Ninety-six letters to the Tatler and the Spectator, representing what is probably the largest extant body of unpublished material relating directly to the two journals, appeared for the first time in print in this book.
The original letters were not published in the Tatler or the Spectator, but they were preserved by the editors and eventually found their way into the Marlborough and the Tickell collections. They have been prepared for publication and edited, with notes and an introduction, by an authority in the field of early periodicals.
The letters will be of especial interest to students of early eighteenth-century England, for few literary forms more clearly reflect the times in which they are written than the letter, particularly the letter to the editor. A wide range of writers is represented—the inarticulate and the witty, the serving maid and the gentleman. Subject matter is equally diverse, including such topics as women's petticoats, free thinking, the state lottery, the nuisance of a smoking wife, cock-throwing, and Platonic love.
Why the letters were not published in the Tatler or the Spectator is a matter for conjecture. Some of them were apparently used by Addison or Steele as topics for essays. Occasionally a letter was received or rewritten by the editors and printed in an altered form. Whatever the reason for their survival, these letters will be of value to students of language and literary journalism, social conditions, and popular philosophy.