, and begged him to undertake the work. "In short, the Chancellor said so many obliging things, and in so graceful a manner, as gave Mr. Addison the utmost spirit and encouragement to begin that poem, which he afterwards published and entitled The Campaign."*
*Budgell, Memories of the Boyles.
The poem was a great success, and besides being paid for the work, Addison received a Government post, so once more life ran smoothly for him. He had now both money and leisure. His Government duties left him time to write, and in the next few years he published a delightful book of his travels, and an opera.
Shy, humorous, courteous, Addison steadily grew popular. Everything went well with him. "If he had a mind to be chosen king he would hardly be refused," said Swift. He, however, only became a member of Parliament. But he was too shy ever to make a speech, and presently he went to Ireland as Secretary of State. Swift and Addison already knew each other, and Addison had sent a copy of his travels to Swift as "to the most agreeable companion, the truest friend, and the greatest genius of his age." Now in Ireland they saw much of each other, and although they were, as Swift himself says, as different as black and white, they became fast friends. And even later, in those days of bitter party feeling, when Swift left his own side and became a Tory, though their friendship cooled, they never became enemies. Swift's bitter pen was never turned against his old friend. Addison with all his humor and his satire never attacked any man personally, so their relations continued friendly and courteous to the end.
In the Journal to Stella we find many entries about this difficulty between the friends, "Mr. Addison and I are as different as black and white, and I believe our friendship will go off by this business of party. But I love him still as much as ever, though we seldom meet." "All our friendship and dearness are off. We are civil acquaintance, talk words of course, of when we shall meet, and that's all. Is it not odd?" Then later the first bitterness of difference seems to pass, and Swift tells how he went to Addison's for supper. "We were very good company, and I yet know no man half so agreeable to me as he is."
It was while Addison was in Ireland that Richard Steele started a paper called the Tatler. When Addison found out that it was his old friend Dick who had started the Tatler he offered to help. And he helped to such good purpose that Steele says, "I fared like a distressed prince who calls in a powerful neighbour to his aid. I was undone by my own auxiliary; when I had once called him in, I could not subsist without dependence on him."
This was the beginning of a long literary partnership that has become famous. Never perhaps were two friends more different in character. Yet, says Steele, long after, speaking of himself and Addison, "There never was a more strict friendship than between those gentlemen, nor had they ever any difference but what proceeded from their different way of pursuing the same thing. The one with patience, foresight, and temperate address, always waited and stemmed the torrent; while the other often plunged himself into it, and was as often taken out by the temper of him who stood weeping on the brink for his safety, whom he could not dissuade from leaping into it. . . . When they met they were as unreserved as boys, and talked of the greatest affairs, upon which they saw where they differed, without pressing (what they knew impossible) to convert each other."*
*Steele in the Theatre, 12.
The Tatler, like Defoe's Review, was a leaflet of two or three pages, published three times a week. The Review and other papers of the same kind no doubt prepared the way for the Tatler. But the latter was written with far greater genius, and while the Review is almost forgotten the Tatler is still remembered and still read.
In the first number Steele announced that:—"All accounts of gallantry, pleasure and entertainment, shall be under the article of White's Chocolate-House; Poetry under that of Wills' Coffee- House; learning under the title of Grecian; foreign and domestic news you will have from Saint James's Coffee-House; and what else I have to offer on any other subject shall be dated from my own apartment."
The coffee-houses and chocolate-houses were the clubs of the day. It was there the wits gathered together to talk, just as in the days of Ben Jonson they gathered at the Mermaid Tavern. And in these still nearly newspaperless days it was in the coffee-houses that the latest news, whether of politics or literature or sheer gossip, was heard and discussed. At one coffee-house chiefly statesmen and politicians would gather, at another poets and wits, and so on. So Steele dated each article from the coffee- house at which the subject of it would most naturally be discussed.
Steele meant the Tatler to be a newspaper in which one might find all the news of the day, but he also meant it to be something more.
You have heard that, after the Restoration, many of the books that were written, and plays that were acted, were coarse and wicked, and the people who read these books and watched these plays led coarse and wicked lives. And now a rollicking soldier, noisy, good-hearted Dick Steele, "a rake among scholars, and a scholar among rakes"* made up his mind to try to make things better and give people something sweet and clean to read daily. The Tatler, especially after Addison joined with Steele in producing it, was a great success. But, as time went on, although it continued to be a newspaper, gradually more room was given to fiction than to fact, and to essays on all manner of subjects than to the news of the day. For Addison is among the greatest of our essayists. But although these essays were often meant to teach something, neither Steele nor Addison are always trying to be moral or enforce a lesson. At times the papers fairly bubble with fun. One of the best humorous articles in the Tatler is one in which Addison gives a pretended newly found story by our friend Sir John Mandeville. It is perhaps as delightful a lying tale as any that "learned and worthy knight" ever invented. Here is a part of it:—
"We were separated by a storm in the latitude of 73, insomuch that only the ship which I was in, with a Dutch and French vessel, got safe into a creek of Nova Zembla. We landed, in order to refit our vessels, and store ourselves with provisions. The crew of each vessel made themselves a cabin of turf and wood, at some distance from each other, to fence themselves against the inclemencies of the weather, which was severe beyond imagination.
"We soon observed, that in talking to one another we lost several of our words, and could not hear one another at above two yards' distance, and that too when we sat very near the fire. After much perplexity, I found that our words froze in the air before they could reach the ears of the persons to whom they were spoken. I was soon confirmed in this conjecture, when, upon the increase of the cold, the whole company grew dumb, or rather deaf. For every man was sensible, as we afterwards found, that he spoke as well as ever, but the sounds no sooner took air than they were condensed and lost.
"It was now a miserable spectacle to see us nodding and gaping at one another, every man talking, and no man heard. One might observe a seaman that could hail a ship at a league distance, beckoning with his hands, straining his lungs, and tearing his throat, but all in vain.
"We continued here three weeks in this dismal plight. At length, upon a turn of wind, the air about us began to thaw. Our cabin was immediately filled with a dry clattering sound, which I afterwards found to be the crackling of consonants that broke above our heads, and were often mixed with a gentle hissing, which I imputed to the letter S, that occurs so frequently in the English tongue.
"I soon after felt a breeze of whispers rushing by my ear; for those, being of a soft and gentle substance, immediately liquified in the warm wind that blew across our cabin. These were soon followed by syllables and short words, and at length by entire sentences, that melted sooner or later, as they were more or less congealed; so that we now heard everything that had been spoken during the whole three weeks that we had been silent; if I may use that expression.
"It was now very early in the morning, and yet, to my surprise, I heard somebody say, 'Sir John, it is midnight, and time for the ship's crew to go to bed.' This I knew to be the pilot's voice, and upon recollecting myself I concluded that he had spoken these words to me some days before, though I could not hear them before the present thaw. My reader will easily imagine how the whole crew was amazed to hear every man talking, and seeing no man opening his mouth."
When the confusion of voices was pretty well over Sir John proposed a visit to the Dutch cabin, and so they set out. "At about half a mile's distance from our cabin, we heard the groanings of a bear, which at first startled us. But upon inquiry we were informed by some of our company, that he was dead, and now lay in salt, having been killed upon that very spot about a fortnight before, in the time of the frost."
Having reached the Dutch cabin the company was almost stunned by the confusion of sounds, and could not make out a word for about half an hour. This, Sir John thinks, was because the Dutch language being so much harsher than ours it "wanted more time than ours to melt and become audible."
Next they visited the French cabin and here Sir John says, "I was convinced of an error into which I had before fallen. For I had fancied, that for the freezing of the sound, it was necessary for it to be wrapped up, and, as it were, preserved in breath. But I found my mistake, when I heard the sound of a kit playing a minuet over our heads."
