The Spectator


  • Intro

    The Spectator was a periodical published daily by Joseph Addison and Sir Richard Steele, both politicians, which was one of the bestsellers of the 18th century. Its 500 issues sold up to 4000 copies a day, and carried news and comment, but especially comments on manners, morals and literature. The publication pretended to be the reports by a Mr Spectator on the conversations of a club comprising representatives of the country squirearchy, the town, commerce and the army. Its essays, as seen in this example, show that urban life in the 18th century was not so far different from today, with observations on begging and binge-drinking. ‘Mr Spectator’ particularly comments on debt – ‘[I am] extremely astonished that Men can be so insensible of the Danger of running into Debt’.


    The magazine of essays was a popular model for expressing various views on society in the 18th century. Though often short-lived, they sold well and were read by thousands. The Gentleman’s Magazine, Steele’s The Tatler, Samuel Johnson’s The Rambler and The Idler and others created an enthusiasm for discussing ideas and literature that were at the heart of literate thinking in 18th century England.


    Shelfmark: L.R.261.b.18.

Explore more timeline content: