Eighteenth-Century British Periodicals
Eighteenth-Century British Periodicals
In the eighteenth century British periodical literature underwent significant developments in terms of form, content, and audience. Several factors contributed to these changes. Prior to 1700 the English popular press was in its infancy. The first British newspaper, the Oxford Gazette, was introduced in 1645. Two years later the Licensing Act of 1647 established government control of the press by granting the Gazette a strictly enforced monopoly on printed news. As a result, other late seventeenth-century periodicals, including The Observer (1681) and The Athenian Gazette (1691), either supplemented the news with varied content, such as political commentary, reviews, and literary works, or provided specialized material targeting a specific readership. During this time, printing press technology was improving. Newer presses were so simple to use that individuals could produce printed material themselves. British society was in transition as well. The burgeoning commercial class created an audience with the means, education, and leisure time to engage in reading. When the Licensing Act expired in 1694, publications sprang up, not just in London, but all across England and its colonies.
Joseph Addison and Richard Steele are generally regarded as the most significant figures in the development of the eighteenth-century periodical. Together they produced three publications: the Tatler (1709-11), the Specator (1711-12), and the Guardian (1713). In addition, Addison published the Free-Holder (1715-16), and Steele, who had been the editor of the London Gazette (the former Oxford Gazette) from 1707 to 1710, produced a number of other periodicals, including the Englishman (1713-14), Town-Talk (1715-16), and the Plebeian (1719). The three periodicals Addison and Steele produced together were great successes; none ceased publication because of poor sales or other financial reasons, but by the choice of their editors. Beginning in the eighteenth century and continuing to the present day, there has been debate among critics and scholars over the contributions of Addison and Steele to their joint enterprises. Addison has been generally seen as the more eloquent writer, while Steele has been regarded as the better editor and organizer.
Periodicals in the eighteenth century included social and moral commentary, and literary and dramatic criticism, as well as short literary works. They also saw the advent of serialized stories, which Charles Dickens, among others, would later perfect. One of the most important outgrowths of the eighteenth-century periodical, however, was the topical, or periodical, essay. Although novelist Daniel Defoe made some contributions to its evolution with his Review of the Affairs of France (1704-13), Addison and Steele are credited with bringing the periodical essay to maturity. Appealing to an educated audience, the periodical essay as developed by Addison and Steele was not scholarly, but casual in tone, concise, and adaptable to a number of subjects, including daily life, ethics, religion, science, economics, and social and political issues. Another innovation brought about by the periodical was the publication of letters to the editor, which permitted an unprecedented degree of interaction between author and audience. Initially, correspondence to periodicals was presented in a limited, question-and-answer form of exchange. As used by Steele, letters to the editor brought new points of view into the periodical and created a sense of intimacy with the reader. The feature evolved into a forum for readers to express themselves, engage in a discussion on an important event or question, conduct a political debate, or ask advice on a personal situation. Steele even introduced an advice to the lovelorn column to the Tatler and the Specator.
Addison and Steele and other editors of the eighteenth century saw their publications as performing an important social function and viewed themselves as moral instructors and arbiters of taste. In part these moralizing and didactic purposes were accomplished through the creation of an editorial voice or persona, such as Isaac Bickerstaff in the Tatler, Nestor Ironside in the Guardian, and, most importantly, Mr. Spectator in the Specator. Through witty, sometimes satirical observations of the contemporary scene, these fictional stand-ins for the editors attempted to castigate vice and promote virtue. They taught lessons to encourage certain behaviors in their readers, especially self-discipline. Morals were a primary concern, especially for men in business. Women, too, formed a part of the readership of periodicals, and they were instructed in what was expected of them, what kind of ideals they should aspire to, and what limits should be on their concerns and interests.
The impact of periodicals was both immediate and ongoing. Throughout the eighteenth century and beyond there were many imitators of Addison and Steele's publications. These successors, which arose not just in England, but in countries throughout Europe and in the United States as well, modeled their style, content, and editorial policies on those of the Tatler, the Specator, and the Guardian. Some imitators, such as the Female Spectator (1744), were targeted specifically at women. Addison and Steele's perodicals achieved a broader influence when they were translated and reprinted in collected editions for use throughout the century. The epistolary exchanges, short fiction, and serialized stories included in the periodicals had an important influence on the development of the novel. In addition, celebrated figures from Benjamin Franklin and Jean-Jacques Rousseau to Mark Twain have acknowledged the impact of the eighteenth-century periodical, particularly the Specator, on their development as writers and thinkers.
