«Spectator»-Type Periodicals in International Perspective

Enlightened Moral Journalism in Europe and North America

by Misia Sophia Doms (Volume editor)
©2020 Conference proceedings 484 Pages


As soon as the Spectator model spread from England to continental Europe and began to be incorporated in French, Dutch and German translations and adaptions, the respective journalistic networks and negotiations regularly exceeded local, regional, and even national boundaries and took on international dimensions. The contributions of the present volume outline the historical development and the intricate literary, artistic, journalistic and scientific communication and distribution networks of the moral weeklies and periodical essays inspired by the Spectator prototype in Europe and North America. Thus, these periodicals become visible as parts and products of ramified learned and creative negotiations on genres, writing techniques and topics.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title Page
  • Copyright Page
  • Preface
  • About the editor
  • About the book
  • Citability of the eBook
  • Contents
  • The European Spectatorial Press in English
  • Case Study: Cosmopolitanism, National Character, and Spectatorship.
  • The Spectatorial Press in Dutch
  • The Spectatorial Press in French
  • The Late Period of French Spectatorial Writing
  • The Spectatorial Press in Spanish
  • The Spectatorial Press in Italian.
  • Case Study: The Intercultural Dimension of Antonio Piazza’s Gazzetta urbana veneta
  • The Spectatorial Press in German-Speaking Switzerland
  • The Spectatorial Press from the Holy Roman Empire.
  • The Early Spectatorial Press from the Area of Today’s Germany and Neighbouring Regions
  • The Late Spectatorial Press from the Area of Today’s Germany and Neighbouring Regions
  • The Spectatorial Press and the Spectator Offshoots from the Habsburg Hereditary Lands, from the Prince-Archbishopric of Salzburg and from the Kingdom of Hungary
  • The Spectatorial Press from the Kingdom of Bohemia
  • The Spectatorial Press from the Kingdom of Poland
  • The Spectatorial Press from the Russian Empire
  • The Spectatorial Press from Riga
  • The Spectatorial Press from the Kingdom of Denmark-Norway
  • Case Study: No Particular Place to go. Allegorical Devices in Jens Schelderup Sneedorff’s Den patriotiske Tilskuer
  • The Spectatorial Press from the Kingdom of Sweden
  • The Periodical Essay and the Newspaper in 18th-Century British America
  • A Case Study from Canada
  • Index of Proper Names
  • Index of Periodicals

Rebecca Røilid Vollan (Trondheim and Bergen)

The European Spectatorial Press in English General Survey and Case Study on the Female Space in The Spectator and The Female Spectator

Abstract: This paper explores the historical background of the influential Spectator model, its main characteristics and its impact on later periodical publications. Another special focus is on the extent of thefemale spacein The Spectator’s literary public sphere compared to a periodical of the Spectator model written by a woman for women, namely The Female Spectator.

Keywords: English Spectator-type periodicals, readers’ letters, female readers

Joseph Addison’s and Richard Steele’s extraordinary influence on the periodical genre is undisputed within literary history. Robert Donald Mayo has argued that few periodical writers for a generation after Addison and Steele ventured to introduce new narrative forms or extend the boundaries of the old ones.1 Steele’s and Addison’s cooperation in publishing The Spectator (1711–1712) became most influential.2 If later eighteenth-century periodical writers were not “Spectators”, “they were”, as Mayo correctly notes, “nothing at all”.3 The characteristics of the Spectator model would not only have a large influence on later periodical writers in England, but also on journalists and authors working overseas. It became a prototype for essay writing, and a vehicle for the publication of readers’ letters, which will be given a closer look below. In a first step, however, the present paper will deal with the historical background of the Spectator model, its characteristics and its impact on later periodical publications written in English.

Historical background

The Spectator emerged as a result of a series of changes in the British literary press. The restrictions placed upon the literary market laid the foundation for the genre, but they were also arguably the cause of the gradual demise of the essay-periodical invented by Steele and Addison in the 1730s. From then on, the ←13 | 14→magazine would be the most popular periodical publication, and the traits of the Spectator model would be carried on into new literary and journalistic forms.

