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spectively contributed to raise his reputation. Had he paused here, his character and his works in criticism might have descended to posterity with some value attached to them; but his subsequent conduct to Pope and Addison was so gross and intemperate, and his attacks so evidently founded on malignant motives and personal animosity, that he became in a few years an object of derision and contempt; an event which, together with the neglect of his dramatic pieces, operating on an unusual portion of vanity and selfconsequence, almost literally placed him in the frantic state in which he had been humorously, but cruelly drawn by Pope *.
Such had been the progress, and such was the state of English criticism, when Addison commenced that series of papers, which has eventually contributed more to the polish and refinement of the public taste, than any prior or succeeding effort.
The works of Dryden, the best and greatest critic who preceded the Spectator, were rather calculated for those who were entering as candidates for literary fame, than for the improvement of the many who might wish to imbibe a relish for the beauties of elegant genius ; they were
* See Pope's “ Narrative, concerning the strange and deplorable frenzy of Mr. John Dennis."
written, in fact, more with a view of teaching how to write than how to read; and implied in those who came to their perusal a very considerable portion of previous and scholastic knowledge.
The great defalcation of the period, when Addison stepped forth to enlighten the public mind, was a want of those general principles and views which lead to a just, though a somewhat superficial conception of the beauties and defects of composition. With few exceptions, our nobility and gentry, from whom example rapidly descends to the inferior orders of society, were not only ignorant of what they ought to admire, but, what was still worse, had little or no consciousness of their defects, and consequently felt no great impulse or desire to enter into what appeared to them, probably, a rugged and uninviting pursuit. Until therefore, by the most gentle and insinuating methods, they were awakened to a sense of their deficiencies, nothing could be hoped for or expected; and when this had been obtained, there was still a task of the utmost difficulty to achieve; to create an ardent admiration, and a love for the noblest productions of fancy and taste.
The talents of Addison were, happily, equal to the undertaking. To the keenest perception of
the beautiful and sublime in composition, he added a taste pre-eminently delicate and correct, and the most engaging and fascinating style that this country had ever witnessed; with these were combined the most unrivalled humour, a morality lovely and interesting as it was pure and philanthropic, and a fancy whose effusions were peculiarly sweet, rich, and varied.
To have published a formal treatise on the elements of criticism, or an elaborate commentary on the merits of a classic, ancient or modern, would, at the period that we are now reviewing, have availed nothing; they might have been perused, indeed, by a few retired scholars; but their effect on the public mind, on the national taste and literature, had been transient and unfelt. The mode which Addison adopted, of daily essays, avowedly intended for popular use ; short, familiar, and unassuming; which occupied a very small portion of time, and embraced every interesting topic of the day, was the plan best adapted for gradually insinuating, under the guise of light reading and entertainment, the most valuable precepts of critical literature. That exquisite vein of ridicule, which distinguishes se remarkably the productions of Addison, which unveiled the follies and ignorance without hurting the feelings of mankind, speedily opened the eyes of
every rank, and rendered them both able and willing to detect and to supply their deficiencies. They derived, in fact, from these periodical papers, not only the power of perceiving their wants, but the opportunity of acquiring the accomplishments which they were now first taught to value and admire.
To kindle on the cheek of ignorance the blush of ingenuous shame, and to excite to emulation by the most alluring specimens of elegance and taste, were not, however, difficult as they were to execute, the only offices of Addison in his critical department. He had to clear away no inconsiderable mass of obstructing materials, of gross prejudices, of false wit, and false opinion. His earliest attempts in the Spectator, therefore, were to correct the vitiated taste of the public with regard to theatrical amusements, and to contemn the general adoption of trick, buffoonery, and conceit in composition, as a substitute for good sense, wit, and humour. His essays on the Opera, therefore, on Tragedy *, and on True and False Wit t, were calculated to expose the frivolity of the first, the bombast, indecencies, and irregularity of the second, and to give a luminous view of the vast distinction between the effusions
* Vide, No 39, 40, 42, 44.
of genuine wit, and the paltry subterfuges of those who were then deemed the directors of literary opinion. It is scarcely necessary to say that he succeeded in these different objects; the stage became more rational and chaste, and the regions of pun, acrostic, and conundrum, of nonsense, obscenity, and affectation, fled, like the fabled fabrics of romance, before the wand of the disenchanter.
When this arduous task had been completed, when the meretricious colouring of false wit had faded at the touch of truth, it remained to place before the public eye a model of beauty, of grandeur, and of grace, whose style and structure should be such as to lay the foundation of a national school on the broad principles of classical simplicity and purity.
The choice of Addison has been sanctioned by universal approbation ; and perhaps no effort in the annals of criticism has been productive of more salutary and decided effects, than the attempt to render popular the Paradise Lost of Milton. The literature of the country had been corrupted by the dissolute and inglorious reign of the second Charles; and the chill indifference of the warrior William had little tended either to improve the public taste, or to awaken a spirit of literary ambition. To vitiated learning or general ignorance, political prejudice was added;