The Aim of The Spectator: Summary & Analysis

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Circulation of the Paper Increases the Responsibility of Editor

      The Spectator has achieved a great amount of success and its circulation figures are most respectable. Even a modest estimate would calculate its readership figures at some sixty thousand people. This huge following increases the responsibility of the editor of the paper. He has to see that he instructs as well as amuses. He would take all the trouble to make the paper useful for the large number of readers. He would enliven morality with wit and temper wit with morality, so that his readers may gain in both ways from the paper and get their money’s worth. He wants that the effect of the moral instruction given in his paper to be lasting and to this effect he would continuously drills instructions into minds of his readers. He aimed to reform the age out of the folly and vice it had fallen in. He would provide serious thoughts for barren minds which would otherwise breed folly. His ambition is to bring philosophy to the tea-tables and coffee-houses and clubs out of the closets and libraries of the learned men. He calls upon the well-regulated family to look upon the paper as a part of the tea equipage.

Not A Political Paper

      The Spectator is not a political paper. It does not cater to any political party. The editor felt that this paper was, in truth, of greater use than political papers. There was, he felt, not much use in knowing what was happening in far off countries like Moscow or Poland. This paper would help the reader to understand himself better and know himself. This paper would produce better understanding between people, would minimize ignorance, strong emotions and prejudice. The political papers, on the other hand, incited anger and created bitter enemies who became irreconcilable.

Different Types of Readers the Paper Caters To

      The paper is especially recommended to certain types of people. The editor feels that the paper would be specially useful for those gentlemen who, like himself, are spectators of life, who are not involved in it but merely watch it from a distance. He also recommends it to theoretical tradesmen, titular physicians, fellows of the Royal Society, theoretical templars and statesmen out of business.

      Then he recommends the paper to those ‘blanks of society’ who are forever at the mercy of others to gather subjects for conversation because they have nothing of sense in their own heads. They are advised not to move out of their houses till they have read the Spectator. The editor promises to supply them with matter for conversation for the ensuing twelve hours.

Great Use to the Female World

      The paper, says the editor, will be of the greatest use to the female world. He feels that sufficient trouble has not been taken to Revise entertainment for the women as rational beings. They had been treated as females and their amusements were oriented to their sex, and not to them as rational human beings. They consider their toilet to be a main occupation. They consider sorting a suit of ribbons or a visit to the fabric dealer or some shop dealing with trifles a good morning’s work and are tired after this to do anything else. Their serious occupations are embroidery and their greatest drudgery is preparation of jam and jelly making. There are exceptions to this rule. There are women who combine learning with their flair for dressing well and they command the respect and love of the beholders. He hopes that there is an increase in the number of such women through the reading of this paper. The editor will take all pains to point out the blemishes as well as the virtues of the women who are the most beautiful of all human beings. He desires that they rise above all faults and be as perfect as possible.


      The essay, The Aim of The Spectator is important as it espouses the aim of the paper. It establishes Addison as a lay preacher, a moralist whose aim it was to reform the age out of the vice and folly it had fallen into. The essay clearly and unambiguously sets forth the aims of the paper. The writer intends to dispel ignorance and inculcate in his readers a desire for moderation, tolerance and good understanding of their true situation. He aimed at conveying instruction but this was to be enlivened by wit. Amusement was not to be ignored but was to be tempered by morality. Thus he struck a note of moderation, a combination of amusement and instruction. He also intended to bring the wisdom and knowledge which was constricted to the libraries and the colleges and closets of the learned men out to the common man. He would present this wisdom in essays, through elegant terms so that all people could understand them and these would be the topics of discussion at the clubs and coffee houses and the tea-tables. This was a worthy aim indeed. Addison also aimed at improving the intellectual level of the common woman of the day who was immersed in trivial occupations. He wanted the women to rise above the existing level in which they were ready to be treated as objects of sexual attraction, giving their complete attention to their looks and appearance and not caring for any mental development. It has to be said to the credit of Addison that the Spectator lived up to its aims to a great extent.