According to John Brewer, the breakdown of governmental controls during the Wars of the Three Kingdoms (1639–1651) and the Interregnum (1649–1660) fostered the appearance of a multitude of periodical publications. With the Restoration beginning in 1660, conditions of publication became far more restrictive. The Licensing Act of 1662 placed the press under the supervision of a series of licensers. In 1684, the Stationers’ Company was granted a royal charter and a monopoly on printing. Printing was restricted to 20 master printers from the Company, each of whom was allocated a set number of presses.4 The Licensing Act of 1662 also included a system of pre-publication censorship.5 In 1695, however, the Licensing Act was allowed to lapse; simultaneously, the Stationers’ Company lost their monopoly.6 Printing conditions prior to 1695 were, in other words, quite restricted in terms of periodical publication. When the Licensing Act lapsed, several non-official newspapers and periodicals appeared. The system of pre-publication censorship, however, must arguably have limited the amount and types of publications in circulation. The lapse, or failure to renew the act, could perhaps be called a legislative accident that resulted in a relative freedom of the press where pre-publication censorship was abolished. It did, however, not remove government control entirely, nor did it create a completely free printing environment. Even without having to submit publications to censorship prior to publication, authors and publishers could still be sued after the fact for blasphemy, obscenity or seditious libel.7

Over the course of the following years, the British literary press expanded steadily. Richmond Pugh Bond has estimated that there were 66 periodicals available in the British Isles in 1711, compared to 90 periodicals in 1750 and 140 periodicals in 1775.8 This multitude of new periodical publications and the impression of a relatively free press were not necessarily welcomed. Bob Harris has stated that “as London was deluged in controversial print, demand[s]; for censorship to be imposed were commonplace”.9 This demand for censorship was arguably aimed towards periodical hack writers who were “paid to inflame ←14 | 15→and perpetuate party squabbles”.10 Literary journalism was thus, to some extent, increasingly associated with hack writers.

The Spectator sought to distance itself from political hack writers by promoting moral reform and, in doing so, created a new literary model which would greatly influence later periodical publications. However, by the mid-eighteenth century, several Stamp Acts had been introduced, making it more profitable to publish longer publications. This, according to Michael Harris, shifted the ownership of London papers away from individual printer entrepreneurs to large groups of shareholding booksellers.11 The essay-periodical was thus replaced by the magazine genre, but the new genre kept many of the characteristics of the Spectator model.

The characteristics of The Spectator model

The Spectator model had several characteristic traits, which would be copied by later essay-periodicals and magazines. The model set by The Spectator became known for its use of an editorial persona, its aim of moral reform, its use of a society of writers, and for the inclusion of reader correspondence. The Spectator’s predecessor, The Tatler (1709–1711),12 was Richard Steele’s first essay-periodical. It introduced the notion of an editorial persona, a fictional character that is seemingly both the author and editor of the periodical’s essays. The editorial persona offered the actual authors of the periodical protection from personal criticism. The editorial persona was also a humorous character who used observations on contemporary society as a way of reforming the morals of said society through humour and thus provided readers with a mix of entertainment and moral instruction.

The essays of The Tatler’s editorial persona, Isaac Bickerstaff, and that of The Spectator’s, Mr Spectator, both represent great examples of this mixture of moral instruction and entertainment. The editorial persona would acquaint readers with his character in one of the first issues to assure them of his moral credibility and, thus, his suitability as a moral commentator. The readership of The Spectator is introduced to the periodical’s editorial persona in its very first issue. Mr Spectator is characterised as a shy and silent figure from a good family. He is admitted in to most social circles but remains silent among almost all of them. In his own words, he claims that “where-ever I see a Cluster of People I always mix ←15 | 16→with them, tho’ I never open my Lips but in my own club. Thus I live in the world, rather as a Spectator of Mankind, than as one of the Species”.13

Mr Spectator thus declares himself a spectator of mankind. His life-long silent observations render him qualified to comment and judge on the manners and morals of contemporary society. The editorial persona of the Spectator model moral periodical must consequently possess certain characteristics that make him or her qualified as a moral commentator.

The second influential trait of the Spectator model was introduced by Richard Steele and Joseph Addison in The Spectator through the invention of the Spectator Club. The Spectator was not presented as being written by one single editorial persona, but rather by a society of readers and writers. Mr Spectator may have been considered the editor of the paper, but he often allowed other members of the Spectator Club or reader correspondents to publish essays. In issue no. 2, Mr Spectator describes the six members of the Spectator Club, who seem to represent the different levels of early eighteenth-century society.14 The gentry, the merchant class, practitioners of law, the clergy and the military are all represented by one member of the Club, which suggests an attempt to create a type of literary microcosm where different interests are represented fairly and can be put up against each other.

This is particularly visible with regard to two of the Club’s members, namely Sir Roger de Coverly and Sir Andrew Freeport. Sir Roger de Coverly is a Baronet of ancient descent from Worcestershire. He represents the conservative landed gentry and is clearly a Tory. The name Freeport, on the other hand, suggests an interest in liberal trade policies that benefit his business interests. Freeport’s profession suggests that he is a member of the rising class of Whig merchants,15 whose interests stood in opposition to the Tories’. The Spectator Club thus provided Richard Steele, a Whig politician, with the opportunity to write about Whig issues whilst also allowing room for dissenting views. The Spectator could thus avoid being accused of breaching its supposed political neutrality.

