Imágenes de páginas
[ocr errors]

and abroad. Such an advantage he saw a good chance of turning to practical account at a time when rumours of wars filled the air, and the public mind was in a condition of constant excitement. Politics and questions of state were not, however, altogether to absorb his attention. In his first number he promised to deal with all matters likely to appeal to "the Town," and particularly with such things as might yield "entertainment to the fair sex,” in honour of whom, he slyly added, he had "invented the title of this paper." The interests of the stage, poetry, and learning, to say nothing of affairs of gallantry, were thus to be given due prominence, though a large place was still kept for foreign and domestic


From being a mere retailer of news and gossip, however, The Tatler so soon assumed the definite purpose of moulding public opinion in moral and social questions, that Steele prefixed the following dedication to his first complete volume: "The general purpose of this paper," he wrote, "is to expose the false arts of life, to pull off the disguises of cunning, vanity, and affectation, and to recommend a general simplicity in our dress, our discourse, and our behaviour."

The Tatler ran on into the first week of 1711; one hundred and eighty-eight papers out of two hundred and seventy-one being written by Steele, forty-two by Addison, who joined him at the eighteenth number, and the rest contributed by friends, or written by Steele and Addison together.

It is evident that The Tatler was brought to a close only to make room for a larger enterprise, for its success continued unabated; and within two months of its discontinuance — that is, on March 1, 1711,— the first number of The Spectator was sent from the press.

The new paper was published daily, Sundays excepted, and at once commanded a very large sale. Its regular issue was maintained till December 6, 1712, when the Spectator himself announced that as all his friends who made up the Club "had



disappeared one after another,” it was high time that he, too, should "go off the stage." Some eighteen months later, however, the periodical was revived by Addison alone, and was published three times a week, from June 18 to December 20, 1714. In its complete form, it contains six hundred and thirty-five essays, of which Addison wrote two hundred and seventy-four and Steele two hundred and forty. The remaining one hundred and twenty-one were contributed by various friends, who from time to time lent their aid in the undertaking. In the title chosen for their new periodical, the writers clearly indicated a radical change in centre of interest and point of view a change, it should be noted, resulting from the supplanting of Steele by Addison as the motive force and pervading influence of the work. The Spectator, the quiet onlooker and observer of men—whose traits, as is well known, were largely drawn from Addison himself — was, unlike his predecessor, a little detached from the crowd; regardless of news and politics; shy and taciturn of nature, though shrewd, kindly, humorous; earnest at heart, and much impressed with the seriousness of life; an amusing companion and critic of things, but a philosophical teacher and preacher as well.2 "It was said of Socrates," writes Addison, speaking in the name of the Spectator, "that he brought philosophy down from heaven to inhabit among men; and I shall be ambitious to have it said of me that I have brought philosophy out of closets and libraries, schools and colleges, to dwell in clubs and assemblies, at tea-tables and in coffee-houses." 8 This large and humane purpose was never lost sight of. The Spectator touched upon many aspects of life, leaving little in the social world of the time unconsidered. It contained character-sketches and stories; criticisms of literature and the

[ocr errors]

1 See No. 555. This essay, the work of Steele, contains another of his warm-hearted testimonies to the character and genius of his friend. 2 See Spectator, No. 1. 3 Spectator, No. 10.

drama; essays on manners and fashions, morality and religion. Sometimes it was daintily humorous, sometimes lightly satirical, sometimes firm and earnest. But throughout the educative aim was always conspicuous.

