Author Archives: knlc

Pocket books and Liquid Bloom: advertising in the Lady’s Magazine (part 1)

In my previous post on the material aspects of the Lady’s Magazine (1770-1832), I briefly touched upon the advertisements that were printed on the wrappers of the magazine’s monthly issues, with the promise to return to them later. As I said there, periodicals like the Lady’s Magazine have predominantly been handed down to us in the form of bound annual volumes, which has led to the irrecoverable loss of a lot of information. The binders apparently felt that, in order to transform these periodicals into historical documents with a lasting relevance, they needed to purge the numbers of elements that they judged to be too ephemeral, because these would tie them to their original moment of appearance. We have said before that we are already very grateful for the one complete issue that is kept in the University of Kent’s Templeman Library, so you can imagine our excitement when our project PI Jennie Batchelor discovered a whole host of copies in the fantastic Special Collections and Archives library (SCOLAR) at Cardiff University that, though still missing other bits, had retained a lot of their adverts. All three researchers on our project will need to go back to Cardiff to take a closer look at these items, and I will be particularly interested in the advertisements they contain. In this post I look in some detail at the adverts in the October 1771 issue held at Kent, and then briefly glance ahead at what the Cardiff collection holds in store.

Templeman Library, University of Kent

Templeman Library, University of Kent

    In October 1771, and likely throughout the first two or three decades of the magazine, the adverts are situated on the wrappers, or paper covers that guarded the magazine proper for every monthly issue. These wrappers do not offer much in the way of protection of the main body of the periodical, because they are only made of a slightly coarser paper than is used for the pages of the magazine. This is nothing out of the ordinary for periodicals of this period, like the Lady’s Magazine, of which the publishers wanted to keep the production costs down so that a lower price could be charged that kept the magazine within reach of a wide audience. In fact, this is one way in which looking at the used materials, as described in my previous post, can tell you much about the market positioning of the periodical in question. The primary function of these  wrappers is therefore not to guard the magazine proper, but to offer a liminal zone; a threshold between reader and text, for those features of the magazine that were considered more ephemeral than even the periodical text itself. Publishers knew that most readers did not hold on to these wrappers anyway, and printed the types of notices there that readers were likely to want to remove from their preserved personal library copies. The recto side (i.e. the side facing you when the mag is closed and facing upwards) of the front cover features a masthead, a table of contents (ephemeral too because made redundant by the annual index issued with the thirteenth number), a description of the included plates, and contact details on the publishers. My colleagues and I pay close attention to the listed plates because these include supplemental loose addenda that mentioned nowhere else, originally probably either inserted loosely or ‘tipped in’ ( jargon for glued provisionally into the periodical by the upper left corner), and as a rule missing from the library copies.


Templeman Library, University of Kent

     This ephemerality argument also applies to the advertisements. Newspapers at the time had often extensive advertisement sections in the form of the ‘classifieds’ that you still get in some papers today, but most magazines, encouraging the perception of their collected annual volumes as actual books with a lasting value, would keep their adverts contained in neatly demarcated and therefore easily removable sections. In the October 1771 issue, the Lady’s Magazine’s adverts appear on the verso side of the front cover, and on both recto and verso of the back. Like the price of the periodical and the materials that went into its production, the type of services and goods that are advertised here also tell us a lot about the audience that the magazine sought to address at the time. Then as now, advertisers of course did not want to waste their money by buying space in publications that were not read by their target demographic. Of the five adverts that appear with this number, four are for other publications. The first is for the successful encyclopaedic reference work A New Geographical, Historical and Commercial Grammar, published by J[ohn] Knox. It may seem odd that the Lady’s Magazine’s publisher Robinson would tolerate such prominent advertisements for the wares of competitors in his own flagship periodical, but it is possible that Robinson owned a share of the copyright and thereby would benefit directly from the sales as well. As quite often in this period several ‘booksellers’ would pool funds to pay for more ambitious publication ventures together. This book also contains biographical profiles of the kind from which the magazine’s staff writers loved to distil “historical anecdotes”, and the promotion and expansion of this work through consecutive editions, would there be a clever investment.


