Monthly Archives: October 2015

Plagiarism (n): What other people do, or, The P-word part III

We have spent a lot of blog column inches in the past few weeks attempting to work our way through the quagmire of terms and ethical considerations that frame the culture of reprinting, repurposing, or remediating that characterises eighteenth-century magazines. The intellectual hand-wringing that has accompanied our debates about how to acknowledge unacknowledged republications of previously published material that appeared in the Lady’s Magazine in our index has resulted in a more pragmatic and, we hope, much more  accurate and historically nuanced view of the legal and, more importantly, moral face of periodical publishing in the later eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries.

But, as we have said before, we can’t ignore the dreaded p-word entirely, in no small part because the magazine itself did not. As promised, therefore, and in the spirit of full disclosure, I want here to turn briefly to the question of what these terms meant (and to whom they meant most) in a publication that not only made no bones about the fact that it would situate its original contributions alongside extracts from  ‘the whole circle of Polite Literature’, but that also insisted that such a move undergirded its claims to public utility (‘Address to the Public’, LM XXIII [Jan 1972]: iv).

So what, according to the Lady’s Magazine is a plagiarism? Well, not, as we have documented, when it reprints something with minor amendments, reframing and no acknowledgement. No: plagiarism is not something the magazine does, it appears; it is something that happens to it.

Plagiarism, in short, is what other people do. It is not what the staff writers whom we suspect The Lady’s Magazine employed to draft its non-original content produced. It is what the magazine’s army of volunteer ‘ingenious correspondents’ who provided its original content did when lacking in ingenuity or sufficient guile to pass off others’ work as their own.

No doubt in part aware of the dangers of throwing stones in its own glasshouse, the magazine could be forgiving of such crimes and frequently registered as much in its monthly ‘To our Correspondents’ columns from which source we can glean most about the magazine’s day-to-day operations. In the April 1773 column, for instance, the editor noted that the received ‘Verses to Miss P.’, and which  contained ‘a Translation of an ode of Horace’ was ‘probably a Plagiarism‘, but stopped short of recrimination beyond refusing to publish the missive. Likewise, in May 1772, the editor had reminded readers that it had ‘ever been’ its ‘endeavour to make the poetical part of our Magazine particularly pleasing’, to which end it requested with what seems like unnecessary politeness that ‘no pieces which are not originals’ be submitted to ‘that department’ (LM III [May 1772]: 226).

As these examples intimate, one of the most striking aspects of the magazine’s discussion of plagiarism is how little concerned with the practice it often seems to be. This is not to say that the editors didn’t occasionally wallow in public self-congratulation when they detected that original submissions had been fraudulently transcribed from elsewhere. When, in March 1789, the magazine divined not only that an ‘excellent’ letter from a contributor to the columnist, the Budget, who went by Clio was ‘printed Forty Years ago in the Connoisseur’, but that a ‘long Poem on Taste’ that had also been submitted was from a source that the magazine would not disclose, the editor(s) glee and superiority are not even partially masked.

More often, however, the magazine seems principally to care (perhaps was only forced to care) about the p-word when readers did so. Take, for example, the following, printed in the ‘To our Correspondents’ column of the February 1776 issue:

image 1

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

The blend of gallantry and threat on display here is an uneasy combination. The magazine refuses to name names or publish the full extent of the putative calumnies to which it is has been alerted. It wants to protect its authors against such imputations – to act in good faith – and sometimes went to great lengths to give contributors redress against such insinuations. When Constantia Maria, a contributor of historical essays to the magazine in the 1770s was accused of being ‘a plagiarist’ by the apparently unjustly self-righteous Justus, the magazine gave the accused, who had ‘never’, in fact, offered anything to the public as her own’ work, a right of reply (LM VIII, [July 1777]: 277) Not only that, they condemned the tactics and classiness of Justus in the ‘To our Correspondents column of the same issue: his attack on Constantia Maria is itself outed as a ‘plagiarism’ by the magazine’s editor, who pointedly declares also that he has ‘strong reasons to intimate’ that his composition – a ‘series of letters from a nobleman to his son’ is ‘not the composition of a nobleman, but a plebeian‘ (277).

Such acts of courtesy to impugned contributors extended only so long as it was mutually enforced by the behaviour of reader-contributors, however. If they failed in their part of the bargain and ‘put upon’ the magazine by trying to pass off other’s work as their own, then all bets were off, and in no uncertain terms. Such ‘literary robbers’ could be and deserved to be outed before the magazine’s readers (‘To our Correspondents’, LM [Aug 1784]).

