Part 9 out of 13
saw that she must go to her friend, but she loved her baby-charge
so much that she could not bear to part from him. He had been a
sickly child, often ill, but that seemed only to make him dearer
to her. She held him in her arms thinking how empty they would
fell without their dear burden. She kissed him, jealous at the
thought that he might learn to know and love another nurse, and
she felt that she could not part with him. Making up her mind
that she would not, she wrapped him up warmly and slipped quietly
from the house carrying the baby in her arms. She then ran
quickly to the boat, crept on board, and was well out on the
Irish Sea before it was discovered that she had stolen little
Jonathan from his mother. Mrs. Swift was poor, Jonathan was not
strong so the fond and daring nurse was allowed by the mother to
keep her little charge until he was nearly four. Thus for three
years little Jonathan lived with his nurse at Whitehaven, growing
strong and brown in the sea air. She looked after him lovingly,
and besides feeding and clothing him, taught him so well that
Swift tells us himself, though it seems a little hard to believe,
that he could spell and could read any chapter in the Bible
before he was three.
After Jonathan's return to Ireland his uncle, Godwin Swift, seems
to have taken charge of him, and when he was six to have sent him
to a good school. His mother, meanwhile, went home to her own
people in England, and although mother and son loved each other
they were little together all through life. At fourteen Godwin
Swift sent his nephew from school to Trinity College, Dublin.
But Swift was by this time old enough to know that he was living
on the charity of his uncle and the knowledge was bitter to his
proud spirit. Instead of spurring him on the knowledge weighed
him down. He became gloomy, idle, and wild. He afterwards said
he was a dunce at college and "was stopped of his degree for
dulness and insufficiency." But although at first the examiners
refused to pass him, he was later, for some reason, given a
special degree, granted by favor rather than gained by desert "in
a manner little to his credit," says bitter Swift. Jonathan gave
his uncle neither love nor thanks for his schooling. "He gave me
the education of a dog," was how he spoke of it years after. Yet
he had been sent to the best school in Ireland and to college
later. But perhaps it was not so much the gift as the manner of
giving which Swift scorned. We cannot tell.
Soon after Jonathan left college he went to live in the house of
Sir William Temple. Temple was a great man in his day. He had
been an Ambassador, the friend of kings and princes, and he
considered himself something of a scholar. To him Swift acted as
a kind of secretary. To a proud man the post of secretary or
chaplain in a great house was, in those days, no happy one. It
was a position something between that of a servant and a friend,
and in it Swift's haughty soul suffered torments. Sir William,
no doubt, meant to be kind, but he was cold and condescending,
and not a little pompous and conceited. Swift's fierce pride was
ready to fancy insults where none were meant, he resented being
"treated like a schoolboy," and during the years he passed in Sir
William's house he gathered a store of bitterness against the
world in his heart.
But in spite of all his miseries real or imaginary, Swift had at
least one pleasure. Among the many people making up the great
household there was a little girl of seven named Esther Johnson.
She was a delicate little girl with large eyes and black hair.
She and Swift soon grew to be friends, and he spent his happiest
hours teaching her to read and write. It is pleasant to think of
the gloomy, untrained genius throwing off his gloom and bending
all his talents to the task of teaching and amusing this little
delicate child of seven.
With intervals between, Swift remained in Sir William's household
for about five years. Here he began to write poetry, but when he
showed his poems to Dryden, who was a distant kinsman, he got
little encouragement. "Cousin Swift," said the great man, "you
will never be a poet." Here was another blow from a hostile
world which Swift could never either forget or forgive.
As the years went on Swift found his position grow more and more
irksome. At last he began to think of entering the Church as a
means of earning an independent livelihood and becoming his own
master. And one day, having a quarrel with Sir William, he left
his house in a passion and went back to Ireland. Here after some
trouble he was made a priest and received a little seaside parish
worth about a hundred pounds a year.
Swift was now his own master, but he found it dull. He had so
few parishioners that it is said he used to go down to the
seashore and skiff stones in order to gather a congregation. For
he thought if the people would not come to hear sermons they
would come at least to stare at the mad clergyman, and for years
he was remembered as the "mad clergyman." And now because he
found his freedom dull, and for various other reasons, when Sir
William asked him to come back he gladly came. This time he was
much happier as a member of Sir William's household than he had
It was now that Swift wrote the two little books which first made
him famous. These were The Battle of the Books and A Tale of a
Tub. The Battle of the Books rose out of a silly quarrel in
which Sir William Temple had taken part as to whether the ancient
or the modern writers were the best. Swift took Temple's side
and wrote to prove that the ancient writers were best. But, as
it has been said, he wrote so cleverly that he proved the
opposite against his will, for nowhere in the writings of the
ancients is there anything so full or humor and satire as The
Battle of the Books.
Swift imagines a real battle to have taken place among the books
in the King's library at St. James's Palace. The books leave the
shelves, some on horseback, some on foot, and armed with sword
and spear throw themselves into the fray, but we are left quite
uncertain as to who gained the victory. This little book is a
satire, and, like all Swift's famous satires, is in prose not in
poetry. In the preface he says, "Satire is a sort of glass,
wherein beholders do generally discover everybody's face but
their own; which is the chief reason for that kind reception it
meets with in the world, and that so very few are offended with
it." It is not a book that you will care to read for a long
time, for to find it interesting you must know both a good deal
about Swift's own times and about the books that fight the
You will not care either for A Tale of a Tub. And yet it is the
book above all others which one must read, and read with
understanding, if one would get even a little knowledge of
Swift's special genius. It was the book, nevertheless, which
more than any other stood in his way in after life.
A Tale of a Tub like The Battle of the Books is a satire, and
Swift wrote it to show up the abuses of the Church. He tells the
story of three brothers, Peter, Martin and Jack. Peter
represents the Roman Catholic, Martin the Anglican, and Jack the
Presbyterian Church. He meant, he says, to turn the laugh only
against Peter and Jack. That may be so, but his treatment of
Martin cannot be called reverent. Indeed, reverence was
impossible to Swift. There is much good to be said of him.
There was a fierce righteousness about his spirit which made him
a better parish priest than many a more pious man. He hated
shams, he hated cant, he hated bondage. "Dr. Swift," it was
said, "hated all fanatics: all fanatics hated Dr. Swift."* But
with all his uprightness and breadth he was neither devout nor
When Sir William Temple died Swift went back to Ireland, and
after a little time he once more received a Church living there.
But here, as before, his parish was very small, so that sometimes
he had only his clerk as congregation. Then he would begin the
service with "Dearly beloved Roger, the Scripture moveth you and
me," instead of "Dearly beloved brethren," as the Prayer Book has
Sir William had left Swift some money; he had also left some to
Esther Johnson, the little girl Swift used to teach. She had
grown into a beautiful and witty woman and now she too, with a
friend, went to Ireland, and for the rest of her life lived there
The strange friendship between these two, between Esther Johnson
and Swift, is one of the puzzles in Swift's life. That they
loved each other, that they were life-long friends, every one
knows. But were they ever married? Were they man and wife?
That question remains unanswered.
Esther is the Persian word for star; Stella the Latin. Swift
called his girl-friend Stella, and as Stella she has become
famous in our literature. For when Swift was away from home he
wrote letters to her which we now have under the name of the
Journal to Stella. Here we see the great man in another light.
Here he is no longer armed with lightning, his pen is no longer
dipped in poison, but in friendly, simple fashion he tells all
that happens to him day by day. He tells what he thinks and what
he feels, where and when he dines, when he gets up, and when he
goes to bed, all the gossiping details interesting to one who
loves us and whom we love. And with it all we get a picture of
the times in which he lived, of the politics of the day, of the
great men he moved among. Swift always addresses both Stella and
her companion Mistress Dingley, and the letters are everywhere
full of tender, childish nonsense. He invented what he called a
"little language," using all sorts of quaint and babyish words
and strange strings of capital letters, M. D., for instance,
meaning my dears, M. E., Madam Elderly, or D. D., Dear Dingley,
and so on. Throughout, too, we come on little bits of doggerel
rimes, bad puns, simple jokes, mixed up with scraps of politics,
with threatenings of war, with party quarrels, with all kinds of
stray fragments of news which bring the life of the times vividly
before us. The letters were never meant for any one but Stella
and Mistress Dingley to see, and sometimes when we are reading
the affectionate nonsense we feel as if no one ought to have seen
it but these two. And yet it gives us one whole side of Swift
that we should never have known but for it. It is not easy to
give an idea of this book, it must be read to be understood, but
I will give you a few extracts from it:--
"Pshaw, I must be writing to those dear saucy brats every night,
whether I will or no, let me have what business I will, or come
home ever so late, or be ever so sleepy; but an old saying and a
'Be you lords, or be you earls,
You must write to saucy girls.'
"I was to-day at Court and saw Raymond among the beefeaters,
staying to see the Queen; so I put him in a better station, made
two or three dozen of bows, and went to Church, and then to Court
again to pick up a dinner, as I did with Sir John Stanley, and
then we went to visit Lord Mountjoy, and just now left him, and
'tis near eleven at night, young women."
"The Queen was abroad to-day in order to hunt, but finding it
disposed to rain she kept in her coach; she hunts in a chaise
with one horse, which she drives herself, and drives furiously,
like Jehu, and is a mighty hunter, like Nimrod. Dingley has
heard of Nimrod, but not Stella, for it is in the Bible. . . .
The Queen and I were going to take the air this afternoon, but
not together: and were both hindered by a sudden rain. Her
coaches and chaises all went back, and the guards too; and I
scoured into the marketplace for shelter."
Another day he writes:--
"Pish, sirrahs, put a date always at the bottom of your letter,
as well as the top, that I may know when you send it; your last
is of November 3, yet I had others at the same time, written a
fortnight after. . . . Pray let us have no more bussiness,
busyness. Take me if I know how to spell it! Your wrong
spelling, Madam Stella, has put me out: it does not look right;
let me see, bussiness, busyness, business, bisyness, bisness,
bysness; faith, I known not which is right, I think the second; I
believe I never writ the word in my life before; yes, sure I
must, though; business, busyness, bisyness.-- I have perplexed
myself, and can't do it. Prithee ask Walls. Business, I fancy
that's right. Yes it is; I looked in my own pamphlet, and found
it twice in ten lines, to convince you that I never writ it
before. O, now I see it as plain as can be; so yours is only an
s too much."
