Abbildungen der Seite

duction to learned and accomplished men. Among others, he presented it to Boileau, then in the height of his fame. The Frenchman replied, that the work had given him a new idea of English cultivation; and truly there was room for new ideas, if we may judge from his remark to a traveller, who told him what honor the English had paid to the memory of Dryden. He said he was happy to learn it, but he had never heard the gentleman's name before. Alas for glorious John! The truth was, the French at that time lorded it over the political and literary world like undisputed and rather supercilious masters. King William had done something to break their civil and military sceptre, and Marlborough was in a fair way to finish what he had begun. But it was long before any literary changes let sufficient light into France to see the names of Shakspeare and Milton, so completely eclipsed were they by certain French luminaries, lost Pleiads, too, which have long since perished, and never been missed from the skies.

Whatever Addison's timidity and reserve may have been in England, he appears to have left them behind him when he travelled; for we find him making acquaintance with all those who were distinguished in literature. He remarks, in one of his letters, that he had not seen a blush since he landed in France; probably it is with blushes as with other matters, that the supply is regulated by the demand. Being but imperfectly acquainted with the French language, he took up his residence for a time at Blois, where it was thought to be spoken in great purity, in order to learn it; and we happen to know something of his habits of life while there, from a French Abbé, a careless but impartial observer.

This worthy speaks of him as lying in bed all the forenoon, according to the London fashion, which has its origin in the circumstance, that the sun, in that dark atmosphere, brings no light which makes it worth while to rise. He was not talkative, and was often so lost in thought, that the ecclesiastic would be in his room some time before Addison was aware of his presence; which may be true, though it is hard to conceive how the Abbé should have endured so long constraint upon his own active tongue. He says, too, with an air of some surprise, and as if it brought the Englishman's morals into suspicion, that he had no amour while he resided there; if there was any thing of the kind, he must have

known it, which is very likely to be true. But the reproach of this deficiency is one that can be forgiven by those who do not regard morals and refinement as inconsistent things. The Nine were the only ladies of his acquaintance, and they appear to have received his devoted attentions. While preparing himself by the acquisition of modern languages for his European tour, he was diligently studying the allusions of classical writers to Italy and its antiquities, those being the subject of interest on which he had set his heart. His letters, written at the time, are short, but they have some touches of his peculiar manner, particularly one in which he congratulates a friend who tells him that he has lost ten pounds by a copy of verses. Addison assures him that every time he meets with such a loss, the more like a true poet he will be. In the spelling of his letters there is something which would fill a Phonographer with delight; the word "bin" always represents the preterite of the verb to be; and there are sundry other graces of the kind, which show how little importance was then attached to what is now considered essential in a well-educated writer.

On his second visit to Paris, he was able to enjoy the society in which it abounded; and if it seems strange, that, with his acknowledged reserve, he could ever make himself at home in it, we must remember that such persons are very much influenced by the prevailing social spirit. In England, such a man would need to be furnished with an ice-breaker, to make his way in their arctic circles; but where there is no reserve to meet reserve, but all are at their ease, a bashful man forgets himself, ceases to think of his own words and motions, and therefore is unconstrained and free. He was very much struck with the cheerfulness of the French, and the excellent terms with themselves on which they all stood. Sometimes their self-exaltation was disagreeable to an Englishman, who of course had as good an opinion of his own country as they could possibly have of France; but their familiar courtesy was always pleasing; and among their men of letters he found these whom he considered it a privilege to know. Among others, he visited Malebranche, who was much admired by the English. The French nation at the time had taken a religious turn, and apprehended that there might be something unchristian in speculations which they did not understand. Malebranche was therefore

better acquainted with the great men of England than some others of his countrymen; and though he said nothing of glorious John, who was out of his line, he had heard of Newton, and also of Hobbes, at whom he shook his head.

Addison waited afterwards on Boileau, who was old and a little deaf, but conversed incomparably well, though he was very severe in his strictures on the present times, and flew into a passion with all who did not share his reverence for the past. Johnson thinks, that, as Boileau had "an injudicious and peevish contempt for modern Latin," the flattering things which he said of Addison, whom he knew only through his edition of the Musa Anglicanæ, were proofs of his civility, not of his approbation. It might rather have been regarded as a testimony to the classical excellence. of Addison's Latin, and also of his taste, that the unsparing criticisms which the learned Frenchman made on other modern attempts were not considered as applying to his. When Boileau was freely berating his own time and all its literary productions, Addison asked him if he would not except Telemachus, which was then in the height of its fame. He allowed that it gave a better idea of Homer's way than any translation, and that some passages of it were superior to Virgil; but he had no patience with the eternal preaching of Mentor, and, on the whole, admitted nothing in its favor which it was possible to deny. As Boileau, after the death of his friend Racine, lived in retirement, his reception of Addison was a distinguished favor. It implied a high opinion of the traveller, and we are told by Tickell, that his friend had gained a very high and extensive reputation in other nations, before he was known or talked of in his own.

