Eighteenth Century Periodical Essay

Eighteenth Century Periodical Essay-23
Its stylistic signature was a roughness and sense of spontaneity that communicated the reality of a mind in thought.

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The periodical essay, like all serial publication, is part of the evolution of the professional writer from his or her role as a creature of the court or parliament to his or her reliance on publishers and, through them, on the reading public.” Addison and Steele valorized the interior lives of their readers while locating the individual subject as part of a community, and they authorized subjective experience as a source of valuable collective knowledge.

Their essays conjured a vision of thinking subjects living in benignly self-regulating, consensual communities as the ideal basis on which to build a progressive modern state.

The pairing of Richard Steele and Joseph Addison is so familiar that their collaborators are mostly overlooked, but Swift himself was among them.

It was Swift, not Addison, who helped Steele to negotiate the first issuing of the Tatler in April 1709 with the printer John Nutt, who had also printed Swift’s A Tale of a Tub in 1704 and its subsequent reprints.

I suggest, moreover, that ambivalence and anxiety about describing selfhood and the life of the mind were preoccupations even among progressive eighteenth-century Whig essayists, and indeed an important concern of almost all literary writing in the period.

The first issue of the Tatler appeared on April 12, 1709, and the paper continued until January 1711.

They wanted a literary form that would liberate readers and writers from dependence on overtly religious and political language for describing personal and collective experience.

Robert de Maria writes: “the periodical essay par excellence is not bound as much by partisan politics as by a less tendentious involvement with the public sphere of private individuals.

The speaking voices in early eighteenth-century essays tend to be at once personal and impersonal: the intimate, quotidian, occasionally even confessional style we encounter in the Tatler, the Spectator, and elsewhere is paradoxically a sign of a large, anonymous audience.

In 1711 Joseph Addison summarized the intimate impersonality of the new periodical essay in the Spectator when he referred to “the Pains I am at in qualifying what I write after such a manner, that nothing may be interpreted as aimed at private Persons.” His topics were oriented to the preoccupations of an aspirational urban middle class and eschewed gossip, politics, and high society: “my Paper has not in it a single Word of News, a Reflection in Politics, nor a Stroak of Party;…


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