Monthly Archives: September 2015

The P-word, part II: is it ever right to call a periodical a plagiarism?

In the past few weeks, a recurrent topic in our blogs has been the regular appearance in the Lady’s Magazine of material taken from other sources, as opposed to original submissions. Our interest in this matter was sparked by a new phase in our work on the annotated index. I have recently started cross-checking the over 14,000 items in the magazine with several online databases, as manual a job as they come in the age of digital research, and noticed that a considerable number of items appearing without ascription in fact had appeared elsewhere first. There are a number of possible reasons why the magazine does not always own up about this: the editors were sometimes fooled themselves by reader-contributors (as I argued in my last), they felt that they were legally and ethically entitled to republish without acknowledgement, or they thought that acknowledging republications might tarnish their reputation for offering novelty. Printing non-original material without ascription was of course a widespread practice in the eighteenth-century press, and several readers of our blog have kindly contacted us to tell us about their own thoughts and experiences.


This monkey never appeared in the LM.

   One highly important problem that repeatedly surfaced was one that usually takes some explaining to people who do not dwell – day in, day out – in the fascinating / exasperating world of periodical history: what to call this ubiquitous phenomenon. Last week, Jennie argued persuasively against using ‘the P-word’, plagiarism, for unacknowledged republications in eighteenth-century magazines, even if we would not hesitate to use it for such items as they occur in publications of today. She pointed out the notoriously hazy copyright laws of the period, and the equally relevant difference between eighteenth-century ethical notions of intellectual property and our own. We were excited and very grateful that Prof. David Mazella, who has done vital work on the Lady’s Magazine before, accepted Jennie’s invitation to write a response.

   Prof. Mazella there elaborates on the issue of ambiguous authorship, and adds (amongst other pertinent suggestions) that a prominent cause of this ambiguity was that periodicals were in the eighteenth century not explicitly covered by copyright legislation. As he points out, copyright was at the time regulated under the Statute of Anne (1710). This pivotal legislation ended the monopoly of the Stationers’ Company  by for the first time stipulating that copyright was not to be held in perpetuity, but for a fixed period. From now on, copyright was also subject Statute_of_anneto other specific regulations, that were intended to protect not only the interests of the author, but also those of society at large, by creating what we now call the ‘public domain’ so that texts that were out of copyright could circulate freely.[1] Even though publishers kept referring to obsolete legislation to claim an unlawful absolute property of works that they originally issued, the judges usually would have none of this, and the Statute worked relatively well for books. However, Prof. Mazella, following Slauter,[2] suggests that the anarchic attribution policy of magazines was made possible by a lack of specific regulations in the Statute concerning periodical publications, and an unwillingness of the publishers’ sector to remedy this because the industry had come to rely on the manipulation of such unclear legal descriptions. This enabled, for example, a proliferation of newspapers, as snippets of texts regarded as ‘news’ could in slightly altered phrasings quickly travel across different titles, to the point that it is nigh on impossible to find out in which publication they originate. Prof. Mazella suggests ‘that the brief “textual units” of the [Lady’s Magazine], though formally and generically examples of short fiction, moral essays, biographies, etc., were […] treated on the model of the newspapers’ “textual units,” as a kind of readily accessible, transformable information that could be extracted or reworked as needed’. Using the term ‘plagiarism’ for this would be misleading, as we tend to use this term to denote, with an eighteenth-century definition also quoted by Slauter, ‘surreptitious theft of a named property’.

   I fully agree that the connotations of the P-word are misleading. Furthermore, an allegation of plagiarism requires an assessment of the intentions of the alleged plagiarists, which is obviously highly precarious when you are dealing with authors about whom you have little or no information. Although I have in a past blog post once referred to certain items as ‘plagiarized’, I have reserved this verdict precisely for those cases where the ‘surreptitious’ appropriation of another’s labour seemed clear to me. For instance, when a reader-contributor, without acknowledgement, cheekily adopts the entire text of a poem, except for all references to people and places proper to the original poet, swapping these for cherished connections of her/his own. The reasons why I restricted it to this sense is that I agree with the points made by Jennie and Prof. Mazella, and their recent posts have convinced me that I should drop the term altogether. In what follows, I would nevertheless like to address (briefly) the abovementioned two ideas that are frequently cited in discussions of the supposed absence of a notion of fixed authorship during the eighteenth century: (1) the legal argument that there is no specific legislation for copyright of magazines in the period, and (2), the ethical argument that people did not think of the ownership of intellectual productions as we do today. Both are correct; they however do require, in my opinion, some nuance.

