When The Book Club of California, through its President, Mr. Alfred Sutro, so kindly invited me to write a text to accompany its original issues of The Spectator, I hesitated; for, although the 18th century is my oid stamping-ground, I have never specialized in the periodical. Still, The Spectator is a favourite of mine. So I decided to write the text after all.
But, not being an expert on the subject, I have taken shelter behind my natural modesty and only occasionally sharp-shot from a coign of independence at opinions I considered to be false. In short, I have, in the main, drawn on the authorities (some of them known only to academics) and quoted them very freely. I can, however, declare that I selected them with great care.
If, then, my introduction resembles a bowl of rum punch (not heady nor, I trust, sleep-making; but mellow, and yet with an occasional tang of potency), I shall only so far apologise as to say that I have drunk rather worse punch than this.
With my best thanks to The Book Club of California and its President for allowing me to brew this mixture, I ‘dips me lid’ and hope for the best.
—E.P. March 1939. London.
Facsimile of the handbill in the British Museum (Bagford Collection, Harleian 5996, No. 72). l owe this handbill to Professor J. R. Sutherland, who has an unrivalled knowledge of the literature of 1690–1750.
The story of Addison & Steele’s famous paper by Eric Partridge
On the facing page is a brief and modest announcement of the most famous of all literary periodicals issued in the English language. Talent needs blarney and ballyhoo; genius requires no such meretricious aid.
“But why claim a consciousness of genius for the projectors of The Spectator?,” some critical reader may inquire. I don’t; but Addison and Steele were at least conscious that, all being well, they would make a good job of it, for when they launched The Spectator in 1711, they possessed invaluable and illuminating experience. They had scored an almost instantaneous success with The Tatler, which maintained its success and achieved an enviable prestige; in short, they ” knew how to go about it” when they planned the yet more famous periodical that is the subject of this essay, study, article—call it what you will, for I have failed to discover its genre.
The Tatler sprang, not unarmed, from the fertile and lively brain of Richard Steele, who even in his cups, retained his wit and ready-mindedness: and as you know, Sir Richard was a noted—a deservedly noted—performer with the wine when it was red and, for that matter, when it was white: he punished his liquor with gusto and aplomb.
But the mainspring of The Tatler’s origination was perhaps less the pure, disinterested play of a ready and quick-glancing wit than the prompting of economic necessity. Steele, we may assume, “never lived within his income and, after losing, in 1708, his position of gentleman-waiter* to prince George of Denmark and failing to obtain two other posts, he returned to literature† in order to meet his debts. Since the censorship had been removed from the press, journalism had become a profitable enterprise, and Steele’s chief motive in starting The Tatler on 12 April 1709, was, undoubtedly, the fear of bankruptcy” (Harold Routh ).
*An office less distinguished and gentlemanly than that of a gentleman in waiting.
†Before he took Court office. Steele had made his name as a playwright, though The Christian Hero, 1701—4th edition, 1711—6th ed., 1712—8th, 1727—was a treatise. The Funeral, 1701— a play that maintained its popularity for at least a generation after his death (1729); The Lying Lover, 1704—3rd ed., 1717—6th, 1760; and The Tender Husband, 1705.
As an incorrigible frequenter of coffee-houses, Steele, as perhaps no other man of his day, knew that, owing to the influence of the irresponsible and slap-dash news-sheets with which London was flooded, the political discussions in the coffee-houses were based on hearsay and uninformed inferences from hearsay; also that social, moral and literary topics were mooted haphazardly and discussed superficially and often wrong-headedly. So, as an improver of mankind (“Do as I say, not as I do”), he took it upon himself, not unjustifiably, to improve, inform and amuse all other frequenters of coffee-houses: as a gazetteer, he could supply foreign news that was tolerably trustworthy; as a Society man and as a man of education and culture, he could—and did—suggest what they should say, and even what it was fitting they should think, on subjects and affairs other than political.
The Tatler appeared on three days in every week until it ceased publication on January 2, 1711. Each issue—and in this it differed, as it did also in its periodicity, from The Spectator—offered several essays, dated from this coffee-house or that, in accordance with the subjects, as Steele considerately informs us in Number One. As conceived and launched, The Tatler resembled, though it constituted an improvement on, The Athenian Mercury (1691–96) and Defoe’s A Review (1704–12; second part, 17122–13). But as Steele’s intention was to widen the scope of the periodical and to draw on all the coffee-houses (of which, by the way, he perceived the variety of interests), and as he persisted in his desire and attempt to suit the tastes of all his readers, whether in entertainment or in instruction, so he, almost inevitably, succeeded in rendering The Tatler as various—or (let us be cautious!) almost as various—as the tastes and opinions of his readers. “In the hands of most editors, so undiscriminating a policy would soon have reduced a journal to [the status of] a periodical miscellany, and Steele the essayist is certainly not free from charges of inconsistency and confusion. But it must be remembered that his long struggle after a sober, scholarly existence, though hardly successful in his personal life, had rendered him keenly responsive to kindred influences around him, and enabled him to discover and give expression to the spirit of humanised puritanism which existed beneath the babel of coffee-houses. Like all originators, he had to feel his way” (Harold Routh). After not altogether happy excursions into foreign news, theatrical gossip and criticism, attacks on gambling, duelling, swindling, and chatty talks on literary and linguistic subjects, he found both his level and his medium in “the alleged lucubrations of Isaac Bickerstaff.” As Bickerstaff, Steele became the protagonist and the moral adviser and cultural director of the middle class. For instance, he clarified their idea of what a gentleman should be; he made them see that “the first quality of a gentleman is not brilliance but forbearance and the art of accommodating another’s susceptibilities without sacrificing one’s own” (Routh). That The Tatler became extremely popular, not only with the middle class but even with the upper class, is only natural. Steele had a way with him. “The contemporary comments upon the popularity of Mr. Bickerstaff become more interesting [as The Tatler maintains the success it instantly acquired], and Gildon’s assertion that The Tatler ‘ravished the Town, and almost reconciled Parties in its praise, that were opposed in everything else,’ intensifies belief in the existence of true literary taste before 1709.—In general, an examination of conditions outside the sphere of politics proves that before 1710 the book and journal trades were encouraging men to independent literary endeavor. The improvement in the public market and the consequent decline in private patronage would eventually have brought freedom of action and proper income for professional writers. In 1709 non-partisan journalism was in a healthy state, and the popularity of The Tatler was increasing the possibilities for similar projects … But party demands were soon to offset all such advantageous conditions, until at the end of Anne’s reign [1702–14] English journalism was to be virtually in the hands of party politicians to use as they saw fit” (David Harrison Stevens, Party Politics and English Journalism, 1702–1742, Menasha, Wisconsin, 1916).
Dr. Stevens there touched on a point he elaborates further on in his thesis:—”It is … quite essential to realize that The Tatler and The Spectator were not the only journals published between 1710 and 1714, to attract general interest: many others, lacking the literary merits of these two, still held important places in public regard because of their relation to current events.” With that reservation and that precaution at the back of our minds, we may proceed to the successor of The Taller to which periodical Addison had become a contributor; from apprentice to Steele, Addison had, by the time The Tatler was discontinued become a complete, versatile master of the difficult art of essay writing.
It has been said that the fall, in 1710, of the Whig ministry, by depriving both Steele and Addison of good posts in the service of the Government, deprived them of a livelihood and that they decided to make good the loss by launching a periodical that would be even more profitable than The Tatler had been: but that is true only so far as it goes. It does not go very far. Editing and writing for The Tatler had enabled both of these men to savour such privileges, to have such experiences as no other writer of the time enjoyed—or had the chance to enjoy. “While ransacking society, clubland and literature for ‘copy,’ Steele and Addison had discovered, partly in themselves and partly in others, a moral and intellectual tone purer and more humane than the spirit which they had breathed into their own paper. Greatly as that periodical had developed, it could not altogether escape from the desultory and superficial character which it had assumed at its origin. Yet a new journal offered boundless possibilities, and the artist’s instinct, as well as the moralist’s zeal, played a part in founding The Spectator” as Professor Harold Routh* has acutely remarked.
*The quotations from Routh are taken from his wholly admirable chapter, “Steele and Addison,” in Vol. ix of The Cambridge History of English Literature, a vast work possessed by very few nonacademics.
