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In April, 1721, STEELE's friend, Mr. WALPOLE, was appointed chancellor of the ex. chequer, in the room of Mr. AISLABIE, disgraced and prosecuted as a sharer in the fraud and profits of the South Sea ruinous project, against which our author had written two pamphlets, The Crisis of Property; and The Nation, a Family. Through WalPOLE's influence, he was restored to his office and authority in the play-house; and soon after brought out his comedy of The Conscious Lovers, in the fable of which he is a close imitator of TERENCE, whilst he has displayed very great originality in the characters, sentiments, and incidents. This play abounds in pathos; its sentiments are those of the most refined morality; and as honest parson Adams very justly observes, there are many things in it that would do vastly well in a sermon. It was acted with very great success. Steele's profits from the representation were considerable; and he was presented with five hundred pounds by his Majesty.
The profusion however of Sreele was too great for him to be long benefited by the success of The Conscious Lovers. Being reduced to great extremity, he sold, a year after, his share in the play-house. He soon after commenced a law-suit with the mana. gers, which was determined to his disada vantage. When Sir RICHARD threw his affairs into the hands of lawyers and trustees, the friend and gentleman had nothing more to do in the matter. It can be no wonder, then, that a flaw was found in the conduct of him who acted no longer from himself. The loss of this cause, together with his profusion, which still continued unabated, plunged our author in the utmost extremity of poverty. Old age was fast approaching on him now, without any means of supporting himself and his children, but the exertion of his literary talents. Gloomy is the prospect in declining years, of genius compelled to write for daily bread, when the powers begin to be impaired, when the impression of objects begins to grow faint, when the fancy becomes inanimate and .
eble, and sensibility cold and languid; when even reason, if she preserves the force, loses the quickness of her operations. Aged genius then sees the time drawing near, when it will depend for sustenance on the precarious benefactions of individuals, or on the galling provisions of benevolent institutions.
This melancholy prospect was, without doubt, aggravated for SreELE, by the consciousness that he owed his distresses not to misfortunes, but to imprudence and folly. His distressed situation was soon increased by a paralytic disorder, which rendered him utterly incapable of further literary efforts. In these unhappy circumstances he bid adieu to London : he retired first to Hertfordshire, then to Wales, to live as cheaply as possible, and so be less burdensome to his friends. He took up his abode at Languanor, near Caermarthen, a seat he retained by the permission of the mortgagee. His pecuniary distresses having never subverted his principles of conduct, he had, be.
fore he left London, surrendered all his property to his creditors. To their benevolence he was in the end of his life principally indebted for his maintenance. He lingered out near two years in Wales, in the melancholy contemplation of what he might have been, and what he was; and Sept. 21st, 1729, paid the last debt to nature. He was privately interred, according to his own desire, in Caermarthen church.
Among his papers were found the manuscripts of two plays almost finished. The one was entitled The Gentleman, founded on The Eunuch of TERENCE, the other The School of Action.
STEELE was a man endued by nature with superior talents. His understanding was quick, acute, and vigorous: his imagination was fertile, and his memory retentive. He had received a good education, and although not very learned, he possessed a considerable share of knowledge. He was acquainted with the Latin classics, but not conversant in Grecian literature. As an author, he must be acknowledged to have made a considerable addition to the general mass of pleasing and useful literature. Quick and penetrating, his genius was well fitted for diving into the human mind. He had studied man as he found him in society, not in books; and, with an humour lively and versatile, he could paint him, as a comic writer, justly and agreeably as he saw him. His characters are natural, well drawn, and well supported. The sentiments and observations are suitable to the characters. In moral tendency, his comedies are unexcep
tionable. Virtue excites esteem and admiration; vice contempt and hatred. Rectitude is shown to be true wisdom. Intemperance and profligacy are never varnished with agreeable colours, but exhibited in their real deformity. Purity of expression accompanies purity of sentiment. Nothing is introduced which can inflame or corrupt youth. Wit and humour minister to wisdom and morality. Tenderness is the quality the most eminently conspicuous in some of Steele's comedies, which please us by powerfully moving our best affections.
As a political writer, STEELE, who had acquired a just knowledge of the principles of government, and diligently attended to the history and constitution of his country, shows general, liberal, and enlarged views. He was warm, but always candid.
His political pamphlets afford considerable information concerning the state of affairs in his time.
As an essayist, STEELE is an able and agreeable describer of life and manners; a strenuous and persuasive supporter of religion and virtue.
In his moral character, Steele was a man of upright principles, though he deviated from the paths of prudence. He was a man of great and extensive benevolence; the reliever of the distressed, the protector of the helpless, and the encourager of merit. In his transaction of business he was fair and equitable; in his opinions of mankind candid and liberal. He allowed those who were above him the due superiority. He treated his equals with ease and cordiality. He behaved to his inferiors with affability, without the arrogant insolence of familiarity, or the ostentatious parade of condescension. He was, by his benevolent disposition, and by his sprightly talents, a most agreeable companion, desirous of pleasing, possessing a great flow of spirits, and abounding in lively repartees.
With such talents and with such virtues, the question naturally arises, how came STEELE to be so distressed and miserable ? By his violence, his indiscretion, his extravagance. The superiority ascribed by the Satirist * to prudence over fortune, was never more manifest than in the life of Steele. Fortune held out her favours to him, but not courting the assistance of discretion, he was unable to keep them from vanishing for
In his lamentable fate is strikingly exhibited the important truth, that great talents, benevolent and mild disposition, and amiable manners, cannot secure happiness, without the co-operation of self-command and of prudence.
Juvenal, conclusion of Satire x.