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Perhaps I may allow the Dean
peerage is a wither'd flower;
“ He never thought an honour done him, Because a peer was proud to own him; Would rather slip aside, and choose To talk with wits in dirty shoes ; And scorn the tools with stars and garters, So often seen caressing Chartres. He never courted men in station,
Of no man's greatness was afraid,
himself no haughty airs :
“ He kept with princes due decorum;
“ Had he but spar’d his tongue and pen,
AN ELEGY ON THE DEATH OF DEMAR.
Know all men by these presents, Death the tamer,
Where'er he went, he never saw his betters;
He that could once have half a kingdom bought,
Oh London tavern! thou hast lost a friend,
Old as he was, no vulgar known disease
The sexton shall green sods on thee bestow;
Joseph Addison, the son of Lancelot Addison, was born at his father's rectory of Milston, in Wiltshire, on the 1st of May, 1672. For the completion of his education, he was sent to the school of the Chartreux, where he formed his memorable friendship with Sir Richard Steele. In 1637 he entered Queen's College, Oxford, where he distinguished himself by some excellent Latin compositions, and by his general cultivation of poetry and criticism. After travelling some years, and having attached himself, as was usual with men of letters in that day, to one of the state parties, he was rewarded with office. When in Ireland with the Marquis of Wharton, he detected the authorship of the Tatler, and forwarded some pleasant papers to Steele, with whom, on the cessation of the Tatler, the Spectator was set up. These publications formed an era in English literature. The greatest triumph of Addison's life soon after occurred, in the successful representation of his Cato. The nation was then on fire with faction, and the Whigs applauded the liberty-preaching lines of the tragedy, as a satire on the Tories, while the Tories, to show that their “withers were unwrung," applauded more vehemently still. His next productions were political pamphlets on various subjects, and Whig Examiners. In 1716 he married the Countess Dowager of Warwick, and in 1717 rose to his highest pitch of elevation - the office of Secretary of State. The concluding years of his life were marked by his famous controversy with Steele. On the 17th of June, 1719, he died.
Addison called Lord Warwick to his death-bed, to show him how a Christian could die. The memory of that death-bed would have been associated with a more truly christian lesson, if it had witnessed the reunion of an old friendship which Addison had betrayed. It is not to be denied that his heart was most cold, if it was not most insincere. Cold as it was, Steele clung to it with unextinguishable fondness. He shared his poverty with him, and never sought to profit by his prosperity. When Addison played the hard and unfeeling creditor, Steele only wept for forgotten days; and when he insultingly spoke of " little Dicky, whose trade it was to write pamphlets,” the great heart of Steele sustained him in a dignified and most pathetic silence. If he had spoken, might not these words have fallen from him, such as Mr. Landor has conceived ?—"Why cannot I see him again in the arm-chair, his right hand upon his heart, under the fawn-coloured waistcoat; his brow erect and clear as his conscience ; his wig even and composed as his temper, with measurely curls and antithetical topknots, like his style? The calmest poet, the most quiet patriot; dear Addison! drunk, deliberate, moral, sentimental, foaming over with truth and virtue, with tenderness and friendship, and only the worse in one ruffle for the wine." Those personal habits are here alluded to, for which Addison was notorious. Pope has described the course of his familiar day, before his ill-judged marriage arrested it. His chief companions were Steele, Budgell, Philips, Carey, Davenant, and Colonel Brett. With one or other of these he always breakfasted. He studied all the morning, then dined at a tavern, and went afterwards to Button's. From the coffee-house he went again to a tavern, where he often sate late, and drank too much wine.
In speaking of the poetry of Addison, it is to be remarked, that there is a very obvious distinction between his early and his later style. Dryden was his first model in versification, while Pope was his last. He had more skill in selection, however, than in execution. He debased the style of Dryden, and weakened that of Pope. His greatest poetical work is undoubtedly the tragedy of Cato, which is sufficiently sustained and dignified to hold a high place in the imagination of classical readers, who are content to surrender the more natural and passionate characteristics of tragedy, in return for the embodiment it seems to present of those remote visions of Roman grandeur and stoicism which were so familiar to their youth. In the more subtle accomplishments of scholarship Addison was certainly deficient. His translations from the Classics would alone sufficiently prove this. They are polished and easy, but they want the exactness of the scholar, and are more seriously deficient in the true spirit and genius of classical learning. In a word, the character of Addison's mind was not poetical. He was a fine essayist and a correct critic, and in his life he never failed to sustain the character and respectability of letters. His name is never mentioned in any intellectual circle, without a feeling that the gratitude and reverence paid to it,
How has kind Heaven adorn’d the happy land, And scatter'd blessings with a wasteful hand! But what avail her unexhausted stores, Her blooming mountains, and her sunny shores, With all the gifts that heaven and earth impart, The smiles of nature, and the charms of art, While proud oppression in her valleys reigns, And tyranny usurps her happy plains ? The poor inhabitant beholds in vain The reddening orange and the swelling grain : Joyless he sees the growing oils and wines, And in the myrtle's fragrant shade repines :