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morning, which he, having entirely neglected, then sat up in bed, and wrote in Mr Nutt's presence.
The fulness with which we have already, in our life of Swift, entered upon the political history of this generation, together with the consideration that we have far exceeded the space allotted to the period, must compel us to observe the greatest possible brevity in our notice of Steele's political career. Political controversy was then a principal path to literary eminence, and a ready open to preferment. The strife of parties, now carried on within the walls of parliament, or in the columns of the daily press, was then carried on by pamphlets, and in this war Steele was among the most distinguished. He was a stanch adherent to the whigs. His countryman, Swift, was his most formidable antagonist in the opposite party
Immediately previous to the last parliament in the end of the reign of queen Anne, when the point of main interest was the underhand struggle, then in its fiercest height, between the adherents of the Stuarts and the settlement of the crown upon the electress of Hanover and her descendants, Steele wrote an elaborate pamphlet in support of the latter interest: it was called “the Crisis,” and pointed in strong terms to the dangers and conspiracies against the protestant succession.* It called forth the resentment of Harley, and the occasion of vengeance was not slow to come. When the election of a new parliament drew nigh, he resigned his place of stamp commissioner, and was elected for the borough of Stockbridge.
The ministry resolved to unseat him, and that the matter might be brought in with the least impediment, the subject of his pamphlet was very distinctly, though in general terms, introduced in the queen's speech. In the mean time Steele did himself no good service: on the nomination of Sir T. Hanmer as speaker, he rose to second the motion, but became confused, and could only utter a few ill-selected words, which excited a sensation of ridicule in the house, and a cry of “Tattler” was raised. He sat down in his confusion; and it was remarked among the members, “ It is not so easy a thing to speak in the house-he fancies because he can scribble, that he can speak.”
As it was the object of the ministers to unseat him with the least possible delay, and as a petition, which was brought against his return, must have been very slow, it was thought a preferable course to propose the immediate consideration of that part of the speech which adverted to seditious libels. Mr Hungerford, a lawyer, who had been expelled the house for taking a bribe in king William's reign, was employed to call the attention of the house to Steele's pamphlet, and was followed by Mr Harley (the lord-treasurer's brother), and others. They first proposed proceeding at once to extremities, without allowing of any defence; it was then proposed to allow three days. Steele, however, showed some presence of mind and considerable address and
* It was answered by Swift; and it is remarkable that he also contrived in his answer, " The Public Spirit of the Whigs,” very seriously to involve himself in the displeasure of the Scottish peerage, so that he escaped the consequences, with some difficulty, by the address of Mr Harley, and the fidelity of his printer--the account of this may be found in his memoir, vol. iv.
wit, and, by contriving to put the house in good humour, he obtained a week to prepare for his defence. In the mean time he displayed his spirit and indiscretion, by making an attack on the government.
The 18th of March, the day appointed for his defence, proved that he could speak before the house, and that with extraordinary ability and power, by a speech of three hours' duration. On this occasion he stood at the bar of the house, supported by Walpole and Stanhope on either side; his friend, Addison, sat near to assist and prompt him, and he made a defence alike remarkable for argument and wit. His enemies did not think it necessary to reply in detail, as they relied more on their ascertained majority in the house than upon any consideration of the justice of their charges. Mr Auditor Foley peremptorily alleged that the writings complained of were scandalous, and called for the question. Walpole rose and made one of his ablest speeches in behalf of Steele, and retorted on the tories with a force so tremendous, as must, for a moment, have made them regret having stirred so perilous a question; among other severe strokes, he said, “From what fatality does it arise, that what is written in favour of the Protestant succession, and what was countenanced by the late ministry, is deemed a libel by the present administration? General invectives in the pulpit against any particular sin have never been deemed a reflection on individuals, unless the darling sin of those persons happen to be the vice against which the preacher inveighs. It becomes, then, a fair inference from the irritability and resentment of the present administration against its defender, that their darling sin is to obstruct and prevent the Protestant succession."
