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SIR RICHARD STEELE.*
of magazine criticism and contemporary pamphlets concerning him, of books dedicated to him, and the yet more flattering endless imitations of his work in all lands and tongues. There are the imitations by Sir R. Blackmore and Bishop Middleton and Leigh Hunt, by Van Effen and Bodmer and Gottsched and Kramer, by Marivaux and Granet, La Croix and Malte Brun, De Foëre and Manent and Guizot. They are published in London and Paris, in Hanover and Gottingen, in Leyden and Copenhagen, in Fleneburg and Berlin and Milan, in Melbourne and in Honolulu. There has been a Danish, a Belgian, a French, a Swiss, a Dutch, a Prussian, an Italian Spectator; a European and an American Spectator; a Catholic Spectator and a Protestant Guardian; a Female Spectator and a Juvenile Spectator; a French Spectator at the National Assembly, a Spectator during the Revolution, a Spectator under the Royal Government; a Female Tatler and Fairy Tatler, a Tatler Revived, and Der Poetische Tadler; a Spectatrice, a Spettatore, a Babler, a Babillard, and a Babbelaer! Surely it is a sounding fame which has such multitudinous echoes. Mr. Aitkin would seem to have caught and recorded, as on a phonographic
"More than a century and a half has passed since cylinder, each farthest reverberation, each last
Richard Steele died, and much that is of value has been written about him; but it is only recently that any accurate study of the facts of his life has been attempted, and the present work is the first in which an endeavor has been made to treat the subject exhaustively."
It is in these words that Mr. Aitken introduces his two comely octavos. In print, paper, and cover, and in abundant pertinent illustrations from authentic portraits of Steele, his wife, his mother-in-law, and his charming children, these volumes leave nothing to be desired. They are enriched with a very copious bibliography of the original and all subsequent editions of Steele's separate and collected works, and also of their translations, German, French, and Italian, published in all sorts of places.-in London, Edinburgh, Dublin, in Paris, Rouen, Luynes, in Amsterdam and Rotterdam, the Hague and Hamburg, Dresden, Leipsic, Frankfort, Bâle, New York, Boston, and Cincinnati. There is a list of the chief volumes of biography and criticism upon Steele,
*THE LIFE OF RICHARD STEELE. In Two Volumes. By George A. Aitken. Boston: Houghton, Mifflin & Co.
dying cadence along the verge of the horizon. From London to Honolulu is a far cry!
Steele died September 1, 1729. more than half a century later when John Nichols published an edition of "The Tatler," with notes in which many biographic details were embedded. The Correspondence of Steele, with literary and historical anecdotes by the same editor, was issued the following year, 1787. Bisset and Chalmers added little to our
knowledge. Dr. Drake only gave the old facts a re-setting. Macaulay, in his essay on Addison, used Steele as a foil to relieve the greater essayist, a sharp black to heighten the lights of his artful portraiture, and bitterly assailed his character. Thackeray handled him with a half-loving, half-contemptuous compassion, as for a kindly fellow one couldn't help liking, without overmuch respecting. Foster, in the "Quarterly," came to the rescue, and asserted Steele's genius and character against both the pity and the scorn. There was a life by Mr. H. R. Montgomery, in 1865, padded with sketches of all Steele's famous contemporaries.
Lately Mr. Austin Dobson has published a volume of well-chosen selections from Steele's essays, with a luminous introduction, and also a brief life of the essayist, "charmingly written, containing many new facts, as well as others set in a fresh light."
