Monthly Archives: July 2015

The Lady’s Magazine and the Minerva Press


The Ladys Magazine , or Entertaining Companion for the Fair Sex , for the Year 1780 . Engraved frontispiece by Robert Dighton ( 1752  1814 ) showing a young woman forced to choose between the Temple of Folly and the Temple of Wisdom .

Detail from the frontispiece to The Ladys Magazine , or Entertaining Companion for the Fair Sex for 1780 .

Last week, Koenraad posted about our project trip to the biennial BARS (British Association of Romantic Studies) conference at Cardiff. It was a brilliant event: the papers were wide-ranging, innovative and rigorous; the company was convivial and generous.

One of the great pleasures for me, beyond participating in our own project panel, was chairing another on ‘The Minerva Press and the Romantic Print Marketplace’, convened by Yael Shapira (Bar-Ilan University) and comprising papers by Yael, Elizabeth Neiman (University of Maine), Hannah Doherty Hudson (University of Texas, San Antonio) and Olivia Loksing Moy (CUNY). The pleasure was threefold: hearing the research of four scholars who used various disciplinary approaches to make clear just how important and influential William Lane’s much-derided press was; allowing me to revisit an immense body of page-turning work that I have been long interested in but realise I have only ever really skimmed the surface of; and making me think more about the relationship between the popular fiction and the Lady’s Magazine.

In some ways, the Lady’s Magazine is the Minerva Press fiction of the Romantic periodical marketplace. Both magazine and imprint are indelibly linked in the scholarly imagination with the popular (in a largely pejorative sense), the fashionable (or even cynically opportunistic), the feminine, the non-professional and the ephemeral. These are associations that we vigorously seek to interrogate and dispel on this blog and in a more sustained way in the project itself, just as the speakers at BARS did so convincingly in their papers and continue to do in their wider research.

LM, XXXIII (Jan. 1802). mage © Adam Matthew Digital / British Library. Not to be reproduced without permission.

LM, XXXIII (Jan. 1802). Image © Adam Matthew Digital / British Library. Not to be reproduced without permission.

But I have long fantasised about more meaningful and demonstrable connections between the William Lane’s Minerva Press and the Lady’s Magazine. I’ve always been curious, for instance, by the importance of Minerva, Roman goddess of wisdom and strongly associated with the arts and with war, to the magazine. A Minerva figure is present in almost all of the annual frontispieces to the magazine in its first three decades, although eventually she begins to be usurped by Britannia. Usually, she is figured ushering women readers who carry the magazine in their hands, along the path of, or towards the temple of, wisdom. Was this at least partly on Lane’s mind when he adopted the name for his press? Was he hoping that some of the popularity of Robinson’s magazine might rub off on his new imprint?

I’ve also wondered if Lady’s Magazine authors (especially the fiction writers) might have subsequently found their way to Lane’s door or even, more tantalisingly still, moved from Lane to the Lady’s. Minerva Press novels are not monolithic in the way the shorthand term sometimes suggests. But nonetheless, the press’s often sentimental or Gothic fiction commonly return to similar themes of affect, economics and social injustice that preoccupy writers for the magazine, although each renders them differently. We are piecing together various bits of evidence on possible authorial migration between the Minerva Press and the Lady’s, which I for one find fascinating, and we’ll tell you about that in due course.

One thing we can say now, though, was that the magazine did stick up for Minerva at a time when other magazines and, in particular, the Reviews were doing just the opposite. Nowhere is this more evident than in a wonderful article entitled ‘On Criticism’ that appeared in the magazine for November 1804. The contributor, who went by the pseudonym ‘A Lover of Candour’, targeted the old-boy networks, shady credentials and self-interest that s/he saw as underpinning contemporary reviewing practices.

We simply do not know who ‘A Lover of Candour’ was, but s/he claimed to be ‘in the secret’ (577) of the trade and wanted to disabuse readers of the Lady’s of any fantastic notions that they might have that reviewers might be objective or even qualified to pronounce, with such authority, on the relative merits or demerits of the texts on which they opined. Writers who hoped their books might get ‘noticed’ needed some ‘interest’, that is to say, connection with potential reviewers or Reviews to ensure their work would appear on their radar (577).

Even if that interest could be relied upon, however, no author could be guaranteed a fair hearing. How could they be when their works were vulnerable to the whims of ‘a self-created dictatorship […] of anonymous individuals, subject to no dissent, no controul, no examination’ (577)? Reviewers might be people of ‘great learning’, but book learning was no guarantee of ‘genius’ or ‘taste’ after all (577). Authorial ‘merit’ was scarcely enough to secure a favourable review: ‘ for if the author is known, it is frequently rather him than his work that is reviewed’ (578). And readers were simply not trusted to make up their own minds on such important matters. The common long eighteenth-century reviewing practice of printing extracts of the reviewed work might seem to allow readers to ‘judge[e] for themselves’, but only on the basis of strategically excised passages, decontextualised and calculated for particular effect (578).

