Obrazy na stronie

drama; essays on manners and fashions, morality and religion. Sometimes it was daintily humorous, sometimes lightly satirical, sometimes firm and earnest. But throughout the educative aim was always conspicuous.

It is only by recalling the social conditions of the time of Addison and Steele that we can properly estimate the ethical importance of their work. The nation was then gradually steadying itself, after passing through one of the greatest moral crises in its history. Half a century before, the Commonwealth had been overthrown, and with the restoration of the Stuart dynasty, in the person of Charles II., the austere restraints which the Commonwealth imposed upon the English people had been intemperately thrown aside. A sweeping reaction had followed. Intoxicated by its newly found freedom, society had plunged into shameless immorality; for a while the decencies of life were forgotten, and domestic virtue was openly scoffed at. But fortunately the better nature of the English people presently began to reassert itself; and the rushing torrent of evil influence was already checked before the seventeenth century had closed. One man in particular, the sturdy non-juror, Jeremy Collier, had vigorously attacked the depraved theatre and the society which supported it, and when, in 1698, he published his Short View of the Profaneness and Immorality of the English Stage, he found popular feeling was really upon his side. Nevertheless, there was much yet to be done before the atmosphere of life could be made entirely sweet and wholesome. Vice and ribaldry continued to be a fashionable affectation, and in the public mind a notion still lingered that there was a necessary connection between genius and profligacy, on the one hand; between domestic purity and sullen puritanism, on the other.1

It is the glory of The Tatler and The Spectator that they set the English conscience right once more on these important questions of theory and practice by their irresistible appeal to

1 Cf. note to p. 174. l. 1. See Macaulay's Essay on Addison.

common decency and common sense. To meet men on the common ground of daily life and experience, and at once to amuse and to elevate them; to enlist wit on the side of virtue and decency; to pass judgment on the age and its failings, not petulantly or censoriously, but with a frank and generous recognition of the ways of the world and the difficulties of conduct; this is what The Spectator set itself to do; and this it accomplished with such extraordinary success that since their time "the open violation of decency has always been considered among us as the mark of a fool."1

The moral significance of the work accomplished by Addison and Steele can hardly be overrated. It is true that they did not attack society with the fierce invective of the zealot, or the righteous indignation of the prophet. They contented themselves by making vice and folly ridiculous by raillery, and rectitude and decency attractive by the geniality and good breeding with which they presented their claims. At such a time wit, humour, and satire were the reformer's most effective weapons; and there is plenty of contemporary evidence to show how effectively The Spectator used them.

It remains for us to speak of the place occupied by The Tatler and The Spectator in the history of English prose fiction. We must remember that at the time when these essays were written, "no novel giving lively and powerful pictures of the common life and manners of England had appeared. Richardson was working as a compositor; Fielding was robbing birds' nests; Smollett was not yet born."2 Now, in the novel as it was afterwards definitely established by these great masters, we note the combination of two essential elements - the presentation of character and manners, and the interest of a sustained story or continuous plot. By virtue of what they accomplished in the development of the former of these ele

1 Macaulay's Essay on Addison. Macaulay's words are used in reference to Addison alone, but it would be unfair to Steele not to give him his full share of honour. 2 Ibid.

ments, Steele and Addison have to be reckoned among the immediate forerunners of the regular novelists of the succeeding generation. They painted at first-hand the men, women, and fashions of their age; they described with admirable humour and insight the daily scenes and happenings of contemporary life. For more than a century before their time a number of satirists in prose and verse had sedulously cultivated what is known as " character writing." taking the wellknown Characters of Theophrastus as their model. Clever as some of their work undoubtedly was, they had drawn types rather than individuals, and had failed to give in their delineations any sense of reality and life. In the hands of Steele and Addison the character study of the seventeenth century became personal and vital; instead of dry catalogues of traits and qualities, they presented actual men. Moreover, in many of the scenes through which their personages move, we find much of the interest of a story; the characters are not merely described; they think, speak, suffer, perform. In such scenes, therefore, we may say without exaggeration, that we have the modern novel in germ. Nor is this all. While The Spectator contains ample material for a fully developed novel, it only just falls short of making a fully developed novel out of it. Had the various detached episodes in which the essayist and his companions figure been more closely related to one another had they been gathered up and carefully woven into the definite pattern of a plot — then the Sir Roger de Coverley Papers here reprinted would have been to all intents and purposes a serial novel running through a periodical. As it is, we can never properly neglect them in any historical survey of English prose fiction. The novel was not the invention of any one man or generation; like other great forms of literary art, it was the result of a slow and gradual process of evolution. To this process many writers contributed; and amongst them a foremost place must certainly be assigned to Addison and Steele.


There are many editions of The Spectator; that of Henry Morley will be found for ordinary purposes one of the most satisfactory. The Clarendon Press selections from Steele (Ed. Austin Dobson) and from Addison (Ed. Thomas Arnold) are made with discrimination, and the editorial work is admirably done. See also Austin Dobson's Eighteenth Century Essays.

Of The Spectator and its contributors a full account is given in Nathan Drake's Essays on Periodical Literature (1805).

For Steele, see the elaborate biography by G. A. Aitken, the excellent short life by Austin Dobson (English Worthies), and the essays of John Forster (Quarterly Review, 1855) and Thackeray (English Humourists of the Eighteenth Century).

For Addison, see Johnson (Lives of the Poets), Lucy Aikin, and J. W. Courthope (English Men of Letters), and the essays of Macaulay (Edinburgh Review, 1843) and Thackeray (English Humourists).

For an analysis of the styles of Steele and Addison, consult Minto's Manual of English Prose Literature.

Much useful information concerning manners, customs and politics in the eighteenth century will be found in John Ashton's Social Life in the Reign of Queen Anne, W. H. D. Adams' Good Queen Anne, Men and Manners, Life and Letters; Thackeray's Henry Esmond, and W. C. Sydney's England and the English in the Eighteenth Century.

For a sketch of English prose fiction before and at the time of The Spectator, reference may be made to W. E. Simonds' Introduction to English Fiction (Heath); to Walter Raleigh's The English Novel, and the essay on Two Novelists of the English Restoration, in the present editor's Idle Hours in a Library.



No. 1. THURSDAY, MARCH 1, 1710-11.

NON fumum ex fulgore, sed ex fumo dare lucem
Cogitat, ut speciosa dehinc miracula promat.

- HOR. ARS POET. ver. 143.

ONE with a flash begins, and ends in smoke;
Another out of smoke brings glorious light,
And (without raising expectation high)
Surprises us with dazzling miracles.


I HAVE observed that a reader seldom peruses a book with pleasure, till he knows whether the writer of it be a black or a fair man, of a mild or choleric disposition, married or a bachelor, with other particulars of the like nature, that conduce very much to the right understand- 5 ing of an author. To gratify this curiosity, which is so natural to a reader, I design this paper, and my next, as prefatory discourses to my following writings, and shall give some account in them of the several persons that are engaged in this work. As the chief trouble of 10 compiling, digesting, and correcting, will fall to my share, I must do myself the justice to open the work with my own history.

« PoprzedniaDalej »