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« original manuscripts and the testimony of persons of honor.” D’Israeli calls it a “huddled compilation " which appeared in “a suspicious form.” Probably there was truth in speaking of the information as original, if much of it was like the story related above. It occasioned some remark when it first appeared, and was openly ascribed to Curll, who was no doubt the person of honor in question, and whose honor was so well established, that nothing could gain credit for a moment which rested on his testimony alone. He was in the habit of publishing these Lives, containing large measures of " original ” information, drawn from conversation in coffee-houses, and other unquestionable sources, not to speak of the invention of the writer, and from this latter source must have come this narrative of the last farewell of Pope and Addison, concerning which D’Israeli innocently says, “Where he obtained all these interesting particulars I have not yet discovered.”
One of the most curious illustrations of Pope's state of mind, and one which shows the extravagance of his peculiar feeling, is what he said to Spence respecting Addison's sacred poems, those beautiful lyrics, which have all the spiritual grace of earnest devotion, together with a sweetness of language and measure which, unfortunately, is seldom found in Christian hymns. Tonson, having some pique against Addison, said that when he wrote them, he intended to take orders and obtain a bishopric. But Tonson honestly gave the reason of this very natural surmise ; it was, — "I always thought him a priest in his heart.” Jacob could not conceive of a man's writing hymns and feeling the spirit of devotion, without something to gain by the operation; and his result was obtained simply by putting two and two together, not because there was any external reason for the suspicion in any rational mind. Johnson admits, that Pope's thinking this notion of Tonson's worth preserving is a proof that some malignity, growing out of their former rivalry, lingered in his heart ; for, as he says, might have reflected that a man who had been secretary of state to Sunderland knew a nearer way to a bishopric than by defending religion or translating the Psalms.” He might also have said, as Pope was well aware, that King David himself, had he been extant, might have sung himself to everlasting bliss before he would have reached an English mitre by the force of piety and inspiration alone.
To the same source, without doubt, may be traced the impression that Addison was given to excess in wine ; for not an intimation of the kind can be found in any authority save that of Spence, who was the retailer of all Pope's uncharitable suspicions. He said that Addison kept late hours with his friends at taverns ; but he does not charge him with excess ; and when we know the prevailing habits of gentlemen at that day, such a practice does not imply, by any means,' what it would now.
It was the usual way in which they associated with their_familiar companions. We may see, that even so late as Boswell's time, more than half a century after, the same custom prevailed in London, and was not then inconsistent with propriety and good morals, though it would be differently regarded now. Swift writes to Colonel Hunter, 6. Sometimes Mr. Addison and I steal to a bottle of bad wine, and wish for no third person but you, who, if you were with us, would never be satisfied without three more.” This passage, which applies more directly to the question than any other recorded, implies that he was not a slave, nor even inclined, to excess. We find, too, that he was in the habit of retiring from this cheerful society to the solitude of country lodgings, as more suited to his labors and more congenial with his taste.
The disease under which he suffered, and of which he died, the asthma, was not such as intemperance brings on. In the Spectator, he speaks of this habit in a manner which it does not seem credible he should have adopted, if he could have been reproached with the transgression which he so earnestly condemned. Johnson maintains, what he had found in Spence, that Addison sat late in taverns and drank too much wine ; but he also says, that Addison's professions and practice could not have been much at variance, since, though he passed his life in a storm of faction, and was formidable for his activity and conspicuous for his station, his enemies never contradicted the character that was given of him by his friends, and he retained the reverence, if not the love, of those who were opposed to him and his party. Moreover, the same great critic says, that he dissipated the prejudice which had long connected gayety with vice, and easy manners with looseness of principle ; he restored morality to its dignity, and taught virtue not to be ashamed. This is an elevation of character above all Greek, above all Roman fame.