The Free-Holder (journal) 1715-16
Joseph Addison and Richard Steele
The Guardian (journal) 1713
The Specator (journal) 1711-12
The Tatler (journal) 1709-11
Rae Blanchard and Richard Steele
The Englishman (journal) 1713-14, 1715
The Female Tatler (journal) 1709-10
The Gentleman's Magazine (journal) 1731-54
*A Review of the Affairs of France (journal) 1704-13
Mrs. Jenny Distaff (pseudonym)
The Whisperer (journal) 1709
The Female Spectator (journal) 1744-46
The Lady's Museum (journal) 1760
The Free-Thinker or Essays on Ignorance (journal) 1718-19
Mrs. Stanhope (pseudonym)
The Lady's Magazine or, Polite Companion for the Fair Sex (journal) 1759-63
The Visiter (journal) 1723-24
*This periodical underwent several name changes, including A Review of the State of the English Nation, A Review of the State of the British Nation, and simply The Review.
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Criticism: The Rise Of Periodicals
SOURCE: Introduction to The Guardian, The University Press of Kentucky, 1982, pp. 1-36.
[In following excerpt, Stephens traces the history of Addison and Steele's periodical the Guardian,emphasizing its involvement in politics as the cause of its demise.]
If The Spectator had not existed, The Guardian might outrank all periodicals of this kind.
Of the numerous literary periodicals produced in the eighteenth century, none have been more famous than the Tatler, the Spectator, and the Guardian, in which Addison and Steele brought the familiar essay to a high point of perfection. From their beginnings the three periodicals have been linked together as the prime achievement of their authors' collaboration. For example, a work entitled Histories, Fables, Allegories, and Characters, selected from the Spectator and Guardian reached a fourth edition in 1753 and an eighteenth edition in 1765; and in 1757 there appeared A General Index to the Spectators, Tatlers, and Guardians. In 1763 two volumes of extracts were published entitled Beauties of the Spectators, Tatlers, and Guardians. Evidence of the popularity of the journals is the fact that the Tatler and the Guardian have each been reprinted more than fifty times and the Spectator well over a...
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SOURCE: “Gender Specialization and the Feminine Curriculum: The Periodical for Women,” in Women and Print Culture: The Construction of Femininity in the Early Periodical, Routledge, 1989, pp. 146-74, 186-90, 220-23, 226.
[In the excerpt that follows, Shevelow surveys periodicals targeted at women readers, tracing their evolution in the course of the eighteenth century and examining the means by which they defined themselves and their audiences.]
Richard Steele announced in Spectator No. 66 his intention to devote the issue to a critique of the child-rearing practices of his day, with particular emphasis upon the education of girls. Using his familiar language of reform-minded deference to the ladies, Steele acknowledged complaints he had received from his women readers that they had found previous issues, devoted to Addison's literary and historical discourse upon ‘Wit’ (Nos 58-63), to be obscure. His acknowledgment represented the growing necessity both to cater to women's interests and to circumscribe their interests within precisely delineated boundaries.
I shall … at present stick to the Girl: And I am the more inclined to this, because I have several Letters which complain to me that my female Readers have not understood me for some Days last past, and take themselves to be unconcerned in the present Turn of my Writings.
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Criticism: The Impact And Influence Of Periodicals
SOURCE: Introduction to Critical Essays from The Spectator by Joseph Addison with four Essays by Richard Steele, Clarendon Press, 1970, pp. ix-xxi.
[In the essay that follows, Bond analyzes Addison's efforts in the Spectator to redefine the scope and methods of literary criticism.]
The series of daily essays published by Addison and Steele in 1711-12, from the pen of ‘Mr. Spectator’, ranged in subject-matter from the follies of contemporary fashion to the more serious problems of ethics and religion. From the beginning an imaginary club was devised, with members of broadly varying interests, whose topics of conversation might presumably be drawn upon as material for the essays. Besides Mr. Spectator, who acted as secretary, the club included an old-fashioned country squire, a prosperous City merchant, a young lawyer of the Inner Temple (and frequenter of the play-houses) a soldier, an elderly beau, and a grave clergyman.
The omission of a professional critic from the group seems at first sight a little strange, unless Mr. Spectator himself was designed for the role. (At the University, he tells us in the opening essay, ‘I applied myself with so much diligence to my studies, that there are few celebrated books, either in the learned or the modern tongues, which I am not acquainted with.’) But the label of literary critic is not applied to him. To the ordinary reader...
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SOURCE: “Addison, Steele and the Periodical Essay,” in Sphere History of Literature in the English Language, Volume 4: Dryden to Johnson, edited by Roger Lonsdale, Sphere Books Limited, 1971, pp. 144-63.
