1791 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Sir Richard Steele

Isaac D'Israeli, in Curiosities of Literature (1791) 1:231-32.



In the reign of Queen Anne — not unjustly characterized by being distinguished as the Augustan age of English Literature — Periodical Prints, that till then had only served political purposes, began to rank higher in the estimation of the Public. Some had already attempted to introduce literary subjects, and other topics of a more general speculation. But we see nothing that has escaped the waste of time, till Sir Richard Steele formed the plan of his Tatler. He designed it to embrace the three provinces, of Manners, of Letters, and of Politics. He knew that this was an invaluable improvement; and, doubtless, he thought, that if the last portion could be omitted, it would still have made it more perfect. But violent and sudden reformation is seldom to be used; and the Public were to be conducted insensibly into so new and different a track from that to which they had been hitherto accustomed. Hence Politics were admitted into his Paper. But it remained for Addison to banish this disagreeable topic from his elegant pages. The writer in Polite letters felt himself degraded by sinking into the dull narrator of Political Events. It is from this time, that Newspapers and periodical Literature became distinct works.