The Tatler Essayist

FrequencyThrice weekly
First issue1709
CountryUnited Kingdom

The Tatler was a British literary and society journal begun by Richard Steele in 1709 and published for two years. It represented a new approach to journalism, featuring cultivated essays on contemporary manners, and established the pattern that would be copied in such British classics as Addison and Steele's Spectator, Samuel Johnson's Rambler and Idler, and Goldsmith's Citizen of the World, and influence essayists as late as Charles Lamb and William Hazlitt. Addison and Steele liquidated The Tatler in order to make a fresh start with the similar Spectator, and the collected issues of Tatler are usually published in the same volume as the collected Spectator.

1709 journal[edit]

Tatler was founded in 1709 by Richard Steele, who used the nom de plume "Isaac Bickerstaff, Esquire". This is the first known such consistently adopted journalistic persona,[1] which adapted to the first person, as it were, the 17th-century genre of "characters", as first established in English by Sir Thomas Overbury and then expanded by Lord Shaftesbury's Characteristics (1711). Steele's conceit (embodied in the title 'Tatler') was to publish the news and gossip heard in various London coffeehouses (in reality he mixed real gossip with invented stories of his own), and, so he declared in the opening paragraph, to leave the subject of politics to the newspapers,[2] while presenting Whiggish views and correcting middle-class manners, while instructing "these Gentlemen, for the most part being Persons of strong Zeal, and weak Intellects...what to think." To assure complete coverage of local gossip, he pretended to place a reporter in each of the city's four most popular coffeehouses, and the text of each issue was subdivided according to the names of these four: accounts of manners and mores were datelined from White's; literary notes from Will's; notes of antiquarian interest were dated from the Grecian Coffee House; and news items from St. James's Coffee House.

The journal was originally published three times a week, and Steele eventually brought in contributions from his literary friends Jonathan Swift and Joseph Addison, though both of them pretended to be writing as Isaac Bickerstaff and authorship was revealed only when the papers were collected in a bound volume. The original Tatler was published for only two years, from 12 April 1709 to 2 January 1711. A collected edition was published in 1710–11, with the title The Lucubrations of Isaac Bickerstaff, Esq.[3] In 1711, Steele and Addison decided to liquidate The Tatler, and co-founded The Spectator magazine, which used a different persona than Bickerstaff.

Subsequent incarnations[edit]

Several later journals revived the name Tatler.[4] Three short series are preserved in the Burney Collection:[5]

  • John Morphew, the original printer, continued to produce further issues in 1711 under the "Isaac Bickerstaffe" name from 4 January (No. 272) to 17 May (No. 330).
  • A single issue (numbered 1) of a rival Tatler was published by Baldwin on 11 January 1711.
  • In 1753–4, several issues by "William Bickerstaffe, nephew of the late Isaac Bickerstaffe" were published.

James Watson, who had previously reprinted the London Tatler in Edinburgh, began his own Tatler there on 13 January 1711, with "Donald Macstaff of the North" replacing Isaac Bickerstaffe.[6]

Three months after the original Tatler was first published, an unknown woman writer using the pen name "Mrs. Crackenthorpe" published what was called the Female Tatler. Scholars from the 1960s to the 1990s thought the anonymous woman might have been Delarivier Manley, but she was subsequently ruled out as author and the woman remains unknown. However, its run was much shorter: the magazine ran for less than a year, from 8 July 1709 to 31 March 1710.[7] The London Tatler[8] and the Northern Tatler[9] were later 18th-century imitations. The Tatler Reviv'd ran for 17 issues from October 1727 to January 1728; another publication of the same name had six issues in March 1750.[10]

On 4 September 1830, Leigh Hunt launched The Tatler: A Daily Journal of Literature and the Stage. He edited it till 13 February 1832, and others continued it till 20 October 1832.[11]

In July 1901, Clement Shorter, the publisher of The Sphere, introduced a magazine called Tatler, named after Steele's periodical. After several mergers and name changes it was still in print in the twenty-first century, owned by Condé Nast Publications.