The kit was a small violin to the sound of which the Frenchmen had danced to amuse themselves while they were deaf or dumb. How it was that the kit could be heard during the frost and yet still be heard in the thaw we are not told. Sir John gave very good reasons, says Addison, but as they are somewhat long "I pass over them in silence."*
Addison and Steele carried on the Tatler for two years, then it was stopped to make way for a far more famous paper called the Spectator. But meanwhile the Whigs fell from power and Addison lost his Government post. In twelve months, he said to a friend, he lost a place worth two thousand pounds a year, an estate in the Indies, and, worst of all, his lady-love. Who the lady-love was is not known, but doubtless she was some great lady ready enough to marry a Secretary of State, but not a poor scribbler.
As Addison had now no Government post, it left him all the more time for writing, and his essays in the Spectator are what we chiefly remember him by.
The Spectator was still further from the ordinary newspaper than the Tatler. It was more perhaps what our modern magazines are meant to be, but, instead of being published once a week or once a month, it was published every morning.
In order to give interest to the paper, instead of dating the articles from various coffee-houses, as had been done in the Tatler, Addison and Steele between them imagined a club. And it is the doings of these members, their characters, and their lives, which supply subjects for many of the articles. In the first numbers of the Spectator these members are described to us.
First of all there is the Spectator himself. He is the editor of the paper. It is he who with kindly humorous smile and grave twinkle in his eye is to be seen everywhere. He is seen, and he sees and listens, but seldom opens his lips. "In short," he says, "I have acted in all the parts of my life as a looker-on." And that is the meaning of Spectator—the looker-on. This on- looker, there can be little doubt, was meant to be a picture of Addison himself. In a later paper he tells us that "he was a man of a very short face, extremely addicted to silence. . . . and was a great humorist in all parts of his life."* And when you come to know Mr. Spectator well, I think you will love this grave humorist.
After Mr. Spectator, the chief member of the Club was Sir Roger de Coverley. "His great-grandfather was inventor of that famous country dance which is called after him. All who know that shire (in which he lives), are very well acquainted with the parts and merits of Sir Roger. He is a gentleman that is very singular in his behaviour, but his singularities proceed from his good sense, and are contradictions to the manners of the world, only as he thinks the world is in the wrong." He was careless of fashion in dress, and wore a coat and doublet which, he used laughingly to say, had been in and out twelve times since he first wore it. "He is now in his fifty-sixth year, cheerful, gay, and hearty; keeps a good house both in town and country; a great lover of mankind; but there is such a mirthful cast in his behaviour, that he is rather beloved than esteemed. His tenants grow rich, his servants look satisfied. All the young women profess love to him and the young men are glad of his company. When he comes into a house he calls the servants by their names, and talks all the way upstairs to a visit."
Next came a lawyer of the Inner Temple, who had become a lawyer not because he wanted to be one, but because he wanted to please his old father. He had been sent to London to study the laws of the land, but he liked much better to study those of the stage. "He is an excellent critic, and the time of the play is his hour of business. Exactly at five he passes through New Inn, crosses through Russel Court, and takes a turn at Wills' till the play begins. He has his shoes rubbed and his periwig powdered at the barber's as you go into the Rose."
Next comes Sir Andrew Freeport, "a merchant of great eminence in the City of London." "He abounds in several frugal maxims, amongst which the greatest favorite is, 'A penny saved is a penny got.'"
"Next to Sir Andrew in the Club room sits Captain Sentry, a gentleman of great courage, good understanding, but invincible modesty. He was some years a captain, and behaved himself with great gallantry in several engagements and at several sieges. But having a small estate of his own, and being next heir to Sir Roger, he has quitted a way of life in which no man can rise suitably to his merit, who is not something of a courtier as well as a soldier. The military part of his life has furnished him with many adventures, in the relation of which he is very agreeable to the company, for he is never overbearing, though accustomed to command men in the utmost degree below him, nor ever too obsequious, from an habit of obeying men highly above him.
"But that our society may not appear a set of humorists, unacquainted with the gallantries and pleasures of the age, we have among us the gallant Will Honeycomb, a gentleman who, according to his years, should be in the decline of his life. But having ever been very careful of his person, and always had a very easy fortune, time has made but very little impression, either by wrinkles on his forehead, or traces in his brain. His person is well turned, of a good height. He is very ready at that sort of discourse with which men usually entertain women. He has all his life dressed very well, and remembers habits as other do men. He can smile when one speaks to him, and laugh easily." He is in fact an old beau, a regular man about town, "a well-bred, fine gentleman," yet no great scholar, "he spelt like a gentleman and not like a scholar,"* he says.
Last of all there is a clergyman, a man of "general learning, great sanctity of life, and the most exact breeding." He seldom comes to the Club, "but when he does it adds to every man else a new enjoyment of himself."
This setting forth of the characters in the story will remind you a little perhaps of Chaucer in his Prologue to the Canterbury Tales. As he there gives us a clear picture of England in the time of Edward III, so Addison gives us a clear picture of England in the time of Anne. And although the essays are in the main unconnected, the slight story of these characters runs through them, weaving them into a whole. You may pick up a volume of the Spectator and read an essay here or there at will with enjoyment, or you may read the whole six hundred one after the other and find in them a slight but interesting story.
You know that the books many of your grown-up friends read most are called novels. But in the days when Joseph Addison and Richard Steele wrote the Spectator, there were no novels. Even Defoe's stories had not yet appeared, and it was therefore a new delight for our forefathers to have the adventures of the Spectator Club each day with their morning cup of tea or chocolate. "Mr. Spectator," writes one lady, "your paper is part of my tea equipage, and my servant knows my humour so well, that calling for my breakfast this morning (it being past my usual hour) she answered, the Spectator was not yet come in, but that the tea-kettle boiled, and she expected it every moment."
Thus the Spectator had then become part of everyday life just as our morning newspapers have now, and there must have been many regrets among the readers when one member of the supposed Club died, another married and settled down, and so on until at length the Club was entirely dispersed and the Spectator ceased to appear. It may interest you to know that the paper we now call the Spectator was not begun until more than a hundred years after its great namesake ceased to appear, the first number being published in 1828.
It was after the Spectator ceased that Addison published his tragedy called Cato. Cato was a great Roman who rebelled against the authority of Caesar and in the end killed himself. His is a story out of which a good tragedy might be made. But Addison's genius is not dramatic, and the play does not touch our hearts as Shakespeare's tragedies do. Yet, although we cannot look upon Addison's Cato as a really great tragedy, there are lines in it which every one remembers and quotes, although they may not know where they come from. Such are, for instance, "Who deliberates is lost," and
"'Tis not in mortals to command success, But we'll do more, Sempronius, we'll deserve it."
But although Cato is not really great, the writer was perhaps the most popular man of his day, and so his tragedy was a tremendous success. With Cato Addison reached the highest point of his fame as an author in his own day, but now we remember him much more as a writer of delightful essays, and as the creator or at least the perfecter of Sir Roger, for to Steele is due the first invention of the worthy knight.
Fortune still smiled on Addison. When George I came to the throne, the Whigs once more returned to power, and Addison again became Secretary for Ireland. He still wrote, both on behalf of his Government and to please himself.
And now, in 1716, when he was already a man of forty-four, Addison married. His wife was the Dowager Countess of Warwick, and perhaps she was that great lady whom he had lost a few years before when he lost his post of Secretary of State. Of all Addison's pleasant prosperous life these last years ought to have been most pleasant and most prosperous. But it has been said that his marriage was not happy, and that plain Mr. Addison was glad at times to escape from the stately grandeur of his own home and from the great lady, his wife, to drink and smoke with his friends and "subjects" at his favorite coffee-house. For Addison held sway and was surrounded by his little court of literary admirers, as Dryden and Ben Jonson before him.
But whether Addison was happy in his married life or not, one sorrow he did have. Between his old friend, Dick Steele, and himself a coldness grew up. They disagreed over politics. Steele thought himself ill-used by his party. His impatient, impetuous temper was hurt at the cool balance of his friend's, and so they quarreled. "I ask no favour of Mr. Secretary Addison," writes Steele angrily. During life the quarrel was never made up, but after Addison died Steele spoke of his friend in his old generous manner. Under his new honors and labours Addison's health soon gave way. He suffered much from asthma, and in 1718 gave up his Government post. A little more than a year later he died.