This general invective against reviewing conventions achieves a sharper focus when ‘A Lover of Candour’ turns to a particularly egregious abuse of privilege as s/he sees it, in the form of a recent issue of the Monthly Magazine. In it, ‘its editor or editors’ in a ‘half-yearly review’ ‘condescend[ed] to pass upon poor authors, whom they do not even deign to read’ by damning a class of the profession through cursory attention to a few examples: ‘A short article, under the head of Novels, concludes with saying, that “probably Lane might furnish a list of a hundred more but that they have names all, or perhaps more than all, that are worth reading”‘ (578).

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LM, XXXV (Nov. 1804): 578. Image © Adam Matthew Digital / British Library. Not to be reproduced without permission.

This tendency towards ‘damning books in the lump without naming them’ – of homogenising books and authors (the notorious and ever multiplying body of circulating library trash) so as to avoid having to read them  – is strikingly likened by the Lady’s contributor to ‘the revolutionary system of government, imported by our French neighbours’ (578).

We don’t have to believe the ‘Lover of Candour’ when they say that they had ‘no connexion with Mr. Lane’ (578). And we know that some writers for the magazine did, in fact, have dealings with Lane and the Minerva Press. But regardless of whether this particular author did or did not have personal reason to defend Lane, what interests me most is that s/he felt that they could defend Minerva and expose the ‘tyranny’ of reviewing in this particular periodical. No doubt this was, in large part, because the Lady’s Magazine strikingly did not publish regular reviews of novels with the regularity of even usually in the form that most of its rivals did (but that’s a topic for another blog post). Surely, though, it must also be because s/he recognised that the magazine embraced different ways of thinking about contemporary fiction; that, foreshadowing chapter five of Northanger Abbey (published in 1818 but originally sent to Crosby in 1805, a year after this article appeared), it railed against the ‘abuse’ of reviewers who dismissed the ‘labour of the novelist’ despite the ‘wit’ and ‘taste’ they displayed or the ‘pleasure’ they elicited in their readers.

The ‘Lover of Candour’ may not have been Lane’s friend, but the magazine to which s/he sent ‘On Criticism’ was undoubtedly sympathetic to his press and the many popular writers who published with it. One of our many tasks, BARS reminded me, was to see how far such sympathy extended in the Lady’s Magazine promotion of the careers of individual authors.

Dr Jennie Batchelor

School of English

University of Kent


Calling all Romanticists: the Lady’s Magazine belongs to you too!

Last week Team Lady’s Magazine attended the wonderful 2015 BARS conference “Romanticbars_sidebar_logo Imprints” at Cardiff University. This was very exciting: BARS conferences always draw an international crowd with diverse research specialisms, and as we have so far mostly engaged with eighteenth century scholars, we were eager to present our work to people who at least to some extent identify as Romanticists. We learned much from the generous feedback of our audience, and we flatter ourselves that we had a thing or two to suggest in turn.

After all, although the magazine runs until 1832 and therefore spans the whole of the Romantic era as it is traditionally demarcated, and features a great number of authors, themes and social issues that Romanticists are interested in, it is usually mentioned only in the footnotes to studies of early-nineteenth-century print culture. To help clarify this neglect, I will in this post briefly touch upon two prejudices that persist in literary studies, and which I think could quite easily be remedied. It goes without saying that not all discussions of the Romantic-era Lady’s Magazine betray these popular misconceptions, and when they do appear, this is often the case for understandable reasons.

  1. ‘The Lady’s Magazine’s amateur authors become irrelevant in the age of Personality and Genius.’

One of the major goals of our research project is to find out more about the Lady’s Magazine’s countless anonymous, near-anonymous and pseudonymous reader-contributors; literally thousands of amateur authors who submitted unsolicited copy. The contributions by these at best sparsely documented readers form the bulk of the magazine’s content, the rest mainly consisting of republications from recent books and other periodicals. Unfortunately, there are two Romantic phenomena that distract attention from these reader-contributors, i.e. the closely related notions of “Personality” and “Genius”.

The Lady’s Magazine only partially confirms the accepted account of a movement towards professional authorship in the literary marketplace, which is usually said to occur gradually throughout the eighteenth century. From around 1800 we do attest a relative increase of republished material, but reader-contributors certainly do not disappear. On the contrary, they retain their predominance until the very end. Reader-contributors help make or break the reputations of more famous authors and establish trends by following or dismissing the latter’s example, and sometimes create a (minor) stir in their own right by following up their unremunerated periodical publications with books of their own. Literature functions in a market place, and, as is common knowledge, the movement towards professionalization is closely tied to publishers’ commercial strategies. Recognizable “Personalities” who all but belonged to specific publications, and who could be pitted against each other, were much easier to market than nearly invisible writers furnishing the odd contribution here and there. In Romantic studies, much attention has gone to periodicals that played out this trend magisterially, e. g. Blackwood’s Edinburgh Magazine and the Examiner. The Lady’s Magazine instead conceptualizes itself as an inclusive forum where individual authors are less conspicuous, and therefore it does not fit this model. It is therefore easily overlooked.

