English press: then & now

The Spectator (1711 -1712)
" I shall endeavour to enliven Morality with Wit,
and to temper Wit with Morality" (Addison)

"In this daily paper I shall endeavour to make
an innocent
if not an improving Entertainment"
wrote Mr. Spectator
from the Spectator Club.

Steele and Addison created the genre of the "periodical essay".

The Spectator - particular

Read the issues:
  In the introductory issue of The Spectator”, Addison himself explains that he wants to “enliven morality with wit and to temper wit with morality”, in other words, to instruct by amusing.The Spectator 1st issue
The Spectator” was the most successful newspaper of this period. Its success was due to many reasons, among which:
  • it was published daily, in single sheets printed on both sides in double columns, so reading it soon became a habit like having tea or coffee;
  • it offered to the new British middle class models of social and moral behaviour, besides discussing current affairs and cultural issues;
  • it was written in such a way as to be understood and enjoyed by people with an average middle class education.

Indeed, Addison’s prose, clear, plain, fluent and elegant, became a model for the writers of the time. His style, rich in humour, common sense and balance, was widely imitated and exerted a great influence also abroad.

Joseph Addison expressed his opinions through an imaginary spokesman, Mr Spectator, who signed all his essays. He was an objective observer of the customs and morals, of the virtues and vices of the English society. He also introduced other fictional characters who represented different points of view and social classes and discussed different topics in the paper (from the Tory country gentleman, to the Whig London merchant, from the student of Law to the soldier and to the fashionable society man. No women among them).

By the middle of the 18th century, the periodical and newspaper had definitely become a new reading genre. By the second half of the 18th century, the printed newspaper had grown into a four page issue, each page with four columns. It was the prototype of today’s newspaper. It featured (contained) advertisements, employment announcements, reviews and information on concerts, books, fashion. There were also letters to the editor, gossip and long reports of overseas news. A very important function of the paper was the reporting of debates from the Houses of Parliament (“the Journals”) conceded in 1771.

The Spectator, written by Steele and Addison, was published until 1714 (555 issues altogether).
It was devoid of political news and strictly neutral between the Whigs and the Tories. This decision proved to be less dangerous and more profitable for the authors, favouring a larger circulation of the paper. The Spectator was an extremely innovative publication; it was enormously influential, not only in the content of its speculations on aesthetics, literary style, and urban life, but also as a medium. It, along with The Tatler, inaugurated the tradition of the daily periodical whose subject was not news, but literature and manners, and they adapted the gentlemanly culture of polite letters to a wide print audience. For scholars studying the relation between commerce and culture or the emergence of what Jurgen Habermas has called the 'bourgeois public sphere,' the work of Addison and Steele is seminal. Moreover, the periodical in general has recently become a great source of interest for literary scholars and academics working on 'the history of the book.'

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