Character Analysis of Sir Roger de Coverley
Sir Roger de Coverley, the principal character of Addison’s essays, was in fact, not the creation of his but of his friend, Richard Steele’s. In the essay of the club, Steele gave us the bare sketch of the basic characteristics of Sir Roger de Coverley, an imaginary eccentric old country knight who frequented the Spectator Club in London. But what proficiency goes to Addison, is that, he gave the character life, interest, and adventure, and cast over it the charm of his pleasant humour. Thus Sir Roger occupied the prime place in most of the essays of Addison.
Steele’s Portrayal of Sir Roger
There is seen a gradual development in the character – portrayal of Sir Roger from Steele to Addison. When Steele first handled the character, Sir Roger was, then, a vigorous youth who often had his supper with Lord Rochester, a notorious womanizer and Sir George Etherege. Sir Roger, when he first came to the town, fought a duel and kicked Bully Dawson in a public coffee – house for calling him youngster. This roughness of his character had been erased out by the soft handling of Addison.
Addison reshaped the character of Sir Roger
Sir Roger’s character was developed by Addison in his essay Sir Roger at Home and Sir Roger at Church. He first becomes an eccentric and lovable Tory squire whose foibles are held up for the sympathetic amusement of a Whig audience. He eventually becomes a symbol of an ideal feudal paternalism in his relation with his servants and tenants. Thus, Sir Roger who was at first drawn as a caricature by Steele was elevated to a living individual by Addison. Here, in the essay Sir Roger of Home. Addison has furnished a vivid pen – picture of Sir Roger’s homely nature.
Sir Roger’s Hospitability to the Guests
Sir Roger was a man full of human kindness, love and affection and a man who followed the straight forward manner in his actions and deeds. He often invited the author to visit his country-house and to spend a month there. In one occasion Addison accepted his friend’s invitation and settled for some days at Sir Roger’s village-home. Sir Roger never interfered on the matter of other. As he knew very well about the likes and dislikes of Addison, he allowed him to go to bed and to rise according to his own will. He (Addison ) could have had his dinner either with Sir Roger on the common table or in his own chamber. Addison disliked to be stared at by the common public. So when the country-gentlemen used to come to see Sir Roger, he could not allow them to go near his particular friend. This is how Sir Roger kept his guests at ease by allowing to do the things according to them.
Sir Roger’s Old Fashioned Nature
Sir Roger, as portrayed by Steele and Addison, was a bachelor, although he had a family which consisted of sober and grave servants of his. Sir Roger was the best master, all in all in his family. He seldom changed his servants. So all the members were aged and grew old with Sir Roger. Sir Roger’s behaviour to them was all along good. His kindness and love went equally even in the treatment of his old dog and old grey horse. None of both the creatures was useful, yet they were kept with great care and tenderness regarding their past services.
Sir Roger’s Fascination towards Clergyman
There was a chaplain, the clergyman who was living with Sir Roger above thirty years under great esteem of the master. That clergyman loved Sir Roger heartily. He was a person of good sense and of a very regular life. He was a good scholar, but never wanted to show off his learning. Sir Roger knew his actual value, the value of his personality, and so, he loved him much and granted for him a good annuity for his whole life. The gentleman was of high mind and open heart. He never asked anything of Sir Roger for himself, but he solicited his master for something in behalf of the common tenants. He brought settlement when any dispute arose among the tenants. It was his good quality that he could best deliver the printed sermons on the pulpit with the clarity and gracefulness of his voice. Sir Roger liked this type of clergyman, but disliked them who spoke in Latin and Greek at his own table.
Sir Rogers Kind and Loving Attitudes to Servants
It was when Sir Roger arrived at his country-home after a long absence, the whole house became submerged with great joy and a type of pleasant expression was to be felt from the facial appearance of all the servants. Each of them engaged in the services. He then inquired about the affairs related to his servants and thus he played the role of the father and the master of the family at a time. This quality of kindness and authority, good nature and pleasing manner attracted all his servants towards him and made him so much loving to all.
Sir Roger: A Mixed Character of Good and Bad
Addison adopted the dramatic method too to reveal the character of Sir Roger. Sir Roger had the habit of making sweeping generalisation from his own particular experiences. We have seen several absurdities of his character, but these were not at all grotesque. Sir Roger in Church is the revelation of Joseph Addison’s power to mingle respect and laughter together. He was a good church man, good landlord, an ardent believer of faith and religion. Yet he had his own peculiarities. He said extra two or three ‘Amens’, tried to keep strict discipline in times of prayer. What was very special of him was that he drew up the characters through the sketches of the abstract qualities of the character–his likes and dislikes, his qualities and weaknesses his aptitudes and inclinations. The circumstantial devices and details helped the blooming of his character, made him a “living one.”
Sir Roger: Is he a mere Caricature or Respectable Person?
Sir Roger was made a man of very ‘singular behaviour’, he was made a humorist but not a mere flat character, a mere social type individual. Rather Addison imparted him with the life like rounded qualities. Critics have alleged, of course, some of them, that Addison had made Sir Roger’s characterization as a caricature of the typical, simple minded Tory squire of his days. But the allegation is not based on sound footings. In that case we could not have the life like ’rounded’ effect that it had. Of course Addison had emphasized some of the oddities of his character, but this is not the only facet. A caricature is a distorted or absurd representation of a person devoid or respect of sympathy for him. But that is not the case with Sir Roger. We read about him with interest, even sometimes, we respect him, though we know many of his mistakes and weaknesses. Hugh Walker observe—
“He (Sir Roger) never becomes so absurd as to lose our respect.”
His eccentricities that he exhibited, were born out of the innate goodness of a knight and this, of course, has made him a “three dimensional figure” a living character. He was at first drawn as a caricature but then developed and drawn as a living individual.
Thus, there is not an iota of doubt that Sir Roger’s portrayal is remarkable as well as admirable. Legouis has rightly observed –
“The man is not only an excellent figure of comedy with his eccentricities, his peculiar expressions, his attitudes, his mental leaps, but he is foremost among those characters who are not only loved but respected even while they are laughed at.”
He is unquestionably one of the treasures of our literature. We can conclude with Courthope,
“The figure of Sir Roger, though it belongs to a bygone stage of society, is as durable as human nature itself.”
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