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THE LIVES OF THE AUTHORS,
A NEW EDITION, CORRECTED,
THE NAME OF THE AUTHOR SUBJOINED TO EACH
PRINTED FOR J. NUNN: J. OTRIDGE; J. CUTHELL; J. BOOKER;
2699. e. 3/6/1
LIVES OF THE AUTHORS.
SIR RICHARD STEELE.
s a writer of periodical essays, the name of Steele is entitled to the first place. Papers on a plan somewhat similar to the Spectator had indeed been attempted with considerable success in Italy, by Casa in his Book of Manners, by Castiglione in his Courtier; and in France, by La Bruyere in his Manners of the Age: But before the Tatler and Spectator, if the writers for the theatre are excepted, (says Johnson) England had no masters of common life. No writers had yet undertaken to re<form either the savageness of neglect, or the impertiof civility; to teach when to speak, or to be silent; how to refuse, or how to comply. The Tatler ' and Spectator reduced, like Casa, the unsettled practice of daily intercourse to propriety and politeness; and, ' like La Bruyere, exhibited the characters and manners ' of the age.'
It is allowed by all, that Steele had the merit of beginning and carrying on the Tatler, the first periodical work in England of which the subjects were literature, morality, and familiar life. Before his time we had many periodical publications on political and religious controversy; but he must undoubtedly be considered as the father of such daily or weekly essays as teach the minuter decencies and inferior duties, and regulate the practice of elegant conversation. When we peruse, therefore, the numerous and valuable publications of the same kind, which have issued from the press within these eighty years, we ought never to forget, that it was Steele who suggested the idea to the English nation. If he himself borrowed it from foreign writers, of which we are by no
means certain, we must allow that he had the merit of highly improving a plan which before was imperfectly sketched. But the merit of Steele is not confined to the mere planning of the periodical works which he published; much praise is also due to him for the papers which he actually contributed, for they abound in wit, ingenuis ty, and good sense.
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Steele was born in Dublin, of English parents, about the year 1676. His father was a counsellor at law, and private secretary to James, Duke of Ormond. While very young he was carried to London, and educated at the Charterhouse school. Here he first met with Mr. Addi son, with whom he formed an acquaintance which age ri pened into friendship. He completed his education at Merton College, Oxford; when, being full of ardour for a military life, he left the University without taking ap degree. He was for some time a private gentleman in the horse-guards; where his vivacity, wit, and good-nat ture, rendered him the delight of the soldiery, and pro cured for him an ensign's commission. He now yielded to his youthful passions, and ran into the wildest excess. His reflection did not however forsake him; he wrote the Christian Hero to be a check to his passions. Upon the publication of this beautiful little treatise, he was shun-q ned by his gay companions as a gloomy, morose, and dis- v agreeable fellow, who had no just relish for the pleasures of youth; but in the next year (1702) he retrieved his character, and attracted the attention of the polite world, by his comedy, entitled, Grief a-la-Mode,
In 1703 was received with great applause his comedy called the Tender Husband; in the composition of which he is said to have been assisted by his friend Mr. Addison.i In the year following he produced another play; which being unfavourably received, he was induced to give his humorous vein a new direction. On the 12th of April 1709, he began to publish the Tatler, to which Mr. Addison and Swift lent their assistance; and that paper established Steele's reputation, and increased his interest so.. much, that he was soon after appointed a commissioner of the stamp-office.
The Tatler was finished on the 2d of January 1710-11, and the Spectator commenced on the 1st of March following. The Tatler was begun and ended without Ad
dison's knowledge; but the Spectator was planned and carried on by Steele in concert with him. In the year 1713, when seven volumes of the Spectator were published, and when there was probably no intention of adding an eighth, Steele commenced a new periodical publication called The Guardian, to which many papers were contributed, not only by the several writers of the Spectator, but also by Pope and Dr. Berkeley, afterwards the celebrated Bishop of Cloyne. This work was conducted upon the same general principles, and with the same elegance of taste as the former, till some unlucky spark 'from a tory paper, (says Johnson) set Steele's polities on fire, and wit at once blazed into faction.' He then took a strong side against the ministry, resigned his post in the stamp-office, together with a pension from the. queen, and wrote the famous paper in The Guardian, upon the Demolition of Dunkirk, which was published on the 7th of August 1713. He was soon after returned a member for Stockbridge, in Hampshire; and is said to have gained his election by promising an apple stuck full of guineas to the man whose wife should first be brought to bed after that day nine months. He did not long enjoy his seat in the House of Commons: for, having been prevailed on, by the importunity of others, to write some violent papers respecting the Protestant succession, he was expelled the House. He then recommenced the Spectator, in a series of papers, of which Addison furnished the fourth part, and which were afterwards collected into the eighth volume of that work, the most valuable certainly of the whole.
Upon the accession of George I. he was rewarded for his attachment to the family of Hanover; he was knighted, chosen a member of Parliament, appointed a surveyor of the royal stables at Hampton-court, and governor of the royal company of comedians. He wrote many periodical and political papers; and besides the dramas already mentioned, the comedy of The Conscious Lovers, for which he received a purse of £500 from his Majesty. But notwithstanding all his resources, want of economy, which was indeed his only vice, kept him in constant poverty. He died at his seat near Caermarthen, in Wales, on the 1st September 1729.