Page images
PDF
EPUB
[ocr errors]

he is sometimes tedious. He wants the quick repartee of CONGREVE ; and though possessed of humour, falls into the style rather of an essay than a drama. Much of that point which appears in his TATLERS may be discovered in his Comedies.

After the condemnation of this play, he com-menced the TATLER, on the 12th of April, 1709. During its publication, in 1710, he was appointed a Commissioner of the Stamp Duties, which he retained after that ministry was dismissed by whose favour the place had been conferred. The TATLER was almost immediately followed by the SPECTATOR and GUARDIAN. In the course of the GUARDIAN, he began to take a greater share in the politics of the day, and engaged with considerable warmth against the ministry, though rather covertly: but at length resigning his place in the Stamp Office, and a pension which he had enjoyed as belonging to the household of Prince GEORGE of DENMARK, he declared open war against the ministers, by publishing a GUARDIAN on the demolition of Dunkirk, and other political tracts. On the dissolu-tion of parliament he was returned member for Stockbridge, in Hampshire; but was expelled the house a few days after he took his seat, for some publications which were voted to be sedi.. tious and scandalous libels. The most celel ted of these, 'The Crisis,' requires some notice here, that its proper author may be assigned. That STEELE's name appeared to it, and that he was punished for it, is certain; but a letter published lately by Dr. SOMERVILLE, in his History of the Reign of Queen Anne, proves that it was written by Mr. WILLIAM MOORE, a lawyer, and a coadjutor of STEELE's in the ENGLISHMAN,

and perhaps in other political effusions. This letter, dated June 6, 1716, is addressed to the late Lord Macclesfield, then lord chancellor. It is probable that STEELE had the courage to stand the prosecution, perhaps thinking it might end in a reprimand, and could not with honour retract, or give up the real author, when matters came to be more serious.

MOORE, indeed, speaks lightly of STEELE's punishment:

Had matters been carried to extremities against that gentleman (STEELE) on account of that book, my fate would certainly have been more severe than his; for my profession as a lawyer would have been esteemed an aggravation of my crime by the then ministry, and consequently of my punishment.' The reader, however, must yet consult STEELE's Apology,' before he can be entirely satisfied that he had not such a share in the production of this pamphlet as rendered it necessary for him to abide the con sequences.

Immediately after his expulsion, STEELE issued proposals for writing the history of the Duke of MARLBOROUGH, whose character he always de fended; but this work was never executed. At the same time he wrote “THE SPINSTER;' and, in opposition to the EXAMINER, he began a paper entitled “THE READER*.'

This contest was beneficial in the end. On the death of the Queen, he was appointed Surveyor of the Royal Stables at Hampton Court, and put into the commission of the peace for the county of Middlesex; and having procured a license for chief manager of the royal company of comedians, he easily obtained it to be changed in the same year (1714) into a patent from his Majesty, appointing him governor of the said company during his life, and to his executors, administrators, or assigns, for the space of three years afterwards. He was also chosen one of the representatives of Boroughbrigg, in Yorkshire, in the first parliament of GEORGE I. who conferred the honour of knighthood upon him, April 8, 1715, on his presenting an address from the Lieutenancy of Middlesex and Westminster, which was his own composition. In August following, he received 5001. from Sir Robert WALPOLE, for special services*. Such honours and emoluments encouraged him to triumph over his opponents in several pamphlets written in this and the following year. In 1715 he was appointed one of the Commissioners for inquiring into the estates forfeited by the late rebellion in Scotland. This occasioned his paying a visit to that kingdom, during which he conceived the hopeless project of uniting England and Scotland in church, as well as state. While a member of this parliament, he voted for the repeal of the Triennial Act, and of the occasional conformity and schism acts; but opposed the Peerage Bill, not only within doors, but without in a paper called “THE PLEBEIAN.'

* See Preface, te GUARDIAN.