In short, The Spectator was not a mere offshoot of The Tatler nor merely a sequel. In place of a medley — a diversion — a haphazardry (felicitous, it must be admitted)—the editors aimed at a unity, a sustained entertainment and moral commentary, a narrowing of the scope but a widening of the issues at stake within the narrowed field. And, “above all, the [news] periodical was to have the persuasiveness of personality” (Routh); for the somewhat remote and nebulous Mr. Bickerstaff, they substituted the present and objective Mr. Spectator, who, moreover, was “a decent fellow,” “a nice person,” and a most likable man. The tone, character and tendency of The Spectator were struck, determined, indicated in the first number, for it consisted of a portrait— perhaps rather a sketch—of the mind of Mr. Spectator.
That portrait sketch deserves some slight attention. Mr. Spectator is Addison: not as he was; not as others saw him; but as he saw himself, or rather as he wished to be. Nobody has ever, but Addison has more than most, achieved that so desirable conversion of a trinity into a unity, that noble and special synthesis in which these three aspects of and attitudes towards a person’s character coincide, and are one and the same. It was an ideal towards which he strove: and if, in the year of his death, he had recast or retouched the portrait of Mr. Spectator, he would almost certainly have drawn an even more attractive, lovable, and worthy man. But I digress! Here, then, is Mr. Spectator: Classically learned, he brings to his observations of modern life that detachment, that breadth, that calm, that sense of proportion, that quiet sense of beauty which seem to spring more readily and more comprehensively from a good Classical education than from any other; and Addison-Spectator’s education was as sound as it was Classical. Intellectually emancipated, he assimilated the ideas of the modern world in which he found himself, yet he impressed on them his own personality and shaped them to his own purpose. His culture had grown, and mellowed, from Puritanism. In addition to being enviably erudite and Classically cultured, he travelled widely and in and by his travels he enriched his learning, his culture and his character. Of no profession and of no philosophic school, he stored his mind with the wisdom, humanity, and wit of all ages and other countries : and with the knowledge gained thus as a criterion, he judged, adjudged and, both consciously and we cannot doubt) subconsciously, compared contemporary life with the life and intellectual and moral background of other nations and epochs. He went into almost every milieu, and thus, as Addison says, he made himself “a speculative statesman, soldier, merchant or artisan without ever meddling with any practical part in life”: a Shakespeare on a small scale. In The Spectator, both Addison himself and the now discipular Steele avowed and adopted the principle that “the wisdom and integrity of other ages were the best guides towards the improvement of their own”: and what better vehicle than Mr. Spectator could they have found?
It was, in those days of coffee-houses, coteries and cliques, necessary that Mr. Spectator should be the member of a club. There, to off-set and set off the principal, Steele introduced five other men; men that, belonging to different spheres, could and did — hold different opinions, and express them, on intellectual, literary, social and moral questions. But they were not mere theorists, not doctrinaires: from the first, this loyal though independent quintet of friends, representing each a class and embodying a moral lesson to that class, did far more than to invest the discussions with a dramatic interest or a dialectical tendency: Mr. Spectator “the perfected student of humanity” (Routh), deserved as his companions something more, something better than a fortuitous concourse of atomies or an arbitrarily selected group of lay-figures, and in these five men, suave and mellow (though less suave and mellow than Mr. Spectator), Steele supplied it; both Steele and Addison moulded and precised their dialogue and sharpened their physical and spiritual lineaments.
These are worthy likenesses in the National Portrait Gallery of spiritual artistry. And never have these portraits been more skilfully described than by Professor Routh, whose portraiture is here precised:—
“The first is Sir Roger de Coverley, a man of naturally strong intelligence and physical vigour, whose enthusiasm for life has been temporarily blasted by a rather mysterious love affair. But he did not become listless …nor futile … He has, indeed, resigned himself to an inglorious existence among his bucolic and admiring tenants; but he has not fallen a victim to a sense of self-importance …He overflows with loving kindness, and his long career of feudal autocracy has only added a touch of independence and eccentricity to his benevolence.—There is Captain Sentry, a man of unquestioned energy, ability and personal courage …. [He] has withdrawn from the social pleasures of London and resigned himself good-humouredly to a life of leisurely obscurity.—There is a lawyer, who has no taste for his profession …Yet, instead of wasting his life, he devotes his ample leisure to Aristotle, Longinus and the theatre, until he has cultivated much of The Spectator’s own character… Another member, Will Honeycomb the fop, had been for centuries a butt in comedy and satire …. But [here] the satire has gone. Will is portrayed as vain and worldly… but not as depraved. He is the best of his type, a brilliant talker, with a kind heart and an irresistible charm of manner. —The spirit of The Spectator is most clearly seen in the figure of Sir Andrew Freeport the merchant. For more than a century, traders had been characterised as dishonest and avaricious … Commerce was …now a great power in society and politics. Merchants were ambassadors of civilization, and had developed [an] intellect …Thanks to coffee-houses, merchants now had the opportunity of coming to understand their own importance …. Still , it was something new in literature to show how a man trained in a counting-house could be the intellectual equal of the Spectator and his friends. Sir Andrew is not a wit; …yet he has made himself an original thinker, with ideas … derived from experience in trade and expressed with the lucidity of conviction.”
Many of us think it a pity that Addison and Steele did not make more of these five friends and show us their moral and social progress, their intellectual and spiritual vicissitudes and development. Even Sir Roger de Coverley is only a partial exception to this animadversion: his career is sketched rather than full-painted. Yet the sketch is exquisite and moving, for even the most trivial of his utterances help us to see a man of perfect simplicity, engaging directness, unsanctimonious godliness, never-failing kindliness, humanised Puritanism, complete sincerity, and true nobility: his was the wisdom of the simple, the power of the humble in heart, the radiance of eternal youth.
Sir Roger thus forms the most striking manifestation of that understanding of and sympathy with the human heart, human suffering, the pathos of unrecorded Hampdens and the empty memorials of the mediocre which are, admittedly, not the staple of The Spectator essays. That staple is what has well been called “sporadic and dispassionate observation,” and this aloofness and detachment are due in part to the fact that the range of subjects covered in these essays is immense. “So, the personalities of the Spectator’s club tend to fade out of importance” (Routh), but that fade-out did at least prevent The Spectator from becoming either a mere receptacle of nothing but character-sketches and cross-sections of human life or a loose-knit, five- or six-compartmented novel.
The Spectator came to its graceful end on the 6th of December, 1712, apparently for the most sensible of all reasons: the two main contributors had reached the end of their literary tether, written themselves to a standstill (in this kind of thing, not altogether), and caused the mainsprings to run down, the sources of their invention to be dried up in the effort and endeavour to cater for the daily needs of their insatiable public: all good things must end: the best of friends must part, even Mr. Spectator and his amiable colleagues, even these six and their awaiting public: two fertile writers and their eager assistants were forced to recognise that even their startling versatility and their various ability could not discover many more suitable subjects for their willing pens, and that they could not for ever turn into agreeable and entertaining sketches those numerous and, for the most part, unnoticed facets and incidents of London life in which they specialized. (Apart from a month spent by the Spectator in the country, the “action” takes place in Town.) They had the grace to refrain from growing old disgracefully, the decency to make an early bow to their beloved audience and not to prima-donna them with oft-repeated farewells. For such tact and good-breeding, we owe them our sincerest thanks and a heart-felt, unstrained, unsighing gratitude: the dragged-out farewell becomes an exasperation of the nerves and an exacerbation of the flesh-an inconvenience spared us here.
But what were the physical details and features of The Spectator? What should we say of it in general criticism and description? How does this periodical compare with its predecessor, The Tatler, and its successor, The Guardian? What is its place in periodical literature, its role in general literature? To what may we attribute its success? And what kind of writers, what sort of men were those who, after all, made The Spectator and, indeed, were The Spectator? Especially Steele and Addison … Addison and Steele. The main physical aspects are these: duration and periodicity; manner of printing; appearance; circulation; price. The Spectator ran from March 1,1711, to December 6,1712, and it appeared every day except Sunday. Of printing in general in Queen Anne’s time and of that of The Tatler and The Spectator in particular, Professor D. Nichol Smith has, in his article “The Newspaper,” included in the symposium entitled Johnson’s England, 1933, written with the utmost authority, as follows:—”If the circulation rose to 3,000, twelve hours’ printing at top speed would be required … In the printing-house of a popular paper at least four presses had to be used … and … the whole paper had … to be set at least twice.
“This we may sometimes prove by comparing copies of the same date. They will agree in contents and in arrangement, but they may not agree typographically. The most notable example is The Tatler which came out thrice a week … Probably every number appeared in at least two settings, one of them being as much the ‘original issue’ as the other. In the list of Errata in No. 255 it is admitted that this paper had been ‘worked off in different Presses’ … Similar differences are, of necessity, found in The Spectator, which had a larger circulation and appeared daily. As it was customary to bind up sets of periodical essays-back numbers of The Spectator were advertised by the month— an essay that had sold well might have to be reprinted; and we therefore run some risk of confusing reprints with simultaneous prints.”
