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And, pleased the Almighty's orders to perform,
The Campaign, which has no other passage worth quoting, proved a happy hit, and was of such service to the Ministry, that Addison found the way to fame and fortune. He was appointed Commissioner of Appeals, and not long after Under Secretary of State. In 1707 he accompanied his friend and patron, Halifax, on a mission to Hanover, and two years later he was appointed Chief Secretary to the Lord-Lieutenant of Ireland. In Dublin he gained golden opinions. 'I am convinced,' Swift writes, that whatever Government come over, you will find all marks of kindness from any parliament here with respect to your employment; the Tories contending with the Whigs which should speak best of you. In short, if you will come over again when you are at leisure, we will raise an army and make you king of Ireland.' When the Whig Ministry fell in 1710, and Addison lost his appointment, he must have gained a fortune, for he was able to purchase an estate for £10,000.
In the early years of the century the Italian opera, which had been brought into England in the reign of William and Mary, excited the mirth and opposition of the wits. Lord Chesterfield, who called it 'too absurd and extravagant to mention,' said, 'Whenever I go to the opera I leave my sense and reason at the door with my halfguinea, and deliver myself up to my eyes and ears.' Steele, Gay, and Pope ridiculed the new-fangled entertainment, and Colley Cibber, too, pointed his jest at these 'poetical drams, these gin-shops of the stage that intoxicate its auditors, and dishonour their understanding with a levity for which I want a name.' Addison, who has some lively papers on the subject in the Spectator, undertook to give a faithful account of the progress of the
Italian opera on the English stage, for there is no question,' he writes, but our great grandchildren will be very curious to know why their forefathers used to sit together like an audience of foreigners in their own country; and to hear whole plays acted before them in a tongue which they did not understand.'
Before writing thus in the Spectator, Addison, in order to oppose the Italian opera, by what he regarded as a more rational pastime, produced his English opera of Rosamond, which was acted in 1706, and proved a failure on the stage. The music is said to have been bad, and the poetry is the work of a writer destitute of lyrical genius. Lord Macaulay, who finds a merit in almost everything produced by Addison, praises the smoothness with which the verses glide, and the elasticity with which they bound,' and considers that if he had left heroic couplets to Pope, and blank verse to Rowe, and had employed himself in writing airy and spirited songs, his reputation as a poet would have stood far higher than it now does.' The gliding movement of the verse may be admitted; but lyric poetry demands the higher qualities of music and imaginative treatment, and Addison's 'smoothness,' so far from being a poetical gift, is a mechanical acquisition.
In 1713 his Cato, with its stately rhetoric and cold dignity, received a very different reception. The prologue, written by Pope, is in admirable accordance with the spirit of the play. Addison's purpose is to exhibit a great man struggling with adversity, and Pope writes:
'He bids your breasts with ancient ardour rise,
A brave man struggling in the storms of fate,
While Cato gives his little senate laws,
What bosom beats not in his country's cause?'
Addison has proved that he could draw a life-like character in his representation of Sir Roger de Coverley, but the dramatis persona, who act a part, or are supposed to act one, in Cato, are mere dummies, made to express fine sentiments. There is no flesh and blood in them, and owing to the dramatist's regard for unity of place, the play is full of absurdities. Yet Cato was received with immense applause. It was regarded from a political aspect, and both Whig and Tory strove to turn the drama to party account. The numerous and violent claps of the Whig party,' Pope writes, on the one side of the theatre, were echoed back by the Tories on the other; while the author sweated behind the scenes with concern to find their applause proceeding more from the hand than the head.'
In another letter he says: "The town is so fond of it, that the orange wenches and fruit women in the parks offer the books at the side of the coaches, and the prologue and epilogue are cried about the streets by the common hawkers.' It would be interesting to ascertain what there was in the state of public affairs in the spring of 1713, which created this enthusiasm. Swift, writing to Stella, alludes to a rehearsal of the play, but makes no criticism upon it; and Berkeley, who was in London at the time, and had a seat in Addison's box on the first night, is also silent about it. In a letter written, as it happens, by Bolingbroke, on the day that Cato was produced, he indicates the signs of the time, as they appeared to a Tory statesman: The prospect before us,' he writes, 'is dark and melancholy. What will happen no man is able to foretell.'
It was this sense of doubt and insecurity in the nation that gave significance to trifles. The political atmosphere was charged with electricity. The Tories, though in office, were far from feeling themselves secure, and both Harley and Bolingbroke were in correspondence with the Pretender. Atterbury, who was heart and soul with him, had just been made a bishop, Protestant ascendancy was in danger, the security of the country seemed to hang on the frail life of the Queen, and the strong party spirit of the time was easily fanned into a flame. We cannot now place ourselves in the position of the spectators whose passions gave such popularity to Cato. Its mild platitudes and rhetorical periods, its coldness and sobriety, seem ill fitted to arouse the fervour of playgoers, but Addison, whose good luck rarely failed him, was especially fortunate in the moment chosen for the representation of the play. Had Cato exhibited genius of the highest order, it could not have been more successful. Cibber writes that it was acted in London five times a week for a month to constantly crowded houses, and when the tragedy was acted at Oxford, 'Our house,' he says, 'was in a manner invested, and entrance demanded by twelve o'clock at noon, and before one it was not wide enough for many who came too late for places.' 1
Cato had the good fortune to run in London for thirty-five nights, and gained also some reputation on the continent. It is formed on the French model, and Addison was therefore praised by Voltaire as the first English writer who composed a regular tragedy.' He added that Cato was 'a masterpiece.' If so, it is one of the masterpieces that has long ceased to be read. Little could its author have surmised that his tragedy, received with universal praise,
Cibber's Apology, p. 386.
had but a brief life to live, while the Essays which he had already contributed to the Tatler and Spectator would make his name familiar to future generations.
Addison's poetry may now be regarded as extinct, and most of the poems he wrote are probably unknown to the present generation of readers even by name. His Latin verses are pronounced excellent by all competent critics, but when a man writes verses in a dead language he does so generally to show his scholarship, and not to express his inspiration. Latin verse is, as M. Taine says, a faded flower. Now and then, indeed, a poem has been written with merits apart from its latinity-witness the Epitaphium Damonis of Milton-but Addison, who lacked poetic fire in his native language, was not likely to find it in a dead tongue. His English poems are generally dull, and sometimes, as in his earliest poem, the Account of the greatest English Poets (1694), the tameness of the verse is matched by the ignorance of the criticism. The student will observe how differently the theme is treated by a true poet like Drayton in his Epistle to Reynolds; or, like Ben Jonson, in the many allusions that he makes to his country's poets. Compare, too, Addison's Letter from Italy (1701) with the lovely lines on a like theme in Goldsmith's Traveller, and the contrast between a verseman and a poet is at once apparent. Addison, it may be added, is remembered for his hymns, which may be found in most selections of sacred verse, and deserve a place in the best of them. As the forerunner of Isaac Watts (1674-1748) and of Charles Wesley (1708-1788), he struck upon what at that time might, in our country, be almost called a new department of literature; and it is remarkable that an age which so dreaded enthusiasm should have originated verse which gives utterance to the most emotional form of spiritual. aspiration. As hymn-writers, Englishmen were more than