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wittingly offended-entitle a man to be called good, then Steele may indeed claim that high designation.
As so many new facts in Steele's life have of recent years come to light, it may not be amiss to embody them in a brief outline of his strenuous and vigorous career. Although there are not a few features of his character which may be attributed to his Irish origin, it is remarkable that there is not a trace in his writings of what it is nowadays the fashion to call the Celtic spirit; nor indeed in those of any of the Irishmen who have taken a high place in the bead-roll of the great English writers. It would seem as if it were not to be in the land of its birth that Irish genius was to find inspiration ; but Ireland in the eighteenth century was by no means a place to develop the Celtic or indeed
any other worthy spirit. The few landmarks associated with the early years of the founder of The Tatler can now no longer be indicated. The little Dublin church of St. Bride, in which Richard Steele, the son of Richard Steele, a Dublin attorney, was baptized in 1672, has now been swept away; and the country house which his father owned at Monkstown, County Dublin, within sight of the castle in which Ludlow lived in the previous generation, can no longer be identified.
Although the fact of Steele's Irish origin was a subject for contempt with two or three of his detractors—such as John Dennis and Mrs. Manley—he always referred to his origin and to his country as matters of which he was not ashamed. "Whoever talks with me,' he asserts on one occasion, ‘is speaking to a gentleman born’; and in The Tatler, under the name of Isaac Bickerstaff, he declares that, 'My
family, from which I am descended, came originally out of Ireland ; this has given me a kind of natural affection for the country! How differently does Swift view his connection with the city and country of his birth and residence ! For him they are 'wretched Dublin, in miserable Ireland'; but then Swift's nature was not that of kindly Steele.
With the events of his early childhood, his connection with Ireland practically ceased ; except it be for one of his many curious projects, called 'the FishPool,' a scheme to bring salmon in a tank-boat from Ireland to the London market, which, like too many of Steele's enterprises, failed ignominiously, with the usual serious consequences to his own pocket.
Steele was twice married. His first wife was a widow, a Mrs. Stretch, whose maiden name was Margaret Ford, and whose possessions in Barbadoes supplied her husband with the means to enter upon that unfortunate career of speculation and consequent disaster, of which so much has been made by his enemies. Careful investigation has however shown, that, although frequently in debt, Steele succeeded by hard work and determined effort in paying off his creditors ;
and we may fairly conclude that before his death his affairs were in such a state that his honest heart was not disturbed by thoughts which could not be otherwise than distressing to him.
After two years of married life his wife died, and within a few months he married Mary or ‘Molly' Scurlock, the 'Dear Prue' of a correspondence which is without a parallel in the range of amusing and artless letter-writing. Although an exacting beauty, a born coquette, fashionable, uneconomical, and given
to diplomatic attacks of the 'vapours,' Mistress Mary Scurlock must have been possessed of certain estimable qualities—not very apparent from her letters—to claim such unbounded devotion as she did from her warmhearted husband; and it is remarkable that her peevishness and perversity never seriously shook Steele's faith in her or in her sex, and never affected the chivalrous and noble spirit which inspired the many excellent essays in which he champions the rights and condemns the wrongs of womankind ; and if we would understand the code by which Steele secured domestic bliss under such adverse circumstances, we have but to turn to that admirable essay on 'Matrimonial Happiness,' one of the most finished of his contributions, to learn the secret.
It has been said, not without a touch of exaggeration, that 'Addison would have died with narrow fame had he never had a friendship with Sir Richard Steele.' If it is implied by this that Addison would never have 'found himself, but for the happy project of The Tatler and its two delightful successors, there is certainly an element of truth in the assertion. But the converse is no less true ; for it is impossible to think that Steele, brilliant though he was, could, without Addison, have conducted for any length of time, or with any prospect of success, the periodicals which he had started—the casual assistance which he obtained from Swift, Budgell, and a few others, being quite a negligible quantity. It was under the stimulating influence of friendly rivalry that the best of both was given to the world ; it is the happy combination of Steele's keen and enthusiastic initiative power, with Addison's scholarly and philosophic charm, that makes
the wonderful collection of Essays attractive even to modern readers. Outside their contributions as coworkers, their literary fame is of the slenderest description ; The Campaign and Cato, The Procession and The Lying Lover, are not works to win immortality for either one or the other.
Yet one portion of Steele's work, other than journalistic, deserves a passing notice, as indirectly affecting his essays; namely, his contributions to dramatic literature. His claim to be a dramatist, in which capacity he was Addison's superior, rests upon four plays, The Funeral, The Lying Lover, The Tender Husband, and The Conscious Lovers, which, if they proved but only fairly successful, brought their author in contact with the theatrical world and gave him that knowledge of the stage which makes him so excellent a critic of stage plays. His ungrudging appreciation of other men's gifts, and his love for the actor and his art, are nowhere more apparent than in the two admirable essays on ‘The Death of Estcourt' and 'Betterton the Actor. It not perhaps too much to say that even Elia himself has not surpassed him in charm of expression or in critical appreciation in 'The Acting of Munden,' or 'On Some of the Old Actors'; and a modern playgoer may still find delightful sympathy in Steele's thoughts on 'The Pleasures of the Theatre. It has been remarked that his love for Shakespeare, and his frequent quotation from the plays—not however always accurate—are in marked contrast with Addison, who hardly ever quotes him, and who evidently preferred Milton to the great playwright.
Steele's righteous indignation against the coarser vices of his age forms the subject of many of his most
forcible essays, but of necessity no example of these can be included in this selection, as, at times, his directness of speech would offend the decorum of our day; but the consistency of his practice and of his preaching is well illustrated by the courageous attitude which he assumed towards duelling and gaming. Having, during his early military career, fought with and wounded a Captain Kelly, a fiery countryman of his own, not, however, before he had done everything to dissuade his adversary from a meeting, he ever after in many an essay, as well as in his play of The Lying Lover, pointed out the unreasonableness and immorality involved in this method of settling disputes amongst so-called men of honour. And it must be remembered that in his crusade against this practice, and that of gambling, he ran no small risk; so much so, that two of his superior officers, whose sympathies he had completely won by his courage and honesty, placed their swords at his disposal, when his safety was endangered by the mohocks, the swindlers, and the gamesters, whose wrath he had effectually excited.
It is a subject for regret that Steele did not continue to the end to be solely a man of letters ; but his impetuous desire to be the knight-errant of his time led him into an arena in which he was by no means an effective fighter. Little by little his later papers became more and more political, until, by The Crisis, and in a series of articles in The Englishman, advocating the demolition of the fortifications of Dunkirk, he drew down the wrath of the ministry. After a fight, in which he exhibited at least courage and much ingenuity, he was expelled from the House. This occurred in 1714, when he sat as member for