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The Spectator was a daily publication founded by Joseph Addison and Richard Steele in England, lasting from 1711 to 1712. Each "paper", or "number", was approximately 2,500 words long, and the original run consisted of 555 numbers, beginning on 1 March 1711. These were collected into seven volumes. The paper was revived without the involvement of Steele in 1714, appearing thrice weekly for six months, and these papers when collected formed the eighth volume. Eustace Budgell, a cousin of Addison's, also contributed to the publication.
The stated goal of The Spectator 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" (No. 10). It recommended that its readers "consider it part of the tea-equipage" (No. 10) and not leave the house without reading it in the morning. One of its functions was to provide readers with educated, topical talking points, and advice in how to carry on conversations and social interactions in a polite manner. In keeping with the values of Enlightenment philosophies of their time, the authors of The Spectator promoted family, marriage, and courtesy.
Despite a modest daily circulation of approximately 3,000 copies, The Spectator was widely read; Joseph Addison estimated that each number was read by 60,000 Londoners, about a tenth of the capital's population at the time. Contemporary historians and literary scholars, meanwhile, do not consider this to be an unreasonable claim; most readers were not themselves subscribers but patrons of one of the subscribing coffeehouses. These readers came from many stations in society, but the paper catered principally to the interests of England's emerging middle class—merchants and traders large and small.
Jürgen Habermas sees The Spectator as instrumental in the "structural transformation of the public sphere" which England saw in the 18th century. He argues that this transformation came about because of, and in the interests of, the middle class. Although The Spectator declares itself to be politically neutral, it was widely recognised as promoting Whig values and interests.
The Spectator was also popular and widely read in the late 18th and 19th century. It was sold in eight-volume editions. Its prose style, and its marriage of morality and advice with entertainment, were considered exemplary. The decline in its popularity has been discussed by Brian McCrea and C. S. Lewis.
One of the principal conceits of The Spectator is its fictional narrator, Mr. Spectator. The first number is dedicated to his life story. Mr. Spectator speaks very little, communicating mainly through facial gestures. His unassuming profile enables him to circulate widely throughout society and fulfill his position as "spectator". He comments on the habits, foibles, and social faux pas of his fellow citizens. He also notes the irony of his volubility in prose compared to his taciturnity in daily life.
The second number of The Spectator introduces the members of the "Spectator Club", Mr. Spectator's close friends. This forms a cast of secondary characters which The Spectator can draw on in its stories and examples of social conduct. In order to foster an inclusive ethos, they are drawn from many different walks of life. The best known of these characters is Sir Roger de Coverley, an English squire of Queen Anne's reign. He exemplified the values of an old country gentleman, and was portrayed as lovable but somewhat ridiculous, making his Tory politics seem harmless but silly. Will Honeycomb is a "rake" who "is very ready at that sort of discourse with which men usually entertain women". (No. 2) He is reformed near the end of The Spectator when he marries. Andrew Freeport is a merchant, and the club also includes a general and a priest.