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constitutes a kind of background to the Spectator, and from time to time furnishes him with themes and suggestions. But he alone is responsible for the conduct of the paper; and many of his essays have little or nothing to do with his fraternal associations and experiences. Moreover, of the members presented to us in the introductory description, with one conspicuous exception, far less use is made than we are there led to anticipate. The lawyer and the clergyman remain faint and unsubstantial figures throughout; Captain Sentry and Sir Andrew Freeport emerge rarely into clear light; and even the character of Will Honeycomb, though most humorously handled, is left rather a sketch than a finished portrait. The one exception is, of course, Sir Roger de Coverley himself. It is evident that Steele and Addison early grew enamoured of this good, generous, patriotic, prejudiced, whimsical old knight, and we do not wonder that their readers soon came to share their affection for him. He appears to have absorbed unto himself the dramatic interest of both writers, with the result that the other personages of the club, beside him, seem shadowy and unreal.
Of the relations of Steele and Addison in the conception of the club and the development of the characters it is not possible to speak with any degree of certainty. It is, however, probable that Steele, here as elsewhere, was the originator, and that the genius of Addison found its opportunity in following out the line of his colleague's initiative, and enlarging and improving upon his plans. It will be observed that while Addison furnishes the introductory description of the shy and silent "looker-on" at human affairs, Steele gives us the first sketch of the Spectator's companions, including Sir Roger himself, whose traits are drawn by him rapidly, but with a firm and free hand. Several of the most delightful of the late Coverley papers are Steele's composition; yet it is to the more subtle art of Addison, after all, that we are largely indebted for the highly wrought and delicately shaded character of the
Tory knight. "If one runs over one's recollections of the worthy knight," Mr. Austin Dobson rightly says, "it is generally Addison's pictures of him that one first recalls. Sir Roger being rowed to Spring Garden by the one-legged waterman who had fought at La Hogue; Sir Roger going to see the Distrest Mother with an escort for fear of the Mohocks; Sir Roger inspecting the transformation of his portrait into the sign of the Saracen's Head; Sir Roger in church, at the assizes, at Westminster Abbey, with the gipsies, and lastly, in that admirable letter from Mr. Biscuit, the butler, which describes his death - all these bear the signet and signmanual of Addison. But . . it must be admitted that some of the contributions of Steele to this subject are only inferior when compared with the best of Addison's. There is excellent doctrine in the paper on Sir Roger's servants, and a charming love scene in that depicting the huntsman's wooing. That, too, in which Sir Roger shows Mr. Spectator his family portraits is full of fine insight and discrimination. The Tiltyard champion who carries away his adversary on the pommel of his saddle and sets him down before his mistress's gallery 'with laudable courtesy and pardonable insolence;' the maid of honour, his wife, who afterwards had ten children, and, despite a court education, excelled at a hasty-pudding and a white-pot; the prodigal who left the estate 'with ten thousand pounds debt upon it,' but was 'every way the finest gentleman in the world,' and who is drawn with one hand on a desk, 'looking as it were another way, like an easy writer or a sonnetteer;' the prudent economist and knight of the shire who would have been killed in the civil wars had he not been 'sent out of the field upon a private message the day before the battle of Worcester' - it is scarcely possible to suppose, that even under Addison's more restrained and accomplished handling, these could have been greatly bettered. But the best of Steele's contributions to the Coverley series is the description of Sir Roger's unhappy attachment to the perverse
widow";1 and in the whole series, it may be added, there is nothing more kindly and thoroughly human than this.
THE TATLER AND THE SPECTATOR.
The essays here gathered together under the title of the Sir Roger de Coverley Papers were published in The Spectator at irregular intervals between March, 1711, and November, 1712. Before we begin our study of them, we should know something of The Spectator itself; its origin, character, and influence. But since The Spectator was an outgrowth from an earlier periodical, called The Tatler, it is of this Tatler that we must first speak.