LM XXI May 1800

LM XXXI (March 1800): 272. Image © Adam Matthew Digital / Birmingham Central Library. Not to be reproduced without permission

Related to this concern is the so-called Romantic cult of Genius, which in the past few decades has of course been thoroughly analysed and revealed to have been an intricate cluster of ideological, aesthetic and philosophical factors. Few if any scholars these days still read the major Romantic poets as visionaries driven solely by their hallowed vocation. However, it is hard to deny that the prominence that this defunct idea brought to certain poetic modes (and in some ways the essay) has obfuscated the presence of others in the early-nineteenth-century literary market, and discouraged scholarship on other literary genres, such as the novel. It has also brought with it a disregard for the many amateur writers who populated the magazines of their day, foremost the Lady’s Magazine. In the year 1800, the magazine reprinted without signature poems from the Lyrical Ballads, which appear alongside verse by the now obscure weaver-poet John Webb, who was a celebrated contributor to the magazine for several years. Yet, comparatively speaking, do academics publish many sophisticated rhetorical and philosophical analyses of the work of the countless Webbs of the period, who were as much part of their age as any Wordsworth? We at Team Lady’s Magazine maintain that the term “amateur” should be divested permanently of all negative connotations; it should not be an implicit insult but merely an indicator that the author’s primary source of income was not her/his writing. As to the relative intrinsic value of literary texts; that is not a call that we like to make, rather starting from an impartial study of their respective reception history.

  1. ‘Periodicals like the Lady’s Magazine are formulaic and intellectually unchallenging.’

Although the situation has certainly improved over the last few years, the distinctions between Romantic-era and eighteenth-century periodicals are often exaggerated. There is a notion that Britain wipes the slate clean after the end of the Napoleonic Wars (how topical!) and that the periodical market reinvents itself to reflect new economic realities and political ideals. Of course these factors exerted an influence on the development of magazines, but this did not happen in one cataclysmic moment. It is rather likely that the literary field of the High Romantic period would have been quite recognizable to any late-eighteenth-century author who had lived hidden in a picturesque ruin or on a sublime alp for twenty years.

In his impressively researched but negatively biased survey of literary prose in eighteenth-century magazines, Robert Mayo states that ‘most new magazine fiction published between 1740 and 1815 was lacking in vigor and permanent value’[1] and ‘predominantly decorous, sentimental, and moral’,[2] statements unlikely to induce readers to turn to the publications themselves to make up their own minds. As stated above, we do not wish to base our argument on value judgements, but a quick glance at several items in the Lady’s Magazine might convince sceptics that every issue contains at least a few items that look ahead to tropes and themes that we now associate with famous novels that came decidedly after they are introduced there. It is also anachronistic to look for some sort of highbrow fiction that could be juxtaposed to Mayo’s supposed ‘predominantly decorous’ work. Readers or even critics tended not to make such a distinction in this period, and our own assessments are shaped by two hundred years of subsequent history, both political and aesthetic.

Besides these assumptions about popular themes, certain claims often made about the innovations of the nineteenth century in literary forms are revealed to be arbitrary when earlier magazines are examined. The Lady’s Magazine from its earliest issues contains a wealth of poetic forms that are commonly associated with the Romantic age, and it will be difficult to differentiate narratologically its many tales from the short stories that are commonly said to have been first featured in Romantic-era literary periodicals. When, indeed, does a ‘story which is short’ become a ‘short story’?

The non-fictional content of publications such as the Lady’s Magazine is routinely slighted as well. Women’s periodicals originating in the late eighteenth century have fared particularly badly because of an undue emphasis on what Kathryn Shevelow (after Jonathan Swift) has termed the ‘fair-sexing’ of these periodicals.[3] Professor Shevelow’s pioneering history of the gendering of eighteenth-century periodicals discerned in these an increasing prevalence of the notion of ‘the Fair Sex’, that would have prompted a dumbing-down of those magazines catering specifically for women. Hard science and philosophy would have been scrapped in favour of domestic interests. Due to an understandable need for generalization in her broad single-volume history, she represented this movement as a steady intellectual decline, ending in a low point at the end of the century. The conclusion, at least in the minds of many of Shevelow’s readers, is that only at the very end of the century an agonizingly slow recovery would have begun, headed by education reformists such as Catherine Macaulay and Mary Wollstonecraft. Although both are present in the Lady’s Magazine, this periodical is, allegedly, still one of the insipid mags.

