Home  »  Volume IX: English FROM STEELE AND ADDISON TO POPE AND SWIFT  »  § 12. His early Classical Training

The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
Volume IX. From Steele and Addison to Pope and Swift.

II. Steele and Addison

§ 12. His early Classical Training

At this time, the universities were far removed from the outer world, and, if Oxford made him a distinguished Latinist, it also made him a recluse more competent to imitate Vergilian hexameters than to lead the thought of his generation. He left the university in 1699; but four years’ travel among the chief centres of European culture did not draw his mind out of the academic mould into which it had been cast. There were still patrons to reward the man of scholarly attainments; and Addison, who had to make his own fortunes, seems to have been content to revive his university reputation among the few, by some work of graceful and recondite learning. A boyish interest in the writing on London signposts had been developed by his academic training into a taste for numismatics, and, of all the resources of Europe, nothing seems to have left so deep an impression on his mind as collections of coins. As a result, one of the first fruits of his travels, printed posthumously, was Dialogues upon the Usefulness of Ancient Medals, a treatise which shows an intimate familiarity with Latin poets and singular ingenuity in elucidating obscure passages by the light of legends and devices, but touches no other human interest except curiosity in Roman dress. About the same time, he prepared for publication a diary of travel, recording faithfully his impressions of the customs, character and polity of the people, on the model of Bacon’s Essays. Even these notes, which appeared in 1705 as Remarks on Italy, show little enthusiasm, except where his wanderings lead him directly on the track of ancient literature.