   It is of course true that the Statute of Anne does not explicitly refer to publications other than books. Because of this, the republication of content between periodicals was always safe, as lucidly explained by Prof. Mazella. That, however, does not mean that there was no legal praxis concerning periodicals appropriating content from books, and in many cases this quite simply derives from the more straightforward regulations on the book trade. This is an important consideration because a significant number of republications in the magazines were taken not from other periodicals, but from books. Eighteenth-century copyright boils down to the general rule that, while texts are in copyright, republication in any form is prohibited to anyone but the copyright holder. This includes serialization in periodicals. However, partial republication, for instance the extracting of books in periodicals, was not covered by this. Even abridgements were sometimes ruled to be new works, thereby not constituting infringements of copyright, when the efforts of the editor/author would have produced a text that had the added value of brevity to a hurried reader, although here, problematically, intentions and motives needed to be gauged. This is also how magazines defended their miscellaneous character: the ongoing boom in publications had made it impossible for readers to keep up with everything that was being printed, so the magazines offer a digest tailored to their needs.

   In his invaluable history of copyright in Britain, Ronan Deazley cites two cases against pioneering magazine publisher Edward Cave of the Gentleman’s Magazine (1731-1922).[3] These may offer a simpler explanation for the prevalence of extracts in magazines than the parallel to news items circulating across newspapers. In Austen v. Cave (1739) the plaintiff was publisher Austen, who held the copyright to the moral treatise The Nature, Folly, Sin and Danger of Being Righteous Over-Much (1739) by Joseph Trapp. The defendant, Cave, had excerpted this work, and was now accused of infringing the plaintiff’s copyright. Cave defended himself by stating that he excerpted books all the time, and that this was usually welcomed by the publishers and authors. He also referred directly to the Statute of Anne by stating that he only had intended to republish a part, and not the whole, and that too stringently applying the regulations as to copyright would be detrimental to the dissemination of knowledge that would have been the Statute’s main objective. Still, an injunction against further publication was obtained by the plaintiff, only to be lifted if Cave could satisfactorily prove that it had never been his intention to republish the work in its entirety. Cave failed to convince the judge, and therefore was forbidden from resuming the series of extracts. The second case, Cogan v. Cave (1743), is similar. The Gentleman’s Magazine excerpts Eliza Haywood’s Memoirs of an Unfortunate Young Nobleman (1743), copyright holder Thomas Cogan obtains an injunction, but this is lifted after Cave has cleared himself. Deazley suspects that Cave had once again referred to the Statute.

   Both items could just as well have appeared in the Lady’s Magazine, where extracts from moral treatises and novels abound too. Only rarely do editorial notices betray any misgivings about such republications when these appear unsigned (presumably furnished by staff writers), but the editors do get nervous when they catch reader-contributors at sending in unascribed items for publication in the magazine. Here is one example from 1776:

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LM VII (March 1776): facing p. 116. Image © Adam Matthew Digital / Birmingham Central Library. Not to be reproduced without permission.

I have in a previous post referred to this sort of moral posturing as a sign of hypocrisy, but after further consideration, I think it rather was a strategy of risk containment. Although they had no actual qualms about repurposing content, the editors may have wanted to discourage readers from submitting non-original items without acknowledgement, because they had no control over these. Caution was advised, because republication could land you in court and make you squander time, money and your reputation, as every rival magazine would gleefully report on court proceedings against you. Whether or not to acknowledge the source for a republished item must have been regarded as a call to be made by the editors, not the readers. If there was no deontological argument against unacknowledged republication, this would arguably not have been a concern at all. Consider also the following notice, appearing after the magazine had published an extract from Dr. Gregory’s conduct book A Father’s Legacy to his Daughters (1774):

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LM XV (Aug 1784): facing p. 36. Image © Adam Matthew Digital / Birmingham Central Library. Not to be reproduced without permission.

“Mary Turner” was most likely a reader-contributor who submitted the item in question without due ascription to the original source. Even though this was only an excerpt of about a page, and the magazine should legally have had nothing to worry about, there appears to have been some worry about the mere allegation of content piracy.

   It may be relevant to remark that plagiarism, despite what is commonly thought, is actually not a legal concept, but rather pertains to the ethics of authorship. After all, even today you can plagiarize a text that is in the public domain without having to worry about any legal consequences, because you did not infringe any copyright. This brings me to the second assumption concerning ambiguous authorship in the eighteenth century, being the argument about publishing ethics. There are countless accounts of publishers and authors resenting the appropriation of their labours, but I believe that it is also easy to overstate the claim that readers would not have cared about correct attribution. The abovementioned attempts of the editors to deny that the Lady’s Magazine featured unacknowledged republications, despite these being undeniably present, and the magazine’s staff writers’ cosmetic edits to decontextualize appropriated material suggest that the reputation of offering (mainly) original matter, and reliably acknowledging non-original items, was deemed a valuable asset. A certain part of the readership, large enough to fuss about, must have cared.