      In this essay, we see the ability of Addison to combine instruction with wit. The irony is masterly, though always gentle. The reference to the “blanks of society”, statesmen out of business, the sly dig at the members of the Royal Society, are ironic and gently satiric. He achieves the ironic effect by describing trivial matters in a serious tone and language. Thus we laugh at the ladies being fatigued after a shopping spree, and who take such great care about such important duties as dressing their hair. The final dig comes at the men of little smart genius who seek to ridicule him to whom he presents his caveat.


      Line. 18-29. Since I have raised......assiduous culture: In essay Addison puts forward the aim of the Spectator papers. In paper, he notes has a good circulation and a large readership. This involves a great responsibility for the editor of the paper and son promises that he will keep up the standard of the paper and take his responsibility seriously. He would take all the trouble to make the paper useful and interesting. He would keep for his paper the aim of all true literature which was to combine pleasure and instruction. He would also teach the reader but he would make this morality interesting by writing wittily. Wit, on the other hand, will gain some use by the touch of morality. He did not want the good teachings to be followed merely for a short and temporary period by his readers. In order that they may always be virtuous and well-mannered, he would keep on hammering these qualities through his writings in the mind of the readers. He would continue to write repeatedly upon the manners and morals of the people and go on giving instructions till the age, which had fallen into a great deal of indecent and immoral practices, should be reformed. The aim of the Spectator was to inculcate these teachings in a pleasant manner so that the people of the society were reformed out of their vices and follies. The mind which had become barren of good ideas and thoughts, is ever ready to get involved in foolishness and indulge in folly. It is only through the constant and careful drilling of good ideas into these minds that they would improve. These lines are very important as they set forth the aim of the paper. The style is typical of Addison, fluent, easy and clear. It is rightly said of Addison that he was the first after a long time to combine wit and decency. Till then decency and dullness were held to be synonymous; Addison taught that wit and decency could go together.

      Line. 29-33. It was The Spectator papers had a mission to accomplish. It was to combine morality and entertainment in order to improve the behavior of man and society. Socrates, the Greek philosopher, was credited with having brought the subject of philosophy within the concern of common man. He explained the divine wisdom to the common man in language understood by him. He made philosophy the property of a common man by giving examples from experiences understood by them. The editor of the Spectator papers wants a reputation of having brought philosophy out of the constricting atmosphere of universities and libraries where it was available merely to the learned and scholarly people. He wanted the common man to benefit from the teaching of wise men through the ages. He wanted these subjects to be the subject of discussion at the tea tables, gatherings, the clubs and the cone-houses, where at the time there was only empty-headed talk and gossip. The aim of the Spectator was a noble and worthy one and it has to be said to the credit of Addison that he did achieve it to a certain extent.

      Line. 41-48.1 shall not be......enmities irreconcilable: In this essay Addison sets forth the aim of the paper. He aims at pleasing and teaching his readers at the same time. He quotes Bacon who said that the good books wipe out the popularity of inferior books. He does not claim for his paper the position of having put other books out of circulation; he is not so vain. But, he asks the readers to consider whether it was not better to look inward and study oneself rather than read and know about what was happening in far off parts of the world like Moscow and Poland. His paper intended to bring such matter that would create in the reader habit of studying himself. His paper was not political in nature, it would not carry political news and nor would it be a mouthpiece for political groups. His paper would help men to remove the ignorance and folly that society indulged in. It would help the readers to remove their own ignorance, immoderate emotions and anger prejudices. Political papers created and promoted conflict and mutual bitterness. The Spectator would not indulge in this kind of incitement. It was more useful, and better, than the political papers as it aimed at removing misunderstandings between men by making them understand their culture and improve their behavior. The noble aim of the Spectator is set forth in these lines. The style is typically clear, fluent and at the same time, dignified. There is also a touch of humour in the manner in which he asks the reader if it was not better to know oneself rather than hear about . ‘‘what passes in Muscovy or Poland.” He makes a dig at the political papers of the day which were fierce spokesmen of the different parties.