In the matter of appearance, we may again quote that authority. “The size of the newspaper increased steadily but slowly. In the days of Queen Anne, the normal form was still double columns on a single half-sheet, with a printed area on each side of eleven or twelve inches by six; and this was the form also of The Tatler and The Spectator.”
As to the circulation, Alexander Chalmers, in his edition of The British Essayists (1803; reissued in 1823), says, in the “Biographical Preface” to Volume V, that, “Whatever the precise number was, it is certain that it far exceeded that of any preceding or contemporary work of the kind, and, it is almost needless to add, of any which has followed. The sale, however, was probably not steady; some papers, we are assured, were bought up with more eagerness than others.” That is vague. Professor James R. Sutherland, in The Circulation of Newspapers and Literary Periodicals, 1700-1730 (reprinted, in 1934, from the Transactions of the Bibliographical Society), although he does not solve the problem, at least offers us something considerably more substantial than anything that had been offered before the appearance of his very informative article. “The sale of The Spectator has been variously estimated. There is, in the first place, Addison’s statement in No. 10: ‘My publisher tells me, that there are already three thousand of them distributed every day.’ It is doubtful whether The Spectator had reached the peak of its reputation by the tenth number, though it should be remembered that it was flourishing in a soil that had already been cultivated by The Tatler … On 23 July”— that is, nearly five months after its inception—”it was stated that the demand was increasing daily, and on 31 December that the demand had been increasing every month since the paper was started. If Addison’s figures are to be accepted, The Spectator was already selling 18,000 copies a week, after it had been running for only a few days, and considerably more than that in the course of the next few months. Against this, one must set Steele’s statement in No. 555, made after the duty of one halfpenny a sheet on all newspapers had come into force: ‘The tax on each half-sheet has brought into the stamp office, one week with another, above 20 £. a week’ arising from the single paper, notwithstanding it at first reduced it to less than half the number that was usually printed before the tax was laid.’ The Spectator’s reply to the stamp duty had been to double its price (instead of merely adding the extra halfpenny), and the public of 1712 was not sufficiently confirmed in the habit of buying newspapers to spend, except reluctantly, twopence a day, even on The Spectator. Steele’s estimate of ‘above 20 £. a week’ would give a circulation of 1,600-1,700 a day.” Professor Sutherland—wrongly, I think—omits to mention that Alexander Chalmers drew attention to the fact that a certain annotator thought it probable that 20 was a misprint for 29. But Professor Sutherland continues with a suggestion even more suggestive than that annotator’s. “It has never, I believe, been suggested that a calculation, such as this for The Spectator, based on the amount of stamp duty paid, may be misleading; but if every copy of The Spectator was duly issued on stamped paper, that was far from being the practice with many other newspapers of the period. Evasion of the stamp duty seems to have been very common, and, for some reason, difficult to suppress. Not only was the easy subterfuge frequently adopted of issuing an unstamped newspaper on one and a half sheets and thereby complying with the letter of the law, but many of the surviving copies of those periodicals which were printed on the regulation sheet or half-sheet carry no stamp. It would be interesting to learn if unstamped copies of The Spectator — after the stamp duty came into force — are in existence. If so, an estimate based on Steele’s statement would have to be revised. As additional evidence of The Spectator’s popularity, one must take into account a further statement of Steele’s that ‘an edition of the former volumes of The Spectator of above nine thousand each book, is already (6 Dec. 1712) sold off.’ But another contemporary estimate*, which put the circulation at 14,000 copies a day, seems excessive. The Spectator certainly had a considerable public outside London, but a sale of almost one hundred thousand copies a week would have been altogether unprecedented.” Further on, Professor Sutherland adds that “Addison, in computing the influence of The Spectator estimated twenty readers for each copy, and he was probably near the truth.
*Letter of Dr. Fleetwood to the Bishop of Salisbury, 17 June 1712. Mr. Pope’s Literary Correspondence (1736), vol. iv, p. 107.
“The price per copy was, therefore, one penny before the stamp duty; twopence after its imposition. From Chalmers we learn that “it was reprinted in octavo, like The Tatler, at the price of one guinea per volume, and other editions at inferior prices were soon multiplied.”
Those externals are informative, but with a literary periodical of the intrinsic importance of The Spectator, with a periodical of so powerful and lasting an influence as that exercised by The Spectator, something of general description and criticism is not merely in place but necessary, requisite and, indeed, essential in any comprehensive account.
Whereas the 17th century moralists had adopted their wisdom from books and often adapted it astonishingly little (concessions to readers were less frequent and less marked than they are to-day), and whereas Isaac Bickerstaff had drawn on his own, that is Steele’s, experience, Mr. Spectator-Addison was much wiser: he enlisted both the enshrined wisdom of literature and the worldly wisdom of his contemporaries. “It is surprising how much quaint and curious law is introduced into the pages of The Spectator merely to give point or freshness to an uninspiring theme, as where the buyers of lottery tickets suggest the legend of Mahomet’s coffin suspended in mid-air by the force of two magnets, or the curiosity of the town concerning the letter with which each essay was signed is mocked by means of a dissertation on cabalism*.” It is, however, when Addison and Steele take up that duty of censorship—amiable censorship—which Isaac Bickerstaff had assumed, that literary influences are most clearly detected; but “detected” is misleading, for both Steele and especially Addison, so far from concealing their love of and indebtedness to literature, drew attention to it. For instance, the occasionally rather bad-tempered or peevish writings of the moderns are contrasted with the equable and noble writings of the Classics, or the modern writers themselves are, by the criterion of the original Augustans, or by that of such authorities as Cicero and Epictetus, condemned for their littleness, their malice, their spitefulness. Mr. Spectator not only had recourse to the ancient moralists on ordinary questions but also retained “a Roman sense of self-respect and reasonableness.” Steele was much more sentimental; yet he did his best to inculcate, engagingly, a line of conduct that he himself did not, perhaps could not, follow; and he was a notable champion of women, to whatever class they belonged; he was tender and considerate to even the lowest.
*Routh obviously means cabbalism. which is much the commoner spelling; presumably in the sense “mystery” or “occult doctrine.”
Many such glimpses of the social structure of the day are in letters. The Spectator welcomed and invited letters: and it is not always easy to decide whether a letter is genuine or whether it is not an editorial device. “It must be remembered that, for more than a century, the epistle had become a recognised literary type, and that The Spectator would naturally avail itself of ‘the gentler art’ to lend variety and grace to its papers. But, while letter-writers, from Seneca to Loveday, had used this form of composition to convey ideas, Steele and his associates went further. To them belongs the credit of discovering that the epistle could become a picturesque type of character-sketch … John Hughes composed the two admirably characteristic letters on the education of a girl … Besides revealing character, letters were admirably adapted to disclose the secrets of private life … In some numbers, Steele goes further and narrates a sequence of events by an interchange of letters” (Routh), nobly and touchingly in those letters wherein a widow reclaims her son from dissipated London; wittily in those wherein Cynthio is disengaged from Flavia’s tiresome affection.
In these letter-sequences, Steele almost invented the serial novel in its sub-division, the epistolary novel: but the stronger character of his. co-editor deflected him, and his unpersevering nature prevented him, from achieving that entertaining and often exasperating invention; directed him towards the serial discourse or treatise-sequence. “Addison found himself leading a reaction in literature, just as Steele had led a reaction in manners” (Routh). Addison began with the drama of the day, but, with that perceptiveness which was one of his most distinctive traits, he saw that the rather nonchalant public of the coffeehouses would never grow enthusiastic on that theme. Oddly enough, he contrived, with his urbanity, irony and wit, to interest the coffee-house frequenters in literature: at one stage in The Spectator’s varied history, he actually devoted some six consecutive issues to “false wit” (mere verbal conceits, mere word-skill, acrostics, and other wearinesses of the flesh: what would he have thought, what would he have written, of crosswords?!) and then set forth his bracing ideas of true wit: so bracing and so comprehensive that he implicitly, and with consummate cleverness, taught his, for the most part, unacademic readers to demand or at least to look for much more than wit or literary art from such literature as he could, again implicitly, persuade them to read. He taught them to expect those “precepts of morality” which, he maintained, should both prop up and inform every great work.