He met his end cheerfully and peacefully. "See how a Christian can die," he said to his wild stepson, the Earl of Warwick, who came to say farewell to his stepfather.
The funeral took place at dead of night in Westminster Abbey. Whig and Tory alike joined in mourning, and as the torchlight procession wound slowly through the dim isles, the organ played and the choir sang a funeral hymn.
"How silent did his old companions tread, By midnight lamps, the mansions of the dead, Thro' breathing statues, then unheeded things, Thro' rows of warriors, and thro' walks of Kings! What awe did the slow solemn knell inspire, The pealing organ, and the pausing choir; The duties by the lawn-robed prelate paid, And the last words, that dust to dust conveyed!
While speechless o'er thy closing grave we bend, Accept these tears, thou dear departed Friend!"*
So our great essayist was laid to rest, but it was not until many years had come and gone that a statue in his honor was placed in the Poets' Corner. This, says Lord Macaulay, himself a great writer, was "a mark of national respect due to the unsullied statesman, to the accomplished scholar, to the master of pure English eloquence, to the consummate painter of life and manners. It was due, above all, to the great satirist, who alone knew how to use ridicule without abusing it, who, without inflicting a wound, effected a great social reform, and who reconciled wit with virtue, after a long and disastrous separation, during which wit had been lead astray by profligacy, and virtue by fanaticism."
BOOKS TO READ
Sir Roger de Coverley. The Coverley Papers, edited by O. M. Myers.
Chapter LXVI STEELE—THE SOLDIER AUTHOR
YOU have heard a little about Dick Steele in connection with Joseph Addison. Steele is always overshadowed by his great friend, for whom he had such a generous admiration that he was glad to be so overshadowed. But in this chapter I mean to tell you a little more about him.
He was born, you know, in Dublin in 1671, and early lost his father. About this he tells us himself in one of the Tatlers:
"The first sense of sorrow I ever knew was upon the death of my father, at which time I was not quite five years of age. But was rather amazed at what all the house meant, than possessed with a real understanding, why nobody was willing to play with me. I remember I went into the room where his body lay, and my mother sat weeping alone by it. I had my battledore in my hand, and fell abeating the coffin, and calling 'Papa,' for, I know not how, I had some light idea that he was locked up there. My mother catched me in her arms, and, transported beyond all patience of the silent grief she was before in, she almost smothered me in her embrace, and told me, in a flood of tears, Pap could not hear me, and would play with me no more, for they were going to put him under ground, whence he could never come to us again."*
Steele's sad, beautiful mother died soon after her husband, and little Dick was left more lonely than ever. His uncle took charge of him, and sent him to Charterhouse, where he met Addison. From there he went to Oxford, but left without taking a degree. "A drum passing by," he says, "being a lover of music, I listed myself for a soldier."* "He mounted a war horse, with a great sword in his hand, and planted himself behind King William the Third against Lewis the Fourteenth." But he says when he cocked his hat, and put on a broad sword, jack boots, and shoulder belt, he did not know his own powers as a writer, he did not know then that he should ever be able to "demolish a fortified town with a goosequill."** So Steele became a "wretched common trooper," or, to put it more politely, a gentleman volunteer. But he was not long in becoming an ensign, and about five years later he got his commission as captain.
*Tatler, 89. **Theatre, 11.
In those days the life of a soldier was wild and rough. Drinking and swearing were perhaps the least among the follies and wickedness they were given to, and Dick Steele was as ready as any other to join in all the wildness going. But in spite of his faults and failings his heart was kind and tender. He had no love of wickedness though he could not resist temptation. So the dashing soldier astonished his companions by publishing a little book called the Christian Hero. It was a little book written to show that no man could be truly great who was not religious. He wrote it at odd minutes when his day's work was over, when his mind had time "in the silent watch of the night to run over the busy dream of the day." He wrote it at first for his own use, "to make him ashamed of understanding and seeming to feel what was virtuous and yet living so quite contrary a life." Afterwards he resolved to publish it for the good of others.
But among Steele's gay companions the book had little effect except to make them laugh at him and draw comparisons between the lightness of his words and actions, and the seriousness of the ideas set forth in his Christian Hero. He found himself slighted instead of encouraged, and "from being thought no undelightful companion, was soon reckoned a disagreeable fellow."* So he took to writing plays, for "nothing can make the town so fond of a man as a successful play."
*Apology for himself and his Writings.
The plays of the Restoration had been very coarse. Those of Steele show the beginning of a taste for better things, "Tho' full of incidents that move laughter, virtue and vice appear just as they ought to do," he says of his first comedy. But although we may still find Steele's plays rather amusing, it is not as a dramatist that we remember him, but as an essayist.
Steele led a happy-go-lucky life, nearly always cheerful and in debt. His plays brought him in some money, he received a Government appointment which brought him more, and when he was about thirty-three he married a rich widow. Still he was always in debt, always in want of money.
In about a year Steele's wife died, and he was shortly married to another well-off lady. About this time he left the army, it is thought, although we do not know quite surely, and for long afterwards he was called Captain Steele.
Steele wrote a great many letters to his second wife, both before and after his marriage. She kept them all, and from them we can learn a good deal of this warm-hearted, week-willed, harum-scarum husband. She is "Dearest Creature," "Dear Wife," "Dear Prue" (her name, by the way, was Mary), and sometimes "Ruler," "Absolute Governess," and he "Your devoted obedient Husband," "Your faithful, tender Husband." Many of the letters are about money troubles. We gather from them that Dick Steele loved his wife, but as he was a gay and careless spendthrift and she was a proud beauty, a "scornful lady," for neither of them was life always easy.
It was about two years after this second marriage that Steele suddenly began the Tatler. He did not write under his own name, but under that of Isaac Bickerstaff, a name which Swift had made use of in writing one of his satires. As has been said, the genius of Steele has been overshadowed by that of Addison, for Steele had such a whole-hearted admiration for his friend that he was ready to give him all the praise. And yet it is nearly always to Steele that we owe the ideas which were later worked out and perfected by Addison.
It is Steele, too, that we owe the first pictures of English family life. It has been said that he "was the first of our writers who really seemed to admire and respect women,"* and if we add "after the Restoration" we come very near the truth. Steele had a tender heart towards children too, and in more than one paper his love of them shows itself. Indeed, as we read we cannot help believing that in real life Captain Dick had many child-friends. Here is how he tells of a visit to a friend's house:— *Thackeray.
"I am, as it were, at home at that house, and every member of it knows me for their well-wisher. I cannot indeed express the pleasure it is, to be met by the children with so much joy as I am when I go thither. The boys and girls strive who shall come first, when they think it is I that am knocking at the door. And that child which loses the race to me, runs back again to tell the father it is Mr. Bickerstaff.
"This day I was led in by a pretty girl, that we all thought must have forgot me, for the family has been out of town these two years. Her knowing me again was a mighty subject with us, and took up our discourse at the first entrance. After which they began to rally me upon a thousand little stories they heard in the country about my marriage to one of my neighbor's daughters. Upon which the gentleman, my friend, said 'Nay, if Mr. Bickerstaff marries a child of any of his old companions, I hope mine shall have the preference. There's Mistress Mary is now sixteen, and would make him as fine a widow as the best of them.'"
After dinner the mother and children leave the two friends together. The father speaks of his love for his wife, and his fears for her health.
