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"This is a splendid project. No other collection of its scope and variety exists."—James Engell, Harvard University
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From the pens of spectators, ramblers, idlers, tattlers, hypochondriacs, connoisseurs, and loungers, a new literary genre emerged in eighteenth-century England: the periodical essay. Situated between classical rhetoric and the novel, the English essay challenged the borders between fiction and nonfiction prose and helped forge the tastes and values of an emerging middle class.
This authoritative anthology is the first to gather in one volume the consummate periodical essays of the period. Included are the Spectator cofounders Joseph Addison and Richard Steele, literary lion Samuel Johnson, and Romantic recluse Thomas De Quincey, addressing a wide variety of topics from the oddities of virtuosos to the private lives of parrots and the fantastic horrors of opium dreams.
In a lively and informative introduction, Denise Gigante situates the essayists in the context of the contemporary Republic of Letters and highlights the stylistic innovations and conventions that distinguish the periodical essay as a literary form. Critical notes on the essays, a chronology, descriptions and a map of key London sites, and a glossary of eighteenth-century English terms complete the anthology—a uniquely pleasurable survey of the golden era of British essays.
“Denise Gigante’s volume of the major English familiar essayists is the best available. She covers the entire range from Addison and Steele through the greatness of Dr. Johnson onto the high Romantics Hazlitt, Lamb, and de Quincey. This book will be widely and gratefully read.”—Harold Bloom
SWASHBUCKLING SIR RICHARD STEELE was the man behind the mask of Isaac Bickerstaff, Esq., a fictional elderly gentleman with a propensity for moralizing who served as the mouthpiece for the first of the great English literary periodicals, The Tatler. The paper ran three times weekly as a folio-sized broadside from 12 April 1709 through 2 January 1711. The penname Bickerstaff was taken from Jonathan Swift, who adopted it in his satires on his contemporary, the astronomer John Partridge. Steele, having abandoned a career in the British Army, took up the name for the first of his literary poses. In "The Round Table," William Hazlitt would later look back fondly on Steele's Bickerstaff as "a gentleman and a scholar, a humourist and a man of the world; with a great deal of nice easy naïvité about him. If he walks out and is caught in a shower of rain, he makes us amends for this unlucky accident, by a criticism on the shower in Virgil, and concludes with a burlesque copy of verses on a city-shower." Bickerstaff vividly portrays life in London during the reign of Queen Anne: an age of full-bottomed periwigs, rustling hoops, and paste shoe buckles, in which the middleclasses were gaining increased socioeconomic power and the arts were once again beginning to flourish.
Steele made his mark on the intellectual life of the Enlightenment through his association with leading wits, poets, playwrights, and "pretty fellows," whose contributions he solicited for his journalistic ventures. After The Tatler wound down, he founded The Spectator, which ran every day but Sunday from 1 March 1711 through 6 December 1712 (and again thrice weekly from 18 July through 20 December 1714), setting the pattern for the English periodical essay and spawning numerous copycats throughout the century. Steele invented the members of the Spectator's Club, including the famous Sir Roger de Coverly, whom Addison fleshed out with loving care. In the lull between the old and new Spectators, Steele devoted his energies to political criticism and published The Guardian in collaboration with Addison, from March through September 1713. That same year he became a Whig member of Parliament, where he engaged in political controversy with Swift, the leading Tory spokesman. Although expelled in March 1714 by his political rivals (for seditious libel in pamphlets he had refused to publish anonymously), he returned within six months under the Hanoverian monarchy. After being knighted by George I and having produced his last great work, The Conscious Lovers (1722), Steele retired in poverty to Wales, birthplace of his recently deceased wife Mary Scurlock ("dear Prue"). With its many reversals, his colorful life reflects the exciting and volatile world in which he lived.
Selections are from The Lucubrations of Isaac Bickerstaff, Esq. (London, 1710-11).
The Tatler No. 1. [Introducing the Tatler] By Isaac Bickerstaff, Esq.
Quicquid agunt Homines nostri Farrago Libelli.
TUESDAY, APRIL 12, 1709.