This occasion was attended by another incident of great interest, which we cannot omit. Steele had formerly in one of his periodical papers refuted a scandalous libel against lady Charlotte Finch, daughter to lord Nottingham, and afterwards duchess of Somerset. Her brother, lord Finch, as yet a very young man, was at this time in parliament, and was naturally eager to repay such an important obligation, by standing up for the defender of his sister. He had, however, never yet addressed the house, and when he made the attempt he was, like Steele himself, overpowered by the embarrassment, better known than understood, which is so usual on such occasions; he became confused; and, deserted by his self-possession and clear command of thought, after a vain effort, he sat down. But while he was taking his seat, he said, in a voice loud enough to be heard, “ It is strange I cannot speak for this man, though I could readily fight for him.” This noble spirited exclamation communicated a momentary thrill of generous feeling to the house, and “hear him, hear him,” resounded on every side. Lord Finch rose again, the chain of embarrassment was broken, and he delivered an able and eloquent speech, Lord Mahon observes that this “ was the beginning of a public career, which, though not illustrious, was long useful and honourable."*
The result of the debate was unfavourable to Steele,—the tories carried the motion by a majority of 245 against 152, that the “ Englishman” and “the Crisis" were scandalous libels; and that Mr Steele
* Hist. England, I.
be expelled the house. Steele soon after published a defence, which he dedicated to Walpole. Although we can have no doubt as to the substantial truth and justice of the imputations against the government, which are involved in these obnoxious writings of Steele, yet we must add, that, as a literary production, the merit of the Crisis seems to have been inconsiderable. Sir Walter Scott, in speaking of it says, “ This treatise was brought forward with a degree of pomp and parade which its contents hardly warrant, being chiefly a digest of the acts of parliament respecting the succession, mixed with a few comments, of which the diction is neither eloquent, forcible, nor precise; while, by the extraordinary efforts made to obtain subscriptions, it was plain that the relief of the author's necessities was the principal object of the publication.*
We have already in our memoir of Swift adverted to the long and violent quarrel which was during this period raging between Swift and Steele. It was then our intention to bring it forward here in considerable detail, but, as matters stand, we are compelled to abandon this intention the interest would not compensate the space lost. On Swift's part this conflict was carried on with all the fierce animosity and unrelenting rancour of his nature. He assailed the writings, the feelings, and the private life and reputation of Steele, with all the keen and searching malice of his unsparing satire. “It is to Steele's honour," says Scott, “ that although he appears to have rushed hastily, and without due provocation, into the quarrel with Swift, he did not condescend to retort these personalities.” Some letters which passed between Swift and Steele form the most interesting part of the quarrel—they will be found in the published collection of Swift's correspondence.
Among Steele's political writings on the main question, which, at the same date, occupied the public, was a pamphlet, entitled “ The Romish Ecclesiastical History of Late Years"--of which the object is sufficiently expressed in the title.
The accession of George I. opened better prospects to Steele. He was appointed surveyor of the royal stables at Hampton Court, and was also knighted. He again entered parliament as member for Boroughbridge. His circumstances were considerably relieved by a share in the patent for Drury-lane theatre, from which he derived, it is said, considerable emolument until 1720. In 1717, he was appointed one of the commissioners of inquiry upon the estates forfeited in Scotland by the rebellion of 1715—the consequence was a visit to Scotland, where he was received with great courtesy and respect.
In 1719, an unhappy difference arose between him and Addison, owing to a pamphleteering controversy on the subject of a bill for the limitation of the peerage. The difference was soon made up, but there grew up between these eminent friends a degree of estrangement, which rather increased than diminished for the remainder of their lives; yet, without any formal breach, and perhaps also without very sensibly lessening the old friendship which had subsisted from their very schoolboy days. We think it worth observing, that strong
friendships contracted very early in life, while numerous points of the character yet remain undeveloped, must always be liable to the risk of such estrangements. The high and constant spirit, will, it is true, not easily resign a sentiment of honourable affection; but two minds may, through life, by the development of opposite peculiarities, so continue to grow asunder from each other, as to render intercourse constrained and painful, unless by fits of occasion, when differences are, for the moment, suppressed, and only recollections of better days are called up. And so it soon became between Addison and Steele - they gradually ceased to seek each other. But when they did chance to meet, they threw aside all jarring topics, and indulged in the fullest flow of mutual kindness and affection. Both, indeed, were men free from the darker shades of human gall. Steele had not that depth and tenacity which retain offence; and that levity of temper, which in him was the source of many faults, is the least consistent