English Essays: Sidney to Macaulay. The Harvard Classics. 190914.
Sir Richard Steele
SIR RICHARD STEELE (16721729), Addisons chief collaborator in the Tatler and the Spectator, was born in Dublin of an English father and an Irish mother. He made Addisons acquaintance at school, and they were at Oxford together. Steele left the University to enter the army, and opened his literary career, while still a soldier, with The Christian Hero. In 1702 he began to write for the stage, and was of notable influence in redeeming the English drama from the indecency which had marked much of it since the Restoration. Like Addison, he combined politics with literature, and in 1715 was knighted as a reward for his services to the Hanoverian party.
The chief glory of the Spectator is, of course, the club, and it was in the essay which follows that Steele first sketched the characters composing it. The Spectator himself was Addisons creation, and Addison also elaborated Sir Roger, though Steele originated him. Whatever may be the respective claims of Addison and Steele to the credit for the success of the Spectator, it is to Steele that the honor belongs of having founded its predecessor, the Tatler, and so of originating the periodical essay.
Steele was a warm-hearted, impulsive man, full of sentiment, improvident, and somewhat weak of will. These qualities are reflected in his writings, which are inferior to Addisons in grace and finish, but are marked by greater spontaneity and invention. Probably no piece of writing of equal length has added so many portraits to the gallery of our literature as the first sketch of the Spectator Club which is here printed.