Steele did his best to support his superior, nor was it a negligible best. But he could not equal-it is to be admitted, not wholly to his discredit, that he did not try very hard to equal Addison’s finest piece of sustained criticism, the set of Saturday essays on Milton’s Paradise Lost, which he examined in the light of several authoritative critics, ancient and modern. From this searching examination, Milton, at first sight oddly, emerged superior to Virgil and even to Homer. The reason for this oddity is that to the average — even the average cultured — reader, Milton seemed more natural. After generalities, Addison “got down to brass tacks”: examined each Book of Paradise Lost in some detail. “No greater service could have been rendered to the unformed taste of his time than to point out where Milton is to be admired, and Addison had the wisdom to illustrate his criticisms so copiously that these papers almost constitute a book of selected ‘beauties’ … These Milton papers met with an enthusiastic reception” (Routh), and their influence on European criticism lasted until Sainte-Beuve pointed and proved that a critic “should be less of a judge than a reconstructor.” Much influence was exercised also by Addison’s essays “On the Pleasures of the Imagination,” in which he only just failed to succeed in his thesis that all men’s emotions can be sublimated almost as much by what they read as by what they see: and by which he must surely have aroused in many readers a renewed, if not a new, sense of artistic and aesthetic enjoyment.
Although, throughout its existence, The Spectator interspersed the discourses and dissertations with lighter papers (essays either humorous or satirical-or both), yet the general tone of the periodical increased in seriousness. Addison was a moralist and, sub rosa, a teacher, and he taught and moralised not only, as we have seen, on art and literature but on other weighty themes. The chief of these was religion. Now, the supporters of the old regime, the votaries of the Stuart dynasty, were, most of them, atheists, “but the middle classes were still devout and only needed to bring into their worship that cult of urbanity at which they aimed in their daily lives. No one could be more susceptible to this tendency than a man of Addison’s character, and, when he set himself to lead a social reform, it was inevitable that he should write on religion …Though … not the first to proclaim the gospel of peace and goodwill, he was the first who could bring it into the hearts and homes of the London citizens … These lay sermons are accompanied by a few verse paraphrases of the Psalms … and are varied by allegories” (Routh).
Of general aspects, there are many still to be noticed. Since, however, this is not an exhaustingly exhaustive treatise nor a stupefyingly soporific thesis, but a study and a story only mildly and, I hope, decently narcotic, I shall mention only three: the philosophy, the manners, and the politics of The Spectator.
In so far as The Spectator deals with philosophy at all, it is not metaphysics but “a philosophy of life”: that cushion on which we place our battered heads in a resignation born rather of weariness than of piety; that breast against which we lay our burning cheeks not in ardour but for comfort; that inextricable tangle and badly torn network of commonplaces through which, either despairingly or apathetically, we let slip our youth-formed aspirations and our maturer ideals; that second-best which is less noble, less holy, less beautiful, but more accessible and human than that final perfection which mortals glimpse, long for, pray for, with agonised eyes, shamed heart, and tremulous soul, but which they, baffled and held back by life, by muffling circumstance, and by their own imperfections, never — or almost never — attain; that philosopher’s stone which transmutes no earthly handicap, no earthy desire, no poisoned emotion, no tainted relationship, no money-yellowed ambition, no innate pettiness, into a heavenly advantage, a celestial purity, an unvenomed spiritual state, a spring-fresh association of clean minds, a clear-crystalled contentedness, an acquired grandeur of character; that sop to an ennobled Cerberus; that viaticum to a temporal, man-made, man-diminished heaven; that passport, not to the ultimate goal of selfless seekers and elected spirits, but to a halfway limbo of half-measures and docked dignity; that pis aller of the traveller too quickly forspent, and that faute de mieux of a mankind too soon fordone; that morally slack and mentally cynical masturbation of a love that should be divine; that makeshifting substitute for the wholly true, the integrally good, the entirely beautiful; that sad, slow, worldly staining and dimming of the radiantly white dome of eternity, and man’s tragic failure to achieve his destined heaven.— As Addison said of the periodical essayist of the time, so may we say of Addison and Steele that, in The Spectator, their aim was “to bring philosophy out of closets and libraries, schools and colleges, to dwell in clubs and assemblies, at tea-tables, and in coffee-houses.” Their aim was hardly sublime; but it was, at the least, worthy. And the aim was successful.
As for The Spectator’s attitude towards manners — well, perhaps we may quote Samuel Johnson, whose birth almost coincided with that of The Tatler. “Before the Tatler and Spectator, if the writers for the theatre are excepted, England had no masters of common life. No writers had yet undertaken to reform either the savageness of neglect, or the impertinence of civility; to show when to speak, or to be silent; how to refuse, or how to comply. We had many books to teach us our more important duties, and to settle opinions in philosophy or politics: but an Arbiter Elegantiarum, a judge of propriety, was yet wanting, who should survey the track of daily conversation, and free it from thorns and prickles … For this purpose nothing is so proper as the frequent publication of short papers … The busy may find time and the idle may find patience.”
And the politics, the political aspect of The Spectator? We cannot do better than to hearken to the author of Party Politics and English Journalism, 1702-1712. “Two interesting problems,” remarks Dr. David Stevens, “arise in the study of Addison’s political activity between 1710 and 1714; one, the question of what influence he had over Steele, and the other”— which does not concern us —”as to his relations with Whig leaders.
“On the first point the opinion has prevailed that Addison repressed Steele’s political enthusiasms while The Spectator was in existence. The satisfaction and profit derived from a Tory office also kept him in check, but to Addison has been accorded credit for keeping The Spectator free from violently partisan essays. Correspondence for these years clearly reveals Steele’s submission to Addison in important matters. For example, on October 6, 1713, John Hughes wrote begging Addison to check his friend’s plan to enter more deeply into politics with his new paper, The Englishman. The obvious conclusion is that Steele’s subservience to Addison was well known to their close friends, and that it was noticed to a certain degree by others.
“A further sidelight on this question is thrown by another passage from Dr. Stevens’s discriminating book. “… When both Addison and Steele [had begun to assume] added political duties, The Spectator was discontinued by mutual agreement. Revived a year and a half later, it appeared as usual from June 18 until December 20, 1714 … under Addison’s sole direction. Though no explanation was offered for the ending of the original Spectator, there are indications of political reasons. Addison was becoming more deeply involved in party affairs, and was unwilling to break his resolve that The Spectator should be nonpartisan. Steele chafed under the restraint of the tradition, particularly since the loss of his Tory employment as Gazetteer had removed his chief hindrance to work for the Whigs. He very promptly gave expression to his political opinions.”
Before passing to a consideration of the place occupied by The Spectator in periodical literature and in literature in general, we might consider it in comparison with The Tatler and with The Guardian: for The Spectator was not a freak of nature, nor an independent phenomenon.
The Tatler came out, not daily but on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays; it ran, you will remember, from April 2, 1709, until January 2, 1711. But whereas The Tatler was the forerunner of The Spectator, The Spectator was not a mere sequel to The Tatler (“a pennyworth of diversion containing something to suit all tastes”). The earlier paper, at least in its beginnings, was perhaps too much of a medley, in which gossip rubbed shoulders with authentic information, literary essays with political news; the later paper was much more consecutive and much more literary. And, by appearing every day, The Spectator “grew into the life of its readers like an intimate counsellor or a constant friend,” as Routh has so charmingly remarked.
If, however, we view, steadily and without favouritism, the entire career of The Tatler and that of The Spectator, we notice that, all in all and by and large, the more famous periodical dealt with much the same range of subjects as that covered by The Tatler and maintained much the same attitude towards sociology, manners, politics, humanity: which need not surprise us, for Steele and Addison wrote by far the larger part of both of these periodicals. But The Spectator was superior in style, much superior in thought, to its predecessor. And whereas the weaknesses and follies of Society in particular, mankind in general, were by The Tatler judged by the criterion of common sense, they were by The Spectator criticised in the light of the mellowly mature ethics of antiquity — not untempered, still further, by the tested opinions of modern moralists. These differences are, in the main, accounted for by the fact that the design of The Tatler was Steele’s; that of The Spectator was Addison’s.
An instructive comparison of these two periodicals was made in Vol. V of The British Essayists, 1803, by Alexander Chalmers, who may sometimes have been prosaic and prosy but was by no means a fool. “The irregularities, whether of plan or execution, which may be discovered in the Tatler, are excluded from its immediate successor, which, although not altogether faultless, is more uniform in all the valuable purposes of instruction, and all the excellencies of style and invention. Steele and Addison appear to have used the Tatler“—at first, needless to say, the intention must have been subconscious, for The Spectator was not conceived until some time in the last month or two of The Tatler’s existence—”as a kind of exercise, a test of skill, to determine what they could produce, and what the public expected … When Steele had once secured the services of Addison, when he saw not only what they had produced, but what they might produce, he could not but review the imperfections and inequalities of The Tatler with a wish that his potent auxiliary had been called in sooner, and that instead of improving an indigested plan, he had been invited to share in one concerted with more regularity.”
