Monthly Archives: November 2014

Robinson and Roberts vs Wheble: Periodicals and Piracy

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

One of the many problems involved in working with eighteenth- and nineteenth-century periodicals is not knowing for sure what you are reading. Distinguishing between original and repurposed content is easier in a digital age, but is still a very inexact science because of the sheer scope of the archives from which serial publications can be drawn. Faced with a bewildering array of multi-genre content, the doggedly determined periodical scholar (is there any other kind?) is left heavily reliant on gut instinct and old-fashioned detective skills. 

Characteristically, the Lady’s Magazine does its best to keep readers off the scent. True: many articles drawn from previously published, longer works, are credited as being ‘By’ their original author or are acknowledged as extracts in their titles. But there are many other articles that appear in the magazine with no signature attached to them and no form of acknowledgement of prior appearance even though they are not originals. And there are others again that have a signature and read as though submitted by a reader for the first time when, in fact, these turn out to be, shall we say, borrowed. Whether the magazine sought deliberately to dupe its readers about such contributions or was itself simply deceived by contributors trying to pass of the work of others as their own (the editors certainly discovered authors doing this on many occasions and proudly declared so when they did) is unclear to say the least.

Trying to pursue the bigger question of how copyright law was understood to apply to eighteenth-century periodicals takes you into still murkier territory. Evidence from the magazines themselves suggests that editors and booksellers saw serial publications as working at the very margins, or even completely outside, of contemporary copyright law. Indeed, they seemed often to have operated in a culture of broad (if not unshakeable) understanding that their contents could and would be widely repurposed.

But there were limits to this understanding, and the Lady’s found itself on both sides of the copyright infringement fence. For nine years of its print run, The Lady’s  was forced to fend off the unapologetically unscrupulous efforts of publisher and rival Alexander Hogg, who, working out of 24 Paternoster Row, was the next door neighbour to George Robinson and his partners. Hogg’s New Lady’s Magazine waged an unrelentingly aggressive campaign against the Lady’s from 1786 to 1795 in a publication that Hogg claimed was more polite, better produced and better value than its predecessor and contemporary. In fact, huge swathes of the New Lady’s Magazine was plagiarised verbatim, without acknowledgement, from the Lady’s itself. Quite what Hogg and Robinson said to each other as they inevitably walked past each other in Paternoster Row intrigues me. But Robinson couldn’t claim the moral high ground all of the time. In 1819, for example, his magazine was forced to respond (not exactly apologetically) to the proprietor of Blackwood’s Edinburgh Magazine, who had complained that the Lady’s had committed an ‘invasion of [literary] property’ by printing ‘without alteration, abridgement, or acknowledgement’ a piece entitled  ‘Some Remarks on the Use of the Preternatural in Fiction’ by John Wilson, which they had printed the year before (L: Oct 1819: ‘To Our Correspondents’).

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LM, 1 (1770). Image © Adam Matthew Digital / Birmingham Central Library. Not to be reproduced without permission.

In many ways, however, the most interesting insights the Lady’s Magazine offers us into contemporary understandings of the periodical’s place in debates about piracy and plagiarism comes early in its history. When the first issue of the Lady’s Magazine appeared in August 1770 it was as a joint venture between the bookseller John Coote and publisher John Wheble. During April 1771 Coote sold his interest in the publication to the publishers George Robinson and John Roberts for 500l. Sensing that he was onto a good thing, Wheble, who had himself previously and unsuccessfully sought to buy the interest off Coote, would not give up on the Lady’s, however, and continued to publish it alongside Robinson and Roberts’ official version. The resulting dispute between Robinson and Roberts and Wheble over which Lady’s Magazine was legitimate led them to the courtroom in July 1771 in a trial that found in favour of Robinson and Roberts, who were awarded nominal damages of 5s.

A transcript of the courtroom proceedings, which was presided over by Lord Chief Justice Mansfield, appeared in full in the July 1771 issue of the magazine. It is an extraordinary document, worth every twinge of eye strain occasioned by scrutinising its densely printed text and densely argued perspectives on the thorny question of who ‘owns’ a publication that is the work of multiple hands: a proprietor, a printer, a publisher, an editor as well as engravers and numerous (and often unknown) writers.

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

Wheble’s defence lay in the quantity of labour he claimed he had put into getting the publication off the ground. He contended that the ‘time, application and invention’ he had invested in the magazine should have been enough to prove his title to it (I, July 1771: 44). Coote unsurprisingly disagreed, arguing that he had been proprietor and legal owner of the magazine and that Wheble’s small part in proceedings had been simply to get the publication onto readers’ bookshelves: ‘After the author has wrote, the compositor has done his part, and the printer has set the press, the last hand it comes to is the publisher [… .] All he has to do with it is, upon the one hand to publish it, upon the other hand, to transmit the profits to Mr Coote’ (I: July 1771: 42).

