Imatges de pàgina
PDF
EPUB

This sale is not great; yet this, if Swift be credited, was likely to grow less; for he declares that the Spectator, whom he ridicules for his endless mention of the fair fex, had before his recess wearied his readers.

The next year (1713), in which Cato came upon the stage, was the grand climacterick of Addison's reputation. Upon the death of Cato, he had, as is said, planned a tragedy in the time of his travels, and had for several years

the four first acts finished, which were Shewn to such as were likely to spread their admiration. They were seen by Pope, and by Cibber; who relates that Steele, when he took back the copy, told him, in the defpicable cant of literary modesty, that, whatcver spirit his friend had thewn in the composition, he doubted whether he would have courage sufficient to expose it to the censure of a British audience.

The time however was now come, when those who affected to think liberty in danger,

affected likewise to think that a stageplay might preserve it: and Addison was importuned, in the name of the tutelary deities of Britain, to thew his courage and his zeal by finishing his design,

a

To resume his work he seemed perversely and unaccountably unwilling; and by a request, which perhaps he wished to be denied, defired Mr. Hughes to add a fifth act. . Hughes supposed him serious; and, undertaking the supplement, brought in a few days some scenes for his examination ; but he had in the mean time gone to work himself, and produced half an act, which he afterwards completed, but with brevity irregularly difproportionate to the foregoing parts ; like a talk performed with reluctance, and hur. ried to its conclusion,

2

It may yet be doubted whether Cato was made publick by any change of the author's purpose ; for Dennis charged him with raising prejudices in his own favour by false

positions of preparatory criticism, and with poisoning the town by contradicting in the Spectator the established rule of poetịcal jus, tice, because his own hero, with all his vir, tues, was to fall before a tyrant, The fact is çertain; the motives we must guess.

Addison Addison was, I believe, sufficiently disposed to bar all avenues against all danger. When Popel brought him the prologue, which is properly accommodated to the play, there were these words, Britons, arise, be worth like this approved; meaning nothing more than, Britons, erect and exalt yourselves to the approbation of public vir

Addison was frighted lest he fhould be thought a promoter of insurrection, and the line was liquidated to Britons, attend.

tue.

Now, heavily in clouds came on the day, the great, the important day, when Addison was to stand the hazard of the theatre. That there might, however, be left as little to hazard as was poffible, on the first night Steele, as himself relates, undertook to pack an audience. This, says Pope*, had been tried for the first time in favour of the Distreft Mother ; and was now, with more efficacy, practised for Cato,

The danger was foon over,

The whole nation was at that time on fire with faction,

* Spence,

The

The Whigs applauded every line in which Liberty was mentioned, as a satire on the Tories ; and the Tories echoed every clap, to shew that the fatire was unfelt. The story of Bolingbroke is well known. He called Booth to his box, and gave him fifty guineas for defending the cause of Liberty so well against a perpetual dictator. The Whigs, says Pope, design a second present, when they can accompany it with as good a fentence,

The play, supported thus by the emulation of factious praise, was acted night after night for a longer time than, I beļieve, the publick had allowed to any drama before ; and the author, as Mrs, Porter long afterwards related, wandered through the whole exhibition behind the scenes with restless and unappeąsable solicitude,

When it was printed, notice was given that the Queen would be pleased if it was dedicated to her ; but as he had designed that compliment elsewhere, be found bimself obliged, says Tickell, by his duty on the one hand, and bis honour on the other, to send it into the world without

any

dedication,

Human happiness has always its abatements; the brightest sun-fhine of success is not without a cloud. No sooner was Cato offered to the reader, than it was attacked by the acute malignity of Dennis, with all the violence of angry criticism. Dennis, though equally zealous, and probably by his temper more furious than Addison, for what they called liberty, and though a flatterer of the Whig ministry, could not sit quiet at a fuccessful play; but was eager to tell friends and enemies, that they had misplaced their admirations. The world was too stubborn for instruction ; with the fate of the censurer of Corneille's Cid, his animadversions shewed his anger without effect, and Cato continued to be praised.

Pope had now an opportunity of courting the friendship of Addison, by vilifying his old enemy, and could give resentment its full play without appearing to revenge himself. He therefore published A Narrative of the madness of John Dennis; a performance

which

1

« AnteriorContinua »