By Denys Thompson
It appeared in Scrutiny, IV:1 (1935).
A complete history of the press of the last century would make a very impressive background against which to silhouette the present plight of journalism. People who insist on this plight (if ever they meet with argument) come across the objection that used to be raised by the vested interests on the defensive—“Things were always the same.” There is room in a few pages to show that they weren’t.
The reviews of the first quarter of the century drew life from an educated, responsible and homogeneous public, to which they gave expression and coherence. Of the Edinburgh Review Scott said, “No genteel family can pretend to be without it,” and Carlyle that it was “a kind of Delphic oracle and voice of the inspired for the great majority of what is called ‘the intelligent public.’” In 1832 an old Lincolnshire squire assured Tennyson’s father that “the Quarterly Review was the next book to God’s Bible.” About 1820, in a population of twenty millions, Blackwood’s “Maga” and the Quarterly had between them a circulation of 31,000, the Edinburgh 7,000, and other journals from 200 to 4,000. If one allows two or three readers for each copy, it means that at least one reader in two hundred read a first-rate review, of a quality now unapproached. The rates of payment were thus always adequate and often high. Tom Moore refused an offer of ‘some hundreds’ from Murray the publisher “to become the editor of a Review like the Edinburgh,” while Jeffrey, to induce Moore to contribute for the Edinburgh on any subject he liked, increased to thirty guineas the standard rate of twenty guineas a sheet” for contributions of the first order. Such rates ‘stimulated every brain, and half convinced the world that Poetry, Romance, Philosophy, and even Criticism, were the first crafts and the most profitable in the world.” A full account of the facts of the period is given in A. S. Collins’ The Profession of Letters (see also Elton’s Survey of English Literature, 1780-1830) and of their significance in Fiction and the Reading Public. It need hardly be added that the spirit in which the reviews were conducted was very different from anything we know. If at times they were excessively ferocious, they united in condemning any kind of fraternizing among writers. Blackwood’s own “Maga,” for instance, slated a book in which he had invested money, and the Edinburgh published Carlyle, though his views were repugnant.
“The whole surface of society, James, is thus irrigated by a thousand streams . . . “ thus North, in Noctes Ambrosianae, is made to describe contemporary journalism and a hint of the range of the reading public is thrown out by the contributor to Blackwood’s who thought that the inadequacy of his article would be compensated by its appeal to “practical people, the trading interests, and the middle classes.” The Edinburgh was read in homes where the Nonconformist conscience banned Shakespeare, and the provincial papers used to quote the reviews. Their power was accordingly great: it was said of the Edinburgh that “to have the entry of its columns was to command the most direct channel for the spread of opinions and the shortest road to influence and celebrity.”
Below the reviews in the early part of the century teemed such light-hearted enterprises as those of Hunt and Cobbett, political in purpose, and in one case very powerful. The first editor of the Spectator, commenting on the engagement of Hunt and Hazlitt to prop the Atlas, said, “ Their very names would sink the Atlas fifty per cent, were the undoubted fact known—for, in my day, we looked far more to the support of the Clergy, the Army, etc., than the classes for whom Hazlitt and Hunt write.” The age was fortunate which had a literary underworld of this kind, for Cobbett’s journalism is literature, Shelley’s Hymn to Intellectual Beauty appeared in the Examiner, and La Belle Dame Sans Merci in the Indicator. Politics were not divorced from literature: the brothers who ran the Examiner thought “patriotism and literature the only things worth living for.” Similarly, the reading public was not yet stratified, for Hunt was pressed to write for the Quarterly, and both he and Hazlitt were welcome contributors to the Edinburgh.