Templeman Library, University of Kent

     As is explicitly stated in the page-length advert on the recto side of the back cover, Robinson was definitely one of the publishers for the Royal English Dictionary (1761). Just like the previously advertised work, this publication, originally published hot on the heels of Dr. Johnson’s by esteemed grammarian Daniel Fenning, fits in with the interests of the magazine’s broad readership. It was published in cheap editions as well as more luxurious ones, and offered knowledge with an attempt at impartiality and appropriateness for women, on topics that would be valued by socially aspirational British middleclass families. The verso of the back cover has three smaller adverts, of which two are for very similar periodicals. The first is for the Ladies’ Own Memorandum-book, or, Daily Pocket Journal, published by Robinson, and the second for the Ladies’ Annual Journal, or, Complete Pocket-book, indicated as published ‘for Elizabeth Stevens’; about whom I have not found any information. Please help us out in the comments section if you know anything about this person! Anyway, both titles are annual publications that contain regular women’s periodical fare as offered by the Lady’s Magazine, combined with items on different domestic duties such as keeping household expenses accounts and coach travel that, as the subtitle of the Memorandum-book indicated, then constituted ‘the Transactions of Business’ of middleclass women.


Templeman Library, University of Kent

     Now, this standard eighteenth-century self-cultivation through knowledge, improvement of one’s vocab to emulate the upper classes, and gaining efficiency in household management is all well and good, but as the Lady’s Magazine occasionally advised, one must not totally neglect the care for the outer person either. The last advertisement is for once not for a book or periodical, but for a cosmetic product. The ‘Bloom of Circassia’ is not a 1985 Woody Allen film, but apparently an ointment that would impart ‘a rosy Hue to the Cheeks, not to be distinguished from the lively and animated Bloom of rural Beauty’. Funnily, even this beauty product is to be purchased from booksellers. These gentlemen kept surprisingly versatile businesses.

    As I already announced above, we will dedicate more blog posts to the subject of advertising in the Lady’s Magazine. The copies of early-nineteenth-century issues that Jennie looked at in Cardiff contain more numerous and diverse advertisements, which are not restricted to the wrappers. Extensive advertisement sections appear there, that normally hardly ever make it into the annual volumes because private owners and librarians have long since taken them out. I am looking forward a lot to doing more research on those, and will keep you posted on what I find out!

Dr. Koenraad Claes

School of English, University of Kent

Notes on the material periodical, inspired by a workshop in Ghent

Denizens of the Real World often picture researchers of print culture as perpetually cooped up in stuffy libraries, inhaling centuries-old dust and the stale whiff of foxing paper. For a large amount of the time this is a representative tableau (and long may be it so!), but another important part of our job is to venture out and tell others about our findings. If you are as lucky as we are, you get to travel quite a bit when doing so. In my last post, I discussed my inspiring visit to Trondheim, and I announced that we would soon be crossing the Channel for a workshop at Ghent University. As we expected, this event of Friday 30 October was a great success as well, not least because of the warm welcome that we received from our friends at the English section of the Ghent Department of Literary Studies. We heard from fabulous PhD students and postdocs based at Ghent and Kent about their research on periodicals, we presented our own work, and were introduced to the great new Ghent project ‘Agents of Change: Women Editors and Socio-Cultural Transformation in Europe, 1710-1920’, funded by the European Research Council.

    Several grad students took part as well, and another highlight of the day was a lecture by Prof. emer. Laurel Brake (Birkbeck), who drew from her vast knowledge and experience to introduce these periodical padawans to our discipline. Prof. Brake has been an influence on my thinkingPiT since I first got into periodical studies, and although she was self-effacing in her talk, it was impossible to miss how many ideas pioneered by her have since been interiorized by the entire field. To give but a few examples, the special issue on the uses of theory in periodical studies that she edited for Victorian Periodicals Review in 1989, and the essay collection Investigating Victorian Journalism (1990 – with Aled Jones and Lionel Madden) that is still the best primer on the subject, have pushed the field forward in ways that cannot be overstated. In her much-cited Print in Transition, 1850-1910: Studies in Media and Book History (2000), she helped to instigate a material turn in studies of ‘print culture’; a multidisciplinary approach that, incidentally, she was one of the first scholars to name as such. Though their case studies are Victorian, these publications can all be used as a basis for studies of eighteenth- and early-nineteenth-century periodicals as well.

