Spectator Early 1700s Literary-Essay

The Spectator was a daily publication founded by Joseph Addison and Richard Steele in England, lasting from 1711 to 1712. Each "paper", or "number", was approximately 2,500 words long, and the original run consisted of 555 numbers, beginning on 1 March 1711.[1] These were collected into seven volumes. The paper was revived without the involvement of Steele in 1714, appearing thrice weekly for six months, and these papers when collected formed the eighth volume. Eustace Budgell, a cousin of Addison's, and the poet John Hughes also contributed to the publication.


In Number 10, Mr. Spectator states that The Spectator will aim "to enliven morality with wit, and to temper wit with morality". The journal reached an audience of thousands of people every day, because "the Spectators was something that every middle-class household with aspirations to looking like its members took literature seriously would want to have."[2] He hopes it will be said he has "brought philosophy out of closets and libraries, schools, and colleges, to dwell in clubs and assemblies, at tea-tables and coffee–houses". Women specifically were also a target audience for The Spectator, because one of the aims of the periodical was to increase the number of women who were "of a more elevated life and conversation." Steele states in The Spectator, No. 10, "But there are none to whom this paper will be more useful than to the female world."[3] He recommends that readers of the paper consider it "as a part of the tea-equipage" and set aside time to read it each morning.[4]The Spectator sought to provide readers with topics for well-reasoned discussion, and to equip them to carry on conversations and engage in social interactions in a polite manner.[5] In keeping with the values of Enlightenment philosophies of their time, the authors of The Spectator promoted family, marriage, and courtesy.


Despite a modest daily circulation of approximately 3,000 copies, The Spectator was widely read; Joseph Addison estimated that each number was read by thousands of Londoners, about a tenth of the capital's population at the time. Contemporary historians and literary scholars, meanwhile, do not consider this to be an unreasonable claim; most readers were not themselves subscribers but patrons of one of the subscribing coffeehouses. These readers came from many stations in society, but the paper catered principally to the interests of England's emerging middle class—merchants and traders large and small.

The Spectator also had many readers in the American colonies. In particular, James Madison read the paper avidly as a teenager. It is said to have had a big influence on his world view, lasting throughout his long life.[6]

Jürgen Habermas sees The Spectator as instrumental in the formation of the public sphere in 18th century England.[7] Although The Spectator declares itself to be politically neutral, it was widely recognised as promoting Whig values and interests.

The Spectator continued to be popular and widely read in the late 18th and 19th centuries. It was sold in eight-volume editions. Its prose style, and its marriage of morality and advice with entertainment, were considered exemplary. The decline in its popularity has been discussed by Brian McCrea and C. S. Lewis.


Inkle and Yarico[edit]

In The Spectator, No.11, Steele created a frame narrative that would come to be an incredibly well known story in the eighteenth century, the story of Inkle and Yarico. Although the periodical essay was published on March 13th of 1711, the story is based on Richard Ligon's publication in 1647. Ligon's publication, A True and Exact History of the Island of Barbadoes, reports on how the cruelties of the transatlantic slave trade contribute to slave-produced goods such as tobacco and sugarcane. Mr. Spectator goes to speak with an older woman, Arietta, who many people visit to discuss various topics. When Mr. Spectator enters the room, there is already another man present speaking with Arietta. They are discussing "constancy in love," and the man uses the tale of The Ephesian Matron to support his point. Arietta is insulted and angered by the man's hypocrisy and sexism. She counters his tale with one of her own, the story of Inkle and Yarico. Thomas Inkle, a twenty year old man from London, sailed to the West Indies to increase his wealth through trade. While on an island, he encounters a group of Indians, who battle and kill many of his shipmates. After fleeing, Inkle hides in a cave where he discovers Yarico, an Indian maiden. They become enamored with one another's clothing and physical appearances, and Yarico for the next several months hides her lover from her people and provides him with food and fresh water. Eventually, a ships comes by, headed for Barbadoes, and Inkle and Yarico use this opportunity to leave the island. After reaching the English colony, Inkle sells Yarico to a merchant, even after she tells him that she is pregnant. Arietta closes the tale stating that Inkle simply uses Yarico's declaration to argue for a higher price when selling her. Mr. Spectator is so moved by the legend that he takes his leave. Steele's text was so well-known and influential that seven decades after his publication, George Colman modified the short story into a comic opera, showcasing three relationships between characters of varying social statuses to reach multiple audiences.

See also[edit]

  • Bully Dawson, mentioned in The Spectator as being kicked by "Sir Roger de Coverley" in a public coffee house
  • The Spectator, a current weekly British conservative magazine



  • The Spectator Nos. 1, 2, 10 [Addison], 1710–11.
  • Brian McCrea, Addison and Steele are Dead: The English Department, Its Canon, and the Professionalization of Literary Criticism
  • C. S. Lewis, "Addison" in Eighteenth Century English Literature: Modern Essays in Criticism ed. James Clifford.



