Abbildungen der Seite
PDF
EPUB

Steele eight; if it be certain that he was the author of the obnoxious portion of No. 10; which has also been attributed to Tickell." In the words of an accurate critic, Addison took the rude outlines into his own hands, retouched them, coloured them; and is, in truth, the creator of the Sir Roger de Coverley and the Will Honeycomb with whom we are familiar. The literary habits of Addison and Steele were those of close partnership. What Steele's impatient genius planned, Addison's rich taste and thoughtful industry executed: what were, and would perhaps have ever remained, dreams in Steele's brain, came out distinct realities from under Addison's hand.”— Wills's Notes to Sir Roger de Coverley.

We think the writer does but scant justice to Steele: he was somewhat more of a practical genius than merely to plan and leave others to execute : his share in the Spectator proves the reverse. Steele wrote No. 2 of the Spectator, introducing “the first of our society, a gentleman of Worcestershire descent, a baronet, his name is Sir Roger de Coverley." Conjectures were free as to the original of his character, and Budgell asserted that most of the characters in the Spectator were conspicuously known; but it was not until 1783, when Tyers named Sir John Packington, of Westwood, Worcestershire, that any prototype of Sir Roger was definitely pointed out: it has, however, been shown that the resemblance only holds good to any extent in both baronets, Sir Roger and Sir John, living in Worcestershire.

The account of the Spectator himself, and of each member of his club was most likely fictitious; for the Tatler having been betrayed into personalities, gave such grave offence, that Steele determined not to fall again into a like error. And the Spectator emphatically disclaims personality in various passages. In No. 262, he says: “When I place an imaginary name at the head of a character, I examine every syllable, every letter of it, that it may not bear any resemblance to one that is real.” In another place -“ I would not make myself merry with a piece of pasteboard that is invested with a public character."

THE COVERLEY HOUSEHOLD. This paper, No. 107 of the Spectator, is by Steele. Its text is—the general corruption of manners in servants is owing to the conduct of masters. In Sir Roger's time it was usual for gentlemen to curse offending footmen, and to assail

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

female servants with the coarsest abuse. On the other side, dependents took their revenge to the fullest extent :-sometimes by subtle artifice, at others by reckless dissipation and dishonesty. Swift's Directions to Servants is, every word, founded on fact: some of its experiences being evidently drawn from Swift's own drinking, cheating, and cringing man, Patrick. Steele, in his Spectator, shows that most of the vices of servants are due to the ill-conduct of their masters, which the example of Sir Roger, in this paper, is meant, in all kindness, to correct. “ All dependents," he observes, run in some measure into the measures and behaviour of those whom they serve,”-a fact which he thus humorously illustrates :

Falling in the other day at a victualling-house near the House of Peers, I heard the maid come down and tell the landlady at the bar, that my

Lord Bishop swore he would throw her out at window if she did not bring up some more mild beer, and that my Lord Duke would have a double mug of purl. My surprise was increased on hearing loud and rustic voices speak and answer to each other upon the public affairs by the names of the most illustrious of our nobility ; till of a sudden one came running in and cried the House was rising. Down came all the company together, and away: the ale-house was immediately filled with clamour, and scoring one mug to the Marquis of such a place, oil and vinegar to such an Earl, three quarts to my new Lord for wetting his title, and so forth. It is a thing too notorious to mention the crowds of servants, and their insolence, near the courts of justice, and the stairs towards the supreme assembly, where there is an universal mockery of all order, such riotous clamour and licentious confusion, that one would think the whole nation lived in jest, and there were no such thing as rule and distinction among

[ocr errors]

Steele appears to have paid almost as much attention to the improvement of servants as did Swift. No. 96 of the Spectator and No. 87 of the Guardian are devoted to this subject. And the Spectator, No. 224, contains the advertisement of a Society for the encouragement of good Servants " at the office in Ironmonger-lane.

“ THE GUARDIAN" STARTED. This new paper was commenced in March, 1713, and ex. tended to one hundred and seventy-five numbers, or two volumes. It ranks in merit between the Spectator and Tatler. Addison, (who was busy with his Cato,) did not for some time contribute ; but he carried the services of the

* Upon this passage, the Rev. James Townley wrote the farce of High Life below Stairs, first acted at Drury-lane, in 1759.

young poet, Pope, whose surpassing merit Steele at once recognised. “He submitted verses to him, altered them to his pleasure, wrote a poem at his request, and protested himself to be more eager to be called his little friend, Dick Distich, than to be complimented with the title of a great genius or an eminent hand.” -(Forster.)

He was recreated with “the brisk sallies and quick turns of wit which Mr. Steele, in his liveliest and freest humours, darts about him,” but he did not foresee the consequence.

Among the contributors was Tickell, who, in a paper, pronounced Ambrose Philips to be the first pastoral poet of the age. This was galling to Pope, who had, however, previously expressed a similar opinion. Pope considered Tickell's to be unfair criticism, and Pope turned the whole into ridicule by sending to the Guardian an additional essay on the pastoral writers, in which he institutes a comparison between himself and Philips, to whom he awards the palm, but quotes

vorst passages as his best, and places by the side of them his own finest lines, which he says want rusticity, and deviate into downright poetry! Steele, either inadvertently, or not wishing to disoblige Pope, inserted this ironical paper, which so imposed upon Ayre, that in his Life of Pope he says: “the performances are very different, but Sir Richard Steele has pretended to compare them ;" elsewhere he says that Steele had a great partiality and personal friendship for Philips.