The idea of the army as audience for a paper of intellectual pretensions sounds odd now, but the instance cited above is not unique. Smith, Elder, a versatile exporting house, would “be hard at work at one time fitting out a crack corps of Horse for a little frontier campaign and at another packing a post-chaise with the latest number of the Quarterly or Edinburgh to catch a fast East Indiaman off Deal,” though in 1827 Blackwood had been able to congratulate himself that his “Maga “ “ was almost the only magazine that is read or heard of in India.” (A few pages later he reports that the officers of the Indian Army “stand far higher as literary men than the officers of the King’s Army“). Military men were also among the contributors to the reviews and Macaulay, apropos of circulating libraries for colleges in India, enquires “Why should we grudge a young officer the pleasure of reading our copy of Boswell . . . or Marmontelle’s Memoirs? “Later, when the Pall Mall Gazette was sold over the editor’s head, he “resolved to start a newspaper, and went to the Garrick Club to think the matter over quietly. To his astonishment and intense gratification drafts and cheques and promises of support kept pouring in . . . [Among the visitors was] an unknown officer from the Guards’ Club with £1,100 hastily subscribed there.” £104,000 was collected in a day. The Army is only one of the classes which no longer exist or no longer come into contact with anything living in their literature.
In the third quarter of the century there were four outstanding journals. The Saturday Review, started in 1855, “did more to create journalism as a profession than would be believed at the present moment, when journalists are recruited from all classes. It was understood . . . that it was written wholly by university men. The paper assumed a manner of authority [and] heaped derision on the shams of the time.” (Autobiography of Sir Walter Besant, p. 92). And Leslie Stephen (Some Early Impressions) reported that the writings of G. S. Venables “seemed to be judicial utterances from the loftiest readings of culture, balanced, dignified, and authoritative . . . What Venables’ articles really did, I suppose, was to embody in finished and scholar-like style the opinions prevalent among the most intelligent circles of the London society, of which Holland House had been the centre in the preceding generation.”
The Cornhill (1859) had, according to St. Loe Strachey, “the quality of originality. It hit exactly the popular taste, and in a very short time it was selling by the hundred thousand.” But its character changed when Leslie Stephen gave up the editorship. A declaration of Strachey, who succeeded, is a sinister suggestion of what was happening: “I felt sure there was good copy in the great criminal trials of former ages . . . In the nineties we were all talking and writing about “human documents,” by which we meant memoirs, autobiographies and above all diaries, which, when written, were not meant to see the light, and in which the naked human heart was laid bare for inspection” (Adventure of Living, pp. 195-6). Before Strachey improved the paper, its 90,000 subscribers had been content to read the articles which were collected in Culture and Anarchy, sauced however with a serial novel.
The Pall Mall Gazette was started in 1865 as a twopenny evening paper, and was at its best under John Morley’s editorship. Frederic Harrison wrote for it, and Arnold’s Friendship’s Garland first appeared there. But people complained that the P.M.G. was “too incessantly strenuous, earnest, etc. [They] want more relief.” And when W. T. Stead took over the paper, they got it. With the Expansion of Empire as one of its planks it became “invariably the most readable paper in London” and “the liveliest thing in journalism England had ever seen.” Of the “Truth about the Navy” campaign, F. W. Hirst wrote (in Six Panics) “The year 1884 deserves attention as the beginning of a most disastrous expansion in naval armaments in which the provocative impulse has too often been furnished by Great Britain.” Stead was “actuated probably by no worse motive than an irresistible desire to be the centre of a journalistic sensation.” It seems worth spending rather more space on the P.M.G. because the change of editorship to Stead was prophetic. “Let us strive and scream, for tomorrow we die “—and Stead added 3,000 to the 10,000 circulation that Morley had reached.
The P.M.G.’s progressive editor was an ignorant vulgarian. “He had . . . no general knowledge of art or history, philosophy or science . . . and it was consequently impossible for cultured minds to get into any sort of effective contact with his except on the crudest common ground.” And his biographer writes, “ It may well be considered what our journalism would have been without him. The roots of some of the finer things which came to a crop under the hand of Northcliffe are to be found, as he agreed with me more than once, in the work and visions of Stead.” Northcliffe was in his younger days much indebted to Stead for valuable help and counsel.”