Chapter LXIV SWIFT--"GULLIVER'S TRAVELS"
DURING the years in which Swift found time to write these playful
letters to Stella he was growing into a man of power. Like Defoe
he was a journalist, but one of far more authority. The power of
his pen was such that he was courted by his friends, feared by
his enemies. He threw himself into the struggle of party, first
as a Whig, then as a Tory; but as a friend said of him later, "He
was neither Whig nor Tory, neither Jacobite nor Republican. He
was Dr. Swift."* He was now, he says:--
"Grown old in politicks and wit,
Caress'd by ministers of State,
Of half mankind the dread and hate."*
*Cadenus and Vanessa.
And he felt that he deserved reward for what he had done for his
party. He thought that he should have been made a bishop. But
even in those days, when little thought was given to the fitness
of a man for such a position, the Queen steadily refused to make
the author of A Tale of a Tub a bishop.
Again Swift felt that he was unjustly treated, and even when he
was at length made Dean of St. Patrick's that consoled him
little. He longed for power, and owned that he was never so
happy as when treated like a lord. He longed for wealth, for
"wealth," he said, "is liberty, and liberty is a blessing fittest
for a philosopher." And if Swift was displeased at being made
only a Dean, the Irish people were equally displeased with him as
their Dean. As he rode through the streets of Dublin to take
possession of his Deanery, the people threw stones and mud at him
and hooted him as he passed. The clergy, too, made his work as
Dean as hard as possible. But Swift set himself to conquer them,
and soon he had his own way even in trifles.
We cannot follow Swift through all his political adventures and
writings. In those days the misgovernment of Ireland was
terrible, and Swift, although he loved neither Ireland nor the
Irish, fought for their rights until, from being hated by them,
he became the idol of the people, and those who had thrown mud
and stones now cheered him as he passed. Wherever he went he was
received with honor, his birthday was kept as a day of rejoicing
by Irishmen with gratitude. But even in his hour of triumph
Swift was a lonely and discontented man as we may learn from his
It was now that he published the book upon which his fame most
surely rests--Gulliver's Travels. It is a book which has given
pleasure to numberless people ever since. Yet Swift said
himself: "The chief end I propose to myself in all my labours is
to vex the world rather than divert it, and if I could compass
that design without hurting my own person or fortune, I would be
the most indefatigable writer you have ever seen. . . . I hate
and detest that animal called man, although I heartily love John,
Peter, Thomas, and so forth. . . . Upon this great foundation of
misanthropy, the whole building of my Travels is erected."
But whether Swift at the time vexed the world with Gulliver or
not, ever since he has succeeded in diverting it. Gulliver's
Travels is an allegory and a satire, but there is no need now to
do more than enjoy it as a story.
The story is divided into four parts. In the first Captain
Lemuel Gulliver being wrecked finds himself upon an island where
all the people are so small that he can pick them up in his thumb
and finger, and it requires six hundred of their beds to make one
In the second part Gulliver comes to a country where the people
are giants. They are so large that they in their turn can lift
Gulliver up between thumb and finger.
In the third voyage Gulliver is taken by pirates and at last
lands upon a flying island, and from there he passes on to other
In the fourth his men mutiny and put him ashore on an unknown
land. There he finds that horses are the rulers, and a terrible
kind of degraded human being their slaves and servants.
In the last part the satire is too bitter, the degradation of man
too terribly insisted upon to make it pleasant reading, and
altogether the first two stories are the most interesting.
Here is how Swift tells us of Gulliver's arrival in Lilliput, the
country of the tiny folk. After the shipwreck and a long battle
with the waves he has at length reached land:--
"I lay down on the grass, which was very short and soft, where I
slept sounder than ever I remember to have done in my life, and,
as I reckoned, about nine hours; for when I awaked, it was just
daylight. I attempted to rise, but was not able to stir: for as
I happened to lie on my back, I found my arms and legs were
strongly fastened on each side to the ground; and my hair, which
was long and thick, tied down in the same manner.
"I could only look upwards, the sun began to grow hot, and the
light offended my eyes. I heard a confused noise about me, but
in the posture I lay, could see nothing except the sky. In a
little time I felt something alive moving on my left leg, which
advancing gently forward over my breast, came almost up to my
chin; when bending my eyes downwards as much as I could, I
perceived it to be a human creature not six inches high, with a
bow and arrow in his hands, and a quiver at his back.
"In the meantime, I felt at least fifty more of the same kind (as
I conjectured) following the first. I was in the utmost
astonishment, and roared so loud, that they all ran back in a
fright; and some of them, as I was afterwards told, were hurt
with the falls they got by leaping from my sides upon the ground.
However, they soon returned, and one of them, who ventured so far
as to get a full sight of my face, lifting up his hands and eyes
by way of admiration, cried out in a shrill, but distinct voice,
Hekinah degul: the others repeated the same words several times,
but then I knew not what they meant.
"I lay all this while, as the reader may believe, in great
uneasiness: at length, struggling to get loose, I had the
fortune to break the strings, and wrench out the pegs that
fastened my left arm to the ground; for, by lifting it up to my
face, I discovered the methods they had taken to bind me, and at
the same time with a violent pull, which game me excessive pain,
I a little loosened the strings that tied down my hair on the
left side, so that I was just able to turn my head about two
"But the creatures ran off a second time, before I could seize
them; whereupon there was a great shout in a very shrill accent,
and after it ceased, I heard one of them cry aloud Tolgo phonac;
when in an instant I felt above an hundred arrows discharged on
my left hand, which pricked me like so many needles; and besides,
they shot another flight into the air, as we do bombs in Europe,
whereof many, I suppose, fell on my body (though I felt them not)
and some on my face, which I immediately covered with my left
"When this shower of arrows was over, I fell a-groaning with
grief and pain, and then striving again to get loose, they
discharged another volley larger than the first, and some of them
attempted with spears to stick me in the sides, but, by good
luck, I had on a buff jerkin, which they could not pierce."
Gulliver decided that the best thing he could do was to lie still
until night came and then, having his left hand already loose, he
would soon be able to free himself. However, he did not need to
wait so long, for very soon, by orders of a mannikin, who seemed
to have great authority over the others, his head was set free.
The little man then made a long speech, not a word of which
Gulliver understood, but he replied meekly, showing by signs that
he had no wicked intentions against the tiny folk and that he was
also very hungry.
"The Hurgo (for so they call a great lord, as I afterwards
learnt) understood me very well. He commanded that several
ladders should be applied to my sides, on which above an hundred
of the inhabitants mounted and walked towards my mouth, laden
with baskets full of meat, which had been provided and sent
thither by the King's orders, upon the first intelligence he
received of me. I observed there was the flesh of several
animals, but could not distinguish them by the taste. There were
shoulders, legs, and loins, shaped like those of mutton, and very
well dressed, but smaller than the wings of a lark. I ate them
by two or three at a mouthful, and took three loaves at a time,
about the bigness of musket bullets. They supplied me as fast as
they could, showing a thousand marks of wonder and astonishment
at my bulk and appetite. I then made another sign that I wanted
to drink. They found by my eating, that a small quantity would
not suffice me; and being a most ingenious people, they slung up
with great dexterity one of their largest hogsheads, then rolled
it towards my hand, and beat out the top; I drank it off at a
draught, which I might well do, for it did not hold half a pint,
and tasted like a small wine of Burgundy, but much more
delicious. They brought me a second hogshead, which I drank in
the same manner, and made signs for more, but they had none to
give me. When I had performed these wonders, they shouted for
joy, and danced upon my breast, repeating several times as they
did at first Hekinah degul."
And now having introduced you and Gulliver to the Lilliputians, I
must leave you to hear about his further adventures among them
from the book itself. There you will learn how Gulliver received
his freedom, and how he lived happily among the little people
until at length Swift falls upon the quaint idea of having him
impeached for treason. Gulliver then, hearing of this danger,
escapes, and after a few more adventures arrives at home.
As a contrast to what you have just read you may like to hear of
Gulliver's first adventures in Brobdingnag, the land of giants.
Gulliver had been found by a farmer and carried home. When the
farmer's wife first saw him "she screamed and ran back, as women
in England do at the sight of a toad or a spider." However, when
she saw that he was only a tiny man, she soon grew fond of him.
"It was about twelve at noon, and a servant brought in dinner.
It was only one substantial dish of meat (fit for the plain
condition of a husbandman) in a dish of about four-and-twenty
foot diameter. The company were the farmer and his wife, three
children, and an old grand-mother. When they were sat down, the
farmer placed me at some distance from him on the table, which
was thirty foot high from the floor. I was in a terrible fright,
and kept as far as I could from the edge for fear of falling.
The wife minced a bit of meat, then crumbled some bread on a
trencher, and placed it before me. I made her a low bow, took
out my knife and fork, and fell to eat, which gave them exceeding
delight. The mistress sent her maid for a small dram cup, which
held about two gallons, and filled it with drink. I took up the
vessel with much difficulty in both hands, and in a most
respectful manner drank to her ladyship's health, expressing the
words as loud as I could in English, which made the company laugh
so heartily, that I was almost deafened with the noise. . . .
"In the midst of dinner, my mistress's favourite cat leapt into
her lap. I heard a noise behind me like that of a dozen
stocking-weavers at work; and turning my head, I found it
proceeded from the purring of this animal, who seemed to be three
times larger than an ox, as I computed by the view of her head,
and one of her paws, while her mistress was feeding and stroking
her. The fierceness of this creature's countenance altogether
discomposed me; though I stood at the further end of the table,
above fifty foot off; and although my mistress held her fast for
fear she might give a spring, and seize me in her talons. But it
happened there was no danger; for the cat took not the least
notice of me when my master placed me within three yards of her.
And as I have been always told, and found true by experience in
my travels, that flying, or discovering fear before a fierce
animal, is a certain way to make it pursue or attack you, so I
resolved in this dangerous juncture to show no manner of concern.
I walked with intrepidity five or six times before the very head
of the cat, and came within half a yard of her; whereupon she
drew herself back, as if she were more afraid of me."