"'Ah, you little understand, you that have lived a bachelor, how great a pleasure there is in being really beloved. Her face is to me more beautiful than when I first saw it. In her examination of her household affairs she show a certain fearfulness to find a fault, which makes her servants obey her like children, and the meanest we have has an ingenuous shame for an offence, not always to be seen in children in other families. I speak freely to you, my old friend. Ever since her sickness, things that gave me the quickest joy before, turn now to a certain anxiety. As the children play in the next room, I know the poor things by their steps, and am considering what they must do, should they lose their mother in their tender years. The pleasure I used to take in telling my boy stories of the battles, and asking my girl questions about the disposal of her baby, and the gossiping of it, is turned into inward reflection and melancholy.' The poor gentleman would have gone on much longer with his sad forebodings, but his wife returning, and seeing by his grave face what he had been talking about, said, with a smile, 'Mr. Bickerstaff, don't believe a word of what he tells you. I shall still live to have you for my second, as I have often promised you, unless he takes more care of himself than he has done since his coming to town. You must know, he tells me, that he finds London is a much more healthy place than the country, for he sees several of his old acquaintance and school- fellows are here, young fellows with fair, full-bottomed periwigs. I could scarce keep him this morning from going out open-breasted.'" And so they sat and chatted pleasantly until, "on a sudden, we were alarmed with the noise of a drum, and immediately entered my little godson to give me a point of war.* His mother, between laughing and chiding, would have put him out of the room, but I would not part with him so. I found, upon conversation with him, though he was a little noisy in his mirth, that the child had excellent parts, and was a great master of all the learning on the other side of eight years old. I perceived him to be a very great historian in Aesop's Fables; but he frankly declared to me his mind, that he did not delight in that learning, because he did not believe they were true. For which reason I found he had very much turned his studies, for about a twelve-month past, into the lives and adventures of Don Bellianis of Greece, Guy of Warwick, the Seven Champions, and other historians of that age.
*A strain of war-like music.
"I could not but observe the satisfaction the father took in the forwardness of his son, and that these diversions might turn to some profit, I found the boy had made remarks which might be of service to him during the course of his whole life. He would tell you the mismanagements of John Hickathrift, find fault with the passionate temper of Bevis of Southampton, and loved St. George for being the champion of England; and by this means had his thoughts insensibly moulded into the notions of discretion, virtue, and honour.
"I was extolling his accomplishments, when the mother told me that the little girl who led me in this morning was, in her way, a better scholar than he. 'Betty,' says she, 'deals chiefly in fairies and sprites, and sometimes, in a winter night, will terrify the maids with her accounts, till they are afraid to go up to bed.'
"I sat with them till it was very late, sometimes in merry, sometimes in serious discourse, with this particular pleasure which gives the only true relish to all conversation, a sense that every one of us liked each other. I went home considering the different conditions of a married life and that of a bachelor. And I must confess it struck me with a secret concern to reflect that, whenever I go off, I shall leave no traces behind me. In this pensive mood I returned to my family, that is to say, to my maid, my dog, and my cat, who only can be the better or worse for what happens to me."*
You will be sorry to know that, a few Tatlers further on, the kind mother of this happy family dies. But Steele was himself so much touched by the thought of all the misery he was bringing upon the others by giving such a sad ending to his story, that he could not go on with the paper, and Addison had to finish it for him.
The Spectator, you know, succeeded the Tatler, and it was while writing for the Spectator that Steele took seriously to politics. He became a member of Parliament and wrote hot political articles. He and Swift crossed swords more than once, and from being friends became enemies. But Steele's temper was too hot, his pen too hasty. The Tories were in power, and he was a Whig, and he presently found himself expelled from the House of Commons for "uttering seditious libels." Shut out from politics, Steele turned once more to essay-writing, and published, one after the other, several papers of the same style as the Spectator, but none of them lived long.
Better days, however, were coming. Queen Anne died, and King George became a king in 1714, the Whigs returned to power, Steele again received a Government post, again he sat in Parliament, and a few months later he was knighted, and became Sir Richard Steele. We cannot follow him through all his projects, adventures, and writings. He was made one of the commissioners for the forfeited estates of the Scottish lords who had taken part in the '15, and upon this business he went several times to Scotland. The first time he went was in the autumn of 1717. But before that Lady Steele had gone to Wales to look after her estates there. While she was there Dick wrote many letters to her, some of which are full of tenderness for his children. They show us something too of the happy-go-lucky household in the absence of the careful mistress. In one he says:—
"Your son at the present writing is mighty well employed in tumbling on the floor of the room, and sweeping the sand with a feather. He grows a most delightful child, and very full of play and spirit. He is also a very great scholar. He can read his primer, and I have brought down my Virgil. He makes most shrewd remarks about the pictures. We are very intimate friends and play-fellows. He begins to be very ragged, and I hope I shall be pardoned if I equip him with new clothes and frocks." Or again:- - "The brats, my girls, stand on each side of the table, and Molly says what I am writing now is about her new coat. Bess is with me till she has new clothes. Miss Moll has taken upon her to hold the sand-box,* and is so impertinent in her office that I cannot write more. But you are to take this letter as from your three best friends, Bess, Moll, and their Father.
*In those days there was no blotting-paper, and sand was used to dry the ink.
"Moll bids me let you know that she fell down just now and did not hurt herself."
Soon after this Steele set out for Scotland, and although the business which brought him could not have been welcome to many a Scottish gentleman, he himself was well received. They forgot the Whig official in the famous writer. In Edinburgh he was feasted and feted. "You cannot imagine," wrote Steele, "the civilities and honours I had done me there. I never lay better, ate or drank better, or conversed with men of better sense than there." Poets and authors greeted him in verse, he was "Kind Richy Spec, the friend to a' distressed," "Dear Spec," and many stories are told of his doings among these new-found friends. He paid several later visits to Scotland, but about a year after his return from this first short visit Steele had a great sorrow. His wife died. "This is to let you know," he writes to a cousin, "that my dear and honoured wife departed this life last night."
And now that his children were motherless, Steele, when he was away from them, wrote to them, always tender, often funny, letters. It is Betty, the eldest, he addresses, she is "Dear Child," "My dear Daughter," "My good Girlie." He bids them be good and grow like their mother. "I have observed that your sister," he says in one letter, "has for the first time written the initial or first letters of her name. Tell her I am highly delighted to see her subscription in such fair letters. And how many fine things those two letters stand for when she writes them. M. S. is Milk and Sugar, Mirth and Safety, Music and Songs, Meat and Sauce, as well as Molly and Spot, and Mary and Steele." I think the children must have loved their kind father who wrote such pretty nonsense to them.
So with ups and downs the years passed. However much money Steele got he never seemed to have any, and in spite of all his carelessness and jovialness, there is something sad in those last years of his life. He quarreled with, and then for ever lost his life-long friend, Joseph Addison. His two sons died, and at length, broken in health, troubled about money, he went to spend his last days in Carmarthen in Wales. Here we have a last pleasant picture of him being carried out on a summer's evening to watch the country lads and lasses dance. And with his own hand, paralyzed though it was, he would write an order for a new gown to be given to the best dancer. And here in Carmarthen, in 1729, he died and was buried in the Church of St. Peter.
BOOKS TO READ
Essays of Richard Steele, selected and edited by L. E. Steele. Steele Selections from the Tatler, Spectator, and Guardian, edited by Austin Dobson.
Chapter LXVII POPE—THE "RAPE OF THE LOCK"
AS you have already guessed by the number of prose writers you have been reading about, this age, the age of the last Stuarts and the first Georges, was not a poetic one. It was an age of art and posturing. It was an age of fierce and passionate party strife—strife between Whig and Tory which almost amounted to civil war, but instead of using swords and guns the men who took part in the strife used pen and ink. They played the game without any rules of fair play. No weapon was too vile or mean to be used if by it the enemy might be injured.
You have often been told that it is rude to make personal remarks, but the age of Anne was the age of personal remarks, and they were not considered rude. The more cruel and pointed they were, the more clever they were thought to be. To be stupid or ugly are not sins. They ought not to be causes of scorn and laughter, but in the age of Anne they were accepted as such. And if the enemy was worsted in the fight he took his revenge by holding up to ridicule the person of his victor. To raise the unkind laughter of the world against an enemy was the great thing to be aimed at. Added to this, too, the age was one of common sense. All this does not make for poetry, yet in this age there was one poet, who, although he does not rank among our greatest poets, was still great, and perhaps had he lived in a less artificial age he might have been greater still.