The initial number of The Tatler was published on April 12, 1709, by Richard Steele, under the pseudonym of Isaac Bickerstaff. By way of advertisement, this and the three following issues were distributed gratuitously; a fact which shows that, at the outset, the paper was regarded, even by its ever-sanguine parent, as an experiment; but success was soon assured. The Tatler flourished, and became an important element not only in the social life of the time, but also in English literary history. For with this poorly printed, double-columned, folio sheet, published thereafter thrice a week at the price of one penny, Steele definitely established the periodical essay of the eighteenth century.
The Tatler started mainly as a “letter of intelligence," or, as we should now say, a newspaper. The position of gazetteer, which its projector then held, made him the only authorized dispenser of government news, and gave him a rare opportunity of following the development of events at home
1 Richard Steele (in English Worthies), pp. 136-7.
and abroad. Such an advantage he saw a good chance of turning to practical account at a time when rumours of wars filled the air, and the public mind was in a condition of constant excitement. Politics and questions of state were not, however, altogether to absorb his attention. In his first number he promised to deal with all matters likely to appeal to "the Town," and particularly with such things as might yield "entertainment to the fair sex," in honour of whom, he slyly added, he had "invented the title of this paper." The interests of the stage, poetry, and learning, to say nothing of affairs of gallantry, were thus to be given due prominence, though a large place was still kept for foreign and domestic
From being a mere retailer of news and gossip, however, The Tatler so soon assumed the definite purpose of moulding public opinion in moral and social questions, that Steele prefixed the following dedication to his first complete volume : "The general purpose of this paper," he wrote, "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."
The Tatler ran on into the first week of 1711; one hundred and eighty-eight papers out of two hundred and seventy-one being written by Steele, forty-two by Addison, who joined him at the eighteenth number, and the rest contributed by friends, or written by Steele and Addison together.
It is evident that The Tatler was brought to a close only to make room for a larger enterprise, for its success continued unabated; and within two months of its discontinuance - that is, on March 1, 1711, the first number of The Spectator was sent from the press.
The new paper was published daily, Sundays excepted, and at once commanded a very large sale. Its regular issue was maintained till December 6, 1712, when the Spectator himself announced that as all his friends who made up the Club "had
disappeared one after another," it was high time that he, too, should go off the stage." Some eighteen months later, however, the periodical was revived by Addison alone, and was published three times a week, from June 18 to December 20, 1714. In its complete form, it contains six hundred and thirty-five essays, of which Addison wrote two hundred and seventy-four and Steele two hundred and forty. The remaining one hundred and twenty-one were contributed by various friends, who from time to time lent their aid in the undertaking.
In the title chosen for their new periodical, the writers clearly indicated a radical change in centre of interest and point of view a change, it should be noted, resulting from the supplanting of Steele by Addison as the motive force and pervading influence of the work. The Spectator, the quiet onlooker and observer of men - whose traits, as is well known, were largely drawn from Addison himself— was, unlike his predecessor, a little detached from the crowd; regardless of news and politics; shy and taciturn of nature, though shrewd, kindly, humorous; earnest at heart, and much impressed with the seriousness of life; an amusing companion and critic of things, but a philosophical teacher and preacher as well. "It was said of Socrates,” writes Addison, speaking in the name of the Spectator, "that he brought philosophy down from heaven to inhabit among men; and I shall be ambitious to have it said of me that I have brought philosophy out of closets and libraries, schools and colleges, to dwell in clubs and assemblies, at tea-tables and in coffee-houses." 8 This large and humane purpose was never lost sight of. The Spectator touched upon many aspects of life, leaving little in the social world of the time unconsidered. It contained character-sketches and stories; criticisms of literature and the
1 See No. 555. This essay, the work of Steele, contains another of his warm-hearted testimonies to the character and genius of his friend. 2 See Spectator, No. 1.
3 Spectator, No. 10.