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Saturday, 2 February 2019

Write a character sketch of Sir Roger de Coverley

Steele's treatment of Sir Roger is more sentimentalised than Addison's even though the latter never becomes totally sarcastic against the knight. Sir Roger's character-sketch originated in the mind of Steele. It was he who gave the outline of the character. He continues what he started in the essays referred to above. Sir Roger is made out to be a simple minded but kind and generous and slightly eccentric country squire.

In The Coverley Household, we have the kindness and generosity of Sir Roger towards his servants. His household is actually made up of his servants who are like a family to him. He gets the full respect and affection of these servants because he treats them well. They consider it a pleasure to work under him and are eager to obey his orders--indeed they condsider it a privilege to be called before him to get orders for something to be done. He is a benevolent man who tries to do his best for those who serve him. He often placed his old servants in businesses of their own so that they could flourish independently. He also shows consideration to the servants' children. He never felt irritated or angry with the servants. and did not use abusive language. He is always considerate about their welfare. They all had a satisfied look on their faces ; they loved and respected Sir Roger.
character sketch of Sir Roger de Coverley

Sir Roger is proud about his ancestors. Talking to the Spectator about these ancestors in the essay Sir Roger's Ancestors, he is quite-frank about them. He does praise them all in equal terms. He is quite aware of their shortcomings and faults as well as their good points. He is proud of the ancestor who was good at war as well as in the art of peace. He is also proud of the one who was full of integrity and generosity and high ideals. But he does not hide the true facts when he has to speak of one who was not so good or great. He does not hide the fact that one of the ladies in the family ran off with a "man of strategem and resolution." Nor does he refrain from telling the Spectator about the gentleman who was well-mannered but who knew nothing whatever about business and ruined everyone who came into contact with him. The essay reveals to us a few traits of Sir Roger's character. He had a rather blunt manner of starting a conversion without a proper introduction. Nor is he much concerned about preserving the appearance of the chain of thought. We also become familiar with the knight's shrewd observation of the trends in social fashions in the comment, "the general fashion of one age has been followed by one particular set of people in another, and by them preserved from one generation to another " Sir Roger is also good at judging human nature and this comes out in his descriptions of his ancestors, the variety of ancestors whose pictures hang in his gallery. The knight is not short in a sense of humour and this too is evident in the descriptions of his ancestors. His account of the ancestor who was good with his pen at writing poetry and was the first to invent a fashion of making love to a woman by squeezing her hand, is quite replete with a sense of humour.

The other two essays, namely His Account of his Disappointment in Love and Sir Roger's Reflections on the Widow, are concerned with the knight's rather unfortunate experience in the field of love. He fell in love with the 'perverse widow, at the age of twenty thee. He was in truth no match for her. She was too intelligent and widely read and experienced to yield to the silent love of the simple and naive country gentleman. Sir Roger, in his turn, was so overawed of the widow's learning and ability to discourse that he could hardly open his mouth in her presence. Sir Roger is shown as simple and rather naive, always awed of learning because he himself is not too intellectual. He felt embarrassed in the presence of the widow though he loved her with all his heart. He knew that she was rather cruel and that his love was hopeless but he could not help loving her still. Sir Roger's habit of making sweeping generalisations on the basis of particular experience is evident when he calls all confidants malicious and dangerous because he himself felt that it was the widow's confident who had hindered the widow from returning his love.

Sir Roger's shrewdness of observation and knowledge of human nature is, however, very much shown even in these essays. In His Account of his Disappointment in Love, he makes sensible self-analysis and says that the disappointment in love had left a lasting impression on his mind which made him slightly incoherent in his speech. But, he says, love had also benefited him ; he was a better man after the experience of loving the widow even if it had been a hopeless affair. It had made him more tolerant and lenient in his dealings with others, more forgiving, even towards his enemies. His generosity and truly gentlemanly nature is revealed in his remark that though he sometimes thought that it would be nice if the widow was in some difficulty so that he could offer his services to her, he immediately regretted this because he would not really want her to be burdened with any sense of obligation to him. He is a man of romantic disposition as is apparent in his almost poetic description of the widow's charms, especially her beautiful hand. Sir Roger, then, is not a successful lover ; he is too simple for that. We sympathies but we are also amused at his discomfiture and 'inefficiency.'