   Prof. Brake reminded us that now, when most scholars mainly read periodical texts in digital form, we need to be more aware than ever of the material aspects of the texts that we are studying. She recommends using the digitizations as conveniently accessible databases, but rightly urges us to return regularly to the original paper copies. Even when I snuggle up with a printed text, I have found it to be vital to question what I am looking at. As we have noted before, monthly magazines have mostly been handed down to us in annual volumes bound for private or public libraries, or sold in such sets by the publishers themselves at the end of each year. In the case of the Lady’s Magazine, only a few original monthly issues have survived at all. The problem is that annual volumes tend to have been purged of paratextual matter such as wrappers and other addenda (fashion plates, music sheets, tipped-in frontispieces, loose supplements, etc.). Usually digital holdings consist of scans from these annual volumes rather than the (often lost) original monthly issues, and this is not always apparent from the databases’ interface.

   In what follows I would like to look at two sources of bibliographical information that are inevitably lost through the standardized formatting of digital databases. After the efforts of Prof. Brake and others, attention to material details such as size and bindings have become a regular interest in nineteenth-century periodical studies, but it is probably fair to say that – a few admirable exceptions notwithstanding – this has been less the case for the eighteenth century. I will here offer a few notes on how ogling and fondling paper copies of the Lady’s Magazine allows us to compare it to other periodicals of its time, thereby helping us to situate it within the market.


   When you read the magazine in its excellent digitization by Adam Matthew Digital, it will of course always be as large as your screen. From this you cannot gauge how large or small this periodical actually was, and this is one of those rare cases where size does matter, because it not only affects the production costs, but also makes the magazine either look like its competitors or stand out amongst them. Bibliographers recommend stating exact measurements in inches or centimetres (width x length) when describing the size of texts, because the traditional terms for formats, such as folio, quarto, octavo, duodecimo, are more slippery than you might think. It is easy to confuse (quoth the immortal Fredson Bowers) the inexact ‘commercial format’ referring to conventions of page size that differs between countries and historical eras, and the complicated ‘bibliographical format’ that is a technical categorization based on the number of foldings of (and hence the number of pages out of) the printed sheet.[1] Its size varies slightly over the years, but the Lady’s Magazine is around 5 and 1/8 inches by 8.5 inches large, placing it between what are usually described as a duodecimo and an octavo, and roughly at the same size as the market-leading Gentleman’s Magazine. As Calhoun Winton writes about the two most regular formats for periodicals of the earlier eighteenth century, ‘[i]f the duodecimo was designed for the literary walker, who carried books in his pocket, the octavo was for the carriage trade’.[2] The Lady’s Magazine no doubt adopted this format to emulate the Gentleman’s, which in turn will have favoured it because it was economical for the publishers, who could that way get a lot of pages out of a ream of paper. This helped to keep the price down. However, it is true that the magazine was easily portable, and at an average length of 60 pages, it made for light reading in the most literal sense.

wrapper Oct 1771 LM

LM Vol. II, No. 4 (October 1771)

   The bindings of a publication should always be considered as well, because as the first and most tactile point of contact between the reader and the text they will be designed to convey vital information. In the nineteenth century some more expensive and prestigious periodicals would come bound like books with hard covers, the durability of these boards metonymically suggesting less ephemerality for the bound publication than would be associated with allegedly disposable publications that came in comparatively flimsy paper covers. In the eighteenth century this practice was close to non-existent, and it made no sense anyway for periodicals that were meant to appeal to a wide audience, like the Lady’s Magazine. As you would expect, the paper covers, or wrappers, of monthly magazine issues too are absent from the annual volumes. Monthly issues of the Lady’s Magazine are rare, but rarer still are copies that still have their wrappers. A largely intact copy of the 1771 October kept in the special collections of the Kent Templeman library comes with the original cover, so we do at least know what it looked like at this point. This particular wrapper on its front just features a table of contents, and on the verso of the front as well as on both sides of the back, it has advertisements. The latter are an invaluable addition to our knowledge of the Lady’s Magazine’s market position because the only adverts within the main body of the magazine are for the Lady’s Magazine itself. We will return to this paratextual advert section in a future blog post as this would take us too far here.

   The table of contents on the 1771 wrapper may not sound very exciting, but it is not without its uses. From January 1774 (Vol. V) these tables of contents, with the same layout, appear within the parent publication, so this suggests a change in marketing strategy whereby from this issue onwards the wrappers no longer list the contents, but maybe get a more eye-catching design instead. Until we find post-1773 wrappers we of course do not know for sure, but some may pop up sooner or later. Please do give us a shout if you ever spot one!