The successor to The Spectator was The Guardian, which ran from March to October I, 1713, and which was itself succeeded by that avowedly political periodical, The Englishman. As John Dennis, author of The Age if Pope, 1894, justly said, “The student who disregards the Tatler, the Spectator, the Guardian, and some of the essay-volumes which follow in their wake, will be blind to one of the most significant literary features of the period.” The Guardian might have been as successful, or almost as successful as its predecessor, had not its editor, Steele, allowed himself to introduce a too large proportion of political essays, despite his initial non-political intentions and professions. The Guardian “appeared daily for 175 numbers. Addison is now credited with fifty-two papers of the total number, [Steele with upwards of eighty]. Fourteen papers are included in the collected works of George Berkeley. Pope, Thomas Tickell, Eustace Budgell, John Hughes, John Gay, Ambrose Philips, William Wotton, John Carey, Richard Ince, Thomas Parnell, Henry Martyn, and Laurence Eusden were occasional contributors, as we learn from Walter Graham’s invaluable book, English Literary Periodicals,* 1930.
*In which is incorporated most of the material that comprised his earlier and much smaller work, The Beginnings of English Literary Periodicals.
Though less novel and fresh than The Tatler and The Spectator, The Guardian was yet a notable periodical: and its popularity may be gauged by the fact that, before the 18th century ended, it had run into twenty-six editions. “Criticism of home and family, that staple of his stock, Steele pleasantly introduced through the medium of the Lizards, clearly related to the Staffs”—Isaac Bickerstaff, Jenny Distaff—”in the Tatler … For its general criticism [of literature], particularly, is the Guardian valuable,” especially in Steele’s own contributions and in certain of those by Pope, Tickell, and Hughes. “These,” continues Dr. Graham, “give the Guardian a distinguished place in the history of critical periodicals. ”
But Pope withdrew, probably as a protest against Steele’s quarrel with The Examiner. “From that time, the last of April, the articles became more and more controversial, until the literary charm of the earlier issues disappeared. During these weeks of his controversy with the Examiner, Steele passed from literary to political pursuits” (Stevens, Party Politics and English Journalism).
Nevertheless, The Tatler, The Spectator and The Guardian form a valiant and cultured trio, possessing a meritorious approximation to unity by virtue of the contributions of Addison and Steele. Comparing the condition of English writers in 1710-14 with that obtaining in 1726, Bolingbroke, who intimately knew both of these periods, wrote thus:—”The celebrated Tatlers and Spectators”—that is, Steele and Addison respectively—”had no reward except from book-sellers and fame. But when these .authors … applied their talents … in writing the Englishman and the Freeholder, one was soon created a knight, and the other became a secretary of state.” Dr. Stevens’s comment on Bolingbroke’s statement is that “the Tatler, the Spectator, and the Guardian could never have furnished means during their few years of existence to keep Addison and the wasteful Steele. These periodicals simply formed the basis for their real prosperity and contemporary reputation by giving demonstration to the Whig leaders of their fitness for public service.”
But such facts are, in a large view., less important than the place of The Spectator in periodical and in general literature.
For its role and place in periodical literature, Dr. Walter Graham has written so discerningly that it were an intolerable impertinence to do other than quote and précis him. “The types of literary periodicals which rapidly developed in the eighteenth century were … foreshadowed in the seventeenth.” True; but to enumerate those foreshadowings would be a work of supererogatory pedantry and suffocating particularity. Perhaps the most notable of the I7th century forestallers was The Athenian Mercury (1691–96 ), which was remarkably successful. And only by a year anticipating The Tatler, was The British Apollo (IJ08-II), which, “perform’d by a Society of Gentlemen,” received its death blow from the abler though no less gentlemanly hands of Steele and Addison. The Tatler doubtless, in part at least, owed its character-sketches to Ned Ward’s The London Spy (1698–1700), and something of its literariness to Peter Anthony Motteux’s The Gentleman’s Journal (1693–94), which, “as a literary periodical … was the most important serial publication of the seventeenth century.” Other periodicals to which The Tatler, hence The Spectator, owed suggestions were Defoe’s A Weekly Review (but only as to 1704–05), The Muses’ Mercury (January 1707–January 1708), and The Monthly Miscellany (1707–10).
We therefore see that The Tatler, “with which periodical writing of a ‘literary’ quality is generally agreed to have begun, was the inheritor of the devices and methods and tone of many predecessors. In fact, there was only one original thing about Steele’s project. His plan to have ‘accounts of gallantry, pleasure and entertainment’ come from White’s Chocolate House, poetry from Will’s Coffee House, learning from the Grecian, foreign and domestic news from St. James’s, and whatever else he had to offer on any subject from ‘My Own Apartment,’ was an attractive and rather novel idea. Steele proposed, in other words, to fix definitely the kind of matter dated from four of the best known resorts of readers in London.”
The Tatler and, still more, The Spectator, provided English readers with literary journalism of a higher standard than that maintained in any of their predecessors: literary journalism of a standard so high, indeed, that never has it been bettered. “They gradually developed the periodical essay out of [that] section of the Tatler [which was] entitled ‘From My Own Apartment.’ They thus provided in its highest form the essay serial, to be sure, but it is not wholly true that they created a new type of periodical—the single-essay type … In its subject matter, the Tatler shows constantly the influence of Ned Ward’s wit and comment on London life, the reforming urge of Dunton, Defoe, and Tutchin, Motteux’s miscellaneous entertainment, and the increasing tendency to comment on books and writers … ” Nevertheless “Steele not only produced the first periodical criticism of lasting value; he was the first journalist to reveal the possibilities of the periodical as a medium for literature.”
In The Tatler there is noticeable an increasing tendency to fill each issue with a single essay. It was The Tatler which established the single-essay periodical as a type. The Spectator it was which perfected the type: that this was so, may be attributed in part to maturing experience and in part to the linked fact that Steele and Addison were stIll together, with one or two other writers contributing to both of these periodicals. In The Tatler, the occasional contributors were, with a fair degree of certainty, Swift, John Hughes, Samuel Fuller, Heneage Twisden, William Congreve, E. W. Montagu, Anthony Henley; possibly also Pope, Gay, Charles Dartiquenave, Arthur Maynwaring, and Temple Stanyon. Pope and John Hughes reappeared in The Spectator.
Since The Spectator improved the virtues and eradicated the vices of The Tatler, there is but little more to be said of The Spectator separately. Roughly, the role of the later periodical was the role of the earlier; only, it was better played. The place of the later periodical was merely larger than that of the earlier. It is safer, and fairer, to take them together. “The Tatler and Spectator,” says Dr. Graham, “were the supreme examples of the essay-periodical type. Many such serials followed, but none could compare with them in consistent moral instruction, simple yet finished style, genial humor, or influence and popularity with contemporary readers. None could compare with them in presenting cross-sections of contemporary life.” Dr. Graham then treats of The Guardian; and he generalises thus with regard to The Tatler, The Spectator, The Guardian:—”Their success gave rise to a long line of imitations, among which the essay of morals and manners was adapted to a variety of uses almost as wide as the diversity of human interests. The popularity of the essay as a separate [and complete number of a] periodical virtually died with the end of the century … [These three] differed from all periodicals which had preceded them and from many of those which followed, in that they were the receptacles of literature of permanent value … Thanks to Steele .and Addison, the ‘literary’ periodical became respectable, and with essay writing, journalism began to lose its stigma. Unlike all their predecessors and most of their [successors], Steele and Addison earned their niche in the halls of literary fame solely by their periodical writing. In the Tatler, Spectator, and Guardian, journalism and literature were first brought into happy union.”
But there is an, at first sight, melancholy aspect to be mentioned. Of journalism as known in the 17th and 18th centuries, “only one distinct form has virtually passed from the scene—the single-essay periodical of the Spectator type. This has been absorbed into the more important periodicals as a department or feature—a serial essay, appearing regularly in a certain place in the newspaper or magazine. As a comparatively modern development, we have the weekly journal of criticism, of mixed ancestry, best represented in the Times Literary Supplement” (Graham): a periodical that, as few persons now remember, began in late 1897 as Literature.
There is a broader issue: the role and the place of The Spectator (hence, inevitably, of The Tatler) in literature as a whole. In 1823, Alexander Chalmers, in his Preface to Vol. V of The British Essayist, was moved to say of The Spectator, that “it has subsisted in the plenitude of its original popularity for above a century, and no composition merely human”—an allusion to the Bible—”has been so frequently printed and read. It has been so universally the delight of every youth of taste or curiosity, that perhaps our fondness for this work might be ranked among the prejudices of education, had it not stood the test of maturer years and fastidious criticism.”
