Monthly Archives: July 2016

Reader, he burned them: Charlotte Bronte, Shipwreck and the Lady’s Magazine

Sadly, good news stories are rare these days. So when they come along, I tend to cling to them like precious cargo that can keep me afloat amidst the torrents of awfulness threatening to pull us all under in this unsettling and violent world.

BronteOne of the best news stories of the past ten days or so is surely the restoration of a book belonging to, and filled with annotations and sketches by, the Bronte family to their Haworth home. The purchase and repatriation of the salt-water stained copy of Robert Southey’s The Remains of Henry Kirke White was made possible by a £170,000 from the National Heritage Memorial Fund, in addition to a further £30,000 raised by a V&A Purchase Grant Fund and Friends of the National Libraries. As the BBC news website noted, this particular copy of Southey’s work was especially remarkable because of the story surrounding it. A treasured artefact of a life prematurely cut short, the book was ‘one of a few possessions saved from a shipwreck shortly before Maria married Patrick Bronte in 1812’, and bore an inscription from Patrick that read: ‘the book of my dearest wife and it was saved from the waves. So then it will always be preserved’. Preserved though it was, the book was nonetheless sold after Patrick’s death in the early 1860s and spent nearly a century in the US before its recent and happy return to Haworth. [1] 

After initially reading this story on the BBC news website, I spent a good 40 minutes trawling through as many different versions of the same story as I could find. Each told more or less the same version of the same series of events in more or less the same language, as news outlets tend to do today just as they did in the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. What I was fruitlessly looking for, I soon realised in my obsessive re-reading, was an answer to an unposed question: What else survived the shipwreck? [2]

Based on the news coverage, you would be forgiven for thinking that only Southey’s Remains of Henry Kirke White was saved from the briny deep in 1812. But this was not the case. Especially prized by Charlotte Bronte was a set of volumes that kept the young woman away from her lessons and hungering after a literary career of her own: a collection of the Lady’s Magazine, the full run of which periodical extended well beyond the date of the shipwreck (from 1770 to 1832).

We don’t know exactly how many copies of the magazine Charlotte and her siblings inherited in the years after their preservation from the shipwreck, although we have some sense of which volumes survived because of the detail with which she later recalled them. Our evidence comes in the form of a letter dated 10 December 1840 to Hartley Coleridge in which Charlotte expressed regret that

I did not exist forty of fifty years ago when the Lady’s magazine was flourishing like a green bay tree—In that case I make no doubt my aspirations after literary fame would have met with due encouragement— […] and I would have contested the palm with the Authors of Derwent Priory—of the Abbey and Ethelinda. You see Sir I have read the Lady’s Magazine and know something of its contents—though I am not quite certain of the correctness of the titles I have quoted … 

DP Jan 1797

LM XXVII (Jan 1797): 12-13. © Jennie Batchelor. Not to be reproduced without permission.

In fact, Bronte’s recall is accurate. Like her, I have spent many happy hours reading the anonymous gothic novel Derwent Priory (serialised 1796-97 and later attributed to Mrs A Kendall), George Moore’s Grasville Abbey (1793-97) and the unsigned ‘Athewold and Ethelinda’ (1797). The fact that Bronte remembered this fiction was remarkable because she did not have the copies before her. Although she vividly remembered the brine ‘discoloured’ pages of the magazine over which she pored ‘on holiday afternoons or by stealth when I should have been minding my lessons’, the volumes had long since left her possession by the time she wrote to Coleridge in 1840:

One black day my father burnt them because they contained foolish love-stories. With all my heart I wish I had been born in time to contribute to the Lady’s magazine. [3]

The sense of horror and betrayal of her father’s act was evidently very much alive to Bronte years after it had been committed and clearly ran as deep as her affection for a magazine and an associated writing culture – ‘when the Lady’s magazine was flourishing like a green bay tree’ – that she sorely lamented the loss of as an aspiring professional writer.