When it was published Gulliver's Travels was at once a great
success. Ten days after it appeared, two poets wrote to Swift
that "the whole town, men, women, and children are quite full of
For nearly twenty years longer Swift lived, then sad to say the
life of the man who wrote for us these fascinating tales closed
in gloom without relief. Stella, his life-long friend, died.
That left him forlorn and desolate. Then, as the years passed,
darker and darker gloom settled upon his spirit. Disease crept
over both mind and body, he was tortured by pain, and when at
length the pain left him he sank into torpor. It was not madness
that had come upon him, but a dumb stupor. For more than two
years he lived, but it was a living death. Without memory,
without hope, the great genius had become the voiceless ruin of a
man. But at length a merciful end came. On an October day in
1745 Swift died. He who had torn his own heard with restless
bitterness, who had suffered and caused others to suffer, had at
last found rest.
He was buried at dead of night in his own cathedral and laid by
Stella's side, and over his grave were carved words chosen by
himself which told the wayfarer that Jonathan Swift had gone
"Where savage indignation can no longer tear at his heart. Go,
wayfarer, and imitate, if thou canst, a man who did all a man may
do as a valiant champion of liberty."
BOOKS TO READ
Stories of Gulliver, by J. Lang. Gulliver's Travels. Gulliver's
Travels (Everyman's Library).
NOTE:--These two last are both the same text and are illustrated
by A. Rackham. It is the edition in Temple Classics for Young
People that is recommended, not that in the Temple Classics.
Chapter LXV ADDISON--THE "SPECTATOR"
SWIFT'S wit makes us laugh, but it leaves us on the whole,
perhaps, a little sad. Now we come to a satirist of quite
another spirit whose wit, it has been said, "makes us laugh and
leaves us good and happy."*
Joseph Addison was the son of a Dean. He was born in 1672 in the
quaint little thatched parsonage of Milston, a Wiltshire village,
not far from that strange monument of ancient days, Stonehenge.
When he was old enough Joseph was sent first to schools near his
home, and then a little later to the famous Charterhouse in
London. Of his schooldays we know little, but we can guess, for
one story that has come down to us, that he was a shy, nervous
boy. It is said that once, having done something a little wrong,
he was so afraid of what punishment might follow that he ran
away. He hid in a wood, sleeping in a hollow tree and feeding on
wild berries until he was found and taken home to his parents.
At Charterhouse Joseph met another boy named Dick Steele, and
these two became fast friends although they were very different
from each other. For Dick was merry, noisy, and fun-loving, and
although Joseph loved fun too it was in a quiet, shy way. Dick,
who was a few weeks older than Joseph, was the son of a well-to-
do lawyer. He was born in Ireland, but did not remain there
long. For, as both his father and mother died when he was still
a little boy, he was brought to England to be taken care of by an
From Charterhouse Joseph and Dick both went to Oxford, but to
different Colleges. Dick left the University without taking his
degree and became a soldier, while Joseph stayed many years and
became a man of learning.
Joseph Addison had gone to College with the idea of becoming a
clergyman like his father, but after a time he gave up that idea,
and turned his thoughts to politics. The politicians of the day
were always on the lookout for clever men, who, by their
writings, would help to sway the people to their way of thinking.
Already at college Addison had become known by his Latin poetry,
and three Whig statesmen thought so highly of it that they
offered him a pension of 300 pounds a year to allow him to travel
on the Continent and learn French and so add to his learning as to
be able to help their side by his writing. Addison accepted the
pension and set out on his travels. For four years he wandered
about the Continent, adding to his store of knowledge of men and
books, meeting many of the foremost men of letters of his day.
But long before he returned home his friends had fallen from
power and his pension was stopped. So back in London we find him
cheerfully betaking himself to a poor lodging up three flights of
stairs, hoping for something to turn up.
These were the days of the War of the Spanish Succession and of
the brilliant victories of Marlborough of which you have read in
the history of the time of Anne. Blenheim had been fought. All
England was ringing with the praises of the great General in
prose and verse. But the verse was poor, and it seemed to those
in power that this great victory ought to be celebrated more
worthily, so the Lord Treasurer looked about him for some one who
could sing of it in fitting fashion. The right person, however,
seemed hard to find, and the laureate of the day, an honest
gentleman named Nahum Tate, who could hardly be called a poet,
was quite unable for the task. To help the Lord Treasurer out of
his difficulty one of the great men who had already befriended
Addison suggested him as a suitable writer. And so one morning
Addison was surprised in his little garret by a visit from no
less a person than the Chancellor of the Exchequer.
A shy boy at school, Addison had grown into a shy, retiring man,
and no doubt he was not a little taken aback at a visit from so
great a personage. The Chancellor, however, soon put him at his
ease, told him what he had come about, and begged him to
undertake the work. "In short, the Chancellor said so many
obliging things, and in so graceful a manner, as gave Mr. Addison
the utmost spirit and encouragement to begin that poem, which he
afterwards published and entitled The Campaign."*
*Budgell, Memories of the Boyles.
The poem was a great success, and besides being paid for the
work, Addison received a Government post, so once more life ran
smoothly for him. He had now both money and leisure. His
Government duties left him time to write, and in the next few
years he published a delightful book of his travels, and an
Shy, humorous, courteous, Addison steadily grew popular.
Everything went well with him. "If he had a mind to be chosen
king he would hardly be refused," said Swift. He, however, only
became a member of Parliament. But he was too shy ever to make a
speech, and presently he went to Ireland as Secretary of State.
Swift and Addison already knew each other, and Addison had sent a
copy of his travels to Swift as "to the most agreeable companion,
the truest friend, and the greatest genius of his age." Now in
Ireland they saw much of each other, and although they were, as
Swift himself says, as different as black and white, they became
fast friends. And even later, in those days of bitter party
feeling, when Swift left his own side and became a Tory, though
their friendship cooled, they never became enemies. Swift's
bitter pen was never turned against his old friend. Addison with
all his humor and his satire never attacked any man personally,
so their relations continued friendly and courteous to the end.
In the Journal to Stella we find many entries about this
difficulty between the friends, "Mr. Addison and I are as
different as black and white, and I believe our friendship will
go off by this business of party. But I love him still as much
as ever, though we seldom meet." "All our friendship and
dearness are off. We are civil acquaintance, talk words of
course, of when we shall meet, and that's all. Is it not odd?"
Then later the first bitterness of difference seems to pass, and
Swift tells how he went to Addison's for supper. "We were very
good company, and I yet know no man half so agreeable to me as he
It was while Addison was in Ireland that Richard Steele started a
paper called the Tatler. When Addison found out that it was his
old friend Dick who had started the Tatler he offered to help.
And he helped to such good purpose that Steele says, "I fared
like a distressed prince who calls in a powerful neighbour to his
aid. I was undone by my own auxiliary; when I had once called
him in, I could not subsist without dependence on him."
This was the beginning of a long literary partnership that has
become famous. Never perhaps were two friends more different in
character. Yet, says Steele, long after, speaking of himself and
Addison, "There never was a more strict friendship than between
those gentlemen, nor had they ever any difference but what
proceeded from their different way of pursuing the same thing.
The one with patience, foresight, and temperate address, always
waited and stemmed the torrent; while the other often plunged
himself into it, and was as often taken out by the temper of him
who stood weeping on the brink for his safety, whom he could not
dissuade from leaping into it. . . . When they met they were as
unreserved as boys, and talked of the greatest affairs, upon
which they saw where they differed, without pressing (what they
knew impossible) to convert each other."*
*Steele in the Theatre, 12.
The Tatler, like Defoe's Review, was a leaflet of two or three
pages, published three times a week. The Review and other papers
of the same kind no doubt prepared the way for the Tatler. But
the latter was written with far greater genius, and while the
Review is almost forgotten the Tatler is still remembered and
In the first number Steele announced that:--"All accounts of
gallantry, pleasure and entertainment, shall be under the article
of White's Chocolate-House; Poetry under that of Wills' Coffee-
House; learning under the title of Grecian; foreign and domestic
news you will have from Saint James's Coffee-House; and what else
I have to offer on any other subject shall be dated from my own
The coffee-houses and chocolate-houses were the clubs of the day.
It was there the wits gathered together to talk, just as in the
days of Ben Jonson they gathered at the Mermaid Tavern. And in
these still nearly newspaperless days it was in the coffee-houses
that the latest news, whether of politics or literature or sheer
gossip, was heard and discussed. At one coffee-house chiefly
statesmen and politicians would gather, at another poets and
wits, and so on. So Steele dated each article from the coffee-
house at which the subject of it would most naturally be
Steele meant the Tatler to be a newspaper in which one might find
all the news of the day, but he also meant it to be something
You have heard that, after the Restoration, many of the books
that were written, and plays that were acted, were coarse and
wicked, and the people who read these books and watched these
plays led coarse and wicked lives. And now a rollicking soldier,
noisy, good-hearted Dick Steele, "a rake among scholars, and a
scholar among rakes"* made up his mind to try to make things
better and give people something sweet and clean to read daily.
The Tatler, especially after Addison joined with Steele in
producing it, was a great success. But, as time went on,
although it continued to be a newspaper, gradually more room was
given to fiction than to fact, and to essays on all manner of
subjects than to the news of the day. For Addison is among the
greatest of our essayists. But although these essays were often
meant to teach something, neither Steele nor Addison are always
trying to be moral or enforce a lesson. At times the papers
fairly bubble with fun. One of the best humorous articles in the
Tatler is one in which Addison gives a pretended newly found
story by our friend Sir John Mandeville. It is perhaps as
delightful a lying tale as any that "learned and worthy knight"
ever invented. Here is a part of it:--
"We were separated by a storm in the latitude of 73, insomuch
that only the ship which I was in, with a Dutch and French
vessel, got safe into a creek of Nova Zembla. We landed, in
order to refit our vessels, and store ourselves with provisions.
The crew of each vessel made themselves a cabin of turf and wood,
at some distance from each other, to fence themselves against the
inclemencies of the weather, which was severe beyond imagination.
"We soon observed, that in talking to one another we lost several
of our words, and could not hear one another at above two yards'
distance, and that too when we sat very near the fire. After
much perplexity, I found that our words froze in the air before
they could reach the ears of the persons to whom they were
spoken. I was soon confirmed in this conjecture, when, upon the
increase of the cold, the whole company grew dumb, or rather
deaf. For every man was sensible, as we afterwards found, that
he spoke as well as ever, but the sounds no sooner took air than
they were condensed and lost.