We cannot deny that there are plenty of contributors, male and female, who believe that women have roles distinct from those of men, and should keep to them rigidly. Nevertheless, there is also a whole lot of material in the Lady’s Magazine that in no way fits the image of female domestication. There are long and detailed historical essays, technical introductions to mathematics that go well beyond the necessities for household accounts, and a variety of natural history items. Like for the other aspects of the magazine that have been discussed in this blog post, the situation is nuanced and thereby vulnerable to reductive readings.

In the near future we will release our annotated, open-access online index that will allow scholars to find out at a glance what the Lady’s Magazine could mean to their research. In the meantime we hope that you will continue to read our blogs and follow us on Twitter (@ladysmagproject). We intend to share a lot more that is directly relevant to the Romantic age!

Dr. Koenraad Claes

School of English, University of Kent


[1] Mayo, Robert. The English Novel in the Magazines: 1740-1815. Evanston: Northwestern University Press, 1962. p. 2

[2] idem. p. 188

[3] Shevelow, Kathryn. Women and Print Culture: The Construction of Femininity in the Early Periodical. London: Routledge, 1990. passim

The Lady’s Magazine team goes to Cardiff

This week the Lady’s Magazine team travels to the British Association for Romantic Studies (BARS) conference held at the University of Cardiff to present three individual papers on a panel convened by the project’s principal investigator, Jennie Batchelor. The blog today is a preview of our panel at the BARS conference, giving the details of the panel and the abstracts of our individual papers. We are very excited to have the opportunity to present our ongoing work on the magazine at such a prestigious event and are particularly looking forward to engaging with the audience. For those of our blog readers who may be attending the conference, we hope to see you at our panel and welcome your thoughts and questions on our papers and project!

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Image © British Association for Romantic Studies. Not to be reproduced without permission

Situating ‘the Lady’s Magazine’ (1770–1818) in Romantic Print Culture

Panel convened by Jennie Batchelor (University of Kent)

The following panel for BARS 2015 will be the first conference at which we would disseminate the initial research findings of a two-year Leverhulme-funded Research Project Grant entitled: The Lady’s Magazine: Understanding the Emergence of a Genre. The project, which commenced in September 2014, offers a detailed bibliographical, statistical and literary–critical analysis of one of the first recognizably modern magazines for women from its inception in 1770. In its three-pronged book history/literary critical/digital humanities approach, this project will answer three research questions: 1) What made The Lady’s Magazine one of the most popular and enduring titles of its day? 2) What effects might an understanding of the magazine’s content, production and circulation have upon own conceptions of Romantic-era print culture (a field still struggling fully to emerge from the shadows of canonical figures and genres)? 3) What role did The Lady’s Magazine play in the long-term development of the women’s magazine? The three papers proposed by the project’s PI and two postdoctoral researchers speak directly to these questions and seek to shed light on the role and influence of this highly important but now unjustly overlooked title.


Jennie Batchelor (University of Kent, UK)
‘[H]aving gained a footing in your inclosure’: The Culture of Community in The Lady’s Magazine

[Part of the themed panel ‘Periodicals III: Situating The Lady’s Magazine (1770–1818) in Romantic Print Culture’]

This paper examines the position of The Lady’s Magazine: Or Entertaining Companion for the Fair Sex (1770–1832) in Romantic-era print culture and the scholarship that surrounds it. Aside from its extraordinary popularity and longevity, a number of ambitious claims have been made for the magazine’s historical and literary importance. Chief amongst these is Edward Copeland’s 1995 claim that the Lady’s defined women’s engagement with the world in the Romantic period. The argument is as seductive as it is unsubstantiated. Eighteenth-century periodicalists commonly overlook the title, which emerges after the often lamented if somewhat exaggerated demise of the essay-periodical epitomized by The Tatler and The Spectator. Romanticists, meanwhile, have tended to privilege the self-professedly ‘literary’ magazines of the turn of the century, in which writers such as Coleridge, Hazlitt, Hunt, Lamb and Southey, well known for their work in other more canonical genres, were involved (see e.g. Klancher; Wheatley). This paper, like the Leverhulme-funded research on which it is based seeks to address this oversight by explicating how the magazine self-consciously and strategically positioned itself in relationship to the wider and highly competitive literary marketplace in which it thrived somewhat against the odds. In particular, I want to focus on one important aspect of the magazine’s identity: the sense of print community the magazine established through its heavy reliance on amateur or unpaid reader contributors and which situated itself as both arbiter on and alternative to the professional literary marketplace beyond its pages.

