Addison and Steele: London Coffeehouses

Joseph Addison and Richard Steele are founders of the publication The Spectator. Steele was an Irish writer/politician, while Addison was an English writer/politician. The first edition was published in March 1711.  The Spectator is a British conservative magazine published weekly, and is the oldest continuously published English magazine.

An important aspect and distribution method of The Spectator involves the London coffeehouses, such as those pictured in Figure 1. In entry No. 10 of the publication, Addison and Steele learn from their publisher that three thousand copies of each issue are distributed, but each issue receives around twenty readers, resulting in approximately sixty thousand views per issue. This statistic is made possible through the commonjamaicawinehouse gathering of people at London coffeehouses. It is at these coffeehouses that the masses can gather and discuss politics and current events, sharing and rereading papers that are then left for the next crowd.

Addison and Steele characterize the three types of people in No. 10 that they wish to reach with their publications. The first type set are the scholars of society; “the Fraternity of Spectators, who live in the World without having anything to do in it”. The second are what they refer to as the “blank slates” of society – those that have nothing to talk of until they have read the daily news. The third group is generally that of women, who apparently have nothing but idle time on their hands and must be in need of entertainment. Although there are not specific names brought into this essay, these three types of people are personified and developed as though they we specific individuals.

Another entry, No. 49, also personifies three different types of people that Addison and Steele are seeking to make a point about. In this entry, Addison and Steele observe the atmosphere of the London coffeehouses, illustrating the purposes that each type of person chooses to pass their time there. The first character introduced is Mr. Beaver – a personification of those pretentious aristocrats who pass their early mornings in the 200px-spectatorcoffeehouse. All seek Mr. Beaver’s opinion; “none cane pretend to guess what steps will be taken in any one court of Europe ‘till Mr. Beaver has thrown down his pipe”. The second wave of people that inhabit the coffeehouses are those referred to as men formed by society, “the word Neighborhoods”. These are just the middle class businessmen type, who in fact have the highest regard from Addison and Steele. The last type that utilizes these coffeehouses are those personified as “Eubulus”: the wealthy man who has his hand in every corner of society.

In these entries, Addison and Steele use their observations to write their personal essays for The Spectator. There is not any research done or any interviews conducted; rather it is their experience that lends to the credibility of their essays. Addison and Steele are considered to be the fathers of journalism, beginning this trend of observational writing that sets the audience in a specific scene, giving a rounded, more full experience than just conveying mere facts and quotes. And the scenes they place us in – the London coffeehouses – truly represented a different side of London than had previously been known. These gathering places brought out the middle class, creating a new scene that Addison and Steele set about to capture.