   As Slauter indicates, the term ‘plagiarism’, in exactly the sense that we use it today, already occurs in the 1730s.[4] Although I have not yet had time to check all possible associated search terms exhaustively, I did find that there were at least eighteen instances of the term ‘plagiarism’ in the Lady’s Magazine between 1770 and 1800, and three of ‘plagiarist’ . These sometimes occur in discussions (often heated) between reader-contributors about the originality of submitted pieces. To do the subtleties of this debate justice, we will return to the attitudes of readers towards the P-word in a future post, but one more example from an editorial notice may suffice to prove that there definitely was an ethical dimension to republication that went beyond legality.

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LM XI (June 1780): facing p. 284. Image © Adam Matthew Digital / Birmingham Central Library. Not to be reproduced without permission.

This even though, as I have found, the magazine’s staff writers had repeatedly repurposed items from the Gentleman’s Magazine before, without acknowledgement. It’s all very complicated!

Dr. Koenraad Claes

School of English, University of Kent

[1] Cf. Mark Rose, “The Public Sphere and the Emergence of Copyright: Areopagitica, the Stationers’ Company”. Privilege and Property: Essays on the History of Copyright, Ed. by Ronan Deazley, Martin Kretschmer and Lionel Bently, Cambridge: Open Book Publishers, 2010. <> [last accessed 23 Sep. 15]

[2] Will Slauter, “Upright Piracy: Understanding the Lack of Copyright for Journalism in Eighteenth-Century Britain”, Book History, 16.1 (2013), 34-61.

[3] Ronan Deazley, The Origin of the Right to Copy, Oxford: Hart, 2004. pp. 79-80

[4] Slauter 2013, p. 48

The P-word: or, is it ever right to call a periodical a plagiarism?

The best thing about working on the Lady’s Magazine project is working as part of a team. I’ve worked with colleagues before on conferences and workshop series, and have learned so much from editing with friends. But this is really the first time that I can honestly say that I have researched collaboratively. It’s not the most common model for humanities research, and not all projects would require or possibly even much benefit from this approach.

Honestly, though, nearly a year into our project, I couldn’t imagine having continued my work on it without Jenny and Koenraad, aka my academic consciences, who keep me enthused and keep me honest by questioning my conclusions and nudging me to think differently week by week. We work together in a manner not dissimilar from the way that contributors to the magazine worked with each other: collaboratively, conversationally. Anything we say can be picked up and run with (or unceremoniously dropped) by anyone else. Our contributions to that conversation get better the more they are encouraged or challenged by others.

But like the magazine’s contributors, we don’t always reach a consensus. It’s not often that these disagreements are profound, but they are always important because they tend to strike at the very heart of what we think is at stake in our research and why it might (or might not) matter. The most recent of these few flash-points has been around what I have come now to refer to as ‘the P-word’: plagiarism. It’s not a term I find easy to associate with eighteenth-century periodicals, even though the Lady’s Magazine itself was not averse to using it. So what is my problem with the P-word, and why I am resisting its use in our index?

The fact is that a significant number of contributions to the Lady’s Magazine were originally published elsewhere. The periodical did not conceal this fact from its readers. Often such extracts were published with their original author’s name and the full title of the work from which they were extracted or republished in full underneath the article headers. Indeed, the magazine was quite clear throughout its history that it would serve as a miscellany of works from ‘the whole circle of Polite Literature’ as appeared to the editor or editors to ‘merit their readers’ attention’, as well as providing a forum for the numerous original and amusing communications which we continually receive from our ingenious and liberal correspondents’ (‘Address to the Public’, LM XXIII [Jan 1972]: iv).

Rather more has been made in the slender body of scholarship on the Lady’s Magazine, including my own, about these ‘original and amusing communications’ than its miscellany content. There are, I think, good reasons for this. The tantalising prospect and, as this blog has already demonstrated several times over, the satisfying reality of locating previously widely-read texts by largely unknown authors such as C. D. Haynes (later Golland), John and Elizabeth Legg, Catharine Bremen Yeames and Elizabeth Yeames and John Webb recalibrates our sense of the authorial landscape in our period in ways that I still believe are potentially far-reaching in their implications.

That said, we overlook the miscellany content at our peril. Apart from simply filling so many of the magazine’s pages, this material gives us clues as to the shifting priorities of the magazine as it shaped or responded to oscillations in literary taste and notions of female education, for instance. It also provides clues as to how published works were disseminated and received by their readers. Knowing that some selections from Mary Wollstonecraft’s Vindication of the Rights of Woman (1792) made it into the magazine in June 1792 might seem only to confirm things we already knew: for instance, that Wollstonecraft’s work was part of the public consciousness immediately after its publication; and that the Lady’s Magazine‘s publisher, George Robinson, was sympathetic to the Jacobin cause.

LM VXIII (June 1792): 285. Image © Adam Matthew Digital / Birmingham Central Librarr. Not to be reproduced without permission.