or more successfully for every shred and particle of material, relevant and irrelevant, than he has done. Nobody is likely to dive deeper, or, it must be confessed, come up drier, than he. If anywhere a modest and shrinking fact has eluded his gaze in some forgotten archives, let And now comes Mr. Aitken, gleaning every- it not prematurely congratulate itself on its where, in the remotest and unlikeliest corners escape. Mr. Aitken is sure to pounce upon it of the field, turning up the very stones for the presently and book it for his next edition. chance of an overlooked grain or two of mat- May it not be a wife's cousin's pedigree, nor a ter, and bringing us these eight or nine hun- legal pleading, nor a business assignment, for dred closely printed pages as the result. He He with these the present volumes are already has searched the Public Record office, the Pro- overweighted. Mr. Aitken's scrupulous method bate Registry, the College of Arms, the Vicar- may be illustrated by his details of several last General's office, Doctors' Commons, the Board wills of a family of Fords in St. Michael's Parof Green Cloth, the Lord Chamberlain's De- ish, Barbados, with his grave comment, "I do partment, in London. The Public Record not believe they were related to the family to office at Dublin and the Records at Birming- which Margaret Ford [Steele's first wife] beham have been ransacked. The British Mu- longed." Could anything be less in point? It seum, the South Kensington Museum, the Bod- is not Steele's will, nor Margaret Ford's will, leian and Lambeth, the libraries of Berlin, Mu- nor even the will of a presumable cousin, near nich, and Paris, the College Books at Oxford, or far, of Margaret Ford, but simply the will the Parish and District Registers at Carmar- or wills of several other Fords, resident, indeed, then, have all been rummaged to some purpose. in the same island, but not in the same parish New letters and manuscripts have been found. or neighborhood. Had the biographer posPrivate collections have yielded copies for sessed a saving trace of the humor of his subpublication. Original family portraits in pri- ject he would have lessened the bulk of his vate hands have been submitted to the pho- work by a good many tedious pages. We have tographer. Sources of information have been sometimes said we should be willing to read exactly indicated, to the great comfort of fu- Thackeray's notes of his weekly interviews ture explorers. In Steele's own manuscripts with his laundress,-not from any undue inthe cancelled words have been noted, so that terest in the contents of her basket, nor unwe may catch the writer's thoughts in the very worthy curiosity as to the condition of a great moment of their birth, observe the winged folly man's wardrobe, but for the sheer charm that as it flies, and discern the mental processes Thackeray's pen would give to the most trivial by which one phrase or idea was preferred to or unsavory details. So Steele's briefest note another. to his dear Prue, with its delicate cajoleries, its memoranda of seven pennyworth of walnuts at five to the penny, with the guilty postscript, "There are but twenty-nine walnuts," leaving us vainly to conjecture the fate of the missing half-dozen, had he cracked and eaten them? or had the vender at the street-corner scanted his measure?-and the subsequent note, with its remorseful propitiative offering of a larger quantity of walnuts, which we trust reached his dear Prue untampered with,- notes like these we cannot have in excess. They may be mere glow-worm illuminations, but they do brighten the picture. But interpose an attorney between us and the author; give us his breathless, unpunctuated, so-much-a-line-on-thelargest-foolscap record, and, as Marie Bashkirtseff said of reading Dumas in the absence of a New Testament, it is not the same thing." The least critical of readers detects the differ
In one sense, this must be the definitive biography of Steele. These handsome volumes are such externally as the somewhat modish and coxcombical subject of them would have relished as the court dress in which he should make his bow to the fastidious monarch, Posterity. Not curled wig and lace ruffles and jewelled rapier could better become the Christian Hero of Lord Lucas's regiment, or the M.P. from Stockbridge Hants, or Boroughbridge, Yorkshire. Whoever would know to the full Captain Steele of the Coldstream Guards, or Sir Richard Steele of the Tatler and Spectator and Englishman and Lover and Reader and Plebeian and Spinster, the author of the Ode on the Duke of Marlborough, of the Conscious Lovers and the Tender Husband, must give his days and his nights to the study of Mr. Aitken. Nobody after him is likely to search more painfully
As Lamb's discriminating hostess, when he touched the keys of the piano, happily conjectured, "it could not be the maid," so in turning back to a perusal of "The Tatler" or "The Guardian," we say,-No, this is not the attorney. It could not be engrossed on legal parchment or bound in law calf. Yet all the receipts of the stamp office are not given us, nor the confidential figures of the agent's outlay at the contested elections. Perhaps Mr. Aitken may not be the final biographer after all!