"It was now a miserable spectacle to see us nodding and gaping at
one another, every man talking, and no man heard. One might
observe a seaman that could hail a ship at a league distance,
beckoning with his hands, straining his lungs, and tearing his
throat, but all in vain.
"We continued here three weeks in this dismal plight. At length,
upon a turn of wind, the air about us began to thaw. Our cabin
was immediately filled with a dry clattering sound, which I
afterwards found to be the crackling of consonants that broke
above our heads, and were often mixed with a gentle hissing,
which I imputed to the letter S, that occurs so frequently in the
"I soon after felt a breeze of whispers rushing by my ear; for
those, being of a soft and gentle substance, immediately
liquified in the warm wind that blew across our cabin. These
were soon followed by syllables and short words, and at length by
entire sentences, that melted sooner or later, as they were more
or less congealed; so that we now heard everything that had been
spoken during the whole three weeks that we had been silent; if I
may use that expression.
"It was now very early in the morning, and yet, to my surprise, I
heard somebody say, 'Sir John, it is midnight, and time for the
ship's crew to go to bed.' This I knew to be the pilot's voice,
and upon recollecting myself I concluded that he had spoken these
words to me some days before, though I could not hear them before
the present thaw. My reader will easily imagine how the whole
crew was amazed to hear every man talking, and seeing no man
opening his mouth."
When the confusion of voices was pretty well over Sir John
proposed a visit to the Dutch cabin, and so they set out. "At
about half a mile's distance from our cabin, we heard the
groanings of a bear, which at first startled us. But upon
inquiry we were informed by some of our company, that he was
dead, and now lay in salt, having been killed upon that very spot
about a fortnight before, in the time of the frost."
Having reached the Dutch cabin the company was almost stunned by
the confusion of sounds, and could not make out a word for about
half an hour. This, Sir John thinks, was because the Dutch
language being so much harsher than ours it "wanted more time
than ours to melt and become audible."
Next they visited the French cabin and here Sir John says, "I was
convinced of an error into which I had before fallen. For I had
fancied, that for the freezing of the sound, it was necessary for
it to be wrapped up, and, as it were, preserved in breath. But I
found my mistake, when I heard the sound of a kit playing a
minuet over our heads."
The kit was a small violin to the sound of which the Frenchmen
had danced to amuse themselves while they were deaf or dumb. How
it was that the kit could be heard during the frost and yet still
be heard in the thaw we are not told. Sir John gave very good
reasons, says Addison, but as they are somewhat long "I pass over
them in silence."*
Addison and Steele carried on the Tatler for two years, then it
was stopped to make way for a far more famous paper called the
Spectator. But meanwhile the Whigs fell from power and Addison
lost his Government post. In twelve months, he said to a friend,
he lost a place worth two thousand pounds a year, an estate in
the Indies, and, worst of all, his lady-love. Who the lady-love
was is not known, but doubtless she was some great lady ready
enough to marry a Secretary of State, but not a poor scribbler.
As Addison had now no Government post, it left him all the more
time for writing, and his essays in the Spectator are what we
chiefly remember him by.
The Spectator was still further from the ordinary newspaper than
the Tatler. It was more perhaps what our modern magazines are
meant to be, but, instead of being published once a week or once
a month, it was published every morning.
In order to give interest to the paper, instead of dating the
articles from various coffee-houses, as had been done in the
Tatler, Addison and Steele between them imagined a club. And it
is the doings of these members, their characters, and their
lives, which supply subjects for many of the articles. In the
first numbers of the Spectator these members are described to us.
First of all there is the Spectator himself. He is the editor of
the paper. It is he who with kindly humorous smile and grave
twinkle in his eye is to be seen everywhere. He is seen, and he
sees and listens, but seldom opens his lips. "In short," he
says, "I have acted in all the parts of my life as a looker-on."
And that is the meaning of Spectator--the looker-on. This on-
looker, there can be little doubt, was meant to be a picture of
Addison himself. In a later paper he tells us that "he was a man
of a very short face, extremely addicted to silence. . . . and
was a great humorist in all parts of his life."* And when you
come to know Mr. Spectator well, I think you will love this grave
After Mr. Spectator, the chief member of the Club was Sir Roger
de Coverley. "His great-grandfather was inventor of that famous
country dance which is called after him. All who know that shire
(in which he lives), are very well acquainted with the parts and
merits of Sir Roger. He is a gentleman that is very singular in
his behaviour, but his singularities proceed from his good sense,
and are contradictions to the manners of the world, only as he
thinks the world is in the wrong." He was careless of fashion in
dress, and wore a coat and doublet which, he used laughingly to
say, had been in and out twelve times since he first wore it.
"He is now in his fifty-sixth year, cheerful, gay, and hearty;
keeps a good house both in town and country; a great lover of
mankind; but there is such a mirthful cast in his behaviour, that
he is rather beloved than esteemed. His tenants grow rich, his
servants look satisfied. All the young women profess love to him
and the young men are glad of his company. When he comes into a
house he calls the servants by their names, and talks all the way
upstairs to a visit."
Next came a lawyer of the Inner Temple, who had become a lawyer
not because he wanted to be one, but because he wanted to please
his old father. He had been sent to London to study the laws of
the land, but he liked much better to study those of the stage.
"He is an excellent critic, and the time of the play is his hour
of business. Exactly at five he passes through New Inn, crosses
through Russel Court, and takes a turn at Wills' till the play
begins. He has his shoes rubbed and his periwig powdered at the
barber's as you go into the Rose."
Next comes Sir Andrew Freeport, "a merchant of great eminence in
the City of London." "He abounds in several frugal maxims,
amongst which the greatest favorite is, 'A penny saved is a penny
"Next to Sir Andrew in the Club room sits Captain Sentry, a
gentleman of great courage, good understanding, but invincible
modesty. He was some years a captain, and behaved himself with
great gallantry in several engagements and at several sieges.
But having a small estate of his own, and being next heir to Sir
Roger, he has quitted a way of life in which no man can rise
suitably to his merit, who is not something of a courtier as well
as a soldier. The military part of his life has furnished him
with many adventures, in the relation of which he is very
agreeable to the company, for he is never overbearing, though
accustomed to command men in the utmost degree below him, nor
ever too obsequious, from an habit of obeying men highly above
"But that our society may not appear a set of humorists,
unacquainted with the gallantries and pleasures of the age, we
have among us the gallant Will Honeycomb, a gentleman who,
according to his years, should be in the decline of his life.
But having ever been very careful of his person, and always had a
very easy fortune, time has made but very little impression,
either by wrinkles on his forehead, or traces in his brain. His
person is well turned, of a good height. He is very ready at
that sort of discourse with which men usually entertain women.
He has all his life dressed very well, and remembers habits as
other do men. He can smile when one speaks to him, and laugh
easily." He is in fact an old beau, a regular man about town, "a
well-bred, fine gentleman," yet no great scholar, "he spelt like
a gentleman and not like a scholar,"* he says.
Last of all there is a clergyman, a man of "general learning,
great sanctity of life, and the most exact breeding." He seldom
comes to the Club, "but when he does it adds to every man else a
new enjoyment of himself."
This setting forth of the characters in the story will remind you
a little perhaps of Chaucer in his Prologue to the Canterbury
Tales. As he there gives us a clear picture of England in the
time of Edward III, so Addison gives us a clear picture of
England in the time of Anne. And although the essays are in the
main unconnected, the slight story of these characters runs
through them, weaving them into a whole. You may pick up a
volume of the Spectator and read an essay here or there at will
with enjoyment, or you may read the whole six hundred one after
the other and find in them a slight but interesting story.
You know that the books many of your grown-up friends read most
are called novels. But in the days when Joseph Addison and
Richard Steele wrote the Spectator, there were no novels. Even
Defoe's stories had not yet appeared, and it was therefore a new
delight for our forefathers to have the adventures of the
Spectator Club each day with their morning cup of tea or
chocolate. "Mr. Spectator," writes one lady, "your paper is part
of my tea equipage, and my servant knows my humour so well, that
calling for my breakfast this morning (it being past my usual
hour) she answered, the Spectator was not yet come in, but that
the tea-kettle boiled, and she expected it every moment."
Thus the Spectator had then become part of everyday life just as
our morning newspapers have now, and there must have been many
regrets among the readers when one member of the supposed Club
died, another married and settled down, and so on until at length
the Club was entirely dispersed and the Spectator ceased to
appear. It may interest you to know that the paper we now call
the Spectator was not begun until more than a hundred years after
its great namesake ceased to appear, the first number being
published in 1828.
It was after the Spectator ceased that Addison published his
tragedy called Cato. Cato was a great Roman who rebelled against
the authority of Caesar and in the end killed himself. His is a
story out of which a good tragedy might be made. But Addison's
genius is not dramatic, and the play does not touch our hearts as
Shakespeare's tragedies do. Yet, although we cannot look upon
Addison's Cato as a really great tragedy, there are lines in it
which every one remembers and quotes, although they may not know
where they come from. Such are, for instance, "Who deliberates
is lost," and
"'Tis not in mortals to command success,
But we'll do more, Sempronius, we'll deserve it."
But although Cato is not really great, the writer was perhaps the
most popular man of his day, and so his tragedy was a tremendous
success. With Cato Addison reached the highest point of his fame
as an author in his own day, but now we remember him much more as
a writer of delightful essays, and as the creator or at least the
perfecter of Sir Roger, for to Steele is due the first invention
of the worthy knight.
Fortune still smiled on Addison. When George I came to the
throne, the Whigs once more returned to power, and Addison again
became Secretary for Ireland. He still wrote, both on behalf of
his Government and to please himself.
And now, in 1716, when he was already a man of forty-four,
Addison married. His wife was the Dowager Countess of Warwick,
and perhaps she was that great lady whom he had lost a few years
before when he lost his post of Secretary of State. Of all
Addison's pleasant prosperous life these last years ought to have
been most pleasant and most prosperous. But it has been said
that his marriage was not happy, and that plain Mr. Addison was
glad at times to escape from the stately grandeur of his own home
and from the great lady, his wife, to drink and smoke with his
friends and "subjects" at his favorite coffee-house. For Addison
held sway and was surrounded by his little court of literary
admirers, as Dryden and Ben Jonson before him.
