Steele: An Essayist


Introduction: Steele earned an everlasting renown as an essayist. His contribution to The Tatler and The Spectator is very significant. They are the hallmarks of periodical essay writing. He wrote with an aim to bring moral reforms, order and decorum in the society. The Tatler and The Spectator became effective mediums in his hands.

Expression of Social Life: Steele worked with Addison and established the essay as a very important form of literature. His essays appeared as the expression of the social life of the nation. Thus he is known as a great social critic in the history of English literature. In his essays he beautifully satirized the vices of the society of his time. He exposed the false arts of life. He pulled of the disguises of cunning, vanity and affectations. He inculcated good morals among the people of his age. He recommended general simplicity in our dress, discourse and behavior. He recommended truth, innocence, honour and virtue as the chief ornaments of life. He treated of everything that was going on in the town. As a social humourist he painted his whole age – the political and literary disputes, the fine gentlemen and ladies, the new books, the new plays etc. Thus he is called the moral monitor of his age.

 Steele’s Creativity: Steele was more original and inventive. Without Addison he framed the plan of The Tater. He has initially outlined the character of Sir Roger. It was he who suggested the idea of the Spectator and his club. All the members of the Spectator club were the product of Steele’s creative imagination. They were drawn from the different stages of the life, society and profession. They all were developed by Steele.

 Versatility and Originality: Addison and Steele both wrote with a common aim to bring moral reforms, order and decorum in the society. Both share the same literary background but not the same temperament. Steele’s essays have sincerity, frankness and genuine autobiographical touches. He brought to his work a wide experience of life, generous sympathies and a sunny humour. His genius was like his life – unequal, generous and impulsive. He was passionate and full of animal spirits. He had a vein of romanticism in him. He was impulsive and given to sensual pleasures. Addison, no doubt, was superior to Steele. He was a more consummate artist. But some critics assert that Steele is not less worthy than Addison. In versatility and in originality he is at least Addison’s equal.

Humour: Steele belongs to the great race of English humourists. He was influenced by Pope, Addison and others who laid stress on the value of humour. He used humour in a very effective manner. His humour is broader and less restrained than Addison with a naïve, pathetic touch about it that is reminiscent of Goldsmith. His pathos is more attractive and more humane. In Addison the head is dominant, in Steele the heart. Steele’s appeal is emotional and Addison’s intellectual. He is incapable of irony. He lacks penetration and power.

 Prose Style: The hallmark of Steele’s essay is his naturalness and spontaneity. He never tries to mystify his readers. He has a friendly and amiable tone. It produces a friendly relationship between the readers and the author. Steele’s prose style is highly communicative. He wrote in a conventional style. He chose the language of the common man. And thus he was able to popularize philosophy among common men. Steele chose his words with great care. He was not verbose. According to Thackeray, ‘Steele’s style was like his life, full of faults and careless blunders.’ He remained free from any kind of pedantry. His language is never obscure or even complex. It is often lucid, powerful and straightforward. In this context he can be compared with Dickens, Thackeray, Lamb, Hazlitt and Stevenson. If Addison excelled Steele in correctness, elegance and command of language, Steele surpassed him in passion, warmth, forcefulness and sympathy.

Conclusion: Thus Steele is one of the greatest essayists in the history of English literature. He is one of the forerunners of English novelists. His art of characterization is a valuable gift to English literature.     

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