Dr. Koenraad Claes

School of English, University of Kent

[1] Fredson Bowers, Principles of Bibliographical Description (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1994), p. 429

[2] Calhoun Winton, ‘The Tatler: From Half-Sheet to Book’, Telling People What To Think: Early Eighteenth-Century Periodicals from The Review to The Rambler, Ed. by J. A. Downie and Thomas N. Corns (London: Routledge, 1993), p. 30

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]

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:

image 1

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):

image 4

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.

image 3

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

‘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].

The Pirates of Paternoster Row: ruses and reprints in the Lady’s Magazine

Through our weekly posts we have been trying to keep you up to date on our progress in finding out as much as possible about the Lady’s Magazine. Although we are passionate about our research, we have also not resisted the inclination to have a little moan every once in a while about the many challenges that have sometimes kept us back. A scarcity of sources, the rather fundamental problem of not having a complete text for the magazine itself, you have read it all before. We have not done this to vent our pent-up rage. That, we do amongst ourselves, weekly over coffee. Rather, we hope that our troubles may be instructive to other scholars who want to study the Lady’s Magazine or other periodicals of its kind and time. After all, the problems that we face are characteristic of the whole of the periodical press of the eighteenth and early nineteenth century. The lack or disappearance of historical archives and artefacts is not the only issue. Certain clever ruses through which magazine editors sought to evade critical scrutiny into their publications in their own time can of course be even more troublesome to readers over two centuries later. In his study on the subject, E. W. Pitcher gives a long list of practices by which late-eighteenth-century magazines ‘indulged in subterfuge and marketplace subversion’.[1] I have recently started to research the ways in which the Lady’s Magazine repurposed material from other publications, both books and rival periodicals, and I have found these to be a case in point.

The publisher and Justitia Chodowiecki 1781

Daniel Chodowiecki – The publisher and Justitia (1781)

You may have anticipated that `repurposed` is a euphemism. Today we might be tempted to use a harsher term like ‘piracy’ or ‘plagiarism’ when referring to the magazine’s wholesale reprinting of second-hand material without acknowledgement. It is important to remember, however, that this was standard practice when the Lady’s Magazine was published. Although reader-contributors delivered a lot of original copy, like many magazines of its day, it partially fits in the category of the ‘miscellanies’. These were periodicals that contained a large amount of republished material. Although this internet-era jargon was of course not current back then, these periodicals were foremost purveyors of ‘content’, which is basically whatever a target audience will read and come back for. Long-running magazines could tacitly reprint old items from their own pages, like the Town and Country Magazine (1769-1796) which kept its greatest hits in circulation, and after a few decades, the Lady’s Magazine occasionally did this as well. More often, periodicals looked elsewhere. Rudimentary copyright laws did exist in the eighteenth century, and sometimes publishers did take each other to court, but it was an unwritten rule that you could get away with more in periodicals than in book publication. As long as it did not get out of hand, magazines stole from each other quite contentedly. This understanding is a direct result of the proliferation of the magazine genre during the second half of the eighteenth century. By now many titles were addressing the same, though wide readership, and the easiest way to keep up with your competitors is simply to follow their example closely when they are on to a successful idea.

Marcella March 1771 Vol I

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

A frequently quipped motto in eighteenth-century periodicals was ‘multum in parvo’, ‘much in little [space]’, and this soon became the enduring philosophy of the magazine genre. This preference for having a large number of short items in each issue made it especially opportune to scavenge the ever expanding print market for bits of interesting text. Eighteenth-century magazines employed staff writers, pejoratively known as ‘hacks’, whose job was to do just that. If it was considered necessary, these authorial buccaneers would also alter the originals to various extents. The Lady’s Magazine in March 1771 shows how accepted this practice was by only changing a single name in an excerpt from Johnson’s Rambler, and copying the rest of it entirely verbatim as “The History of Marcella” (her original was called “Melissa”), without citing the source. The fact that readers might recognize the well-known original, which was still in print through collected editions, can therefore not have been a real concern.


Carle van Loo – Portrait of the Empress Elizabeth Petrowna (1760)

The Lady’s Magazine also has thousands of ‘anecdotes’, of one or two paragraphs in length, and usually about historical figures. The sources for these are hardly ever given, but we would be very naïve to assume that they were gathered from the table talk at the editor’s club, or from discussions at the coffee house. These anecdotes are usually excerpts from books, either recent publications or older ones that most readers would not be overly familiar with, so that they had an illusion of novelty for the magazine’s reader. With the help of some online databases, I have for instance discovered that an “Anecdote of Elizabeth Petrowna, late Empress of Russia” (September 1770) is an extract from the then recent English translation of General Mannstein’s Memoirs of Russia, Historical, Political and Military (also 1770), though the magazine does not tell us so. The anecdotes are usually unedited excerpts, but sometimes they are paraphrased, likely to prevent readers from realizing that they were being fed repurposed content, and to put plagiarized rivals off the scent as well.

