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WHISTON'S CHARACTER OF STEELE.
SIR Richard was indeed eminent for wit, yet destitute of true wisdom, in the whole conduct of his life. He wrote very well, but lived very ill. He was a Christian in principle, but not in practice. However, not to go far out of my way in his character, I shall only set down one encounter I had with him at Button's Coffee-house, when he was a Member of Parliament, and had been making a speech in the House of Commons (in the days of George I.) to please the court, but against his own conscience. It was in favour of the South-sea Scheme, then under the great disgrace of the nation, and against which he had previously written weekly papers ; but changed his course on finding that he could not else recover his post of Theatrical Censor, which used to bring him in some hundreds per annum. I accosted him thus: “They say, Sir Richard, you have been making a speech in the House of Commons for the South-sea DirectHe replied, “ They do say so.
To which I answered, “How does this agree with your former writing against that Scheme?" His rejoinder was, “Mr. Whiston, you can walk on foot, and I cannot.”'
CHARACTER OF STEELE.
MACAULAY, in his powerfully sketched character of Steele, says, “Steele had known Addison from childhood. They had been together at the Charter House and at Oxford; but circumstances had then, for a time, separated them widely. Steele had left college without taking a degree, had been disinherited by a rich relation, had led a vagrant life, had served in the army, had tried to find the philosopher's stone, and had written a religious treatise and several comedies. He was one of those people whom it is impossible either to hate or respect. His temper was sweet, his affections warm, his spirits lively; his passions strong, and bis principles weak. His life was spent in sinning and repenting; in inculcating what was right, and doing what was wrong. In speculation he was a man of piety and honour; in practice was much of the rake and a little of the swindler."
Against which rather severe strictures the able writer of the article “ Steele," in the Quarterly, cxcii., appeals, and it is thought successfully. The inquirer should read both articles.
WHEN Addison was a student at Oxford, he sent up his tragedy of Cato to his friend Dryden, as a proper person
to recommend it to the theatre if it deserved it; who returned it with great commendation, but with his opinion that on the stage it would not meet with its deserved success. But though the performance was denied the theatre, it brought its author to the public stage of life. For, persons in power inquiring soon after of the head of the college for a youth of parts, Addison was recommended, and readily received, by means of the great reputation which Dryden had just then spread of him as above.-Young.
There is considerable discordance in the evidence as to when Cato was written. Tonson, who was very likely to know, says he wrote the first four acts abroad; and Mr. Macaulay, in the same opinion, says, “It is well known that about this time (when he was in Venice in 1701) he began his tragedy, and that he finished the first four acts before he came to England.”. Mr. Macaulay thinks, too, that he was indebted for the hint to a ridiculous play of the name performed during the Carnival.-Tickell says, " The tragedy of Cato
, appeared in public in the year 1713, when the greatest part of the last act was added by the author to the foregoing, which he had kept by him for many years. He took up a design of writing a play upon this subject when he was very young, at the University, and even attempted something in it there, though not a line as it now stands. The work was performed by him in his travels, and retouched in England, . without any formed resolution of bringing it upon the stage, till his friends of the first quality and distinction prevailed with him to put the last finishing to it, at a time when they thought the doctrine of liberty very seasonable."
The tragedy of Cato was first acted in the year 1713, and was brought upon the stage in a great measure owing to Mr. Hughes. It had been affirmed by good judges that Cato was not a proper subject for a dramatic poem. That the character
of a stoic philosopher is inconsistent with the hurry and tumult of action and passion, which are the soul of tragedy. That the ingenious author had miscarried in the plan of his work, but supported it by the dignity, the purity, the beauty, and justness of the sentiments. This was so much the opinion of Mr. Maynwaring,' who was generally allowed to be one of the best critics of the time, that he was against bringing the play upon the stage, and it lay by unfinished several
That it was played
at last was owing to Mr. Hughes. 'He had read the four acts which were finished, and thought it would be of service to the public to have it represented at the end of Queen Anne's reign, when the old English spirit of liberty was thought to be in danger. He endeavoured to bring Mr. Addison into his opinion, which he did so far as to procure his consent that it should be acted if Mr. Hughes would write the last act. He excused his not finishing it himself, on account of some other avocations, and pressed Mr. Hughes to do it so earnestly, that he was prevailed on, and set about it. But, a week after, seeing Mr. Addison again, with an intention to communicate to him what he had thought of it, he was agreeably surprised at his producing some papers, where near half of the act was written by the author himself
, who, it is said, took fire at the hint that it would be serviceable, and upon a second reflection went on with it; not that he was diffident of Mr. Hughes's ability, but knowing that no man could have so perfect an idea of his design as himself. “I was told this," says Mr. Maynwaring, “ by Mr. Hughes; and I tell it, to show that it was not for the love scenes that Mr. Addison consented to have his tragedy acted, but to support the old Roman and English public spirit among his countrymen.”