I refer to Bronte’s letter frequently when I talk to people about the Lady’s Magazine and I use it for lots of different reasons. For one thing, as an example of a near contemporary reader’s response to the magazine it is rare. The fact that this is an example of so well known a writer as Bronte only makes it more valuable, not least because it means that I don’t have to rely solely upon my own powers of persuasion to get people to take the magazine seriously. Don’t take my word for it that the Lady’s Magazine is interesting and was influential, here’s what Charlotte Bronte thought about it …

But of course what is most interesting about this story is the tale of survival and destruction around which it turns and the complex psychodrama it plays out. For every fact the letter seems to give us – that Bronte read the Lady’s Magazine, that she associated it with the successful promotion of women’s writing, for instance – at least one question is begged – did she really think that unpaid journalism was preferable to a life of professional authorship and did she share any of her father’s views of its foolishness, for example. Most insistently, however, the question that nags at the reader of the letter is this: How could Patrick Bronte destroy volumes that evidently meant so much to his daughter and which had been saved, along with the Southey, from the waves?

In many ways, I feel that the broader piece of research to which our current Leverhulme project is related – a book I am writing about the Lady’s Magazine‘s place in Romantic literature and culture – is an attempt to answer this question. The rage, which is at once unique to the Bronte family and yet also eerily emblematic of the fate of the Lady’s Magazine, one of the most successful women’s magazines of all times and yet all but silenced in literary history, would certainly take many more words to explain than I have in this blog post.

For now though, I am struck by something I had lost sight of until the news stories of the past week or so. The Bronte Parsonage Museum’s acquisition of Maria Bronte’s copy of what has been repeatedly described as the treasured and invaluable Remains of Henry Kirke White reminds me that what is most important and too often forgotten is that the Lady’s Magazine was valued enough to be saved. Not only that but it was valued enough by at least one of Maria Bronte’s daughters enough to be read, re-read and remembered. The story of the destruction of copies of The Lady’s Magazine by a man who likely never read it (it was far more cynical about love than foolish) should not mute the more triumphant and arguably more telling one about its survival against the odds. These volumes will never be returned to Haworth, but given the personal and, I would argue, textual legacies that the magazine undoubtedly bestowed Charlotte Bronte, they never really left there.



[1] <accessed 28 July 2016>

[2] Prior to her marriage to Patrick Bronte, Maria sent for her possessions to be shipped from Penzance, but the vessel ran aground of the Devonshire coast en route.

[3] The Letters of Charlotte Bronte: Vol. 1, 1829-1847, ed Margaret Smith (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1995), p. 240.


Dr Jennie Batchelor

School of English

University of Kent

Pedagogy and cosmopolitanism: Reader translations in the Lady’s Magazine

espirit-logo220x150This conference season has been busy for Team Lady’s Magazine. In the past two weeks alone, we attended two events that we were looking forward to very much, because we were to soft-launch our index there in anticipation of its official publication in September: the annual conference of the European Society for Periodical Research (ESPRit) at Liverpool John Moores University, and ‘Victorian Periodicals Through Glass’, held at the Athenaeum Club in London. Writing papers and presenting them, and giving the hard work of your colleagues the attention it deserves, can be exhausting work, although I would be less tired if I had the discipline to go straight to bed after conference dinners. Furthermore, when the conferences in question are as good as these two were, they are also very inspiring. We went home with ideas for last-minute tweaks to the index, with a better understanding of how the index will likely be used, and with a renewed sense of how the diverse contents of the Lady’s Magazine remain topical. One subject discussed at both events was the importance of transnational contacts to cultural production, throughout history, even for phenomena that may at first sight seem of a strictly national interest. I am thinking in particular of the panel of our friends of Agents of Change (Ghent University) at the ESPRit conference on their comparatist study of female-fronted socio-cultural transformation across the European periodical press between 1710 and 1920, and the keynote paper by Prof. Regenia Gagnier in London (doubling as this year’s Sally Ledger Memorial Lecture) on the afterlife of Wilde’s Soul Of Man Under Socialism (1891) in publications of Asian political movements. These made me reconsider a fascinating aspect of the Lady’s Magazine that has as yet received little attention: the many translations furnished by its vibrant community of reader-contributors.