The final characteristic trait of The Spectator model is its inclusion of reader correspondence. Based on my reading of The Spectator, I have concluded that 287 out of 633 issues of the periodical consisted partly or completely of letters to the editor. Correspondents would send in letters asking for love advice, or else complain about the immorality of contemporary society; sometimes, they ←16 | 17→would even include essays which they wished to see published in the periodical. These letters would mainly address the editor but would sometimes refer to other correspondents’ letters as well. The Spectator thus created a new type of periodical reader: The reader was transformed from a passive receiver of the essay-periodical’s content into an active participant engaging with and responding to the essays and letters of other correspondents. Iona Italia has argued that the reader correspondence of The Spectator represented the beginnings of an inter-reader sociability where readers who were interested in the views and writings of other correspondents used the periodical to communicate with each other.16 This inter-reader sociability suggests that The Spectator allotted correspondents quite an extensive space to express themselves.

The impact of the Spectator model

It is difficult to overestimate the influence the Spectator model has had both on British and international periodical publications. When consulting the ESTC’s records of printed editions of the bound version of The Spectator, we find that the essay-periodical went through 81 editions and that it had already stayed in print for 88 years by 1801.17 We may therefore assume that The Spectator accumulated a large readership over time. Its presence and availability may perhaps explain its lasting impact and influence on later periodical publications. Although it must be taken into account that the ESTC’s records may not be one hundred per cent accurate due to potentially missing editions, I think we may safely assume that the large number of editions of The Spectator on record proves that the periodical had a large and lasting readership. The main characteristics of the Spectator model inspired and perhaps even constricted later essay-periodicals to conform to said model. As the editorial persona of the Prompter (1734–1736),18 a magazine written by Aaron Hill and William Popple, states:

Custom has made it necessary for a Writer, who aims at the Entertainment or Instruction of his Readers […] to assume a Character, either illustrious or obscure, either heroic or ludicrous; to express the common Intention better, such a Character as is most able to excite Curiosity, raise Mirth, and procure Attention.19

←17 | 18→

This declaration may suggest that the use of an editorial persona had become so ingrained into the model of essay-periodicals that it would have been positively unthinkable to write one without including such a persona, and that the editorial persona had to evoke interest and curiosity in the reader. Richard J. Squibbs has stated that “between 1709 and 1750, 33 essay-periodicals appeared who more or less directly imitated the Spectator model”.20 Imitators of the Spectator model can, for example, be identified by studying George Simpson Marr’s list of periodical publications in the 18th century. Even a brief examination of the list21 reveals several periodicals that are reminiscent of either The Tatler or The Spectator, for example The Censor (1715),22 The Wanderer (1717)23 and The Female Spectator (1744–1746).24

Many of the characteristics of The Female Spectator are inspired by the Spectator model. The periodical was written by the well-known novelist Eliza Haywood and was published anonymously by Thomas Gardner in 24 monthly “books” of about sixty-four octavo pages each between April 1744 and May 1746.25 The periodical was clearly inspired by The Spectator in terms of its title and its use of a framework of a society of writers. The title suggests a wish to show conformity to the Spectator model, but perhaps also to underline a familial bond between the two periodicals. The editorial persona of The Female Spectator states in her first book that she shall introduce her character “in imitation of [her] learned Brother”26 so that the reader may judge her worthy of further reading. The editorial persona declares that she has inherited the role of moral commentator from her brother, Mr Spectator, and is thus attempting to continue in The Spectator’s footsteps. The declared familial bond with The Spectator could arguably be a way of assuring commercial success based on the reputation of The Spectator.

The Female Spectator also replicated The Spectator’s use of a society of writers. The society of writers in The Female Spectator, however, does not represent the different social strata of English society; instead, it incorporates the possible female marital roles of the day, namely a wife, a spinster, a widow and a young maid. These women – supposedly – sometimes write essays in order to help the Female Spectator with her moral judgements.

←18 | 19→

The periodical also includes reader correspondence, but it is not as prevalent here as in The Spectator. Throughout The Female Spectator’s publication, 39 such letters from readers were published, fourteen of which were purportedly written by women. The individual issues of The Female Spectator, however, were much longer than those of The Spectator. Each book was loosely structured as an essay centred on a topic which the editorial persona thought to be important in terms of morality. The moral issue of the essay is often exemplified by a longer fictional story which illustrates the editorial persona’s moral musings. The Female Spectator is thus a good example of how later periodical publications imitated the Spectator model whilst also incorporating new individual traits.

