CHAPTER XXV. ADDISON, AND THE REIGN OF QUEEN ANNE.
The Character of the Age. Queen Anne. Whigs and Tories. George I.
Addison—The Campaign. Sir Roger de Coverley. The Club. Addison's
Hymns. Person and Literary Character.
THE CHARACTER OF THE AGE.
To cater further to the Artificial Age, the literary cravings of which far exceeded those of any former period, there sprang up a school of Essayists, most of whom were also poets, dramatists, and politicians. Among these Addison, Steele, and Swift stand pre-eminent. Each of them was a man of distinct and interesting personality. Two of them—Addison and Swift—presented such a remarkable contrast, that it has been usual for writers on this period of English Literature to bring them together as foils to each other. This has led to injustice towards Swift; they should be placed in juxtaposition because they are of the same period, and because of their joint efforts in the literary development of the age. The period is distinctly marked. We speak as currently of the wits and the essayists of Queen Anne's reign as we do of the authors of the Elizabethan age.
A glance at contemporary history will give us an intelligent clue to our literary inquiries, and cause us to observe the historical character of the literature.
To a casual observer, the reign of Queen Anne seems particularly untroubled and prosperous. English history calls it the time of “Good Queen Anne;” and it is referred to with great unction by the laudator temporis acti, in unjust comparison with the period which has since intervened, as well as with that which preceded it.
QUEEN ANNE.—The queen was a Protestant, as opposed to the Romanists and Jacobites; a faithful wife, and a tender mother in her memory of several children who died young. She was merciful, pure, and gracious to her subjects. Her reign was tolerant. There was plenty at home; rebellion and civil war were at least latent. Abroad, England was greatly distinguished by the victories of Marlborough and Eugene. But to one who looks through this veil of prosperity, a curious history is unfolded. The fires of faction were scarcely smouldering. It was the transition period between the expiring dynasty of the direct line of Stuarts and the coming of the Hanoverian house. Women took part in politics; sermons like that of Sacheverell against the dissenters and the government were thundered from the pulpit. Volcanic fires were at work; the low rumblings of an earthquake were heard from time to time, and gave constant cause of concern to the queen and her statesmen. Men of rank conspired against each other; the moral license of former reigns seems to have been forgotten in political intrigue. When James II. had been driven out in 1688, the English conscience compromised on the score of the divine right of kings, by taking his daughter Mary and her husband as joint monarchs. To do this, they affected to call the king's son by his second wife, born in that year, a pretender. It was said that he was the child of another woman, and had been brought to the queen's bedside in a warming-pan, that James might be able to present, thus fraudulently, a Roman Catholic heir to the throne. In this they did the king injustice, and greater injustice to the queen, Maria de Modena, a pleasing and innocent woman, who had, by her virtues and personal popularity alone, kept the king on his throne, in spite of his pernicious measures.
When the dynasty was overthrown, the parliament had presented to William and Mary A Bill of Rights, in which the people's grievances were set forth, and their rights enumerated and insisted upon; and this was accepted by the monarchs as a condition of their tenure.
Mary died in 1695, and when William followed her, in 1702, Anne, the second daughter of James, ascended the throne. Had she refused the succession, there would have been a furious war between the Jacobites and the Hanoverians. In 1714, Anne died childless, but her reign had bridged the chasm between the experiment of William and Mary and the house of Hanover. In default of direct heirs to Queen Anne, the succession was in this Hanoverian house; represented in the person of the Electress Sophia, the granddaughter of James I., through his daughter, Elizabeth of Bohemia. But this lineage of blood had lost all English affinities and sympathies.
Meanwhile, the child born to James II., in 1688, had grown to be a man, and stood ready, on the death of Queen Anne, to re-affirm his claim to the throne. It was said that, although, on account of the plottings of the Jacobites, a price had been put upon his head, the queen herself wished him to succeed, and had expressed scruples about her own right to reign. She greatly disliked the family of Hanover, and while she was on her death-bed, the pretender had been brought to England, in the hope that she would declare him her successor. The elements of discord asserted themselves still more strongly. Whigs and Tories in politics, Romanists and Protestants in creed, Jacobite and Hanoverian in loyalty, opposed each other, harassing the feeble queen, and keeping the realm in continual ferment.
WHIGS AND TORIES.—The Whigs were those who declared that kingly power was solely for the good of the subject; that the reformed creed was the religion of the realm; that James had forfeited the throne, and that his son was a pretender; and that the power justly passed to the house of Hanover. The Tories asserted that monarchs ruled by divine right; and that if, when religion was at stake, the king might be deposed, this could not affect the succession.
Anne escaped her troubles by dying, in 1714. Sophia, the Electress of Hanover, who had only wished to live, she said, long enough to have engraved upon her tombstone: “Here lies Sophia, Queen of England,” died, in spite of this desire, only a few weeks before the queen; and the new heir to the throne was her son, George Louis of Brunswick-Luneburg, electoral prince of Hanover.
