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Joseph Addison Essays Spectator Meaning

Joseph Addison’s character clearly lives during the eighteenth century when people did not know or care much about the events in the outside world. As noted in the diary, Addison’s character lived a life that was centered on his daily routine of waking up, going to the coffee shop… As a satirist, Addison uses a typical ignorant man who is an imbecile caught up in his normal affairs and a society that is just as ignorant as he is. Joseph Addison’s satiric purposes is served when all will read the diary of a foolish man and the bland society he lives in, and know the petty issues they concern themselves with. Both the diarist and everyone those who surround him are not better than him because they are an integral part of his boring life.

The minute detail given by the diarist about his lackluster life shows how much attention he pays to it. The dry and apathetic tone of the diarist throughout the passage reveals his apathy regarding matters that happen outside his realm. The character wakes up at eight, puts on his clothes, smokes his pipes, walks to the fields, goes to Mr. Nisby’s club, eats his sumptuous lunch and dinner and goes back to retire. Addison repeats what the diarist does and record everyday because it is the same boring thing. Details such as “double soled shoes” and “nap broke by the falling of a pewter dish” shows the diarist as one who cares too much about small things. This is satiric because while a great political leader is dead, the diarist is too busy with” purl” and sleep to bother about anything. Addison is teasing the diarist to show the crowd what an imbecile he is when he cares about every single aspect of his life and nothing further than that.

The diarist is not alone as the society is equally foolish by continuing in its daily routines. Society also is just like the diarist because the diarist is one of the many ignorant fools who make up society. Therefore the tone by which society is represented is just as lackluster, apathetic and boring. Every day the diarist goes to Mr. Nisby’s club from six o’ clock till ten o’ clock keeping a very regular pattern of both Mr. Nisby’s and the diarist’s life. Mr. Nisby accurately represents the working class society. The society is ignorant and sees the death of the Grand Vizier as another occurrence in the world. An example of society’s disregard to the outside world is seen when a stranger asked the diarist for the stock prices. No one cares about the Grand Vizier but only of the stock prices. This goes to show society was selfish. Addison’s passage portrays society as being ignorant and too overwhelmed in their daily affairs to care or bother about anything except matters that concern them.

Addison’s attention to detail about the simplistic activities of the diarist describes him as a simpleton. The society in which he lives is equally monotonous as well. The characterization of the diarist as a simpleton serves Addison’s satiric purpose because he wants to show the events beyond the daily routine. There are Grand Viziers that are present in far away empires that are dead and one should possess the knowledge about them. Addison is teasing the diarist and all those who are like him because they were not interested in politics and knowledge of the outside world.

The diarist was an apathetic individual because of the society he lived in and the society was ignorant because of individuals like the diarist. Addison’s purpose is to show the crowd that on should be more concerned about the “last leg of mutton.” The Sultans and Grand Viziers are outside the box of daily routines and it is everyone’s responsibility to be knowledgeable about the times and events that take place during their lives.


The Spectator was a periodical published daily by Joseph Addison and Sir Richard Steele, both politicians, which was one of the bestsellers of the 18th century. Its 500 issues sold up to 4000 copies a day, and carried news and comment, but especially comments on manners, morals and literature. The publication pretended to be the reports by a Mr Spectator on the conversations of a club comprising representatives of the country squirearchy, the town, commerce and the army. Its essays, as seen in this example, show that urban life in the 18th century was not so far different from today, with observations on begging and binge-drinking. ‘Mr Spectator’ particularly comments on debt – ‘[I am] extremely astonished that Men can be so insensible of the Danger of running into Debt’.

The magazine of essays was a popular model for expressing various views on society in the 18th century. Though often short-lived, they sold well and were read by thousands. The Gentleman’s Magazine, Steele’s The Tatler, Samuel Johnson’s The Rambler and The Idler and others created an enthusiasm for discussing ideas and literature that were at the heart of literate thinking in 18th century England.

Shelfmark: L.R.261.b.18.

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