Page:Dictionary of National Biography volume 54.djvu/143

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earlier memorial to him at his old estate of Llangunnor. Two only of his four children survived him: Mary, who died in the year following his death; and Elizabeth, the eldest daughter, who ultimately married a Welsh judge (afterwards the third Lord Trevor of Bromham). His two sons, Richard and Eugene, died in 1716 and 1723 respectively. He had also a natural daughter, known as Miss Ousley, who married a Welsh gentleman named Stynston. About 1718 it seems to have been proposed to marry her to Richard Savage [q. v.] the poet.

There are three principal portraits of Steele, all mentioned by himself (Theatre, No. 2) in answer to an attack made upon him by John Dennis the critic. The first, by Jonathan Richardson, now in the National Portrait Gallery, was executed in 1712, and gives us the Steele of the ‘Spectator.’ It was engraved in the following year by J. Smith, and later by Bartolozzi and Meadows. The second, by Sir Godfrey Kneller, was painted shortly afterwards for the Kit-Cat Club (of which Steele was among the earlier members), and exhibits him in one of the fine full-bottomed black periwigs he wore when he rode abroad (Drake, Essays, 1814, i. 179). This belongs to Mr. Baker of Bayfordbury, and has been engraved by Vertue, Simon, Faber, Houbraken, and others. The third, by Thornhill, is at Cobham Hall, and was reproduced in copper by Vertue in 1713, and by James Basire. In this Steele appears in a dressing-gown and a tasselled cap. The Richardson, he tells us, makes him ‘indolent,’ the Kneller ‘resolute,’ the Thornhill ‘thoughtful.’ There is another reputed Kneller at Stationers' Hall; and there is said to be a portrait of him when he was a commissioner in Scotland, by Michael Dahl. The Thornhill is the best known; the Kneller Kit-Cat is probably the best likeness. Sir Godfrey also executed a picture of Lady Steele, which does full justice to her good looks. It belongs to Mrs. Thomas of Moreb, Llandilo, Carmarthenshire, and figures as the frontispiece to vol. ii. of Mr. Aitken's ‘Life.’

As regards the written portraits of his character, Macaulay in his famous essay on Addison sought by deeply drawn lines to heighten the contrast between Steele and his colleague. Thackeray softened the asperity of the likeness in his lecture (in the ‘English Humorists’). Forster's vindicatory study in the ‘Quarterly’ is not entirely sympathetic. That Steele was an undetected hypocrite and a sentimental debauchee is now no longer maintained, although it cannot be denied that his will was often weaker than his purpose; that he was constitutionally improvident and impecunious; and that, like many of his contemporaries in that hard-drinking century, he was far too easily seduced by his compliant good-fellowship into excess in wine. ‘I shall not carry my humility so far as to call myself a vicious man,’ he wrote in ‘Tatler’ No. 271, ‘but must confess my life is at best but pardonable.’ When so much is admitted, it is needless to charge the picture, though it may be added that, with all his faults, allowed and imputed, there is abundant evidence to prove that he was not only a doting husband and an affectionate father, but also a loyal friend and an earnest and unselfish patriot. As a literary man his claim upon posterity is readily stated. As a poet—even in that indulgent age of Anne—he cannot be classed; as a pamphleteer he is plain-spoken and well-meaning, but straggling and ineffectual; as a dramatist, despite his shrewd perceptive faculty and his laudable desire to purify the stage, his success is no more than respectable. In the brief species of essay, however, which he originated and developed—the essay of the ‘Tatler’ and its immediate successors—he is at home. Without ranking as a great stylist—his hand was too hasty for laboured form or finish, and he claimed and freely used the license of ‘common speech’—he was a master of that unembarrassed manner which (it has been well said) is the outcome of unembarrassed matter. He writes, as a rule, less from his head than from his heart, to the warmth of which organ his rapid pen gives eager and emphatic expression. His humour is delightfully kindly and genial, his sympathies quick-springing and compassionate, his instincts uniformly on the side of what is generous, honest, manly, and of good report. ‘He had a love and reverence of virtue,’ said Pope; and many of his lay sermons are unrivalled in their kind. As the first painter of domesticity the modern novel owes him much, but the women of his own day owe him more. Not only did he pay them collectively a magnificent compliment when he wrote of Lady Elizabeth Hastings, that ‘to love her was a liberal education’ (Tatler No. 49); but in a time when they were treated by the wits with contemptuous flattery or cynical irreverence, he sought to offer them a reasonable service of genuine respect which was immeasurably superior to those ‘fulsome raptures, guilty impressions, senseless deifications and pretended deaths’ with which (as he himself wrote in the