Last Updated on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 465
The bachelor Sir Roger, chief narrator of the Spectator , is depicted as a man of compassion and allowed to become a spokesman for humane values. As we know from contemporaries such as Jonathan Swift, humane considerations were not always foremost in early eighteenth-century England. Sir Roger, however, ever shows...
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The bachelor Sir Roger, chief narrator of the Spectator, is depicted as a man of compassion and allowed to become a spokesman for humane values. As we know from contemporaries such as Jonathan Swift, humane considerations were not always foremost in early eighteenth-century England. Sir Roger, however, ever shows his compassion, for example, in essay 116, when, after going on a hunt, he frees the rabbit.
One of the most famous and influential Spectator essays is number 11, which tells the story of Inkle and Yarico, and in one fell swoop, strikes a blow against both sexism and racism.
In this story, Sir Roger visits Arietta, a woman he has been introduced to by the socialite Will Honeycomb. Here, Steele uses a frame narrative to introduce his story within a story of Inkle and Yarico.
In the frame story, Arietta is outraged when a male guest puts down women as inconstant. She provides a story of her own. In this story, a group of English stopping for provisions in the Americas as they voyage to the West Indies unwisely go too far inland, and most are murdered by a band of Indians. However, Thomas Inkle is rescued by the "Indian maid" Yarico, who hides him a cave and brings him food. The two fall in love, and eventually Inkle is able to persuade the now pregnant Yarico to run away with him, promising to marry her in England. When they arrive in Barbados, however, Inkle sells her into slavery. She tries to stop him by telling him she is pregnant, but that only inspires him to raise his price.
This essay is comparable to Swift's "A Modest Proposal" in its condemnation of placing material gain over human welfare. Inkle, we learn early on, has had:
instill[ed] into his Mind an early Love of Gain, by making him a perfect Master of Numbers, and consequently giving him a quick View of Loss and Advantage.
Yet unlike Swift's sharp satire, Steele uses a gentler touch, ending the story with Sir Roger's tears of compassion:
I was so touch'd with this Story, (which I think should be always a Counterpart to the Ephesian Matron) that I left the Room with Tears in my Eyes ; which a Woman of Arietta's good Sense, did, I am sure, take for greater Applause, than any Compliments I could make her.
Although we are much more likely to read "A Modest Proposal" today, the story of Inkle and Yarico was wildly popular into the nineteenth century. It was made into an opera, and adopted by the growing abolitionist movement, which often turned Yarico into a black woman begging not to be sold into slavery.
The story shows the reach of the Spectator, which continued to have an impact well beyond the early eighteenth century.