[In the essay that follows, Bateson credits Richard Steele with the invention of the periodical essay but argues that it was Joseph Addison's brilliant prose style that assured the success of the genre.]
The crucial innovations in a literature occur when some sub-literary form—such as the folk-song, the popular sermon, the melodramatic romance, to give three familiar examples—ceases to be ‘trash’ and becomes the vehicle of aesthetic experience. The ultimate causes of such a metamorphosis are usually traceable to some cataclysm in the particular society where it occurs, or at any rate in some change in its ruling class or dominant groups. But between the social revolution and the emergence of the new literary form which is its by-product a temporal interval must apparently occur. Augustan satire was essentially an after-effect on the literary plane of what might be called the Royalist resistance movement to the Commonwealth; but though its political sources go back to the 1640s the satire itself does not find effective literary expression before Butler's Hudibras (Part I, 1662). Restoration comedy, which came to its maturity in the 1670s, was the product of a...
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SOURCE: “Richard Steele, Journalist—and Journalism,” in Newsletters to Newspapers: Eighteenth-Century Journalism, edited by Donovan H. Bond and W. Reynolds McLeod, The School of Journalism, West Virginia University, 1977, pp. 21-31.
[In this essay, first presented at a 1976 symposium, Winton examines Steele's editorial direction of the Tatlerand the Spectator. The critic maintains that Steele introduced a number of innovations into print journalism, most notably the letters-to-the-editor feature, which permitted an unprecedented interaction between writer and audience.]
A few years ago the death of the novel was confidently predicted in literary-critical circles: all vital signs were down and mourners were to be observed, somewhat unbecomingly cheerful perhaps considering the occasion, dusting off their black serge suits against the moment when the venerable old genre would at last utter its death rattle. The stubborn patient refused to pass away, however; indeed, there are some who contend it has found a new life, but at any rate if the novel should depart this coil tonight, we have been warned! Nowadays Marshall McLuhan and followers are telling us that not only the novel but the very medium of print itself is passe in our non-linear age, one with the bustle and the mustache cup; non-linear media will speedily take over, we are told (we are told in print, incidentally, and at great...
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SOURCE: “Society, Journalism, and the Essay: Two Spectators,” in Continuum: Problems in French Literature from the Late Renaissance to the Early Enlightenment. Volume 3: Poetics of Exposition & Libertinage and the Art of Writing 1, edited by David Lee Rubin, AMS Press, pp. 85-112.
[In the following excerpt, France discusses the role of the Spectator in the development of the essay form, noting the characteristic “blend of seriousness and ease, Christianity and worldliness” in the pieces printed in the journal.]
[The Spectator points to] a crucial element in the development of the essay, and that is the role of the periodical press. Journals such as the Mercure galant or the Gentleman's Magazine clearly played an essential role in the creation and maintenance of a polite culture of sociability. Before the Tatler and the Spectator, however, the essay was not an important ingredient in such journalism. With the latter, in particular, we see the appearance of the issue of a newspaper devoted to one single subject. In other words, the subscriber to the Spectator could expect to receive every day between March, 1711, and December, 1712, a paper which was more or less an essay.
The essays in question are short—a far cry from Locke's Essay on the Human Understanding—though the same subject may be treated in a succession of...
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SOURCE: “The Spectator Abroad: The Fascination of the Mask,” in History of European Ideas, Vol. 22, No. 1, 1996, pp. 1-18.
[In the following essay, Pallares-Burke describes how admiration for the Spectator quickly spread beyond England, spawning imitations throughout Europe. She also discusses how the journal's influence lasted long after it ceased publication.]
This article offers some reflexions on the reception of the Spectator of Addison and Steele in Europe by focusing on the reforming power and authority it was believed to have at the time. My aim is to make a small contribution to the international history of the Spectator genre, a vast and rather unexplored territory, the importance of which was pointed out as long ago as 1929.1
This second earliest English daily paper, considered even today to have been a major event in journalism, was published intermittently between 1711 and 1714, but it enjoyed a success which lasted much longer than itself, and crossed an amazing range of national, linguistic and cultural frontiers. As a witty modern critic has put it, such success was phenomenal for a journal which had nothing do with sex or violence.2
As a major exponent, if not a pioneer, of an important 18th-century cultural trend, the Spectator of Addison and Steele established itself as a model for the...
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Criticism: Periodicals And Society
SOURCE: “The Making of Mr. Spectator,” in Modern Language Quarterly, Vol. 38, No. 1, March 1977, pp. 21-39.
