Category Archives: Content

Juvenile Genius: girls and boys writing for the Lady’s Magazine

LM, XXXII (1801). Image © Adam Matthew Digital / Birmingham Central Library. Not to be reproduced without permission.

Titles are an important element of a publication’s marketing strategy, and will usually be chosen to draw the attention of a target readership. In the case of the Lady’s Magazine (1770-1837), it is quite likely that the title was meant to position this periodical as an alternative to the long-established Gentleman’s Magazine (1731-1922), suggesting that it offered content of the same standards and prestige as the male-gendered original, but more directly appealing to a female audience. As we have discussed before, it would however be a mistake to assume that the Lady’s Magazine was only read by women. Many of the reader-contributors who submitted unsolicited copy to the magazine were male, and after studying the subscription lists of provincial booksellers, Jan Fergus has furthermore found that men as well as women associated with schools for both boys and girls, and their respective pupils, constituted a significant part of the subscribers.[1] Submissions by these pupils, in a variety of genres, regularly make their appearance in the magazine.

There are several reasons why the Lady’s Magazine would have been deemed suitable reading for younger readers, but we need look no further than the neat summary of the periodical’s mission in its subtitle. This tells us that the magazine is conceived as ‘an Entertaining Companion for the Fair Sex, Appropriated solely to their Use and Amusement’. Even though the many contributors do (cautiously) discuss the issues of the day, editorial notices in the magazine do indicate that submissions were turned down if they were considered potentially offensive, because they would be of a scurrilous or too controversial nature. For the standards of what would be ‘appropriate[d]’, the magazine tends not to distinguish the sensibilities of (adult) women from those of younger readers, as perhaps is typical of the age. For instance, yoking together ‘juvenile’ readers and ‘the [Fair] Sex’, the ‘Preface’ to Vol. IV (1773) aims to dispel all possible misgivings of concerned parents and professional pedagogues by ensuring that

preface 1773

LM, IV (1773). Image © Adam Matthew Digital / Birmingham Central Library. Not to be reproduced without permission.

The ‘Use’ mentioned in the subtitle is covered here too, by referring to the prominent educational mission of the magazine. As is often emphasized in the magazine’s internal advertisements, readers could expect more than just light entertainment from the Lady’s Magazine. They would learn from its fiction and essays rules of conduct, and from the many historical or geographical pieces they would get a smattering of book smarts into the bargain. It is clear from the above statement that the editors grasped that the “appropriated” and edifying content could potentially attract a broader readership than only adult women, foremost including younger readers. Many contributions are aimed directly at this demographic, with short fiction about young ladies often set in schools, and essays (usually in the form of letters) that tell daughters or sisters how they should behave there.

From the first year of the Lady’s Magazine onwards, we also find pieces that are attributed to such ‘juvenile’ reader-contributors themselves. Like most of the contributions to the magazine, these are mostly anonymous or pseudonymous, but with precocious young authors the age is sometimes stated, and affiliations with specific schools are often emphasized. No doubt this was an opportunity for the represented schools to advertise the level of their pupils. Especially in its early years, the magazine often included short French essays with the invitation to submit translations for inclusion in the next number, and for instance in 1775 one such translation, suspiciously faultless, appeared from a “G. Stennett, aged ten years, at the Academy, Woodford, Essex” (Vol. VI, p. 180). Perhaps it was common for Miss or Sir to have a quick look at the efforts of their wards before they were sent off. The merits of boarding schools for girls are a topic of debate among correspondents in the magazine’s earlier years, and for those institutions it must have been a concern that they appeared at their best. Additionally, it is possible that the magazine was used as material for classroom assignments. Though some translators can be identified as adults, these translation exercises do noticeably often appear with full mentions of the school or age of teenage contributors. The submission of the class’s best work to the Lady’s Magazine may have been an appealing incentive to ambitious pupils. Translations of short Latin poems and excerpts from the Classics sometimes appear too, and may well have originated as (a boy’s) classwork. After the first decade these possibly didactic items become rarer.

