English Essays: Sidney to Macaulay.
The Harvard Classics. 1909–14.

Introductory Note

Sir Richard Steele

SIR RICHARD STEELE (1672–1729), Addison’s chief collaborator in the “Tatler” and the “Spectator,” was born in Dublin of an English father and an Irish mother. He made Addison’s acquaintance at school, and they were at Oxford together. Steele left the University to enter the army, and opened his literary career, while still a soldier, with “The Christian Hero.” In 1702 he began to write for the stage, and was of notable influence in redeeming the English drama from the indecency which had marked much of it since the Restoration. Like Addison, he combined politics with literature, and in 1715 was knighted as a reward for his services to the Hanoverian party.

The chief glory of the “Spectator” is, of course, the club, and it was in the essay which follows that Steele first sketched the characters composing it. The Spectator himself was Addison’s creation, and Addison also elaborated Sir Roger, though Steele originated him. Whatever may be the respective claims of Addison and Steele to the credit for the success of the “Spectator,” it is to Steele that the honor belongs of having founded its predecessor, the “Tatler,” and so of originating the periodical essay.

Steele was a warm-hearted, impulsive man, full of sentiment, improvident, and somewhat weak of will. These qualities are reflected in his writings, which are inferior to Addison’s in grace and finish, but are marked by greater spontaneity and invention. Probably no piece of writing of equal length has added so many portraits to the gallery of our literature as the first sketch of the Spectator Club which is here printed.