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Character and Works. — Almost universally popular and respected in his lifetime, Addison remains one of the most honored of English writers. His poetry, except a few of his hymns, was commonplace and uninspired; his once famous tragedy is little short of a failure; but his best essays have a humanity, a grace, and a sympathetic humor which neither time nor the change in literary fashions has been able to impair. And Addi
son is still honored, not only for what he wrote, but also for what he was. He lived in the midst of literary warfare, of contending factions in politics, and bitter animosities in religion; yet he lived out his prosperous, well-ordered life undisturbed by these things, a man of stainless honor, wise, benevolent, dignified, and serene. He was a shy man, silent, and, it is said, even stiff and awkward among strangers; but when he was at ease with his friends, he is reported to have been "the best company in the world.” Even to this day we feel this touch of chill in his dignified reserve, and we should not
dare to claim him for our friend as we did Steele. But, if Addison calls forth our respect rather than our affection, we must not fail to do full justice to the nobility of his character and his life. When we reflect upon the great work he performed for English society, and the way in which he accomplished it, even the slightest disparagement of him seems ungrateful and unimportant: we remember him only as Macaulay truly described him, as “the unsullied statesman; the accomplished scholar; 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 and virtue after a long and painful separation, during which wit had been led astray by profligacy, and virtue by fanaticism."
Addison and Steele did much to encourage a more simple and informal way of writing: they did much to improve the manners and purify the morals of the time: but, besides all this, they helped men to look at the daily life of the world in which they lived, with a fresh interest and a deeper understanding. Many of the essays in the Tatler and the Spectator were sketches of individual characters, and of social manners in London; and as such were a definite contribution to the development of the novel, which, from the middle of the eighteenth century on, has been one of the most important forms of English literature.
Steele and Addison, in their periodical essays, depicted a type of contemporary life by presenting men and women acting and conversing in the midst of their daily surroundings. In the De Coverley papers, with their fresh and faithful pictures of English town and country
life, with their grasp of character, their amusing or pathetic scenes and incidents, we have all the elements but one of the modern novel. Here, indeed, is a novel held in solution. Had these elements been united by a regularly constructed plot, bringing an added interest, and binding scene to scene, and character to character, by a closer and more inevitable sequence, we should have had a story to set side by side with Goldsmith's Vicar of Wakefield. Here and there in the De Coverley essays are persons and situations almost identical with those which were soon to find a place in the masterpieces of English fiction.
Having advanced thus far, we have reached the very boundaries of a new development in the story-writer's art. But into this region Addison and Steele did not enter. The next great step toward the modern novel was left for a man whom Addison scorned, one of the most brilliant, indomitable, and enigmatical of English writers, Daniel Defoe.
Daniel Defoe (1659 ?-1731), who during early and middle life had been a journalist, a political agent of questionable character, and a man of varied and unusual experience among many classes of men, at the age of sixty began the publication of a series of stories which are the most memorable of his works. The first of these, and the most important, was Robinson Crusoe (1719), a story of a poor sailor, cast away on a solitary island in the Caribbean Sea, and a story which promises to delight the world so long as the spirit of adventure and the love of the marvelous survive in the heart
Robinson Crusoe is but a reporter's "story" in a more expanded and a more purely imaginative form. It has a basis in fact, for it was founded on the adventures of Alexander Selkirk, an English
sailor, who, in 1704, was abandoned by his companions on the island of Juan Fernandez. After about four years of solitary exile, Selkirk was rescued, and on his return to England became an object of public interest. But while we can in part explain how it came to be written, the production of such a book as Robinson Crusoe remains one of the marvels of literature. Out of the fret and partisanship of an artificial time, when Pope and the rest are treating of the fashions and follies of the town, there comes suddenly the story of a faraway world; the story of a man in an almost primitive relation to nature, shut away from kings, or party squabbles, or political institutions, and set face to face with the first vital problem of the race, the problem of wresting food and clothing and shelter from the earth and the sea by the ingenuity of his mind and the labor of his hands.
The success of Robinson Crusoe turned Defoe's energies into a new channel, and he wrote a number of other stories which make his later years the most brilliant literary period of his life. Among these “secondary novels," as Lamb called them, The Memoirs of a Cavalier, The Life of Captain Singleton, Moll Flanders, and The History of Colonel Jack, are perhaps the best known. These, like Robinson Crusoe, are remarkable for their realistic and circumstantial detail, and especially for their human and sympathetic study of the lives of criminals. In no other books of fiction, says Lamb, "is guilt and delinquency made less seductive, or the suffering made more closely to follow the commission, or the penitence more earnest or more bleeding, or the intervening flashes of religious visitation upon the rude and uninstructed soul more meltingly and fearfully painted.”
(1667-1745) “To Dr. Jonathan Swift, the most agreeable companion, the truest friend, and the greatest genius of his age.”
Addison's dedication of his Travels in Italy. “By far the greatest man of that time, I think, was Jonathan Swift. . . . He saw himself in a world of confusion and falsehood; no eyes were clearer to see it than his."
“When a shallow optimism is the most living creed, a man of strong nature becomes a scornful pessimist.”
- SIR LESLIE STEPHEN.
Jonathan Swift, one of the greatest satirists and most vigorous prose-writers in the history of English literature is to be associated with Defoe as a contributor to the development of realistic fiction. His Gulliver's Travels, the work by which he is best known, is, like Robinson Crusoe, one of the greatest boys' books in the world. But, unlike Robinson Crusoe, it has an interest beyond that of the story itself, and it was written with a purpose far different from that of entertaining and instructing the reader. Gulliver's Travels is a powerful and scornful satire on Swift's own time, and, more important still, an outburst of the author's personal feeling which explains in part the most puzzling and most tragic figure in the literary history of the century.
Even from the first Swift's course was determined by his imperious temper and ambitious intellect rather than by the accidents of birth or opportunity. Born in Dublin in 1667 of English parents, he was sent to a school at Kilkenny by his uncle, and afterward (1682) to Trinity College, Dublin. But in both school and college he rebelled against discipline, and neglected