The flow of items in other genres, however, continues unabated. During the entire run of the magazine, ‘enigmatical lists’ are often supplied by girls at boarding schools, who clearly enjoyed writing fanciful descriptions of each other. There is no practical advantage to circulating a riddle throughout the British dominions that could hardly be solved by anyone not living in the same house as you, but let s/he who never chats to colleagues on Facebook cast the first stone. There would of course be the joy of seeing one’s submission in print, which was no doubt an even greater thrill to the many young contributors regularly sending in poems, usually short and lyrical.

hail papa April 1771

LM, I (April 1771), p. 431. Image © Adam Matthew Digital / Birmingham Central Library. Not to be reproduced without permission.

Poets will draw inspiration from their surroundings and experiences, and these aspiring bards are no exception. Already in 1771 ‘a female genius at a boarding school in Leicester’ (Vol. I, p. 431) apostrophizes her ‘dear papa’ in a poem about her homesickness. How many now legendary poets started off by writing verse like this?



Dr. Koenraad Claes

School of English, University of Kent

[1] Fergus, Jan. Provincial Readers in Eighteenth-Century England. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006. passim

Word Clouds and Visualizing the Archive

The digitization of the Lady’s Magazine (1770-1832) has opened up exciting new research methodologies that we use on our project to help extrapolate trends and changes that occur in the periodical over the course of its 62 year print run. One of these research tools is the word cloud, a means of representing data visually by inserting a large quantity of text into a program that analyzes word frequency. The resulting word cloud depicts the range of word or phrase frequency through size difference so one can readily see how different terms are weighted relative to one another. This is useful when working with a database the size of the Lady’s Magazine because it enables us to see changes in, for example, the terminology used in titles over the magazine’s entire print run. 1770 prose top 75For example, in 1770 the most frequent 75 words that appear in the prose titles are terms descriptive of genres or types of writing: history, anecdote, treatise, account, biography, tale, letters, French, translation, etc. Also appearing frequently are the words ‘lady’, ‘lady’s’, and ‘female’.

In comparison, using the most frequent terms in prose titles from 1815 reveals a shift in the magazine’s composition. With the exception of the ubiquitous anecdote, fewer genres appear while increasingly individual names and titles (with an understandable emphasis on the French) are featured.1815 top 75 Prominently featured are the terms death, Bonaparte, France, Paris, Duke, Nelson, king, general, Lord, Hamilton, Chesterfield, Cromwell, Sir, Wellington and theatre.

The content shifts that lie beneath the articles’ titles require, of course, careful analysis of the underlying contexts that such visualizations merely nod towards. So while between 1770 and 1818 the term ‘men’ appears with around the same frequency, in 1778 the titles with men include ‘Verses on the Folly of Men’ while in 1817 readers were presented with ‘Maxims of Eminent Englishmen’. The same approximate frequency – but very different content indeed!Screen Shot 2015-01-19 at 11.48.31 Because our index includes a series of keywords for each item in the magazine, we can compare word clouds of the keywords in one year to word clouds of the titles and discover substantial differences. For example, the keywords for 1770 look quite different from the article titles.

When working with material as sizeable in scope, quantity, and chronology as the Lady’s Magazine archive, similarly diverse research methodologies are likewise required. The word cloud is one of the methods that digitization has made possible and that raises new and important questions about the magazine’s content and how such content was presented to the readers.

Dr Jenny DiPlacidi, University of Kent


Seasonal items in the Lady’s Magazine: Christmas

Although one of the most prominent goals of our research project is to demonstrate the lasting relevance of periodicals like the Lady’s Magazine, the very ‘periodicity’ of the genre obviously required that the magazine also directly appealed to the concerns and interests of its readership at the time of each issue’s appearance. This creates the need for reference to topical events, and for the inclusion of seasonal items on important dates that are marked annually on the calendar. The most commercially successful publications have always been those that found ways in which to insinuate themselves into the day-to-day routines of their readers, anticipating what they will be thinking of when the magazine appears, and ideally even associating themselves in the reader’s mind with popular holidays or other collectively experienced recurrent events. The Lady’s Magazine would for instance dutifully print the productions of the poet laureate on the birthday of the monarch, but a more extensively covered, and maybe more appealing subject, was Christmas.