If the magazine’s references to plagiarism smack of hypocrisy then that is in part because the stance is at least partly hypocritical, although as we have explained before, lightly edited reprintings by staff writers were a mainstay of the periodical press and seem to have considered, in modern parlance, examples of fair use . But the bigger story here, to my mind, is not why the magazine took the attitude it did towards plagiarism, but why readers seem to have taken it much more seriously than editors did. Another story again is why the act of literary plagiarism, like so many real and imagined vices of the period seems to have fallen upon women with a double weight. As a bizarre article from July 1794 notes, if the female equivalent of the male plagiarist is a woman who has lost her reputation, then a female plagiarist is surely the worst of all creatures on earth (LM XXXV [July 1794]: 352).

In none of the cases mentioned above (or any those I have come across so far) are readers who accuse other contributors of plagiarism aggrieved, as they would surely rightly be, because another has sought to pass off his or her words as their own. Indeed, even when writers did have such grounds for complaint within the periodical’s history, such as when the magazine in October 1773 famously published a song based on verses by Clara Reeve, without consulting her, the author’s complaint was not that her words had been plagiarised without her consent, but that they had not been borrowed accurately.

As Koenraad noted in his fine overview of the periodical’s position in terms of contemporary copyright law, occurs at least eighteen in the Lady’s Magazine between 1770 and 1800,  and there are three of “plagiarist”‘. Even allowing for the various words used by the magazine for what we would without hesitation call plagiarisms today (articles wanting in originality, literary frauds etc), what strikes me most about these statistics is not how frequent but how infrequent these terms are in the magazine’s history. For each full year of the magazine’s run, there were 13 issues, each of about 50 to 60 pages of densely printed content. Even if we generously treble the number of references to plagiarism to encompass any and all synonyms used by the magazine, 60 references to plagiarism in well over 19000 pages of content suggests that plagiarism bleeps much more loudly on our radar than it did on that of our predecessors. Except of course, when those predecessors (like Justus) had a particular if partly inaccessible axe to grind.

So where does all this leave us? The short answer is not much further from where we began. The longer answer is not much more satisfying. The p-word was a term in widespread circulation in the period and in our periodical, as in others of the time, was registered more commonly as an ethical rather than legal matter (although the legal framework should not be forgotten). It was also a practice for which there was widespread tolerance. When W. S. wrote to the magazine in August 1784 to complain vociferously about a plagiarised letter and essay (from the Wit’s Magazine) in the Budget columns earlier in the year, the editor acknowledged the legitimacy of the discovery before noting that August 1784 issue of the Wit’s contained a novel ‘stolen’ from the Lady’s Magazine. 

In the opportunistic, tit-for-tat world of the late-eighteenth-century periodical, reprintings, stolen pieces, plagiarisms (choose your own nomenclature) were everywhere. This is not to say that plagiarism doesn’t exist in or shouldn’t matter in our understanding of the Lady’s Magazine. But it is to say that the assumption that plagiarism is an intrinsically important matter without attending the complicated questions of how much it mattered, why it mattered and to whom it mattered is a least a little misguided.

To refuse to ask such questions is potentially to privilege a set of modern assumptions about the relationship between author, text and originality that we have argued numerous times on this blog have pushed periodicals like the Lady’s Magazine to the margins of literary history. Looking closely at the magazine’s vocabulary for things we think we know and describe, including plagiarism, for its contestations of arguments and concepts that we take for granted can be deeply unsettling. Nonetheless, we remain convinced that in the long term scrutiny of these issues in the magazine’s own terms and those of its time proves illuminating.


Dr Jennie Batchelor

School of English

University of Kent




Notes on periodical genres, inspired by a trip to Trondheim

UKCWorking at the University of Kent has many advantages. Our colleagues are great, our students contribute enthusiastically to the vibrancy of the academic community, and our hillside campus provides beautiful views on Canterbury and its Cathedral spires (when it’s not too foggy). What I like most about the University, however, is its international orientation. It styles itself ‘the UK’s European university’ and justifies this appellation by organizing acclaimed student programmes in Brussels and Paris, and by stimulating collaboration with institutions in Continental Europe and Scandinavia. It is a source of great satisfaction to me that my current department has an excellent understanding with my former, at Ghent University. On Friday 30 October, for instance, a delegation of Kent staff and students will visit Ghent for a jointly organized workshop on nineteenth-century periodical studies, where our guest speaker will be living legend Prof. em. Laurel Brake. Earlier this month, I visited the Norwegian University for Science and Technology (NTNU) in Trondheim, to talk about our project to our friends of Enlightenment News.