LM VXIII (June 1792): 285. Image © Adam Matthew Digital / Birmingham Central Librarr. Not to be reproduced without permission.s

But only reading these extracts will tell you which aspects of Wollstonecraft’s work – her condemnation of false modesty and excessively sensibility – were deemed most worthy of the attention of the magazine’s readers. Moreover, only engaging with this content will give an indication of how the material might have been read. Given that many readers only engagement with Wollstonecraft’s work likely derived from the extracts printed in the popular press, examining such extracts as extracts is an important part of building up a sense of her work’s early reception history. If a reader’s engagement with Wollstonecraft’s work was confined only to these extracts, how does A Vindication of the Rights of Woman read? What does it seem most to be about?

The questions that arise from the publication of such extracts would merit a whole series of blog posts or book chapters of their own. Instead I want to focus briefly here on another kind of extract the magazine publishes: extracts that aren’t acknowledged as such.

As Koenraad has recently explained, he is currently doing battle with the herculean task of seeking out whether seemingly original (because not acknowledged as unoriginal) articles in the Lady’s Magazine were, in fact, written expressly for it. So far, he has identified a number of sources (some unexpected!) for material in the magazine. Some of this material has no signature underneath it; some of it appears with a pseudonym and therefore might seem to be the work of one of the reader-contributors about which we (OK, I) get so excited. Neither of these things is the case.

But are these plagiarisims? The short answer is: I don’t think so.

Plagiarism is a notoriously difficult term to pin down or prove in the eighteenth century and Romantic period. As Tilar Mazzeo’s wonderful book Plagiarism and Property in the Romantic  (2007) elucidates, plagiarism was not a criminally chargeable offence with ‘direct legal consequences’ in the period (10), and was often considered more of an aesthetic rather than moral or legal question. Throughout her book, Mazzeo distinguishes between ‘culpable’ and ‘aesthetic’ plagiarism. Culpable plagiarism is unacknowledged yet conscious – a definition that chimes with our own modern sense of what constitutes literary fraud –  but arguably more important is that culpably plagiarised work is unimproved. Work that has been improved, taken and reworked or repurposed by another hand, is arguably not plagiarised at all [1].

Now if all of this sounds a little murky, it is because it is. Even the most cursory overview of scholarship on the Rowley (Chatterton) or Ossian controversies will point to how internecine these issues were in our period. But add magazines into the mix and it gets a whole lot muddier still.

Histories of copyright and plagiarism offer fascinating context for thinking about the status of unacknowledged, repurposed content in periodicals such as the Lady’s Magazine. Ultimately, however, their general failure to address periodicals as a genre leaves important questions hanging: How were eighteenth-century and Romantic periodicals understood to function in terms of copyright law? Were they, as the magazines themselves often claimed, a special case? And if so, is it at all appropriate to use a word like plagiarism in the same breath as periodicals.

Returning to Mazzeo’s helpful definition for a moment, I can’t really bring myself to do so for several reasons, only some of which I have space to elaborate below.

The first is the difficulty we sometimes experience in trying to establish the original iteration of a work we suspect has been published before it appeared in the Lady’s Magazine. In this digital age, it is, of course, much easier to find previously printed sources for magazine content through search engines or online databases than was once the case. (Note to self: remember, though, that the internet should not be mistaken for a complete archive.) Sometimes the answers obtained from such sources are only partly helpful, however. Often magazine contributions appeared simultaneously or near simultaneously in multiple periodicals. Finding out that a poem appeared in the Lady’s Magazine and the Town and Country (another Robinson publication) or The Gentleman’s Magazine (not a Robinson publication) in the same month tells us nothing about the originality of the work or what its author’s intentions for it were.

Then there is the imaginativeness that needs to be deployed to find some contributions we suspect might not be original to the magazine. Koenraad has already written about this and I hope will do so more as the project develops, but the inventiveness he shows in digitally searching for textual originals (omitting character names, as sometimes these were changed, or finding synonyms for keywords) knows no bounds. But it also leaves me pondering: if a text, while essentially the same in terms of argument, structure, subject or narrative, has names changed, parts excised or keywords altered, can it legitimately be called a plagiarism? Isn’t this a rewritten work. At the very least, while such changes may have be made wilfully, the ‘improvements’ made to the original certainly seem to leave its ‘author’ immune to the accusation of culpable plagiarism as defined by Mazzeo.

Another reservation I have about the P-word when talking about magazines from this period is cultural. For one thing, we know that eighteenth-century novels constantly reworked each others plots, often relying upon readers’ recognition of stock character types or conventional names or plot devices to raise or subvert expectations that would excite readers’ sympathy, fear or horror. For another, intertextual referencing or allusion are commonplace in all textual genres throughout the period, and there was clearly a huge degree of tolerance for (cough-cough) variations in accuracy of citation.