He came cautiously and selfishly to the throne of England; he felt his way, and left a line of retreat open; he brought not a spice of honest English sentiment, but he introduced the filth of the electoral court. As gross in his conduct as Charles II., he had indeed a prosperous reign, because it was based upon a just and tolerant Constitution; because the English were in reality not governed by a king, but by well-enacted laws.
The effect of all this political turmoil upon the leading men in England had been manifest; both parties had been expectant, and many of the statesmen had been upon the fence, ready to get down on one side or the other, according to circumstances. Marlborough left the Tories and joined the Whigs; Swift, who had been a Whig, joined the Tories. The queen's first ministry had consisted of Whigs and the more moderate Tories; but as she fell away from the Marlboroughs, she threw herself into the hands of the Tories, who had determined, and now achieved, the downfall of Marlborough.
Such was the reign of good Queen Anne. With this brief sketch as a preliminary, we return to the literature, which, like her coin, bore her image and carried it into succeeding reigns. In literature, the age of Queen Anne extends far beyond her lifetime.
ADDISON.—The principal name of this period is that of Joseph Addison. He was the son of the rector of Milston, in Wiltshire, and was born in 1672. Old enough in 1688 to appreciate the revolution, as early as he could wield his pen, he used it in the cause of the new monarchs. At the age of fifteen he was sent from the Charter-House to Oxford; and there he wrote some Latin verses, for which he was rewarded by a university scholarship. After pursuing his studies at Oxford, he began his literary career. In his twenty-second year he wrote a poetical address to Dryden; but he chiefly sought preferment through political poetry. In 1695 he wrote a poem to the king, which was well received; and in 1699 he received a pension of L300. In 1701 he went upon the Continent, and travelled principally in France and Italy. On his return, he published his travels, and a Poetical Epistle from Italy, which are interesting as delineating continental scenes and manners in that day. Of the travels, Dr. Johnson said, “they might have been written at home;” but he praised the poetical epistle as the finest of Addison's poetical works.
Upon the accession of Queen Anne, he continued to pay his court in verse. When the great battle of Blenheim was fought, in 1704, he at once published an artificial poem called The Campaign, which has received the fitting name of the Rhymed Despatch. Eulogistic of Marlborough and descriptive of his army manoeuvres, its chief value is to be found in its historical character, and not in any poetic merit. It was a political paper, and he was rewarded for it by the appointment of Commissioner of Appeals, in which post he succeeded the philosopher Locke.
The spirit of this poem is found in the following lines:
Fiction may deck the truth with spurious rays,
And round the hero cast a borrowed blaze;
Marlboro's exploits appear divinely bright,
And proudly shine in their own native light.
If we look for a contrast to this poem, indicating with it the two political sides of the question, it may be found in Swift's tract on The Conduct of the Allies, which asserts that the war had been maintained to gratify the ambition and greed of Marlborough, and also for the benefit of the Allies. Addison was appointed, as a reward for his poem, Under-Secretary of State.
To this extent Addison was the historian by purpose. A moderate partisan, he eulogized King William, Marlborough, Lord Somers, Lord Halifax, and others, and thus commended himself to the crown; and in several elegant articles in The Spectator, he sought to mitigate the fierce party spirit of the time.
SIR ROGER DE COVERLEY.—But it is the unconscious historian with whom we are most charmed, and by whom we are best instructed. It is in this character that Addison presents himself in his numerous contributions to The Spectator, The Tatler, and The Guardian. Amid much that is now considered pedantic and artificial, and which, in those faults, marks the age, are to be found as striking and truthful delineations of English life and society in that day as Chaucer has given us of an earlier period.
Those who no longer read The Spectator as a model of style and learning, must continue to prize it for these rare historic teachings. The men and women walk before us as in some antique representation in a social festival, when grandmothers' brocades are taken out, when curious fashions are displayed, when Honoria and Flavia, Fidelia and Gloriana dress and speak and ogle and flirt just as Addison saw and photographed them. We have their subjects of interest, their forms of gossip, the existing abuses of the day, their taste in letters, their opinions upon the works of literature, in all their freshness.
The fullest and most systematic of these social delineations is found in the sketch of The Club and Sir Roger de Coverley. The creation of character is excellent. Each member, individual and distinct, is also the type of a class.
THE CLUB.—There is Will Honeycomb, the old beau, “a gentleman who, according to his years, should be in the decline of his life, but having ever been careful of his person, and always had an easy fortune, time has made but very little impression, either by wrinkles on his forehead or traces on his brain.” He knew from what French woman this manner of curling the hair came, who invented hoops, and whose vanity to show her foot brought in short dresses. He is a woman-killer, sceptical about marriage; and at length he gives the fair sex ample satisfaction for his cruelty and egotism by marrying, unknown to his friends, a farmer's daughter, whose face and virtues are her only fortune.
Captain Sentry, the nephew of Sir Roger, is, it may be supposed, the essayist's ideal of what an English officer should be—a courageous soldier and a modest gentleman.