      Line. 64-77. I have often considered......twelve hours: This passage is an example of humour and irony typical of Addison which is effective and, yet, never bitter or hurtful. Here he is telling how his paper would help those unfortunate people of society whom he sarcastically calls ‘the blanks of society.’ These are the empty-headed men of society who lack any idea or thought of their own and have to rely upon others for the subjects of their own conversation. Addison humorously remarks that he has pitied these people when he hears one of them asking the first man he meets if there was any news about which he could later talk about! These people, lacking the ability to think and thus provide themselves with matter for conversation, have to wait till twelve o’clock before they are fit to talk on anything. By that time they have met others and read the latest news from Holland where there was war going on between English forces and the French. These blank-headed people can then quote facts glibly without thinking. Their mood for the day, whether serious or non-serious, depended upon the news they heard from the first person they met. Addison requests such people to make it a habit to read the Spectator in the morning before they set-out of their houses. He promises that he will provide them with thoughts and feelings which shall have a good effect on their conversation for the following twelve hours. The whole passage is in a humorous vein and satires the dull-headed people who lack the power to think on their own. But the irony is gentle, and the satire is mild. The sarcasm is suave.

      Line. 81-85. Their amusements seem......their lives: Addison recommends his paper to the women especially. He feels that they would greatly benefit from the study of it. Women, he felt, had not been given adequate attention as rational human beings, as people who had intelligence and could not think. They had been treated as females, the delicate and slightly inferior sect of the species of mankind. Their hobbies and pastimes had been created for them as females. As such, they considered ‘feminine’ amusements such as matching ribbons and making jam as arduous tasks. They considered making up their faces and dressing up their hair in different fashions as the most important occupations in life. They were not given sufficient scope for the exercise of their intelligence and their powers of thinking. The Spectator aimed to set this lapse right by giving them matter to think about and which would make them improve themselves. The Spectator would point out their follies and foibles and give them a chance to reform their behavior and acquire pastimes which were more useful and rational. It has been said that Addison never misses an opportunity to speak against the female sex, and often calls them shallow and occupied in trivial matters. But it must be acknowledged that he is here attacking these trivialities that interest the fashionable woman of the day. One can not reproach him for wanting women to behave as if they were members of the race of rational human beings and show that they are capable of intelligent thinking and occupations. The woman of the time was what Addison describes her to be, and he merely wants to improve her as he did many other things. The passage is humorous in describing the futile nature of the occupations of women. Addison’s comic style comes out clearly—he often talks of trivial things in a serious manner and this is what makes the passage amusing.

      Line. 90-103. This, I say......of the sex: Addison’s aim in writing the Spectator papers was a didactic one; he wanted to instruct as well as amuse. He aimed at the improvement of manners and morals of the society. He felt that the female sex could derive a great benefit from reading his paper. The ordinary woman of his times, he felt, was occupied in trivial matters which gave no work to her mental powers. She considered occupations like jam-making and attending to her toilet as the most important in her life. Addison admits that there were women who had a higher sense of life and had? better way of living. These women were learned and used their intelligence in the pursuit of the truly important things of life. They could talk well and they move in a high social level which comprised of learning and virtue. They combine the truly valuable assets of intelligence and learning with the decorative asset of being able to dress well. They evoke the respect and love of whoever sees Addison wants to raise all women to this level. He hopes that, by publishing his paper, he would be able to increase the number of these intelligent and well-bred women. He hopes to distract attention of the women from their usual trivial occupations. At the same time he would be willing to give some useful information which may help the women whom nature had made so beautiful, so that they might have beauty of mind as well. He would present the faults and follies of women as well as the virtues and good points so that the female readers might learn and improve themselves. The didactic aim of the Spectator can not be missed. Addison's slightly superior attitude, similarly, can not be missed.

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