But periodicals are, nonetheless, something of a special case. People reading eighteenth-century and Romantic magazines did not expect to be reading wholly original content. Nor did contributors to magazines always feel they had to be original in their submissions. A common type of submission to the Lady’s Magazine is what I refer to as the commonplace: of a reader who reads a book, the title of which they may or may not remember or disclose, or which they have found in another, sometimes unacknowledged publication, but they find particularly noteworthy for whatever reason and from which they excerpt extracts they send to the magazine for republication.

There are at least two possible ways of reading this practice. It could, and in some cases likely often was, a ruse, whereby staff writers used this convention to recycle already published material in a way that didn’t seem culpably plagiaristic. At other times, these may well have been genuine instances of readers wanting to share with others works they found particularly notable, relevant, or interesting and, in the process, implicitly to declare their own readerly credentials. These kinds of submissions are ones that I would like to return to in a future post. In this context, though, they speak to the widely perceived acceptability of repurposed content, repackaged by a third party, in contemporary magazines.

But I would go further than this. Generically, periodicals (especially magazines as opposed to, say, the essay-periodical) don’t work in the same way as other genres. If, as David Mazella has recently explained, the magazine is a genre, then it is a unique one, one that ‘by definition consumes other, smaller genres or microgenres and presents a temporally segmented selection of content on a regular basis’ [2]. When an extract from a previously published work – a biography, an anecdote, a meditation on good conduct – appear in extracted form in a magazine like the Lady’s,  it becomes something different from what it previously was. Whether it is ‘improved’ or not by its reiteration is a judgement call about which we might not all agree. Even so, it is surely true that the status of the extract, by virtue of its remediation within the magazine genre, is fundamentally different than in its original format even if its wording is substantively or even exactly the same. The Vindication of the Rights of Woman that appears in the Lady’s Magazine, a magazine that also published acknowledged extracts from works of James Fordyce, Dr. Gregory and Jean Jacques-Rousseau that Wollstonecraft held were paradigmatic of the degraded state of woman, is not the same work that Wollstonecraft penned. It reads differently.

These, and many other issues besides, have been discussed at length by the three of us in recent weeks as we establish our terminology for indicating repurposed / recycled / remediated / plagiarised material. It’s led to some lively debate and an extended conversation with some of our followers on Twitter on the @ladysmagazineproject feed and on my own personal Twitter feed (@jenniebatchelor).

Our resolution, for now at least, is to opt for the phrasing  ‘previously published’ to divest from our own terminology the legal and moral implications of the term plagiarism, which may well be anachronistic for our period, especially when referring to periodicals. The solution might seem cowardly or non-committal, but I don’t see it that way. Instead, I see it as a pragmatic, historically sensitive stance on an important issue. The question of why, I think, it matters so much is one I will return to in my next blog post in a few weeks’ time.

As always, I’d love to know your thoughts on this!


Jennie Batchelor

School of English

University of Kent

[1] Tilar J. Mazzeo, Plagiarism and Literary Property in the Romantic Period (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2007).

[2] I am very grateful to Professor Mazella for sharing his paper ‘Temporality, Microgenres, Authorship and The Lady’s Magazine’, which was delivered at the ASECS 2015 conference.









Research Rabbit Holes; or, Hunting for Bob Short Junior

Countless are the times I have looked up from reading the Lady’s Magazine to moan in frustration: ‘I can’t stand this man!’

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LM VII (Mar 1776): 126. Image © Adam Matthew Digital / British l Library. Not to be reproduced without permission.

I’m speaking of Bob Short, Junior, author of the magazine’s serial ‘The Female Reformer’ which appeared periodically from March 1776 through the mid-1780s. From the outset, Bob Short declares he will ‘animadvert occasionally on the foibles of the female world, with a view to reform them’ (LM VII [March 1776]: 126).  This first number sees him criticizing initially the ‘preposterous and feathery head dress of the ladies’ whilst noting that there are ‘many other parts of the female dress [. . .] equally open to ridicule and censure’ before moving onto the fan as the target of his ‘reforming’ remarks.

Yes, you read that right: the fan. No, it didn’t mean something else back then. Apparently Short’s problem with ladies’ fans was with the mounts – ‘the loose, and I had almost said indecent, mounts ladies have to their fans in the present day’ – mounts that make him believe ‘a coarse, indelicate, and immodest picture is not so offensive to the view of the fair, as prudence, virtue, and chastity could wish’. Indeed, these indelicate fan mounts appear even in places of worship where he saw a young woman who ‘appeared suitably attentive and devout’ until he saw ‘naked cupids, and women almost so, represented as sleeping under trees, while dancing shepherds and piping fawns completed the shameful groupe.’ Such pictures, Short declared, ‘on being looked at, tend only to inflame the passions, and promote the loosest ideas’ (LM VII [March 1776]: 126).

Image © Manchester Art Galleries. Not to be reproduced without permission.

Image © Manchester Art Galleries. Not to be reproduced without permission.

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LM VIII (August 1777): 422. Image © Adam Matthew Digital / British l Library. Not to be reproduced without permission.