The Tatler, The Spectator, and The Guardian, but especially the second of these, increased the public’s interest in, and appreciation of, literature; good writing, and even style; authorship and journalism. This is not to imply that the English people did not “read intelligently and eagerly before Addison and Steele improved public taste with their Tatlers and Spectators. The theory that to these two belongs all credit for bringing England to her books, has been used simply because it is conveniently explanatory of a recognized change in literary forms. But it is idle to credit the new periodical essay with so abrupt a creation of public taste, when natural courses of development very obviously were being followed before 1709″ (Stevens).
The three periodicals, by setting such a standard of literary journalism as no successors have surpassed, rendered a service to literature in general; even in the lifetime of Addison (1719), the cultured public regarded them as literature; writers in other genres were put on their mettle.
The writers in these three periodicals made, of that 17th Century genre, the Character, something vastly more human, versatile, lovable-not a set Character but a character-sketch; and of the Essay, something wider, less formal, and much less restricted in theme than it had been before 1709.
Addison, Steele, and the best of their co-workers strengthened, enriched, refined the national traditions of justice, morality, true tolerance, urbanity, good manners, good taste. Perhaps to a degree disproportionate to their own talent, ” Steele and Addison captured and shamed society, by their wit and skill, into a comparative decency, and … they did this by sharpening against morosity, zeal, and religious unreason of all sorts, another edge of their mockery, in the service of plain morals, good sense, and the behaviour of gentlemen” (Dr. Oliver Elton, The Augustan Ages, 1899).
Indeed, the writers in The Tatler, The Spectator, and The Guardian rendered England less uncouth and, on the constructive side, more conscious of its own culture.
Now, the success of The Spectator, as of its immediate forerunner and follower, was due in part to the social conditions and historical circumstances of the time; in part to the perspicacity and integrity, ability and talent of the editors and their assistants. The background against which these periodicals stand out, has been admirably drawn by Professor Louis Cazamian in that best of all middle-sized accounts of English literature, A History of English Literature,* by Legouis and Cazamian. “If the classical age is of a relatively less pure quality than was that of the Restoration, it is because the social components of the dominant tone are no longer simple. The ruling class is now mixed. It is still built … upon an aristocratic frame; the prestige of birth is not abolished … The most refined elements of society, those whose culture is the oldest, continue to be the leaders of fashion and taste. … But since 1688, the upper middle class is more and more commingling with the hereditary nobility, or rising to a position by its side in the state; and without openly demanding the division of power, it is making its individual influence felt. The middle class as a whole—in the sense in which it stretches down to the common people—is not without sharing in this progress. … Thus a compromise is established, in which the influences of the middle order of the State are every day becoming more active … New elements, of a middle-class nature, enter into the psychological and literary atmosphere of the classical age; they bring with them a need for balance and measure…
*I quote from the revised edition (1933) of the English translation.
“It cannot be said, of course, that Pope as a writer is foreign to his own country … But with the humble writings of his contemporary Defoe, with the brilliant essays of Steele and Addison …, it is something more truly national which begins again. Certain desires, certain elementary needs of the soul, are more directly satisfied through them.”
To that general background, it is wise to add a few particular features; to that theorising, a few facts.
Authors are at least as susceptible to their environment as are other men. Particularly so in the Augustan Age of English literature, for in that age, most of the men of letters were “townies” both by residence and in their range of subject. In the main, they addressed themselves to the frequenters of the coffee-houses, to those noblemen from whom they hoped for patronage (and sometimes obtained it), to the political party they had bound themselves to support, and to a small body of cultured women of the upper classes.
“England during the first half of the eighteenth century was in many respects uncivilized,” as John Dennis timely reminds us. “London was at that time separated from the country by roads that were often impassable and always dangerous … The narrow area of the city was guarded by watchmen scarcely better fitted for its protection than Dogberry and Verges …The infliction of personal injury was not confined to [its exercise by] the desperadoes of the streets [—the Mohocks and their like]…Weddings within the liberties of the Fleet [Prison] by sham clergymen, or clergymen confined for debt, were the source of numberless evils … Marriages of a more lawful kind were generally conducted on business principles … Duelling, against which Steele, De Foe,* and Fielding inveighed with courage and good sense, was a danger to which every gentleman was liable who wore a sword … There was a fashion which our wits [and men of fashion] followed at this time that was not of English growth, namely, the tone of gallantry in which they addressed ladies, no matter whether single or married. Their compliments … were understood to be a mere exercise of skill …. If a chivalric regard for women be an indication of high civilization, that sign is but faintly visible in the reigns of Anne and of the first Georges … Drunkenness was a habit familiar to the fine gentlemen of the town and to men occupying the highest position in the State … The cruelty of the age is seen in the contempt for the feelings of others, in the brutal punishments inflicted, in the amusements then popular, and in a general contempt for human suffering … Never, unless perhaps during the Civil War, was the spirit of party more rampant in the country. Patriotism was a virtue more talked about than felt, and in the cause of faction private characters were assailed and libels circulated through the press … One of the most prominent vices of the time was gambling, which was largely encouraged by the public lotteries, and practised by all classes of the people.”
*Defoe is a better way to write this author’s name.
The Spectator, like The Tatler and The Guardian, chimed with the spirit of the age-and improved it. In Steele and Addison, indubitable talent almost achieved genius, so intuitively did they co-operate with the sentiments of the age. “The time had come when England was weary of all the medieval fanaticism, brutality and prejudice which had risen to the surface in the civil war and it was the citizen class … which had first upheld moderation … A new London had sprung up since the great fire and, with it, a generation of Londoners whose temperament and occupations led them to form a standard of culture, honour and religion peculiar to themselves … The victory of [the middle class] was not complete until Steele and Addison discovered in what quarter to look for the movement and in what form to reveal to men their own ideas” (Routh).
It was Steele who discovered it. In the coffee-houses. Here he met serious-minded yet progressive citizens-a class outnumbering that which followed the old social regime. Such men, despising or little caring for frivolities, sought, increasingly in the coffee-houses, news and the pleasures of friendly talk. By 1700, if not indeed by 1690 or so, coffee-houses had become the most significant feature of London social life. Coffee-houses became informal clubs, with an influence more pervasive and potent than that of formal clubs—precisely because the former were free from the rules and regulations necessary in the latter. In coffee-houses, men familiarized themselves with the advantages and pleasures of social intercourse. And much more than a new code of manners, valuable as that was. Most men of intelligence frequented some coffee-house or other: men that read or even wrote books: “they created thought and taste; the future of literature depended on their ideas and ways of expression … It was here that, besides practising benevolence in small things, men learnt to unravel literary ideas in a style that was colloquial as well as cultured … Thus, the middle classes were accomplishing their own education …Coffee-houses had given them a kind of organization; a means of exchanging ideas and forming the public opinion of their class … (But] this movement was so inchoate that the middle classes themselves were hardly conscious of it. Steele did not [at first] perceiye into what a world of thought and sentiment he was penetrating when he ventured, in The Tatler, to appeal to coffee-houses” (Routh); but both he and Addison were sufficiently conscious of it when they came to launch The Spectator.
One may go further, and say that it was the coffee-houses which rendered possible-and even facilitated-the publication of many periodicals. As Professor Sutherland (op. cit.) has pointed out: “In the same way as the publisher of a modern novel relies upon the circulating libraries to take a minimum number of copies off his hands, so the publisher of a newspaper in the early years of the eighteenth century counted upon the proprietors of the coffee-houses … The coffee-houses, in fact, were the places where most men got a sight of the newspapers. It is therefore no exaggeration to say that in estimating the total public of any newspaper one must multiply [the number of copies sold] by ten or even twenty. And in estimating the total influence of that newspaper, one has … to take into account the coffee-house politician, expounding, distorting and magnifying the news.”
