The Old Court Suburb, or Memorials of Kensington, Regal, Critical, and Anecdotical Volume I

Hunt, Leigh

1855

CHAPTER XV

CHAPTER XV

 

ADDISON, notwithstanding the popularity of the Foxes, is still the greatest celebrity of . His death in it is its greatest event. Places in the vicinity are named after him; and the favourite record of its library is the tradition, before mentioned,

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of the bottle of wine at each end of it, by which he is said to have refreshed his moralities, while concocting their sentences to and fro. It is added, unfortunately, that he drank the more because he was unhappily married.

The question upon this point is still discussed, and will probably never be settled. The received opinion is, that Addison's marriage with the Countess of Warwick originated in his being tutor to her son; that the Countess became ashamed of it, as a descension from her rank; and that their lives were rendered unhappy in consequence. The prevalence of this opinion appears to have been owing to Johnson's Lives of the Poets, in which the case is stated with so evident a willingness to believe it, that people in general, who are ready enough to fall in with such an inclination, have overlooked the manifest assumptions

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on which it is founded, and the " saids" and " perhapses," with which it is qualified. Setting aside higher points of view on such questions, there is, in fact, no proof that Addison was tutor to the young Earl, or that the Countess felt any regret for the marriage on the score of rank. Tutorship, had he been a tutor, need not have hindered him from making a pleasant husband. Tutors have married highly, before and since, and become lords and archbishops; and though the lady was a countess by marriage, her birth was but that of a baronet's daughter, which put no such vast difference between her and the son of a dean (for such was the father of Addison). The truth of the matter we take to have been, that the match was unsuitable on very ordinary grounds. The lady was well and merry; the gentleman fit only to muse. Addison died at the end of three

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years. And hence (as Johnson would have been the first to say, had anybody provoked him to differ with the other opinion)-hence all this mighty fuss, Sir, about a tutor, and a countess, and the punctilios of rank.

Mighty versions are often given to things that have quite another significancy. It has been questioned of late under what real impulse another circumstance occurred, which is connected with Addison and Holland House. We allude to the famous words which he is said to have addressed in his last moments to the young Earl of Warwick; -" See in what peace a Christian can die." The story originated with Young, who said he had it from Tickell; adding, that the Earl led an irregular life, which Addison wished to reclaim. But according to Malone, who was a scrupulous inquirer, there is no evidence of the Earl's having led any such life;

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and Walpole, in one of his letters that were published not long ago, startled-we should rather say, shocked-the world, by telling them that Addison "died of brandy." It is acknowledged by his best friends, that the gentle moralist, whose bodily temperament was as sorry a one as his mind was otherwise, had gradually been tempted to stimulate it with wine, till he became intemperate in the indulgence. It is impossible to say what other stimulants might not gradually have crept in; nor is it improbable that, during the patient's last hours, the physician himself might have ordered them. Sustainments of that kind, in dying moments, are frequently, and except in the opinion of superstition, very properly administered; generally, out of pure humanity; often in order to enable the sufferer to speak his last words, which may be of great importance. He may take the stimulant without

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knowing what it is; may suppose it to be one of those divine medicines with which God has been pleased to endow herb and mineral, sometimes even poison; and, indeed, there is no poison, nor dangerous distillation of anything, which is not a divine medicine, if used, instead of abused. Addison, therefore, may have had the stimulus given him, whatever it was, not because it was a habit which he could not leave off, and so " died of it," but because, like many a sober man before him, he had not strength enough to speak without it. Again, he might or might not have known anything of the nature of the draught, yet still have regarded his peace of mind as a thing apart from the composure of his nerves, and justly founded on what had been a conviction of his life. Nay, supposing him even to have died as Walpole asserts, he might still have regarded

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that conviction as a thing triumphant over the nerves themselves, and over the very inefficacy of the draught; he might have said to himself, " Nothing can compose me longer, but my belief in my religion. Let me show in this last trial, how tranquillising it can be." It is in vain that we fancy the light spirit of Walpole laughing at us for these considerations-saying to us, " Oh, what need of words ? He died drunk and maudlin, and there's an end." We cannot thus consent to think the worst, instead of best, of a man who has given the world so much instruction and entertainment, and whose Christianity, at all events, was of a kind superior to vulgar intolerances, and disposed to think the best of most things. No: if Addison spoke the words, which it is very likely he did, his mistake was (for we still think he committed a mistake) in rendering his religious convictions