Koenraad Claes (University of Kent, UK)
‘So particularly involved’: A Prosopographical Sketch of a Controversy in The Lady’s Magazine

[Part of the themed panel ‘Periodicals III: Situating The Lady’s Magazine (1770–1818) in Romantic Print Culture’]

As mentioned above, one of the ways in which The Lady’s Magazine stands out among other periodicals of its kind is the extent to which it relied on unsolicited copy submitted by its readers. Throughout its long run, the magazine featured a great number of loyal unpaid contributors who delivered material in various textual genres, ranging from both belles lettres contributions to opinion pieces on topical issues, as well as several kinds of challenging riddles to which other readers’ solutions would later be printed. These contributions are usually pseudonymous, and the non-professional background of their authors makes them particularly hard to attribute with any degree of certainty. However, because of the hints to the authors’ habitus that they do contain, and the patterns of interaction which are established between individual authors, a meticulous contextual reading may still reveal a lot of useful information on the magazine’s wide readership. An excellent case study for such a so-called ‘prosopographical’ approach is a 1789 controversy between a number of reader–contributors on the assessment of a contentious couplet by Pope, being the well-known ‘Men, some to Bus’ness, some to Pleasure take / but ev’ry Woman is at heart a Rake’, which incidentally would soon also be discussed by Mary Wollstonecraft in her Vindication of the Rights of Woman. Suggested as a topic of discussion by a self-declared ‘young correspondent’ in the belief that is would prove beneficial ‘to allow the readers attaining a proper way of uttering [their] sentiments […] a frequent opportunity of publicly disclosing them’, the ensuing heated exchange of opinions reveals a lot about the diversity of the magazine’s readership, and offers insights on the different views on gender as well as on Augustan poetry that were current in late eighteenth-century Britain. This paper will elaborate social and ideological profiles for the different participants in this small-scale controversy, along the way suggesting research methodologies that may be of interest to scholars working on other periodicals of this period.

Jenny DiPlacidi (University of Kent, UK)
From ‘The Cruel Husband’ to ‘The Force of Jealousy’: Gothic Fiction in The Lady’s Magazine

[Part of the themed panel ‘Periodicals III: Situating The Lady’s Magazine (1770–1818) in Romantic Print Culture’]

This paper examines the changing content of gothic fiction in The Lady’s Magazine: Or, Entertaining Companion for the Fair Sex (1770–1832), particularly focusing on representations of violence, imprisonment and desire in stories published during the Romantic era.

This paper explores the gothic stories and conventions that appear in various forms, genres and subgenres throughout the magazine’s print run; for example, the short gothic tale ‘Alphonso; or, the Cruel Husband’ (1774) reframes Boccaccio’s story of Ghismonda and Guiscardo, popularized by Hogarth’s 1759 painting, and, I argue, participates in a cultural practice in which classical works were marketed and consumed via translations later reformulated within the magazine as popular and, at times, instructive stories. Later gothic tales that were published in the Romantic-era, such as Idda of Tokenburg; or, the Force of Jealousy (1801) and Sophia Hendry’s The Deserted Princess (1818) were significantly longer, serialized tales and less overtly didactic. Such stories closely resembled the popular gothic novels of the Minerva Press, and while the publication of the magazine’s gothic fiction, such as the anonymous fifty-three-part instalment The Monks and the Robbers in 1808 by G. Robinson, indicates an overlap between the magazine’s owners and its content, the correlation remains ambiguous. In spite of the scholarly emphasis on the increasing prominence of the author and professionalization in the Romantic-era, many of the magazine’s popular gothic tales at this time remain the anonymous, pseudonymous or often unsigned contributions of the periodicals’ reader/writers. My particular focus here is the ways in which standard gothic tropes are reworked and reframed by these reader/writers and their place within the wider Romantic-era print culture.

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Image © British Association for Romantic Studies. Not to be reproduced without permission

Dr Jenny DiPlacidi

University of Kent

An Alarming Fire

LM L. Image © Adam Matthew Digital / Birmingham Central Library. Not to be reproduced without permission.

LM XL (Aug 1799). Image © Adam Matthew Digital / Birmingham Central Library. Not to be reproduced without permission.

As Koenraad noted on the blog last week, one of the (many) frustrations involved in working on the Lady’s Magazine is the lack of a publisher archive for the Robinson family who published it. Various correspondence between George Robinson Sr (1736-1801) and many of his authors, including Phebe Gibbes, William Godwin and Charlotte Smith, has survived, of course. Then there is the Manchester City Library Robinson ledger archive we featured last week. But, sadly, the sum of these documents seems to be pretty much all that is extant.

We live in hopes that someday, somewhere we will find an equivalent to John Nichols’s meticulously documented index to the Gentleman’s Magazine  (1821) which will explain everything we want to know and more about the day-to-day running of the Lady’s Magazine or even the Robinsons’ concern more generally. We may be waiting a rather long time, however.

Fleet StreetConventional wisdom has it that one of the reasons why there might be little by way of a Robinson archive is the devastating fire that broke out on 2 February 1803 at the Falcon-court, Fleet-Street, printing office, warehouses and home of the publishers’ printer, Samuel Hamilton. According to the New Annual Register for 1803, ‘in the short space of two hours’ the fire, which was ‘supposed to have arisen from the carelessness of a boy’, ‘entirely consumed the whole of [Hamilton’s] valuable and extensive premises’. No one was killed, mercifully, but the ‘loss of property (printed books)’ was noted to be ‘particularly severe’.

