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was a man in whose presence nothing reprehensible was out of danger; quick in discerning whatever was wrong or ridiculous, and not unwilling to expose it. “ There are,” says Steele, “ in his writings many oblique strokes upon some of the wittiest men of the age.” His delight was more to excite merriment than detestation; and be detects follies rather than crimes.
If any judgment be made, from his books, of his moral character, nothing will be found but purity and excellence. Knowledge of mankind, indeed, less extensive than that of Addison, will show, that to write, and to live, are very different. Many who praise virtue, do no more than praise it. Yet it is reasonable to believe that Addison's professions and practice were at no great variance, since amidst that storm of faction in which most of his life was passed, though his station made him conspicuous, and his activity made him formidable, the character given him by his friends was never contradicted by his enemies: of those, with whom interest or opinion united him, he had not only the esteem, but the kindness; and of others, whom the violence of opposition drove against him, though he might lose the love, he retained the reverence.
It is justly observed by Tickell, that he employed wit on the side of virtue and religion. He not only made the proper use of wit himself, but taught it to others; and from his time it has been generally subservient to the cause of reason and of truth. He has dissipated the prejudice that had long connected gaiety with vice, and easiness of manners with laxity of principles. He has restored virtue to its dignity, and taught innocence not to be ashamed. This is an elevation of literary character, . above all Greek, above all Roman fame.' No greater felicity can genius attain, than that of having purified intellectual pleasure, separated mirth from indecency, and wit
from licentiousness; of having taught a succession of writers to bring elegance and gaiety to the aid of goodness; and, if I may use expressions yet more awful, of having "turned many to righteousness.”
Addison, in his life, and for some time afterwards, was considered by a great part of readers as supremely excelling both in poetry and criticism. Part of his reputation may be probably ascribed to the advancement of his fortune; when, as Swift observes, he became a statesman, and saw poets waiting at his levee, it was no wonder that praise was accumulated upon him. Much likewise may be more honourably ascribed to his personal character: he who, if he had claimed it, might have obtained the diadem, was not likely to be denied the laurel.
But time quickly puts an end to artificial and accidental fame; and Addison is to pass through futurity protected only by his genius. Every name which kindness or interest once raised too high is in danger, lest the next age should, by the vengeance of criticism, sink it in the same proportion. A great writer has lately styled him “ an indifferent poet, and a worse critic."
His poetry is first to be considered; of which it must be confessed that it has not often those felicities of diction which give lustre to sentiments, or that vigour of sentiment that animates diction: there is little of ardour, vehemence, or transport; there is very rarely the awfulness of grandeur, and not very often the splendour of elegance. He thinks justly; but he thinks faintly. This is his general character; to which, doubtless, many single passages will furnish exception.
Yet, if he seldom reaches supreme excellence, he rarely sinks into dulness, and is still more rarely entangled in absurdity. He did not trust his powers enough to be negligent. There is in most of his compositions a calmness and equability, deliberate
and cautious, sometimes with little that delights, but seldom with any thing that offends.
Of this kind seem to be his poems to Dryden, to Somers, and to the King. His Ode on St. Cecilia has been imitated by Pope, and has something in it of Dryden's vigour. Of his Account of the English Poets, he used to speak as a poor thing 22;" but it is not worse than his usual strain. He has said, not very judiciously, in his character of Waller,
• Thy verse could show even Cromwell's innocence;
How had his triumph glitter'd in thy page!'
The · Letter from Italy' has been always praised, but has never been praised beyond its merit. It is more correct, with less appearance of labour, and more elegant, with less ambition of ornament, than any other of his poems. There is, however, one broken metaphor, of which notice may properly be taken:
· Fired with that name
That longs to launch into a nobler strain.' To bridle a goddess is no very delicate idea; but why must she be bridled? because she longs to launch; an act which was never bindered by a bridle: and whither will she launch? into a nobler strain. She is in the first line a horse, in the second a boat; and the care of the poet is to keep his horse or his boat from singing
The next composition is the far-famed “ Campaign,” which Dr. Warton has termed a
in Rhyme," with harshness not often used by the good nature of his criticism. Before a censure so severe is admitted, let us consider that War is a frequent subject of Poetry, and then inquire who has described it with more justness and force. Many of our own writers tried their powers upon this year of victory: yet Addison's confessedly the best performance; his poem is the work of a man not blinded by the dust of learning; his images are not borrowed merely from books. The superiority which he confers upon his hero is not personal prowess, and
mighty bone,” but deliberate intrepidity, a calm command of bis passions, and the power of consulting his own mind in the midst of danger. The rejection and contempt of fiction is rational and manly.
It may be observed that the last line is imitated by Pope:
Marlborough's exploits appear divinely brightRaised of themselves their genuine charms they boast,
And those that paint them truest, praise them most.' This Pope had in his thoughts; but, not knowing how to use what was not his own, he spoiled the thought when he had borrowed it:
The well-sung woes shall soothe my pensive ghost;
He best can paint them who shall feel them most. Martial exploits may be painted ; perhaps woes may be painted; but they are surely not painted by being well sung: it is not easy to paint in song, or to sing in colours.
No passage in the Campaign' has been more often mentioned than the simile of the angel, which is said in the Tatler to be “ one of the noblest thoughts that ever entered into the heart of man,” and is therefore worthy of attentive consideration. Let it be first inquired whether it be a simile. A poetical simile is the discovery of likeness between two actions, in their general nature dissimilar, or of causes terminating by different operations in some resemblance of effect. But the mention of another like consequence from a like cause, or of a like performance by a like agency, is not a simile, but an exemplification. It is not a simile to say that the Thames waters fields, as the Po waters fields; or that as Hecla vomits flames in Iceland, so Ætna vomits flames in Sicily. When Horace says of Pindar, that he pours his violence and rapidity of verse, as a river swoln with rain rushes from the mountain; or of himself, that his genius wanders in quest of poetical decorations, as the bee wanders to collect honey; he, in either case, produces a simile; the mind is impressed with the resemblance of things generally unlike, as unlike as intellect and body, But if Pindar had been described as writing with the copiousness and grandeur of Homer, or Horace had told that he reviewed and finished his own poetry with the same care as Isocrates polished his orations, instead of similitude, he would have exhibited almost identity; he would have given the same portraits with different names. In the poem now examined, when the. English are represented as gaining a fortified pass, by repetition of attack, and perseverance of resolution ; their obstinacy of courage and vigour of onset is well illustrated by the sea that breaks, with incessant battery, the dikes of Holland. This is a simile: but when Addison, having celebrated the beauty of Marlborough’s person, tells us, that “ Achilles thus was formed with every grace,' here is no simile, but a mere exemplification. A simile may be compared to lines converging at a point, and is more excellent as the lines approach from greater distance: an exemplification may be considered as two parallel lines, which run on together without approximation, never far separated, and never joined.