Though the other Papers which are published for the use of the good people of England, have certainly very wholesome effects, and are laudable in their particular kinds, they do not seem to come up to the main design of such narrations, which, I humbly presume, should be principally intended for the use of politic persons, who are so public-spirited as to neglect their own affairs to look into transactions of State. Now these gentlemen, for the most part, being men of strong zeal, and weak intellects; it is both a charitable and necessary work to offer something, whereby such worthy and well-affected members of the commonwealth may be instructed, after their reading, what to think: which shall be the end and purpose of this my Paper, wherein I shall from time to time report and consider all matters of what kind soever that shall occur to me, and publish such my advices and reflections every Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday in the week, for the convenience of the Post. It is also resolved by me to have something which may be of entertainment to the fair sex, in honour of whom I have taken the title of this Paper. I therefore earnestly desire all persons, without distinction, to take it in for the present gratis, and hereafter at the price of one penny, forbidding all hawkers to take more for it at their peril. And I desire all persons to consider, that I am at a very great charge for proper materials for this work, as well as that before I resolved upon it, I had settled a correspondence in all parts of the known and knowing World: and forasmuch as this globe is not trodden upon by mere drudges of business only, but that men of spirit and genius are justly to be esteemed as considerable agents in it, we shall not upon a dearth of news, present you with musty foreign edicts, or dull proclamations, but shall divide our relation of the passages which occur in action or discourse throughout this Town, as well as elsewhere, under such dates or places as may prepare you for the matter you are to expect, in the following manner:
All accounts of Gallantry, Pleasure, and Entertainment, shall be under the article of White's Chocolate-house; Poetry, under that of Will's Coffeehouse; Learning, under the Title of Graecian; Foreign and Domestic News, you will have from St. James's Coffee-house; and what else I shall on any other subject offer, shall be dated from my own Apartment.
I once more desire my Reader to consider, that as I cannot keep an ingenious man to go daily to Will's, under twopence each day merely for his charges; to White's, under sixpence; nor to the Graecian, without allowing him some plain Spanish, to be as able as others at the learned table; and that a good observer cannot speak with even Kidney at St. James's without clean linen. I say, these considerations will, I hope, make all persons willing to comply with my humble request (when my gratis stock is exhausted) of a penny a-piece; especially since they are sure of some proper amusement, and that it is impossible for me to want means to entertain 'em, having, besides the helps of my own parts, the power of divination, and that I can, by casting a figure, tell you all that will happen before it comes to pass.
But this last faculty I shall use very sparingly, and not speak of any thing till it is passed, for fear of divulging matters which may offend our superiors.
WHITE'S CHOCOLATE-HOUSE, APRIL 7.
The deplorable condition of a very pretty Gentleman, who walks here at the hours when men of quality first appear, is what is very much lamented. His history is, that on the 9th of September, 1705, being in his one and twentieth year, he was washing his teeth at a tavern-window in Pall-mall, when a fine equipage passed by, and in it a young Lady who looked up at him; away goes the coach, and the young Gentleman pulled off his nightcap, and instead of rubbing his gums, as he ought to do, out of the window till about four a clock, he sits him down, and spoke not a word till twelve at night; after which, he began to enquire, If any body knew the Lady-the company asked, What Lady? But he said no more till they broke up at six in the morning. All the ensuing winter he went from church to church every Sunday, and from playhouse to playhouse all the week, but could never find the original of the picture which dwelt in his bosom. In a word, his attention to any thing but his passion, was utterly gone. He has lost all the money he ever played for, and been confuted in every argument he has entered upon since the moment he first saw her. He is of a noble family, has naturally a very good air, and is of a frank, honest temper: but this passion has so extremely mauled him, that his features are set and uninformed, and his whole visage is deadened by a long absence of thought. He never appears in any alacrity, but when raised by wine; at which time he is sure to come hither, and throw away a great deal of wit on fellows, who have no sense further than just to observe, That our poor Lover has most understanding when he's drunk, and is least in his senses when he's sober.
FROM MY OWN APARTMENT.
I am very sorry I am obliged to trouble the Public with so much discourse upon a matter which I at the very first mentioned as a trifle, viz. the death of Mr. Partridge, under whose name there is an Almanack come out for the year 1709. In one page of which it is asserted by the said John Partridge, That he is still living, and not only so, but that he was also living some time before, and even at the instant when I writ of his death. I have in another place, and in a Paper by itself, sufficiently convinced this man that he is dead, and if he has any shame, I don't doubt but that by this time he owns it to all his acquaintance: for though the legs and arms, and whole body of that man may still appear and perform their animal functions; yet since, as I have elsewhere observed, his art is gone, the man is gone. I am, as I said, concerned, that this little matter should make so much noise; but since I am engaged, I take myself obliged in honour to go on in my lucubrations, and by the help of these arts of which I am master, as well as my penetration in astrological speculations, I shall, as I see occasion, proceed to confute other dead men, who pretend to be in being, that they are actually deceased. I therefore give all men fair warning to mend their manners, for I shall from time to time print Bills of Mortality; and I beg the pardon of all such who shall be named therein, if they who are good for nothing shall find themselves in the number of the deceased.