‘The Female Reformer’ column generally contained similar opinions. For example, after spending several numbers criticizing female dress, he turns to female conversation. Obviously, this didn’t fare much better, and is described as being described as ‘trifling, unimportant, and insignificant!’ (LM VIII [August 1777]: 422). Occasionally he would reveal intimate details, such as in his December 1777 column, in which he described the recent loss of a child called Eliza, who had just begun to speak. And although my instincts told me that such remarks were fact rather than inventions for didactic purposes, they weren’t particularly useful in terms of finding out more about the man behind the serial.

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LM XVIII (December 1784): 651. Image © Adam Matthew Digital / British l Library. Not to be reproduced without permission

And so I carried on reading and occasionally rolling my eyes at Short’s remarks without looking into it further until recently. An uncharacteristically personal column by Short was followed by a silence – no further contributions to the magazine appeared – and this perplexing silence piqued my curiosity. Short complains in December 1784 about an incident that occurred at a bookseller’s shop in Paternoster-row (the location of the Robinson’s business and, of course, many other printing and publishing firms in the eighteenth century). Short is clearly incensed by the incident in which a lady picks up a book he published some years ago and ‘said to the master of the shop (not knowing who I was,) “what a pity is it the author of this book, who is also the author of the Female Reformer, signed Bob Short, in the Lady’s Magazine, does not live up to what he writes; don’t you think so, Sir? Indeed, I often think of telling him so in the Magazine: I have read his works with pleasure in times past, but cannot now, since I know his character, and live in his neighbourhood.” Should the above mentioned lady read this, let her blush at having (as she apprehended) said that behind a person’s back, which I am happy in having to say, she cannot prove before his face’ (LM XV [December 1784]: 651). After this, Short offers no further contributions.

There is mention of him in February 1785 when the correspondent E—L—notes Bob Short’s ‘seeming pleasure [. . .] in exposing the failings of our sex’ and states that lately his comments ‘have had more the appearance of ill-natured remarks, than admonitions to reformation’ LM XVI (Feb 1785): 94. E—L—, at least, appears to have had no sympathy for Short’s complaints the previous December regarding the slanderous remarks he overheard at the booksellers. But although he doesn’t publish in the magazine again, he seems to have contacted the editors, who in April 1785 claim that ‘Our friend Bob Short does us honour to find that his anger is subsiding, and we should be glad for any jeu d’esprit from a person of so fertile an imagination, which would either contribute to entertain or ameliorate the Sex in general’ (LM XVI [April 1785]: 170). In spite of what we can only assume was a reconciliatory letter from Short to the editors, their hopes he would again contribute to the periodical were in vain.

Beginning with the work of E. W. Pitcher, that prolific attributor of anonymous and pseudonymous contributors to eighteenth-century periodicals, I saw that he had identified Bob Short Junior as George Wright. This was based on Wright’s authorship of The Rural Christian and other texts that appeared under both ‘Bob Short’ and ‘George Wright’.[1] But beyond the date of his marriage, 3 November 1772, listed in the Town and Country Magazine of that year and an obituary for his wife fourteen years later in the same publication, there were still more questions than answers. Given that the ‘Bob Short’ pseudonym had been in use for decades by various writers (such as Robert Withy, Robert Willey, Eliza Haywood) some of whom, like Willey, were friendly with the Robinson family (the magazine’s publishers), it seemed worth corroborating Pitcher’s claim and finding out more about this serial (and serially misogynistic) contributor.

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The Country Squire. Image © ECCO. Not to be reproduced without permission.

Without belabouring the details, I concluded that Pitcher was correct in the identification of Short as Wright. In addition to the texts Pitcher identifies by Wright, I have identified a few more, such as The Country Squire (1781) and several ‘fugitive pieces’ contributed to other magazines. Pitcher’s suggestion that Wright used other pseudonyms is confirmed by the author himself in the opening pages of The Country Squire wherein he states that he has appeared ‘under various signatures, such as A Young Philanthropist, Theron, Jun. Florio, &c.’ (iii) – all of which are signatures that appear in the LM. I have also located his marriage certificate, which identifies ‘Miss Wright of Hackney’ (Town and Country IV: 216) george wright marraigemore clearly as an Elizabeth Wright of the parish of Saint Andrew, Holborn.

That George and Elizabeth shared a last name raises further questions (were they perhaps cousins, close or distant? Or was this mere coincidence?) that remain unanswered. Short himself notes their identical last names in a rather sweet poem of this that I located, appearing as a fugitive piece in the European Magazine and London Review (II [1782]: 16) but that was likely printed previously elsewhere. In this short poem Wright encourages Miss Wright to ‘change but your state and continue your name, Be not Wright only single, but married, the same’ (European Magazine and London Review II [1782]: 16).

