Themes

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Last Updated on September 30, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 598

In The Sir Roger de Coverley Papers, Addison, Budgell, and Steele consider a variety of themes. Each essay included in the collection is preceded by an aphorism in Latin, which places the following narrative into a moral framework.

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Practical Virtue

The words of Virgil, Ovid, Horace and other classical writers become in the Papers a reflection of Mr. Spectator's desire to focus on the theme of practical virtue in human relationships, a theme that is developed throughout the collection. Thus, opening one of the essays, the narrator quotes from a fable by Phaedrus in which the latter relates how the Athenians erected a large statue to Aesop, a slave fabulist with a noble spirit and placed it on a lasting pedestal, showing that the path to honor is open to all, regardless of their origin. Then, in the essay itself, The Spectator links this ancient wisdom to Sir Roger de Coverley’s sensible and honorable dealings with his servants, which, in turn, encourages the servants to act nobly:

… the general corruption of manners in servants is owing to the conduct of masters… A man who preserves a respect, founded on his benevolence to his dependents, lives rather like a prince than a master in his family; his orders are received as favours, rather than duties; and the distinction of approaching him is part of the reward for executing what is commanded by him… I never saw but in Sir Roger’s family, and one or two more, good servants treated as they ought to be. Sir Roger’s kindness extends to their children’s children... (1, No. 107. Tuesday, July 3)

The Impact of Faith on Society

Mr. Spectator often reflects on the enormous impact of faith. Faith can have positive effects on society, yet negative societal consequences may follow from an overly rigid application of religious truths. He believes that if faith and worship were set aside, people would soon degenerate into barbarians,

...were there not such frequent returns of a stated time, in which the whole village meet together with their best faces, and in their cleanliest habits, to converse with one another upon indifferent subjects, hear their duties explained to them, and join together in adoration of the Supreme Being. Sunday clears away the rust of the whole week, not only as it refreshes in their minds the notions of religion, but as it puts both the sexes upon appearing in their most agreeable forms, and exerting all such qualities as are apt to give them a figure in the eye of the village. (1, No. 112. Monday, July 9)

But faith should be sincere and should not be used as an instrument of strife. As a contrast to Sir Roger’s exemplary behavior in the church life and his favorable and auspicious attitude towards the congregation, Mr. Spectator presents a deplorable picture of the feud between the parson and the squire from the neighboring village.

The Power of Friendship

Addison and Steele also use the character of Mr. Spectator to express their views on friendship. Mr. Spectator is bound by bonds of true friendship with Sir Roger de Coverley, and his relations with the eminent merchant Andrew Freeport and the gallant gentleman Will Honeycomb are marvelous. The way the narrator addresses Sir Roger is reflective of the warmth of a friendly affection. He often calls him “my friend Sir Roger,” “the Knight,” “the good old man,” and “Fine gentleman.” Such a sincere friendship is reminiscent of Addison and Steele’s own lifelong close friendship. The theme of friendship is sustained throughout the whole of the narrative, lending it a distinctive tone and atmosphere.

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