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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.
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 device provides the authors with a cast of secondary characters to be drawn on in stories and examples of social conduct. In order to foster an inclusive ethos, the club members 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 exemplifies the values of an old country gentleman, and is 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.
In Number 10, Mr. Spectator states that The Spectator will aim "to enliven morality with wit, and to temper wit with morality". He hopes it will be said he has "brought philosophy out of closets and libraries, schools, and colleges, to dwell in clubs and assemblies, at tea-tables and coffee–houses". He recommends that readers of the paper consider it "as a part of the tea-equipage" and set aside time to read it each morning. The Spectator sought to provide readers with topics for well-reasoned discussion, and to equip them to carry on conversations and engage in 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.
"The Spectator" also had many readers in the American colonies. In particular, James Madison read the paper avidly as a teenager. It is said to have had a big influence on his world view, lasting throughout his long life. 
Jürgen Habermas sees The Spectator as instrumental in the formation of the public sphere in 18th century England. Although The Spectator declares itself to be politically neutral, it was widely recognised as promoting Whig values and interests.
The Spectator continued to be popular and widely read in the late 18th and 19th centuries. 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.