The Spectator Club By Richard Steele Analysis Essay

The Spectator, a periodical published in London by the essayists Sir Richard Steele and Joseph Addison from March 1, 1711, to Dec. 6, 1712 (appearing daily), and subsequently revived by Addison in 1714 (for 80 numbers). It succeeded The Tatler, which Steele had launched in 1709. In its aim to “enliven morality with wit, and to temper wit with morality,” The Spectator adopted a fictional method of presentation through a “Spectator Club,” whose imaginary members extolled the authors’ own ideas about society. These “members” included representatives of commerce, the army, the town (respectively, Sir Andrew Freeport, Captain Sentry, and Will Honeycomb), and of the country gentry (Sir Roger de Coverley). The papers were ostensibly written by Mr. Spectator, an “observer” of the London scene. The conversations that The Spectator reported were often imagined to take place in coffeehouses, which was also where many copies of the publication were distributed and read.

Though Whiggish in tone, The Spectator generally avoided party-political controversy. An important aspect of its success was its notion that urbanity and taste were values that transcended political differences. Almost immediately it was hugely admired; Mr. Spectator had, observed the poet and dramatist John Gay, “come on like a Torrent and swept all before him.”

Because of its fictional framework, The Spectator is sometimes said to have heralded the rise of the English novel in the 18th century. This is perhaps an overstatement, since the fictional framework, once adopted, ceased to be of primary importance and served instead as a social microcosm within which a tone at once grave, good-humoured, and flexible could be sounded. The real authors of the essays were free to consider whatever topics they pleased, with reference to the fictional framework (as in Steele’s account of Sir Roger’s views on marriage, which appeared in issue no. 113) or without it (as in Addison’s critical papers on Paradise Lost,John Milton’s epic poem, which appeared in issues no. 267, 273, and others).

Given the success of The Spectator in promoting an ideal of polite sociability, the correspondence of its supposed readers was an important feature of the publication. These letters may or may not, on occasion, have been composed by the editors.

In addition to Addison and Steele themselves, contributors included Alexander Pope, Thomas Tickell, and Ambrose Philips. Addison’s reputation as an essayist has surpassed that of Steele, but their individual contributions to the success of The Spectator are less to the point than their collaborative efforts: Steele’s friendly tone was a perfect balance and support for the more dispassionate style of Addison. Their joint achievement was to lift serious discussion from the realms of religious and political partisanship and to make it instead a normal pastime of the leisured class. Together they set the pattern and established the vogue for the periodical throughout the rest of the century and helped to create a receptive public for the novelists, ensuring that the new kind of prose writing—however entertaining—should be essentially serious.

The Spectator (1711-1712 and 1714) was a weekly magazine written by Joseph Addison and Richard Steele, which followed an earlier weekly magazine, also written by Addison and Steele, called The Tatler.While The Tatler was designed, chiefly by Steele, to discuss moral issues in light, somewhat gentle and humorous essays, The Spectator focused more consistently on political, philosophical, religious and literary issues, for the most part from what we would now call a...

The Spectator (1711-1712 and 1714) was a weekly magazine written by Joseph Addison and Richard Steele, which followed an earlier weekly magazine, also written by Addison and Steele, called The Tatler.While The Tatler was designed, chiefly by Steele, to discuss moral issues in light, somewhat gentle and humorous essays, The Spectator focused more consistently on political, philosophical, religious and literary issues, for the most part from what we would now call a liberal perspective (in the 18thC., the Whigs) as opposed to the more conservative political party, the Tories.  Despite the political focus, however, the characters who form the Spectator Club are not viciously satirized--rather, like the essays in The Tatler, the satire is relatively mild but, from a political perspective,  pointed enough so that readers understood that Tories should not be running the government.

The most memorable member of the club is Sir Roger de Coverley, a confused member of the landed gentry whose political, philosophical and religious ideas are about a hundered years behind the times.  He represents Addison and Steele's version of the typical Tory of the mid-18thC.--too conservative, old-fashioned, clinging to outmoded moral beliefs, unsympathetic to the plight of the comman man, blissfully unaware of economic and social changes in society.

The remainder of the club members included Mr. Spectator, who gave opinions on many issues (for example, politics, education, morality, literature); the Templar--all things related to education, legal matters and literature; Will Honeycomb--social life, including fashion;  the Clergyman--religion and moral issues; Sir Andrew Freeport--business and economic matters (he was the opposite of Sir Roger); and Captain Sentry--military matters.  In short, some member of the club could and would discuss virtually every meaningful aspect of 18thC. British society.

From a literary perspective, the significance of The Spectator is that Addison, who wrote most of the essays, perfected the essay as a way to discuss important social, political, and religious issues in what Dr. Johnson called the "middle style," aimed at an educated but not scholarly readership.

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