Richard Steele by Jonathan Richardson

Richard Steele (1672-1729). Portrait by Jonathan Richardson (1167-1745). Courtesy Wikimedia Commons].

Sir Richard Steele (1672 - 1 September 1729) was an Anglo-Irish poet, prose writer, editor, and politician, best remembered for collaborations with his friend Joseph Addison on the magazines The Tatler and The Spectator.

Life Edit

Steele was born in Dublin, Ireland (baptised March 12) in 1672 to Elinor Symes (Sheyles) and Richard Steele (an attorney). His sister Katherine had been born the previous year. Steele was largely raised by his uncle and aunt, Henry Gascoigne and Lady Katherine Mildmay.[1]

A member of the Protestant gentry, Steele was educated at Charterhouse School, where he first met Addison. After starting at Christ Church in Oxford, he went on to Merton College, Oxford, then joined the Life Guards of the Household Cavalry in order to support King William's wars against France. He was commissioned in 1697, and rose to captain of the 34th Foot in 2 years.[2]

He disliked British Army life, and left the army in 1705, perhaps due to the death of the 34th Foot’s commanding officer, and with him, Steele's opportunities of promotion. It may then be no coincidence that Steele's first published work, The Christian Hero (1701), attempted to point out the differences between perceived and actual masculinity.

In 1706 Steele was appointed to a position in the household of Prince George of Denmark, consort of Anne of Great Britain. He also gained the favour of Robert Harley, 1st Earl of Oxford and Earl Mortimer.

In 1705, Steele married a widow, Margaret Stretch, who died in the following year. At her funeral he met his second wife, Mary (Scurlock), whom he nicknamed "Prue" and married in 1707. In the course of their courtship and marriage, he wrote over 400 letters to her. They were a devoted couple, their correspondence still being regarded as one of the best illustrations of a happy marriage, but their relationship was stormy. Mary died in 1718, at a time when she was considering separation. Their daughter, Elizabeth (Steele's only surviving legitimate child), married John Trevor, 3rd Baron Trevor.

Steele became a Member of Parliament of the United Kingdom in 1713, but was soon expelled for issuing a pamphlet in favour of the Hanoverian succession. When George I of Great Britain came to the throne in the following year, Steele was knighted and given responsibility for the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane, London.

While at Drury Lane, Steele wrote and directed The Conscious Lovers, which was an immediate hit. However, he fell out with Addison and with the administration over the Peerage Bill (1719), and in 1724 he retired to his wife's homeland of Wales, where he spent the remainder of his life.[3]

Steele remained in Carmarthen after Mary's death, and was buried there, at St Peter's Church. During restoration of the church in 2000, his skull was discovered in a lead casket, having previously been accidentally disinterred during the 1870s.


In 1701, Steele published his first booklet entitled "The Christian Hero," which was written while Steele was serving in the army, and was his idea of a pamphlet of moral instruction. "The Christian Hero" was ultimately ridiculed for what some thought was hypocrisy because he did not necessarily follow his own preaching. He was criticized for publishing a booklet about morals when he, himself, enjoyed drinking, occasional dueling, and debauchery around town. In fact, Steele even had an illegitimate child Elizabeth Ousley, whom he later adopted. Steele wrote a comedy that same year titled The Funeral. This play was met with wide success and was performed at Drury Lane, bringing him to the attention of the King and the Whig party. Next, Steele wrote The Lying Lover, which was one of the first sentimental comedies, but was a failure on stage. In 1705, Steele wrote The Tender Husband with Addison’s contributions, and later that year wrote the prologue to The Mistake, by John Vanbrugh, also an important member of the Whig Kit-Kat Club with Addison and Steele.

The Tatler, Steele’s first journal, first came out on April 12, 1709, and ran three times a week: Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday. Steele wrote this periodical under a pseudonym of Isaac Bickerstaff and gave him an entire, fully developed personality. Steele described his motive in writing The Tatler as "to expose the false arts of life, to pull of the disguises of cunning, vanity, and affectation, and to recommend a general simplicity in our dress, our discourse, and our behavior". Steele founded the magazine, and although he and Addison collaborated together, Steele wrote the majority of the essays; Steele wrote roughly 188 of the 271 total, Addison 42, and 36 were the pair’s collaborative works. While Addison contributed to The Tatler, it is widely regarded as Steele’s work.

Following the demise of The Tatler, the two men founded The Spectator and also the Guardian.


In Popular CultureEdit

Steele plays a minor role in the novel The History of Henry Esmond by William Makepeace Thackeray. It is during his time with the Life Guards, where he is mostly referred to as Dick the Scholar and makes mention of his friend "Joe Addison." He befriends the title character when Esmond is a boy.



  • The Procession: A poem on Her Majesty's funeral, by a gentleman of the Army. London: Thomas Bennett / John Whitlock, 1695.
  • An Imitation of the Sixth Ode of Horace: Apply'd to His Grace the Duke of Marlborough. London: 1704.
  • Occasional verse (edited by Rae Blanchard). Oxford, UK: Clarendon Press, 1952.


