The influence of Richard Steele in the history of British morals

Date

6/30/1934

Authors

Wolfsohn, Ida Cook

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Abstract

Description

The purpose of this study has been to show the important part that Richard Steele played in the moral and social revolution which took place in England in the early eighteenth century . This revolution came about as an attack upon the license, wit, cynicism, and the low moral standards set up by the court circles and the aristocratic classes generally as a protest against Puritanism . This period of license in life and in literature had been dominant for forty years when the seventeenth century drew to a close. In the early decades of the eighteenth century the middle classes, owing to certain important structural changes in British society, were again coming into a position in which they could impose their social and moral standards upon the nation. These classes, always the custodians of Puritan ideals, began in rather a quiet way to appeal to the national sense of moral propriety and social decency in opposition to the laxity in moral standards and social manners which the reaction against the excesses of the Cromwellian era.had set up. Against the intellectual cynicism and heartlessness of the Restoration era , these reformers employed the weapon of sentiment very effectively; and thus that important movement in intellectual and social history known as sentimentalism had its origin. The extent of the sentimental influence prior to Richardson has not generally been recognized. I purpose through this study to show, not only that this influence had obtained great momentum before Samuel Richardson, but that Steele was the chief agent in giving to the movement its initial momentum. Primary sources of material for establishing this thesis have been the works of Steele, more especially the following : a moral disquisition, The Christian Hero; his dramas, The Funeral, The Lying Lover, The Tender Husband, The Conscious Lovers, and, most important of all, the numerous essays contributed to The Tatler, The Spectator, and The Guardian . To present Steele in his true light as a social and moral reformer it has been necessary to go thoroughly into the social history of the time and to examine the ideals and standards of living of the people during the period of the Restoration and the Queen Anne period. This information has been found in the social and political histories of the time and especially in the letters, journals, diaries, and memoirs of the periods in so far as these have proved accessible.

Keywords

Richard Steele, British social standards, British moral standards, Puritan ideals

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