But whether Addison was happy in his married life or not, one
sorrow he did have. Between his old friend, Dick Steele, and
himself a coldness grew up. They disagreed over politics.
Steele thought himself ill-used by his party. His impatient,
impetuous temper was hurt at the cool balance of his friend's,
and so they quarreled. "I ask no favour of Mr. Secretary
Addison," writes Steele angrily. During life the quarrel was
never made up, but after Addison died Steele spoke of his friend
in his old generous manner. Under his new honors and labours
Addison's health soon gave way. He suffered much from asthma,
and in 1718 gave up his Government post. A little more than a
year later he died.
He met his end cheerfully and peacefully. "See how a Christian
can die," he said to his wild stepson, the Earl of Warwick, who
came to say farewell to his stepfather.
The funeral took place at dead of night in Westminster Abbey.
Whig and Tory alike joined in mourning, and as the torchlight
procession wound slowly through the dim isles, the organ played
and the choir sang a funeral hymn.
"How silent did his old companions tread,
By midnight lamps, the mansions of the dead,
Thro' breathing statues, then unheeded things,
Thro' rows of warriors, and thro' walks of Kings!
What awe did the slow solemn knell inspire,
The pealing organ, and the pausing choir;
The duties by the lawn-robed prelate paid,
And the last words, that dust to dust conveyed!
While speechless o'er thy closing grave we bend,
Accept these tears, thou dear departed Friend!"*
So our great essayist was laid to rest, but it was not until many
years had come and gone that a statue in his honor was placed in
the Poets' Corner. This, says Lord Macaulay, himself a great
writer, was "a mark of national respect due to the unsullied
statesman, to the accomplished scholar, to the master of pure
English eloquence, to the consummate painter of life and manners.
It was due, above all, to the great satirist, who alone knew how
to use ridicule without abusing it, who, without inflicting a
wound, effected a great social reform, and who reconciled wit
with virtue, after a long and disastrous separation, during which
wit had been lead astray by profligacy, and virtue by
BOOKS TO READ
Sir Roger de Coverley. The Coverley Papers, edited by O. M.
Chapter LXVI STEELE--THE SOLDIER AUTHOR
YOU have heard a little about Dick Steele in connection with
Joseph Addison. Steele is always overshadowed by his great
friend, for whom he had such a generous admiration that he was
glad to be so overshadowed. But in this chapter I mean to tell
you a little more about him.
He was born, you know, in Dublin in 1671, and early lost his
father. About this he tells us himself in one of the Tatlers:
"The first sense of sorrow I ever knew was upon the death of my
father, at which time I was not quite five years of age. But was
rather amazed at what all the house meant, than possessed with a
real understanding, why nobody was willing to play with me. I
remember I went into the room where his body lay, and my mother
sat weeping alone by it. I had my battledore in my hand, and
fell abeating the coffin, and calling 'Papa,' for, I know not
how, I had some light idea that he was locked up there. My
mother catched me in her arms, and, transported beyond all
patience of the silent grief she was before in, she almost
smothered me in her embrace, and told me, in a flood of tears,
Pap could not hear me, and would play with me no more, for they
were going to put him under ground, whence he could never come to
Steele's sad, beautiful mother died soon after her husband, and
little Dick was left more lonely than ever. His uncle took
charge of him, and sent him to Charterhouse, where he met
Addison. From there he went to Oxford, but left without taking a
degree. "A drum passing by," he says, "being a lover of music, I
listed myself for a soldier."* "He mounted a war horse, with a
great sword in his hand, and planted himself behind King William
the Third against Lewis the Fourteenth." But he says when he
cocked his hat, and put on a broad sword, jack boots, and
shoulder belt, he did not know his own powers as a writer, he did
not know then that he should ever be able to "demolish a
fortified town with a goosequill."** So Steele became a
"wretched common trooper," or, to put it more politely, a
gentleman volunteer. But he was not long in becoming an ensign,
and about five years later he got his commission as captain.
In those days the life of a soldier was wild and rough. Drinking
and swearing were perhaps the least among the follies and
wickedness they were given to, and Dick Steele was as ready as
any other to join in all the wildness going. But in spite of his
faults and failings his heart was kind and tender. He had no
love of wickedness though he could not resist temptation. So the
dashing soldier astonished his companions by publishing a little
book called the Christian Hero. It was a little book written to
show that no man could be truly great who was not religious. He
wrote it at odd minutes when his day's work was over, when his
mind had time "in the silent watch of the night to run over the
busy dream of the day." He wrote it at first for his own use,
"to make him ashamed of understanding and seeming to feel what
was virtuous and yet living so quite contrary a life."
Afterwards he resolved to publish it for the good of others.
But among Steele's gay companions the book had little effect
except to make them laugh at him and draw comparisons between the
lightness of his words and actions, and the seriousness of the
ideas set forth in his Christian Hero. He found himself slighted
instead of encouraged, and "from being thought no undelightful
companion, was soon reckoned a disagreeable fellow."* So he took
to writing plays, for "nothing can make the town so fond of a man
as a successful play."
*Apology for himself and his Writings.
The plays of the Restoration had been very coarse. Those of
Steele show the beginning of a taste for better things, "Tho'
full of incidents that move laughter, virtue and vice appear just
as they ought to do," he says of his first comedy. But although
we may still find Steele's plays rather amusing, it is not as a
dramatist that we remember him, but as an essayist.
Steele led a happy-go-lucky life, nearly always cheerful and in
debt. His plays brought him in some money, he received a
Government appointment which brought him more, and when he was
about thirty-three he married a rich widow. Still he was always
in debt, always in want of money.
In about a year Steele's wife died, and he was shortly married to
another well-off lady. About this time he left the army, it is
thought, although we do not know quite surely, and for long
afterwards he was called Captain Steele.
Steele wrote a great many letters to his second wife, both before
and after his marriage. She kept them all, and from them we can
learn a good deal of this warm-hearted, week-willed, harum-scarum
husband. She is "Dearest Creature," "Dear Wife," "Dear Prue"
(her name, by the way, was Mary), and sometimes "Ruler,"
"Absolute Governess," and he "Your devoted obedient Husband,"
"Your faithful, tender Husband." Many of the letters are about
money troubles. We gather from them that Dick Steele loved his
wife, but as he was a gay and careless spendthrift and she was a
proud beauty, a "scornful lady," for neither of them was life
It was about two years after this second marriage that Steele
suddenly began the Tatler. He did not write under his own name,
but under that of Isaac Bickerstaff, a name which Swift had made
use of in writing one of his satires. As has been said, the
genius of Steele has been overshadowed by that of Addison, for
Steele had such a whole-hearted admiration for his friend that he
was ready to give him all the praise. And yet it is nearly
always to Steele that we owe the ideas which were later worked
out and perfected by Addison.
It is Steele, too, that we owe the first pictures of English
family life. It has been said that he "was the first of our
writers who really seemed to admire and respect women,"* and if
we add "after the Restoration" we come very near the truth.
Steele had a tender heart towards children too, and in more than
one paper his love of them shows itself. Indeed, as we read we
cannot help believing that in real life Captain Dick had many
child-friends. Here is how he tells of a visit to a friend's
"I am, as it were, at home at that house, and every member of it
knows me for their well-wisher. I cannot indeed express the
pleasure it is, to be met by the children with so much joy as I
am when I go thither. The boys and girls strive who shall come
first, when they think it is I that am knocking at the door. And
that child which loses the race to me, runs back again to tell
the father it is Mr. Bickerstaff.
"This day I was led in by a pretty girl, that we all thought must
have forgot me, for the family has been out of town these two
years. Her knowing me again was a mighty subject with us, and
took up our discourse at the first entrance. After which they
began to rally me upon a thousand little stories they heard in
the country about my marriage to one of my neighbor's daughters.
Upon which the gentleman, my friend, said 'Nay, if Mr.
Bickerstaff marries a child of any of his old companions, I hope
mine shall have the preference. There's Mistress Mary is now
sixteen, and would make him as fine a widow as the best of
After dinner the mother and children leave the two friends
together. The father speaks of his love for his wife, and his
fears for her health.
"'Ah, you little understand, you that have lived a bachelor, how
great a pleasure there is in being really beloved. Her face is
to me more beautiful than when I first saw it. In her
examination of her household affairs she show a certain
fearfulness to find a fault, which makes her servants obey her
like children, and the meanest we have has an ingenuous shame for
an offence, not always to be seen in children in other families.
I speak freely to you, my old friend. Ever since her sickness,
things that gave me the quickest joy before, turn now to a
certain anxiety. As the children play in the next room, I know
the poor things by their steps, and am considering what they must
do, should they lose their mother in their tender years. The
pleasure I used to take in telling my boy stories of the battles,
and asking my girl questions about the disposal of her baby, and
the gossiping of it, is turned into inward reflection and
melancholy.' The poor gentleman would have gone on much longer
with his sad forebodings, but his wife returning, and seeing by
his grave face what he had been talking about, said, with a
smile, 'Mr. Bickerstaff, don't believe a word of what he tells
you. I shall still live to have you for my second, as I have
often promised you, unless he takes more care of himself than he
has done since his coming to town. You must know, he tells me,
that he finds London is a much more healthy place than the
country, for he sees several of his old acquaintance and school-
fellows are here, young fellows with fair, full-bottomed
periwigs. I could scarce keep him this morning from going out
open-breasted.'" And so they sat and chatted pleasantly until,
"on a sudden, we were alarmed with the noise of a drum, and
immediately entered my little godson to give me a point of war.*
His mother, between laughing and chiding, would have put him out
of the room, but I would not part with him so. I found, upon
conversation with him, though he was a little noisy in his mirth,
that the child had excellent parts, and was a great master of all
the learning on the other side of eight years old. I perceived
him to be a very great historian in Aesop's Fables; but he frankly
declared to me his mind, that he did not delight in that
learning, because he did not believe they were true. For which
reason I found he had very much turned his studies, for about a
twelve-month past, into the lives and adventures of Don Bellianis
of Greece, Guy of Warwick, the Seven Champions, and other
historians of that age.
*A strain of war-like music.
"I could not but observe the satisfaction the father took in the
forwardness of his son, and that these diversions might turn to
some profit, I found the boy had made remarks which might be of
service to him during the course of his whole life. He would
tell you the mismanagements of John Hickathrift, find fault with
the passionate temper of Bevis of Southampton, and loved St.
