Article 13

ART. XIII. Essays, Biographical, Critical and Historical, illustrative of the Tatler, Spectator, Guardian, Rambler, Adventurer and Idler, and of the various Periodical Papers, which, in Imitation of the Writings of Steele and Addison, have been published between the Close of the Eighth of the Spectator, and the Commencement of the Year 1809. By Nathan Drake, M. D. Author of Literary Hours. In Four Volumes. 8vo. London. Suttaby.

[pp. 398-405] [original article in PDF format]

  1. PERIODICAL papers devoted to elegant literature and popular instruction, exhibiting pictures of the manners of the age, constitute a species of literary composition, which with pride and fondness we pronounce to have originated in this country. Our author ascribes the honour of the invention to Steele; with him however it seems to have been nothing more than one of [398] those fanciful projects which he easily embraced and easily relinquished. The invention seems more fairly due to Addison, who having amassed materials with the assiduity of a student, came prepared to rescue periodical composition from the dregs of politics and polemics—and to give a new direction to the national taste.

  2. Dr. Drake opens his work by an essay which describes the state of literature and manners in this island, at the commencement of the Tatler. There was a theatre, which inculcated debauchery as a duty, and immorality as a grace; men of the highest rank indulged in amusements which are now confined to the lowest; women were either the frivolous idols of the toilette, or the solemn drudges of the house-keeper's room. Science, which had felt some encouragement from the gayety of Charles, was neglected by the phlegmatic William, and ridiculed in the first years of Anne; and it was not wonderful that our women could not spell, when it may be said that our men had not yet learnt to read.

  3. The popular effects produced by these papers is unequalled in the history of literature. They made us a people of readers, of thinkers, and of writers, and they gave a new direction to the literature of Europe. Dr. Drake has produced some striking evidence of their influence from two interesting contemporary pamphlets.

    'Every morning their readers were instructed in some new principle of duty, which was endeared to them by the beauties of description, and impressed on their minds in the most indelible characters.'------'All the pulpit discourses of a year scarce produced half the good as flowed from the Spectator of a day.'------'These writings here set all our wits and men of letters upon a new way of thinking, of which they but had little or no notion before—Every one of them writes and thinks much more justly than they did some time since.'

  4. Some facts, however, relative to this period, have escaped his industry. Budgell declares that 20,000 of the Spectators have been sold in one day: they penetrated even to the highlands, and were read with the news of the week, by the grave politicians who met after church on Sundays, to arrange national affairs. They were soon imitated, and their very titles copied, throughout Europe. The lethargic Hollander awoke to a Spectator by Van Effen; the French had their Babillard; and the Germans their Guardian. This last, printed at Hamburgh, found a heavy sale, till the writers inserted translations of the English Spectators, when the demand for it rapidly and [399] widely increased. At that time, it was a tribute paid to wit, somewhat unexpected from Germany.

  5. The bold feature in 'this new manner of writing,' as it was called, is the dramatic plan which Addison adopted with all the felicity of genius, and which has become the despair of his imitators! By the invention of a dramatis personae, of opposite humours and pursuits, as in the club of the Spectator, and the feigned characters of his correspondents, he poured all the colours of life into this moving scene. These personages served as vehicles for exhibiting the domestic manners of the nation, at a time when there was a decisive originality among our countrymen, now so equalised and flattened by artificial uniformity. As some of his foreign imitators copied this invention, they exhibit an interesting contrast of national manners. In the Spectator of Miravaux, for instance, we find the portraits of his Parisians; the lively Frenchman plays with their levities, but weeps over their serious distresses. The letter of a father on the ingratitude of his son, is an eloquent appeal to the feelings; while with equal power and pathos, he describes the tyranny of patrons, the torments of avarice, and the perfidy of friends, by those incidents and touches of character which he discovered in his own country. In the Spectator of Van Effen, the manners and feelings of the Hollanders are given like copies after life, by Heemskirk. The members of his literary club share the ponderous gravity of the natives, while the boorish pride of the monied Dutchman is at once the coarsest and the truest of portraits. Van Effen has given a voluminous love-story; but in a country where that romantic passion does not appear above once in a century, with more truth than taste. His Laura is a maid-servant, his Petrarch a carpenter of Amsterdam. The first interview takes place as she stands on the steps of her door, holding one of those stoves of lighted turf which the women carry to warm themselves: the youth, who has long watched for the auspicious moment, requests to light his pipe at her stove—but as every puff closes with a sigh, the pipe of love is to be perpetually renewed. The dialogue is artless: the Dutch maid is coy, and even coquettish: the boor delicate—at a certain period of the history, he actually exhibits somewhat like a symptom of despair!

