תמונות בעמוד
PDF
ePub

he drew upon himself so much of his friend's indig. nation, that he was forced to appease him by a promise of forbearing Sir Roger for the time to come.

The reason which induced Cervantes to bring his hero to the grave, para mi fola nacio Don Qui :ote, y yo para el, made Addison declare, with undue vehemence of expression, that he would kill Sir Roger ; being of opinion that they were born for one another, and that any other hand would do him wrong.

It may be doubted whether Addison ever filled up his original delineation. He describes his Knight as having his imagination fomewhat warped ; but of this perversion he has made very little use. The irregularities in Sir Roger's conduct seem not so much the effects of a mind deviating from the beaten track of life,. by the perpetual preffure of some overwhelming idca, as of habitual rusticity, and that negligence which folitary grandeur naturally generates.

The variable weather of the mind, the flying vapours of incipient madness, which from time to time cloud reason, without eclipfing it, it requires so much nicety to exhibit, that Addison seems to have been deterred from prosecuting his own design.

To Sir Roger, who, as a country gentleman, appears to be a Tory, or, as it is gently expressed, an adherent to the landed interest, is opposed Sir Andrew Freeport, a new man, a wealthy merchant, zealous for the moneyed interest, and a Whig. Of this contrariety of opinions, it is probable more consequences were at first intended than could be produced when the resolution was taken to exclude party from the paper. Sir Andrew does but little, and

that.

a

C

that little feems not to have pleased Addison, who, when he dismissed him from the club, changed his opinions. Steele had made him, in the true spirit of unfeeling commerce, declare that he would not “ build an hospital for idle people ;" but at last he buys land, settles in the country, and builds not a manufactory, but an hospital for twelve old husbandmen, for men with whom a merchant has little acquaintance, and whom he commonly considers with little kindness.

Of essays thus elegant, thus instructive, and thus commodiously distributed, it is natural to suppose the approbation general, and the sale numerous. I once heard it observed, that the sale may be calculated by the product of the tax, related in the last nuinber to produce more than twenty pounds a week, and therefore stated at one-and-twenty pounds, or three pounds ten shillings a day : this, at a halfpenny a paper, will give sixteen hundred and eighty * for the daily number. . This sale is not great; yet this, if Swift be credited, was likely to grow less; for he declares that the Spectator, whom he ridicules for his endless mention of the fair sex, had before his recess wearied his readers. .

The next year (1713), in which Cato came upon the stage, was the grand climacterick of Addison's reputation. Upon the death of Cato,' he had, as is faid, planned a tragedy in the time of his travels,

* That this calculation is not exaggerated, that it is even much below the real number, see the notes on the Tatler, ed. 1786, vol. VI. p. 452. N.

and

and had for several years the four first acts finished, which were shewn to such as were likely to spread their admiration. They were seen by Pope, and by Cibber, who relates that Steele, when he took back the copy, told him, in the despicable cant of literary modesty, that, whatever spirit his friend had Thewn in the composition, he doubted whether he would have courage sufficient to expose it to the cenfure of a British audience.

The time however was now come, when those, who affected to think liberty in danger, affected likewise to think that a stage-play might preserve it; and Addison was importuned, in the name of the tutelary deities of Britain, to shew his courage and his zeal by finishing his design. • To resume his work he seemed perversely and unaccountably unwilling; and by a request, which perhaps he wished to be denied, desired Mr. Hughes to add a fifth act. Hughes supposed him serious ; and, undertaking the suppleinent, brought in a few days some scenes for his examination ; but he had in the mean time gone to work himself, and produced half an act, which he afterwards completed, but with brevity irregularly disproportionate to the foregoing parts, like a talk performed with reluctance, and hurried to its conclusion.

It may yet be doubted whether Cato was made publick by any change of the author's purpose; for Dennis charged him with raising prejudices in his own favour by false positions of preparatory criticifm, and with poisoning the town by contradicting in the Spectator the established rule of poetical jus: tice, because his own hero, with all his virtues, was

to

to fall before a tyrant. The fact is certain ; the motives we must guess.

Addison was, I believe, sufficiently disposed to bar all avenues against all danger. When Pope brought him the prologue, which is properly accommodated to the play, there were these words, “ Britons, arise ! “ be worth like this approved ;” meaning nothing more than, Britons, erect and exalt yourselves to the approbation of public virtue. Addison was frighted, left he should be thought a promoter of insurrection, and the line was liquidated to “ Britons, attend.” . Now, “ heavily in clouds came on the day, the « great, the important day,” when Addison was to stand the hazard of the theatre. That there might, however, be left as little hazard as was possible, on the first night Steele, as himself relates, undertook to pack an audience. This, says Pope *, had been tried for the first time in favour of the Distrest Mother; and was now, with more efficacy, practised for Cato.

The danger was soon over. The whole nation was at that time on fire with faction. The Whigs applauded every line in which Liberty was mentioned, as a satire on the Tories; and the Tories echoed every clap, to shew that the satire was unfelt. The story of Bolingbroke is well known. He called Booth to his box, and gave him fifty guineas for defending the cause of Liberty so well against a pers petual dictator. The Whigs, says Pope, design a. second present, when they can accompany it with aš good a sentence.

[ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors][merged small][ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors][merged small]

The play, supported thus by the emulation of factious praise, was acted night after night for a longer time than, I believe, the publick had allowed to any drama before ; and the author, as Mrs. Porter long afterwards related, wandered through the whole exhibition behind the scenes with restless and unappeasable solicitude.

When it was printed, notice was given that the Queen would be pleased if it was dedicated to her ; “ but, as he had designed that compliment elle" where, he found himself obliged," says Tickell, «« by his duty on the one hand, and his honour on “ the other, to send it into the world without any de66 dication."

Human happiness has always its abatements; the brightest sun-shiné of success is not without a cloud. No sooner was Cato offered to the reader, than it was attacked by the acute malignity of Dennis, with all the violence of angry criticism. Dennis, though equally zealous, and probably by his temper more furious than Addison, for what they called liberty, and though a flatterer of the Whig ministry, could not fit quiet at a successful play; but was eager to tell friends and enemies, that they had misplaced their admirations. The world was too stubborn for instruction ; with the fate of the cenfurer of Corneille's Cid, his animadversions shewed his anger without effect, and Cato continued to be praised.

Pope had now an opportunity of courting the friendship of Addison, by vilifying his old enemy, and could give resentment its full play without appearing to revenge hi afelf. He therefore published A Narrative of the Madness of John Dennis ; a per

formance

« הקודםהמשך »