The extent of the female space within The Spectator and The Female Spectator

Within The Spectator’s (1711–1712) 633 issues, 505 letters were written to the editor, some of them by genuine correspondents, others by the ‘editors’ themselves under the guise of fictional correspondents. The periodical’s extensive inclusion of reader correspondence represented a form of public sphere which existed within the literary bounds of the periodical, where its correspondents could participate in public discussion from within their private sphere. The essay-periodical’s literary public sphere is not the same as the bourgeois public sphere described by Jürgen Habermas in his book The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere,27 but rather represents a separate public sphere, which was constrained within the borders of the publication itself and thus accessible only to its readers.

Among the 505 readers’ letters included in The Spectator, 120 can be identified as having been written by women, which would mean that 24 % of the readers’ letters were visibly written by seemingly female correspondents. They are, in other words, not a major group of participants in the public sphere of the essay-periodical. Nevertheless, they are there, which is an important aspect of 18th-century periodical studies that deserves scholarly attention.

According to Sarah Prescott and Jane Spencer, feminist work on 18th-century women has until recently been dominated by a narrative of their progressive exclusion from economic activity and their relocation to a separate domestic realm.28 Scholarly tradition has, consequently, traditionally focussed on the exclusion of women from the public sphere rather than paying attention to ←19 | 20→the places where women were present or where the male and female spheres interlocked. On the following pages, I will therefore attempt to explore the female space in The Spectator compared to a periodical of the Spectator model written specifically by a woman for other women, namely The Female Spectator. I will compare the space allotted to implied female readers in The Spectator’s public sphere to the literary public sphere of The Female Spectator. Afterwards, I shall comment on the extent of the space given to female reader correspondents in The Spectator in comparison to The Female Spectator.

Up until now, feminist scholars studying The Spectator have, like e.g. Kathryn Shevelow, predominantly focussed on the periodical’s “systematic naturalization of a normative, domestic figure”.29 Yet, the analysis of the female readers’ letters to the editor in this essay-periodical tells another story, 49 % of The Spectator’s female correspondence refers to either previous essays written by the editorial persona or else to previous reader correspondence. This prevalence of female engagement with the essay-periodical and its participants arguably constitutes a kind of ‘permission’ or even legitimisation of female participation in the periodical’s literary public sphere. This part of the paper will consequently explore the extent of the space allotted to female readers and participants in the literary public sphere of The Spectator and The Female Spectator.

The best way to determine the role of women as contemporary readers of the periodicals would be to find sources related to contemporary subscription lists, which might ideally contain female names. But even if these lists had survived to the present day, we would still have to keep in mind yet another problem, which is emphasized by Patricia Ann Meyer Spacks: “[f];acts about eighteenth-century readership remain hard to come by”, “since magazines not only appeared periodically but were also collected into annual volumes that libraries might circulate”.30 Against this background, it is very difficult to obtain any reliable information on contemporary readers of The Spectator and The Female Spectator.

One of the few available sources regarding the contemporary readership of The Spectator can be found within its own pages. In its 10th issue, The Spectator claims “that there are already Three Thousand [issues] distributed every Day: So that if I allow Twenty Readers to every Paper, which I look upon as a modest Computation, I may reckon about Threescore thousand Disciples in London and Westminster”.31

←20 | 21→

Initially, the calculation mentioning 60,000 daily readers may seem like an exaggeration in terms of the periodical’s actual readership. Nevertheless, The Spectator’s claim of comprising 3,000 printed copies per issue may, perhaps, not be as unlikely as one might think. Donald Frederic Bond argues that The Spectator used two printing houses that took turns printing The Spectator’s issues. Consequently, each printer would have two days instead of one to print the next issue, and would therefore be able to print at least 3,000 copies per issue.32 We may therefore assume that The Spectator would have been able to print 3,000 copies or more of each issue; however, the mere capability to print large amounts of copies does not necessarily prove that the periodical actually had a large readership.

A major problem in reconstructing the actual number of readers of the Spectator is formed by the fact that reliable contemporary literacy rates are unavailable. According to Brewer, the most reliable estimates of eighteenth-century literacy rates – which, however, are not overly reliable either – assume a general literacy rate of 45 % in 1714 and 60 % in the mid-eighteenth century. For women, the numbers were even lower. It is estimated that, in 1714, 25 % of women could read, while the literacy rate among females had risen to 40 % by the mid-eighteenth century. These general numbers, however, do not take into account social and regional variations. It has been estimated that, in London, female literacy could have risen from 22 % in the 1670s to 66 % in the 1720s.33 In other words, women enjoyed a comparatively high literacy rate in the very city that saw the publication of the greatest number of essay-periodicals. This might arguably suggest that the literate women of London had easy access to essay-periodicals such as The Spectator and The Female Spectator.

