Abbildungen der Seite
PDF
EPUB

Leigh Hunt has well remarked, that Sir Richard Steele's own fineness of nature was never more beautifully evinced in any part of his writings, than in this testimony to the merits of poor Dick Eastcourt !

STEELE AND WHISTON. Mr. Forster has taken considerable pains to set Steele in a true light, and to correct several popular misapprehensions of his character. Every public man is liable to this sort of misrepresentation by duller men than himself; and not the least valuable portion of the labours of the biographer consists in setting his readers right upon such points. Here is one of Mr. Forster's instances: “On the day after his [Steele’s] speech in the House of Commons interceding for mercy to the South Sea directors, Mr. William Whiston, for whom also he had interceded formerly when in straits hardly less difficult, met him at Button's. Why, Sir Richard,' said the worthy man, they say you have been making a speech in the House for the South Sea directors.' 'Well,' said he, quietly, they do say so.' To which Whiston, who confesses that he had been a little nettled personally some time before, by a ludicrous remark of Sir Richard's, made the somewhat illogical reply, Then how does this agree with your former writing against the scheme?' “Mr. Whiston,' rejoined Steele, you can walk on foot, and I can not. Of course, the dull man tells the anecdote by way of showing that Steele could change his opinions for his interest, but this is not the construction any well-informed reader will put upon To look after his own interest at any

time was the very last thing Steele ever thought of doing; and as to the matter in question, it was notorious that in speaking for Lord Stanhope and the other misguided men, he discharged himself only of a debt of kindness that could have no effect, save such as might be unfavourable, upon his own fortune. It was simply his wit and good breeding that politely had declined debate, and left Mr. Whiston in enjoyment of his own sordid fancy."

DENNIS ATTACKS STEELE, AND STEELE REPLIES.

The furious critic, John Dennis, in a whimsical pamphlet, fell foul of poor Steele as Sir John Edgar, of the county of

in Ireland, and proceeded to describe him “as of a middle stature, broad shoulders, thick legs, a shape like the

it.

picture of somebody over a farmer's chimney—a short chin, a short nose, a short forehead, a broad flat face, and a dusky countenance. Yet with such a shape, he discovered at sixty that he took himself for a beauty, and appeared to be more mortified at being told he was ugly, than he was by any reflection made upon his honour or understanding.

He is a gentleman born, witness himself, of very honourable family : certainly of a very ancient one, for his ancestors flourished in Tipperary long before the English ever set foot in Ireland. He has testimony of this more authentic than the Herald's Office, or any human testimony. For God has marked him more abundantly than he did Cain, and stamped his native country on his face, his understanding, his writings, his actions, his passions, and above all, his vanity. The Hibernian brogue is still upon all these, though long habit and length of days have worn it off his tongue.'

Of course, this fierce personality was not to be borne; and Steele replied to Dennis with equal severity to his, but tempered his reply with a great deal of humour. He says

to the old churl, who, on his portrait is marked as "the Critick,”—

“Thou never did'st let the sun into thy garret, for fear he should bring a bailiff along with him.

“Your years are about sixty-five, an ugly, vinegar face, that if you had any command you would be obeyed out of fear, from your ill-nature pictured there ; not from any other motive. Your height is about some five feet five inches. You see I can give your exact measure as well as if I had taken your dimension with a good cudgel, which I promise you to do as soon as ever I have the good fortune to meet you.

Your doughty paunch stands before you like a firkin of butter, and your duck-legs seem to be cast for carrying burdens.

Thy works are libels upon others, and satires upon thyself; and while they bark at men of sense, call him knave and fool that wrote them. Thou hast a great antipathy to thy own species ; and hatest the sight of a fool but in thy glass.”

Steele had been kind to Dennis, and once got arrested on account of a pecuniary service which he did him. When John heard of the fact“S’death 1” cries John ; “why did not he keep out of the way as I did ?"

The “ Answer concludes by mentioning that Cilber had offered ten pounds for the discovery of the authorship of Dennis's pamphlet; on which, says Steele,

“I am only sorry he has offered so much, because the twentieth part would have over-valued his whole carcase. But I know the fellow that he keeps to give answers to his creditors will betray him ; for he gave me his word to bring officers on the top of the house that should make a hole through the ceiling of his garret, and so bring him to the punishment he deserves. Some people think this expedient out of the way, and that he would make his escape upon hearing the least noise. I say 80 too ; but it takes him up half-an-hour every night to fortify himself with his old hair trunk, two or three joint-stools, and some other lumber, which he ties together with cords so fast that it takes him up the same time in the morning to release himself.”

BISHOP HOADLY AND STEELE AT BLENHEIM. Dr. Hoadly and Steele were invited to Blenheim, and sat next each other at a play got up for the amusement of the great Duke of Marlborough, now in declining health and years; when, as the Bishop and the critic of the Tatler both observed how well a love-scene was acted by the Duke's aide-de-camp, Captain Fishe, “I doubt this fish is flesh, my Lord,” whispered Steele. On going away, they had to pass through a host of laced coats and ruffles in the hall; and as the Bishop was preparing the usual fees, “I have not enough,” cried Steele, and addressing the footmen, told them he had been much struck by the good taste with which he had seen them applauding in the right places, upstairs, and invited them all free to Drury-lane theatre, to whatever play they might like to bespeak.

