« ПредишнаНапред »
rather than literary. As an actual criticism of literature this work has become dead to us; no one of our day, I suppose, ever got help towards a right judgment of Chevy Chase or Paradise Lost from Addison's essays on them.
In this little book therefore I have given no selections from Addison's political or critical essays, even though this rule forced me to omit such an exquisite bit of writing as his character of Lord Somers. My aim has been to give what was still living in his work, and, whatever their interest may be to readers of tastes like my own, I feel that to the bulk of readers his politics and his criticisms are dead. And for the same reason, but at still greater risk of censure, I have given none of his moral or theological essays. It is not that I share the common scorn of the morality or theology of the last century, nor that I am blind to the peculiar interest of Addison's position, or of the work which he did. As the first of our laypreachers, Addison marks the expansion of a thirst for moral and religious improvement beyond the circle of the clergy. He is thus the ancestor of Howard and Wilberforce, as he is the ancestor of Mr. Matthew Arnold. For a whole century the Spectator had greater weight on moral and religious opinions than all the charges of the bishops. And on the moral side, at least, it deserved to have such a weight. Addison was not only a moralist : he had what so few have had in the world's history, an enthusiasm for conduct. “The great aim of these my
speculations,' he says emphatically, 'is to banish vice and ignorance out of the territories of Great Britain.' It was this enthusiasm for morality which enabled him to discern, to sympathize with, to give shape to, the moral energy of his day. We hear sometimes that the last century is 'repulsive': but what is it that repells us in it? Is it the age itself, or the picture of itself which the age so fearlessly presents? There is no historic ground for thinking the eighteenth century a coarser or a more brutal age than the centuries that had gone before ; rather there is ground for thinking it a less coarse and a less brutal age. The features which repel us in it are no features of its own production. There were brutalized colliers at Ringwood before Wesley; there were brutal squires before Western; there were brutal mobs before the Gordon riots. Vile as our prisons were when Howard visited them, they were yet viler in the days of Elizabeth. Parliamentary corruption was a child of the Restoration ; the immorality of the upper classes was as great under the Tudors as under the Georges. What makes the Georgian age seem repulsive is simply that it is the first age which felt these evils to be evils, which dragged them, in its effort to amend them, into the light of day. It is in fact the moral effort of the time which makes it seem so immoral. Till now social evil had passed unnoted, uncensured, because, save by the directly religious world, it was unfelt. It was a sudden and general zeal for better things which made the eighteenth century note,
describe, satirize the evil of society. Then, as now, the bulk of Englishmen were honest and rightminded. "Between the mud at the bottom and the scum of its surface,' says Mons. Taine fairly enough, rolled on the great current of the national life.' Widely as it had parted from the theological and political doctrines of Puritanism, the moral conceptions of Puritanism lived on in the nation at large. The popular book of the upper and middle classes, the book that was in every lady's closet, was 'The whole Duty of Man.' But then, for the first time, this moral temper of the individual Englishman quickened into a passion for moral reform in the whole structure of English society. The moral preaching which bores the reader of to-day was the popular literature of the eighteenth century. Not only can the essayist make conduct the groundwork of his essays, but the novelist takes it as the groundwork of his novels, the play-wright as the basis of his plays. The Beggar's Opera, in which Gay quizzes political corruption, is played amidst thunders of applause. Everybody reads Pope's Satires. Whatever in fact men put their hands to takes somehow this shape of moral reform. • Give us some models of letters for servant maids to write to their homes,' said the publishers to Richardson; and Richardson, honestly striving to produce a Complete Letter-writer, gave them Pamela
What Addison did for this general impulse was to give it guidance, to stamp it with a larger, a more
liberal, a more harmonious character, than it might otherwise have had. While Puritanism aimed at the culture of the best,' the Essayists aimed at the culture of all. Puritanism again had concentrated itself on the development of the religious side of man, as the Renascence had spent itself on the development of his intellectual, his artistic, his physical side. But what Addison aimed at was the development of man as a whole. He would have had men love God as Cromwell loved him, and freedom better than Cromwell loved it, but he would have had liberty and religion associate themselves with all that was human; he would have had no 'horse-play' at the signing of the king's death-warrant. And it is only fair to remember that what he aimed at, he in no small measure actually brought about.
The men who sneered in our fathers' day at the preaching of the Essayists were the men whom that preaching had formed. Formal and external as the moral drill of the eighteenth century seems to us, it wrought a revolution in social manners. We smile perhaps at the minuteness of the drill, as when Chesterfield bids his son never pare his nails in society ; but even in these minute matters it has succeeded. And its success is just as great in the greater matters. It is no small triumph to have dissociated learning from pedantry, courage from the quarrelsomeness of the bravo; to have got rid of the brutalities and brutal pleasures of that older life, of its 'grinning matches' and bull-baitings, its drunkenness and oaths, its
rakes and its mohawks ; to have no more Parson Trullibers, to have superseded the Squire Westerns by the Squire Allworthys, and to have made Lovelace impossible. No doubt a thousand influences had been telling on English society through these hundred years to produce such a change as this ; but Addison was certainly one of these influences, and he was not the one that told least, for through the whole of those years men and women alike were reading and smiling, and chatting and thinking, over the Essays of the Spectator. And yet, as I have said, I cannot feel that there is anything living, anything that really helps or interests us to-day, in the speculations. of Addison. His religion is not our religion, for it starts from assumptions which we cannot grant; its conceptions, whether of God or man, strike us as inadequate and poor ; its ideal of life has lost its charm. We do not care to be easy here and happy afterwards.' And grateful as we must be to Addison's morality, yet here again we can but feel that his work is dead. It was far from being common-place to men who had left behind them ages in which morals had been lost in theology, and to whom the very notion of conduet was a new and fascinating thing; it has become common
n-place to us just through its very success, through the charm it exercised over men for a hundred years; but still it has become commonplace. Graceful and earnest as such speculations may be, it is hard to read them without a yawn.
When these then have been deducted, when we