The Spectator: Birth of the Periodical Press
By Karen Purnell
The Spectator was a single sheet daily newspaper published by Richard
Steele and Joseph Addison in 1711, who also published the Tatler. The
first edition was published on 1st March 1711, and continued until 6th
The aim of the newspaper was to “enliven morality with wit, and
to temper wit with morality…to bring philosophy out of the closets
and libraries, schools and colleges, to dwell in clubs and assemblies,
at tea-tables and coffeehouses”.
One of its functions was to provide readers with educated talking points,
and advice on how to carry a conversation and social interactions in
a polite manner. Addison and Steele also promoted family, marriage and
courtesy, as a way of keeping with the values of philosophy. The Friday
edition confined itself to literary matter, whereas Saturday featured
moral and religious content, aiming to produce an even greater work than
its predecessor: The Tatler.
The Spectator made an effort to forming and raising the standard of public
opinion in manners, morals, art and literature. The editors hoped to
meet the needs of women, as Addison realised that the reform of society
would occur through them. Therefore, the publication was the first of
its kind to appeal to female readership. Addison remarked “there
are none to whom this Paper will be more useful, than to the Female World.
I have often thought there has not been sufficient pains taken in finding
out proper employments and diversions for the Fair ones.” Therefore,
it was part of the editors' mission to remedy this.
During the times of The Spectator, literary culture was reborn in England.
The Civil War resulted in the closure of many playhouses during the Puritan
period, and did not improve until the reign of Queen Anne, after the
Restoration. During these times only a privileged few could experience
education and leisure, which prompted the success of The Spectator, which
provided enlightenment for the common people. Therefore, the newspaper
was widely read, although its official circulation was only 3000.
The Spectator adopted a fictional method of presentation using a "Spectator
Club", whose imaginary members argued against the author’s
ideas about society. “Mr Spectator”, a fictional character
that observed London society, allegedly wrote the papers. He also reported
on imaginary conversations thought most likely to occur in coffee houses,
which is where most copies of the publication were distributed and read.
An important aspect of The Spectator's success was its ability to understand
that culture and taste were values that transcended political differences.
This earned it instant admiration, especially as it also avoided political
controversy between parties.
Given the success of the publication in promoting polite sociability,
the correspondence of its readers was an important feature. However,
it is believed that on occasion, Steele and Addison may have composed
"The Spectator" No 1
"The Spectator" No 2
"The Spectator" No 10
"Addison and Steele are Dead" by Brian McCrea, 1990.