This poet was Alexander Pope, the son of a well-to-do Catholic linen-draper. He was born in London in 1688, but soon afterwards his father retired from business, and went to live in a little village not far from Windsor.
Alexander was an only son. He had one step-sister, but she was a good many years older than he, and he seems never to have had any child companions or real childhood. He must always have been delicate, yet as a child his face was "round, plump, pretty, and of a fresh complexion."* He is said, too, to have been very sweet tempered, but his father and mother spoilt him not a little, and when he grew up he lost that sweetness of temper. Yet, unlike many spoilt children, Pope never forgot the reverence due to father and mother. He repaid their love with love as warm, and in their old age he tended and cared for them fondly.
As Pope was a delicate boy he got little regular schooling. He learned to write by copying the printed letters in books, and was first taught to read by an aunt, and later by a priest, but still at home. After a time he was at school for a few years, but he went from one school to another, never staying long at any, and so never learning much. He says indeed that he unlearned at two of his schools all that he had learned at another. By the time he was twelve he was once more at home reading what he liked and learning what he liked, and he read and studied so greedily that he made himself ill.
Pope loved the stories of the Greek and Roman heroes, but he did not care for the hard work needed to learn to read them in the original with ease, and contented himself with translations. He was so fond of these stories that while still a little boy he made a play from the Iliad which was acted by the boys of one of his schools.
Very early Pope began to write poetry. He read a great deal, and two of his favorite poets were Spenser and Dryden. His great idea was to become a poet also, and in this his father encouraged him. Although no poet himself he would set his little son to make verses upon different subjects. "He was pretty difficult in being pleased," says Pope's mother, "and used often to send him back to new turn them; 'These are not good rhymes,' he would say."
There is a story told that Pope admired Dryden's poetry so much that he persuaded a friend to take him one day to London, to the coffee-house where Dryden used to hold his little court. There he saw the great man, who spoke to him and gave him a shilling for some verses he wrote. But the story is a very doubtful one, as Dryden died when Pope was twelve years old, and for some time before that he had been too ill to go to coffee-houses. But that Pope's admiration for Dryden was very sincere and very great we know, for he chose him as his model. Like Dryden, Pope wrote in the heroic couplet, and in his hands it became much more neat and polished than ever it did in the hands of the older poet.
Pope saw Dryden only once, even if the story is true; but with another old poet, a dramatist, he struck up a great friendship. This poet was named Wycherley, but by the time that Pope came to know him Wycherley had grown old and feeble, all his best work was done, and people were perhaps beginning to forget him. So he was pleased with the admiration of the boy poet fifty years younger than himself, and glad to accept his help. At first this flattered Pope's vanity, but after a little he quarreled with his old friend and left him. This was the first of Pope's literary quarrels, of which he had many.
Already, as a boy, Pope was becoming known. He had published a few short poems, and others were handed about in manuscript among his friends. "That young fellow will either be a madman or make a very great poet,"* said one man after meeting him when he was about fourteen. All the praise and attention which Pope received pleased him much. But he took it only as his due, and his great ambition was to make people believe that he had been a wonderfully clever child, and that he had begun to write when he was very young. He says of himself with something of pompousness, "I lisp'd in numbers, for the numbers came."
Pope's keenest desire was to be a poet, and few poets have rushed so quickly into fame. He received few of the buffets which young authors have as a rule to bear. Instead, many a kindly helping hand was stretched out to him by the great men of the day, for there was much in this young genius to draw out the pity of others. He was fragile and sickly. As a full grown man he stood only four feet six inches high. His body was bent and deformed, and so frail that he had to be strapped in canvas to give him some support. His fine face was lined by pain, for he suffered from racking headaches, and indeed his life was one long disease. Yet in spite of constant pain this little crooked boy, with his "little, tender, crazy carcass," as Wycherley called it, wrote the most astonishing poetry in a style which in his own day was considered the finest that could be written.
It is not surprising then that his poems were greeted with kindly wonder, mixed it may be with a little envy. Unhappily Pope saw only the envy and overlooked the kindliness. Perhaps it was that his crooked little body had warped the great mind it held, but certain it is, as Pope grew to manhood his thirst for praise and glory increased, and with it his distrust and envy of others. And many of the ways he took to add to his own fame, and take away from that of others, were mean and tortuous to the last degree. Deceit and crooked ways seemed necessary to him. It has been said that he hardly drank tea without a stratagem, and that he played the politician about cabbages and turnips.*
He begged his own letters back from the friends to whom they were written. He altered them, changed the dates, and published them. Then he raised a great outcry pretending that they had been stolen from him and published without his knowledge. Such ways led to quarrels and strife while he was alive, and since his death they have puzzled every one who has tried to write about him. All his life through he was hardly ever without a literary quarrel of some sort, some of his poems indeed being called forth merely by these quarrels.
But though many of Pope's poems led to quarrels, and some were written with the desire to provoke them, one of his most famous poems was, on the other hand, written to bring peace between two angry families. This poem is called the Rape of the Lock—rape meaning theft, and the lock not the lock of a door, but a lock of hair.
A gay young lord had stolen a lock of a beautiful young lady's hair, and she was so angry about it that there was a coolness between the two families. A friend then came to Pope to ask him if he could not do something to appease the angry lady. So Pope took up his pen and wrote a mock-heroic poem making friendly fun of the whole matter. But although Pope's intention was kindly his success was not complete. The families did not entirely see the joke, and Pope writes to a friend, "The celebrated lady herself is offended, and, what is stranger, not at herself, but me."
But the poem remains one of the most delightful of airy trifles in our language. And that it should be so airy is a triumph of Pope's genius, for it is written in the heroic couplet, one of the most mechanical forms of English verse.
Addison called it "a delicious little thing" and the very salt of wit.
Another and later writer says of it—"It is the most exquisite specimen of filigree work ever invented. It is made of gauze and silver spangles. . . . Airs, languid airs, breathe around, the atmosphere is perfumed with affectation. A toilet is described with the solemnity of an altar raised to the goddess of vanity, and the history of a silver bodkin is given with all the pomp of heraldry. No pains are spared, no profusion of ornament, no splendour of poetic diction to set off the meanest things. . . . It is the perfection of the mock-heroic."*
Pope begins the poem by describing Belinda, the heroine, awaking from sleep. He tells how her guardian sylph brings a morning dream to warn her of coming danger. In the dream she is told that all around her unnumbered fairy spirits fly guarding her from evil—
"Of these am I, who thy protection claim, A watchful sprite, and Ariel is my name. Late, as I ranged the crystal wilds of air, In the clear mirror of thy ruling star I saw, alas! some dread event impend, Ere to the main this morning sun descend. But heaven reveals not what, or how, or where: Warned by the sylph, oh pious maid, beware! This to disclose is all thy guardian can: Beware of all, but most beware of Man!"
Then Shock, Belinda's dog,
"Who thought she slept too long, Leaped up, and waked his mistress with his tongue."
So Belinda rises and is dressed. While her maid seems to do the work,
"The busy sylphs surround their darling care, These set the head, and those divide the hair, Some fold the sleeve, whilst others plait the gown' And Betty's praised for labours not her own."
Next Belinda set out upon the Thames to go by boat to Hampton Court, and as she sat in her gayly decorated boat she looked so beautiful that every eye was turned to gaze upon her—
"On her white breast a sparkling cross she wore, Which Jews might kiss, and infidels adore."
She was so beautiful and graceful that it seemed as if she could have no faults, or—
"If to her share some female errors fall, Look in her face, and you'll forget them all. This nymph, to the destruction of mankind, Nourished two locks, which graceful hung behind In equal curls, and well conspired to deck, With shining ringlets, the smoothe iv'ry neck. Love in these labyrinths his slaves detains, And mighty hearts are held in slender chains. With hairy springes we the birds betray, Slight lines of hair surprise the finny prey, Fair tresses man's imperial race insnare, And beauty draws us with a single hair."