Let us be just; it is no small merit to be painstaking. Here is gathered the rich material which the touch of a Macaulay or Foster or Thackeray may one day make live. he shall want to know the precise sources of Steele's income, just how much he derived from his first wife's property and his second wife's property at a given date; if he is curious as to the first wife's name, maiden and widow, hitherto undiscovered; if he would be quite sure that Steele was a Captain of Foot, and in the Guards, but not, as commonly stated, of Fusileers; if he would know the date of Lord Lucas's commission as colonel of the regiment in which Steele was to serve, and the amount of pay due him on June 24, 1702; if he would distinguish clearly Fusileers, which Steele's men were not, from Musketeers and Pikemen and Grenadiers, which they really were; if he would know the items of Swift's tavern reckoning, the days he met Addison and spent 2s. 6d.,- it is all here. A fact has a fatal fascination for Mr. Aitkin. A date is a delight. His work is in admirable logical order and chronological order, but lacks the form of life. Some men are chaotic; Mr. Aitken is not that. Some men run hither and yon from death-bed back to christening, and so, by way of courtship and marriage, make their meandering way to the author's birth; Mr. Aitken is not of these. Only he is destitute of constructive and penetrative imagination; he is without sense of literary perspective. Where you look for a balanced composition, he gives you a well-stocked palette, a loaded brush, and a handful of thumb-nail sketches of divers and sundry studio properties, some of which might be worked into his picture and some might not. They may be good to have, but they lack adjustment and right relation. As Lowell says,
"Roots, wood, bark, and leaves singly perfect may be, But, clapt hodge-podge together, they don't make a tree.” Mr. Aitken does not clap them hodge-podge
together. Rather, he sorts and labels them; but they don't make a tree any better pigeonholed than huddled. The vital sap does not run through them either way. There is nothing so awkward as a misplaced fact,—except a cinder in the eye, which is very like it.
Too much of fault-finding! Mr. Aitken deserves the credit of great laboriousness, scrupulous fairness, and profound interest in his theme. You feel that the words of his preface are abundantly justified:
"I have endeavored to show Steele as he was; the work has been one of love, but I have aimed at setting forth everything impartially. I have, at any rate, not knowingly withheld or misrepresented any facts, and I am confident that the result of the fuller study of his life, which is now rendered practicable, will be the conviction that, in spite of weaknesses, which are among the most apparent of all those to which mortals are liable, Steele's character is more attractive and essentially nobler than that of any of the greatest of his contemporaries in the world of letters."
Mr. Aitken's view of Steele is substantially this: he was a man whose intellectual gifts were fresh and exuberant rather than mature, whose work was original and suggestive rather then finished and complete, whose style was easy and delightful, slipshod and inaccurate; who was, not the father of the English essay, for both Cowley and Temple had preceded him, but the father of the modern periodical essay, the discoverer of the thoughtful editorial on social and moral questions, inferior to Addison in fulness of thought and wealth of scholarship and delicacy of expression, yet throwing out the careless hint and unvalued example which Addison bettered and elaborated. Steele was no poet, though worse verses than his on the Duke of Marlborough have passed for poetry, and raised for their author “a slender stock of praise." He was no dramatist, though the author of moderately successful dramas that gave hints to Sheridan, who could mount his jewels better, even when they were but paste. He was a truth-loving humorist, not so much a thinker as a moralist and preacher, unfeignedly anxious to better the world he lived in, to laugh it out of its foibles and dissuade it from its sins. If the preacher was sometimes overtaken in a fault, it was no more than the common fate of moralists who do not proclaim their own virtue in urging the cause of virtue, or declare themselves impeccable because soberly convinced that the world of which they are a part has gone far enough astray. Steele is not a complex person. in wit a man, in character a child."