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the prose writings of Addison an unrivalled position in Pope's age, and, it might be added, in the eighteenth cen. tury, were it not for the priceless literary gift bestowed upon Oliver Goldsmith.
Steele's fame as a writer has been overshadowed by the more exquisite genius of Addison, and his reputation has suffered partly from his own frailties and partly from the contemptuous way in which he has been treated by the panegyrists and critics of Addison. Pity is closely allied to contempt, and Sir Richard has come to be regarded as a scapegrace whose chief honour in life was the friendship of the accomplished essayist. Yet it was Steele who created the form of literature in which Addison earned his laurels, and without which he would in the present day be utterly forgotten. Steele was the discoverer of a new country, and if Addison took possession of its fairest portion, it was after his friend had pointed out the path and made the way easy. It would be very unjust, however, to treat of Steele solely as a pioneer. His own work, though less perfect than that of Addison, a consummate master of composition, is rich in variety and spirit, in pathos and in knowledge of the world. Steele is often careless, but he is never dull, and writes with a glow of enthusiasm that excites the reader's sympathy. Truly does Mr. Dobson say that while Addison's essays are faultless in their art and beyond the range of his friend's more impulsive nature, for words which the heart finds when the head is seeking; for phrases glowing with the white heat of a generous emotion ; for sentences which throb and tingle with manly pity or courageous indignation, we must go to the essays of Steele.'1 Sir Richard's pathetic touches and artless turns of ex
Selections from Steele, by Austin Dobson. In ́roduction, p. XXX. Clarendon Press.
pression come from the heart. He is the most natural of writers, but does not seem to be aware that nature, in order to be converted into good literature, needs a little clothing. His essays have often a looseness or negligence of aim unpardonable in a man who can write so well. A conspicuous illustration of this defect may be seen in No. 181 of the Tatler, one of the most beautiful pieces from Steele's pen.
The first sense of sorrow,' he writes, “I ever knew was upon the death of my father, at which time I was not quite five
but was rather amazed at what all the house meant, than possessed with a real understanding why nobody was willing to play with me. I remember I went into the room where his body lay, and my mother sat weeping alone by it. I had my battledore in my hand, and fell a-beating the coffin and calling “ Papa,” for, I know not how, I had some slight idea that he was locked
My mother catched me in her arms, and transported beyond all patience of the silent grief she was before in, she almost smothered me in her embraces; and told me in a flood of tears, “Papa could not hear me, and would play with me no more, for they were going to put him under ground, whence he could never come to us again." She was a very beautiful woman of a noble spirit, and there was a dignity in her grief amidst all the wildness of her transport, which, methought, struck me with an instinct of sorrow, that before I was sensible of what it was to grieve, seized my very soul, and has made pity the weakness of my heart ever since.'
Later on in the essay, and still looking back on the past, Steele recalls the untimely death of the first object his eyes ever beheld with love, and then abruptly dismissing his regrets he carelessly finishes the paper with this characteristic passage: “A large train of disasters were coming
on to my memory when my servant knocked at
closet door, and interrupted me with a letter, attended with a hamper of wine of the same sort with that which is to be put to sale on Thursday next at Garraway's Coffee-house. Upon the receipt of it I sent for three of my friends. We are so intimate that we can be company in whatever state of mind we meet, and can entertain each other without expecting always to rejoice. The wine we found to be generous and warming, but with such a heat as moved us rather to be cheerful than frolicsome. It revived the spirits, without firing the blood. We commended it until two of the clock this morning, and having to-day met a little before dinner, we found that though we drank two bottles a man, we had much more reason to recollect than forget what had passed the night before.'
Steele, to quote Johnson's phrase, was the most agreeable rake that ever trod the rounds of indulgence,' but he had many a fine quality that does not harmonize with the character of a rake; and although he hurt himself by his follies, he did his best to help others by his genial wisdom. If he did not sufficiently regard his own interests, his thoughts, as Addison said, 'teemed with projects for his country's good.' Savage Landor, with an impulse of somewhat extravagant eulogy, exclaimed, “What a good critic Steele was! I doubt if he has ever been surpassed.' This is one of the sayings that will not bear examination. Steele had doubtless the fine perception of what is noble in art and literature, which some men possess instinctively. He felt what was good, but does not appear either to have reached or strengthened his conclusions by any process of study.
As an essayist Steele is careless, rapid, emotional, and disposed to be on the best terms with himself and with his readers. He makes them sure that if they could have met
him in his rollicking mood at Will's Coffee-house, he would have treated them all round, even if, like Goldsmith, he had been forced to borrow the money to do it. But he was not always in this reckless humour. His heart was expansive in its sympathies and tender as a woman's; his mind was open to all kindly influences, and his essays have in them the rich blood and vivid utterances of a man who has 'warmed both hands before the fire of life.'
Between Steele's Guardian (1713) and the Rambler of Johnson (1750), a period of thirty-seven years, a swarm of periodicals testify to the fame of Steele and Addison. The reader curious on the subject will find in Dr. Drake's essays a minute account of the numerous essayists who flourished, or who made an effort to live, between the close of the eighth volume of the Spectator and the beginning of the present century. Of these a few have still a place on our shelves, but for the most part they enjoyed a butterfly existence, and serve but to prove the immeasurable superiority of the writers who created the English Essay.
JONATHAN SWIFT-JOHN ARBUTHNOT.
THE booksellers who employed the most famous man of letters then living (1777), to write the Lives of the Poets, selected the authors whose biographies were to accompany the poems they proposed to publish. They did not know the difference between versemakers and poets; but they probably did know what authors of the rhyming tribe were likely to prove the most popular. Dr. Johnson, who was then in his sixty-ninth year, was willing to write the Lives to order. He added, indeed, three or four names to the list which had been given him; but he made no protest, and contented himself, as he told Boswell, in saying that a man was a dunce when he thought that he
Among the biographies included by Johnson in the Lives, appears the illustrious name of Swift. He was far indeed from being a dunce; but just as certainly he was not a poet, unless the title be given to him by courtesy. On the other hand, Swift ranks among the most distinguished prose writers of his time-many critics consider him the greatest—and he therefore finds his natural place in the prose section of this volume. Swift's life is an extraordinary psychological study, but
will suffice to state here the bare outline Jonathan Swift
of his career. He was a posthumous child, (1667-1745).
and born in Dublin of English parents, November 30th, 1667. When a year old he was kidnapped