  • The Funeral; or, Grief a-la-mode: A comedy. London: Jacob Tonson, 1702.
  • The Lying Lover; or, The ladies friendship: A comedy. London: Bernard Lintott, 1704; 3rd edition, London: William Mears, 1717.
  • The Tender Husband; or, The accomplish'd fools: A comedy. London: Jacob Tonson, 1705; Lincoln, NE: University of Nebraska Press, 1967.
  • The Mistake: A comedy. London: Jacob Tonson, 1706.
  • The Funeral / The Tender Husband. London: Jacob Tonson, 1717.
  • The Conscious-lovers: A comedy. London: Jacob Tonson, 1723.
  • Dramatick Works. London: Jacob Tonson / Bernard Lintot, 1723.
  • Plays (edited by G.A. Aitken). London: T. Fisher Unwin, 1894.
  • Plays (edited by Shirley Strum Kenny). Oxford, UK: Clarendon Press, 1971.


  • The Christian Hero. London: Jacob Tonson, 1701.
  • The Lucubrations of Isaac Bickerstaff (with Joseph Addison). (2 volumes), London: Charles Lillie / John Morphew, 1710.
  • The Englishman's Thanks to the Duke of Marlborough. London: A. Baldwin, 1712.
  • The Importance of Dunkirk Consider'd. London: A. Baldwin, 1713.
  • The Crisis: with some seasonable remarks on the danger of a Popish successor. London: Sam. Buckley, for F. Burleigh, 1713, 1714.
  • The French Faith Represented in the Present State of Dunkirk. London: Ferd. Burleigh, 1714.
  • A Letter to a Member of Parliament. London: Ferd. Burleigh, 1714.
  • Mr Steele's Apology for Himself and His Writings. London: R. Burleigh, 1714.
  • Mr Steele's speech upon the Proposal of Sir Thomas Hanmer for Speaker. London: L. Mathard, 1714.
  • Political Writings. London: Jacob Tonson, 1715.
  • The British Subject's Answer to the Pretender's Declaration. London: 1716; Dublin: John Walley, 1716.
  • Chit-chat: In a letter to a lady in the country. London: Richard Burleigh, 1716.
  • A Letter to a Member etc: Concerning the condemn'd Lords. London: J. Roberts / J. Graves / A. Dodd, 1716.
  • Sir Richard Steele's Speech for Repealing the Triennial Act. London: 1716; Dublin: Cornelius Carter, 1716.
  • An Account of the Fish Pool. London: H. Meere / J. Pemberton / J. Roberts, 1718.
  • The Antidote; in A letter to the Free-thinker. London: J. Roberts, 1719.
  • A Letter to the Earl of O—d: Concerning the bill of peerage. London: J. Roberts, 1719.
  • A Discourse upon Honour and Peerage. London: J. Roberts, 1719.
  • The Spinster: In defence of the woollen manufacturers. London: J. Roberts, 1719.
  • The Crisis of Property. London: W. Chetwood, et al, 1720.
  • A Nation a Family: Being the sequel of the crisis of property. London: W. Chetwood, et al, 1720.
  • The State of the Case between the Lord-Chamberlain and the Governor of the Royal Company of Comedians. London: J. Roberts / J. Graves / Charles Lillie, 1720.
  • Tracts and Pamphlets (edited by Rae Blanchard). Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1944.
  • Periodical Journalism (edited by Rae Blanchard). Oxford, UK: Clarendon Press, 1959.


  • The Tatler. London: John Morphew, 1709-1711; London: Dent / New York: Dutton, 1953.
  • The Spectator (edited with Joseph Addison). London: Sam. Buckley, 1711-14; London: Dent / New York: Dutton, 1945.
  • The Guardian. London: Jacob Tonson, 1713-1714; Lexington, KY: University Press of Kentucky, 1982.
  • The Englishman. London: R. Burleight, 1713-1715; Oxford, UK: Clarendon Press, 1955.
  • The Ladies Library. (3 volumes), London: Jacob Tonson, 1714; 3rd edition, London: Jacob Tonson, 1722.
  • The Lover: Written in imitation of the Tatler. London: J. Walker, 1714.
  • Poetical Miscellanies. London: Jacob Tonson, 1714.
  • The Reader. London: Jacob Tonson, 1714.
  • The Plebeian: To be continued monthly. London: S. Popping, 1719.
  • The Theatre. London: J. Tonson, 1720.


  • Epistolary Correspondence (edited by John Nichols). (2 volumes), London: John Nichols, 1787.
  • Letters (edited by R. Brimley Johnson). London: John Lane / New York: Dodd, Mead, 1927.
  • Correspondence (edited by Rae Blanchard). London: Humphrey Milford, for Oxford University Press, 1941; Oxford, UK: Clarendon Press, 1968.

Except where noted, bibliographical information courtesy WorldCat.[4]

See alsoEdit


  1. Dammers, Richard Steele, p. 1.
  2. “Steele, Sir Richard,” Oxford Dictionary of National Biography,
  3. The Life of Sir Richard Steele (1672-1729), Luminarium, Web, Mar. 18, 2012.
  4. Search results = au:Richard Steele, WorldCat, OCLC Online Computer Library Center Inc. Web, Dec. 2, 2016.

External linksEdit

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