Steele abstained from politics in the Guardian for several years; but falling into a controversy with Swift, in the Examiner, Steele patriotically resigned the emoluments which he held from Government, in order that he might enter the House of Commons.

STEELE IN PARLIAMENT. In 1713, Steele, partly through his political influence in the Guardian, was returned to Parliament for the borough of Stockbridge, in Hampshire ;* but in March of the same year, a motion was made to expel him for having "maliciously insinuated that the Protestant succession in the House

* Swift tells a story of Steele's misfortune at Stockbridge. “There was nothing,” writes the Dean, “to perplex him, but the payment of a 3001. bond, which lessened the sum he carried down, and which an old dog of a creditor had intimation of, and took this opportunity to recover."

L

of Hanover is in danger under Her Majesty's administration." The Whigs rallied to his support, and his friend Addison prompted him throughout his eloquent and temperate defence in a speech of nearly three hours. Lord Finch, who owed gratitude to Steele for having repelled in the Guardian a libel on his sister, then rose to make his maiden speech in defence of her defender: he was overcome by bashfulness, and sat down, crying out, “ It is strange I cannot speak for this man, though I could readily fight for him." The

young lord was loudly cheered, took heart, and rose again, when he made a telling speech. But it did not save Steele, who was expelled by a majority of nearly 100 in a house of 400 members.

Steele, however, re-entered Parliament through the interest of the Duke of Newcastle, for Boroughbridge: he took part in the debates, and spoke well, mindful of his own maximnever to lose control over himself. This was, however, a dull period for oratory! the House consisting, as Steele wittily describes it, very much of silent people oppressed by the choice of a great deal to say; and of eloquent people ignorant that what they said was nothing to the purpose. It was his ambition to speak only what he thought; and the sincerity of his opinions never yielded to party or its prejudices. But he was a generous opponent. “I transgressed, my lord, against you," said he to Harley, “when you could make twelve peers in a-day; I ask your pardon when you are a private nobleman.” Mr. Forster concludes his spirited sketch of Steele's career as a politician as follows:

Walpole had befriended Steele most on the question of his expulsion, and he admired him more than any other politician, yet be alone in the House spoke against Walpole's proposition about the Debt, " because he did not think the way of doing it just.” Addison was the man he to the last admired the most, and, notwithstanding any recurring coolness or difference, loved the most upon earth ; but on the question of Lord Sunderland's Peerage bill, he joined Walpole against Addison, and with tongue and pen su actively promoted the defeat of that mischievous measure, that we may even yet, on this score, hold ourselves to be his debtors.—Essays, p. 198.

The Duke of Newcastle meanly punished his opposition to the Peerage bill by depriving him of his Drury-lane appointment; a loss which Steele estimated at 10,000l.; but he had it restored to him by Walpole on his return to office. Lastly, Steele, in a letter to his wife, declares that he had “served the Royal Family with an unreservedness due only to Heaven;" but he was then, thanks to his brother Whigs, “not possessed of twenty shillings from the favour of the Court."

Defoe thought little of Steele's oratory, and upon hearing him speak in the House, said wittily but ill-naturedly, “He had better have continued the Spectator than the Tatler."

STEELE'S PRACTICAL CHRISTIANITY. When in parliament Steele attacked every attempt to give power to the Church independent of the State; he held that all eagerness in clergymen to grasp at exorbitant power was but

popery in another form. A further remark made by him in the course of his argument is well worth attention and reflection in the present day:

“I am now brought [he says] by the natural course of such thoughts, to examine into the conduct of Christians, and particularly of Protestants of all sorts. One thing drew on another, and as little conversant as I have heretofore been in such matters, I quickly found that Christianity was neither unintelligible nor ill-natured; that the Gospel does not invade the rights of mankind, nor invest any men with authority destructive to society; and (what was the most melancholy part of the whole) that Protestants [be is speaking of the extreme High Church party) must be reduced to the absurdity of renouncing Protestant as well as Christian principles, before they can pretend to make their practices and their professions consistent. This I resolved to represent; and have done it, without regard to any one sort of them more than another. I am more and more persuaded, every day, that it is fitting to understand Religion, as well as to admire it."

STEELE'S “MULTIPLICATION TABLE.” Among Steele’s many airy schemes, this was certainly, as far as its title implies, a promising one for a projector. It was thus communicated in a letter from Steele to Addison, dated June 24, 1712:

Allow me, Sir, to acquaint you with a design, (of which I am partly the author,) though it tends to no greater a good than that of getting money. I would not hope for the favour of a philosopher in this matter, if it were not attempted under all the restrictions which you sages put apon private acquisitions. The first purpose which every good man is to propose to himself is the service of his prince and country; after that is done, he cannot add to himself, but he must also be beneficial to them. This scheme of gain is not only consistent to that end, but has its very

« ZurückWeiter »