George for being the champion of England; and by this means had
his thoughts insensibly moulded into the notions of discretion,
virtue, and honour.
"I was extolling his accomplishments, when the mother told me
that the little girl who led me in this morning was, in her way,
a better scholar than he. 'Betty,' says she, 'deals chiefly in
fairies and sprites, and sometimes, in a winter night, will
terrify the maids with her accounts, till they are afraid to go
up to bed.'
"I sat with them till it was very late, sometimes in merry,
sometimes in serious discourse, with this particular pleasure
which gives the only true relish to all conversation, a sense
that every one of us liked each other. I went home considering
the different conditions of a married life and that of a
bachelor. And I must confess it struck me with a secret concern
to reflect that, whenever I go off, I shall leave no traces
behind me. In this pensive mood I returned to my family, that is
to say, to my maid, my dog, and my cat, who only can be the
better or worse for what happens to me."*
You will be sorry to know that, a few Tatlers further on, the
kind mother of this happy family dies. But Steele was himself so
much touched by the thought of all the misery he was bringing
upon the others by giving such a sad ending to his story, that he
could not go on with the paper, and Addison had to finish it for
The Spectator, you know, succeeded the Tatler, and it was while
writing for the Spectator that Steele took seriously to politics.
He became a member of Parliament and wrote hot political
articles. He and Swift crossed swords more than once, and from
being friends became enemies. But Steele's temper was too hot,
his pen too hasty. The Tories were in power, and he was a Whig,
and he presently found himself expelled from the House of Commons
for "uttering seditious libels." Shut out from politics, Steele
turned once more to essay-writing, and published, one after the
other, several papers of the same style as the Spectator, but
none of them lived long.
Better days, however, were coming. Queen Anne died, and King
George became a king in 1714, the Whigs returned to power, Steele
again received a Government post, again he sat in Parliament, and
a few months later he was knighted, and became Sir Richard
Steele. We cannot follow him through all his projects,
adventures, and writings. He was made one of the commissioners
for the forfeited estates of the Scottish lords who had taken
part in the '15, and upon this business he went several times to
Scotland. The first time he went was in the autumn of 1717. But
before that Lady Steele had gone to Wales to look after her
estates there. While she was there Dick wrote many letters to
her, some of which are full of tenderness for his children. They
show us something too of the happy-go-lucky household in the
absence of the careful mistress. In one he says:--
"Your son at the present writing is mighty well employed in
tumbling on the floor of the room, and sweeping the sand with a
feather. He grows a most delightful child, and very full of play
and spirit. He is also a very great scholar. He can read his
primer, and I have brought down my Virgil. He makes most shrewd
remarks about the pictures. We are very intimate friends and
play-fellows. He begins to be very ragged, and I hope I shall be
pardoned if I equip him with new clothes and frocks." Or again:-
- "The brats, my girls, stand on each side of the table, and
Molly says what I am writing now is about her new coat. Bess is
with me till she has new clothes. Miss Moll has taken upon her
to hold the sand-box,* and is so impertinent in her office that I
cannot write more. But you are to take this letter as from your
three best friends, Bess, Moll, and their Father.
*In those days there was no blotting-paper, and sand was used to
dry the ink.
"Moll bids me let you know that she fell down just now and did
not hurt herself."
Soon after this Steele set out for Scotland, and although the
business which brought him could not have been welcome to many a
Scottish gentleman, he himself was well received. They forgot
the Whig official in the famous writer. In Edinburgh he was
feasted and feted. "You cannot imagine," wrote Steele, "the
civilities and honours I had done me there. I never lay better,
ate or drank better, or conversed with men of better sense than
there." Poets and authors greeted him in verse, he was "Kind
Richy Spec, the friend to a' distressed," "Dear Spec," and many
stories are told of his doings among these new-found friends. He
paid several later visits to Scotland, but about a year after his
return from this first short visit Steele had a great sorrow.
His wife died. "This is to let you know," he writes to a cousin,
"that my dear and honoured wife departed this life last night."
And now that his children were motherless, Steele, when he was
away from them, wrote to them, always tender, often funny,
letters. It is Betty, the eldest, he addresses, she is "Dear
Child," "My dear Daughter," "My good Girlie." He bids them be
good and grow like their mother. "I have observed that your
sister," he says in one letter, "has for the first time written
the initial or first letters of her name. Tell her I am highly
delighted to see her subscription in such fair letters. And how
many fine things those two letters stand for when she writes
them. M. S. is Milk and Sugar, Mirth and Safety, Music and
Songs, Meat and Sauce, as well as Molly and Spot, and Mary and
Steele." I think the children must have loved their kind father
who wrote such pretty nonsense to them.
So with ups and downs the years passed. However much money
Steele got he never seemed to have any, and in spite of all his
carelessness and jovialness, there is something sad in those last
years of his life. He quarreled with, and then for ever lost his
life-long friend, Joseph Addison. His two sons died, and at
length, broken in health, troubled about money, he went to spend
his last days in Carmarthen in Wales. Here we have a last
pleasant picture of him being carried out on a summer's evening
to watch the country lads and lasses dance. And with his own
hand, paralyzed though it was, he would write an order for a new
gown to be given to the best dancer. And here in Carmarthen, in
1729, he died and was buried in the Church of St. Peter.
BOOKS TO READ
Essays of Richard Steele, selected and edited by L. E. Steele.
Steele Selections from the Tatler, Spectator, and Guardian,
edited by Austin Dobson.
Chapter LXVII POPE--THE "RAPE OF THE LOCK"
AS you have already guessed by the number of prose writers you
have been reading about, this age, the age of the last Stuarts
and the first Georges, was not a poetic one. It was an age of
art and posturing. It was an age of fierce and passionate party
strife--strife between Whig and Tory which almost amounted to
civil war, but instead of using swords and guns the men who took
part in the strife used pen and ink. They played the game
without any rules of fair play. No weapon was too vile or mean
to be used if by it the enemy might be injured.
You have often been told that it is rude to make personal
remarks, but the age of Anne was the age of personal remarks, and
they were not considered rude. The more cruel and pointed they
were, the more clever they were thought to be. To be stupid or
ugly are not sins. They ought not to be causes of scorn and
laughter, but in the age of Anne they were accepted as such. And
if the enemy was worsted in the fight he took his revenge by
holding up to ridicule the person of his victor. To raise the
unkind laughter of the world against an enemy was the great thing
to be aimed at. Added to this, too, the age was one of common
sense. All this does not make for poetry, yet in this age there
was one poet, who, although he does not rank among our greatest
poets, was still great, and perhaps had he lived in a less
artificial age he might have been greater still.
This poet was Alexander Pope, the son of a well-to-do Catholic
linen-draper. He was born in London in 1688, but soon afterwards
his father retired from business, and went to live in a little
village not far from Windsor.
Alexander was an only son. He had one step-sister, but she was a
good many years older than he, and he seems never to have had any
child companions or real childhood. He must always have been
delicate, yet as a child his face was "round, plump, pretty, and
of a fresh complexion."* He is said, too, to have been very
sweet tempered, but his father and mother spoilt him not a
little, and when he grew up he lost that sweetness of temper.
Yet, unlike many spoilt children, Pope never forgot the reverence
due to father and mother. He repaid their love with love as
warm, and in their old age he tended and cared for them fondly.
As Pope was a delicate boy he got little regular schooling. He
learned to write by copying the printed letters in books, and was
first taught to read by an aunt, and later by a priest, but still
at home. After a time he was at school for a few years, but he
went from one school to another, never staying long at any, and
so never learning much. He says indeed that he unlearned at two
of his schools all that he had learned at another. By the time
he was twelve he was once more at home reading what he liked and
learning what he liked, and he read and studied so greedily that
he made himself ill.
Pope loved the stories of the Greek and Roman heroes, but he did
not care for the hard work needed to learn to read them in the
original with ease, and contented himself with translations. He
was so fond of these stories that while still a little boy he
made a play from the Iliad which was acted by the boys of one of
Very early Pope began to write poetry. He read a great deal, and
two of his favorite poets were Spenser and Dryden. His great
idea was to become a poet also, and in this his father encouraged
him. Although no poet himself he would set his little son to
make verses upon different subjects. "He was pretty difficult in
being pleased," says Pope's mother, "and used often to send him
back to new turn them; 'These are not good rhymes,' he would
There is a story told that Pope admired Dryden's poetry so much
that he persuaded a friend to take him one day to London, to the
coffee-house where Dryden used to hold his little court. There
he saw the great man, who spoke to him and gave him a shilling
for some verses he wrote. But the story is a very doubtful one,
as Dryden died when Pope was twelve years old, and for some time
before that he had been too ill to go to coffee-houses. But that
Pope's admiration for Dryden was very sincere and very great we
know, for he chose him as his model. Like Dryden, Pope wrote in
the heroic couplet, and in his hands it became much more neat and
polished than ever it did in the hands of the older poet.
Pope saw Dryden only once, even if the story is true; but with
another old poet, a dramatist, he struck up a great friendship.
This poet was named Wycherley, but by the time that Pope came to
know him Wycherley had grown old and feeble, all his best work
was done, and people were perhaps beginning to forget him. So he
was pleased with the admiration of the boy poet fifty years
younger than himself, and glad to accept his help. At first this
flattered Pope's vanity, but after a little he quarreled with his
old friend and left him. This was the first of Pope's literary
quarrels, of which he had many.
Already, as a boy, Pope was becoming known. He had published a
few short poems, and others were handed about in manuscript among
his friends. "That young fellow will either be a madman or make
a very great poet,"* said one man after meeting him when he was
about fourteen. All the praise and attention which Pope received
pleased him much. But he took it only as his due, and his great
ambition was to make people believe that he had been a
wonderfully clever child, and that he had begun to write when he
was very young. He says of himself with something of
pompousness, "I lisp'd in numbers, for the numbers came."
Pope's keenest desire was to be a poet, and few poets have rushed
so quickly into fame. He received few of the buffets which young
authors have as a rule to bear. Instead, many a kindly helping
hand was stretched out to him by the great men of the day, for
there was much in this young genius to draw out the pity of
others. He was fragile and sickly. As a full grown man he stood
only four feet six inches high. His body was bent and deformed,
and so frail that he had to be strapped in canvas to give him
some support. His fine face was lined by pain, for he suffered
from racking headaches, and indeed his life was one long disease.