  6. That the lucubrations of Addison had such an influence on the popular writings of foreigners, is a fact which seems to have escaped notice: Dr. Drake does not allude to it, though he gives accounts of foreign works, which preceded Addison, with [400] some congeniality of character. Such are the 'Cortigiano' of Castilione, and the 'Galateo' of De la Casa; the former, which the Italians emphatically term 'the golden book,' displays the politeness which reigned among the higher ranks of society during the sixteenth century; the latter was the domestic code of civility throughout Europe, and contains the art of living in the world, addressed to all ranks of society.

  7. The character of Steele branches, under the fertile pen of our author, into six essays, including his biography—his style—his taste and critical abilities—his invention, imagery, and pathos—his humour and delineation of character—his ethics and morality. These are treated with considerable ingenuity, and with that nice discrimination of the characteristics of an author, in which Dr. Drake is so expert.

  8. The life of STEELE is not that of a retired scholar; hence his moral character becomes more instructive. He was one of those whose hearts are the dupes of their imaginations, and who are hurried through life by the most despotic volition. He always preferred his caprices to his interests; or, according to his own notion, very ingenious, but not a little absurd—'he was always of the humour of preferring the state of his mind to that of his fortune.' The first act of his life developes the succeeding ones. His uncle could not endure a hero for his heir: but Steele had seen a marching regiment—he therefore enlisted as a private in the horse guards, and cocking his hat, and putting on a broad sword, jack boots, and shoulder belt, with the most generous feelings he forfeited a good estate! His frank temper and his wit conciliated esteem, and extorted admiration; the private was raised to an ensign, and the ensign plunged into all the dissipations of the town. But genius is often pensive amidst its orgies. It was in the height of these irregularities that he composed his 'Christian Hero,' a moral and religious treatise, which the contritions of every morning dictated, and to which the disorders of every evening added another penitential page. He was, at once, a man of the town and a censor; and he wrote lively essays on the follies of the day in an enormous black peruke which cost him fifty guineas! He built an elegant villa, but, as he was always inculcating economy, he called it a hovel: he detected the fallacy of the South Sea scheme, while he himself invented projects, neither inferior in magnificence nor in misery. Yet, gifted at all times with the susceptibility of genius, he exercised the finest feelings of the heart: the same generous sentiments which deluded his judgment and [401] invigorated his passions, rendered him a tender and pathetic dramatist; a most fertile essayist; a patriot without private views; an enemy, whose resentment died away in raillery; and a friend, who could warmly press the hand that wounded him. Whether in administration, or expelled the house—whether affluent, or flying from his creditors—in the fullness of his heart he perhaps secured his own happiness. But such men live only for themselves; they are not links in the golden chain of society. In the waste of his splendid talents he had raised sudden enmities, and transient friendships: the world uses such men as Eastern Travellers do Fountains; they drink their waters, and think of them no more! Steele lived to be forgotten. He opened his career with folly; he hurried through it in a tumult of existence; and he closed it by an involuntary exile, amidst the wrecks of his fortune and his mind!

  9. His writings are often careless, and rarely graceful. His literary excellence consists in his delineation of character. He copies life with all the faithfulness of a Flemish painter; and if, contrasted with Addison, he be found without the softness of his colouring, and the delicacy of his pencilling, it cannot be denied that he is more versatile and vigorous, and the most original sketcher after life of the early part of the last century. His portraits, like those of Lely, preserve the likenesses of our ancestors; but not being formed on the general and permanent principles of art, he is more a painter of fashions than of nature.

  10. The character and writings of Addison occupy six essays, in the manner of the preceding ones on Steele; among these are introduced some curious dissertations; one on the progress of English style, divided into three periods, the first from the middle of Elizabeth's reign to the Restoration, the second from the Restoration to the accession of Queen Anne, and the third from this last era, to the year 1714, when Addison published his best productions. In another dissertation, our author inquires into the introduction of Eastern imagery amongst us, and has collected much interesting matter on the subject, with sufficient erudition for that class of readers which he addresses.

  11. The fourth volume opens with an enumeration of periodical papers from the publication of the Tatler to the commencement of the Rambler; these consist of no less than eighty, forming an aggregate of near three hundred volumes, whose existence is scarcely suspected. Yet even this ample catalogue [402] is incomplete: we possess more than one paper, not inserted in the list. These works, worthless as a whole, continue however the view of the progress of polite literature, and domestic manners, to the days of Johnson. They contain many thousand essays; and if some of our literary Idlers, with that kind of good-humoured patience which they sometimes so admirably exert, would put them into their crucibles, they might extract from these mountains of sand, a few grains of gold.

