Satchelpedia: The Spectator (1711-1712)

Satchelpedia: The Spectator (1711-1712)

The congenial English journal started by Richard Steele and Joseph Addison called The Spectator (not related to the current journal of the same name) was published daily from 1711 to 1712. 

It had a modest daily circulation of 3,000 copies, hitting a top circulation of 14,000, and an estimated readership of 60,000 Londoners. Most readers, it was said, were patrons of London coffeehouses and belonged to England's emerging middle class.

It saw itself as politically neutral but was seen as promoting Whig (i.e. free-market liberal) values and interests. It was also one of the first literary journals to make efforts to appeal to women.

In his essay on the journal for History Magazine, Jamie Pratt wrote: "The Spectator had an effect on English society and literature quite out of proportion to its brief run of less than two years. It appeared daily - except Sundays - for 555 issues, from 1 March 1711 to 6 December 1712, with a brief revival of 80 issues in 1714. Each issue consisted of one long essay, printed on a single sheet of foolscap in double columns on both sides. This turned out to be the right format to appeal to the taste of a relatively new affluent class with an appetite for literature, but without the inclination to read lengthy books on the subjects treated in The Spectator."

The journal's guiding editorial statement was to "enliven Morality with Wit, and to temper Wit with Morality", but it wasn't overbearing in this sense. Its strength was in the voices of its collaborators, Steele and Addison. The duo had made acquaintance at the Charterhouse school and went on to form a literary friendship, which lasted until differences of opinion ultimately strained their relationship prior to Addison's death.

Steele left his army career in 1705 and wrote for The London Gazette, the official government journal, and went onto launch his own title, the thrice-weekly periodical, Tatler, for which he wrote under the pen name Isaac Bickerstaff and attracted Addison as a contributor, setting the scene for The Spectator, which was far less political than its predecessor.

"Steele’s attractive, often casual style formed a perfect foil for Addison’s more measured, polished, and erudite writing," notes Britannica contributor Reginald P.C. Mutter.

Together Steele and Addison made a formidable editorial team admired for their polished writing style and ability to make complex ideas appealing to the layman... and woman. Steele's opinions of women were first elucidated in his moralistic tract The Christian Hero which advocated for respectful behaviour.

"Though her mien carries much more invitation than command, to behold her is an immediate check to loose behaviour; to love her was a liberal education," Steele wrote of Lady Elizabeth Hastings (an accomplished, charitable and virtuous character of her age) in his Tatler paper.

While the women's content in The Spectator "took the form of paternalistic moralism that would be little appreciated today", notes Pratt, "the women of 1711 were flattered simply to be noticed by a literary culture that had hitherto been content to completely ignore them or treat them as mere objects of male desire." And they specialised in sartorial satire, taking aim at the "absurd etiquette of women's fans" and the "proliferation of facial beauty marks".

"We ought to envy an age that could boast a "lifestyle magazine" of such quality," observed Pratt.

Further reading:
"Jamie Pratt looks at a journal that influenced its age", History Magazine, October/November 2001.
Sir Richard Steele profile @ Britannica

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