At times this appropriation of content is more blatant. A nine-part series in the first two volumes (1770-1771), entitled “The Lady’s Biography”, without any mention of this, consists entirely of slightly edited excerpts from the anonymous Biographium Faemineum: The Female Worthies (1766). Occasionally a phrase is tweaked, or one fanciful adjective replaced by another, but the magazine’s article series is undoubtedly a rewrite. Interestingly, such items tend to migrate across periodicals, often under different titles, as one plagiarism is in turn plagiarized in other publications. Periodicals have their favourite competitors to steal from, and this can teach us which publications aspired to be like each other. The Lady’s Magazine may have reprinted the work of others extensively, but its own commercial success is illustrated by how it regularly seems to have been at the start of a chain of piracies that are taken up by other periodicals consecutively. There is arguably such a thing as an ‘original plagiarism’. Some caution is needed, as other factors may influence this process too. The abovementioned Town and Country Magazine had strong links to the Lady’s Magazine because the two publications for several years shared their publisher, Robinson and Co. on Paternoster Row, and the fact that the same items often appeared in both periodicals at around the same time may indicate that already before the initial printing they would have exchanged material that was submitted to them, or produced by their respective staff writers. For all we know they may have shared the latter as well, as the records on the Lady’s Magazine do not reveal much about who it employed.

I also expect to find in the Lady’s Magazine the type of longer essays that Pitcher refers to as ‘paraphrase-and-excerpt articles’.[2] These combine elements from several sources into one ‘new’ text, travel narratives and accounts of foreign cities being a popular topic. These are very difficult to identify, as will probably have been the responsible staff writers’ intention. Unacknowledged translations that appear nowhere else than in the magazine, mostly from French sources, are also elusive because it is not always apparent where you need to look for C_LIngenu_927the original. A translated excerpt from Voltaire’s L’Ingénu (1767) is properly credited in the August 1771 issue, maybe because the author’s name was a selling point, but in the same year several translated tales from the less famous Denis-Dominique Cardonne’s Mêlanges de Littérature Orientale (1769) are not.

Needless to say, the Lady’s Magazine is generous with information when the excerpted original had been published by its own publisher Robinson, and will often indicate in the rubric that the work in question has been ‘recently published’. This makes the excerpt to all ends and purposes an advertisement. Like most of its competitors, the Lady’s Magazine also contained more straightforward announcements of books by its own and other publishers, and starting from the early nineteenth century also regular book reviews, which include long excerpts from the discussed work that function as self-contained texts. The verdict of the reviewer is limited to an introduction of a short paragraph to recommend the excerpted work to the reader’s attention, and the profuse quotation that follows makes this type of article a cunning form of republication too.

The results of my ongoing research into the sources for repurposed content in the Lady’s Magazine, and the sometimes surprising publications where its own original contributions ended up (maybe a topic for a future post?), will eventually be added to our annotated index. In the meantime I am going to have lots of fun trying to catch the crafty staff writers at their tricks.

Dr. Koenraad Claes

School of English, University of Kent

[1] Pitcher, E. W. An Anatomy of Reprintings and Plagiarisms. Lampeter: the Edwin Mellen Press, 2000. p. 2

[2] idem, p. 90

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

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

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

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

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

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

LM XXI May 1800

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dr. Koenraad Claes

School of English, University of Kent


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

[2] idem. p. 188

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

Lost time well spent: exploring the Robinson archives

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dr. Koenraad Claes

School of English, University of Kent

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

Constructing authorial identities: A Suffolk Weaver Poet in the Lady’s Magazine

When Byron’s first publications did not meet with the favourable reception which they undoubtedly deserved, the young poet wrote one of his most scathing works of satire, English Bards and Scotch Reviewers (1809). In this infamously delightful poem, he not only lampoons the critics who had slighted him, but he also attacks various literary fashions prevalent in what we now know as the Romantic era. Among these is a vogue for “self-taught” poets:

Let Poesy go forth, pervade the whole, / Alike the rustic, and mechanic soul!  / Ye tuneful cobblers! still your notes prolong, / Compose at once a slipper and a song; / So shall the fair your handywork peruse, / Your sonnets sure shall please—perhaps your shoes. / May Moorland weavers boast Pindaric skill, / And tailors’ lays be longer than their bill! (ll. 789-798)