[In following essay, Furtwangler contends that Mr. Spectator, the fictional editorial voice of the Spectator,was a “didactic figure” designed to promote the journal's “identification of moral improvement with reading improvement.”]
Addison and Steele had a very practical reason for creating the fictitious editors of their periodical works: canny self-protection. Neither Addison the rising politician nor Steele the ambitious soldier-turned-Gazetteer could well afford to entertain a broad public or moralize in his own name. Yet from the broad leaves of this prudent disguise there grew a new blossom of art. Other early editors had hidden behind the titles of their journals, hoping to dodge the abundant risks of plain-spoken publishing or to achieve an authoritative tone with little effort. But in Isaac Bickerstaff of the Tatler Steele developed a full-blown alter ego, complete with name, history, crotchets, and superhuman advantages, and in Mr. Spectator, Addison and Steele projected a new and subtly influential spokesman for the London of 1711. Throughout the century that followed, scores of other writers tried to imitate this achievement, and the fictitious editors—or eidola—of their essay periodicals became a new way of articulating, indeed personifying, the interests,...
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SOURCE: “Modifying a Whole Landscape: False Humour, Good Nature, and Satire in the Spectator,” in Thalia: Studies in Literary Humor, Vol. 2, No. 1, Spring 1980, pp. 3-10.
[In the essay that follows, Berry examines how satire was used and developed in the Spectator, primarily by Joseph Addison. The critic asserts that Addison felt that legitimate satire must be good-natured, based in morality, and used “for the Benefit of Mankind.”]
A satiric portrait by Pope or Swift is like a thunderclap; the Addisonian method is more like the slow operations of ordinary nature, loosening stones, blunding outlines, modifying a whole landscape with “silent overgrowings” so that the change can never quite be reversed again. Whatever his intentions, his reasonableness and amiability (both cheerful “habits” of the mind) are stronger in the end than the Tory spleen. To rail is the sad privilege of the loser.
C. S. Lewis1
Although he relied too much upon the traditional opposition of Tory gloom and Addisonian non-partisan cheerfulness, C. S. Lewis cleverly perceived both Addison's practical method in the Spectator and also the resulting difficulty which the critic ultimately faces in turning backwards from the evidence of particular statements towards the general theory which produced it. Thus, to reconstruct...
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SOURCE: “Addison and Steele's Spectator: Towards a Reappraisal,” in Journal of Newspaper and Periodical History, Vol. 4, No. 1, Winter 1987, pp. 2-11.
[In this essay, Dwyer analyzes the moral perspective promulgated by Addison and Steele through the persona of Mr. Spectator. In response to the ethical confusion of English society, this character, Dwyer contends, “attempted to present virtue and contentment in a clearer, basically classical, light in the pages of his papers.”]
In an article written for Encounter twenty years ago, Peter Gay called for a greater appreciation of the role of the Spectator in early eighteenth-century British society.1 He rightly pointed out that this daily publication was by far the most widely read of its day and, if the comments of contemporaries mean anything, it effected a quiet revolution in manners and morals. Such was the popularity of this series of morning lectures that its influence soon spread to the Continent, the Scottish lowlands, and as far away as the American colonies. Imitations of the Spectator sprang up in France, Germany, Holland and, a century later, even Hawaii.2 One French historian was so impressed by the number of references to the Spectator in his own country that he suggested the writing of “un histoire des periodiques du type Spectator en Europe.”3 Another of his Scottish...
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SOURCE: “The Spectator's Moral Economy,” in Modern Philology, Vol. 91, No. 2, 1993, pp. 161-79.
[In the essay that follows, Knight considers the linking of morality and economics in the Spectator, maintaining that the journal delineated “the workings of ethics through an economic order in which wealth, achievement, and status become public representations of moral goodness.”]
If the influential series of essays produced between 1709 and 1714 by Joseph Addison and Sir Richard Steele emerges from its present benign neglect, it may do so through the concept that periodicals create culture—that if art imitates life, life imitates art with equal significance. Such mutuality of imitation underlies the reformist proclamations of Addison and Steele; it also supports the efforts of contemporary critics to see those moralizing purposes in ideological terms. Those who find the Spectator now unreadable may be attending more to Mr. Spectator's self-definition as teacher of moral rectitude or advisor on social niceties than to his role as an agent of more complicated but less apparent change.1
Keynotes of this change, sounded some years ago in German by Jürgen Habermas, are now audible in English:
The bourgeois public sphere may be conceived above all as the sphere of private people come together as a public; they soon...
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SOURCE: “The Politics of Taste in the Spectator,” in The Eighteenth Century: Theory and Interpretation, Vol. 35, No. 1, Spring 1994, pp. 46-63.