But, allowing fully for all these social factors in the success of The Tatler, The Spectator, The Guardian, one is forced to admit that they owed even more to the talent of the writers. We have seen who were the contributors to The Tatler and The Guardian. As in those two periodicals, the principals were Steele and Addison. Of the 555 papers comprising The Spectator, Addison wrote 274 and Steele 236; the other 45 came from occasional contributors. “In Spectator No. 555, which concluded the original series, Steele acknowledged the assistance of Addison, Henry Martyn, Pope, John Hughes, Walter Carey, Thomas Tickell, Thomas Parnell, and Laurence Eusden” (Graham): apart from Addison, most of these were poets (Pope and Parnell) or near-poets (Hughes, Tickell, Eusden); Martyn was an able lawyer and a good scholar; Carey, a member of New College. “Later—in the first reprinted edition—he added his acknowledgement of the contributions of Richard Ince,” who, an habitué of Tom’s Coffee-House, filled the post of secretary of Army accounts and did not die until 1758, as Chalmers tells us. “Others, whose names have been conjecturally associated with the earlier or later [post- No. 555] Spectators were Dr. George Smallridge, Thomas Burnet, Bishop Francis Atterbury, Mrs. Oldfield the actress, Dr. Samuel Garth, [the] Rev. William Asplin, James Greenwood, and William Harrison. The later Spectator  of Addison and Eustace Budgell [1685–1737: a political protege of Addison’s] was reprinted in Volume viii in the collected edition ” as Dr. Walter Graham has told us in his most valuable work.
But, above—far above—the others tower Steele and Addison. Castor and Pollux; the Heavenly Twins of Journalism. The alliance between Addison and Steele was very intimate, very close. It has been said that whereas “Steele might, under very inferior conditions, have produced the Tatler and Spectator without Addison, it is highly improbable that Addison, as an essayist, would have existed without Steele” (Dennis). Cazamian considers that “Addison and Steele are inseparable. Their temperaments offer more opposition than harmony; their respective works are in great part independent. But their names have been associated in a literary and moral undertaking too significant, too closely bound up with the social needs of the time, not to give a centre, as it were, to their literary careers. The Spectator is the supreme expression of middle-class literature in the plane of a fully accepted classicism; and Steele and Addison remain first and foremost the authors of the Spectator.”
Nevertheless, Castor had a life* of his own. Richard Steele (1672–1729) was educated at the Charterhouse, where Addison was a contemporary pupil. In 1690, he went to Christ Church, Oxford; Addison was at this time a demy at Magdalen College. Having left college without the benefit of a degree, he entered the army, where he attained the rank of captain and wrote his treatise, The Christian Hero, the titular, character being Steele as he would have liked to be; his frailties prevented realisation of his ideal. Always debonairly prepared to teach moral principles to others, and much influenced by Jeremy Collier’s diatribe in 1698 against the English stage, he wrote four moral comedies: three in 1701–05, and one in 1722 (The Conscious Lovers). The best that can be said for them is that they are not always dull. He married twice, and was a lovable trial to each of the fortunate-unfortunates. In 1709–20, he flourished as an essayist, at his best in the three periodicals that have here been considered at some length. His career in the House of Commons was not wholly undistinguished; in 1715 he was knighted. He started one project after another, held appointments as manager of Drury Lane and as a Commissioner in Scotland, and yet was continually—almost continuously—in money troubles. He quarrelled with his oldest friend; Addison died before a reconciliation could take place. In 17I8, he lost his wife; some years afterwards, his one remaining son. Money gone, health going, he retired to Carmarthen, where he lived out the rest of his broken life.
*The two chief biographies are George A. Aitken’s, 1889—much the fuller and more scholarly; and Willard Connely’s, 1934—n the modem manner.
His character, instincts, temperament were those of a Cavalier; not of a Roundhead. Like a Cavalier, he was generous, kindly, pleasure-loving, restless, chivalrous, courageous, impressionable, and tinged with Classical learning and culture. But he “lived in an age when recklessness and self-indulgence, though still fashionable in some circles, ran counter to the better tendencies of the time,” and, “confronted by the disapproval of scholars and moralists,” he experienced “many searchings of heart” (Routh). But, inexhaustibly optimistic, he miraculously avoided learning from experience; as spendthrift as Goldsmith, he dissipated the many fees, emoluments, and profits that came his way. Combative and jealous, he sometimes quarrelled—even with the friendliest of friends. With many faults, he was lovable; partly because he scorned to hide or dissimulate those faults. Johnson called him “the most agreeable rake that ever trod the rounds of indulgence;” but, although he was—to use a cliche—his own worst enemy (is not that true of most of us?), he was the genially wise befriender of others … Johnson was too severe. So was Thackeray when he said of a coarse caricature of Steele that it bore “a dreadful resemblance to the original;” nor has Macaulay done him full justice. One of the kindest, and perhaps quite the justest, pen-portrait is that which appears in Austin Dobson’s Richard Steele, 1886, in the “English Worthies” series: I recommend it to the charitable of heart and the tolerant of mind.
Linking his life and his writing: his letters. “There are,” says the late R. Brimley Johnson,* four great writers of love-letters in English literature: Swift, Steele, and the Brownings. Stella belonged to the secret places of Steele’s life …; Robert Browning and Elizabeth Barrett were poet-lovers, mated by vision and thought; it is Steele alone who reveals the normal eager lover and devoted husband; hoping and worshipping, doubting and quarrelling—now in the seventh heaven of delight, now crying in outer darkness—always thinking of the beloved, with a boy’s heart and a man’s care.”
*The Letters of Sir Richard Steele, 1927. A discriminating selection, and a delightful. (John Lane: the Bodley Head. London.)
As a critic, he did not merit Walter Savage Landor’s eulogy; but he meant well. As an essayist, he “is careless, rapid, emotional, and disposed to be on the best terms with himself as with his readers. He makes them sure that if they could have met him in his rollicking mood at Will’s Coffee-House, he would have treated them all round, even if, like Goldsmith, he had been forced to borrow the money to do it” (Dennis). But also he was a vivid essayist, warmly human, pleasantly humane, good-naturedly witty.
He is not a great stylist; he is hardly a conscious stylist at all: the agonized hunt for the right word was not for him, but often he struck out a happy phrase. As a “Tatler,” he claimed the right to use “common speech” and even to be incorrect if he felt the need; occasionally he so abused the latter privilege that Swift and others criticised him mercilessly for it. His too general method was unfastidious: “writing hastily in all sorts of places to which the printer had traced him, scribbling off an essay from his bed or at a coffee-house table” (Austin Dobson), he had neither the time nor, probably, the desire for scrupulous correction: not that he always wrote thus, as certain thoughtless fellows would have had us believe. But haste accounts for the fact that “his style is frequently involved, and sometimes disfigured by words of which the sense seems but half-remembered. It is only when his subject stirs him strongly that he attains to real elevation and dignity of diction. Now and then, the warmth of his feeling reaches its flashing-point; and the result is some supremely happy phrase, such as the well-known ‘To love her is a liberal Education,’ which he applies to the Lady Elizabeth Hastings … Steele’s manner was, in truth, the reverse of Addison’s” (Dobson).
Of Joseph Addison (1672–1719), Professor Bonamy Dobrée, in “The First Victorian” (as he called the essayist), the major Life in Essays in Biography, 1925, sadly remarks, “He has always been a trial to biographers,” although his own attempt is by far the best: all the 18th century accounts (Tickell’s and others’) were meagre, and Samuel Johnson’s was imperceptive; Lucy Aikin’s was hopelessly virginal, insurmountably early-Victorian; Courthope’s Addison 1884, in the “English Men of Letters” series, was coldly correct—and, by at least a continent, removed from immediacy of contact; Dobrée’s is, indeed, the only one to have got under the skin of the enigmatic Addison.
Born in Wiltshire, he received his education at the Charterhouse, where he formed (or Steele formed) the life-long friendship with his future co-editor. At the mature age of fifteen, he went to the Queen’s College, Oxford, and thanks to his exemplary Latin verses, passed to Magdalen College, of which, at the age of twenty-five, he became a Fellow: (if I may be pardoned a pun) lucky fellow!, for it is a delightful college in which to belong to the Senior Common Room. Leaving Oxford, he travelled extensively on the Continent, where, apparently, he picked up no vices and much knowledge. In 1705, with The Campaign (in commemoration of the battle of Blenheim), he discovered fame and encountered fortune: after being Commissioner of Appeals he became Under Secretary of State, and in 1709, Secretary to the Lord-Lieutenant of Ireland: even the Irish, and with them even Swift, spoke goldenly of him. And goldenly he worked, for when in 1710, the Whig Ministry falling, he lost his appointment, he found himself capable of buying a £10,000 estate. (In those days, money was money.) In 1711–15, he proved himself to be the finest essayist of the first half of the 18th century; and midway in this, the most prosperous period of his literary career, he saw his tragedy, Cato, capture the Town, whereas now it sends even the most Cato-stoic readers to sleep. In 1714, however, he returned, on the death of Queen Anne, to political office—his old position of Irish Secretary. In 1715 he warmly defended the Whigs, in his periodical, The Freeholder: after which came nothing of literary importance. In 1716, he married the Countess Dowager of Warwick, but she was too much for him and she drove him to drink. In the following year, he became a Secretary of State; having held office only into 1718, he resigned, and in 1719 he died at the age of forty-seven.