The loss was all the worse because Hamilton’s insurance had at least partly lapsed. Although the ‘manuscripts of the most important works’ were claimed to have been saved, including ‘those of the CRITICAL REVIEW, and […] the Lady’s Magazine’, which were said to be with their respective ‘editors’, many others were lost (24: 26). (In the interests of full disclosure, I should note that the New Annual Register was published by G. and J. Robinson and printed by one S. Hamilton.) Amongst the greatest losses was ‘part of the works of the late learned and much respected rev. Gilbert Wakefield’, the thousand pounds insurance on which had just expired (24: 26). Publisher bias or not, this was a substantial loss.

The fire was clearly devastating for Hamilton, who soon afterwards moved his business to Weybridge. It was also a real blow for the Robinsons. The Robinsons and Hamiltons’ connection preceded the New Annual Register collaboration by a long way. The Edinburgh printer and publisher Archibald Hamilton Sr (1719-93), Samuel’s grandfather, and Archibald Sr’s son, Archibald Jr (Samuel’s father), both owned a sixth share in the Lady’s Magazine from 1770 as well as in the Town and Country Magazine (another Robinson concern). Samuel and his brother (a third Archibald) inherited their father and grandfather’s business and Samuel appeared on the title-page of the Lady’s Magazine as its printer from August 1799. George Robinson Jr (d. 1811) and his uncle John (1753-1813) invested in Samuel’s business and the financial loss the fire occasioned them is often held to be largely responsible for the Robinsons’ bankruptcy on 8 December 1804. The fact that the firm (and indeed the Lady’s Magazine) survived this difficult time by many years is testament to the talents of these resourceful and well-connected men [1].

It’s not at all clear to me why the warehouse fire is often assumed to account for the lack of a more complete Robinson archive, however. As the New Annual Register makes clear, only some of the magazine’s contents were even in the printing house at the time as the majority of manuscripts and presumably associated correspondence were held by the magazine’s editors. As so often in our research, the shards of evidence we find about the day-to-day administration of the magazine pose more questions than they answer. Except that the coverage of the fire and the magazine’s references to it in its own pages do offer some useful research leads and insights.

LM XXXIV (1803). Image © Adam Matthew Digital / British Library. Not to be reproduced without permission.

LM XXXIV (1803). Image © Adam Matthew Digital / British Library. Not to be reproduced without permission.

The ‘unfortunate’ fire is first mentioned in the magazine in the February 1803 issue, which likely appeared in early March. Contrary to the report in the New Annual Register, the magazine’s editor noted that the fire consumed ‘several contributions of different correspondents’, but seemingly only those intended for ‘insertion in this [month’s] number’. The magazine only mentioned three of these by name: the continuation of the picaresque novel-cum-memoir, the Life of Robert McKenzie; E. W.’s The Eastern Slaves; and the month’s instalment of John Webb’s  serial poetic reflections, A Morning’s Walk in February. These correspondents were asked to ‘send other copies’ as soon as possible’ (LM XXXIV [Feb 1803]: ‘To our Correspondents’).

John Webb wins the prize for the speediest response. His ‘Morning’s Walk for February’ was re-sent in time to appear alongside the next instalment in the March 1803 issue, while E. W.’s narrative appeared under the altered title ‘The Slaves – an Eastern Tale’ in April. Robert McKenzie did not resume until June, but then again its skittish author was not the most reliable of contributors at the best of times.

When I have relayed this information in talks about the Lady’s some audience members have been surprised that authors would have been able to produce multiple copies of their works at such short notice in a pre-digital age. But of course in a pre-digital age, dependent on unreliable postal services, magazine editors who almost routinely mislaid items submitted to them and candles that weren’t counteracted by smoke alarms, such practices were only prudent. What interests me more about this anecdote is its research potential. If, as we know, correspondents kept copies of their submissions in case they were required to re-send them or because they opted to send them somewhere else if their efforts were rejected by their first-choice outlet, then might there not be a chance that we might find some of these manuscripts one day?

Another insight comes from a series of references to the fire in 1804 that accompany some of the magazine’s serial fiction. The original fiction published in the magazine has often, and in our view often erroneously, been given short shrift by scholars who dismiss all amateur contributions as unfit for publication elsewhere. Such a view depends on dismissing the inconvenient fact that some of this fiction (such as A. Kendall’s Derwent Priory [1796-97] or the sketches that became Mary Russell Mitford’s Our Village [1824]) was published in volume form after publication in the Lady’s and wore its origins as magazine fiction loudly. The process rarely worked the other way round. The Lady’s frequently published extended extracts of works of history, philosophy or travel writing, but usually only reprinted novels that had been previously published elsewhere if they were new translations of foreign works (such as the magazine’s long-running translation of Madame de Genlis’ Adelaide and Theodore (1784-89). The copyright laws surrounding novels evidently engaged periodical editors’ attentions much more than those surrounding other genres.

