Fraser Nelson Fraser Nelson

A toast to the first Spectator (and to CoffeeHousers)

It’s The Spectator’s summer party today, and in a rather important year. It was exactly 300 years ago that Joseph Addison & Richard Steele first published the earliest incarnation The Spectator. This blog is named for the coffee houses that had sprung up all over London at that time — the original destinations for The Spectator. It had gossip, opinion, character assassinations, literary review (it hyped up Paradise Lost), theatre and the arts. It was a huge success, without about one in ten Londoners reading it at the time. Were Addison alive now, there are a few characteristics he’d recognise in this virtual coffee house. He wrote using a pseudonym, just as most CoffeeHousers use a nom-de-blog. Addison said what he liked about coffee houses is that you can listen, without taking part. Only a minority of our readers leave comments, but I like to think that all of us enjoy the rough-and-tumble. When Rintoul, a Dundonian, set up the current series of The Spectator he infused it with the same values: absence of piety, love of fun, cash-strength opinion, the absence of any party line. (The great Matthew Parris gently trashes me in this week’s Spectator, to illustrate the point).
The first series of Addison & Steele’s The Spectator has been continually reprinted, and to aficionados — myself included — there is magic to that first series which was captured in Rintoul’s Spectator, reinvented again by Alexander Chancellor and projected online, in Coffee House, by Matthew d’Ancona.  The spirit isn’t so much in the posts, although we do our best, but in the comments which are (at their best) the most informative, thoughtful and intelligently provocative of any blog. So thank you all, for keeping the Addison magic intact.

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