with any lasting sense of anger: Addison was in these respects widely different; but in him there was a nobility of spirit, which makes just allowance, and a christian temper of humility and charity, which is ready to bear and forbear. To one of Addison's fine taste and cautious temper, Steele's perpetual thoughtlessness must have been the cause of constant disquiet; while, at the same time, it exercised all his kindliness of nature in the endeavour to guard his friend against the consequences of his invincible indiscretion and extravagance. Of this many incredible anecdotes remain, which we do not think it necessary to collect. Some may be useful for the illustration of character they contain. Steele's habit of extravagant expense was his besetting infirmity; on the slightest acquisition of means, he rushed into such expenses as ten times the emolument could not support; indeed, his economy seems never to have looked beyond the present day. He had built an extravagant villa near London, where he continued to live for a time in the most lavish extravagance. Addison had wasted his utmost efforts to induce him to part with this ruinous establishment, but all in vain. At last Steele became deeply embarrassed, and applied to his friend for the loan of a thousand pounds. Addison, of course, saw at once that the repayment of such a sum would be impossible; but, on reflection, he also saw that the loan might enable him to force his friend from the destructive position in which he was pertinaciously fixed. He lent him the required sum for twelve months, on the security of the house and furniture. The money soon went; but, at the end of the year, Steele was as poor as in the beginning there was no means of repayment, but by the sale of the obnoxious premises. This Addison enforced-and then explained his motives in a friendly letter to Steele, who received the explanation with candour, and there was no interruption to their friendship. It is mentioned that at a subsequent period Steele fitted up part of his house at York building as a theatre for recitations. One day, while visiting the work, he took it into his head to try how a voice would sound from a rostrum which was preparing for the purpose: accordingly, he desired the carpenter to mount and say something: the man got up; but, after scratching his head for a moment, could not think of anything to say. Steele desired that he should say whatever came uppermost: “ Why here,"
spoke the carpenter, “we have been working for you these six months, and cannot get one penny of money. Pray, sir, when do you mean to pay us.” “Very well, very well,” interrupted Sir Richard, “pray come down, I've heard quite enough, I can't but own you speak very distinctly, though I don't much admire your subject.”
On the accession of Mr Walpole to power, Steele was reinstated in the theatrical station, from which he had, according to his own account of the matter, been ejected by the private malice of the chamberlain. The influence of this happy circumstance gave new spirit to his dramatic talents, and he soon after produced the most successful of his comedies--the “ Conscious Lovers"_which was received with the highest applause of the theatre; and, having published it with a dedication to the king, his majesty presented him with £500.
Steele was one of that not very uncommon order of persons, who cannot be permanently benefited by kindness-money to him was like water to a sieve. Few had, indeed, been more fortunate, if favourable circumstances could counterbalance the total want of prudence. In addition to the successes which attended his literary and political course, his first wife brought him a handsome fortune, which, with a little judicious management in the beginning, might alone have secured a respectable independence. This lady having died soon, he married his second wife, a lady possessed of an estate in Wales. Happily, this lady, or more probably her family, took the most necessary precaution to secure her property in her own hands; and to this alone, perhaps, he was indebted for a retreat in the last days of his life. He was greatly attached to his second wife, who appears to have deserved his love by kindness. Mutual discontents must have frequently interrupted their peace, as Steele's desperate and unreflecting extravagance was to be resisted by her prudence. She has been accused of parsimony; but we can have no hesitation in rejecting the imputation, too obviously the result of circumstances which made it her daily duty to resist the extreme and wilful folly of her spendthrift husband.
Sir Richard Steele would have spent his wife's patrimony with the same rapidity, and by the same ready channels which quickly carried away his own resources. He was not long in disencumbering himself of the royal bounty, of the profits of his play and theatre, and compelled to resign whatever estate he was in any way possessed of for the benefit of his creditors. He retired to Llanqunnor, in Carmarthenshire—the estate of his wife. There the short remainder of his life was spent.
In the solitude of retirement, and in the languor of impaired health, when ordinary men have rarely the courage or the reflection to survey the errors of past life, or to turn in search of the long neglected narrow path, which is the only refuge in the end, Steele's devotional temper, which had always maintained a place, in “spite of folly”—for he never sunk into vice-obtained the entire possession of his breast. He carried, happily, with him into retirement, the recollection, that though he had been led away by his vanity and his impetuous impulses, he had never attempted to justify folly at the expense of truth; but in his writings had strenuously and effectually vindicated the