Pope writes to a friend in the country about the reception of Addison's Cato in the spring of 1713.
CATO was not so much the wonder of Rome itself in his days as he is of Britain in ours; and though all the foolish industry possible has been used to make it a party play, yet what the author once said of another may be the most properly in the world applied to him on this occasion:
Envy it self is dumb, in wonder lost,
And factions strive, who shall applaud him most—Addison, The Campaign, ll. 45-6.
The numerous and violent claps of the Whig party on the one side of the theatre were echoed back by the Tories on the other, while the author sweated behind the scenes with concern to find their applause proceeded more from the hand than the head. This was the case too of the prologue-writer, who was clapped into a staunch Whig sore against his will, at almost every two lines. I believe you have heard that after all the applause of the opposite faction, my Lord Bolingbroke sent for Booth who played Cato, into the box, between one of the acts and presented him with 50 guineas; in acknowledgement (as he expressed it) for his defending the cause of liberty so well against a perpetual dictator. The Whigs are unwilling to be distanced this way, as 'tis said, and therefore design a present to the said Cato very speedily; in the meantime they are getting ready as good a sentence as the former on their side. So betwixt them, 'tis probable that Cato (as Dr. Garth expressed it) may have something to live upon after he dies.
This play was published but this Monday, and Mr. Lewis tells me it is not possible to convey it to you before Friday next. The town is so fond of it that the orange wenches and fruit women in the Park offer the books at the side of the coaches, and the Prologue and Epilogue are cried about the streets by the common-hawkers.
— Thomas Davies, Dramatic Miscellanies (1784), iii. 417-18.
FREE and elegant as was the accustomed style of Addison, it is well known that on many occasions he could not satisfy the fastidiousness of his taste in his own compositions. It was his official business to write to Hanover that Queen Anne was dead: he found it so difficult to express himself suitably to his own notions of the importance of the event that the Lords of the Regency were obliged to employ a Mr. Southwell, one of the clerks. Southwell stated the fact, as he was ordered, in the ordinary perspicuity of business; and then boasted of his superiority to Addison, in having readily done that which Addison, attempting to do, had failed.
—Addisoniana (1803), ii. 10-11. See also Spence, Anecdotes, i. 77; ii. 626,
You know, indeed, the value of his writings, and close with the world in thinking them immortal; but I believe you know not that his name would have deserved immortality though he had never written; and that, by a better title than the pen can give: you know, too, that his life was amiable; but perhaps you are still to learn that his death was triumphant ...
For, after a long and manly but vain struggle with his distemper, he dismissed his physicians, and with them all hopes of life: but with his hopes of life he dismissed not his concern for the living, but sent for a youth nearly related, and finely accomplished, yet not above being the better for good impressions from a dying friend. He came; but life now glimmering in the socket, the dying friend was silent. After a decent and proper pause, the youth said, `Dear Sir! you sent for me: I believe, and I hope, that you have some commands; I shall hold them most sacred.' May distant ages not only hear, but feel, the reply! Forcibly grasping the youth's hand, he softly said, `See in what peace a Christian can die.' He spoke with difficulty, and soon expired. Through grace divine, how great is man! Through divine mercy, how stingless is death! Who would not thus expire?
— Edward Young, Conjectures on Original Composition (1759);
reprinted in English Critical Essays (Sixteenth, Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries), ed. Edmund D. Jones (1922), pp. 358-9.
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