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536 On Knotting
THERE would be something manifestly incongruous in prefixing a laboured introduction to what, in the first conception, was so airy, brilliant, and unexpected, as the great majority of Addison's papers in the Spectator. The kind humourist throughout the series studied the delectation of his readers; and we shall humbly endeavour to imitate his example in what of prefatory matter we have here to submit,—at any rate, to be as little wearisome as possible.
The Spectator, as is well known, grew out of the Tatler. Richard Steele, the descendant probably of some Cromwellian soldier or adventurer, installed by that victorious Vandal in the possession of an expelled Irish native, but bearing in his nature evident cross-threads of the joyous, reckless, imaginative, Hibernian character, having charge of the Government Gazette under the Whig ministry, while the great war in Spain and Flanders was going on, thought it a good opportunity for trying a fresh literary venture. Captain Steele's success with the pen had not hitherto been great. His Christian Hero, though most commendable and moral, was felt to be somewhat dry; on the whole the public preferred, when in want of a sermon, to go to the 'great and good' Archbishop Tillotson for it, or to Dr. South, or Baxter, or some other recognized divine, rather than to the captain of a marching regiment. His plays again, the Conscious Lovers,' the “Tender Husband, and the 'Lying Lover,' while free from that grossness which then, for the most part, in spite of Jeremy Collier's invectives, had possession of the stage, were without that brilliancy of dialogue and that skilful entanglement of plot, which might have commanded interest and enchained attention, even though coarser stimulants were wanting. Impecunious and improvident, and
1 The name occurs in the list of adventurers who advanced money in 1649 for the Irish expedition: see Prendergast's Cromwellian Settlement, 2nd edit.
given to borrowing, Steele was always in a state of financial embarrassment; and now there seemed to present itself, thanks to his official position, a chance which his racy Irish humour might improve to his permanent advantage. Many other papers,weekly, tri-weekly, or daily, were being circulated in town; it was the year of Malplaquet; rumours of war and negociation filled the air; and the public mind was in that eager and excited condition which made it ready to entertain and hear all appeals to its judgment, though of the most various origin and nature. Steele gave to his new paper the name of “The Tatler,' meaning that it was for the reading of all companies and ordinary societies of men and women; he ascribed its authorship to • Isaac Bickerstaff,' because that was the assumed name under which Swift had issued his Predictions for the year 1708, which, with the various other satirical pieces suggested by the fury of poor Partridge the almanack-maker (who found his trade of charlatan taken out of his hands by this master of mystification), and published under the same name of Bickerstaff, had, as Steele says, 'rendered it famous through all parts of Europe.' Poor Steele was always thinking of and working for a reformation of society, but never succeeded in making an effectual beginning with himself. “Arrest thyself,' says Carlyle, 'out of the number of the fools and dastards;' then there will at least be one less. Steele ardently desired to stop all the men and women whom he saw around him from falling into the snares of folly and vice; at the same time he could not cure himself of a sad propensity to drink, a trick of muddling away his money, and a generally dissipated and irregular mode of existence. In the Tatler he proposed to give his advices and reflections' to mankind three times a week, on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays. There was to be in it something which may be of entertainment to the fair sex;' and according to the nature of the subjects treated, the place of writing was to vary; poetry and criticism were to be dated from Will's coffee house, Covent Garden; learning from the Grecian in the Strand; 'accounts of gallantry, pleasure, and entertainment’ from White's in St. James' Street; foreign and domestic news from St. James' in the same street; and papers on any other subject from my own apartment.'1
1 Preface to Vol. I of the Tatler.