Yet in spite of constant pain this little crooked boy, with his
"little, tender, crazy carcass," as Wycherley called it, wrote
the most astonishing poetry in a style which in his own day was
considered the finest that could be written.
It is not surprising then that his poems were greeted with kindly
wonder, mixed it may be with a little envy. Unhappily Pope saw
only the envy and overlooked the kindliness. Perhaps it was that
his crooked little body had warped the great mind it held, but
certain it is, as Pope grew to manhood his thirst for praise and
glory increased, and with it his distrust and envy of others.
And many of the ways he took to add to his own fame, and take
away from that of others, were mean and tortuous to the last
degree. Deceit and crooked ways seemed necessary to him. It has
been said that he hardly drank tea without a stratagem, and that
he played the politician about cabbages and turnips.*
He begged his own letters back from the friends to whom they were
written. He altered them, changed the dates, and published them.
Then he raised a great outcry pretending that they had been
stolen from him and published without his knowledge. Such ways
led to quarrels and strife while he was alive, and since his
death they have puzzled every one who has tried to write about
him. All his life through he was hardly ever without a literary
quarrel of some sort, some of his poems indeed being called forth
merely by these quarrels.
But though many of Pope's poems led to quarrels, and some were
written with the desire to provoke them, one of his most famous
poems was, on the other hand, written to bring peace between two
angry families. This poem is called the Rape of the Lock--rape
meaning theft, and the lock not the lock of a door, but a lock of
A gay young lord had stolen a lock of a beautiful young lady's
hair, and she was so angry about it that there was a coolness
between the two families. A friend then came to Pope to ask him
if he could not do something to appease the angry lady. So Pope
took up his pen and wrote a mock-heroic poem making friendly fun
of the whole matter. But although Pope's intention was kindly
his success was not complete. The families did not entirely see
the joke, and Pope writes to a friend, "The celebrated lady
herself is offended, and, what is stranger, not at herself, but
But the poem remains one of the most delightful of airy trifles
in our language. And that it should be so airy is a triumph of
Pope's genius, for it is written in the heroic couplet, one of
the most mechanical forms of English verse.
Addison called it "a delicious little thing" and the very salt of
Another and later writer says of it--"It is the most exquisite
specimen of filigree work ever invented. It is made of gauze and
silver spangles. . . . Airs, languid airs, breathe around, the
atmosphere is perfumed with affectation. A toilet is described
with the solemnity of an altar raised to the goddess of vanity,
and the history of a silver bodkin is given with all the pomp of
heraldry. No pains are spared, no profusion of ornament, no
splendour of poetic diction to set off the meanest things. . . .
It is the perfection of the mock-heroic."*
Pope begins the poem by describing Belinda, the heroine, awaking
from sleep. He tells how her guardian sylph brings a morning
dream to warn her of coming danger. In the dream she is told
that all around her unnumbered fairy spirits fly guarding her
"Of these am I, who thy protection claim,
A watchful sprite, and Ariel is my name.
Late, as I ranged the crystal wilds of air,
In the clear mirror of thy ruling star
I saw, alas! some dread event impend,
Ere to the main this morning sun descend.
But heaven reveals not what, or how, or where:
Warned by the sylph, oh pious maid, beware!
This to disclose is all thy guardian can:
Beware of all, but most beware of Man!"
Then Shock, Belinda's dog,
"Who thought she slept too long,
Leaped up, and waked his mistress with his tongue."
So Belinda rises and is dressed. While her maid seems to do the
"The busy sylphs surround their darling care,
These set the head, and those divide the hair,
Some fold the sleeve, whilst others plait the gown'
And Betty's praised for labours not her own."
Next Belinda set out upon the Thames to go by boat to Hampton
Court, and as she sat in her gayly decorated boat she looked so
beautiful that every eye was turned to gaze upon her--
"On her white breast a sparkling cross she wore,
Which Jews might kiss, and infidels adore."
She was so beautiful and graceful that it seemed as if she could
have no faults, or--
"If to her share some female errors fall,
Look in her face, and you'll forget them all.
This nymph, to the destruction of mankind,
Nourished two locks, which graceful hung behind
In equal curls, and well conspired to deck,
With shining ringlets, the smoothe iv'ry neck.
Love in these labyrinths his slaves detains,
And mighty hearts are held in slender chains.
With hairy springes we the birds betray,
Slight lines of hair surprise the finny prey,
Fair tresses man's imperial race insnare,
And beauty draws us with a single hair."
The "Adventurous Baron" next appears upon the scene. He, greatly
admiring Belinda's shining locks, longs to possess one, and makes
up his mind that he will. And, as the painted vessel glided down
the Thames, Belinda smiled, and all the world was gay, only Ariel
alone was sad and disturbed, for he felt some evil, he knew not
what, was hanging over his mistress. So he gathered all his
company and bade them watch more warily than before over their
charge. Some must guard the watch, some the fan, "And thou
Crispissa, tend her fav'rite lock," he says. And woe betide that
sprite who shall be careless or neglectful!
"Whatever spirit, careless of his charge,
His post neglects, or leaves the fair at large,
Shall feel sharp vengeance soon o'ertake his sins,
Be stopped in vials, or transfixed with pins,
Or plunged in lakes of bitter washes lie,
Or wedged, whole ages in a bodkin's eye."
So the watchful sprites flew off to their places--
"Some, orb in orb, around the nymph extend;
Some thrid* the mazy ringlets of her hair,
Some hang upon the pendants of her ear."
The day went on, Belinda sat down to play cards. After the game
coffee was brought, and "while frequent cups prolong the rich
repast," Belinda unthinkingly gave the Baron a pair of scissors.
Then indeed the hour of fate struck. The Baron standing behind
Belinda found the temptation too great. He opened the scissors
and drew near--
"Swift to the lock a thousand sprites repair,
A thousand wings by turns blow back the hair;
And thrice they twitched the diamond in her ear;
Thrice she looked back, and thrice the foe drew near."
But at last "the fatal engine" closed upon the lock. Even to the
last, one wretched sylph struggling to save the lock clung to it.
It was in vain, "Fate urged the shears, and cut the sylph in
twain." Then, while Belinda cried aloud in anger, the Baron
shouted in triumph and rejoiced over his spoil.
The poem goes on to tell how Umbriel, a dusky melancholy sprite,
in order to make the quarrel worse, flew off to the witch Spleen,
and returned with a bag full of "sighs, sobs, and passions, and
the war of tongues," "soft sorrows, melting griefs, and flowing
tears," and emptied it over Belinda's head. She--
"Then raging to Sir Plume repairs,
And bids her beau demand the precious hairs.
Sir Plume, of amber snuff-box justly vain,
And the nice conduct of a clouded case,
With earnest eyes, and round unthinking face,
He first the snuff-box opened, then the case."
Sir Plume, not famous for brains, put on a very bold, determined
air, and fiercely attacked the Baron--"My Lord," he cried, "why,
what! you must return the lock! You must be civil. Plague on
't! 'tis past a jest--nay prithee, give her the hair." And as he
spoke he tapped his snuff-box daintily.
But in spite of this valiant champion of fair ladies in distress,
the Baron would not return the lock. So a deadly battle followed
in which the ladies fought against the gentlemen, and in which
the sprites also took part. The weapons were only frowns and
"A beau and witling perished in the throng,
One died in metaphor, and one in song.
. . . . .
A mournful glance Sir Fopling upwards cast,
'Those eyes were made so killing,' was his last."
Belinda, however, at length disarmed the Baron with a pinch of
snuff, and threatened his life with a hair pin. And so the
battle ends. But alas!--
"The lock, obtained with guilt and kept with pain,
In ev'ry place is sought, but sought in vain."
During the fight it has been caught up to the skies--
"A sudden star, it shot through liquid air,
And drew behind a radiant trail of hair."
Thus, says the poet, Belinda has no longer need to mourn her lost
lock, for it will be famous to the end of time as a bright star
among the stars--
"Then cease, bright nymph! to mourn thy ravished hair,
Which adds new glory to the starry sphere!
Not all the tresses that fair head can boast,
Shall draw such envy as the lock you lost.
For after all the murders of your eye,
When, after millions slain, yourself shall die;
When those fair suns shall set, as set they must,
And all those tresses shall be laid in dust,
This lock the Muse shall consecrate to fame,
And midst the stars inscribe Belinda's name."
When Pope first published this poem there was nothing about
fairies in it. Afterwards he thought of the fairies, but Addison
advised him not to alter the poem, as it was so delightful as it
was. Pope, however, did not take the advice, but added the fairy
part, thereby greatly improving the poem. This caused a quarrel
with Addison, for Pope thought he had given him bad advice
through jealousy. A little later this quarrel was made much
worse. Pope translated and published a version of the Iliad, and
at the same time a friend of Addison did so too. This made Pope
bitterly angry, for he believed that the translation was
Addison's own and that he had published it to injure the sale of
his. From this you see how easily Pope's anger and jealousy were
aroused, and will not wonder that his life was a long record of
Pope need not have been jealous of Addison's friend, for his own
translation of Homer was a great success, and people soon forgot
the other. He translated not only the Iliad, but with the help
of two lesser poets the Odyssey also. Both poems were done in
the fashionable heroic couplet, and Pope made so much money by
them that he was able to live in comfort ever after. And it is
interesting to remember that Pope was the first poet who was able
to live in comfort entirely on what he made by his writing.
Pope now took a house at Twickenham, and there he spent many
happy hours planning and laying out his garden, and building a
grotto with shells and stones and bits of looking-glass. The
house has long ago been pulled down and the garden altered, but
the grotto still remains, a sight for the curious.
It has been said that to write in the heroic couplet "is an art
as mechanical as that of mending a kettle or shoeing a horse, and
may be learned by any human being who has sense enough to learn
anything."* And although this is not all true, it is so far true
that it is almost impossible to tell which books of the Odyssey
were written by Pope, and which by the men who helped him. But,
taken as a whole, the Odyssey is not so good as the Iliad.