With all the advantages above mentioned, STEELE never practised economy: and in 1718 we find him endeavouring to relieve his necessities by the scheme of · THE FISHPOOL,' and at the same time increasing them by a fruitless opposition to the measures of the Court, by which he was deprived of his theatrical patent. He then published THE THEATRE, in periodical

* See this affair, which was strangely misrepresented at the time, satisfactorily explained in Nichols's Life of Wel. sted, prefixed to his Works, p. 22, 8ro. 1787.

numbers, the first of which appeared on January 2, 1719-20. In 1720, he more laudably employed his pen against the mischievous Souti Sca scheme; and next year he was restored to his office and authority in the play-house in Drury-lane. Here he produced his celebrated comedy “The Conscious Lovers,' which was acted with great success and advantage to the author. The King, to whom the play was dedicated, presented him with the munificent gift of 500l. Yet soon after he was again reduced to poverty, and obliged to sell his share in the theatre, and was cast in an action which he commenced against the managers, in 1726. He is now said to have been attacked by a paralytic disorder*, which greatly impaired his understanding; and in this melancholy state he was removed to Carmarthen, where he died Sept. 1, 1729, and was privately interred, according to his own desire, in the town chancel, on the 4th of the same month.

His first wife was a lady of Barbadoes, by whom he acquired a valuable plantation. She died a few months after their marriage; but of her name, character, or the time of her death, we have no account*. His second wife was Mary, the daugh ter of JONATHAN SCURLOCK of Languanor in Carmarthenshire, Esq. by whom he had three children, a daughter ELIZABETH born March 26, 1709, a son RICHARD born May 25, 1710, and another son EUGENE born March 4, 1712, and named after the celebrated Prince EUGENE. RICHARD and EUGENE died young. ELIZABETH was, in May 1732, married to the Hon. John TREVOR, then one of the Welsh judges, and afterwards Baron TREVOR of BROMHAM, who had issue by her, a daughter, named DIANA, who was remarkably beautiful, but unfortunately an idiot. Of this family much information may be found in STEELE's Epistolary Correspondence, published by Mr. Nichols in 1787; a work which gives a very faithful delineation of STEELE's character, and explains, if it does not excuse, that imprudence of gencrosity, or vanity of profusion, which kept him always incurably necessitous.' In this work also will be found a particular account of a natural daughter he had by a relation of TONSON the bookseller.

* It is with great pleasure I copy the following correction of this statement: “Steele retired into Wales before he had the paralytic stroke, that deprived him of his intellectual faculties, and solely on the principle of doing justice to his creditors, at a time too when he had the fairest prospect of satisfying all their claims to the uttermost farthing." l'atler, (oct. edit. 1806) note on No. 176; which also contains an able vindication of STEELE from a distorted sketch drawn by Mrs. TALBOT. See also No. 251, note on Whiston.. Some anecdotes very honourable to Steele's character are given in Victor's Original Letters, vol. i. p. 327, 350 ; but it is more highly indebted to “ Dr. Rundle's Anticipa. tion of the posthumous Character of Sir Richard Steele," published by the Rev. Weeden Butler, in his very interesa ting life of the amiable Dr. Mark Hildesley, bishop of Soder and Man, 8vo. 1799.

It does not appear that STEELE's marriage with Miss SCURLOCK added much to his happiness.She loved money, and had the usual companion of that vice, a coldness of affection as a woman and a wife.'

Yet his attachment to her appears

* This lady is supposed to be alluded to in TATLER, No. 117; if so, she was of a Kentish family. Yet this paper was written by ADDISOX. Of the incident supposed to relate to Mrs. Steele, Dr. BEATTIE says, One of the finest moral tales I ever read is an acconnt in the TATLER which, though it has every appearance of a real dream, comprehends a moral so sublime and so interesting, that I question whether any man who attends to it can ever forget it; and it he remembers, whether he can ever cease to be the better for it. Dissertations, Moral and Critical, ito. 1783.

« PreviousContinue »