The standard edition of The Spectator is Donald F. Bond's edition in five volumes, published in 1965.[1] Selections can be found in The Norton Anthology of English Literature.

  • Ross, Angus (ed.) Selections from The Tatler and The Spectator (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1982) ISBN 0-14-043-130-6. Edited with an introduction and notes. Out of print.

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]

  • ^Greenblatt, Stephen (ed.). The Norton Anthology of English Literature (8th ed.). p. A49. ISBN 0393925315. 
The Spectator from 7 June 1711
Title pages of the c. 1788 edition of the collected edition of Addison and Steele's The Spectator
  1. ^Information Britain
  2. ^"Joseph Addison & Richard Steele". The Open Anthology of Literature in English. Retrieved September 19, 2017. 
  3. ^Felsenstein, Frank, ed. (1999). English Trader, Indian Maid: Representing Gender, Race, and Slavery in the New World. John Hopkins UP. 
  4. ^Addison, Joseph (1837). The Works of Joseph Addison, Vol. I, p.31. Harper & Brothers.
  5. ^Bowers, Terence. "Universalizing Sociability: The Spectator, Civic Enfranchisement, and the Rule(s) of the Public Sphere." In Newman, Donald J., ed. (2005). The Spectator: Emerging Discourses, pp. 155-56. University of Delaware Press.
  6. ^Ralph Ketcham, James Madison, A Biography, 1971, pp. 39-48
  7. ^Habermas, Jürgen (1989). The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere: An Inquiry Into a Category of Bourgeois Society. Massachusetts Institute of Technology.



The great attainment of eighteenth century literature was its mastery of the prose form.  Two causes helped to bring this about.  One was the spread of newspapers and magazines, and the other was the appearance of the novel of real life.  In 1702 the first English daily paper made its appearance.  It was small, being made up of a few scraps of news.  Then came Defoe with his TheReview devoted mainly to politics, and then Steele with the Tatler and TheSpectator.  Both Steele and Addison wrote essays for the latter dealing with various subjects, but especially with those of a social and literary nature.  The most famous of Addison’s essays published in The Spectator were his “Sir Roger de Coverley Papers.”  Later Steele published TheGuardian, and Swift edited TheExaminer.  Between the time of these and Dr. Johnson’s Rambler, which appeared forty years later, more than a hundred periodical papers were issued in London.  Most of them had but little influence, but all of them helped to spread information amongst the reading public.

Daniel Defoe (1661?-1731), one of the most fertile writers that England ever saw, and one who has been the delight of many generations of readers, was born in the city of London in the year 1661(?).  He was educated to be a preacher, but turned from that profession to be a business man.  In 1692 he failed in business.

Through all his labors and misfortunes he was always a hard and careful reader, reading almost every book that came in his way.  He made his first reputation by writing political pamphlets.  One of his pamphlets brought him into high favor with the King; another had the effect of lodging him in prison.  But while in Newgate, he did not idle away his time; he wrote hard, and started a newspaper, The Review, which was the earliest genuine newspaper England had seen.

Defoe’s Works.—This paper he brought out two or three times a week; and every word of it he wrote himself.  He continued to carry it on single-handed for eight years.  In 1706, he was made a member of the Commission for bringing about the union between England and Scotland; and his great knowledge of commerce and commercial affairs was of great value to this Commission. In 1715 he had a dangerous illness, brought on by political excitement.  On his recovery, he gave up most of his political writing, and took to the composition of stories and romances.  His greatest imaginative work, RobinsonCrusoe, was written in 1719, when he was nearly sixty years of age.  Within six years he had produced twelve works of a similar kind.  He is said to have written in all two hundred and fifty books in the course of his lifetime.  He died in 1731.

His Characteristics.—There are three chief things to be noted regarding Defoe and his writing.  These are:  first, that Defoe possessed an unparalleled knowledge of the circumstances and details of human life among all sorts, ranks, and conditions of men; secondly, that he gained his wonderful realistic effects by the freest and most copious use of this good knowledge in his works of imagination; and thirdly, that he possessed a wonderful vocabulary.  His style is strong and vigorous, but the sentences are long, loose, and clumsy.

JonathanSwift (1667-1745) was born in Dublin in the year 1667.  After his father’s death, he was educated by the kindness of an uncle.

