The Spectator’s Summary
The Spectator, arguably one among the foremost important periodicals ever published, had a two-series run from March 1, 1711, through December 6, 1712, for a complete of 635 issues. it had been edited (written) by two masters of the essay, Richard Steele and Joseph Addison. For the foremost part, Richard Steele wrote the primary series of 555 issues, and Joseph Addison the second series of 79 issues. faithful its billing as a periodical, it resembled most eighteenth-century London newspapers in size and layout. Although the editorship was anonymous, many readers believed the author was Richard Steele, who had just been involved in another periodical, also documented, The Tatler. Steele and Addison comprised the 2 main writers/editors, but several issues were written by others, all of whom were related to the coffee-house culture of the eighteenth-century London literati.
On March 1, 1711, Mr. Spectator introduced himself to his readership:
Thus I sleep on the planet, rather as a Spectator of Mankind, than together of the Species; by which suggests I even have made myself a Speculative Statesman, Soldier, Merchant, and Artizan, without ever meddling in any Practical Part in Life.
He goes on to elucidate that he’s virtual, despite his lack of practical experience, an expert in many walks of life, including marriage, parenthood, economics, and business—all of which he knows better than those that have experience in those matters. In short, he’s a polymath, an individual who knows an excellent deal about everything.
True to its promise, The Spectator contains articles and comments about literary works (mostly Addison’s work), authors, ethical matters, politics, social behavior, character sketches (descriptions of character types, mostly from Steele’s work) ,also intrinsically mundane, but very funny, topics like women’s hoop skirts and hairstyles. Nothing within London society or politics is-off limits to the 2 writers; they even wrote several satirical essays on religious controversies. As many scholars have observed, The Spectator seems overall to possess been aimed toward gently satirizing current behavior altogether walks of life so on reform that behavior in ways in which Mr. Spectator feels appropriate.
Mr. Spectator isn’t alone in his efforts to correct slight behavioral problems in eighteenth-century London. Like many men of intellect and good intentions, he’s a part of a gaggle of men who became famous in their title as characters, the foremost famous of whom include Sir Roger de Coverley, a Tory (conservative) and wealthy landowner; Sir Andrew Freeport; an unnamed lawyer who dislikes the law but loves plays; an unnamed clergyman; a retired soldier named Captain Sentry; and can Honeycomb, an old dilettante. Each of the club members may be a character type (e. g., the soldier, the clergyman, Sir Roger) who represents the land-owning gentry, the military, the Anglican Church, Whigs, or Tories—all express the quality views of their class and station then provide the reader with a well-rounded commentary on social matters. This group appears in many of the essays written by Steele within the first series, but not in Addison’s second series.
The value of Steel and Addison’s work—and its influence on eighteenth-century British letters and literature—is summed up in Samuel Johnson’s comments that the Book . . . comprises precepts of criticism, sallies of invention, descriptions of life, and lectures of virtue: It employs wit within the explanation for truth and makes elegance subservient to piety . . . and given Addison a claim to be numbered among the benefactors of mankind. (Public Advertiser, 12/14/1776)
Johnson’s comments point to the periodical’s good-natured satire, instead of invective, in its plan to suggest models of proper behavior. Johnson, who was himself a comparatively harsh critic of eighteenth-century life in mid-century London, recognizes the advantage of satire that pushes, rather than shoves, readers into better behavior.