[In the essay that follows, Dykstal offers a Marxist analysis of the Spectator's role in defining “taste” as an “organizing principle of the public sphere,” in which private rectitude is publicly recognized. In this formulation, the critic contends, taste “rests, ultimately, not on the private apprehension of beauty but on the public defense of it.”]
The basic error of all materialism in politics—and this materialism is not Marxian and not even modern in origin, but as old as our history of political theory—is to overlook the inevitability with which men disclose themselves as subjects, as distinct and unique persons, even when they wholly concentrate upon reaching an altogether worldly, material object.1
One of the surprises of Terry Eagleton's magisterial The Ideology of the Aesthetic is his oft-stated admiration for a discourse that others on the political left would dismiss as “simply ‘bourgeois ideology.’”2 As it arises in the early eighteenth century, the aesthetic, counters Eagleton, constitutes “the first stirrings of a primitive materialism—of the body's long inarticulate rebellion against the tyranny of the theoretical” (13). In...
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SOURCE: “‘As Sacred as Friendship, as Pleasurable as Love’: Father-Son Relations in the Tatler and Spectator,” in History, Gender & Eighteenth-Century Literature, edited by Beth Fowkes Tobin, The University of Georgia Press, 1994, pp. 14-38.
[In this essay, Maurer explores how early periodicals depicted and defined gender roles, family dynamics, and other social and domestic values.]
The revolution in which the slogan “liberté, egalité, fraternité” was proclaimed began in 1789, but the alliance between the three elements was forged much earlier. Modern patriarchy is fraternal in form and the original contract is a fraternal pact.
—Carole Pateman, The Sexual Contract
From Rae Blanchard in 1929 to Kathryn Shevelow in 1989,1 critics have examined the ways in which Joseph Addison and Richard Steele's periodical publications, in particular the Tatler (1709-11) and the Spectator (1711-12), acted to influence and define their female audience in the process of constructing a new ideology of domestic femininity: “Through the work of their authoritative yet benign personae, these early periodicals established a definition of feminine nature, rewarded the behavior that adhered to this definition, and punished behaviors that did not.” In particular, these texts “created a...
(The entire section is 9936 words.)
SOURCE: “Voyeuristic Dreams: Mr. Spectator and the Power of Spectacle,” in The Eighteenth Century: Theory and Interpretation, Vol. 36, No. 1, Spring 1995, pp. 3-23.
[In the following essay, Gordon argues that the figure of Mr. Spectator, the fictional editorial voice of the Spectator,was designed to be “a mechanism to reform London society,” part of the journal's “disciplinary regime based on omnipotent surveillance and the threat of public exposure.”]
Mr. Spectator seems to anticipate precisely the “Eye of Power,” the voyeuristic gaze which disciplines subjects by observing them, that recent theory detects in social institutions from the prison to the cinema to the hospital. The supposed “author” of the Spectator (published daily, except Sundays, from March 1711 to December 1712) is an invisible but omnipresent God-figure who can observe all his readers simultaneously. This character differentiates the Spectator from other early eighteenth-century periodicals—even from the Tatler (1709-11), its immediate predecessor. Both periodicals may share subject matter, an elegant prose style, and reformist aims, but the Spectator deploys in Mr. Spectator an unprecedented technology to reform London's manners and morals. Few studies of the Spectator consider the function of this figure, and those that do dismiss him as ridiculous or as a liability....
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Braverman, Richard. “Spectator 495: Addison and “the Race of People called Jews.” SEL: Studies in English Literature, 1500-1900 34, No. 3 (Summer 1994): 537-52.
Critiques how Addison wrote about Jews in this issue of the Spectator and other writings. The critic also discusses how Jews were perceived in English society at the time.
Evans, James E. “Mr. Review of the ‘Glorious’ Tatler and the ‘Inimitable’ Spectator.” Journal of Newspaper and Periodical History 3, No. 1 (Winter 1986): 2-9.
Discusses Daniel Defoe's remarks on the Tatler and the Spectator, observing that Defoe's mingled respect for and envy of these publications accounts for his contradictory commentary.
Ketcham, Michael G. Transparent Designs: Reading, Performance, and Form in the Spectator Papers. The University of Georgia Press, 1985, 216 p.
Book-length study of the Spectator,including discussions of its rhetoric, internal structure, and images of society.
Milic, Louis T. “The Reputation of Richard Steele: What Happened?” Eighteenth-Century Life 1, No. 4 (June 1975): 81-7.
Argues that Steele's contributions to the Tatler and the Spectator have been overshadowed by Addison's...
(The entire section is 269 words.)