Coote’s case was hard to dispute, but the serial form of the The Lady’s complicated matters rather. As Wheble pointed out, some significant elements of the content of the Lady’s Magazine, such as the long-running travel narrative, A Sentimental Journey (1770-77), had yet to be concluded when Robinson and Roberts took over publishing the title. This begged an important question that the trial dodged rather than resolved: What rights has a publisher over a work that is published in part form? Wheble insisted, as he would, that as publisher of the previous eight installments, he had the right to publish future parts. Coote responded by asserting that serial literature (and its authors) belonged not to a publisher but to the publication in which it appeared. Since he had sold the Lady’s Magazine to Robinson and Roberts, the unknown author of A Sentimental Journey (known only as ‘a Lady’) was duty bound to write for its new publishers.

Lord Mansfield would not be drawn on these matters of ownership. After all, Mansfield declared, ‘there is not a colour of property’ in such ‘title[s]’ (I: July 1771: 50). In arguably the most interesting sections of the transcript, Mansfield, rather than focus on the rights of publishers, proprietors or even lowly authors, looks out for the magazine’s readers.

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

No law could prevent Wheble from continuing to publish the periodical after Coote sold his interest in it to his rivals, Mansfield declared, and indeed, Wheble ploughed on with publishing his own Lady’s Magazine alongside Robinson and Roberts version until December 1772, when it died a sudden death. But for Wheble not to acknowledge his break with Coote, for Wheble to present his Lady’s Magazine as a continuation of Coote’s original, was to dupe readers, Mansfield concluded: ‘If he had said Mr Coote has left off his work, and I will continue it, he had a right to do it; but he has gone on in a manner that has imposed upon the public, in saying No. 9. was a continuation of the original work, of which eight numbers had been sold which was a fraud’ (1: July 1771: 52)

By July 1771, it is clear that The Lady’s Magazine was an established brand that readers and subscribers bought into with every purchase. As Mr Wallace, Wheble’s solicitor, declared with undisguised irony, the case of Robinson and Roberts vs Wheble ‘got a great victory [for the booksellers], in being told they have got no property in such works’ (I: July 1771: 52). In the process, the court failed to resolve a set of questions about the periodical’s place in contemporary copyright law that would resurface throughout the long history of the Lady’s Magazine’s run. But it also worked to emphasise the rights of readers whose title to serial publications seemed in some ways more secure than those of their publishers and authors.

Dr Jennie Batchelor

School of English, University of Kent





Medicine, Cures and Quacks

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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.

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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).

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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

An open-access research index for the Lady’s Magazine

Over the next two years, the Leverhulme-funded research project on the Lady’s Magazine at the University of Kent will share with you its findings on the diverse contents and often obscure authors in this pioneering women’s periodical. The project’s most ambitious service to the scholarly community is its fully searchable index of the magazine, from its launch in 1770 to the start of the reformatted ‘new series’ in 1818. Used alongside the digitized holdings in the Eighteenth Century Journals database, the index will allow researchers to find their way around the magazine much quicker than with the means currently at our disposal.

LM, XIII (1782). Image © Adam Matthew Digital / Birmingham Central Library. Not to be reproduced without permission.

The original readers of the Lady’s Magazine obviously approached their favourite periodical much differently from modern-day literary scholars and historians. The publishers therefore understandably catered to the needs of their immediate readership in the minimalistic tables of contents and annual indexes that they themselves provided. These documents lack data that researchers are most interested in, and are not user-friendly. They invariably contain errors in pagination, omit many items that were likely deemed of too ephemeral interest, and are not arranged systematically. Authors are never mentioned in these listings, and when they are credited within the magazine, inconsistencies in signatures frequently hamper exhaustive queries. Furthermore, there is as yet no comprehensive index for the entire run of the series.

Our open-access index will address all of these formal issues, delivering detailed records for each of the over 15,000 contributions. To facilitate research within specific genres or interests, all contributions will be assigned one or more relevant genre categories, and keywords will be provided based on subject matter or themes. As the Lady’s Magazine even more than other periodicals actively encouraged interaction between its reader-contributors, useful tags will point out when given contributions are noticeably in dialogue with each other, bringing back to life the controversies that caught the interest of the magazine’s wide readership over two centuries ago. If the magazine gives information about the sex or age of the contributor then this is recorded as well, and mediating contributors who preface or translate the work of others are also identified. When content has been taken from other publications (be it another periodical or a book), then this source will be stated.

partial preview of index

Besides being the first reliable and comprehensive listing of the magazine’s contents and contributors, the index should also be considered a scholarly work in progress, to which new insights will be added continuously. The project’s researchers will identify as many anonymous and pseudonymous contributors as possible, and enter these attributions into the index too. It will become clear that the countless initials and pseudonyms belong not only to obscure amateurs ‘to fortune and to fame unknown’, but also to a diverse array of more famous authors and public figures.

Dr. Koenraad Claes

School of English; University of Kent