The "Adventurous Baron" next appears upon the scene. He, greatly admiring Belinda's shining locks, longs to possess one, and makes up his mind that he will. And, as the painted vessel glided down the Thames, Belinda smiled, and all the world was gay, only Ariel alone was sad and disturbed, for he felt some evil, he knew not what, was hanging over his mistress. So he gathered all his company and bade them watch more warily than before over their charge. Some must guard the watch, some the fan, "And thou Crispissa, tend her fav'rite lock," he says. And woe betide that sprite who shall be careless or neglectful!
"Whatever spirit, careless of his charge, His post neglects, or leaves the fair at large, Shall feel sharp vengeance soon o'ertake his sins, Be stopped in vials, or transfixed with pins, Or plunged in lakes of bitter washes lie, Or wedged, whole ages in a bodkin's eye."
So the watchful sprites flew off to their places—
"Some, orb in orb, around the nymph extend; Some thrid* the mazy ringlets of her hair, Some hang upon the pendants of her ear."
The day went on, Belinda sat down to play cards. After the game coffee was brought, and "while frequent cups prolong the rich repast," Belinda unthinkingly gave the Baron a pair of scissors. Then indeed the hour of fate struck. The Baron standing behind Belinda found the temptation too great. He opened the scissors and drew near—
"Swift to the lock a thousand sprites repair, A thousand wings by turns blow back the hair; And thrice they twitched the diamond in her ear; Thrice she looked back, and thrice the foe drew near."
But at last "the fatal engine" closed upon the lock. Even to the last, one wretched sylph struggling to save the lock clung to it. It was in vain, "Fate urged the shears, and cut the sylph in twain." Then, while Belinda cried aloud in anger, the Baron shouted in triumph and rejoiced over his spoil.
The poem goes on to tell how Umbriel, a dusky melancholy sprite, in order to make the quarrel worse, flew off to the witch Spleen, and returned with a bag full of "sighs, sobs, and passions, and the war of tongues," "soft sorrows, melting griefs, and flowing tears," and emptied it over Belinda's head. She—
"Then raging to Sir Plume repairs, And bids her beau demand the precious hairs. Sir Plume, of amber snuff-box justly vain, And the nice conduct of a clouded case, With earnest eyes, and round unthinking face, He first the snuff-box opened, then the case."
Sir Plume, not famous for brains, put on a very bold, determined air, and fiercely attacked the Baron—"My Lord," he cried, "why, what! you must return the lock! You must be civil. Plague on 't! 'tis past a jest—nay prithee, give her the hair." And as he spoke he tapped his snuff-box daintily.
But in spite of this valiant champion of fair ladies in distress, the Baron would not return the lock. So a deadly battle followed in which the ladies fought against the gentlemen, and in which the sprites also took part. The weapons were only frowns and angry glances—
"A beau and witling perished in the throng, One died in metaphor, and one in song. . . . . . A mournful glance Sir Fopling upwards cast, 'Those eyes were made so killing,' was his last."
Belinda, however, at length disarmed the Baron with a pinch of snuff, and threatened his life with a hair pin. And so the battle ends. But alas!—
"The lock, obtained with guilt and kept with pain, In ev'ry place is sought, but sought in vain."
During the fight it has been caught up to the skies—
"A sudden star, it shot through liquid air, And drew behind a radiant trail of hair."
Thus, says the poet, Belinda has no longer need to mourn her lost lock, for it will be famous to the end of time as a bright star among the stars—
"Then cease, bright nymph! to mourn thy ravished hair, Which adds new glory to the starry sphere! Not all the tresses that fair head can boast, Shall draw such envy as the lock you lost. For after all the murders of your eye, When, after millions slain, yourself shall die; When those fair suns shall set, as set they must, And all those tresses shall be laid in dust, This lock the Muse shall consecrate to fame, And midst the stars inscribe Belinda's name."
When Pope first published this poem there was nothing about fairies in it. Afterwards he thought of the fairies, but Addison advised him not to alter the poem, as it was so delightful as it was. Pope, however, did not take the advice, but added the fairy part, thereby greatly improving the poem. This caused a quarrel with Addison, for Pope thought he had given him bad advice through jealousy. A little later this quarrel was made much worse. Pope translated and published a version of the Iliad, and at the same time a friend of Addison did so too. This made Pope bitterly angry, for he believed that the translation was Addison's own and that he had published it to injure the sale of his. From this you see how easily Pope's anger and jealousy were aroused, and will not wonder that his life was a long record of quarrels.
Pope need not have been jealous of Addison's friend, for his own translation of Homer was a great success, and people soon forgot the other. He translated not only the Iliad, but with the help of two lesser poets the Odyssey also. Both poems were done in the fashionable heroic couplet, and Pope made so much money by them that he was able to live in comfort ever after. And it is interesting to remember that Pope was the first poet who was able to live in comfort entirely on what he made by his writing.
Pope now took a house at Twickenham, and there he spent many happy hours planning and laying out his garden, and building a grotto with shells and stones and bits of looking-glass. The house has long ago been pulled down and the garden altered, but the grotto still remains, a sight for the curious.
It has been said that to write in the heroic couplet "is an art as mechanical as that of mending a kettle or shoeing a horse, and may be learned by any human being who has sense enough to learn anything."* And although this is not all true, it is so far true that it is almost impossible to tell which books of the Odyssey were written by Pope, and which by the men who helped him. But, taken as a whole, the Odyssey is not so good as the Iliad. Scholars tell us that in neither the one nor the other is the feeling of the original poetry kept. Pope did not know enough Greek to enter into the spirit of it, and he worked mostly from translation. Even had he been able to enter into the true spirit he would have found it hard to keep that spirit in his translation, using as he did the artificial heroic couplet. For Homer's poetry is not artificial, but simple and natural like our own early poetry. "A pretty poem, Mr. Pope, but you must not call it Homer," said a friend** when he read it, and his judgment is still for the most part the judgment of to-day.
It was after he had finished the Odyssey that Pope wrote his most famous satire, called the Dunciad. In this he insulted and held up to ridicule all stupid or dull authors, all dunces, and all those whom he considered his enemies. It is very clever, but a poem full of malice and hatred does not make very pleasant reading. For most of us, too, the interest it had has vanished, as many of the people at whom Pope levied his malice are forgotten, or only remembered because he made them famous by adding their names to his roll of dunces. But in Pope's own day the Dunciad called forth cries of anger and revenge from the victims, and involved the author in still more quarrels.
Pope wrote many more poems, the chief being the Essay on Criticism and the Essay on Man. But his translations of Homer and the Rape of the Lock are those you will like best in the meantime. As a whole Pope is perhaps not much read now, yet many of his lines have become household words, and when you come to read him you will be surprised to find how many familiar quotations are taken from his poems. Perhaps no one of our poets except Shakespeare is more quoted. And yet he seldom says anything which touches the heart. When we enjoy his poetry we enjoy it with the brain. It gives us pleasure rather as the glitter of a diamond than as the perfume of a rose.
In spite of his crooked, sickly little body Pope lived to be fifty-six, and one evening in May 1744 he died peacefully in his home at Twickenham, and was buried in the church there, near the monument which he had put up to the memory of his father and mother.
There is so much disagreeable and mean in Pope that we are apt to lose sight of what was good in him altogether. We have to remind ourselves that he was a good and affectionate son, and that he was loving to the friends with whom he did not quarrel. Yet these can hardly be counted as great merits. Perhaps his greatest merit is that he kept his independence in an age when writers fawned upon patrons or accepted bribes from Whig or Tory. Pope held on his own way, looking for favors neither from one side nor from the other. And when we think of his frail little body, this sturdy independence of mind is all the more wonderful. From Pope we date the beginning of the time when a writer could live honorable by his pen, and had not need to flatter a patron, or sell his genius to politics or party. But Pope stood alone in this independence, and he never had to fight for it. A happy chance, we might say, made him free. For while his brother writers all around him were still held in the chains of patronage, Pope having more money than some did not need to bow to it, and having less greed than others did not choose to bow to it, in order to add to his wealth. And in the following chapter we come to another man who in the next generation fought for freedom, won it, and thereby helped to free others. This man was the famous Dr. Samuel Johnson.
