Sir Richard Steele : Literary Contribution

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      His Life : Sir Richard Steele had a varied and rather an unfortunate career, due largely to his own ardent disposition. He was educated at the Charterhouse, and then proceeded to Oxford, leaving without taking a degree. His next exploit was to enter the army as a cadet; then he took to politics, became a Member of Parliament, and wrote for the Whigs. Steele, however, was too impetuous to be a successful politician, and he was expelled from the House of Commons. He became a Tory; quarrelled with Addison on private and public grounds; issued a number of periodicals; and died ten years after his fellow-essayist.

Richard Steele, however, was too impetuous to be a successful politician, and he was expelled from the House of Commons. He became a Tory; quarrelled with Addison on private and public grounds; issued a number of periodicals; and died ten years after his fellow-essayist.
Richard Steele

      His Drama : Steele wrote some prose comedies, the best of which are The Funeral (1701), The Lying Lover (1703), The Tender Husband (1705), and The Conscious Lovers (1722). They follow in general scheme the Restoration comedies, but are without the grossness and impudence of their models. Indeed, Steele's one importance as a dramatist rests on his foundation of the sentimental comedy, avowedly moral and pious in aim and tone. In places his plays are lively, and reflect much of Steele's amiability of temper.

      His Essays : It is as a miscellaneous essayist that Steele finds his place in literature. He was a man fertile in ideas, but he lacked the application that is always so necessary to carry those ideas to fruition. Thus he often sowed in order that other men 'might reap. He started The Tatler in 1709, The Spectator in 1711, and several other short-lived periodicals, such as The Guardian (1713), The Englishman (1713), The Reader (1714), and The Plebeian (1719). After the rupture with Addison the loss of the latter's steadying influence was acutely felt, and nothing that Steele attempted had any stability.

      Steele's working alliance with Addison was so close and so constant that the comparison between them is almost inevitable. Of the two writers, some critics assert that Steele is the worthier. In versatility and in originality he is at least Addison's equal. His humour is broader and less restrained than Addison's, with a naive, pathetic touch about it that is reminiscent of Goldsmith. His pathos is more attractive and more humane. But Steele's very virtues are only his weaknesses sublimed; they are emotional, not intellectual; of the heart, and not of, the head. He is incapable of irony; he lacks penetration and power; and much of his moralizing is cheap and obvious. He lacks Addison's care and suave ironic insight; he is reckless in style and inconsequence method.

      And so, in the final estimate, as 'the greater artist he fails'. The aim of Steele's essays was frankly didactic; he desired to bring about a reformation of contemporary society manners, and is notable for his consistent advocacy of womanly virtue and the ideal of the gentleman of courtesy, chivalry, and good taste. His essays on children are charming, and he is full of human sympathy. The passage given illustrates Steele's easy style, the unconstrained sentences, the fresh and almost colloquial vocabulary, and the sentimentality to which he is prone.

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