“As Sir Roger is landlord to the whole congregation, he keeps them in very good order, and will suffer nobody to sleep in it besides himself; for, if by chance he has been surprised into a short nap at sermon, upon recovering out of it, he stands up and looks about him, and, if he sees anybody else nodding, either wakes them himself, or sends his servants to them.”
Addison is remarkable among a satiric group of writers because he intended his humor to be “remedial,”—not merely to inflict wounds, but to exert a moral influence, to induce human beings to forsake the wrong and to become more kindly. We may smile at Sir Roger; but we have more respect for his kindliness, after reading in Spectator No. 383, how he selected his boatmen to row him on the Thames:—
“We were no sooner come to the Temple Stairs, but we were surrounded with a crowd of watermen, offering us their respective services. Sir Roger, after having looked about him very attentively, spied one with a wooden leg, and immediately gave him orders to get his boat ready. As we were walking towards it, ‘You must know,’ says Sir Roger, ’I never make use of anybody to row me, that has not either lost a leg or an arm. I would rather bate him a few strokes of his oar than not employ an honest man that had been wounded in the Queen’s service. If I was a lord or a bishop, and kept a barge, I would not put a fellow in my livery that had not a wooden leg.’”
Such humor, which finds its chief point in a desire to make the world kindlier, must have appealed to the eighteenth century, or The Spectator could not have reached a circulation of ten thousand copies a day. Addison would not now have his legion of warm admirers if his humor had been personal, like Pope’s, or misanthropical, like Swift’s.
Of his style, Dr. Samuel Johnson says, “Whoever wishes to attain an English style, familiar but not coarse, and elegant but not ostentatious, must give his days and nights to the study of Addison.” Benjamin Franklin, as we know from his Autobiography, followed this advice with admirable results. Addison’s style seems as natural and easy as the manners of a well-bred person. When we have given some attention to dissecting his style, we may indeed discover that a prose model for to-day should have more variety and energy and occasionally more precision; but such a conclusion does not mean that any writer of this century would like the task of surpassing the De Coverley Papers.
[Illustration: ALEXANDER POPE. From the portrait by William Hoare.]
Life.—Alexander Pope was born in London in 1688. His father, a devout Catholic, was a linen merchant, who gave his son little formal schooling, but allowed him to pick up his education by reading such authors as pleased his fancy.