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LECTURE THE FORTY-SECOND.
Lerture the Twenty-Fifth.
JOSEPH ADDISON-AMBROSE PHILIPS-JOHN PHILIPS-THOMAS PARNELL
WILLIAM SOMERVILLE--THOMAS TICKELL.
\HE authors with whom we are at present engaged, were considered,
during the whole of the eighteenth century, the best that England ever produced. The reign of Queen Anne was styled the Augustine Era of English Literature, on accoupt of its supposed resemblance, in intellectual opulence, to the reign of the Emperor Augustus. This opinion is not, however, followed in the present age. The praise due to good sense, and a correct and polished style, is allowed to the prose writers, and that due to a felicity in painting artificial life, is awarded to the poets ; but modern critics seem to have agreed to pass over these qualities as of secondary moment, and to hold in greater estimation the writings of the times preceding the Restoration, as being more boldly original, both in style and in thought, more imaginative and more sentimental. The sentiment to which we here allude is stated in the Edinburgh Review in the following passage :—Speaking generally of that generation of authors, it may be said that, as poets, they had no force or greatness of fancy, no pathos, and no enthusiasm ; and as philosophers, no comprehensiveness, depth, or originality. They are sagacious, no doubt, and seasonable; but for the most part, cold, timid, and superficial. Writing with infinite good sense, and great grace and vivacity, and above all, writing for the first time in a tone that was peculiar to the upper ranks of society, and upon subjects that were almost exclusively interesting to them, they naturally figured as the most accomplished, fashionable, and perfect writers which the world had ever seen, and made the wild, luxuriant, and humble sweetness of our earlier authors appear rude and untutored in the comparison.'
While there is general truth in these remarks, it must, at the same time, be observed that the age produced several writers, who, each in his own line, may be called extraordinary. Satire, expressed in forcible and copious language, was certainly, as we have already observed, carried to its utmost height of excellence, by Swift. The art of describing the manners, and discussing the morals of the passing age, was practiced for the first time, with
unrivalled felicity, by Addison. The poetry of elegant and artificial life was exhibited, with a degree of perfection never since attained, by Pope. And with all the licentiousness of Congreve and Farquhar, it may be fairly said that pure English comedy was, in their hands, what it had never been before, and has scarcely, in any instance, been since. It was, in some respects, a disadvantage to the poets of this period that most of them enjoyed a considerable degree of worldly prosperity and importance, such as has rarely blessed the community of authors. Some filled high diplomatic and other official stations, and others were engaged in schemes of political ambition, where offices of state and the supremacy of rival parties, not poetical or literary laurels, were the prizes contended for. Constant and familiar intercourse with the great on the part of authors, has a tendency to fix the mind on the artificial distinctions and pursuits of society, and to induce a tone of thought and study adapted to such associates. It is certain that high thoughts and imaginings can be nursed only in solitude; and though poets may gain in taste and correctness by mixing in courtly circles, the native vigor and originality of genius, and the steady worship of truth and nature, must be impaired by such a course of refinement. It is evident that most of the poetry of this period, exquisite as it is in gayety, polish, and sprightliness of fancy, possesses none of the lyrical grandeur and enthusiasm which redeem so many errors in the older poets. The French taste is visible in most of its strains; and where excellence is attained, it is not in the delineation of strong passions, or in bold fertility of invention, but in the lesser graces and excellencies of art. Of this school Addison was one of the most prominent members.
JOSEPH ADDISON was born at Milston, in Wiltshire, on the first of May, 1672, and was the son of the Reverend Lancelot Addison, rector of that parish. The rudiments of his education he received at home under his father's own immediate supervision; and in the tenth year of his age he was sent to Salisbury, and committed to the care of Mr. Taylor, master of the Salisbury grammar-school. In 1683, when Addison was in the twelfth year of his age, his father, being made dean of Litchfield, removed thither, and placed his son with a Mr. Shaw; from whose school, however, he soon after removed to the school of the Chartreux, where he remained until he had completed his preparation for the university. “At Chartreux,' as Johnson observes, he contracted that intimacy with Sir Richard Steele, which their joint labors have so effectually recorded.'
In 1687, Addison entered Queen's College, Oxford, and immediately applied himself with such unremitting devotion to classical studies, that he soon far excelled all his classmates. Before he had been in college two years, he produced some Latin verses, which, by accident, fell into the hands of Dr. Lancaster, afterward provost of the college, and were by him regarded to be of such rare excellence, that he recommended the youthful author to a scholarship in Magdalen College, where he remained till he had taken both