     After my presentation, the Enlightenment News team gave feedback on our project’s most ambitious output, the annotated index for the magazine that will be available in open access as of September 2016. They confirmed the effectivity and efficiency of the index and gave advice on the use of state-of-the-art tools for the visualization of extrapolated data. You will get to see the results of our conversations in the next months. Their splendid ideas on Digital Humanities notwithstanding; the researchers on Enlightenment News are especially valuable contacts for the Lady’s Magazine project because of their specific expertise on eighteenth-century newspapers. During our discussions I noticed that they knew much more about magazines than I know about newspapers, but that neither side felt entirely confident on the genre that it did not focus on. The Enlightenment News website also states that this project ‘springs from the mass digitization of newspapers and periodical publications’ [my emphasis].

   The distinction made there is widespread in the study of eighteenth-century print culture, and I certainly understand why the Trondheim researchers decided to uphold it. Nevertheless, it struck me that this may be another one of those institutionalized imaginary boundaries that sometimes bring about an unhelpful compartmentalization of scholarship. Although some scholars are active in both, there are arguably still distinct academic circuits for the study of periodicals as either an offshoot of literary studies, or as a discipline within media history. Essay periodicals and magazines have been getting increasing attention over the past few decades from literature scholars working within periodical studies because these genres are now acknowledged as important sites of literary publication and public debate, but apart from a few notable trailblazers (including Enlightenment News), scholars outside of media and history departments have been paying little attention to newspapers except as easily quotable sources of historical information.

     Newspapers are ‘serial publications with [their] own distinctive titles’,[i] to cite one definition of ‘periodicals’, but they are often represented as incommensurable with periodical genres like the essay periodical, magazine, journal, review publication or miscellany. There are at least two explanations for this. Between 1712 and 1855, so-called ‘Taxes on Knowledge’ were in force in Britain to curtail publications that focused on current events, and this consolidated the classification of newspapers as a genre of publication apart from others with a periodical frequency. Today, for practical reasons, most libraries in North America and Europe index newspapers separately from (other) periodicals because the internationally accepted bibliographical classification system MARC 21 (Machine Readable Cataloguing) does so too. There is however no absolute necessity to do so, and I am sure that most periodical scholars would not object to the classification of newspapers as part of the wider category of periodicals.

     After pondering this problem, I became convinced that I need to learn more about those publications that are traditionally categorized as newspapers. The awkward phrasing of that last sentence is intentional. Genre categories are demarcated by means of definitions, and this is necessary because the corresponding terms have functioned historically and need to be taken into account, but we need to remember that these are all inevitably reductive. Achieving some kind of Linnaean taxonomy of textual genre should never be our goal. Whichever genre you tend to work on, it is advisable to occassionally take a peek over the fence at the neighbours. Especially in the eighteenth century, when the press is still coming into its own, self-classification is a matter of commercial pragmatics and legal opportunism, and many publications blurred the differences between genres on purpose. It is fair to say that such clever manipulation of genre is the very raison d’être of magazines.

LM, XXI (Jan. 1790): 49. Image © Adam Matthew Digital / British Library. Not to be reproduced without permission.

LM, XXI (Jan. 1790): 49. Image © Adam Matthew Digital / British Library. Not to be reproduced without permission.

     The defining feature of a newspaper is that it contains mostly ‘news’, a slippery term usually understood as denoting a concise record of current events. The Lady’s Magazine, for instance, also contains news sections in every number, divided into the subsections ‘Home News’ and ‘Foreign News’. The monthly frequency of the Lady’s Magazine makes it less adequate than the usually daily or weekly newspapers for ‘professional’ readers who needed to keep up with the most recent political and commercial developments, but for a less exigent audience that was not yet reliant on the then increasing centralization of government and globalization of commerce, it probably did the job just fine. Additionally, readers who preserved their copies and had them bound into annual volumes could use these sections as a chronicle of the past year. When we give talks about the Lady’s Magazine, we are often asked where it got its news facts from (in the jargon: ‘newsgathering’), but this is a difficult question as there may well be dozens of sources for every single number. As I have discussed before, ‘news’ was unprotected by copyright law and, even more generally than other content, harvested from sundry other publications, although the leading newspapers of course had channels of their own to secure scoops. More apt questions may be what the principles were whereby the Lady’s Magazine selected some events for inclusion and omitted others, and what the ideological slant of its reports tended to be. The Lady’s Magazine is also unlikely to have gathered itself all of its monthly notices for births, marriages and deaths, another feature which it shared with newspapers.