POPE AND CATO.
WHEN Addison had finished his tragedy of Cato he brought it to Pope, and left it with him three or four days for his opinion. Pope, with much freedom, told him that he thought he had better not exhibit it on the stage; and added, that by printing it only as a classical performance he might make it turn to a profitable account, as the piece was very
well penned, though not theatrical enough to succeed on the stage. Mr. Addison assured him that he coincided with him
Arthur Maynwaring, Esq, author of the Mealey, &c. See ante, p. 340. in opinion, and seemed disposed to follow his advice: but some time after he told him that some friends, whom he was cautious of disobliging, insisted on his bringing it on the stage.
The Prologue to Cato was written by Mr. Pope, at the urgent request of Mr. Addison, and is allowed by most of the critics to be even superior to any of Dryden's. Pope had worded the Prologue thus,
“Britons, arise, be worth like this approved,
And show you have the virtue to be moved ;” but Mr. Addison, apprehensive of party imputations on this occasion, very strongly objected to the boldness of the expression, saying it would be called stirring the people to rebellion, and, therefore, earnestly begged of Mr. Pope to soften it by substituting something less obnoxious. On this account it was altered, as it now stands, to “ Britons, attend.”
RECEPTION OF CATO ON THE STAGE.
POPE, in a letter to Sir William Trumbull, (April 30th, 1713) gives the following account: “Cato was not so much the wonder of Rome in his days as he is of Britain in ours ; and though all the foolish industry possible has been used to make it thought a party play, yet what the author once said of another may the most properly in the world be applied to him on this occasion :
Envy itself is dumb, in wonder lost,
And factions strive who shall applaud him most." When it was first acted, the numerous and violent claps of the Whig party 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. This was the case, too, of the prologue-writer, who was clapped into a staunch Whig at almost every two lines. I believe you
have heard that after all the applauses of the opposite faction, my Lord Bolingbroke sent for Booth, who played Cato, into the box, between one of the acts, and presented him with fifty guineas; in acknowledgment (as he expressed it) for defend
Mr. Pope himself, whose Prologue to Cato is considered a perfect model of this style of composition,
ing the cause of liberty so well against a perpetual dictator.' The Whigs are unwilling to be distanced this way, and there. fore design a present to the same Cato very speedily; in the mean time they are getting ready as good a sentence as the former on their side: so betwixt them it is probable that Cato (as Dr. Garth expressed it) may have something to live upon after he dies.”
THAT CANKER'D BOLINGBROKE. WHEN Addison spoke of the Secretary of State at that time, he always called him, in the language of Shakspeare, “That canker'd Bolingbroke:" notwithstanding this, Addison assured Pope he did not bring his tragedy on the stage with any party views; nay, desired Pope to carry the piece to the Lords Oxford and Bolingbroke for their perusal. The play, however, was always considered as a warning to the people, that liberty was in danger during that Tory ministry.
COLLEY CIBBER'S ACCOUNT OF CATO. “ From this time to the year 1712,” says Cibber, “my memory has nothing worth mentioning, till the first acting of the tragedy of Cato. As its success was attended with remarkable consequences, it may not be amiss to trace it, from its several years' concealment in the closet, to the stage.
“In 1703, nine years before it was acted, I had the pleasure of reading the four first acts (which was all of it then written) privately with Sir Richard Steele: it
be need. less to say, it was impossible to lay them out of my hand till I had gone through them; or to dwell upon the delight his friendship to the author received, upon my being so warmly pleased by them. But my satisfaction was as highly disappointed when he told me, whatever spirit Mr. Addison had shown in his writing it, he doubted he would never have courage enough to let his Cato stand the censure of an English audience; that it had only been the amusement of his leisure hours in Italy, and was never intended for the stage. This poetical diffidence Sir Richard spoke of with some concern, and in the transport of his imagination could not help
'Pope says, this was a pungent allusion to the attempt which Marl. borough made, not long before his fall, to obtain a patent creating him Captain-general for life.