Sir Roger De Coverley appears in about 35 essays out of 555 published essays in the Spectator. Joseph Addison, who cofounded the Spectator with Richard Steele, described several characters in these essays, but his most significant character is Sir Roger De Coverley. Papers that cover Sir Roger De Coverley are known as The Coverley Papers.
The essays in the Spectator cover a wide diversity of subjects. They are a faithful reflection of the life of the contemporary time viewed with a dispassionate eye. The characters in these well-known essays represent the new social life of England.
The Spectator aimed to—
“Enliven morality with wit, and to temper wit with morality.”The Spectator, British Periodical [1711-1712], Britannica
Sir Roger De Coverley Is The Central Character of The Coverley Papers
Sir Roger is undoubtedly the central character of The Coverley Papers, and through his activities, we get a comprehensive picture of eighteenth-century England’s life. In these character sketches of the Spectator, we observe these attractive character seeds developed in the eighteenth century.
The Spectator’s essays in which Sir Roger De Coverley does not appear are more or less obsolete for us. However, the essays covering the life and activities of Coverley have an enduring appeal and originality.
Addison and Steele Are The Co-creators of Coverley Character
Addison did not draw the character of Coverley alone; Richard Steele sketched the outline of his character. It was Addison who took crude outlines into his own hands. He retouched the outline, colored it, and gave it the shape of Sir Roger De Coverley, with whom we are all familiar today.
According to W. J. Long, Sir Roger De Coverley is the genial dictator of life and manners in the quiet English countryside. Addison himself has called him a “humorist” and whose virtues, as well as his imperfections, are tinged by a certain extravagance.
Addison Drew Virtue and Vice in Coverley’s Character
By no means, Addison tried to delineate a perfect man in society. Addison has presented a character in whom he has blended virtue and vice. Coverley has his human genial failing and frailties.
The renowned lecturer in English and Philosophy Hugh Walker said,
“All Addison’s principal literary gifts, a delicate taste, a keen sense of humor and an insight into character, are united in the character of Sir Roger De Coverley.”Hugh Walker (1855-1939), Honorary LLD at Glasgow University, Honorary DLitt at the University of Wales.
Addison has shown Sir Roger to us in various contexts. His colorful personality and diverse interests have been revealed to us. Addison makes us familiar with Sir Roger’s kindness, humanity, generosity, largeheartedness, and charitable disposition.
Sir Coverley’s Kindness, Gratefulness, and Equality towards His Subjects
Virtuous characteristics of Coverley are visible in his treatment of his chaplain, his parishioners, the alleged witch Moll White, the gypsies, and even the common beggars. Sir Roger had a gift of narration and conversation; hence, we find this quality in his account of various incidents and episodes and his description of persons like Tom Touchy.
Particularly, Sir Roger’s kind-heartedness strikes us powerfully. Being a man of high birth, he never misbehaved with his servants, for which his servants loved him sincerely. They considered it a great pleasure to work for him. Instead of avoiding his presence, they always sought opportunities of approaching him and receiving orders for him.
Sir Roger is a grateful man. He has not forgotten a great service by a servant who once saved him from drowning. Coverley cares for his other servants too. He even tries to place them in good positions, ensuring their better income and independent status.
Coverley’s kindness extends to their children and even their next generation. Their presence hardly gives him irritation or annoyance. He never scolds them in abusive language. Coverley is very concerned with his subjects’ welfare and always wants to see them well-provided.
Sir Coverley’s Pride in Class Distinction and Criticism of His Ancestors
Nonetheless, despite his benevolence towards all irrespective of position, Sir Roger did not like to do away with class distinction. He is a believer in class distinction. He is always mindful of his position and wants his servants to be aware of their respective positions.
For example, Sir Roger does not give them his cast-off clothes because these are likely to give rise to the silly ideas of equality in their minds. He is, in fact, a proud man who takes pride in his ancestors. He speaks proudly of one of his ancestors who possessed the warlike qualities and aptitude for the arts.
Coverley is not a blind lover of his forefathers. He does not hesitate to describe his ancestor’s bad qualities. He speaks of one of the ladies who ran away with a “man of stratagem and resolutions.” Sir Roger has an understanding of variety in human nature. His understanding of the human heart enables him to depict the characters of men.
Coverley’s Eccentricity and Uncompromising Attitude towards Lawbreakers
Amazingly, sir Roger was eccentric too, and he never allowed anybody to enter the church before him. He acted as a guardian in his tenancy. HeHe was always careful of his subjects’ welfare in this world and beyond.
Coverley insisted that everyone pays a visit to the church on Sunday. If he found anyone sleeping in the church, he would wake him or send his subject to wake him. His disposition towards the religious lawbreakers was uncompromising.
Coverley’s Celibacy and His Way with Women
However, Sir Roger could not marry as he received a shock from his first love. At twenty-three, he fell in love with a beautiful widow who had a perverse nature. His love for her ended in failure. As he lacked the art of winning a woman’s heart, he remained a bachelor for the rest of his life.
Sir Roger found himself dumb in the presence of the widow. We hear him complaining to the Spectator about the widow he loved,
“You can’t imagine, Sir, what it is to have to do with a widow.”Sir Roger De Coverley
Here, Coverley’s decent nature in perceiving women compels us to love him, admire him, and respect him in all good manners.
The character of Sir Roger De Coverley is an immortal creation of Joseph Addison and Richard Steele, making him one of the treasures of English essays. The elimination of Sir Roger from the Spectator’s essays would be like eliminating the Prince of Denmark from the play of Hamlet.
The character of Sir Roger amuses us of his extreme simplicity and absurdities alike. Addison has so nicely drawn his character that Sir Roger is regarded as one of the masterpieces of characterization.