But Italy is the country in which such a traveller must feel most at home. He reached it in the usual way, by the tour through Switzerland, where the scenery impressed him as it does all others. His indifference, amounting to contempt, for the Gothic architecture, which appears in some passages of his work, has given an impression to the disadvantage of his taste. But this preference was of the conventional kind ; it was one in which he was educated; it was not to be overcome by general cultivation, like a mistaken choice in literary works, nor had it any thing to do with that love of nature, which often is found mature and faultless in those who do not know one picture, statue, or building from another.

While in France, he was agreeably struck with those places in which the French king, when improving his palace-grounds, had followed the leading suggestions of nature, instead of forcing nature into the traces of art. We apprehend that he must have found but few such cases, and he valued them the more, perhaps, on account of their rarity; for the landscapegardening of that day, which was imported from that country into England, seemed to have for its leading principle to suppress nature, and to extinguish what it could not reform.

But while he found pleasure in contemplating these wonders and glories of the visible world, his active and searching mind made him a philosophical observer of men ; he looks upon them with " most humorous sadness," sometimes smiling at follies and pretensions, often breathing a fine spirit of liberty, but always inspired with a love of his race. He was just the man to encounter the officer of the Prince of Monaco, whose dominions consisted of two towns; that official told him, with much solemnity, that his master and the king of France were faithful allies and friends. His most Christian Majesty must have derived, great solace from this assurance, when Marlborough was thundering on his borders. The little republic of San Marino, which has existed through so many changes in Europe, is described with admirable humor; of that kind, however, which, without any violent transition, easily resumes the serious vein. It closes with a manly reflection on that natural love of liberty, which fills its rocks and snows with inhabitants, while the Campagna is deserted, showing the deep and universal feeling, that the chief blessing of moral existence is for men to feel that they are free.

In his description of Rome, where he spent considerable time, the same fine spirit appears. Though he does not seem to have been an enthusiast in the arts, he was deeply interested in every thing connected with ancient literature; and the remains of the Eternal City, eternal in its glory and influence, though sinking under the effects of malaria and time, had all of them some relation to those studies in which he was most deeply interested. His political feeling, if, indeed, it does not deserve the higher name of humanity, is shown in the remark, that the grandeur of the old commonwealth manifested itself in works of convenience or necessity, such as temples, highways, aqueducts, walks, and bridges;

[ocr errors]

while the magnificence of the city under the emperors displayed itself in works of luxury or ostentation, such as amphitheatres, circuses, triumphal arches, pillars, and mausoleums. Miss Aikin suggests that he was the first who ever used the expression "classic ground," which is now as familiar as the ground on which we tread. In his days, Rome was not visited, as it is now, by tourists from all parts of the world; the Englishman, having no social intercourse with the living, had ample time for intimacy with the mighty dead. Addison remarks, that he had become an adept in ancient coins, while he had almost lost his acquaintance with English money. As to rust, he could tell the age of it at sight; having been forced by his total want of other society to converse with pictures, statues, and medals, all of which⚫ had some story to tell of the interesting and memorable past.

Whatever criticism may at times have said of the work in which he imparted to the world the results of his observation on foreign countries, the public, who are sure to be impartial and at least sufficiently discerning, gave it a hearty welcome. At first, it was thought too learned for popular circulation; but when its true character was understood, it was so much in demand, that, before it could be reprinted, it rose to five times its first price. Johnson praises it rather coldly, though he admits the manner in which its elegance gains upon the reader; of some parts he remarks, that it is not a severe censure to say that they might have been written at home. He might have said that it is no censure at all, but rather a statement of the fact with respect to this work and most others of the kind. His own tour to the Hebrides was written at home, and in his case, as in Addison's, the value consists in fine trains of thought and striking remarks suggested by new scenes and objects, and not in artist-like descriptions; though Addison often shows great power in scene-painting, and would have applied it with distinguished success, had not moral and intellectual observation been more in harmony with the taste and tendency of his mind.

It is a little singular that the Dialogues on Medals, which are so connected with the foreign tour, should have been kept by him, and not suffered to see the light till after his death. None of his writings assemble more of his peculiar traits. Though Johnson does not allow him to have possessed great learning, he admits that he studied the Latin poets with

« ZurückWeiter »