  1. ^Bonamy Dobrée, 1959. English Literature in the Early Eighteenth Century 1700–1740 in series Oxford History of English Literature, pp 77–83.
  2. ^"principally intended for the Use of Politick Persons who are so publick-spirited as to neglect their own affairs to look into Transactions of State."
  3. ^The dates referred to here may not correlate exactly to our modern calendar, because England still used the Lady Day system of dating while these works were published. The Tatler, Literary Encyclopaedia
  4. ^300 Years of Telling Tales, Britain’s Tatler Still Thrives Eric Pfaner, New York Times, 5 October 2009, p.B7
  5. ^17th–18th Century Burney Collection Newspapers Title List, Gale
  6. ^Marr, George Simpson (1923). The periodical essayists of the eighteenth century. London: J. Clarke. p. 29. 
  7. ^Issuing her Own: the Female Tatler, Latha Reddy and Rebecca Gershenson Smith, 2002. (Site includes sample issues #41 and #67)
  8. ^Marr, George Simpson (1923). The periodical essayists of the eighteenth century. London: J. Clarke. p. 72. 
  9. ^Marr, George Simpson (1923). The periodical essayists of the eighteenth century. London: J. Clarke. p. 96. 
  10. ^George Watson, ed. (1971). The New Cambridge Bibliography of English Literature. Volume 2; Volumes 1660–1800. Cambridge University Press. col.1330,1332. ISBN 0-521-07934-9. 
  11. ^Ireland, Alexander (1868). List of the writings of William Hazlitt and Leigh Hunt. John Russell Smith. pp. 143–8. 



  • Ross, Angus (ed.) Selections from The Tatler and The Spectator (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1982)ISBN 978-0140432985. Edited with an introduction and notes. Out of print.

Further reading[edit]

  • "The Story of Tatler: A 300-year frolic through Tatler's history, from coffee-house tri-weekly to glossy monthly". Tatler: 71–114. November 2009. 
  • Henry W. Kent (1903). "Tatler". Bibliographical Notes on One Hundred Books Famous in English Literature. NY: Grolier Club. 

External links[edit]

This article is about the 18th-century author. For others, see Richard Steele (disambiguation).

Sir Richard Steele (bap. 12 March 1672 – 1 September 1729) was an Irish writer, playwright, and politician, remembered as co-founder, with his friend Joseph Addison, of the magazine The Tatler.

Early life[edit]

Steele was born in Dublin, Ireland in March 1672 to Richard Steele, an attorney, and Elinor Symes (née Sheyles); his sister Katherine was born the previous year. Steele was largely raised by his uncle and aunt, Henry Gascoigne and Lady Katherine Mildmay.[1] A member of the Protestant gentry, he was educated at Charterhouse School, where he first met Addison. After starting at Christ Church, Oxford, he went on to Merton College, Oxford, then joined the Life Guards of the Household Cavalry in order to support King William's wars against France. He was commissioned in 1697, and rose to the rank of captain within two years.[2] Steele left the army in 1705, perhaps due to the death of the 34th Foot's commanding officer, Lord Lucas, which limited his opportunities of promotion.

In 1706 Steele was appointed to a position in the household of Prince George of Denmark, consort of Anne, Queen of Great Britain. He also gained the favour of Robert Harley, Earl of Oxford.

In politics[edit]

Steele became a Whig Member of Parliament in 1713, for Stockbridge.[3] He was soon expelled for issuing a pamphlet in favor of the Hanoverian succession. When George I of Great Britain came to the throne in the following year, Steele was knighted and given responsibility for the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane, London. He returned to parliament in 1715, for Boroughbridge.[4]

While at Drury Lane, Steele wrote and directed the sentimental comedyThe Conscious Lovers, which was an immediate hit. However, he fell out with Addison and with the administration over the Peerage Bill (1719), and in 1724 he retired to his wife's homeland of Wales, where he spent the remainder of his life.[5]

Steele was a member of the Kit-Kat Club. Both Steele and Addison became closely associated with Child's Coffee-house in St Paul's Churchyard.[6]

Later life[edit]

Steele remained in Carmarthen after his wife Mary's death, and was buried there, at St Peter's Church. During restoration of the church in 2000, his skull was discovered in a lead casket, having previously been accidentally disinterred during the 1870s.