STEELE'S HOMAGE TO WOMEN. “It was Steele, [says Mr. Thackeray, in one of the most fascinating pages of his Lectures], who first began to pay a manly homage to the goodness and understanding, as well as the tenderness and beauty of women. In his comedies, the heroes do not rant and rave about the divine beauties of Gloriana or Statira, as the characters were made to do in the chivalry romances and the high-flown dramas just going out of vogue; but Steele admires women's virtue, acknowledges their sense, and adores their purity and beauty, with an ardour and strength which should win the good will of all women to their hearty and respectful champion." What can be more delightful than the following:

As to the pursuits after affection and esteem, the fair sex are happy in this particular, that with them the one is much more nearly related to the other than in men. The lo of a woman is inseparable from some esteein of her; and as she is naturally the object of affection, the woman who has your esteem has also some degree of your love. A man that dotes on a woman for her beauty, will whisper his friend, “ that creature has a great deal of wit when you are well acquainted with her.” And if you examine the bottom of your esteenı for a woman, you will find you have a greater opinion of her beauty than anybody else. As to us men, I design to pass most of my time with the facetious Harry Bickerstaff ; but William Bickerstaff, the most prudent man of our family, shall be my executor.—Tatler, No. 206.

“It is this ardour, this respect, this manliness, which makes his comedies so pleasant and their heroes such fine gentlemen. He paid the finest compliment to a woman that perhaps ever was offered. Of one woman, whom Congreve had also admired and celebrated, Steele says, that 'to have loved her was a liberal education.' 'How often,' he says, dedicating a volume to his wife, ‘how often has

your

tenderness removed pain from my sick head, how often anguish from my

afflicted heart! If there are such beings as guardian angels, they are thus employed. I cannot believe one of them to be more good in inclination, or more charming in form than my wife.' His breast seems to warm and his eyes to kindle when he meets with a good and beautiful woman, and it is with his heart as well as his hat that he salutes her. About children, and all that relates to home, he is not less tender, and more than once speaks in apology of what he calls his softness : he would have been nothing without that delightful weakness.”

STEELE AND ADDISON FRIENDS. Mr. Thackeray has cleverly portrayed the two friends in strong contrast :-Addison dismal in his shabby lodging in the Haymarket, and young Captain Steele cutting a much smarter figure.

Could not some painter give an interview between the gallant captain of Lucas's, with his hat cocked, and his lace, and his face too, a trifle tarnished with drink, and that poet, that philosopher, pale, proud, and poor, his friend and monitor of school-days, of all days ? How Dick must have bragged about his chances and his hopes, and the fine company he kept, and the charms of the reigning toasts and popular actresses, and the number of bottles that he and my lord and some other pretty fellows had cracked overnight at the “Devil,” or the “Garter." Cannot one fancy Joseph Addison's calm smile and cold grey eyes following Dick for an instant, as he struts down the Mall, to dine with the guard at St. James's, before he turns, with his sober face and threadbare suit to walk back to his lodgings.

It was to this lodging that Pope paid a visit of homage. He asked Walter Harte to ascend three pair of stairs, and enter a small top room above a small shop in the Haymarket. When they were within the room, Pope said to Harte, “ In this garret Addison wrote his Campaign."

“POOR DICK." There are certain characters which are killed by compassion, their good qualities being hidden under the sort of sympathetic

reproach conveyed by the prefix of “poor." Addison says of Steele, “ I am in a thousand troubles for poor Dick, and wish that his zeal for the public may not be ruinous to himself; but he has sent me word that he is determined to go on, and that any advice I can give him in this particular will have no weight with him." "Formerly, as now," says Mr. Forster, “ these expressions have been pointed to a sense not exactly intended by them.” The “poor Dick” has been repeatedly lavished since; but we must take the liberty to add, with a feeling and for a purpose far less worthy. It is our belief that no man so much as Steele has suffered from compassion. It was out of his own bitter experience, he shrewdly called it, himself, the best disguise of malice, and said that the most apposite course to cry a man down was to lament him. Yet he is, after all, too hardy a creature to be 80 discountenanced and undone.

He is never mortified but when truth, honour, and reason are against him ; which, as soon as he perceives, he, without ceremony, or taking leave, runs to the side on which they appear. Hence it is, that he passes all his days under reproach from some persons or other; and he is, at different times, called a renegade, a coniessor, and a martyr, by every party. This happens from his sticking to principles, and having no respect to persons; and it is his inward constancy that makes him vary in outward appearance. It is therefore unlucky for those who speak of this kind of character with ridicule, that all the great who ever lived were such.

Whoever reads Macaulay's estimate must agree that whatever praise he gives to Steele is always in the way of condescension; and he cannot bring himself to state a virtue in him which he does not at the same time extenuate with its equal vice or drawback.

Steele says:

MODES OF DYING. The 11th Tatler, with a truth and spirit not to be surpassed, remarks that any doctrine on the subject of dying, other than that of living well, is the most insignificant and most empty of all the labours of men. A tragedian can die by rule, and wait till he discovers a plot, or says a fine thing upon his exit; but in real life, and by noble spirits, it will be

N

« ZurückWeiter »