Wright’s wife Elizabeth, as Pitcher notes, is listed in the deaths section of the Town and Country (IX [March 1786]: 211). I have also found her death listed in the New London Magazine (8: [1786]: 166), and much more interestingly, in the New Lady’s Magazine (I: [1786]: 112).

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The New Lady’s Magazine (1786-1795) was a rival publication to the Lady’s Magazine that was edited by the Rev. Mr. Charles Stanhope. The New Lady’s looked almost identical to the Lady’s Magazine, was published a few doors down from the Robinsons’ magazine, and included a considerable volume of material from the original periodical. The obituary that appears in this magazine provides much more information than was typical. It states: ‘On Sunday, March 5, 1786, died at Peckham, upon a visit to her sister, Mrs. Elizabeth Wright, wife of G. Wright, Esq. of John Street, Tottenham-Court road, a sincere but retired Christian; a dutiful wife, a tender mother, and a real friend, particularly to the poor; her exemplary life and conduct [. . .]’ (I: 112). This, to me, indicates the possibility that George Wright was in some way acquainted with the editors of the new magazine, or had at least exchanged his loyalty from the Lady’s Magazine to its new rival.

The names of Bob Short and George Wright appeared in other periodicals and magazines over the next few years and Wright continued to publish his own books and miscellanies. There is, indeed, much more work to be done in identifying all of his publications and his contributions not only to the Lady’s Magazine but to other periodicals as well. Ultimately I disagree with Pitcher, who believes Wright was, like many others, a ‘semiprofessional compiler [. . .] George Wright belonged to this miscellany of hacks, opportunists, and amateurs, and probably fared as well as most in entertaining and instructing the contemporary reading public’ (Pitcher: 383). His lengthy career and myriad publications require us to consider him as more than a compiler, hack, amateur, or opportunist. In spite of finding nearly everything he wrote infuriating, it seems clear to me that Wright was an author, and that his literary career provoked his fellow periodical contributors into debates and dialogues that remain fascinating and provocative to this day.


Jenny DiPlacidi

School of English

University of Kent

[1] Edward W. Pitcher, ‘The Periodical and Miscellaneous Publications of George Wright (“Bob Short, Junior”)’, Bibliographical Notes 74:4 (1980): 379-408.

‘Steal upon the ravish’d sense’: readers plagiarizing poetry in the Lady’s Magazine

Our regular readers will already know that the most important goal of our research project is to learn as much as possible about the thousands of readers who contributed to the Lady’s Magazine. Only last week, Jennie explained how she had succeeded in identifying two amateur authors, following hints within their contributions and in editorial notices about them. She found that these writers were personally invested in the magazine, and that it played a very important role in their lives. This was not the first time that we have blogged about such discoveries, and we will continue to do so, because we are always excited when we find out more about the relationship of reader-contributors to the magazine. What, after all, did they get out of their contributions? It was not money, because unsolicited submissions were in all likelihood never paid for, and although some ambitious authors may have used these first humble publications as a stepping stone, most left it at getting a few of their musings into print. The predominance of anonymity and pseudonymous or cryptically abbreviated signatures strongly suggests that the latter, larger category must in general have contributed solely for the sheer satisfaction of it. If this is the case, then it is puzzling why many readers felt the need to pass off as their own work material that had in fact been plagiarized.

  As I have discussed before, unacknowledged appropriation of contributions to other periodicals and, of extracts from books, was standard practice in the eighteenth- and early-nineteenth century press. Editors skimmed rival publications for quality content and employed hack writers to help fill up their magazines with copy that was taken from other sources, and to varied extents edited to make it seem original. This may have been unethical and even illegal, but commercially, it made a lot of sense. There is however little reason for unpaid contributors to pillage the creative output of others. Often, of course, readers would act in the capacity of what we have called ‘intermediate authors’, for instance when they recommend for republication certain items, mostly short poems or edifying extracts, gleaned from periodicals and books, and then usually they do so with a short prefatory headnote stating that they were not the author. In quite a few cases, however, some would simply submit plagiarized work. It is of course impossible to know whether this plagiarism was intentional, but at least there is no sign of any attempt to give due credit to the original author.

    Today we have recourse to wonderful databases such as Eighteenth Century Journals, Eighteenth Century Collections Online and Google Books to detect the plagiarized contributions, but back then, editors had to rely on their own, obviously extensive, knowledge of contemporaneous print culture. With almost endearing hypocrisy, the Lady’s Magazine’s monthly correspondence columns do call out plagiarizing reader-contributors on such ‘petty Larceny’:

The angry letter from a Correspondent, signed Musarum Amicus, deserves some Animadversion : He threatens us with withdrawing his Favours from us for ever, if we do not insert a thing which he entitles, The Maid’s Soliloquy, a Parody, from Cato – By a Parthenian Lady; which, he knows, was inserted in the Covent Garden Magazine for March last — We might have excused this petty Larceny, had he addressed us in terms which were due to the Sex ; but when the Crime is aggravated by want of Delicacy, it deserves Resentment[.]“ (LM [July 1773]: 392).