staircase Athenaeum

Dickens and Thackeray famously set their differences aside on this staircase (© Athenaeum Club)

In standard accounts of long-eighteenth-century print culture, most notably in the otherwise admirable history by Prof. Kathryn Shevelow, there is a strong emphasis on the domestic ideology allegedly advocated by the Lady’s Magazine.[1] Scholars sweepingly reducing the complex ideological debates within the magazine to this particular message may not have read far beyond the subtitle of the magazine, in which it styles itself ‘Entertaining Companion for the Fair Sex, Appropriated Solely to their Use and Amusement’. This does suggest a form of self-censorship calculated to reinforce strict gender norms so as to instil in its ‘fair’ readers their prescribed role in the household, and, of course, a secondary sense of ‘domestic’ is ‘of or pertaining to one’s own country or nation; not foreign, internal, inland, “home”’.[2] Nevertheless, as Jennie Batchelor has shown, the content of the magazine was much broader than this suggests, and for instance catered to the interest in other cultures and nations of a wide array of readers, most of whom will never have left the British Isles. There are hundreds of ‘anecdotes’ and ‘accounts’ of foreign cities and cultures, and many translations, often submitted by reader-contributors. In every volume of the magazine at least a number of items of foreign origins even appear in their original language.

Jenny DiPlacidi, who has categorized all contributions for our index, has made it very easy for us to find out how many items in French appeared in the magazine. Between 1770 and 1790 there were no less than 91 items in another language than English. Three of those are Italian, and all others are in French. While these relative proportions may be surprising, the choices of these two particular languages is soon explained. Italian was seen as a language of culture, amongst other reasons because it was the language of opera seria, and was additionally popularized through the parmesan-dusted verse of the Della Cruscans (also featured—need it still be said?— in the Lady’s Magazine), and shelves have been written on the enduring love/hate relationship between Britain and France. These items come in a variety of genres, but tales and conduct pieces predominate; two genres that are of course very common in the magazine in general. The items in foreign languages seem to have been nearly exclusively appropriations.

The foreign-language items did not only function as reading material on par with the English content, but evidently had a particular pedagogical use. Nearly all are translated by readers who submit their efforts for publication in subsequent issues. An editorial footnote stating that ‘a translation is requested’ often appears to encourage this practice. Over a period of a staggering ten years, between 1774 to 1784, loyal reader-contributor ‘Henrietta R-’ submitted instalments from Abbé Séran de la Tour’s Histoire d’Épaminondas (1739), and these were diligently translated by a cohort of other readers who kept up quite well with the pace of publication of the serialized original. It finished several years before the first one-volume translation of this work (a different text) is published, in 1787.

The fact that often more than one submitted translation of the same foreign-language original is published indicates that the quality of the translation was at least as important as the content of the original piece. It is clear that these pieces were perceived as a challenge by the readers, much in the same way as the many puzzles, and like these served to consolidate the magazine’s readership and gave readers an opportunity to exercise and demonstrate their ingenuity. In April 1782, a regular reader-contributor signed ‘Maria’ submitted an unattributed poem in French, which I have identified as an extract from Beaumarchais’s Le Barbier de Séville (1775). The prefatory headnote included by this reader reveals a lot about the purpose of this submission:

LM XIII April 1782 p. 216

LM XIII (1782): 216. Image © Adam Matthew Digital / Birmingham Central Library. Not to be reproduced without permission.

LM VI (1775): 179. Image © Adam Matthew Digital / Birmingham Central Library. Not to be reproduced without permission.

Let’s dwell on the ‘shewing’ for a moment here, and not just for its cool archaic spelling. In the earliest volumes the magazine had followed the custom of magazines to organize a monthly poetry competition on a set theme, and it seems that getting your translation into print was perceived as a similar, though less official form of distinction. In fact, this sense of achievement must have been the primary motivation for many unremunerated amateurs to contribute in the first place. For the significant number of schoolchildren who contributed, there may have been a secondary incentive, as I have suggested before. The magazine’s translation assignments will have been similar to their homework for language classes at school, and it is certainly plausible that tutors made use of the material in the magazine in their teaching, and proudly urged star pupils to submit their work as an advertisement for their schools. We usually get the most information about juvenile contributors when they furnish translations, such as in this signature appearing in April 1775 with a translation of a French item that had appeared the month before, tacitly appropriated from Pierre Bayle’s ground-breaking Dictionare Historique et Critique (1697-1702).