But, as John Dennis said, ” there are few men of literary eminence in the eighteenth century of whom we know so little as of Addison.” His life seems clear enough; his character is a puzzle. Oh! I know that there are numerous traits on which one can seize. His friend, Thomas Tickell, in the only reputable poem that, despite his poet’s self-pride, he ever wrote, says in the elegy to Addison:
If pensive to the rural shades I rove,
His shape o’ertakes me in the lonely grove;
‘Twas there if Just and Good he reasoned strong,
Cleared some great truth, or raised some serious song;
There patient showed us the wise course to steer,
A candid censor, and a friend severe;
There taught us how to live; and (oh! too high
The price for knowledge) taught us how to die.
Addison was, as Chesterfield has told us, extremely shy; yet he overcame his shyness and gained high office. He was reticent and reserved, yet this reserve “did not prevent him from being one of the most fascinating of companions in the freedom of conversation with a few intimate friends. Swift, Steele, and even Pope, testify to Addison’s irresistible charm in the select society that he loved. Young [the poet] said that he could chain the attention of every hearer, and Lady Mary Montagu declared that he was the best company in the world” (John Dennis).
Alexander Chalmers speaks of Addison as possessing “a character which every man loves to contemplate.” Johnson went so far as to say that “of Addison’s virtue, it is a sufficient testimony, that the resentment of party has transmitted no charge of any crime.” He admits that “he often sat late and drank too much wine:” Chalmers’ comment is that “Johnson seems to consider Addison’s propensity as an original habit, and this appears to me most consistent with probability. It was the vice of the day among the wits, and wits have seldom discovered that it is a vice.” Chalmers finds a special cause in the unhappiness of his marriage, an opinion shared, as we have seen, by John Dennis: and there are many others that hold the same view. Chalmers rightly adds that, “whatever deviations of this kind might have been observed in Addison’s conduct, there is reason to think they have been exaggerated, because they certainly were not accompanied by their usual effects, debasement of manners and morals.”
Before passing to the subtle remarks of Professor Bonamy Dobrée, I should like to quote briefly from two of the standard authorities: Professors Routh and Cazamian. Of Addison, the former has said that “he was a man of scholarly habits and unusual ability, but”—an opinion I do not share—” taciturn and lacking in initiative … Oxford made him a recluse more competent to imitate Virgilian hexameters than to lead the thought of his generation,”—yet he took a distinguished part in public life. Cazamian’s verdict seems to me to come nearer to the truth: —”A mind of general scope and clear intelligence, but shrewd, and capable of concrete moral perception, he will readily busy himself with public affairs. His idealism is that of the middle classes: the sense of economic realities remains its very foundation.” A contemporary has said of him that “his great Vivacity, Penetration, Learning, and Observations, render’d him perfectly Master of the most important Business of the State; neither was he wanting in Dispatch, which in him was so easy, that, in many Cases, what was a Pleasure to Mr. Addison, was almost insuperable to others” (G. J., Memoirs of Joseph Addison, Esq., 2nd ed., 1724).
But it is Dobrée to whom we owe the best biography and the best character-study of Addison. “To arrive at a clear view of Addison,” he confesses, “is no easy matter. In his life there are such a number of little points, trifling events, each … of small significance, that adding up to a body of unexplained material make it seem as though somewhere there had been a deliberate and consistent distortion of facts, or at least burking of issues … It is … his extraordinary gift for secrecy, almost amounting to a craze for mystification, that makes him so inviting a study … Montaigne, he shrewdly observed, would have passed for a much better man ‘had he kept his own counsel.’ He would profit by the example.” But, except outwardly, he was no Victorian.
Before I happened to read these words I had penned the following comments:—Addison was a man so full of character that his innate reticence forbade him to disclose it to a world that he knew worldly, cynical, philistine: apparently cold, correct, neuter, he hid a man the opposite of cold and neutral-gray. I surmise that he was extremely sensitive, rather highly strung, and warmhearted. Also that he had a warm, even a sexually warm nature: that he passionately loved women and had at least one passionate love-affair: that in love he was as ardent and tender as Swift, who showed to the world a most un-Stella lack of tenderness and playfulness. And further, that he suffered a hell of torment behind that urbane facade. There is much to be yet known of Addison’s character, and if ever we come to know it, we shall, I think, find that he was not “the first Victorian.”
That Addison had “much to him” is further seen in the elegies and biographies that appeared in 1719 and the next two or three years. In Allan Ramsay’s Richy and Sandy, a Pastoral on the Death of Mr. Joseph Addison, 1719, Sandy, asked whether his sadness springs from the loss of a wether or a wench, replies,
Naithing like that, sic Troubles eith were born!
What’s Bogles,—Wedders,—or what’s Mausy’s Scorn;
Our Loss is meikle mair, and past Remeed,
Edie that play’d and sang sae sweet is dead.
He was o’er good for us, the Gods hae ta’en
Their ain but back,— he was a borrowed-len.
Thomas Tickell’s elegy has already been mentioned. Another elegy worth noting is Edward Cobden’s A Poem on the Death of the Right Honourable Joseph Addison Esq., 1720. As poetry it is not quite negligible, but as a sincere tribute it has an emotional value.
Forgive the meanest if he tempt in vain
That Height, the Sons of Phœbus can’t attain:
In the British Museum copy, the second verse carries the handwritten correction (the author’s, I feel sure), “wh[i]ch not thy Tickell can” (attain).
From G. J.’s brief Memoirs of the Life and Writings of the Right Honourable Joseph Addison Esq., 2nd edition, 1724, we may excerpt such eulogies as these:— “He was the Delight and Darling of the University, courted by every Body, admir’d and imitated by the best, but equall’d by few;” “In all his publick Stations and Trusts he gain’d a wonderful Applause.”
Tickell’s life of Addison appeared in 1721 as Preface to the first edition of Addison’s Works. Brief and complimentary, it requires no more than this brief mention.
For a collection of anecdotes, see Addisoniana, 2 vols., 1803.
Of his literary characteristics, I must speak more briefly than they deserve. All in all, he was pre-eminently a classicist: he had, I suppose, steeled his mind and chilled his eagerness against “letting himself go.” “With him the middle-class mind assumes a distinction which makes it easily equal to the most studied aristocratic fastidiousness; and his religious leanings* confirm, instead of contradicting, the wholly intellectual hierarchy of artistic values which classicism is setting up” (Cazamian).
*He composed some admirable hymns: hymns that fuse religion and literature.
Addison excelled in delicate and subtle strokes of humour; such humour was habitual to him. “If his style,” says Chalmers, “be separated from his wit, he is not perhaps without equals among his contemporaries, and among his successors; but his humour in all its qualities, is the distinctive characteristic of his genius … But such a perpetual flow, such a command of temper in ridicule, have never been given to any man in this country.” Moreover, to quote the same shrewd critic, “He everywhere discovers the ingenium par materæ [a talent fully equal to his subject], everywhere preserves the equability of his mind, the kindness of his disposition, and the pleasure he took jucunda et idonea dicere vittæ [to speak of the pleasant and fittingly useful things in life] … There is a perpetual smile on his countenance; he rarely exhibits the sneer of the satirist, and perhaps never the frown of the rigid moralist. ”
“Of Addison’s style,” says Chalmers, “the commendation of all judges has been uniform, and since the publication of Dr. Johnson’s ‘Lives of the Poets,’ it has become almost proverbial to repeat, that ‘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’.” Except for minor imperfections, these volumes are indeed an exemplar: and the imperfections, being easily detected, do not hamper the student and the aspirant of style: in Addison they will find an excellent example of easy correctness and polished lucidity of structure, clarity of phrase, aptness of word.
It is considered de rigueur to compare and contrast Addison and Steele at great length: but as I have, by implication, done so already, all I need say here—and I say it after Professor Oliver Elton (The Augustan Ages, 1899)—is that whereas Steele in his writing is personal, Addison is there impersonal.
And I shall conclude with Professor Routh’s conclusion. “The Londoners of Queen Anne’s reign chiefly valued The Spectator, for Addison’s humorous papers and religious dissertations. The modern student most admires its accuracy and penetration, and the true and long-enduring picture which it gives of middle class culture and character” and life. But to that conclusion I must add my conviction that the non-academic reader of to-day will find and savour the essence of The Spectator only if he remembers that here is the work of two writers that were—men.