Steele's first published work, The Christian Hero (1701), attempted to point out the differences between perceived and actual masculinity. Written while Steele served in the army, it expressed his idea of a pamphlet of moral instruction. The Christian Hero was ultimately ridiculed for what some thought was hypocrisy because Steele did not necessarily follow his own preaching. He was criticized[by whom?] for publishing a booklet about morals when he himself enjoyed drinking, occasional dueling, and debauchery around town.

Steele wrote a comedy that same year titled The Funeral. This play met with wide success and was performed at Drury Lane, bringing him to the attention of the King and the Whig party. Next, Steele wrote The Lying Lover, one of the first sentimental comedies, but a failure on stage. In 1705, Steele wrote The Tender Husband with contributions from Addison's, and later that year wrote the prologue to The Mistake, by John Vanbrugh, also an important member of the Whig Kit-Kat Club with Addison and Steele.


The Tatler, Steele's first journal, first came out on 12 April 1709, and appeared three times a week: on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays. Steele wrote this periodical under the pseudonym Isaac Bickerstaff and gave Bickerstaff an entire, fully developed personality.

Steele described his motive in writing The Tatler as "to expose the false arts of life, to pull off the disguises of cunning, vanity, and affectation, and to recommend a general simplicity in our dress, our discourse, and our behavior".[citation needed] Steele founded the magazine, and although he and Addison collaborated, Steele wrote the majority of the essays; Steele wrote roughly 188 of the 271 total and Addison 42, with 36 representing the pair's collaborative works. While Addison contributed to The Tatler, it is widely regarded[by whom?] as Steele's work.

The Tatler was closed down to avoid the complications of running a Whig publication that had come under Tory attack.[7] Addison and Steele then founded The Spectator in 1711 and also the Guardian in 1713.


In 1705, Steele married a widow, Margaret Stretch, who died in the following year. At her funeral he met his second wife, Mary Scurlock, whom he nicknamed "Prue" and married in 1707. In the course of their courtship and marriage, he wrote over 400 letters to her. Mary died in 1718, at a time when she was considering separation. Their daughter, Elizabeth (Steele's only surviving legitimate child), married John Trevor, 3rd Baron Trevor.[8]

Steele had an illegitimate child, Elizabeth Ousley, whom he later adopted.

In literature[edit]

Steele plays a minor role in the novel The History of Henry Esmond by William Makepeace Thackeray. It is during his time with the Life Guards, where he is mostly referred to as Dick the Scholar and makes mention of his friend "Joe Addison". Thackeray depicts Steele in glowing terms as a warm, generous, talented mentor who befriends the title character in his youth and remains loyal to him for years despite their political differences.

See also[edit]


External links[edit]

Sir Richard Steele's House at Llangunnor near Carmarthen, 1797
Of the 271 essays published in The Tatler, Joseph Addison (left) wrote 42, Richard Steele (right) wrote roughly 188, and the rest were collaborations between the two writers.
  1. ^Dammers, Richard H. (1982). Richard Steele. Boston: Twayne Publishers. p. 1. ISBN 9780805768374. 
  2. ^"Steele, Sir Richard". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (online ed.). Oxford University Press. doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/26347. (Subscription or UK public library membership required.)
  3. ^Hanham, Andrew A. (2002). "Steele, Richard (1672-1729), of Bloomsbury Square, London, and Llangunnor, Carm.". In Hayton, David; Cruickshanks, Eveline; Handley, Stuart. The House of Commons 1690-1715. The History of Parliament Trust. 
  4. ^Lea, R. S. (1970). "Steele, Richard (1672-1729), of Llangunnor, Carm.". In Sedgwick, Romney. The House of Commons 1715-1754. The History of Parliament Trust. 
  5. ^"The Life of Sir Richard Steele". Luminarium: Anthology of English Literature. 
  6. ^Michael North (2008). 'Material Delight and the Joy of Living': Cultural Consumption in the Age of Enlightenment in Germany. Ashgate Publishing, Ltd. p. 154. ISBN 978-0-7546-5842-9. Retrieved 2 June 2013. 
  7. ^Ross Eaman (12 October 2009). The A to Z of Journalism. Scarecrow Press. pp. 271–2. ISBN 978-0-8108-7067-3. Retrieved 2 June 2013. 
  8. ^"Elizabeth (Steele), Lady Trevor". National Portrait Gallery, London. 
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