The 18th century is usually characterized as an age of prose literature. In fact, the age s found rich in prose writings, and in these prose writings, the periodical essay, as it is called, proves immensely successful.
In the periodical essays of the 18th century, The Spectator, a venture of Joseph Addison and Richard Steele, published first in 1711, is an important literary name. It was lasting from 1711 to 1712. Each “paper”, or “number”, was approximately 2,500 words long, and the original run consisted of 555 numbers, beginning on 1 March 1711. The Spectator, that followed Steele’s The Tatler, was a daily, and the united efforts of the two masterminds raised the essays, published in The Spectator, to a high status.
Indeed, The Spectator of Addison and Steele is found endowed with a definite plan. It consists of a series of literary essays, concerned with social morals and manners. Each issue of The Spectator contains a simple thought, worked out exquisitely. This is different distinctly from the next issue, but, at the same, all issues bear a family likeness.
Thus the first essay, Mr Spectator, gives an account of the author himself. The essayist here draws a character-sketch of the spectator, with specific attention to different aspects of his nature. In Number 10, Mr. Spectator states that The Spectator will aim “to enliven morality with wit, and to temper wit with morality”. The journal reached an audience of thousands of people every day, because “the Spectators was something that every middle-class household with aspirations to looking like its members took literature seriously would want to have.”
The next essay is on the Spectator Club. Here a sketch of the other members of the club is drawn. These members are the representatives of different important sections of the English society of the 18th century, They are, from this angle, types, but the author has also shown distinctly their individual traits and trends. The “members” 0f this club included representatives of commerce, the army, the town (respectively, Sir Andrew Freeport, Captain Sentry, and Will Honeycomb), and of the country gentry (Sir Roger de Coverley).
The aim of The Spectator is clearly and frankly instructive. Addison and Steele are here found to refine and reform the tastes of contemporary English society. This is also found to be a sort of censor of social and moral lapses and a purification of public tastes and culture. Further, The Spectator has the special business to study the females in society and to endeavor to change their modes of living, thinking, and fashions of life. In fact, the essays in The Spectators have social and informative ends.
The importance of The Spectator is immense for the eighteenth century. It is found to have a wholesome message for the betterment of society and for guiding and shaping public tastes and public opinions. What is more, The Spectator is found to be the reservoir for the development of journalistic writings in the days to come.
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