BOOKS TO READ
Pope's Iliad, edited by A. J. Church. Pope's Odyssey, edited by A. J. Church.
NOTE.—As an introduction to Pope's Homer the following books may be read:—
Stories from the Iliad, by Jeanie Lang. Stories from the Odyssey, by Jeannie Lang. The Children's Iliad, by A. J. Church. The Children's Odyssey, by A. J. Church.
Chapter LXVIII JOHNSON—DAYS OF STRUGGLE
SAMUEL JOHNSON was the son of a country bookseller, and he was born at Lichfield in 1709. He was a big, strong boy, but he suffered from a dreadful disease, known then as the King's Evil. It left scars upon his good-looking face, and nearly robbed him of his eyesight. In those days people still believed that this dreadful disease would be cured if the person suffering from it was touched by a royal hand. So when he was two, little Samuel was taken to London by his father and mother, and there he was "touched" by Queen Anne. Samuel had a wonderful memory, and although he had been so young at the time, all his life after he kept a kind of awed remembrance of a stately lady who wore a long black hood and sparkling diamonds. The touch of the Queen's soft white hand did the poor little sick child no good, and it is quaint to remember that the great learned doctor thought it might be because he had been touched by the wrong royal hand. He might have been cured perhaps had he been taken to Rome and touched by the hand of a Stuart. For Johnson was a Tory, and all his life he remained at heart a Jacobite.
At school Samuel learned easily and read greedily all kinds of books. He loved poetry most, and read Shakespeare when he was so young that he was frightened at finding himself alone while reading about the ghost in Hamlet. Yet he was idle at his tasks and had not altogether an easy time, for when asked long years after how he became such a splendid Latin scholar, he replied, "My master whipt me very well, without that, sir, I should have done nothing."
Samuel learned so easily that, though he was idle, he knew more than any of the other boys. He ruled them too. Three of them used to come every morning to carry their stout comrade to school. Johnson mounted on the back of one, and the other two supported him, one on each side. In winter when he was too lazy to skate or slide himself they pulled him about on the ice by a garter tied round his waist. Thus early did Johnson show his power over his fellows.
At sixteen Samuel left school, and for two years idled about his father's shop, reading everything that came in his way. He devoured books. He did not read them carefully, but quickly, tearing the heart out of them. He cared for nothing else but reading, and once when his father was ill and unable to attend to his bookstall, he asked his son to do it for him. Samuel refused. But the memory of his disobedience and unkindliness stayed with him, and more than fifty years after, as an old and worn man, he stood bare-headed in the wind and rain for an hour in the market-place, upon the spot where his father's stall had stood. This he did as a penance for that one act of disobedience.
Johnson's father was a bookworm, like his son, rather than a tradesman. He knew and loved his books, but he made little money by them. A student himself, he was proud of his studious boy, and wanted to send him to college. But he was miserably poor and could not afford it. A well-off friend, however, offered to help, and so at eighteen Samuel went to Oxford.
Here he remained three years. Those years were not altogether happy ones, for Johnson's huge ungainly figure, and shabby, patched clothes were matters for laughter among his fellow- students. He became a sloven in his dress. His gown was tattered and his linen dirty, and his toes showed through his boots. Yet when some one, meaning no doubt to be kind, placed a new pair at his door, he kicked them away in anger. He would not stoop to accept charity. But in spite of his poverty and shabby clothes, he was a leader at college as he had been at school, and might often be seen at his college gates with a crowd of young men round him, "entertaining them with wit and keeping them from their studies."*
After remaining about three years at college, Johnson left without taking a degree. Perhaps poverty had something to do with that. At any rate, with a great deal of strange, unordered learning and no degree, and with his fortune still to make, Samuel returned to his poverty-stricken home. There in a few months the father died, leaving to his son an inheritance of forty pounds.
With forty pounds not much is to be done, and Samuel became an usher, or under-master in a school. He was little fitted to teach, and the months which followed were to him a torture, and all his life after he looked back on them with something of horror.
After a few months, he left the school where he had been so unhappy, and went to Birmingham to be near an old schoolfellow. Here he managed to live somehow, doing odd bits of writing, and here he met the lady who became his wife.
Johnson was now twenty-five and a strange-looking figure. He was tall and lank, and his huge bones seemed to start out of his lean body. His face was deeply marked with scars, and although he was very near-sighted, his gray eyes were bright and wild, so wild at times that they frightened those upon whom they were turned. He wore his own hair, which was coarse and straight, and in an age when every man wore a wig this made him look absurd. He had a trick of making queer gestures with hands and feet. He would shake his head and roll himself about, and would mutter to himself until strangers though that he was an idiot.
And this queer genius fell in love with a widow lady more than twenty years older than himself. She, we are told, was coarse, fat, and unlovely, but she was not without brains, for she saw beneath the strange outside of her young lover. "This is the most sensible man that I ever saw in my life," she said, after talking with him. So this strange couple married. "Sir," said Johnson afterwards, "It was a love-marriage on both sides." And there can be no doubt that Samuel loved his wife devotedly while she lived, and treasured her memory tenderly after her death.
Mrs. Johnson had a little money, and so Samuel returned to his native town and there opened a school. An advertisement appeared in the papers, "At Edial, near Lichfield, in Staffordshire, young gentlemen are boarded and taught the Latin and Greek languages, by Samuel Johnson." But Johnson was quite unfitted to be a teacher, and the school did not prosper. "His schoolroom," says another writer, "must have resembled an ogre's den," and only two or three boys came to it. Among them was David Garrick, who afterwards became a famous actor and amused the world by imitating his friend and old schoolmaster, the great Sam, as well as his elderly wife.
After struggling with his school for more than a year, Johnson resolved to give it up and go to London, there to seek his fortune. Leaving his wife at Lichfield, he set off with his friend and pupil David Garrick, as he afterwards said, "With twopence halfpenny in my pocket, and thou, Davy, with three halfpence in thine."
The days of the later Stuarts and the first of the Georges were the great days of patronage. When a writer of genius appeared, noblemen and others, who were powerful and wealthy, were eager to become his patron, and have his books dedicated to them. So although the dunces among writers remained terribly poor, almost every man of genius was sure of a comfortable life. But although he gained this by his writing, it was not because the people liked his books, but because one man liked them or was eager to have his name upon them, and therefore became his patron. The patron, then, either himself helped his pet writer, or got for him some government employment. After a time this fashion ceased, and instead of taking his book to a patron, a writer took it to a bookseller, and sold it to him for as much money as he could. And so began the modern way of publishing books.
But when Johnson came to London to try his fortune as a writer, it was just the time between. The patron had not quite vanished, the bookseller had not yet taken his place. Never had writing been more badly paid, never had it been more difficult to make a living by it. "The trade of author was at about one of its lowest ebbs when Johnson embarked on it."*
Johnson had brought with him to London a tragedy more than half written, but when he took it to the booksellers they showed no eagerness to publish it, or indeed anything else that he might write. Looking at him they saw no genius, but only a huge and uncouth country youth. One bookseller, seeing his great body, advised him rather to try his luck as a porter than as a writer. But, in spite of rebuffs and disappointments, Johnson would not give in. When he had money enough he lived in mean lodgings, when he had none, hungry, ragged, and cold, he roamed about the streets, making friends with other strange, forlorn men of genius, and sharing their miseries.
But if Johnson starved he never cringed, and once when a bookseller spoke rudely to him he knocked him down with one of his own books. A beggar or not, Johnson demanded the respect due to a man. At school and college he had dominated his fellows, he dominated now. But the need of fighting for respect made him rough. And ever after his manner with friend and foe alike was rude and brusque.
The misery of this time was such that long years after Johnson burst into tears at the memory of it. But it did not conquer him, he conquered it. He got work to do at last, and became one of the first newspaper reporters.