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liable to the charge of egotism, and countenancing the assumption, that no others could enable a man to die as peaceably as himself. For to assume this, involves an imputation against the divine government, and the death-beds of good men in all regions of the world. Besides, good men, with tender consciences, may sometimes die less peaceably than men who are not so good; so that on every account it is best, upon the whole, that all such exhibitions of self-complacency be avoided, and the pious mortal, whatever be his particular mode of faith, be content to die in that spirit of resignation to heaven, and interchange of comfort with those about him, which is common to good people of all faiths.

Good words are good things; yet good deeds are better. Addison, we doubt not, had his rights of comfort from both; yet there is one thing which we could have

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preferred his doing in his last hours, to anything which he may have said. It is the amends which, for some mysterious reason or other, he said he would have made to Gay, " if he lived." The story, as related by Pope, is, that "a fortnight before Addison's death, Lord Warwick came to Gay, and pressed him, in a very particular manner, to go and see Mr. Addison, which he had not done for a great while. Gay went, and found Addison in a very weak way. Addison received him in the kindest manner, and told him that he had desired this visit to beg his pardon; that he had injured him greatly; but that, if he lived, he should find that he would make it up to him. Gay, on his going to Hanover, had great reasons to hope for some good preferment; but all those views came to nothing. It is not impossible but that Mr. Addison might prevent them, from his thinking

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Gay too well with some of the former ministry. He did not at all explain himself in what he had injured him; and Gay could not guess at anything else in which he could have injured him so considerably." Now it surely would have been better, if instead of stopping at Gay's pardon of him, which of course the good-natured poet heartily gave (we fancy we see him coming out of with the tears in his eyes), Addison had followed it up with making the amends while he could; or, better still, had he secured the amends beforehand, in order to warrant his asking the pardon. It may be said, that he might have been unable. He might so. But still he might have given proofs that he had done his best.

Addison, it must be owned, did not shine during his occupation of . He married, and was not happy: he was

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made Secretary of State, and was not a good one; he was in Parliament, and could not speak in it; he quarrelled with, and even treated contemptuously, his old friend and associate, Steele, who declined to return the injury. Yet there, in , he lived and wrote, nevertheless, with a literary glory about his name which never can desert the place; and to , while he resided in it, must have come all the distinguished men of the day; for though a Whig, he was personally " well in," as the phrase is, with the majority of all parties. He was in communication with Swift, who was a Tory, and with Pope, who was neither Tory nor Whig. It was now that the house and its owners began to appear in verse. Rowe addressed stanzas to Addison's bride; and Tickell after his death touchingly apostrophizes the place:

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"Thou hill, whose brow the antique structures grace, Rear'd by bold chiefs of Warwick's noble race; Why, once so loved, whene'er thy bower appears, O'er my dim eyeballs glance the sudden tears ?" (that is a good and true line.)

" How sweet were once thy prospects, fresh and fair, Thy sloping walks and unpolluted air! How sweet the gloom beneath thy aged trees !"

It seems to have been in (for he died shortly afterwards) that Addison was visited by Milton's daughter, when he requested her to bring him some evidences of her birth. The moment he beheld her, he exclaimed, "Madam, you need no other voucher; your face is a sufficient testimonial whose daughter you are." It must have been very pleasing to Addison to befriend Milton's daughter; for he had been the first to popularize the great poet by his critiques on " Paradise Lost," in the "Spectator."

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Besides , Addison possessed a mansion of his own at Bilton, in Warwickshire, which was afterwards occupied by his daughter, who lived to a great age. He deserved to possess a good house and grounds; for he understood the elegancies of such things, and the tranquil pleasures of the country. The illustrious inhabitant of watched with interest the improvement of the royal grounds, and was the first to propose that " Winter Garden," to horticulturists in general, which we trust to see realized, with such a world of other desirables, in the new Crystal Palace. END OF VOL. I. LONDON: Printed by Schulze and Co., 13, Poland Street.