Spectating the Spectator

Authors: Joseph Addison and Richard Steele

Book: The Spectator, vol. 1 (1710-1711)

In Tuesday’s Class, we read some of the literary journalism written by Joseph Addison and Richard Steele. These two wrote newsletters that appeared in coffee shops everyday from 1710-1711. This was not the first literary work that Steele had written as he also had published a paper called The Tatler, which Addison had also contributed to. We read six newsletters from The Spectator, vol. 1, which contains a collection Addison and Steele’s observations collected at the Royal exchange and published anonymously.

The start of these newsletters begins with the introduction of “Mr. Spectator”, who “lives in the Word rather as a Spectator of Mankind, than as one of the Species” ( 11). Mr. Spectator’s main goal was to observe and write what he saw around him without engaging with those around him.

We specifically looked at No. 49, which talks of how Mr. Spectator collected his information for the newsletter as well as a commentary on those men that frequent the coffeehouses. The start of this newsletter reads “It is very natural for a Man who is not turned for Mirthful Meetings of Men, or Assemblies of the fair Sex, to delight in that fort of Conversation which we find in Coffee-houses” ( 197). This method of collecting information from the coffeehouses is how Steele and Addison wrote anonymously in real life.

There are two different types of men that arrive at the coffeehouse as the day grows busy, “men who have business or good sense in their faces, and come to the coffee-house either to transact affairs or enjoy conversation” (198). The tone that Mr. Spectator uses to describe these men he sees is not in a condescending tone but rather explanatory he goes through each type of man that can be seen at the coffeehouse. For example, he says “Every man about him has, perhaps, a news-paper in his hand; but none can pretend to guess what step will be taken in any one court of Europe ‘till Mr. Beaver has thrown down his pipe, and declares what measures the allies must enter into upon this new posture of affairs” (198).

We also looked at No. 69, which describes Mr. Spectator’s fondness of the Royal Exchange. This letter contains beautiful language and captures the intensity of the feelings he feels for the people he encounters at the royal exchange. For example, “As I am a great lover of mankind, my heart naturally overflows with pleasure at the sight of a prosperous and happy multitude, insomuch that at many public solemnities I cannot forbear expressing my joy with tears that have fallen down my cheeks” (278).

Overall, Addison and Steele wrote in a well-written style that reads with both wit and beautiful language. The purpose of these newsletters was not to criticize or pass judgment on those topics or people that each newsletter covered but rather to instruct and educate on important issues of the time. This included such issues as the Tories vs. the Whigs or increasing female readership. He says, “But there is none to whom this paper will be more useful, than to the female world. I have often thought there has not been sufficient pains taken in finding out proper employments and diversions for the fair ones” (47).

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