Comicality of Sir Roger’s Character and his Gentleman Nature
Sir Roger de Coverley is a fictional Tory character who was created to serve as a farcical squire stereotype of the bygone era by the Whig authors, Addison and Steele. Throughout the course of The Spectator, Sir Roger’s politics, etiquette, and country manners were often, but not always, shown to be silly and humorous yet ultimately harmless due to Sir Roger’s good gentleman nature.
In the essay "Sir Roger at Church", his eccentricity is seen in which he exercised his authority. His dealings with the local church are highly satirized in "Sir Roger at Church". Mr. Spectator could not suppress a hint of bemusement over Sir Roger’s complete authority in the church writing that, ‘As Sir Roger is Landlord to the whole congregation; he keeps them in very good order, and will suffer no body to sleep in it besides himself…’ The squire routinely caused disruptions such as lengthening the verses of psalms, standing while others were kneeling so as to note any absences and interrupting the sermon to tell people not to disturb the congregation with fidgeting or making noise. Mr. Spectator opined that the worthiness of his character made these behavioural oddities seem like foils rather than blemishes of his good qualities. He also noted that none of the other parishioners were polite or educated enough to recognise the ridiculousness of Sir Roger’s behaviour in and authority over the church. These observations of Sir Roger’s love of the high-Anglican church in the countryside are essential to the authors’ original purpose for creating the character, to mock the seemingly backward rural Tory.
Humour is also found in the essay "Sir Roger at Home". After getting invitation from Sir Roger for staying some days in his (Sir Roger’s) country house, Mr. Spectator went to his country house. The village people went to see the narrator, but Sir Roger thought it would be a disturbing act. So he forbade the country people not to get closer to the narrator. Mr. Spectator observes that as he had been walking in the fields, he had observed the villagers stealing a sight of him over a hedge, and had heard the knight desiring them not to let him see them “for that I hated to be stared at". His forbidding was humorous.
Moreover, in this essay we meet with a Chaplain who "lives in the family (of Sir Roger) rather as a relation than a dependent". He has a great proficiency in Latin and Greek. Besides, he was good preacher possessing a clear voice. In brief, he was good person both intellectually and morally. But his master, Sir Roger was "afraid of being insulted with Latin and Greek it his own table", because he doesn't know these languages. Then again he gives suggestion to the clergyman to be instructed by the books of other professors like St. Asaph, Dr. South etc. It is also humorous, because it is not the proper way to develop clergyman's creative faculties.
But the irony in the portrayal of the character of Sir Roger De Coverley is not in the least offensive or hurtful. The oddities and eccentricities of Sir Roger are ironically conveyed to us, but irony is employee in a most humorous manner. We laugh at Sir Roger's absurd behaviour at home and at the church, but we also develop feelings of respect and love for him because of his humanity, charity and generosity. Ridicule (by means of irony) is combined with respect in the portrayal of Sir Roger.
In “Sir Roger at Home”, Sir Roger’s treatment of his servants is adequately dealt with. He loved each of them and he maintained a friendly relationship with them and inquired after their health and family. His nice behaviour towards them helped them develop such love for him that if they were not employed, they seemed discouraged. Even his pet dog or a retired horse was not left unloved. The love between the master and the servants developed in such a degree that if he simply coughed or showed any infirmity of old age, there appeared tension in the looks of his servants.
Addison and Steele undertook this mocking task in order to satirise the Tory party and promote Whiggish politeness. However, while examining Sir Roger’s country mannerisms, political ideology, and relationship with the church, the two Whig writers eventually developed a fondness for the stereotyped antiquated Sir Roger de Coverley. Nonetheless, even as the authors struggled to keep their character from evolving into a nostalgic commemoration, Addison and Steele, using Sir Roger as a stereotype, subtly demeaned and archaized the Tory Party throughout The Spectator.