     Besides these more obvious overlaps with newspapers, the Lady’s Magazine also contained surprisingly detailed court proceedings for the most sensational cases of its day, like the trial of the Monster. It also printed the entire defence speech of Lord Erskine on behalf of Thomas Paine during the latter’s trial for seditious libel in 1792, in which the Magazine’s publisher George Robinson was implicated. Its regular articles on official celebrations at court could be seen as ticking off yet another topical interest, even if the emphasis there usually was on the dresses worn by the Queen and her ladies. Vice versa, many publications that are categorized as newspapers included types of content that we now more readily associate with (other) periodical genres, such as book reviews, historical items that at first glance bear no immediate relevance to topical events, original poetry, and occasionally serialization of prose fiction.

Leeds Intelligencer (2 April 1771): 1. Image © Gale / British Library.

Leeds Intelligencer (2 April 1771): 1. Image © Gale / British Library.

     Also if your research is limited mainly or solely to the magazine genre, there are clear advantages to a more thorough consultation of newspapers than a quick search for keywords in online databases. To give only one example, ephemeral materials such as advertisement sections are often better preserved for newspapers than for magazines, because they are usually fully integrated into the paper’s contents and therefore harder to purge from the text. The Lady’s Magazine regularly advertised in the major newspapers of the day, and reading these adverts – ideally in context of the paper in which they appear – can tell you much about how the magazine was marketed. Reading them successively may tell you which price changes it underwent throughout its run, and how the publishers believed they could present themselves most profitably. The advert partially reproduced here is actually much longer, and contains valuable descriptions of the contents that indicate which items were expected to attract most attention.

     I came back from Trondheim with a renewed interest in newspapers as points of comparison to, and secondary sources of information on the Lady’s Magazine, and for that I am as grateful as for the warm welcome I received. As previous blogs posts have shown, presentations at other institutions where Jennie, Jenny and myself have been hosted have stimulated our research in other ways. If you work on topics congenial to our own, and think that it would be useful for us to present our project to you and hear about yours in turn, we urge you to get in touch. We welcome all suggestions wholeheartedly and are keen to gain new contacts wherever people are interested in our research!

Dr. Koenraad Claes

School of English, University of Kent


[i] Reitz, Joan M. “Periodical”. Online Dictionary for Library and Information Science. [last consulted on 20 Oct. 15]

Representations of Fashion in 1785

The discourses on fashion in the Lady’s Magazine (1770-1832) are, as we have seen, complex and multifaceted. While I have discussed some of the ways fashion appears in the magazine previously, in today’s post I would like to draw attention to the representation of fashion in three distinct genres: the serial novel, the opinion piece, and the advice column.Screen Shot 2015-10-10 at 11.01.10 My decision to give a brief overview of how fashion appears within these three genres is precisely because of the difficulties a researcher or reader would find in attempting to reconcile its representations across the genres. This is, of course, also true within genres; different serial novels offer sharply divergent opinions on social issues central to the magazine’s readership; likewise readers would receive distinctly dissimilar guidance depending on the authorship of an advice column. Nonetheless, by examining fashion across the genres rather than within one, it is possible to gain a better understanding of 1) the competing forms that discourses appeared in within the periodical and 2) how the eighteenth-century reader would have experienced these divergent representations.

Fashion is merely one subject among hundreds that could be used to demonstrate this point, but it is a subject of perpetual fascination to me because of how discussions of it are consistently bound of with debates on morality, modernity, gender and sexuality.

The anonymously authored serial novel The Dangers of Dissipation (1783-85) features a first-person narrator, Maria Wilding, who is a pleasure-seeking young lady whose tendency towards Screen Shot 2015-10-09 at 14.17.41dissipation (as the title indicates) puts her in dangerous situations, and who is most fond of admiration. This propensity carries on after she is married to the highly moral Mr. Wells, and causes her some mortification in the countryside when her fashionable dress renders her the object of ridicule rather than admiration to the local rustics, who she: ‘more than once, caught laughing at the length of my braided hair, and my train drawing a yard after me on the ground; and often heard them say, they would rather, a thousand times, chuse a girl with a round ear’d cap, and her hair cut short in her neck, in a close jacket and petticoat’ LM XVI [August 1784]: 412.