    According to the scholarly consensus on literary history, the early years of the Lady’s Magazine coincided with the breakthrough of sentimental verse, and much of the poetry submitted by readers does adhere to what Jerome McGann has called ‘the poetics of Sensibility’: literature primarily conceived as an attempt to record and communicate an individual’s ‘affects’, i.e. emotional responses to specific situations.[1] It is interesting that many of the poems plagiarized by reader were either (purportedly) personal lyrics, or ‘occasional verse’ meant to mark a specific event that impressed the poet, but that usually the only alterations are changes to the absolute specifics of settings or addressees. The following two examples are representative of the bulk of the plagiarized readers’ poems that I have so far managed to trace.

comparison LM - GM

    In January 1771, a contributor with the signature ‘Fidelis’ submits a melancholy poem of 58 rhyming couplets, dedicated to an absent friend ‘Miss J. P—r’ whose initial is revealed in the poem to stands for ‘Jenny’ (LM [January 1771]: 278-279). Cross-checking sampled lines with online databases has demonstrated that this poem is in fact an edited version of an original from the Gentleman’s Magazine of July 1749, signed ‘Sylvia’, and there dedicated ‘[t]o Amanda’. The juxtaposed opening lines of the two versions will show how very similar they are. Fidelis has made only minor alterations, changing the location from Dulwich to Hagley, and – luckily – not forgetting to change the name of the addressed lady either. Worcestershire, where Hagley is located, must in the eighteenth century have been remarkably similar to Dulwich’s Middlesex, as the ruminations on the original speaker’s surroundings seemingly did not require adaptation. It is worthy of note that the re-attribution of the poem from a female to a plausibly male signature (the nominalized adjective ‘fidelis’ is masc.) would alter the possible readings of the poem significantly. The poem in both versions contains the line (not in image) “Hail sacred Friendship! Virtue’s best defence”, which is intriguing in the original due to its female signature, but in the later version with male signature arguably less so.

comparison LM - UR - JP

     My second example is a short occasional poem that appeared in the Lady’s Magazine one year later (LM [September 1772]: 428). It was submitted by ‘Almira’, based in Guildford, to declare her rapture “[o]n hearing the reverend Mr. Williams preach the condemn’d Sermon to the prisoners” in that town. Again, a database search revealed that this poem is a but superficially edited plagiarism. The earliest version that I found is the unsigned ‘Some extempore Lines on reading a Fine Poem’ that appeared in the April 1751 number of the Universal Magazine. The Lady’s Magazine adaptation shifts the earlier version’s enthusiasm for the ‘eloquence’ of a poem to that of a preacher, who may have been the popular Dissenting clergyman John Williams (1727-1798).[2] The only differences are that the fourth line of the original is omitted, perhaps because it was judged inappropriate in a poem on a religious occasion, and in the new line 4 the adaptation has ‘sink us into fears’ for ‘sink us in our fears’. We can see how mobile contributions to periodicals were in this period from the fact that yet another version appears years later, in the American weekly Juvenile Port-folio of Saturday 4 March 1815. This version is nearly identical to that of 1751, but the anonymous plagiarist has changed the title to ‘Extempore on reading the poetical works of Walter Scott’. The Wizard of the North, of course, was not yet ‘warm[ing] us into love’ in 1751. Intriguingly, the 1815 version has the Lady’s Magazine’s reading ‘into fears’ as well. This suggests that there was another version of the poem, which may have been the original to all three versions, that has been lost or at least never digitized. We never can be entirely sure about the earliest instances of periodical contributions.

    I do not believe that in either case the plagiarizers were conscious of doing anything wrong. Although reader-contributors to magazines did not have the same motives for appropriating the work of others as the editors had, the transgressions of both were rooted in the particular views on authorship prevalent in the eighteenth century. As is common knowledge, the notion of intellectual property was until the nineteenth century predominantly legal, and had not yet filtered through to the everyday ‘ethical order’ yet. I have discussed in an earlier post how, in contemporaneous satire on the hugely successful Lady’s Magazine, coy pseudonymous reader-contributors actually longed to be found out, as their masks would impart an elegant modesty to their authorship, adding charm to their contributions if they were recognized. This may well have been true for many, as locations in the dateline and references within the contribution were full of potential hints. In the same way that many magazine editors (I think genuinely) considered material found in rival publications to be up for grabs, there was for these amateur poets no ill in borrowing a line or two (or 58) from a more felicitous bard. The risk of getting caught would also be rather low. This must have been very convenient!

Dr. Koenraad Claes

School of English, University of Kent


[1] Jerome McGann, The Poetics of Sensibility (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1996), passim

[2] Diana K. Jones, “Williams, John (1727-1798)”, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. [last consulted on 31 Aug. 15].