Nowadays, during the debates in Parliament there are numbers of newspaper reporters who take down all that is said in shorthand, and who afterwards write out the debates for their various newspapers. In Johnson's day no such thing had been thought of. He did not hear the debates, but wrote his accounts of them from a few notes given to him by some one who had heard them. The speeches which appeared in the paper were thus really Johnson's, and had very little resemblance to what had been said in the House. And being a Tory, Johnson took good care, as he afterwards confessed, "that the Whig dogs should not have the best of it." After a time, however, Johnson began to think this so-called reporting was not quite honest, and gave it up. He found other literary work to do, and soon, although he was still poor, he had enough money to make it possible for his wife to join him in London.
Among other things he wrote one or two poems and the life of Richard Savage, a strange, wild genius with whom he had wandered the streets in the days of his worst poverty. The tragedy called Irene which Johnson had brought with him to London was at length after twelve years produced by Garrick, who had by that time become a famous actor. Johnson had, however, no dramatic genius. "When Johnson writes tragedy," said Garrick, "'declamation roars and passion sleeps':* when Shakespeare wrote, he dipped the pen in his own heart." Garrick did what he could with the play, but it was a failure, and although Johnson continued to believe that it was good, he wrote no more tragedies.
*Garrick is here quoting from one of Johnson's own poems in which he describes the decline of the drama at the Restoration.
The story of Irene is one of the fall of Constantinople in 1453. After Mahomet had taken Constantinople he fell in love with a fair Greek maiden whose name was Irene. The Sultan begged her to become a Mohammedan so that he might marry her. To this Irene consented, but when his soldiers heard of it they were so angry that they formed a conspiracy to dethrone their ruler.
Hearing of this Mahomet resolved to make an end of the conspiracy and rescue his throne from danger. Calling all his nobles together he bade Irene appear before him. Then catching her by the hair with one hand and drawing his sword with the other he at one blow struck off her head. This deed filled all who saw it with terror and wonder. But turning to his nobles Mahomet cried, "Now by this, judge if your Emperor is able to bridle his affections or not."
It seems as if there were here a story which might be made to stir our hearts, but Johnson makes it merely dull. In his long words and fine-sounding sentences we catch no thrill of real life. The play is artificial and cold, and moves us neither to wonder nor sorrow.
Johnson's play was a failure, but by that time he had begun the great work which was to name him and single him out from the rest of the world as Dictionary Johnson. To make a complete dictionary of a language is a tremendous work. Johnson thought that it would take three years. It took, instead, seven.
But during these seven years he also wrote other things and steadily added to his fame. He started a paper after the model of the Spectator, called the Rambler. This paper was continued for about two years, Johnson writing all but five of the essays. After that he wrote many essays in a paper called the Adventurer, and, later still, for two years he wrote for another paper a series of articles called the Idler.
But none of these can we compare with the Spectator. Johnson never for a moment loses sight of "a grand moral end." There is in his essays much sound common sense, but they are lumbering and heavy. We get from them no such picture of the times as we get from the Spectator, and, although they are not altogether without humor, it is a humor that not seldom reminds us of the dancing of an elephant. This is partly because, as Johnson said himself, he is inclined to "use too big words and too many of them."
In the days when Johnson wrote, this style was greatly admired, but now we have come back to thinking that the simplest words are best, or, at least, that we must suit our words to our subject. And if we tell a fairy tale (as Johnson once did) we must not use words of five syllables when words of two will better give the feeling of the tale. Yet there are many pleasant half-hours to be spent in dipping here and there into the volumes of the Rambler or the Idler. I will give you in the next chapter, as a specimen of Johnson's prose, part of one of the essays from the Idler. It is the story of a man who sets forth upon a very ordinary journey and who makes as great a tale of it as he had been upon a voyage of discovery in some untraveled land.
Chapter LXIX JOHNSON—THE END OF THE JOURNEY
"I SUPPED three nights ago with my friend Will Marvel. His affairs obliged him lately to take a journey into Devonshire, from which he has just returned. He knows me to be a very patient hearer, and was glad of my company, as it gave him an opportunity of disburdening himself, by a minute relation of the casualties of his expedition.
"Will is not one of those who go out and return with nothing to tell. He has a story of his travels, which will strike a home- bred citizen with horror, and has in ten days suffered so often the extremes of terror and joy, that he is in doubt whether he shall ever again expose either his body or his mind to such danger and fatigue.
"When he left London the morning was bright, and a fair day was promised. But Will is born to struggle with difficulties. That happened to him, which has sometimes, perhaps, happened to others. Before he had gone more than ten miles, it began to rain. What course was to be taken? His soul disdained to turn back. He did what the King of Prussia might have done; he flapped his hat, buttoned up his cape, and went forwards, fortifying his mind by the stoical consolation, that whatever is violent will be short."
So, with such adventures, the first day passes, and reaching his inn, after a good supper, Will Marvel goes to bed and sleeps soundly. But during the night he is wakened "by a shower beating against his windows with such violence as to threaten the dissolution of nature." Thus he knows that the next day will have its troubles. "He joined himself, however, to a company that was travelling the same way, and came safely to the place of dinner, though every step of his horse dashed the mud in the air."
In the afternoon he went on alone, passing "collections of water," puddles doubtless, the depth of which it was impossible to guess, and looking back upon the ride he marvels at his rash daring. "But what a man undertakes he must perform, and Marvel hates a coward at his heart.
"Few that lie warm in their beds think what others undergo, who have, perhaps, been as tenderly educated, and have as acute sensations as themselves. My friend was now to lodge the second night almost fifty miles from home, in a house which he never had seen before, among people to whom he was totally a stranger, not knowing whether the next man he should meet would prove good or bad; but seeing an inn of a good appearance, he rode resolutely into the yard; and knowing that respect is often paid in proportion as it is claimed, delivered his injunctions to the ostler with spirit, and, entering the house, called vigorously about him.
"On the third day up rose the sun and Mr. Marvel. His troubles and dangers were now such as he wishes no other man ever to encounter." The way was lonely, often for two miles together he met not a single soul with whom he could speak, and, looking at the bleak fields and naked trees, he wished himself safe home again. His only consolation was that he suffered these terrors of the way alone. Had, for instance, his friend the "Idler" been there he could have done nothing but lie down and die.
"At last the sun set and all the horrors of darkness came upon him. . . . Yet he went forward along a path which he could no longer see, sometimes rushing suddenly into water, and sometimes encumbered with stiff clay, ignorant whither he was going, and uncertain whether his next step might not be the last.
"In this dismal gloom of nocturnal peregrination his horse unexpectedly stood still. Marvel had heard many relations of the instinct of horses, and was in doubt what danger might be at hand. Sometimes he fancied that he was on the bank of a river still and deep, and sometimes that a dead body lay across the track. He sat still awhile to recollect his thoughts; and as he was about to alight and explore the darkness, out stepped a man with a lantern, and opened the turnpike. He hired a guide to the town, arrived in safety, and slept in quiet.
"The rest of his journey was nothing but danger. He climbed and descended precipices on which vulgar mortals tremble to look; he passed marshes like the Serbonian bog,* where armies whole have sunk; he forded rivers where the current roared like the Egre or the Severn; or ventured himself on bridges that trembled under him, from which he looked down on foaming whirlpools, or dreadful abysses; he wandered over houseless heaths, amidst all the rage of the elements, with the snow driving in his face, and the tempest howling in his ears.
*Lake Serbonis in Egypt. Sand being blown over it by the winds gave it the appearance of solid ground, whereas it was a bog.
"A gulf profound as the Serbonian bog. . . . Where armies whole have sunk." — MILTON.
"Such are the colours in which Marvel paints his adventures. He has accustomed himself to sounding words and hyperbolical images, till he has lost the power of true description. In a road, through which the heaviest carriages pass without difficulty, and the post-boy every day and night goes and returns, he meets with hardships like those which are endured in Siberian deserts, and missed nothing of romantic danger but a giant and a dragon. When his dreadful story is told in proper terms, it is only that the way was dirty in winter, and that he experienced the common vicissitudes of rain and sunshine."