After being at a private school at Kilkenny, he was sent to Trinity College, Dublin, where he obtained his B.A. degree.  He next went to England, and for eleven years acted as private secretary to Sir Win. Temple, a retired statesman and ambassador.  In 1692 he paid a visit to Oxford, and there obtained the degree of M.A.  In 1700 he went to Ireland as a chaplain, and afterwards became Dean of St. Patrick’s Cathedral in Dublin.  But, though nominally resident in Dublin, he spent a large part of his time in London.  Here he knew and met everybody who was worth knowing.  For some time he was the most imposing figure, and wielded the greatest influence in all the social, political, and literary circles of the capital.  In 1714, he returned to Dublin.  He died insane in 1745, and left his fortune to found a lunatic asylum in Dublin.

Swift wrote some verse; but it is his prose works that give him his high place in English literature.  His most powerful work, published in 1704, is The Tale of a Tub—a satire on the disputes between the churches.  His best known prose work is Gulliver’s Travels, which appeared in 1726.  This work is also a satire; but it is a satire on men and women—on humanity.  His style is strong, simple, straightforward; he uses the plainest words and the homeliest English.  His own definition of a good style is “proper words in proper places.”

JosephAddison (1672-1719), was educated at Charterhouse and at Oxford.  He traveled in France, Italy, Switzerland, Austria, Germany, and Holland.  In 1704 he wrote The Campaign to celebrate a battle, thereby gaining a high reputation and some good posts.  He contributed to The Tatler from 1709 to 1710.  In March, 1711 Addison and Steele brought out the first number of The Spectator which appeared daily until December, 1712.  In 1713 his play Cato was written.  In 1717 he was appointed Secretary of State, but resigned almost immediately through ill-health.

RichardSteele (1671-1729), the friend and colleague of Addison, was born in Dublin, in the year 1671.  The two friends were educated at Charterhouse and at Oxford together; and they remained friends to the close of life.

Steele was a writer of plays essays and pamphlets; but his chief fame was earned in connection with the Society Journals, which he founded.  Of these he started many, such as TownTalk, TheTeaTable, ChitChat; but only the Tatler and the Spectator rose to success and to fame.  The strongest quality in his writings is his pathos.  He is hearty and human in his description of character.  He died in 1729.

AlexanderPope (1688-1744).—After the death of Dryden, his poetic ideas were carried out by Alexander Pope, who now took the place which Dryden had occupied as ruler of literature.  The riming couplet still remained the fashionable verse form, and in the hands of Pope it reached the highest degree of excellence.

Pope was born in London, but in 171 he moved out to an estate which he had bought at Twickenham, on the Thames, and continued to live there until his death.

He was a cripple from his birth, and was often unable, from sheer weakness, to leave his room or even to rise from bed.  So his friends came to his house, and around his table sat the great men of his time.  In disposition he was irritable, spiteful, and merciless upon any on e who displeased him.

This sharp, spiteful temper gave him a natural talent for satire, and Pope, next to Dryden, ranks first in the English language as satirist.  His most powerful satire is The Dunciad, a poem in which every one who had criticized Pope adversely won his displeasure and was called a dunce.

The Rape of the Lock (1712).—The poem of Pope’s which is most generally know is The Rape of the Lock.  This tells how, at a party, Lord Petre cut off a lock of Miss Arabella Fermore’s hair.  The lady was naturally indignant of the poem, intended to smooth over the quarrel, only made matters worse.

The Translation of Homer.—The work which made Pope rich was the translation of Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey.  From the sale of books he received more than forty thousand dollars, and was enabled to live in financial ease the rest of his life.

The Iliad is the better translation of the two, though neither poem follows the original closely, for Pope was not a good Greek scholar.  He gave the general meaning of the thought, however, in the graceful couplets for which he was famous, and made the lines smooth and easy to read.

The Essay on Man.—Pope’s most ambitious poem is the Essay on Man.  He shows the condition of man in the world, his relation to God, and the proper end and purpose of his bring.  An essay is usually written in prose, but Pope says, “I chose verse, and even rime, for two reason.  The one will appear obvious:  that principles, maxims, or precepts so written both strike the reader more strongly at first and are more easily retained by him afterward.  The other may seem odd, but is true:  I found I could express them more shortly this way than in prose.”  And Pope certainly succeeded in expressing himself tersely.  The poem, though not sound in its philosophy, abounds in short proverb-like expressions which have become famous as quotations; for example:─


Hope springs eternal in the human breast:

     Man never is, but always to be blessed.

     Know then thyself, presume not God to scan;

     The proper study of Mankind is Man.

     Honor and shame from no condition rise;

     Act well your part, there all the honor lies.

     Vice is a monster of so frightful mien,

     As, to be hated, needs but to be seen;

     Yet seen too oft, familiar with her face,

     We first endure, then pity, then embrace.

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