The Fortnightly Review, founded in 1865, and for a time edited by Morley, had “a marked place in the history of our periodical literature, as well as in the diffusion and encouragement of rationalistic standards in things spiritual and temporal alike.” It helped to provide a centre “for the best observation of fresh flowing currents of thought, interest and debate.” (Recollections of Lord Morley, Vol. I, p. 85). Its miscellany of writers presented a “sinister unity “—including Arnold, Swinburne, Meredith, D. G. Rossetti, Bagehot, Huxley, Pater, Lewes, Frederic Harrison, Leslie Stephen, and others.
Other periodicals were Macmillan’s (circulation at one time nearly as large as the Cornhill’s), Bentley’s Quarterly, Temple Bar (an imitation of the Cornhill), the National Review, the Parthenon, St. Paul’s Magazine, and the Nineteenth Century, in imitation of the Fortnightly. The Westminster Gazette started in 1892.
Nineteenth century biographies show that the higher journalism was an important factor in the life of the time. Rintoul said that to the provincial press the Spectator supplied “much of its matter, and considerably influenced opinion.” In her William Blackwood and his Sons, Mrs. Oliphant reported of the reviews that “the country papers quote numerous extracts . . . I have known twenty provincials quote anecdotes from the same article.” Governments looked to the P.M.G. for guidance, and of two of its editors, Greenwood and Morley, Mr. J. A. Spender writes, “They were appealing to a select audience of politically instructed readers, who in those days were the makers of opinion, and from whom an immense influence radiated outwards to the multitude. And above all journalists read them and founded other articles on what they wrote.” In My Early Life, Mr. Winston Churchill writes of the “nineties: “Politics seemed very important and vivid to my eyes in those days. They were directed by statesmen of commanding intellect and personality. The upper classes in their various stations took part in them as a habit and not as a duty. The working men whether they had votes or not followed them as a sport. They took as much interest in national affairs and were as good judges of form in public men, as is now the case about cricket or football. The newspapers catered obediently for what was at once an educated and a popular taste.” Journalism in fact fulfilled one of the functions of a church. Writers of the time frequently referred to this aspect of it, and according to their biographies several of the higher journalists had thought of taking orders—Leslie Stephen and Frederic Harrison, for example. Of Morley, typical of the old journalist who made a decent living and spent a useful life, Stead wrote, “To him a newspaper was simply a pulpit from which he could preach.”
This suggests another justification of nineteenth century journalism. It provided many intelligent people with a livelihood and an opportunity of using their talent without feeling that it was wasted. Others kept themselves by journalism till their books gained recognition. Carlyle was helped by the Edinburgh, Hardy’s A Pair of Blue Eyes came out in Tinsley’s Magazine, Gissing refused work for the P.M.G. and Fortnightly, Sir Henry Maine was for a time kept going by the Saturday Review, while H. D. Traill gave up an inspectorship of returns for journalism and Mrs. Oliphant sent a family to Eton on the proceeds of her writing. “I joined the great army of literature,” Leslie Stephen wrote, “because I was forced into their ranks, but also with no little pride in my being accepted as a recruit.”
Journalism gave expression to the best minds of the time, though not merely to brilliant individuals, for (as George Eliot noted) “the lively currents of thought and discussion explain the speed and apparent ease with which writers dashed off articles and reviews--they came from a fund acquired by social intercourse.” But on reading the essays collected from nineteenth century journalism one is left with the impression that first rate minds were rare indeed. Arnold alone is eminent. Most of the essayists seem to be second-rate, rather than “minds of the second order.” So few of them approach Arnold’s percipience of the tendencies of the age. Even the best critics—Leslie Stephen, for instance—are insufficiently aware: he believed in the “ vox populi,” and it is significant that his best books are his magnum opus, English Thought in the Eighteenth Century, his Pope and English Literature and Society in the Eighteenth Century—for except in date he belongs more to that century than the nineteenth. Frederic Harrison seems to have been one of the alerter minds; his controversy with Arnold (by which he is chiefly remembered?) does not do him justice. He bears re-reading better than most of his contemporaries, better than Morley, for example. The main run of journalists at the time seem to have been of a rationalist strain bred from Mill, of whom Morley wrote “The better sort of journalist educated themselves on his books, and even the baser sort acquired the habit of quoting from them. He is the only writer in the world whose treatises on highly abstract subjects have been printed during his lifetime in editions for the people, and sold at the price of railway novels.” They used the vocabulary of Progress, though not as grossly as the Times; we find even so intelligent a woman as George Eliot observing, with America in mind, “ Is it not cheering to think . . . that the higher moral tendencies of human nature are yet only in their germ?