Sir Andrew Freeport is the retired merchant, drawn to the life. He is moderate in politics, as expediency in that age would suggest. Thoroughly satisfied of the naval supremacy of England, he calls the sea, “the British Common.” He is the founder of his own fortune, and is satisfied to transmit to posterity an unsullied name, a goodly store of wealth, and the title he has so honorably won.
In The Templar, we have a satire upon a certain class of lawyers. It is indicative of that classical age, that he understands Aristotle and Longinus better than Littleton and Coke, and is happy in anything but law—a briefless barrister, but a gentleman of consideration.
But the most charming, the most living portrait is that of Sir Roger de Coverley, an English country gentleman, as he ought to be, and as not a few really were. What a generous humanity for all wells forth from his simple and loving heart! He has such a mirthful cast in his behavior that he is rather loved than esteemed. Repulsed by a fair widow, several years before, he keeps his sentiment alive by wearing a coat and doublet of the same cut that was in fashion at the time, which, he tells us, has been out and in twelve times since he first wore it. All the young women profess to love him, and all the young men are glad of his company.
Last of all is the clergyman, whose piety is all reverence, and who talks and acts “as one who is hastening to the object of all his wishes, and conceives hope from his decays and infirmities.”
It is said that Addison, warned by the fate of Cervantes,—whose noble hero, Don Quixote, was killed by another pen,—determined to conduct Sir Roger to the tomb himself; and the knight makes a fitting end. He congratulates his nephew, Captain Sentry, upon his succession to the inheritance; he is thoughtful of old friends and old servants. In a word, so excellent was his life, and so touching the story of his death, that we feel like mourners at a real grave. Indeed he did live, and still lives,—one type of the English country gentleman one hundred and fifty years ago. Other types there were, not so pleasant to contemplate; but Addison's Sir Roger de Coverley and Fielding's Squire Allworthy vindicate their class in that age.
ADDISON'S HYMNS.—Addison appears to us also as the writer of beautiful hymns, and has paraphrased some of the Psalms. In this, like Watts, he catered to a decided religious craving of that day. In a Protestant realm, and by reason of religious controversy, the fine old hymns of the Latin church, which are now renewing their youth in an English dress, had fallen into disrepute: hymnody had, to some extent, superseded the plain chant. Hymns were in demand. Poets like Addison and Watts provided for this new want; and from the beauty of his few contributions, our great regret is that Addison wrote so few. Every one he did write is a gem in many collections. Among them we have that admirable paraphrase of the Twenty-third Psalm:
The Lord my pasture shall prepare,
And feed me with a shepherd's care;
and the hymn
When all Thy mercies, O my God,
My rising soul surveys.
None, however, is so beautiful, stately, and polished as the Divine Ode, so pleasant to all people, little and large,—
The spacious firmament on high.
HIS PERSON AND CHARACTER.—In closing this brief sketch of Addison, a few words are necessary as to his personality, and an estimate of his powers. In 1716 he married the Countess-Dowager of Warwick, and parted with independence to live with a coronet. His married life was not happy. The lady was cold and exacting; and, it must be confessed, the poet loved a bottle at the club-room or tavern better than the luxuries of Holland House; and not infrequently this conviviality led him to excess. He died in 1719, in his forty-eighth year, and made a truly pious end. He wished, he said, to atone for any injuries he had done to others, and sent for his sceptical and dissolute step-son, Lord Warwick, to show him how a Christian could die. A monument has been erected to his memory in the Poets' Corner of Westminster Abbey, and the closing words of the inscription upon it calls him “the honor and delight of the English nation.”
As a man, he was grave and retiring: he had a high opinion of his own powers; in company he was extremely diffident; in the main, he was moral, just, and consistent. His intemperance was in part the custom of the age and in part a physical failing, and it must have been excessive to be distinguished in that age. In the Latin-English of Dr. Johnson, “It is not unlikely that Addison was first seduced to excess by the manumission which he obtained from the servile timidity of his sober hours.” This failing must be regarded as a blot on his fame.
He was the most accomplished writer of his own age, and in elegance of style superior to all who had gone before him.
In the words of his epitaph, his prose papers “encouraged the good and reformed the improvident, tamed the wicked, and in some degree made them in love with virtue.” His poetry is chiefly of historical value, in that it represents so distinctly the Artificial School; but it is now very little read. His drama entitled Cato was modelled upon the French drama of the classical school, with its singular preservation of the unities. But his contributions to The Spectator and other periodicals are historically of great value. Here he abandons the artificial school; nothing in his delineations of character is simply statuesque or pictorial. He has done for us what the historians have left undone. They present processions of automata moving to the sound of trumpet and drum, ushered by Black Rod or Garter King-at-arms; but in Addison we find that Promethean heat which relumes their life; the galvanic motion becomes a living stride; the puppet eyes emit fire; the automata are men. Thus it is, that, although The Spectator, once read as a model of taste and style, has become antiquated and has been superseded, it must still be resorted to for its life-like portraiture of men and women, manners and customs, and will be found truer and more valuable for these than history itself.