Although, as said above, the foreign-language originals were extracted from a variety of sources, pedagogical works (themselves usually largely consisting of extracts) come up especially often. At the time, language pedagogy consisted mainly of translation exercises, and most textbooks were mainly compilations of short French or Italian texts for translation, written in a desirable style and register that students could emulate in their own compositions. They were explicitly marketed as aids for tuition in schools, such as Peter (occasionally ‘Pierre’) Hudson’s The French scholar’s guide: or, an easy help for translating French into English, that according to Worldcat goes through 13 editions between 1755 and 1805, and holds a long list of tutors, masters and teachers of French based in Britain who endorsed the work. Extracts from it, typical light reading such as anecdotes comparing the ways of different European nations, were republished in the Lady’s Magazine. In 1785, to give another example, two fables by Aesop in Italian were published, that before had appeared in several pedagogical books dedicated to that language. Fables were a popular genre for such works, probably because they are as a rule short and are inherently didactic.

This is a good year for studying the links between translation and pedagogy in the magazine, as in 1785 one ‘J. A. Ourry’ also has a short spell of busy activity, contributing eleven items in French. Ourry was to write a book of language instruction himself, The French scholar put to trial, or, Question on the French language (1795), and, as his signature in the magazine informs us, he too was a French teacher, based at ‘Mr. Birkett’s Academy’ in Greenwich. Most of Ourry’s contributions appear to be extracts from recent numbers of the popular Parisian monthly Mercure de France, but he also undertakes an odd and seemingly original correspondence in French with a reader-contributor signed ‘Juvenis’ on a minor religious controversy, while another reader-contributor signed ‘Philomathes’ provides English translations for each letter. Assuming an affable but gently condescending tone, the teacher Ourry used the magazine to publicize his didactic skills, learning and mastery of the French language. This was a good plan, given the magazine’s inferable extensive readership among middle-class mothers.

All of this demonstrates that language instruction was considered compatible with the mission of the magazine to provide content that was suitable for a wide readership of both sexes and all ages. Of course, the fact that only modern languages were included in this scheme is telling. Latin and Greek were avoided in the magazine, even to the point of removing quotes from the Classics from extracts or translating them without copying in the original, as Classical languages were usually not included in curricula for female education. When the opinionated ‘J. Hodson’ contributed a series entitled ‘The Critic’ with musings on Greek and Latin philology, an editorial note complained: ‘How often must we tell this young writer, that his critiques are not suitable to most female readers[…]?’ [LM XIV (December 1783), p. 658]. None of the French and Italian material will have given offence to even the most morally and politically orthodox readers, but they are unmistakably a means of intellectual stimulation that encouraged male and female readers to broaden their horizons. The mind of the magazine’s implied ‘lady’ reader may have been domesticized, yet she could still be a citizen of the world. In May 1789, ‘M. L. B.’ from Hillington in Norfolk replied to a letter signed ‘J. H.’ (likely the same ‘J. Hodson’) of the month before, which had denigrated a recent French translation of Milton:

LM XX May 1789

LM XX (1789): 263. Image © Adam Matthew Digital / Birmingham Central Library. Not to be reproduced without permission.

This vehemence is all the more striking as there was, generally speaking, no love lost between Britain and France in this period. I wonder what the tenor of conversation was, over tea in Hillington by King’s Lynn, only two short months later.

Dr Koenraad Claes

School of English, University of Kent

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

[2] ‘domestic, adj. and n.’. OED Online. June 2016. Oxford University Press. (accessed July 17, 2016).

1815: Modish Dresses, Modest Women and Bonaparte’s Brother

The frantic barking of the dog at the sound of the doorbell today didn’t result in the usual volley of curses but saw me leaping out of bed shouting “It’s the mailman! It’s the mailman!”IMG_0251

“Postman!” corrected my partner, grumbling irritably and pulling the duvet over his head.