  12. The taste for periodical publications became so general that every literary adventurer considered himself entitled to lay his fugitive leaf on the breakfast-table. It was also imagined that every possible subject was equally adapted to the purposes of the Essayist; and consequently we find such titles as 'The Mercator,' 'The British Merchant,' &c. nay the town was, for some mornings, addressed by the humble authors of 'The Weaver' and 'The Manufacturer,' in consequence of a controversy between the dealers in the woollen and calico manufactures.

  13. From the copious list of papers before us, we shall select a few distinguished for their literary cast. The Lay Monastery was the united labour of Sir Richard Blackmore and Hughes the poet. Our author gives a specimen from a parallel between poetry and painting, drawn up, as he says, by Sir Richard; but so elegant and ingenious that the writer of it may at least be doubted.

  14. The Free-Thinker was published by Ambrose Phillips, powerfully aided by Boulter, Archbishop of Armagh; Pearce, Bishop of Rochester; West, Lord Chancellor of Ireland, and many of the first scholars of the age. It abounds with elegant fictions which display a happy combination of fancy and precept.

  15. Terrae Filius was a Saturnalian effusion; a witty but intemperate satire on the manners and politics of Oxford. The portraits have an extravagant kind of likeness, and are so false and yet so true, that they provoked their originals to expel the writer. This was Nicholas Amhurst, the political adventurer, who so long conducted 'the Craftsman.' The life of this man may 'point a moral:' Though guilty of the grossest irregularities, he affected an outrageous zeal for popular reformation: Yet this grand reformer of the age bowed to all the drudgery of a faction, who neglected the instrument of their profligate purposes, and flung him off to perish. Amhurst died broken-hearted, and owed the charity of a grave to his bookseller. [403]

  16. The Plain Dealer was written by Aaron Hill and a Mr. Bond, of whom it is recorded that 'the character of the work was observed regularly to rise in Mr. Hill's papers and fall in Mr. Bond's.' Literary partners are subject to mortifications.

  17. Memoirs of the Society of Grub-street, is one of the most curious of these works: it is a kind of minor chronicle of our literature. In a fine vein of irony it attacks the heroes of the Dunciad, and tells some secrets of their obscure quarrels. The assumed names of Bavius and Mævius concealed Dr. Richard Russel, and Dr. John Martyn professor of botany at Cambridge, physicians eminent for their publications.

  18. Common Sense, though chiefly a political paper, was supported by some characters in the fashionable and learned world. Chesterfield and Lyttleton contributed essays on topics of more permanent interest than politics.

  19. The Champion, by Henry Fielding.—A great portion of it is employed on the follies, vices, amusements, and literature of that age; and the remainder is occupied by political wit and discussion. To every paper is annexed what is termed 'an index to the times,' consisting of news, miscellaneous and political, frequently charged with the most sarcastic irony. In the critical department are to be found many ingenious dissertations on literary subjects.

  20. We close the list with Eliza Haywood's Female Spectator, and another paper from the same quarter, entitled The Parrot. The former was very popular in its day, and seems to have claims still on that class of readers to which it is addressed. From the Parrot, which only consists of nine papers, Dr. Drake gives some interesting extracts. This weekly publication appeared during the time of the execution of the chiefs of the rebellion, in 1746. We find in it the story of James Dawson, on which Shenstone's simple and pathetic ballad is founded: The poet has literally copied the closing and affecting circumstance, of

    'The maid drew back her languid head,
    And sighing forth his name expired!'

    He could add nothing to the truth of nature and the truth of fact.

  21. Dr. Drake, in his 'life of Johnson,' has judiciously altered his arrangement. He had no novelties to reanimate his exhausted biography, and has therefore contrived to make it as a frame for his literary canvass. The plan is at once [404] novel and useful; the scattered outlines of his former chronological criticisms, here drawn together, are worked up with all their light and shade into a more perfect design; and the colouring and pencil of our industrious artist have produced, on the whole, a highly finished picture of the genius of the last age.

  22. Dr. Drake has fancifully compared our periodical writers with the great painters: such criticism, if it does not invigorate the understanding, refreshes the imagination, and the ingenious reader may interest his taste and his feelings in discovering the analogies.

    'In Addison we discern the amenity and ideal grace of Raphael; in Johnson, the strengthened energy of Michael Angelo; in Hawkesworth, the rich colouring and warmth of Titian; the legerity and frolic elegance of Albani in the productions of Moore, Thornton, and Colman; the pathetic sweetness of Guido in the draughts of Mackenzie; and the fertility and harmonious colouring of Annibale Carracci, in the vivid sketches of Cumberland.'

  23. On the whole we have been agreeably entertained with Dr. Drake; and shall be pleased to receive the promised volume, which is to furnish us with the literary lives of Dr. Hawkesworth and his fellow-labourer; and to close with the more delicate task of criticising the periodical papers of the present period.