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Two months later, under the joint editorship of Addison and Steele, the first number of the appeared.Published every day, it ran for 555 numbers (the last issue appeared on Dec. Although its circulation was small by modern standards, it was read by many important people and exercised a wide influence. Their purpose was, in their words, to bring "Philosophy out of Closets and Libraries, Schools and Colleges, to dwell in Clubs and Assemblies, at Tea-Tables, and in Coffee-Houses." Some of the essays are concerned with literary and philosophical questions; others comment on good manners and bad, life in the country and in the town.
Daniel Defoe estimated the total national weekly circulation of such periodicals at 200,000 in 1711, and the sharing of papers at coffeehouses and within families doubtless created a larger audience even then.
The second development was the rise of the informal essay at the same time, undoubtedly influenced by the writings of Montaigne as well as by the recognition that particular kinds of prose style might be more appropriate to some discourses than to others.
Unlike their contemporary Defoe, whose Review of the Affairs of France (1704–13) moved to more general cultural topics from a central engagement with political issues, Addison and Steele devoted themselves to matters of style, fashion, behavior, opinion, and manners characteristic of middle-class life; it was this rapidly growing and prospering audience that established so solid a readership for periodical essays in several successive generations.
A listing of the most successful and influential 18th-century periodical essays would be a very long one.
The term “periodical essay” appears to have been first used by George Colman the Elder and Bonnell Thornton in their magazine the Connoisseur (1754–56).
By the time it occurred to them to use these two words to describe the form of publication in which they were engaged, serial essays which shared a number of characteristics with the Connoisseur had been published (in England especially) for half a century.In a general sense, the term “periodical essays” may be applied to any grouping of essays that appear serially.Charles Dickens once referred to himself as a “periodical essayist,” and various 20th-century columnists whose syndicated work appears with some frequency might be given this designation.But such essays came to readers as preformed collections in bookshops or lending libraries, rather than as segments of discourse delivered to readers as a regular feature of their daily lives.See also Topical Essay Bibliography Weed, Katherine Kirtley, and Richmond Pugh Bond, Studies of British Newspapers and Periodicals from Their Beginning to 1800: A Bibliography, Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1946 Further Reading Bateson, F.Cave and his staff printed digests of the essays they selected in the interests of gentlemen who wished to keep abreast of the latest periodical commentary but simply did not have sufficient time to read it all as it appeared.Ultimately, the form evolved in ways that integrated it into the general conventions of literary publication; that is, the essay series was continued until sufficient numbers had been published to make up two- or four-volume sets.Ephraim Chambers’ entry on the essay in his Cyclopaedia (1728) refers to “sudden, occasional Reflexions, which are to be wrote much at the Rate, and in the Manner a Man thinks…” A third factor contributing to the popularity of this form was the 18th-century fondness for pseudonymous writing—the adoption of fictitious personae appropriate to the expression of particular views.Jonathan Swift and Richard Steele are only two of the most visible practitioners of this technique; it is also to be found employed with similar energy by hundreds of other writers.In 1764, when William King published as The Dreamer a group of essays (infused with all the qualities of the periodical essay form) which had never been published serially, the serial form may be said to have reached historical closure.Wonderful essays continued to be written—by gifted new writers such as Charles Lamb and by others who perpetuated the stylistic and topical qualities that had made the periodical essay so important.