But in spite of Maria’s dangerous desire to be admired, when she almost loses her husband’s regard entirely after he finds her in a compromising (though not guilty) position, she realizes that it is his love and esteem that are most important. Her husband pretends to flirt with another woman to make her jealous, and it is around a cap that this plot point and the novel culminate. Maria is assisting Miss Gataker at her toilet one day before they go out when her husband enters with ‘a new-fashioned hat [. . .] trimmed with lace and ribbon, in a very elegant taste, and presented it to Miss Gataker, desiring her leave to put Screen Shot 2015-10-09 at 14.28.28it on himself’ (LM XVI [January 1785]: 32). Maria is naturally very upset at her husband’s behaviour but especially when his friend, sir William, suggest that Mr. Wells give the cap to Maria and Mr. Wells replies ‘it will not become her’ (LM XVI [January 1785]: 32). Immediately after this Mr. Wells finally relents and confesses that both his flirtation with Miss Gataker and sir William’s repeated profession of love to Maria have been ruses to test her fortitude and fidelity.

In the same issue, the Matron’s advice column [link] features an anecdote revolving around her cousin, Miss Partlett. Miss Partlett consistently dresses too young for her age, and Mrs. Grey just as frequently attempts to advise her against her fashion selections. In this column, Miss Partlett is ‘sallying forth’ in in a very fashionable ensemble featuring ‘an enormous feather’ that Mrs. Grey’s daughter attempts to reason with her, stating that propriety, not feathers, ‘render a woman worthy of esteem’ and that ‘every attempt that she makes to look younger than she really is, will have quite an opposite effect: it would only serve to make her more conspiculously ancient [. . .] Feathers, in the manner many young women wear them, put one too much in mind of funeral ornaments, upon the head of an old woman. They can make us think of nothing else, indeed, but a hearse’ (LM XVI [January 1785]: 27). Screen Shot 2015-10-09 at 14.37.30

This is not the first time, or the last, that the Matron weighs in against older women dressing too young for their age. Her concern is not with fashionable attire in general; in other installments she compliments the expensive and beautiful dresses that her grandson’s wife wears, and she admires the elegant simplicity with which her granddaughter Sophia dresses. But the showy and cheap satin deshabille that her other granddaughter wears, and the age-inappropriate attire of Miss Partlett attract her censure. That is to say, it is not fashionable or modern styles in themselves, but inelegant or inappropriate choices that do not suit the wearer against which the Matron advises; becoming and stylish fashions that are genteel and elegant rather than tawdy or modish are always advised.

A serial opinion piece, rather wonderfully titled ‘One of the Leading Causes of Prostitution: The Dress of Servant Girls above their Stations’ appears in 1785 as well, and, though the writer claims not to want to usurp the place of the MatScreen Shot 2015-10-09 at 14.56.11ron in giving advice to the magazine’s readers, she must offer her opinion on the profligacy and depravity of women who become prostitutes. Two/thirds of these women, the writer claims (though offers perhaps unsurprisingly no source for this statistic) were previously servants. The cause of prostitution for these former servants is, the writer argues, ‘pride, and a desire of appearing out of their proper sphere’ (LM XVI [February 1785]: 96). Indeed, one of the most vexatious consequences of dressing beyond one’s rank is not a life of prostution (and consequently degradation, disease, squalor, unwanted pregnancy and early death): no, this writer finds the real disastrous effect is that it is no longer  Screen Shot 2015-10-09 at 14.56.11‘possible to judge people’s rank by their exterior; but now all propriety is banished, and one is momentarily in danger of mistaking a modern mop-squeezer for a capital tradesman’s wife’ (LM XVI [February 1785]: 27).

The serial continues with anecdotes and purportedly true stories for another two installments and is ultimately signed by ‘Annabella Evergreen’. It continues to blame servant girls for almost every ill known to humanity, including their own seductions by honest and innocent sons of the families for which they work. The rhetoric is fascinating and I highly recommend it. But what’s so interesting about its location in the magazine and its pointed nod to the Matron is that this opinion piece that masquerades as a moral essay would likely not have pleased the Matron, who offers a much more moderate view and is very empathetic to the plight of the less fortunate.

The genre of the miscellany necessitates that there is always a vexed relationship between how the various genres represent discourses, almost regardless of topic. Yet by probing these distinct treatments, it is possible to see that the magazine, while in one instance seemingly
reactionary and in the next radical, tends to offer an overall liberal treatment of the social issues that were of such interest to its readership. What makes it so fruitful to look at one topic across a range of genres within a given year, or within a given genre across a range of years, is that the variety and shifts in opinions and view represented within the periodical are given their voice again. The magazine’s multiple dialogues —  between the genres as well as between the contributors to the different genres and columns — requires reading these conversations and their engagement with the contemporary social and cultural concerns in order to understand the otherwise seemingly disjointed and competing discourses.Screen Shot 2015-10-10 at 11.50.09

Jenny DiPlacidi

University of Kent