This ironic passage contains direct references to poets who were well-known at the time; foremost the tailor’s son and shoemaker Robert Bloomfield, and the “Moorland weaver” Thomas Bakewell from Staffordshire. The Lady’s Magazine, which features representative examples of all literary phenomena of its time, reflects this fad as well, and the former poet is regularly republished (a euphemism for “pirated”) there. The reasons for their success are too complex to go into in this blog post, but such rurally situated poets without an advanced formal education tended to be popular for two main reasons: (1) their very rusticity, as at this stage of the Industrial Revolution many self-taught poets were indeed still based in the increasingly idealized countryside, far away from the supposedly stifling influence of cities, and (2) they would not be tempted to use the stock phrases, stylistic mannerisms, and intertextual clichés from Classical literature typically acquired through an Augustan education. According to the proto-Romantic myth, which certainly predates the Lyrical Ballads (1798), uneducated equals unspoiled, and these poets would be inspired directly by nature. Much of this is of course problematic as the most successful self-taught poets were arguably more learned than many university graduates today, but one can see why people found the idea attractive.

     The assumptions on which it rests suited periodicals like the Lady’s Magazine, which relied for most of its content on myriads of amateur reader-contributors, whose confidence would naturally have been boosted by the example of “rustic and mechanic souls” turned poet. Despite the superficially democratic new taste, getting published was not easy for poets lacking connections in the literary trade, and the platform offered by the magazine was for many a welcome opportunity. The readership of the magazine was found across the United Kingdom and notably in every English county, and this means that it could be of special use to those authors who next to no connections also had a disadvantageous geographical situation. Perhaps many had hopes for more than occasional publication in a women’s monthly, but as the magazine was such a commercial success, you could achieve some form of celebrity even if you never got published elsewhere.

Hogarth weavers

Hogarth – Industry & Idleness (1747) – I. The Fellow ‘Prentices at their Looms

     One reader-contributor who achieved moderate success within the magazine was the Suffolk-based “weaver poet” John Webb (1768-1840). Thanks to a few preserved personal documents we know more about him than about most other authors. Webb was an exceptionally productive contributor, publishing dozens of poems and causeries for the magazine from 1800 to 1818. These poems are mostly derivative lyrics that evoke bestselling poets of the period, and the causeries are moral reflections, often occasioned by walks around (the almost proverbial) country churchyards. Webb tells us in the handwritten memoirs that he left us, which were never published, that he was a pious man, likely a Presbyterian, belonging to the Nonconformist community of the town of Haverhill where he would be buried at the Independent Church.

     The aforementioned autobiographical document, though somewhat self-aggrandizing, is a great source on the motivations of reader-contributors like Webb to write for the magazine. Webb tells us that he was born into a family long-established in the fustian trade, who appear to have been respected artisans. The region had a tradition of textile manufacturing, and from the difference between his status in his early youth and the relative prosperity that he implies for himself near the end of his life, it would appear that the family had profited by the momentous transition from handloom to powerloom weaving, which occurred throughout Webb’s professional life. At any rate, the man who says that he wrote most of his early poetry under the tutelage of a former “journeyman weaver” who taught him his letters and not much more at the parish school, soon was making frequent business trips to London, where all of his children would come to live. It is fascinating that he continues to present himself nevertheless as a “weaver poet” throughout that time, despite the fact that he would have progressed in financial status and social habitus, in his later work for instance referring to opera singer Angelica Catalani, whom he is unlikely to have heard at a humble church social back home in Haverhill. That he continues to exploit this image repeatedly by referring to it in his poetry, is likely due to more than class loyalty, but also to a desire to participate in the literary fashions of the day, and maybe to take advantage of this good opportunity to market his own work.