The liberal-rational journals died or compromised without much fight. One cannot help speculating what might have happened if there had been more publicists of Arnold’s quality. (Incidentally, Mr. Wells has said that if we had paid attention to Arnold we might have avoided the War). The social-economic changes which asphyxiated them could not of course have been arrested, but if there had been a more general consciousness of the process of civilization among the journalistic middlemen, a periodical or two might have been saved, and the goodwill and sense of responsibility of their readers might have been mobilized. Journalism may have been “the Church of the nineteenth century,” but it had not the organization, and the possibility of tradition, which makes the most moribund church potentially alive.
The disintegration of the reading public has been described elsewhere, but perhaps it is worth pointing out a few landmarks. In 1881 Titbits was started, followed in 1888 by Answers; Pearson’s, the Strand and the Daily Graphic followed in 1890; the Daily Mail started to run in 1896, and the Daily Express four years later. How perverted was the taste for literature by 1912, and the nature of the new appeals are indicated by this quotation from J. M. Dent, about his Everyman: “I had long wanted a journal which should help people to know the value of literature in everyday life, not a critical journal such as the Athenaeum, or other literary journals, but one of an interpretative, appreciative character, such as would tempt the reader to explore. It was to be cosmopolitan.” The Everyman type has by now almost completely replaced the Athenaeum kind. The latter was perhaps the last journal to give regular employment to first rate critics—some of Mr. Murry’s best work appeared in it—and its fate, along with the Nation and the Week-End Review, is too recent for more than mention.
The War destroyed the last vestiges of the nineteenth century tradition in journalism, by increasing the demand for cheap stimuli, and supplying improved machines to meet it. “ Before the War there were four penny and two halfpenny evening papers in London, and a well-marked line divided the penny from the halfpenny. The former catered for the supposedly educated classes the latter appealed to the multitude . . . At the end of the War the difference in price was obliterated. All the commercial advantages now fell to those with the largest circulation, and the life of the others became increasingly difficult and financially impossible . . . the Westminster was converted into a morning paper, the P.M.G. and the Globe ceased publication, and the Evening Standard circulates in the same wide field as its penny contemporaries . . . London now has only three evening papers approximately of the same type, whereas before the War it had six—and at a still earlier date eight.” This is from Vol. II of Mr. J. A. Spender’s Life, Journalism and Politics (p. 133), and is followed by an excellent account of the economic starvation of the liberal press.
A characteristic of the nineteenth century press is that an interest in politics, when it occurs, is not divorced from intelligent attention to the arts. It is early evident in the declaration (quoted above) of the Hunts about “patriotism and literature.” Later we find Frederic Harrison agitating for a nine hour working day, and writing about Trade Unions and strikes, while at the same time intelligently critical of Tennyson, Carlyle, Ruskin and Macaulay—‘the great penny-a-liner.’ The dissociation of the arts from practical concerns, evidenced in the scientific and technical pursuits of ‘Mechanics Institutes,’ did not affect the higher journalism till the appearance of such editors as St. Loe Strachey. (The Times is an exception apparently it always did act as a ‘drummer for Progress. His Spectator in its early days at least ‘regarded all the arts as a sub-department of morals or utility . . . all poetry as a disease of pubescence ‘it was shocked by the Brontes, but welcomed Kipling and Henley. Without sensitive attention to literature, it is difficult to see how a journal can preserve any kind of centrality:
and for what that lack means, consider the hopeless dissipation represented by the ‘middles ‘ of the contemporary Spectator, the inability to evaluate the various manifestations of human energy.
