1820 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Joseph Addison

Isaac D'Israeli, in Review of Spence's Anecdotes, Quarterly Review 23 (July 1820) 420-21.



The most elaborate charge Mr. Bowles has urged against Pope relates to his conduct towards Addison, — and indeed his lengthened note on the famous character of Atticus is a formal defence of the latter — resting on hypothetical reasonings. And this is our grievance, that Mr. Bowles, who is a poet and no commentator, pours out his invention on old facts, and never discovers new ones. He asserts that "Pope's eye was jaundiced and saw every thing in his imagination that he attributed to Addison, and that his character, compared to Addison's, was perhaps, as Johnson might say, like tortuosity opposed to rectitude." We own we have read this passage with strong indignation, because we believe it to be scandalously unjust; and since we have seen the poet thus trodden down by his commentator, it behoves us to abate his triumph.

Our readers, we presume, are sufficiently acquainted with the particulars of the quarrel between Pope and Addison. The main point to ascertain is, whether Addison was jealous of Pope's rising celebrity, and whether the suspicions of Pope were ill-founded, and his conduct, in consequence, unjust towards Addison; or, to adopt Mr. Bowles's words, was there "any tortuosity in Addison's rectitude?"

One thing at least is clear; if jealousy, that infirmity of genius, existed between the parties, it could not be on the side of Pope: Addison's true fame rests on his Spectators; and Pope never, for an instant, could contemplate a rival in the verse of Addison. With respect to the translation called Tickell's Homer, Mr. Bowles infers that Addison "could not be the author of it, from being incapable of writing such verses;" yet was the writer of the "Letter from Italy," and the "Campaign," of a classical vein. But Mr. Bowles was not aware that the foible of this elegant genius was his poetry, and that he was most fretful and jealous about his character as a poet. We find in Spence, "Addison seems to value himself more upon his poetry than his prose, though he wrote the latter with such particular ease, fluency, and happiness." It is indeed Pope who speaks, who, however, is never unjust to Addison, whom he greatly admired. — To return, however, to the rival translation — abundance of circumstantial evidence has been given to prove that Addison was the author; but positive evidence exists, that the copy sent to the press was in Tickell's hand-writing, much corrected and interlined by Addison: so that, though Mr. Bowles concludes that he was incapable of writing it, it is ascertained that he was capable of correcting it.

The most remarkable incident in the quarrel between Pope and Addison is the interview which took place between them, by the interference of mutual friends — Pope discovers his warm irascible spirit, but with an openness which did not appear in the colder temper and the stifled anger of Addison. The narrative, Mr. Bowles suspects, may have come from Pope; its internal evidence at least stamps its authenticity. To suppose that Pope deliberately forged these circumstances, we must first make up our minds to think him one of the most infamous of men; and till we can do that, the probability is that he did not invent dialogue, gesture, and incident. Mr. Bowles, indeed, at the close of his defence of Addison, seems not to have felt the same conviction of Pope's guilt, as at its opening; for he limps off by observing, that "Pope POSSIBLY may have been right in his judgment, but Addison ought not to be condemned on the ex-parte evidence of Pope." We can now offer Mr. Bowles more positive evidence of the hostile feelings of Addison towards Pope, by contemporaries, speaking from their own observation. Dean Lockier, an exquisite judge and observer of his own times, told Spence that "Pope's character of Addison was one of the truest, as well as one of the best things, he ever wrote; Addison deserved that character the most of any man. Steele confirmed it, in some degree, to Mr. Chute, who observes, from "what Sir Richard dropt in various conversations, it seems to have been but too true." Dr. Leigh told Spence a fact which his friend witnessed, and which shews the fidgetings of petty jealousy: — "Mr. Addison was not a good-natured man, and was very jealous of rivals. Being one evening in company with Philips, and the poems of Blenheim and the Campaign being talked of, he made it his whole business to run down blank verse. Philips never spoke till between eleven and twelve o'clock, nor even then in his own defence. It was at Jacob Tonson's; and a gentleman in company ended the dispute by asking Jacob what poem he ever got the most by? Jacob immediately named Milton's Paradise Lost." Old Tonson told Spence that "Addison was so eager to be the first name, that he and his friend Sir Richard Steele used to run down even Dryden's character as far as they could. Pope and Congreve used to support it." Cibber confirmed to Spence "Addison's character of bearing no rival, and enduring none but flatterers; and said that he translated the greater part of the first book of the Iliad, published as Tickell's, and put it forth with a design to have overset Pope's." Mr. Bowles cannot urge that these are ex-parte evidences. On the whole, when we reflect that Pope, from early life, had looked up to Addison as his protector, and his superior, in age and character; that he zealously performed many kind offices for his friend; that he even suppressed a satire which Gay had written against him; we conclude by believing, in opposition to Mr. Bowles's opinion, what he told Spence: — "Addison was very kind to me at first, but my bitter enemy afterwards." The whole of Pope's conduct was noble and generous; he gave to Addison his fine Epistle on Medals, and his prologue to Cato; he spared his feelings more than once, and stepped forwards in his defence upon all occasions.