LM XXXV (March 1804). Image © Adam Matthew Digital / British Library. Not to be reproduced without permission.

LM XXXV (March 1804). Image © Adam Matthew Digital / British Library. Not to be reproduced without permission.

In 1804, though, we find two exceptions to the general rule governing the non-reprinting of previously published fiction. In both instances, the Hamilton fire was the occasion for the deviation from business as usual, and copyright infringement was, in any case, no issue. In January of that year, the magazine began its serialisation of Royall Tyler’s The Algerine Captive; or the Life and Adventures of Doctor Updike Underhill, Six Years a Prisoner among the Algerines. (Tyler’s fiction had been only the second American novel to appear under a British imprint when the forward-thinking Robinsons published it in two volumes in 1802.) This was followed, in February, by the first instalment of The Romance of the Pyrenees, a novel published anonymously in 1803, and later attributed to Catherine Cuthbertson, although at least one reader of the later French translation (1809) wrongly assumed its author was Ann Radcliffe. Both were originally published by the Robinsons and printed by Hamilton. What these novels also had in common was their near destruction by the fire, which seems to have consumed ‘nearly the whole of the impression’ of both runs left in the printer’s warehouse (LM XXXV [Jan 1804]: 37). Evidently lacking in confidence that a second impression of either would be financially viable, the novels were repackaged, with chapter breaks reorganised, to fill the pages of the Lady’s Magazine.

LM XXXV (Feb 1804): 87. Image © Adam Matthew Digital / British Library. Not to be reproduced without permission.

LM XXXV (Feb 1804): 87. Image © Adam Matthew Digital / British Library. Not to be reproduced without permission.

This was more than a gesture of pragmatism or an opportunistic attempt to get two novels off their hands without throwing good money after bad. Throughout its history, the magazine was canny about using its popularity and reach as a way of opening up audiences for other of its published works, even while it promised reams of original essays, fiction, poetry and other works that could be found nowhere else. The publication of The Algerine Captive and The Romance of the Pyrenees was just the most self-conscious example of this decades-long practice.

And it clearly worked. Cuthbertson’s career proceeded outside the magazine, and The Romance of the Pyrenees would go through a handful of further editions (its fifth was published in 1822) as well as spawning the aforementioned French translation [2]. Gillian Hughes has recently remarked that this move added some ‘desirable fictional sparkle to a magazine that was by then lagging behind readerly expectations’ [3]. I remain unconvinced by Hughes’s argument about readers’ dissatisfaction with the fictional content of the magazine. The periodical, at least, did not register such dissatisfaction for another decade or more. But telling Lady’s Magazine readers that they were reading a novel that was ‘no longer to be procured’ outside its pages was clearly a shrewd and effective marketing strategy (LM XXXV [Apr 1804]: 87).

Such glimmers of insight may not seem much. But in the absence of an archive for the Robinsons or, better still, for the Lady’s Magazine more specifically, they offer us important information about the publishers’ network, which along with other evidence we are slowly piecing together, might well provide important leads in identifying contributors to the periodical. Additionally, they indirectly shed light on the murky question of how the magazine interpreted copyright law (clearly differently for novels than for other genres) and suggests some of the ways in which the Robinsons understood the Lady’s to fit into their wider publishing concern. When you’re working in the dark, even something as destructive as a fire, it turns out, can be productive in its own way.


[1] G. E. Bentley jun., ‘Robinson family (per. 1764–1830)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004; online edn, Jan 2008 [, accessed 6 July 2015]; and Barbara Laning Fitzpatrick, ‘Hamilton, Archibald (1719–1793)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004; online edn, Jan 2008 [, accessed 6 July 2015]

[2] F. W. Bateson, ed., The Cambridge Bibliography of English Literature, 1800-1900 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1969), p. 392.

[3] Gillian Hughes, ‘Fiction in the Magazines’, in The Oxford History of the Novel in English, Vol. 2, English and British Fiction, 1750-1820, ed. Peter Garside and Karen O’Brien (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2015), p. 472.

Dr Jennie Batchelor

School of English

University of Kent






Lost time well spent: exploring the Robinson archives

As we have said many times before, eighteenth-century periodicals like the Lady’s Magazine can be challenging to research. Magazines are intrinsically diverse texts, but at this early stage they were especially complex and unstable, to the point that it is difficult to make statements about the form and content of these publications that apply for their entire run. Furthermore, the Lady’s Magazine does not tell you much about its publishers and authors, and there is a dearth of reliable secondary sources that could fill you in on who was involved in its publication and writing. The General Censuses that are such a blessing to nineteenth-century periodicals scholars only start in 1801, and although it is very helpful that descriptions of holdings at town record offices can now largely be found online, you often need significant research leads in order to land on anything of use there. Ideally, you hope to retrieve a publisher’s ledgers, which potentially contain all kinds of information on the business transactions of a publisher.

