In the second number of Addison and Steele’s SPECTATOR papers eighteenth-century readers were introduced to the members of “The Club.” Heading the list of those characters who, among them, were intended to represent the entire range of public opinion and enlightened bias for the London of 1711 was “a gentleman of Worcestershire, of ancient descent, a baronet, his name Sir Roger de Coverley.”
Sir Roger was initially conceived of as an aging Restoration rake. In the old days he. . . was what you call a fine gentleman, had often supped with my Lord Rochester and Sir George Etherege, fought a duel upon first coming to town, and kicked Bully Dawson in a public coffeehouse for calling him “youngster.”
By the time of THE SPECTATOR, however, he had been mellowed by years of unrequited love for a “perverse beautiful widow of the next county to him,” and had become that quaint and lovable representative of the Tory landowning class, an amiable but rather ineffectual anachronism who was to stand as the most popular and the best remembered of the many characters that appeared in the 555 numbers of the original SPECTATOR.
So popular did he become, in fact, that his name is known to many who have never heard of the Spectator himself; his lengthy and unconsummated love affair has been the subject of a full-length play; and those numbers of THE SPECTATOR in which he figures prominently have been, in a variety of editions, collected and separately published, usually under the title of THE SIR ROGER DE COVERLEY PAPERS.
There are in all some thirty-five SPECTATORS in which Sir Roger is prominent. As a member of “The Club” he, of course, appears in more; but the essays usually collected under his name are limited to the first number, which serves as an introduction, and to thirty-four of the thirty-five in which Sir Roger is the central (or, at least, an important) figure. (The thirty-fifth, possibly by Tickell, is rejected as being inconsistent with the character of the knight.) Of these, twenty-three (including the introductory first paper) are by Addison, nine are by Steele, and three are by Eustace Budgell, a junior associate. There were, we know, other infrequent contributors to THE SPECTATOR (Alexander Pope among them), but, with the exception of Budgell’s three essays, Sir Roger remains the exclusive property of Addison and Steele.
Steele, apparently, was his creator. That he was Sir Richard’s brain child may be inferred from the fact that in the nine contributions by Steele Sir Roger lives most independently as a character. Certainly the good knight’s love affair was Steele’s creation. The beautiful and perverse widow is introduced along with the knight himself; then, in papers 113 and 118, the full story of Sir Roger’s forty years of frustration at her hands is unfolded.
Steele’s interest in the affairs of Sir Roger’s heart was in keeping with his general interests as a periodical writer. The age of sentiment was...
(The entire section is 1254 words.)