Графични страници
PDF файл


of the Great Rebellion that the change in woman's position really dates. The new dignity given to her by the self-restraint which Puritanism imposed on human life, by the spiritual rank which she shared equally with husband or son as one of the elect of God,' by the deepening and concentration of the affections within the circle of the home, which was one of the results of its withdrawal of the 'godly' from the general converse and amusements of the outer world, told quickly on the social position of

And it told as quickly on her relations to literature. It is now that, shyly and sporadically, and sometimes under odd forms, we hear of women as writers ; of the Duchess of Newcastle, of Aphra Behn, of Mrs. Hutchinson. And it is now for the first time that we hear of women, not exceptional women such as Lady Jane Grey, but common English mothers and English maidens, as furnishing a new world of readers. In groups such as Richardson sketches for us literature finds a new world opening before it, a world not of men only but of women, of wives and daughters as well as husbands and sons, a world not of the street or the study but of the home.

It is in this new relation of writers to the world of women that we find the key to the Essayists. It was because these little circles of mothers and girls were quickened by a new curiosity, by a new interest in the world about them, because readers of this new sort were eager to read, that we find ourselves in

presence of a new literature, of a literature more really popular than England had ever seen, a literature not only of the street, the pulpit, the tavern, and the stage, but which had penetrated within the very precincts of the home. Steele has the merit of having been the first to feel the new intellectual cravings of his day and to furnish what proved to be the means of meeting them. His ‘Tatler' was a periodical of pamphlet form, in which news was to be varied by short essays of criticism and gossip. But his grasp of the new literature was a feeble grasp. His sense of the fitting form for it, of its fitting tone, of the range and choice of its subjects, were alike inadequate. He seized indeed by a happy instinct on letter-writing and conversation as the two moulds to which the Essay must adapt itself; he seized with the same happy instinct on humour as the pervading temper of his work and on 'manners' as its destined sphere. But his notion of manners' was limited not only to the external aspects of life and society, but to those aspects as they present themselves in towns; while his humour remained pert and superficial. The 'Tatler,' however, had hardly been started when it was taken in hand by a greater than Steele. It was raised,' as he frankly confessed, 'to a greater thing than I intended,' by the co-operation of Joseph Addison. As men smiled over the humours of Tom Folio and the Political Upholsterer, over the proceedings of the Court of Honour or the Adventures of a Shilling, they recognized the promise of a deeper

[ocr errors]

and subtler vein of social observation and portraiture than any English prose writer had ever shewn before. And the promise was soon fulfilled. The life of the "Tatler' lasted through the years 1709 and 1710; the two next years saw it surpassed by the Essays of the

Spectator,' and this was followed in 1713 by the Guardian,' in 1714 by a fresh series of 'Spectators, in 1715 by the 'Freeholder.' In all these successive periodicals what was really vital and important was the work of Addison. Addison grasped the idea of popularizing knowledge as frankly as Steele. He addressed as directly the new world of the home. It was said of Socrates,' he tells us, “that he brought philosophy down from heaven to inhabit among men ; and I shall be ambitious to have it said of me that I have brought philosophy out of closets and libraries, schools and colleges, to dwell in clubs and assemblies, at tea-tables and in coffee-houses. I would therefore, he ends with a smile, 'recommend these my speculations to all well-regulated assemblies that set apart one hour in every morning for tea and bread and butter, and would heartily advise them for their good to order this paper to be punctually served up, and to be looked upon as part of the tea-equipage.' But in Addison's hands this popular writing became a part of literature. While it preserved the free movement of the letter-writer, the gaiety and briskness of chat, it obeyed the laws of literary art, and was shaped and guided by a sense of literary beauty. Its humour too became a subtler and more exquisite

thing. Instead of the mere wit of the coffee-house, men found themselves smiling with a humourist who came nearer than any man before or since to the humour of Shakspere.

It was thus that Addison became the typical representative of the revolution which passed in his day over English literature. His life and temper indeed equally fitted him to represent it. The training of his very boyhood had linked the sense of literature with the pieties of a home. Addison was the son of a country parson, who in later years came to be an archdeacon and a dean, but whose earlier career had been a chequered and eventful one, who had wandered as a minister of the fallen Church of England from country-house to country-house at the close of the Rebellion, had been chaplain to the garrison of Dunkirk and chaplain to the garrison of Tangier, and had only returned after years of this banishment among Flammands and Moors to a quiet parsonage in England. Throughout his life something of this old home-atmosphere of the parsonage lingers about Addison; though he refuses to take orders and enlists among the wits, he never loses hold of the pieties of his early training ; his instinctive love and reverence is for things that are pure and honest and of good report ; he preaches all the more simply and naturally for the not being 'strangled in his bands.' His freedom from the bigotry and narrowness of view which so commonly go with the virtues of such a home may have been partly due to the wider experi

ence of men and religions which his father had gained from a career among Papists and Mussulmans ; as his literary tendencies must have dated from the boyish years in which he saw Dr. Lancelot intent on his works about the religion of Barbary or the learning of the Hebrews. A love of letters and of religion such as he carried with him from his father's parsonage to Oxford might easily-as Oxford was then -have begotten but a pedant and a bigot. But ten years of Oxford life left Addison free whether from pedantry or from bigotry. At the moment, indeed, when he became a student at the University, the very loyalty to the Church which he had brought with him swayed him to a love of political and religious liberty with which the Church had commonly little sympathy. He entered at Queen's when Oxford was for once in opposition to the Crown, when the Church was in fact waging a war for existence with the tyranny of James the Second ; and his years as a demy of Magdalen were years during which Magdalen was still proud of the stand she had made against the worst of the Stuart kings. He became, as one who had seen such a struggle could hardly help becoming, a devoted adherent of the Revolution; and he remained an adherent of it to the last. But firm as was his Whiggism, it had nothing in common with the faction and violence which disgraced the political temper of the time. While men were wrangling and intriguing and denouncing and betraying one another through the ten years that followed 1688, Addison

« ПредишнаНапред »