Steele's picture of Sir Roger is on the ideal side i.e., kindly, benevolent, generous to a fault. But he also has a number of eccentricities which give rise to the comic side of his character, and we are given a reason for this streak of absurdity i.e., his disappointment in love. But wherever Sir Roger appears, he gains our affection and respect even while making us laugh. But we laugh affectionately and never sneeringly.

NOTE ON JOHNSON'S VIEW THAT THE IRREGULARITIES OF SIR ROGER'S CONDUCT SPRING FROM HIS HABITUAL RUSTICITY AND THE NEGLIGENCE OF SOLITARY GRANDEUR

Dr. Johnson in his admirable criticism of Addison's work has made the remark that the eccentricities of Sir Roger's conduct were the effects of habitual rusticity and the negligence which solitary grandeur naturally generates. It is true enough that the old knight is rather on the odd side ; he is a "gentleman who is very singular in his behaviour," we are told by Steele himself who first conceived of the character and gave its bare outline in the essay Of The Club. But we are also told that this irregularity of conduct came out of 'good sense.'Sir Roger's is simple and naive seen from the point of view of a town dweller. He also shows an incredibly comic propensity to say surprising things. Thus he is capable of saying 'Amen' three or four times at the end of a prayer which he likes especially. He is also capable of standing up in the midst of the service to count the congregation. He is not averse to disturbing the congregation himself just in order to tell a tenant not to disturb ! And he likes to enjoy the special privilege of sleeping in the church during the service but does not allow others to practise the habit. But, we are told that these eccentricities were not viewed as such by the country folk who overlooked all these and admired the essentially good nature of knight who was so benevolent, kind and considerate. To same extent it is true to say that the oddities are the outcome of rusticity. His manners are those of the country side. He is a favourite squire in his country estate and to the simple folk of the country his oddities do not seem odd.We are told that his odd behaviour springs from his essential goodness. This is shown to be true. He is simple and has certain good intentions. Thus if he stands up in the middle of the service to count the congregation, it is because he wants his tenants to give attention to their spiritual development and come regularly to church. He does not seem exactly stupid either. He can be very shrewd if he wants to be. His comments on the trends of fashion continued in one form or the other, is shrewd. He is capable of acute self-analysis too as and when he says that he had become rather odd in his behaviour since his disappointment in love. But we must remember that this Sir Roger is the Sir Roger of Steele's essays. In Addison's essays he is treated with greater irony, though with no less respect.

Sir Roger is a take-off on the simple, gullible country squire of the day. He is most amusing when he talks in a spirit of bravado as when he speaks of the ruffians who had him in London and from whom he actually ran off. He is absurd enough to make an irrelevant speech in court merely to impress the Spectator. He is capable of vain display of meagre historical knowledge as happens on his visit to Westminster Abbey. He is puzzled by Moll White who is said to be the local witch. He is over-awed by any learning superior to his own which is too meagre in any case. He prefers a person who would not insult him with Latin and Greek at his own table ! Yet Addison too treats the knights character with respect so that our laughter at his absurdities is tinged with affection. The knight is a character who is basically prompted by the best of intentions. If his simple mindedness makes him rather ridiculous in the artificial atmosphere of the town, it also produces the benevolence and kindness.

Dr. Johnson's statement is to a certain extent true. Sir Roger's behaviour or rather oddities of behaviour do arise in part from the fact of having lived in the countryside and continuing to be unsophisticated. It is to be noted, however, that he becomes absurd only when he puts on a pose for the benefit of the town dweller. It is also true to a certain extent that his behaviour which is that of a "benevolent despot' arises from the fact that he had held an important position within the country circle. He is slightly arrogant and sometimes pompous. But it would not do to ascribe the oddities to rusticity and solitary grandeur alone. The eccentricities also arise because he is essentially good and acts according to what he considers to be good.

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