Fashions for October, LM XLVI (October 1815), p. 427

My unusual excitement at being woken by man and beast was because of the anticipated delivery: a volume of the 1815 Lady’s Magazine. Ever since I bought a 1775 edition of the magazine I’ve been looking for another good deal (which for me means damaged but with as many engravings/plates/patterns as possible) and when 1815 appeared for sale with four fashion plates the opportunity was too good to miss.

For today’s post I leave off my ‘researcher’ hat and simply share my excitement at my new (old) edition of 1815 and some pictures of the engravings and plates that I’ve edited a bit to show off the really extraordinary skill of the artists. Although the engravings are one of the aspects of the magazine that we know little about (for most of the first series of the periodical they have no artist signatures or printer’s details) they have clearly been carefully chosen by the editors to accompany the tales and, at times, they are commissioned specifically for the stories.

One of the reasons the physical copies of the magazine are of such interest to researchers (and especially those who most frequently read the magazine in its digitized form) is of course the possibility of coming across something that is missing from the digitized edition. For example, the digitized edition of 1818 lacks several pages, so if you have only been able to access that edition the presence of those missing pages is welcome. Another reason to love the physical magazine is the possibility (that faint hope of treasure that keeps people like myself metal-detecting for hours in the rain) of finding something missing not only from the digitized edition, but likewise missing from most other volumes – such as a pattern unseen for over a hundred years, or an advertisement removed by the binders. And searching for such a possibility, I discovered something rather odd.

Screen Shot 2016-07-14 at 05.08.58

LM XVLI. Image © Adam Matthew Digital. Not to be reproduced without permission.


LM XVLI, Fashions for July









My volume of 1815 does indeed appear to have a fashion plate missing from the digital edition — it is opposite page 285 in my edition and is an engraving of a walking dress described in ‘Fashions for July’. The digitised edition also has an engraving for July depicting a walking dress, but it’s a different engraving. My engraving is numbered 6 in the upper left corner, while the digitised copy’s engraving is numbered 7. Curious indeed! Apparently my binder inserted the June engraving into July while the digitised edition is missing June’s entirely.


‘The Charm of Modesty’, LM XVLI

But even when these exciting possibilities fail to materialise, the material of the magazine is fascinating enough in its own right. I’ve written before about the differences between working with physical and digital editions: I love the ease of the digitized magazine for work, for speed, for accessibility, for being able to drink a cup of coffee without fear of destroying something priceless, and so on. Yet the beauty of the fashion plates and engravings is undeniably enhanced by seeing them close up in person when the detail of the engravings, the strokes of the etchings, the brightness of the colours appear as if they were printed yesterday, not 200 years ago.


Amelia Opie, 1769-1853, author.

1815 was an especially rich year for engravings; it includes several portraits of famous eighteenth- and nineteenth-century personages, including Byron, Lucien Bonaparte, Lord Castlereagh, Amelia Opie and others. The illustrations to the fictional content are likewise particularly intriguing; ‘Parental Horror’ depicts a father witness a snake coil around his infant’s neck while ‘The Charm of Modesty’ shows the youth Lycophron discern his lover Aglaia from a group of women enchanted to appear identical to her only by virtue of her downcast, modest eye.


Melia’s Dog, LM XLVI (March 1815), p. 103

The engravings present an opportunity to learn more about the printing process and editorial decisions behind the scenes of the finished product, yet at the moment they remain frustratingly silent. Where did they appear first, who selected them for use in the magazine, who printed them and who wrote the stories for which they were commissioned? Hopefully as we proceed with our work on the project and uncover more about the mysterious editors and publishers behind the magazine we will learn more about the illustrations and plates that were a constant feature and important selling point throughout the over 62 year print run of the Lady’s Magazine.

But for now, enjoy the pictures.


Lucien Bonaparte


Opera Dress, Fashions for February, LM XVLI

Parental horror

Engraving to serial tale ‘Mher-ul-Nissa’, LM XVLI (Supplement 1815), p. 581

Dr Jenny DiPlacidi

University of Kent