     Not only did many readers consider the self-taught poets “[r/R]omantic”, a more or less self-conscious presentation of oneself as “self-taught” would also function as a strategy for poets without a public school and university education to position themselves in the literary market, where any sign of deficient breeding was still habitually and ruthlessly picked on; Byron’s snide remarks still being a mild example. Webb wrote two long narrative poems about his hometown that did not appear in the Lady’s Magazine but as privately printed books, entitled Haverhill (1810) and The Market Town (1821), which take their cue from the thematically similar work of George Crabbe (The Village and The Borough). Both touch upon his personal educational history. He cites his sources meticulously, and mentions that after his indifferent schooling with the incompetent schoolmaster, he educated himself further by reading poets such as Milton, Goldsmith, William Whitehead, and Cowper. The preface to Haverhill apologizes ambiguously for any possible faults in the title poem and the shorter pieces appended, stating that most of them “were written while the author moved in the humble sphere of a Journeyman Weaver”.[1] This was commonly understood as meaning that the poet himself had been a journeyman, but this appears never to have been the case: rather, his schoolmaster had been. Although this may seem a detail, it does nuance the class-based profile that Webb constructs for himself. Tellingly, the autobiography is very scanty with details on Webb’s day job, maybe not to burst the bubble, and it is not unimportant that the poet who wrote in The Market Town that his home was “[a]far from London’s proud imperial towers”[2] was to spend so much of his time in the capital. The anonymous critic for the Monthly Review, discussing Haverhill, appears suspicious, and states that “to speak the plain truth, Mr. Webb appears to have been singularly favoured [by the Muses] for a man in his situation in life”.[3] It is indeed probable that he was less rustic than he himself claimed.

     Webb says that that after having started his allegedly autodidactic studies of other poets, he soon tried his own hand at poetry, and wanting a forum for his effusions, he naturally turned to the magazines. In 1785, he took advantage of a competition in the Wit’s Magazine (1794-1795), “the conductor of which [Thomas Holcroft – KC] gave four silver medals monthly, to such correspondents as produced the best original essay, tale, etc., or who wrote the best answers to their Prize Enigma”. Webb did not win, but was not deterred by this, and in 1792 went on to publish “many humble attempts at Poetry in the New Lady Magazine [sic], but having entered the nuptial scene […], I hung my harp on the willows, and attended to more important matters”.[4] The periodical that he mentions here is actually the New Lady’s Magazine, a rival publication to the Lady’s Magazine that was published by Alexander Hogg, former associate of Lady’s Magazine publisher Robinson and Co. It followed an editorial policy very similar to that to the Lady’s Magazine, and pirated so much of its content that Hogg was eventually taken to court.

LM XXXIV (Nov 1804). Image © Adam Matthew Digital / Birmingham Central Library. Not to be reproduced without permission.

     As he now dedicated himself solely to his family for a few years, we have to wait until the Lady’s Magazine publications for Webb to resurface again, but luckily here his work found a permanent home. The often enthusiastic reader-contributor community appears to have embraced him wholeheartedly, and he even received fan mail. In November 1804 his poem “The Old Bachelor’s Petition” appeared, where he assumes the persona of a “lass-lorn” older man who laments not having gotten married in his youth, which was such a hit that had he wanted to and not already had a wife, our weaver could have wed a spinster. Two sent lengthy replies in verse to Webb, probably by way of the magazine’s publishers, in which they offered him marriage. Mercifully, these amorous epistles were never published in the magazine.

     All of this attention must have been flattering, but it is a far cry from establishing a reputation as a poet. At one time, Webb appears to have almost made it, when he published by subscription his first long poem, Haverhill, and by his own admittance was left with a cool £100 after all expenses were paid. Again according to himself, he was visited soon after its publication by Sir George Beaumont, one of the subscribers and the doyen of English art patrons. Beaumont claimed to have shown it to Wordsworth, who in turn would also have thought it a decent poem, and (amusingly) admired the fact that Webb had made so much money out of it. However, nothing much happens after this, presumably because Webb’s first priorities always were his family and business. The Lady’s Magazine may not have secured him a place in the canon, but it must have helped him to attract the support of his generous subscribers.

Dr. Koenraad Claes

School of English, University of Kent


[1] Webb, John. Haverhill, a descriptive Poem, and other Poems. London: privately printed, 1810. n. p.

[2] Webb, John. Poems. London: privately printed, 1859. p. 66

[3] Unsigned. “Haverhill, a descriptive Poem, and other Poems “. Monthly Review Vol. LXII, Nr. 8 (August 1810), pp. 343-344

[4] Webb, John. Autobiography. Manuscript.

