Themes

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Last Reviewed on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 272

An important London satirical newspaper, The Spectator was published by Joseph Addison and Richard Steele from 1711 to 1712, and once again in 1714. This paper built on the success of Steele’s earlier venture The Tatler. The new paper was only a single page, appearing daily Monday through Saturday. The satires it included often targeted politicians, both Whigs and Tories, but also touched on literary and artistic figures. The publishers remained anonymous in their dual roles as authors and filtered their critique through invented characters, not just pseudonyms.

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The primary invented character was simply Mr. Spectator, who called himself “a Spectator of Mankind” rather than a member of that “Species.” Other main characters were the outspoken country gentleman Sir Roger De Coverly and the merchant Sir Andrew Freeport. The paper’s premise was that these and other men belonged to the Spectator Club. They supposedly wrote each issue’s essay or letters to the editor on a timely topic. Sir Roger’s became especially popular, and Sir Andrew’s opposing political views helped stir up controversy. Another character, the socialite Will Honeycomb, was used to take jabs at the moral and aesthetic shortcomings of prominent figures in the English social scene, both in London and outside the city.

One notable group of papers were issues 106–131, which recount Mr. Spectator’s visit to Sir Roger’s country home. The themes include the class divisions in English society, including the extent of rural poverty; the sport of hunting; and love and marriage. Other sets of essays address literary topics, including John Milton’s works, and the increasing popularity of science, considered its proper relation to religion.

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