LM, VI (1775). Image © Adam Matthew Digital / British Library. Not to be reproduced without permission.

It is common knowledge that Christmas has not been celebrated in Britain in the same way throughout history, and that, besides worldly fashions, often tumultuous changes in religious regulations (and sometimes legislations) have played their role. Christmas as we know it today was after all only firmly established over the course of the nineteenth century. Nevertheless, the official commemoration of the day that, in the words of pseudonymous poet ‘Christiania’ (1775), ‘sacred deity from heaven came’, could never go by unnoticed. With its wide readership that furthermore diligently helped to furnish content, the Lady’s Magazine is a useful source on the celebration of this holiday from the late eighteenth to the early nineteenth century.

Most of the numerous and diverse Christmas-themed contributions to the magazine can be found in the annual ‘supplement’, a thirteenth issue that unlike the famous ‘Christmas numbers’ of the Victorian age shows little thematic coherence, and appears to be mainly intended to cash in on the fact that at this time of the year the public would be in a spending mood. Besides religious poetry there is also more worldly verse, as when in 1789 an anonymous poet looks back fondly ‘on five ladies who composed verses for their amusement at Christmas’. With a hyperbole characteristic of much of the Lady’s Magazine amateur poems, these “five graces” are said to be so talented at “verse divine” that the god Apollo decides to claim them for his new Muses. In her advice column, the magazine’s agony aunt and conduct guru ‘the Matron’ annually discusses her plans for the holidays, which she usually spends with her son, a country squire who provides his servants with well-supervised Christmas entertainment. Various essays that compare contemporaneous to historical customs are featured, such as on ‘Christmas sports’ (1796), and in 1780 the anonymous author of ‘Thoughts on Christmas-tide’ delivers an account of the festival across the different social strata that should be of interest to cultural historians.

This author assures us that by 1780 only ‘old-fashioned mortals […] look upon this season with extraordinary devotion’, while ‘with the generality Christmas is looked upon as a festival in the most literal sense, and held sacred by good eating and drinking’. Housewives busily prepare ‘mince-pies without meat’, and lament that this ‘solid, substantial Protestant’ treat now shares the sideboard with ‘Roman Catholic aumlets, and the light, puffy, heterodox pets de religieuses’. Whereas in former times lords would make merry with their tenants, in the late eighteenth century ‘the servants swill the Christmas ale by themselves in the hall, while the squire gets drunk with his brother fox–hunters in the smoking room’. For common people with access to more fortunate patrons this is however still a period of relative joy:

LM, XI (1780). Image © Adam Matthew Digital / British Library. Not to be reproduced without permission.

According to the author, this ‘pocket-money’ is spent on playing ‘the fine gentlemen of the week’, or as long as these limited funds may last. ‘A merry Christmas has ruined many a promising young fellow, who has been flush of money at the beginning of the week, but before the end of it has committed a robbery on the till for more’. For ‘persons of fashion’, this ‘annual carnival’ is of course most horrible: ‘boisterous merriment, and aukward affectation of politeness among the vulgar, interrupts the course of their refined pleasures, and drives them out of town.’ As the author (ironically?) concludes, ‘[t]hese unhappy sufferers are really to be pitied’.

Locating within the Lady’s Magazine material on Christmas, or any other topic, will become very easy in early 2015, when we launch our annotated index. In the meantime the team wishes you a merry Christmas and a happy New Year.