However, most scholars acknowledge the unreliability of these (and other) literacy rate estimates. Jacqueline Pearson argues that reliable eighteenth-century literacy rates are unavailable partly because the concept of literacy has been shown to be more slippery than it once seemed. The traditional test, i.e. the ability to sign one’s name, would fail to discover a number of fluent readers among the lower classes because reading was generally taught separately from writing. Literacy rates would also fail to account for readers who were able to be a part of a work’s readership by having the literary work read out loud to them, which was especially important for female readers.34 Due to the lack of creditable ←21 | 22→data on literacy rates and subscription numbers, arguments relating to actual female readers of essay-periodicals based on these numbers may never be more than speculation. We must therefore use a different approach to establish the extent of the periodicals’ female space.

We may not have reliable subscription numbers or literacy rates, but what we do have is the original text which the authors wrote with their respective readership in mind. Since both The Spectator and The Female Spectator were written as a dialogue between the editorial persona and the reader, one may be able to use the original text to determine the space allotted to implied female readers by looking at references made by the editorial persona towards his or her implied readers. One may also find evidence of the extent of the female space in the reader correspondence because it represents the space within the periodicals where the male and female spheres were able to interlock. The types of female voices and topics permitted within the literary public sphere reflect the extent of the female space allowed by the editor as well as his or her perceived implied readers. If one could prove the authenticity of letters to the editor, it would be possible to shed light on the characteristics of actual readers as well.

To this end, I conducted a reading of The Spectator and The Female Spectator which revealed references made towards the implied readers of The Spectator and The Female Spectator, with the aim of establishing the presence of female implied readers in these periodicals. I have also identified the number of female letters to the editor of both periodicals and attempted to evaluate their authenticity. These letters by female correspondents have then been further analysed and categorised in order to establish the extent of the female space within The Spectator and The Female Spectator’s literary public sphere.

The implied readers of The Spectator and The Female Spectator

In the first issue of The Spectator, the editorial persona, Mr Spectator, declares that he has “observed, that a Reader seldom peruses a Book with Pleasure ‘till he knows whether the Writer of it be a black or a fair Man”.35 Mr Spectator implicitly states that the implied reader of the periodical is male, whilst also declaring the importance of the editorial persona’s character regarding the publication’s ultimate readability.

The Spectator’s introduction of the editorial persona is later mimicked by The Female Spectator. At the very start of The Female Spectator’s first issue, the ←22 | 23→editorial persona expresses the hope that “the Reader, on casting his Eye over the four or five first Pages, may judge how far the Book may, or may not be qualified to entertain him, and either accept, or throw it aside as he thinks proper”.36 Although the title suggests that the periodical is aimed at a female audience, the first address towards an implied reader is explicitly towards a male reader. Lynn Marie Wright and Donald J. Newman have stated that there is a general consensus among scholars that Eliza Haywood wrote primarily for women and that The Female Spectator is, therefore, generally considered the first periodical written for women by a woman.37 The fact that the first explicit address, however, was aimed at an implied male reader contradicts the notion of The Female Spectator being primarily written with a female readership in mind.

On the other hand, the address to a male reader could also be interpreted as an attempt to be perceived as a respectable publication by the male audience. In order to be a successful moral weekly in the 18th century, it was essential for the respective periodical to be perceived by its readers as a respectable and morally sound publication. According to contemporary views, the act of reading could have a positive intellectual effect on both male and female readers – therefore, if a piece of literature was immoral, it could potentially corrupt its readers. Reading was considered to have a transformative effect on its readers which impacted men and women differently. Jacqueline Pearson states that “men’s reading was shown to facilitate intellectual development while women’s reading was represented as a physical act, not an intellectual act. Female reading did, in other words, not only have a direct effect on female morals, but also on the female body”.38 The notion of reading as a transformative act might arguably be the reason for the two periodicals’ explicit focus on their editorial persona’s credibility.

Although both periodicals address a male implied reader first by using a male pronoun, they also address a possible female audience later on. In The Spectator’s fourth issue, the editorial persona makes an explicit reference towards women as potential readers by stating that he shall “dedicate a considerable share of [his] Speculations to their Service”.39 He is specifically giving women an important role as implied readers of the periodical, but he also encourages women to partake in the periodical’s discourse by stating that “I shall take it for the greatest Glory of my Work, if among reasonable Women this Paper may furnish Tea-Table talk”.40 ←23 | 24→Here, Mr Spectator explicitly declares, in the initial phase of the periodical and at the same time as its periodical aim is being determined, that women are a part of its implied readership.

