AD's English Literature : "The Spectator" by Addison and Steele: Study of Life and Manners

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

"The Spectator" by Addison and Steele: Study of Life and Manners


 " Whoever wishes to attain an English style familiar but not coarse, and elegant but not ostentatious, must give his days and nights to the volumes of Addison." -Dr. Johnson

The Spectator essays of Addison and Steele  strongly influenced 18th-century English taste and opinion and they generally served a five-fold purpose:
(l) they presented the first excellent characterization in prose outside of the drama and thus advanced the art of the novel;
(2) they gave birth to the modern essay; 
(3) they vernacularized English prose style.
(4) They have left us our most vivid picture of eighteenth-century life and manners. 
 (5)The Spectator is remembered mainly as one of the founders of the modern familiar essays and as a prose style of polish, grace, and elegance.


Mixing politics, serious essays, and sly satire, the 18th-century periodicals  The Spectator, founded by the statesmen and literary figures Richard Steele and Joseph Addison, were enormously popular and influential.  The Spectator provides an entertaining and historically invaluable picture of 18th-century London life, both high and low.  In fact, the era of Queen Anne was epoch-making in the development of English prose, because pamphlets, newspapers, and magazines spread among the people a good standard style. From 1709, three times a week for two years The Tatler, edited by Richard Steele, appeared with its political news, gossip of the clubs and coffee-houses, and essays on the manners of the age. 

March 1, 1711, the first number of The Spectator came out." The general purpose of this paper," said the dedication,"is to expose the false arts of life, to pull off the disguises of cunning, vanity, and affectation, and to recommend a general simplicity in our dress, our discourse,and our behaviour." There was to be no political news, a significant fact; and it was proved by the instantaneous success of the papers that there was a place for the strictly literary magazine.His best essays approach near to absolute perfection; nor is their excellence more wonderful than their variety. . . . On the Monday we have an allegory as lively and ingenious as Lucian's Auction of Lives; on the Tuesday, an Eastern apologue, as richly colored as the tales of Scheherazade; on the Wednesday, a character described with the skill of La Bruyere; on the Thursday, a scene from common life, equal to the best chapters in the Vicar of Wakefield; on the Friday, some sly Horatian pleasantry on fashionable follies, on hoops, patches, or puppet shows; and on the Saturday, a religious meditation, which will bear a comparison with the finest pages of Massillon.

 In reading these Spectator papers, the life and manners of the period comes  into the limelight. Here is such varied subjects as the status of the country squire, hunting customs, modes of travel, coffee-houses, clubs, theaters, superstitions, condition of politics, the beau, the belle, the dress of the period,the amusements, London life, streets, a fashionable life,gardens, the library, trade, etc.The Roger de Coverley Papers are the most popular portion of The Spectator. Before beginning these essays , one ought to read the first essay published, entitled The Spectator, and trace the resemblance to Addison. The second essay (on The Club) also should be read for the broad outlines of the various characters. Flesh-and-blood pictures of the poor relation in Will Wimble, the merchant in Sir Andrew Free port, the fop in Will Honeycomb, and, best of all, the country gentleman in Sir Roger take form as the reading continues, and as incidents and comments furnish side-lights.The playful humor, the power to vivify the times, the smoothness and elegance of style, the lofty moral sentiment,shrewd observation of character, pointed comments on life and manners, delicate satire, kindly spirit, and gossipy tone,the inexhaustible run of thoughts, the manliness and human sympathy these are a few of the qualities that have commended The Spectator to readers. 

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