Dr. Koenraad Claes

School of English, University of Kent

The History of an Humble Friend [Written by Herself]

The History of an Humble Friend [Written by Herself]

A common goal of our research project as a whole is exploring the many questions that the Lady’s Magazine raises about conventional literary historical narratives that have traditionally excluded periodical publications. Part of this exclusion lies in the reputation of many eighteenth-century periodicals as printing derivative content, particularly in terms of the fictional contributions. Robert D. Mayo notes in his book The English Novel in the Magazines, 1740-1815 (1962) that ‘most new magazine fiction published between 1740 and 1815 was lacking in vigor and permanent value’ (2), arguing that such fiction is only worthy of study in its ability to help provide a more complete picture of the eighteenth-century reader. In spite of being frequently considered worthless in its own right, condemned as the products of ‘hacks’ and ‘amateurs’ (Mayo, 2), prose fiction published in the periodicals deserves our close attention.

Examining the fictional content of the Lady’s Magazine in its own right reveals fascinating lines of potential influence from earlier texts and opens up new intertextual possibilities for our readings of later and better known works. Stories such as the anonymously authored The History of an Humble Friend, a serial fiction that appears monthly in the Lady’s Magazine for over two years, beginning in September 1774 and concluding in the yearly supplement to 1776, shares marked similarities to works like Frances Burney’s Evelina (1778) and Ann Radcliffe’s The Italian (1797) – both of which are published years after this humble tale makes its first appearance. This novel length serial fiction deploys standard eighteenth-century Gothic tropes such as the reclamation of the missing mother figure, but does so relatively early on in traditional chronologies of the genre. Likewise, its presentation of the sentimental orphan prefigures later representations popularized in novels by Burney and Charlotte Smith.

LM, V (1774). Image © Adam Matthew Digital / Birmingham Central Library. Not to be reproduced without permission.

LM, V (1774). Image © Adam Matthew Digital / Birmingham Central Library. Not to be reproduced without permission.

The story provides a first-person account by the narrator, Harriot West, an orphan whom we first encounter in the boarding school outside of London where she was raised by the kindly Mrs. S—. When Harriot visits a schoolmate during the holidays she is sharply reminded of her forlorn position in the world by her hostess who, in an effort to curtail her husband’s teasing, tells him that Harriet is ‘only a poor child, whom nobody owned, and for whom, of course, nobody cared’ (V, 577). Harriot realizes that her lack of family means that she can ‘expect mortifying treatment’ and she reflects ‘I felt myself detached, as it were, from every human creature, I felt myself a solitary being, in the wide world, without a parent, without a friend, without a protector’ (V, 578). Following a familiar pattern in eighteenth-century literature, Harriot’s orphaned state is compounded by having no knowledge of her birth parents, and though her adventures eventually lead her on a journey of discovery: of family, fortune and love, she must first endure hardship and dangers.

jealous girl and ludlow

LM, V (1774). Image © Adam Matthew Digital / Birmingham Central Library. Not to be reproduced without permission.

Part of the story’s appeal is the writing itself: the anonymous author is engaging and amusing, quickly drawing readers into Harriot’s narrative. Following her into ‘the world’ reveals, much like Frances Burney’s eponymous heroine Evelina (1778) experienced, how perilous navigating society without name or fortune could be. Harriot’s treatment at the hands of other young women confirms her initial fears that she can expect mortifying treatment. Positioned as her schoolmate’s companion she accompanies the Ludlow family on visits, to the opera, and to plays. Threatened by her beauty, Miss Ludlow’s friends attempt to persuade her that Harriot, ‘though she had nothing, and was nobody, yet made a specious appearance, which attracted the eyes of the men, and drew them from women infinitely superior to her in every respect; women who had both fortune and birth to recommend them’ (V, 645). Indeed, when the visit eventually concludes, Harriot is determined to become a teacher at the boarding school so she will not be exposed to such treatment in future.

Fortunately for the story’s readers, the author has no intention of keeping Harriot ensconced safely in Mrs. S—’s school. Believing that Harriot will be better served by making alliances with good families, Mrs. S— encourages her to visit another young lady from the school, Miss Menel, who is handsome, rich and vain. Miss Menel comes equipped with both a handsome brother, Mr. Menel, and a lover irritated by her caprice, Mr. Lovell. Harriot finds herself the object of unwanted attention from Mr. Lovell and both Miss Menel and her brother ‘became alarmed at his behaviour’ (V, 691).