We can also see the same development in the first book of The Female Spectator. The next address to the implied reader is made after the topic shifts from the editorial persona’s character to the question of love. The editorial persona primly states that she does not support “such definitions of the Passion as we generally find in Romances, novels and plays”.41 The use of the pronoun “we” suggests a reference to the editorial persona and her implied female readers, but it could also refer to the editorial persona and readers of both genders. This ambiguous reference towards the implied reader fuels the question of whether or not The Female Spectator ought to be considered as a periodical written primarily for female readers.

The first explicit reference to an implied female reader is made a few pages later in the text, when the readiness of young girls to fall in love is not explained “from that Inconstancy of Nature which the Men charge upon our Sex” but is instead ascribed to their “romantic vein”.42 By using the pronoun “our” in talking to girls and young women, the editorial persona reveals that the implied reader is of the same sex as her. Both essay-periodicals are thus arguably aimed at implied readers of both genders.

It is, perhaps, somewhat strange that The Female Spectator’s first reference is towards a male implied reader, especially considering the periodical’s reputation amongst scholars for being the very first periodical primarily written for women. The same can perhaps be said about The Spectator’s early inclusion of women as part of its implied readership. Feminist scholars such as Eve Tavor Bannet have claimed that The Spectator proposed “an ideal of femininity based on patriarchal conceptions of women’s sphere and women’s nature”.43 And yet, would not a patriarchal conception of the female sphere result in the exclusion of women from the periodical’s literary public sphere, and – on the contrary – rather confine them within the domestic and private sphere? Even so, we may assume that, overall, space was given to implied female readers of The Spectator and The Female Spectator.

←24 | 25→

The female reader correspondence of The Spectator and The Female Spectator

The Female Spectator includes significantly less reader correspondence than The Spectator. There were only 39 letters included in the periodical, 14 of which were purportedly written by women. As previously mentioned, 120 out of a total of 505 letters written to the editor of The Spectator can be identified as having been – presumably – penned by women. If one were to count fictional letters composed by female authors as well, such as a letter purportedly composed by Anne Boleyn, the number would increase slightly. The aim of this paper, however, is to trace supposedly real female correspondents; therefore, the clearly fictional letters have been disregarded in accordance with the criterion of authenticity established in the next paragraph. Afterwards, the correspondents’ class status and social backgrounds will be analysed, and finally the letters written by female readers will be examined in a thematic perspective.

Deliberations regarding the authenticity of the reader correspondence in The Spectator and The Female Spectator

When considering the authenticity of the reader correspondence in the two magazines in question, there is significantly more evidence of the existence of authentic letters to the editor within the realm of The Spectator than the The Female Spectator. In 1725, several years after the publication period of The Spectator had come to an end, the perfumer Charles Lillie, with the permission of Richard Steele, issued the book Original and Genuine Letters Sent to the Tatler and Spectator During the Time those Works were publishing. None of which have been before printed, which includes almost three hundred letters, most of them to The Spectator.44 Even though these letters were never published in the original moral periodicals they were intended for, one may assume that – with a grand total of over 500 printed letters to the editor and approximately 300 more unused letters – there may well have been a significant number of real letters printed in The Spectator.

On the other hand, evidence also suggests that Richard Steele and Joseph Addison edited many of the letters before they were printed. Donald Frederic Bond mentions such an example of the editorial practice of rewriting the received letter before publication: A letter published in issue No. 520 of The Spectator is printed without editorial comment, which suggests that the letter was originally ←25 | 26→received in this manner. However, the original letter has been preserved at Blenheim Palace and a comparison of this document and the ‘reader’s letter’ published in The Spectator reveals that the submitted letter was actually rewritten prior to publication. What is more, the author of this piece of writing actually requested the editor of The Spectator to do so.45 One might therefore assume that the letters printed in The Spectator are most likely genuine, but that they may likely have been altered – in accordance with Mr Spectator’s own policies regarding letters of readers sent in for publication, since he openly declares in issue No. 442 his commitment to “adapt[ing] them to the character and Genius of [his] Paper”.46

As far as the authenticity of reader correspondence in The Female Spectator is concerned, any clear evidence is lacking. I am unaware of any published books of unused letters or the survival of any genuine letters to the editor. It is therefore difficult to determine whether the letters are real documents or fictional texts authored by the editor herself. Some scholars have argued the latter point with regard to letters which the editorial persona claims cannot be printed due to their politically controversial nature. Earla Arden Wilputte argues that “some correspondents, especially the political ones whose letters are not printed, are entirely Haywood’s own creations to serve her thematic and rhetorical purposes”.47

However, even assuming that the female correspondence to The Female Spectator was entirely fictional or that the letters from female readers in The Spectator contain significant editorial changes, the inclusion of female correspondents still signifies an allowance of female voices and female space within the periodicals’ literary public sphere.