It is only by recalling the social conditions of the time of Addison and Steele that we can properly estimate the ethical importance of their work. The nation was then gradually steadying itself, after passing through one of the greatest moral crises in its history. Half a century before, the Commonwealth had been overthrown, and with the restoration of the Stuart dynasty, in the person of Charles II., the austere restraints which the Commonwealth imposed upon the English people had been intemperately thrown aside. A sweeping reaction had followed. Intoxicated by its newly found freedom, society had plunged into shameless immorality; for a while the decencies of life were forgotten, and domestic virtue was openly scoffed at. But fortunately the better nature of the English people presently began to reassert itself; and the rushing torrent of evil influence was already checked before the seventeenth century had closed. One man in particular, the sturdy non-juror, Jeremy Collier, had vigorously attacked the depraved theatre and the society which supported it, and when, in 1698, he published his Short View of the Profaneness and Immorality of the English Stage, he found popular feeling was really upon his side. Nevertheless, there was much yet to be done before the atmosphere of life could be made entirely sweet and wholesome. Vice and ribaldry continued to be a fashionable affectation, and in the public mind a notion still lingered that there was a necessary connection between genius and profligacy, on the one hand; between domestic purity and sullen puritanism, on the other.1

It is the glory of The Tatler and The Spectator that they set the English conscience right once more on these important questions of theory and practice by their irresistible appeal to 1 Cf. note to p. 174, l. 1. See Macaulay's Essay on Addison.

common decency and common sense. To meet men on the common ground of daily life and experience, and at once to amuse and to elevate them; to enlist wit on the side of virtue and decency; to pass judgment on the age and its failings, not petulantly or censoriously, but with a frank and generous recognition of the ways of the world and the difficulties of conduct; this is what The Spectator set itself to do; and this it accomplished with such extraordinary success that since their time "the open violation of decency has always been considered among us as the mark of a fool.” 1

The moral significance of the work accomplished by Addison and Steele can hardly be overrated. It is true that they did not attack society with the fierce invective of the zealot, or the righteous indignation of the prophet. They contented themselves by making vice and folly ridiculous by raillery, and rectitude and decency attractive by the geniality and good breeding with which they presented their claims. At such a time wit, humour, and satire were the reformer's most effective weapons; and there is plenty of contemporary evidence to show how effectively The Spectator used them.

It remains for us to speak of the place occupied by The Tatler and The Spectator in the history of English prose fiction. We must remember that at the time when these essays were written, “no novel giving lively and powerful pictures of the common life and manners of England had appeared. Richardson was working as a compositor; Fielding was robbing birds' nests; Smollett was not yet born." 2 Now, in the novel as it was afterwards definitely established by these great masters, we note the combination of two essential elements - the presentation of character and manners, and the interest of a sustained story or continuous plot. By virtue of what they accomplished in the development of the former of these ele

1 Macaulay's Essay on Addison. Macaulay's words are used in reference to Addison alone, but it would be unfair to Steele not to give him his full share of honour. 2 Ibid.

me a

ments, Steele and Addison have to be reckoned among the immediate forerunners of the regular novelists of the succeeding generation. They painted at first-hand the men, women, and fashions of their age; they described with admirable humour and insight the daily scenes and happenings of contemporary life. For more than a century before their number of satirists in prose and verse had sedulously cultivated what is known as "character writing," taking the wellknown Characters of Theophrastus as their model.. Clever as some of their work undoubtedly was, they had drawn types rather than individuals, and had failed to give in their delineations any sense of reality and life. In the hands of Steele and Addison the character study of the seventeenth century became personal and vital; instead of dry catalogues of traits and qualities, they presented actual men. Moreover, in many of the scenes through which their personages move, we find much of the interest of a story; the characters are not merely described; they think, speak, suffer, perform. In such scenes, therefore, we may say without exaggeration, that we have the modern novel in germ. Nor is this all. While The Spectator contains ample material for a fully developed novel, it only just falls short of making a fully developed novel out of it. Had the various detached episodes in which the essayist and his companions figure been more closely related to one another had they been gathered up and carefully woven into the definite pattern of a plot-then the Sir Roger de Coverley Papers here reprinted would have been to all intents and purposes a serial novel running through a periodical. As it is, we can never properly neglect them in any historical survey of English prose fiction. The novel was not the invention of any one man or generation; like other great forms of literary art, it was the result of a slow and gradual process of evolution. To this process many writers contributed; and amongst them a foremost place must certainly be assigned to Addison and Steele.

« AnteriorContinuar »