It is here, questioned closely by Mr. Menel over her feelings towards his sister’s lover, that we will leave Harriot feeling ‘hurt and abashed’ (V, 691). In future posts I will pick up on the serial’s weaving together of various generic conventions; much like Harriot’s narrative, this thread will be continued periodically.

Screen Shot 2014-12-08 at 18.51.24

LM, V (1774). Image © Adam Matthew Digital / Birmingham Central Library. Not to be reproduced without permission.


Medicine, Cures and Quacks

cook first lterr

LM, V (1774). Image © Adam Matthew Digital / Birmingham Central Library. Not to be reproduced without permission.

Among the many interesting reader contributions to the Ladys Magazine are the items that seek or offer advice on medical issues. One of the periodical’s major sources of medical expertise was Dr John Cook, who began corresponding with the magazine in September 1774. Dr Cook, a 70 year-old physician confined to a wheelchair by gout, seeks to be ‘useful to the last’ by sending in medical pieces to a variety of periodicals. Eighteenth-century patients, overwhelmed with recipes for ‘vulgar specificks’ made up of ‘cat’s-blood, powder of the human skull, and many other such mysterial medicines’ of ‘imagined virtues’ (V, 464), could consult the magazine’s long-running column The Lady’s Physician for professional medical guidance.

pitch on head

LM, VIII (1777). Image © Adam Matthew Digital / Birmingham Central Library. Not to be reproduced without permission.

To a modern reader, Dr Cook’s advice can appear to border on the downright dangerous. At one point he suggests that mothers who are having a particularly difficult time curing their infants’ scabbed head use a plaster of black pitch (a tar-like substance) to coat the head and pull the hairs out by the roots (VIII, 41). Nonetheless, the medical advice on offer was seldom without precedent. Running from 1774-1786, with Dr William Turnbull taking over from Dr Cook in November 1783, The Lady’s Physician provided cures believed to be tried and true – though often with modifications. Dr Boerhaave’s recipe for a poultice to apply to breasts infected with coagulated milk, was, for example, offered by Cook along with his own explicit directions, measurements and comforting tone (VI, 256). For those ladies whose breasts are so infected they require suppuration, Cook assures them that they ‘need not be terrified at so slight an operation’ that is not ‘cutting into the solid flesh, as you may fear, but only piercing at once a very thin and overstretched skin … if speedily performed, both the horror and pain will be over before can well be cried oh!’ (VI, 257).

mole kill

LM, IV (1773). Image © Adam Matthew Digital / Birmingham Central Library. Not to be reproduced without permission.

Not all who wrote to the magazine offering advice were as professional as Cook. In response to Sylviana, who requested a cure for the ‘disagreeable’ warts that have ‘over-grown’ her hands (IV, 600), one reader suggested she slaughter a mole and bathe her warts in its blood (IV, 660). For readers like Sylviana, whose warts caused her mortification, the dialogue provided by the magazine’s reader contribution and response format allowed for questions and conversations that would have otherwise gone unasked and unspoken. Serials such as The Lady’s Physicican in some ways functioned as an eighteenth-century Embarrassing Bodies, but without the need for self-exposure. Cook himself expressed a desire that the column would help women with diseases ‘the modesty of many will not permit them to consult a physician about’ (V, 578).

LM, IV (1773). Image © Adam Matthew Digital / Birmingham Central Library. Not to be reproduced without permission.

And as for quacks? In addition to those against whom Dr. Cook warned readers, a more traditional type of quack appears. In 1773 Clarinda writes in with medical recipes to treat diseases in birds, poultry and water-fowl, particularly distemper in Guinea fowl (IV, 239).


Dr Jenny DiPlacidi

School of English, University of Kent