Considerations regarding the class differences among female correspondents

Female correspondents in The Female Spectator included their address or place of residence in thirteen out of fourteen letters. The addresses of twelve out of those thirteen letters correspond to wealthy areas of central London which were traditionally associated with the gentry and nobility, for example Pall Mall, Kensington and St. James. This social homogeneity suggests that the implied readers of The Female Spectator are genteel upper-class women.

←26 | 27→

The final letter, however, is written by the daughter of a tradesman and is signed Cheapside. The fact that this correspondent comes from a different social sphere than the authors of the other letters may be interpreted in a symbolic way: The letter from a – comparatively poor – tradesman’s daughter is included in the periodical as an example of poor moral behaviour. The contributor seems to tell her story because she wants to prevent others from making the same mistakes as her. She also claims that she is “little qualified to write to a Person of so polite a Taste, much less to appear in Print”,48 which arguably suggests that, in the eyes of contemporary readers, a person from her class and social status ought not to have a voice in print, since she does not share the editorial persona’s ‘polite taste’.

The Cheapside letter also contains a criticism of tradesmen. The correspondent’s father refuses to provide his daughter with an appropriate dowry, preferring instead to keep the money in order to further invest in his business. Without the dowry, the correspondent is unable to marry her gentleman suitor. The correspondent is consequently forced to marry one of her father’s old business partners because the match is beneficial to his business. The father’s fondness of business and money is thus arguably the cause of the young woman’s misery.

Although the female correspondents with noble or genteel backgrounds are not necessarily portrayed as being moral role models either, their social background is always portrayed as a virtuous feature. Nevertheless, the social reality of a wealthy tradesman’s daughter in the 18th century arguably had more in common with the lives of women from the upper classes than with the social challenges faced by the lower classes. The female space in the literary public sphere of The Female Spectator consequently seems to be restricted to female members of the upper classes.

In comparison, The Spectator prints letters from female correspondents of considerably more diverse social backgrounds. Moral complaints are, for example, made by servants criticising their capricious mistresses (No. 137), and by female shopkeepers who express their annoyance about impertinent customers who stare and loiter without buying anything (No. 336). The inclusion of female working class voices enables The Spectator to create a literary public sphere where working-class readers and recipients from the middle and even the lower classes can interact. This practice does, to a certain extent, simulate the image of the city as a compact representation of humanity, in which different social classes exist side by side. Lawyers, shopkeepers, prostitutes and genteel ladies are ←27 | 28→all given a voice. Even if the letters may not be genuine, the proclaimed diversity of writers showcased through their letters suggests that The Spectator allowed a larger social diversity of female correspondents than The Female Spectator.

Thematic categories of the letters

In addition to the social position of the female correspondents, the content of the letters themselves also serves as a source of information regarding the implied readers of the periodicals, as well as the extent of female space allowed by the editors of the two periodicals. Therefore, this portion of the paper attempts a categorisation of the diverse content that is present in the female correspondence featured in the two moral periodicals.

By and large, the letters can be classified as belonging to one of nine different categories, namely “Moral Complaints”, “Examples of Poor Moral Behaviour”, “Love Advice”, “Criticism of the Editorial Persona”, “The Spectator as a Mediator”, “General Advice and Questions”, “Letters of Encouragement to Mr Spectator”, “Essays” and “Fictional Narratives”. In the following paragraphs, these categories of female correspondence will be studied following a three-step procedure: First, I will be looking at the categories that only appear in The Spectator, before repeating the same process for the categories that are only present in The Female Spectator. Finally, I will focus on the categories that are shared by both periodicals.

Categories present only in The Spectator

There are three categories of letters that only appear in The Spectator, namely “General Advice and Questions”, “Letters of Encouragement to Mr Spectator” and “The Spectator as a Mediator”. The first two categories are relatively small with fourteen letters combined.

The first category consists of a variety of questions posed to Mr Spectator, such as a request for a previously promised list of recommended female literature (No. 92) and asking for advice on how the word ‘dimple’ is spelt (No. 140). The second category contains two letters that praise Mr Spectator for being a fair moral commentator (No. 217), i.e. they represent a laudation which may have been printed for the specific purpose of defending the periodical from female criticism.