Scholars tell us that in neither the one nor the other is the
feeling of the original poetry kept. Pope did not know enough
Greek to enter into the spirit of it, and he worked mostly from
translation. Even had he been able to enter into the true spirit
he would have found it hard to keep that spirit in his
translation, using as he did the artificial heroic couplet. For
Homer's poetry is not artificial, but simple and natural like our
own early poetry. "A pretty poem, Mr. Pope, but you must not
call it Homer," said a friend** when he read it, and his judgment
is still for the most part the judgment of to-day.
It was after he had finished the Odyssey that Pope wrote his most
famous satire, called the Dunciad. In this he insulted and held
up to ridicule all stupid or dull authors, all dunces, and all
those whom he considered his enemies. It is very clever, but a
poem full of malice and hatred does not make very pleasant
reading. For most of us, too, the interest it had has vanished,
as many of the people at whom Pope levied his malice are
forgotten, or only remembered because he made them famous by
adding their names to his roll of dunces. But in Pope's own day
the Dunciad called forth cries of anger and revenge from the
victims, and involved the author in still more quarrels.
Pope wrote many more poems, the chief being the Essay on
Criticism and the Essay on Man. But his translations of Homer
and the Rape of the Lock are those you will like best in the
meantime. As a whole Pope is perhaps not much read now, yet many
of his lines have become household words, and when you come to
read him you will be surprised to find how many familiar
quotations are taken from his poems. Perhaps no one of our poets
except Shakespeare is more quoted. And yet he seldom says
anything which touches the heart. When we enjoy his poetry we
enjoy it with the brain. It gives us pleasure rather as the
glitter of a diamond than as the perfume of a rose.
In spite of his crooked, sickly little body Pope lived to be
fifty-six, and one evening in May 1744 he died peacefully in his
home at Twickenham, and was buried in the church there, near the
monument which he had put up to the memory of his father and
There is so much disagreeable and mean in Pope that we are apt to
lose sight of what was good in him altogether. We have to remind
ourselves that he was a good and affectionate son, and that he
was loving to the friends with whom he did not quarrel. Yet
these can hardly be counted as great merits. Perhaps his
greatest merit is that he kept his independence in an age when
writers fawned upon patrons or accepted bribes from Whig or Tory.
Pope held on his own way, looking for favors neither from one
side nor from the other. And when we think of his frail little
body, this sturdy independence of mind is all the more wonderful.
From Pope we date the beginning of the time when a writer could
live honorable by his pen, and had not need to flatter a patron,
or sell his genius to politics or party. But Pope stood alone in
this independence, and he never had to fight for it. A happy
chance, we might say, made him free. For while his brother
writers all around him were still held in the chains of
patronage, Pope having more money than some did not need to bow
to it, and having less greed than others did not choose to bow to
it, in order to add to his wealth. And in the following chapter
we come to another man who in the next generation fought for
freedom, won it, and thereby helped to free others. This man was
the famous Dr. Samuel Johnson.
BOOKS TO READ
Pope's Iliad, edited by A. J. Church. Pope's Odyssey, edited by
A. J. Church.
NOTE.--As an introduction to Pope's Homer the following books may
Stories from the Iliad, by Jeanie Lang. Stories from the
Odyssey, by Jeannie Lang. The Children's Iliad, by A. J. Church.
The Children's Odyssey, by A. J. Church.
Chapter LXVIII JOHNSON--DAYS OF STRUGGLE
SAMUEL JOHNSON was the son of a country bookseller, and he was
born at Lichfield in 1709. He was a big, strong boy, but he
suffered from a dreadful disease, known then as the King's Evil.
It left scars upon his good-looking face, and nearly robbed him
of his eyesight. In those days people still believed that this
dreadful disease would be cured if the person suffering from it
was touched by a royal hand. So when he was two, little Samuel
was taken to London by his father and mother, and there he was
"touched" by Queen Anne. Samuel had a wonderful memory, and
although he had been so young at the time, all his life after he
kept a kind of awed remembrance of a stately lady who wore a long
black hood and sparkling diamonds. The touch of the Queen's soft
white hand did the poor little sick child no good, and it is
quaint to remember that the great learned doctor thought it might
be because he had been touched by the wrong royal hand. He might
have been cured perhaps had he been taken to Rome and touched by
the hand of a Stuart. For Johnson was a Tory, and all his life
he remained at heart a Jacobite.
At school Samuel learned easily and read greedily all kinds of
books. He loved poetry most, and read Shakespeare when he was so
young that he was frightened at finding himself alone while
reading about the ghost in Hamlet. Yet he was idle at his tasks
and had not altogether an easy time, for when asked long years
after how he became such a splendid Latin scholar, he replied,
"My master whipt me very well, without that, sir, I should have
Samuel learned so easily that, though he was idle, he knew more
than any of the other boys. He ruled them too. Three of them
used to come every morning to carry their stout comrade to
school. Johnson mounted on the back of one, and the other two
supported him, one on each side. In winter when he was too lazy
to skate or slide himself they pulled him about on the ice by a
garter tied round his waist. Thus early did Johnson show his
power over his fellows.
At sixteen Samuel left school, and for two years idled about his
father's shop, reading everything that came in his way. He
devoured books. He did not read them carefully, but quickly,
tearing the heart out of them. He cared for nothing else but
reading, and once when his father was ill and unable to attend to
his bookstall, he asked his son to do it for him. Samuel
refused. But the memory of his disobedience and unkindliness
stayed with him, and more than fifty years after, as an old and
worn man, he stood bare-headed in the wind and rain for an hour
in the market-place, upon the spot where his father's stall had
stood. This he did as a penance for that one act of
Johnson's father was a bookworm, like his son, rather than a
tradesman. He knew and loved his books, but he made little money
by them. A student himself, he was proud of his studious boy,
and wanted to send him to college. But he was miserably poor and
could not afford it. A well-off friend, however, offered to
help, and so at eighteen Samuel went to Oxford.
Here he remained three years. Those years were not altogether
happy ones, for Johnson's huge ungainly figure, and shabby,
patched clothes were matters for laughter among his fellow-
students. He became a sloven in his dress. His gown was
tattered and his linen dirty, and his toes showed through his
boots. Yet when some one, meaning no doubt to be kind, placed a
new pair at his door, he kicked them away in anger. He would not
stoop to accept charity. But in spite of his poverty and shabby
clothes, he was a leader at college as he had been at school, and
might often be seen at his college gates with a crowd of young
men round him, "entertaining them with wit and keeping them from
After remaining about three years at college, Johnson left
without taking a degree. Perhaps poverty had something to do
with that. At any rate, with a great deal of strange, unordered
learning and no degree, and with his fortune still to make,
Samuel returned to his poverty-stricken home. There in a few
months the father died, leaving to his son an inheritance of
With forty pounds not much is to be done, and Samuel became an
usher, or under-master in a school. He was little fitted to
teach, and the months which followed were to him a torture, and
all his life after he looked back on them with something of
After a few months, he left the school where he had been so
unhappy, and went to Birmingham to be near an old schoolfellow.
Here he managed to live somehow, doing odd bits of writing, and
here he met the lady who became his wife.
Johnson was now twenty-five and a strange-looking figure. He was
tall and lank, and his huge bones seemed to start out of his lean
body. His face was deeply marked with scars, and although he was
very near-sighted, his gray eyes were bright and wild, so wild at
times that they frightened those upon whom they were turned. He
wore his own hair, which was coarse and straight, and in an age
when every man wore a wig this made him look absurd. He had a
trick of making queer gestures with hands and feet. He would
shake his head and roll himself about, and would mutter to
himself until strangers though that he was an idiot.
And this queer genius fell in love with a widow lady more than
twenty years older than himself. She, we are told, was coarse,
fat, and unlovely, but she was not without brains, for she saw
beneath the strange outside of her young lover. "This is the
most sensible man that I ever saw in my life," she said, after
talking with him. So this strange couple married. "Sir," said
Johnson afterwards, "It was a love-marriage on both sides." And
there can be no doubt that Samuel loved his wife devotedly while
she lived, and treasured her memory tenderly after her death.
Mrs. Johnson had a little money, and so Samuel returned to his
native town and there opened a school. An advertisement appeared
in the papers, "At Edial, near Lichfield, in Staffordshire, young
gentlemen are boarded and taught the Latin and Greek languages,
by Samuel Johnson." But Johnson was quite unfitted to be a
teacher, and the school did not prosper. "His schoolroom," says
another writer, "must have resembled an ogre's den," and only two
or three boys came to it. Among them was David Garrick, who
afterwards became a famous actor and amused the world by
imitating his friend and old schoolmaster, the great Sam, as well
as his elderly wife.
After struggling with his school for more than a year, Johnson
resolved to give it up and go to London, there to seek his
fortune. Leaving his wife at Lichfield, he set off with his
friend and pupil David Garrick, as he afterwards said, "With
twopence halfpenny in my pocket, and thou, Davy, with three
halfpence in thine."
The days of the later Stuarts and the first of the Georges were
the great days of patronage. When a writer of genius appeared,
noblemen and others, who were powerful and wealthy, were eager to
become his patron, and have his books dedicated to them. So
although the dunces among writers remained terribly poor, almost
every man of genius was sure of a comfortable life. But although
he gained this by his writing, it was not because the people
liked his books, but because one man liked them or was eager to
have his name upon them, and therefore became his patron. The
patron, then, either himself helped his pet writer, or got for
him some government employment. After a time this fashion
ceased, and instead of taking his book to a patron, a writer took
it to a bookseller, and sold it to him for as much money as he
could. And so began the modern way of publishing books.
But when Johnson came to London to try his fortune as a writer,
it was just the time between. The patron had not quite vanished,
the bookseller had not yet taken his place. Never had writing
been more badly paid, never had it been more difficult to make a
living by it. "The trade of author was at about one of its
lowest ebbs when Johnson embarked on it."*
Johnson had brought with him to London a tragedy more than half
written, but when he took it to the booksellers they showed no
eagerness to publish it, or indeed anything else that he might
write. Looking at him they saw no genius, but only a huge and
uncouth country youth. One bookseller, seeing his great body,
advised him rather to try his luck as a porter than as a writer.
But, in spite of rebuffs and disappointments, Johnson would not
give in. When he had money enough he lived in mean lodgings,
when he had none, hungry, ragged, and cold, he roamed about the
streets, making friends with other strange, forlorn men of