Joseph Addison, born in Wiltshire, England in 1672. Along with his friend Richard Steele, Addison was an essayist for The Tatler, a newspaper that covered London’s political and social elite.
When The Tatler ceased production in 1711, Steele and Addison formed The Spectator, with the intent to “enliven Morality with Wit, and to temper Wit with Morality.” The Spectator offered a single, long essay every day but Sunday, on subjects ranging from fashion to literary criticism.
It was narrated by the fictitious Mr. Spectator, whose “Spectator’s Club” included a cast of characters to entertain, comment on affairs of the day, and teach moral lessons.
The most memorable of these characters was Sir Roger de Coverly who has been described as follows:
“No character in our literature, not even Mr Pickwick has more endeared himself to successive generations of readers than Addison’s Sir Roger de Coverley: there are many figures in drama and fiction of whom we feel that they are in a way personal friends of our own, that once introduced to us they remain a permanent part of our little world.
It is the abiding glory of Dickens, it is one of Shakespeare’s abiding glories, to have created many such: but we look to find these characters in the novel or the play: the essay by virtue of its limitations of space is unsuited for character-studies.
But here before the birth of the modern English novel we have a full-length portrait of such a character as we have described, in addition to a number of other more sketchy but still convincing delineations of English types.
We are brought into the society of a fine old-fashioned country gentleman, simple, generous, and upright, with just those touches of whimsicality and those lovable faults which go straight to our hearts: and all so charmingly described that these Essays have delighted all who have read them since they first began to appear on the breakfast-tables of the polite world in Queen Anne’s day.”
One of the paper’s biggest fans was Benjamin Franklin, who admitted in his autobiography that he had modeled his prose after Addison’s essays.