It is, however, the third category that is quite indicative of the extent of the female space within The Spectator’s literary public sphere. “The Spectator as a Mediator” is the fifth largest category of letters in The Spectator. It contains ←28 | 29→nineteen letters from women who were hoping to use the periodical as a mediator that could communicate their thoughts, wishes or desired actions, which they may not have been able to express in their individual private or public spheres. The female correspondents are seemingly attempting to use The Spectator as a tool of communication. The available female space in the periodical’s public sphere is utilised by the correspondents to address someone outside the literary public sphere of The Spectator in a way which was unavailable from within the female private sphere at the time.

An example of this can be found in issue No. 199, where a woman expresses her discontent regarding the fact that it is socially unacceptable for women to make advances towards the men they like; she consequently hopes Mr Spectator will print a letter to her love interest. The Spectator willingly prints her letter, which could suggest that he either sympathizes with the correspondent’s situation, or else he believes that the readers of the essay-periodical might find such a letter entertaining. In either case, his decision to publish this piece of writing implicitly gives the woman an opportunity to take the matter of courtship into her own hands. In her letter to her love interest, she also writes that after she has puzzled over how to express her feelings for him she has “chosen this Way, by which means I can be at once revealed to you, or, if you please, lye concealed”.49 The anonymity which the essay-periodical could provide seems to have been an enticing factor because it allowed the writer to remain anonymous and keep this seemingly private matter secret even from her nearest acquaintances.

The letter also inspired other female correspondents to communicate with their love interests through love letters sent to The Spectator. The letters in this category gave women the opportunity to promote their own aims, acting, together with the men, as the communal literary public sphere of The Spectator. They blurred the lines between the male and female spheres and thus created a third space, where female voices were given the chance to be heard on an equal footing.

Categories present only in The Female Spectator

The Female Spectator includes two categories of letters which are not present in The Spectator’s female correspondence, namely “Essays” (a) and “Fictional Narratives” (b). The most significant aspect of these categories is that they represent two literary genres traditionally associated with professional writers. Their ←29 | 30→inclusion in The Female Spectator thus suggests that the periodical wished to legitimise women as professional writers.

a) Essays

Even though there are several essays printed in The Spectator, none can be identified as having been purportedly written by a woman. The Female Spectator, however, features two essays that were allegedly written by women. The first essay is published in book 10, while the second appears in book 12. Both essays concern themselves with the topic of female education. This may suggest that, even though essays were traditionally regarded as a male genre, women could be permitted to write an essay on a female topic. The inclusion of female essay-writers may arguably be interpreted as a general approval and even active encouragement regarding the concept of female professional writers.

b) Fictional narratives

In three out of the fourteen female letters, the writer includes a fictional narrative of their own creation.50 Two of the three narratives are supposedly written by the same correspondent, Elismonda, who states in her second letter that “the obliging Reception [that The Female Spectator was] pleased to give to a former Narrative I sent you, encourages me to approach you a second Time”.51 Elismonda’s statement and the inclusion of her second narrative arguably suggest that Haywood wished to promote female writers. The narratives, however, are quite similar to the narratives used by Eliza Haywood herself to illustrate her moral topics in each issue. The three narratives within the letters of female readers all revolve around a young lady who is infatuated with a handsome gentleman who, in two out of three cases, tries to seduce her. The similarity of the plots in the readers’ letters to that of Haywood’s might perhaps suggest that Haywood herself may have been the real author of these letters. But even if Haywood did indeed write all the narrative and essayistic contributions herself, the inclusion of essays and narratives purportedly composed by women nevertheless represents an acknowledgement and a legitimisation of female writers.

←30 | 31→

Categories present in both The Spectator and The Female Spectator

The Spectator and The Female Spectator have four categories of letters in common: “Moral Complaints”, “Examples of Poor Moral Behaviour”, “Love Advice” and “Criticism of the Editorial Persona”. The largest category in The Spectator is that of “Moral Complaints”, which contains 33 letters to the editor. In The Female Spectator, on the other hand, there are only two letters that can be subsumed under this category. The moral complaints voiced by female correspondents in The Spectator include lectures concerning both male and female immorality. The moral complaints in The Female Spectator, however, do not rebuke male immorality, a fact which suggests a limitation in the periodical’s female space.


ISBN (Hardcover)
Publication date
2019 (November)
Enlightenment Moral weekly Periodical essay History of journalism European Culture
Berlin, Bern, Bruxelles, New York, Oxford, Warszawa, Wien, 2020. 484 pp., 1 fig. b/w, 2 tables.

Biographical notes

Misia Sophia Doms (Volume editor)

Misia Sophia Doms is Professor of German Studies at the University College of Teacher Education Lower Austria. Among her scholarly interests are literary and cultural history from the early modern period to the present day, the history of language teaching, literary and journalistic genres, points of contact between literature and knowledge and dialogic encounters between different cultures.


Title: «Spectator»-Type Periodicals in International Perspective