The Manchester Guardian has not been mentioned yet, because it is not a liberal journal in the sense I have been using the word (cf. the beginning of the previous paragraph). It is a product of the specialization which the last century developed. Though it was founded as a weekly over a hundred years ago, there are very few allusions to it in the memoirs of nineteenth century publicists, and it does not appear to have taken part in the (nonpolitical) controversies which were fought out in other papers. One gets the impression that its best work was in the political-economic sphere, and this is confirmed by reading Mr. J. L. Hammond’s Life of C. P. Scott. The journalists whom I have mentioned had time for reading, reflection, and above all socia1 intercourse, especially if theirs was a long-interval periodical. Scott on the other hand was swept into the editorship of a daily at the age of twenty-five, and never had the time to develop himself evenly. He was all-absorbed in keeping the machine going—no time was left for other interests. ‘The bare daily routine of the office takes up the whole of my mind and thoughts. I have none left for general culture, none even for the special culture required by my profession, but little for society . . .’ For the work of editor demanded that he should be intimately acquainted with a growing diversity of topics. Perhaps it is fair to suggest that this one-sidedness had something to do with his confidence in Mr. Winston Churchill and Mr. Lloyd George ; but it certainly accounted for his optimism about the law of progress. In this way the character of the Manchester Guardian was determined and though Mr. Hammond in an interesting page (52) endorses the claim that some of Scott’s contributors “gave to the Guardian what was meant for mankind,” it is impossible to be impressed by his list of contributors.
The Guardian, too, provides a type of the higher journalist (twentieth century model) in C. E. Montague, sharply contrasting with the essayists mentioned above. His biographer describes one of his subject’s stories as “serious and uplifted,” and very fitly, a taste for mountaineering accompanied the uplift—”More than anything except war, climbing satisfied his thirst for adventure . . the spirit and poetry of the heights pass into his books.” So in 1914 he joined up with juvenile enthusiasm in, of course, the Sportsmen’s Battalion. Virile and idealistic, he had the heart of a boy.
The new types of higher journalist, the inception and development of their careers, open an interesting field for comparative study by the literary biologist. Frederic Harrison “arrived” by writing in the Westminster Review an article on “Neo-Christianity”: it was by a skit in the Oxford Magazine that Montague attracted the attention of his editor—whose own maiden appearance in the Guardian had been an account of a boat-race on the Seine. Compare the early works (at university age) of Mr. Priestley and Sir John Squire. Mr. Murry, on the other hand, was an extremely good critic before he was called to a more manly sphere. And can Mr. Gerald Gould of the Observer be the same who fourteen years ago wrote for the lamented Labour Publishing Company a pamphlet called The Lesson of Black Friday: A Note on Trade Union Structure?
End of first article.
Victorian periodicals can be usefully classified according to the frequency of their publication. The weekly and monthly magazines and the quarterly reviews constitute three categories of periodicals, each with its own standard format. To some degree, these categories also determine the subject matter appropriate to their exemplars, either through conventions (like the quarterlies' tendency to engage primarily in political debate) or through inherent formal characteristics. However, none of the categories of periodicals exists in isolation, and understanding them requires a comprehension of the scene as a whole, as well as the conventions of the magazine in particular.
It will be useful to consider several of their successful representatives. The Edinburgh Review, The Quarterly Review, and The Westminster Review together provide a balanced picture of the quarterlies. Weeklies may be represented by The Literary Gazette and The Athenaeum. The New Monthly Magazine, Literary Journal and Bentley's Miscellany illustrate many typical features of the monthlies.
The "big three" nineteenth-century reviews were the Edinburgh, Quarterly, and Westminster Reviews. Founded in 1802, the Edinburgh Review was set up as an organ to champion the Whig Party. The editors made no attempt to review most or all of the flood of newly published books; rather, they picked between eight and ten books whose subjects would give them the opportunity to discuss topical issues. Literary criticism was only one of many topics covered, including economics, science, education, medicine, and travel.
