Page:Dictionary of National Biography volume 01.djvu/139

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Addison
Addison
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No. 555) that many of the ‘most applauded strokes in it’ were Addison's; and said that the best comment upon his productions would be an account of the time when Addison was at home or abroad.

Addison's social qualities helped his rise. His high character, modesty, and sweetness of temper won for him the esteem of his patrons and of many literary friends, of whom he was the equal or the patron. He early formed a close friendship with Swift, to whom he presented (1705) a copy of his Italian travels (now in the Forster Library) inscribed ‘to the most agreeable companion, the truest friend, and the greatest genius of his age.’ Steele was his most ardent admirer. Less famous men, especially Tickell, Ambrose Philips, Eustace Budgell (a cousin), Davenant, Colonel Brett, and Carey, formed a little circle united by a common veneration for their chief. Addison, according to Pope's account, generally spent much of his time with these friends at coffee-houses; and Pope found their prolonged sittings too much for his health (Spence, pp. 199, 286). The statement, if accurate, refers chiefly to the period of the ‘Spectator;’ and these social meetings are placed at Button's, which succeeded Will's as the resort of the wits; Button being an old servant of Addison's or Lady Warwick's who set up his coffee-house under Addison's patronage about 1711. It is generally said that Addison gave in too much to the ordinary drinking habits of the time; and indications in his letters and elsewhere confirm this solitary imputation upon his moral propriety. The annotator to the ‘Tatler’ (vol. iv. p. 300, ed. 1797) gives a report that Addison shortened his life by an excessive use of ‘Canary wine and Barbadoes water,’ and says that Tonson boasted of paying his court to the great man by giving him excuses for such indulgence. Steele seems to suggest the truth in the ‘Tatler’ (No. 252). Speaking obviously of Addison, he says that ‘you can seldom get him to the tavern; but when once he is arrived to his pint and begins to look about and like his company, you admire a thousand things in him which before lay buried.’ Addison, in fact, though not intemperate according to the standard of his time, sometimes resorted to stimulants to overcome bashfulness or depression of spirits. The charm of his conversation when once the ice was broken is attested by observers less partial than Steele. Swift, who never mentions him without praise, declares that, often as they spent their evenings together, they never wished for a third person (Delany, Observations, p. 32). Lady Mary Wortley Montagu declared that Addison was the best company in the world; Dr. Young speaks of his ‘noble stream of thought and language’ when once he had overcome his diffidence; and even Pope admitted the unequalled charm of his conversation (Spence, Anecdotes, pp. 232, 335, 350). The most characteristic touch is preserved in Swift's ‘character of Mrs. Johnson,’ where he notices her admiration of Addison's practice of agreeing with people who were ‘very warm in a wrong opinion.’ The unfavourable view of the practice is given in Pope's lines:

    Damn with faint praise, assent with civil leer,
    And without sneering teach the rest to sneer.

Addison's sensitive modesty disqualified him for the rough give-and-take of mixed society, but gave incomparable charm to his talk with a single congenial friend, or to the ironical acquiescence under which he took refuge in large gatherings.

The charm may be inferred from the writings in which he revealed his true power. Addison had taken his share of political warfare. In November 1707 he had published an anonymous pamphlet on the ‘Present State of the War,’ exhorting his countrymen to seize the opportunity of finally separating France from Spain, and insisting upon the poverty and misery of the French people to encourage the hope of finally overwhelming them. He came into parliament in Nov. 1708 for Lostwithiel; and that election being set aside 20 Dec. 1709, he was elected for Malmesbury by the influence of Wharton (Spence, p. 350) or his colleague Sir J. Rushout, to whose brother he had been tutor at Oxford (Aikin). He held the seat during his life; Swift notes upon his re-election in 1710 that it ‘passed easy and undisputed,’ and that ‘if he had a mind to be chosen king, he would hardly be refused’ (Journal to Stella, 8 Oct. 1710); but his modesty prevented him from ever speaking. In the autumn of 1710, when the whig ministry was falling, he defended them in the ‘Whig Examiner,’ of which five papers only appeared (14, 21, 28 Sept., 5, 12 Oct. 1710). They contain a spirited and, for Addison, a bitter attack upon the ‘Examiner,’ then the organ of Harley and St. John, but not yet committed to Swift. Addison, however, was to withdraw for a time from active political exertion and to achieve his greatest success. The fall of the whigs involved his loss of office. He tells Wortley Montagu (21 July 1711) that he has lost within twelve months a place of 2,000l. a year, an estate in the Indies of 14,000l., and his mistress (Aikin,