It is my job to identify people associated with a poorly documented periodical, so I value such sources highly. Among the items often contained in ledgers are receipts for payments and “memoranda of agreement” between the publisher and authors, which can help you to reconstruct a background for the discussed publications. This may include the date that a copyright was acquired, the price paid for the latter, the agreed number of copies to be printed, a precise address for the author, and (oh Joy of Joys) the full legal name of authors behind pseudonymous or anonymous publications. In some cases you also find out about long forgotten members of the printing or bookselling trade who played a vital part in bringing the texts into the world, for instance when you find receipts for engravings, or an invoice for book deliveries.

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

We can hardly be certain just how complete centuries-old archives are, but in some lucky cases vast ledgers have been preserved. Unfortunately, no such detailed ledger appears to have survived for Robinson and Co., the company that owned the Lady’s Magazine. There is however a small archive extant, which is kept at the Manchester City Library, containing about 300 ledger items. If you want to make sure that you are not missing out on any relevant information, there is nothing for it but to work through these one by one. For some this takes a long time because they are all handwritten and not always legible, and in names and addresses they contain abbreviations and spelling variants that make it difficult to cross-check with other sources, like our own detailed notes, the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, online library and database catalogues, and the surprisingly useful Google Books.

We never had high expectations for the information that these documents would yield on the contributors of, and publisher’s network specifically relevant to the Lady’s Magazine. Our regular readers may be able to guess why: the magazine of course relied to a large extent on unsolicited submissions by reader-contributors, who most likely were never paid. No payment will normally equal no paper trail. What did not come in for free would usually have been taken (as in “pirated”) from other publications, as was common in magazines until well into the nineteenth century, and therefore not be documented either. After putting in close to fifty hours, I discovered that despite several items pertaining to Robinson’s other periodicals such as the Journal of Natural Philosophy (1797-1814), only a few documents held in Manchester are directly relevant to the Lady’s Magazine, and none of these contain any ground-breaking information.

Nevertheless, I was not overly disappointed. Among other things, the archive brings home the extraordinary diversity among the books and periodicals published by the Robinsons and their associates. The publications mentioned in the archive range from plays to novels, and from philosophical treatises to gardening manuals. There is something endearing in the fact that the Godwin Pol Jus blogpublisher to whom we owe volatile works like Godwin’s Enquiry Concerning Political Justice (1793) also took on The Complete Wall-tree Pruner, given to posterity by horticulturalist John Abercrombie in 1799. There are documents on both of these books in the archive. Professor Abercrombie apparently received £12-12s-6d for the fruits of his labours. How much he received for the fruits of his wall trees is not on record.

Some documents give you intriguing insights into the day-to-day operations of publishing firms in this period. There are notices about bills drawn by authors on the publisher, for instance several ones signed by Charlotte Smith from the period 1791-1792, a few years after her financially crippling divorce. This was a quite common practice whereby cherished authors would be allowed to have advances on the sales of their books paid straight to Charlotte Smithdebtors. As Wiliam St Clair informs us, this was not only a favour to ingratiate oneself with authors; such largesse also boosted the reputation of the publishing firm for solvability.[1]

More directly relevant to the magazine are the regular mentions of certain contributors to the magazine in other contexts, which imply that they were in some capacity connected to the publishing firm. This is an angle that we will need to pursue, as it may lead us to the identification of staff writers and editors for the magazine, and as yet we know very little about these. Here and there names for engravers and printers pop up, which could in turn provide welcome clues to the identities of people associated with the material production of the magazine.

One hypothesis I was looking to verify was that there would be a substantial, two-way connection between the acquisition by Robinson of copyrights for books on the one hand, and items appearing in the Lady’s Magazine on the other. We already know that books issued by Robinson were often excerpted in the magazine with a short notice that they had recently appeared, and commercially this of course makes a lot of sense. Eighteenth-century magazines tended to have a prominent miscellaneous character, which means that readers would next to entire self-contained narratives also expect to find some enticing snippets to guide them in their future choices from their subscription libraries or booksellers. It would be fabulous if we could learn whether the copyright for books was not sometimes acquired after excerpts therefrom had appeared in the Lady’s Magazine. This would imply that the publisher used the magazine to test the market value of texts, and based the ultimate acquisition on feedback from the public. This would be a likely way for amateur magazine contributors to make the transition to (semi-)professional authors of books. So far we have not been able to find conclusive evidence for this theory, but as soon as we do, we will let you know. Once we’re done celebrating.

Dr. Koenraad Claes

School of English, University of Kent

[1] St Clair, William. The Reading Nation in the Romantic Period. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004. p. 171