“My signature – but mum! – is _____ “: pseudonymous authorship in the Lady’s Magazine

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

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

In previous blog posts we have often pointed out that most of the original content in the Lady’s Magazine was furnished by reader-contributors. Encouraging unsolicited copy was an important part of the magazine’s strategy to obtain and consolidate a faithful readership, and this was obviously appreciated by these keen amateurs, many of whom would otherwise have had little chance of getting published. This diverse category included schoolchildren, but also women and men who were held back by disadvantages such as an unfavourable location far away from the centres of the British press, or the lack of a formal education. A major part of the attraction must have been the gratification of seeing in print one’s “lucubrations” (as they loved to call them), but what may surprise you, is that most reader-contributors did not sign their pieces, and those who did usually adopted strategies to ensure that their legal name was not, or not entirely, divulged. Many abbreviated their names, such as “J. T-t-w-e” above, or signed with their initials, and there are also a great many pseudonymous signatures.

Periodical scholars are interested in signatures because they are our main point of connection to the author of the texts that we read. They are important because, along with other factors, they frame the message of the contribution with which they appear. The same contribution by the same author but with a different signature would need to be read differently, because the author represents her/himself in a different way for often significant reasons: you could say that it might as well not have been written by the same person.

The most obvious and practical use of abbreviated signatures, initials and pseudonyms is to veil the identity of the contributor when full disclosure was deemed undesirable. To give a well-known example, in the eighteenth and nineteenth century several subjects were considered inappropriate for women, and female contributors could this way still participate in debates about these without losing their respectability. In December 1789 a (male) contributor hints at this possibility when he proposes to debate the differences between the sexes, by stating that having such a debate in the confines of the magazine is better than in public, because

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

In such ideological debates near-anonymous and generic pseudonyms are frequent. “A Lady” is commonly found, it of course being in the nature of signatures that we have no guarantee whatsoever that this is not the ruse of a moustachioed hulk of a man who wishes to sway the debate in favour of his own interest. Less suspiciously, reader-contributors regularly emphasize their sympathy with correspondents by signing themselves “A Friend”, and, to butter up the editor, “A Constant Reader” is also often used.

Apart from these prominent but not very amusing uses, pseudonymous publication also offer writers an opportunity for constructing a persona. Working on our index has already revealed to us some patterns in the monikers that reader-contributors chose to write under, and these can be highly fanciful. A certain “N. Cansick of Rathbone Place” usually signs his poems with this signature, sharing what is presumably his genuine legal name and place of residence, but for instance with letters to the editor he favours the more scholarly “Cansicus”. This suggests that for some contributors certain genres carried more prestige than others, and if Mr Cansick is just having fun, he would probably still at least be toying with such conventions. Reader-contributors also love to assume the guise of literary characters. Especially in the first decades of the magazine, we find several different “Belindas”, arguably referring to the heroine of the enduringly popular Rape of the Lock. Male contributors sometimes fancy themselves a pastoral “Corydon” or “Strephon”, and any literary(-sounding) name ending in –inda will do for some of their equally sentimental female counterparts: “Dorinda”, “Ethelinda”, “Clarinda”, “Clorinda”, “Lucinda”, “Imoinda”, “Merinda”, “Rosalinda”, and so forth.

As we have seen before, the popularity of the Lady’s Magazine made it a frequent butt for satire in periodicals that aimed to be more highbrow, and the aspirations to authorship of the reader-contributors were of course an easy target. In 1779 the satirical weekly the Literary Fly featured an “An Elegiac Epistle” in which “Mrs. Catherine Carrot, Green-Grocer, at the Colliflower in Cornhill, next to Mr. Bell, Bellows-maker” gives her poetic account of topical events.[1] She ends by assuring the editor that she is not an ignorant woman, but in fact an educated and accomplished amateur poet. She hopes to have amply demonstrated this in her poem, “because these lines like Kitty’s shop are neat, / As her horse-radish sharp, her parsnips sweet”. This was not her first attempt at versification either:

Literary Fly

Image © Eighteenth Century Collections Online / Gale Cengage.

The pseudonymous signature that this fictitious reader-contributor has adopted says a lot about what the Literary Fly thought of your typical amateur author in the Lady’s Magazine. According to the OED, one now obsolete meaning for “suck[e]y” was “maudlin”, and to be fair, in the late eighteenth century there was a lot of tearful verse in the magazine. “Green”, then, does not only suggest naïvety; just like her legal surname “Carrot”, it ties the poetess to her rather prosaic daily occupation, which she will never be able to escape. I am sure that none of the Lady’s Magazine’s amateurs felt that this slight applied to them.

Dr Koenraad Claes

School of English, University of Kent


[1] Carrot, Catherine [Herbert Croft]. “An Elegiac Epistle”. Literary Fly Vol. 1, Nr. 6 (Saturday 20 February 1799), pp. 29-34