12 April 1709
No. 60. [Tom Wildair &c.]
WHITE'S CHOCOLATE HOUSE, AUGUST 26.
To proceed regularly in the history of my worthies, I ought to give you an account of what has passed from day to day in this place; but a young fellow of my acquaintance has so lately been rescued out of the hands of the Knights of the Industry, that I rather choose to relate the manner of his escape from 'em, and the uncommon way which was used to reclaim him, than to go on in my intended diary.
You are to know then, that Tom Wildair is a student of the Inner Temple, and has spent his time, since he left the University for that place, in the common diversions of men of fashion; that is to say, in whoring, drinking, and gaming. The two former vices he had from his father; but was led into the last by the conversation of a partizan of the Mirmidons who had chambers near him. His allowance from his father was a very plentiful one for a man of sense, but very scanty for a modern fine gentleman. His frequent losses had reduced him to so necessitous a condition, that his lodgings were always haunted by impatient creditors, and all his thoughts employed in contriving low methods to support himself, in a way of life from which he knew not how to retreat, and in which he wanted means to proceed. There is never wanting some good-natured person to send a man an account of what he has no mind to hear; therefore many epistles were conveyed to the father of this extravagant, to inform him of the company, the pleasures, the distresses, and entertainments, in which his son passed his time. The old fellow received these advices with all the pain of a parent, but frequently consulted his pillow to know how to behave himself on such important occasions, as [to] the welfare of his son, and the safety of his fortune. After many agitations of mind, he reflected, that necessity was the usual snare which made men fall into meanness, and that a liberal fortune generally made a liberal and honest mind; he resolved therefore to save him from his ruin by giving him opportunities of tasting what it is to be at ease, and enclosed to him the following order upon Sir Tristram Cash:
Pray pay to Mr. Tho. Wildair, or order, the sum of one thousand pounds, and place it to the account of
Yours, Humphrey Wildair."
Tom was so astonished at the receipt of this order, that though he knew it to be his father's hand, and knew he had always large sums at Sir Tristram's; yet a thousand pounds was a trust of which his conduct had always made him appear so little capable, that he kept his note by him, till he writ to his father the following letter:
I have received an order under your hand for a thousand pounds in words at length, and I think I could swear it is your hand. I have looked it over and over twenty thousand times. There is in plain letters, T,H,O,U,S,A,N,D; and after it, the letters, P,O,U,N,D,S. I have it still by me, and shall, I believe, continue reading it till I hear from you."
The old Gentleman took no manner of notice of the receipt of his letter; but sent him another order for three thousand pounds more. His amazement on this second letter was unspeakable. He immediately double-locked his door, and sat down carefully to reading and comparing both his orders. After he had read 'em till he was half mad, he walked six or seven turns in his chamber, then opens his door, then locks it again; and to examine thoroughly this matter, he locks his door again, puts his table and chairs against it; then goes into his closet, and locking himself in, read his notes over again about nineteen times, which did but increase his astonishment. Soon after, he began to recollect many stories he had formerly heard of persons who had been possessed with imaginations and appearances which had no foundation in Nature, but had been taken with sudden madness in the midst of a seeming clear and untainted Reason. This made him very gravely conclude he was out of his wits; and with a design to compose himself, he immediately betakes him to his night cap, with a resolution to sleep himself into his former poverty and senses. To bed therefore he goes at noon-day, but soon rose again, and resolved to visit Sir Tristram upon this occasion. He did so, and dined with the knight, expecting he would mention some advice from his father about paying him money; but no such thing being said; Look you, Sir Tristram, (said he) you are to know, that an affair has happened, which--Look you, (says Tristram) I know Mr. Wildair, you are going to desire me to advance; but the late call of the bank, where I have not yet made my last payment, has obliged me--Tom interrupted him, by showing him the bill of a thousand pounds. When he had looked at it for a convenient time, and as often surveyed Tom's looks and countenance; Look you, Mr. Wildair, a thousand pounds--Before he could proceed, he shows him the order for three thousand more--Sir Tristram examined the orders at the light, and finding at the writing the name, there was a certain stroke in one letter, which the father and he had agreed should be to such directions as he desired might be more immediately honoured, he forthwith pays the money. The possession of four thousand pounds gave my young gentleman a new train of thoughts: he began to reflect upon his birth, the great expectations he was born to, and the unsuitable ways he had long pursued. Instead of that unthinking creature he was before, he is now provident, generous, and discreet. The father and son have an exact and regular correspondence, with mutual and unreserved confidence in each other. The son looks upon his father as the best tenant he could have in the Country, and the father finds the son the most safe banker he could have in the City.
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