Though we are singularly deficient in all information respecting the familiar manners of a person so distinguished, these terms are not descriptive of the influence and character of an intemperate man; and since there is no shadow of authority to charge bim with excess save that of Spence, and his information was derived from Pope, who cherished hatred and horror for the " little senate at Button's," we shall hold ourselves excused from believing it, balancing the general character of Addison against the unsustained aspersions of an
We do not think it necessary to dwell at length on the story said to have been told by Voltaire, of his having dined in company with Addison when in England, and left him in a state of intoxication which was painful to see. Voltaire may have said it, for he was not very choice in his asseverations ; but there is a difficulty in the way of believing it, arising from the fact, that he did not visit England till 1726, and Addison died five years before. It is clear that he was not in the company of Addison while living ; whether he has fallen in with him since, we have no means of ascertaining. Re
It is singular, and not very creditable to Pope, that every story which has ever been told to the disadvantage of Addison proceeds from him, and is based on his authority alone. It is from him we learn that Addison, when he was secretary to the Regency, was called upon to write notice to Hanover that the queen was dead. " To do this,” says John
" would not have been difficult for any man but Addison, who was so overwhelmed by the greatness of the event, and so distracted by the choice of expressions, that the Lords, who could not wait for the niceties of criticism, called Mr. Southwell, clerk of the House, and ordered him to despatch the message.” Now, though Addison used Pope io civilly ever after” their alienation, it does not seem likely that he would have gone to him with this auricular confession. Besides, it gives the impression that the queen's death took them all by storm ; yet the Lords Justices were appointed after her death by the Council, and they, at their ineeting, had chosen Addison their secretary, and notified him of his election, so that he had ample time to recover from the shock of that affliction, which, as it restored the ascendency of his own party, was not likely to break his heart. It also appears, that the Earl of Dorset was the
living letter sent over to announce the event, and to invite the Elector to the vacant throne ; so that it is not probable that Addison was ever brought to this disastrous pass. Had it been so, there is a possibility that, with his long practice in public affairs, and his eminently simple and natural style, in which he no more dealt in choice expressions than in Johnson's heavy cannonade of words, he might have found terms to communicate to the Elector the fact that the throne was vacant, which required neither flourish nor lamentation to make the news go down.
It is to the same amiable authority to which we have referred, and to no other, that we are indebted for the story, that Addison resigned his office because he was incompetent to discharge its duties. But it is ridiculous to suppose, that with his ability and experience of public affairs, he could not do what was so often and so easily done by far inferior men; for he was no retired scholar untrained in this world's affairs, but a man whose education and habits of life were precisely adapted for the station, with the single exception of speaking in Parliament, which was not expected of him, and which he never undertook to do. The cause of his retirement is obvious enough ; it was the disease of which we have spoken ; his letters speak of long and dangerous fits of sickness, which made his friends anxious, as we learn from Vincent Bourne, who celebrated his recovery, and which may have rendered him unequal to the station, though not for the reasons which Pope's insinuation would imply. It is to be hoped, however, that they gave him credit for some honorable reason for retiring, when he died in the following year, unless, indeed, the same charity which construed severe disease into incompetency had charged his death upon him as a sin.
The subject of Addison's marriage is enveloped in a strange darkness.
In this, however, his character is not concerned. Many wise men of mature age involve themselves in this kind of difficulty, from which, when they find their mistake, they cannot easily be extricated. But it is edifying to see, that our impression of the unhappiness of his marriage with the Countess of Warwick rests upon a haps » of Johnson. He, in his blind reverence for rank and title, did not perceive that the high political standing of Addison, together with his literary fame, made him rather more than equal to the widow of a declining house ; for she was
not of the family which now bears the name ; and, having once taken his own view of the inatter, bis ponderous fancy went on in its career of invention with nothing to stop its wheels. Johnson says, he first became acquainted with the lady from having been tutor to her son. But there is no proof that he ever held this charge ; and being at the time in the office of under-secretary of state, it is not very likely that he officiated as tutor to a boy ten years old. That he did take an interest in the youth is certain from his letters, and he did so probably from regard to his mother ; but how or when be formed her acquaintance we are not informed. Johnson also quotes from Tonson, — “He formed the design of getting that lady, from the time he was first recommended into the family.” Jacob was certainly an extraordinary person to intrust a love-tale with, and if Addison gave him his confidence on such a matter, he placed more trust in his discretion than most other men would have done.
The great critic seems to have been aware, that the world would think it well for him to give some authority besides his own imagination for stating that the marriage was unhappy ; but “ uncontradicted report” is all the testimony he can bring. But who was to contradict it ? Addison might never have heard of it ; if he had, he does not seem very likely to have published a manifesto assuring the world that he was not the distressed object they took him for ; nor had he descendants to rise up in after days and vindicate his married fame. Johnson might have received a lesson, bad he known what was said by his friends of his own fair bride, of her coarse and vulgar airs, and the selfishness with which she indulged herself at great expense in country air and other elements somewhat stronger, while he was laboring with his pen in London. Had the world known nothing more, they might reasonably have inferred that his own connection was no fountain of delight. And yet there is no doubt that he sincerely loved and deplored his wife.
There is something unpardonably rash in the manner in which he has descanted on this part of Addison's history, without even Spence to sustain him. The only fact which we know in relation to it implies that the connection was happy, and not wanting in that mutual confidence which forms its greatest blessing. In Addison's will, dated a month before his death, he left his whole estate, real and