The Sir Roger de Coverley Papers

by Joseph Addison, Eustace Budgell, Richard Steele

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Last Updated September 5, 2023.

Mr. Spectator

In the first issue of TheSpectator daily published by Addison and Steele (1711–1712) with contributions by Budgell, we meet Mr. Spectator himself. He is the narrator and one of the characters of The Sir Roger de Coverley Papers, which are essentially humorous and moral essays on various topics, dispersed on the pages of the daily.

Mr. Spectator is different from the authors, yet his views and statements reflect much of what they believe. The inclusion of this character allows the authors to maintain a somewhat detached attitude toward the political and social conflicts of the era.

Much of the cohesion in the work depends on the constant presence of the Spectator, who is part of the “club” (along with several other individuals). This club serves as a microcosm of the eighteenth-century British life. Mr. Spectator prefixes an epigraph from a Latin author to each essay, and in addition to narrating the stories, he offers up his thoughts and comments on a variety of topics. His creed of objectivity is expressed in the following words:

I never espoused any party with violence, and am resolved to observe an exact neutrality between the Whigs and Tories, unless I shall be forced to declare myself by the hostilities of either side. In short, I have acted in all the parts of my life as a looker-on, which is the character I intend to preserve in this paper.”(1, No. 1. Thursday, March 1, 1710–11)

Sir Roger de Coverley

In the second issue of the daily, we first meet Mr. Spectator’s friends. They are representatives of several vocations and social groups. The central figure of the Papers is Sir Roger de Coverley himself. Now in his fifties, he is a squire and a Tory. As a young man during the Restoration era, he was a man of the world: he dined with Lord Rochester, known for dissipation, and even fought a duel. He was once rejected by a beautiful but capricious widow, and this caused him to change:

...he was very serious for a year and a half; and though, his temper being naturally jovial, he at last got over it, he grew careless of himself, and never dressed afterwards. He continues to wear a coat and doublet of the same cut that were in fashion at the time of his repulse, which, in his merry humours, he tells us, has been in and out twelve times since he first wore it. He is now in his fifty-sixth year, cheerful, gay, and hearty; keeps a good house both in town and country; a great lover of mankind; but there is such a mirthful cast in his behaviour, that he is rather beloved than esteemed. (1, No. 2. Friday, March 2)

This good-natured yet naive character becomes more vivid and realistic with each new essay. The essays coalesce into a sort of a novel of morals that has its own ending. The squire catches cold as he attends a the court session to defend a poor widow, and he soon dies. Though the squire is unsubtle and old-fashioned, he is doubtlessly portrayed with great sympathy and artistic objectivity.

Sir Andrew Freeport

Among the members of the “club,” Sir Roger has a foil, the merchant Sir Andrew Freeport. Though Sir Andrew is portrayed with sympathy too, there is no hint of a humorous attitude towards this character on the part of the authors. Sir Freeport is a businessmen of utmost integrity and diligence. He is not obsessed with money, and he intends to retire when he gets older. He praises commerce and trade because...

(This entire section contains 740 words.)

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they contribute to the welfare of the state. Wherever the British ships sail, there are always among them those that belong to this respectable merchant. This is how the authors characterize him:

He abounds in several frugal maxims, amongst which the greatest favourite is, ‘A penny saved is a penny got.’ A general trader of good sense is pleasanter company than a general scholar; and Sir Andrew having a natural unaffected eloquence, the perspicuity of his discourse gives the same pleasure that wit would in another man. (1, No. 2. Friday, March 2)

However, for all the praises that Freeport receives from the authors, neither he nor Mr. Spectator can match Sir Roger de Coverley in vividness and realistic persuasiveness. Many of the original readers truly connected with this fictional literary character, and the essays about him became so popular as to be published in separate editions ever since.