Francis Jeffrey, who wrote the majority of the reviews during the first three decades of the century, was largely unsympathetic to the "new poets." His attack on Wordsworth's and Coleridge's Lyrical Ballads was typical--he called the poems "superfluities" which the public "might have done very tolerably without." He became more tolerant as time went on, however, praising Byron's Childe Harold's Pilgrimage highly, and favorably reviewed volumes by Leigh Hunt and Keats. Over its long run, the Edinburgh Review published critical articles by Hazlitt, Macaulay, Carlyle, and Thomas Arnold. Walter Scott also wrote for the journal in its earliest years, then left to help found the Quarterly Review.
The Quarterly Review was founded in 1808 as the Tory answer to the Whiggish politics of the Edinburgh Review. Like its prime adversary, the Edinburgh concerned itself more with politics than with literary concerns, and its articles frequently demonstrated a fervent support for the interests of the Church of England, the monarchy, and the aristocracy. In contrast to the Edinburgh, however, the Quarterly Review was largely sympathetic to the first generation of Romantic poets. Byron and Southey were also highly praised; the latter gained considerable notoriety in 1816 when he published an essay in the Quarterly recommending censorship of the press. Shelley and Keats, however, were too radical for the Quarterly's Tory sensibility, and the "Cockney School" was a frequent subject of attack in its book reviews section.
Though literature and literary matters were secondary concerns of these two periodicals, their importance in the development of these fields can hardly be overemphasized. During the height of their success, each of these two reviews sold over 12,000 subscription copies per issue. This number is misleading, since copies were shared, loaned, and borrowed; and it has been estimated that between eighty and one hundred thousand people were reading the Quarterly and Edinburgh Reviews. They provided opportunities for many important writers of the era to express their views on contemporary literature, and their literary reviews set the standard for criticism for the better part of the nineteenth century. Their practice of preserving the anonymity of reviewers and contributors was emulated almost universally by literary periodicals up until mid-century. They spawned countless imitators and competitors.
One of the most important journals produced as a reaction to the two major reviews was the Westminster Review, founded by James Mill in 1824. A champion of Benthamism and Radical politics, the Westminster often condemned poetry for being a frivolous activity, one that did not substantially promote the welfare of society. There are some exceptions to this generalization: insightful articles on Coleridge, Tennyson, Byron, and Carlyle appeared during the run of the Westminster. John Stuart Mill, a frequent contributor, broke with Benthamite rhetoric to express admiration for poetry in non-Utilitarian language. (He began the revolutionary practice of identifying reviewers and contributors by name, which did not, however, continue after he left the periodical.) George Eliot contributed reviews and served as assistant editor from 1852-54. As in the two major reviews, however, in the Westminster literature played second fiddle to party politics. It was far less successful than the Edinburgh and Quarterly Reviews, selling at its peak approximately two thousand copies per issue. Nevertheless, its long run (ending in 1914) is evidence of its successful battle with the two major reviews.
Though it made no attempt to disguise its sympathies with radical politics, The Examiner, founded in 1808 by Leigh Hunt, was the first truly literary weekly periodical. It was here that Keats first appeared in print, and where many of Shelley's most important poems were first published or reviewed. The Examiner repeatedly defended the poetry of Byron, Keats, and Shelley with astutely written critical and appreciative articles by Hunt. Poems by Wordsworth and essays by Hazlitt and Lamb were also featured in early issues. In the 1830s, the editorship passed to Albany Fonblanque, who largely steered away from radical politics, focusing instead on purely literary matters. Circulation increased to six thousand a week, and important writers such as John Stuart Mill contributed articles. During the 1830s and 40s, The Examiner was one of the first to review favorably the early works of Browning and Tennyson, and opened up their poetry to a broader audience. After the 1850s, however, its reviews shrunk in size and quality as the periodical tried to imitate The Athenaeum by reviewing large quantities of newly published books; its importance to the field of belles-lettres rapidly diminished.
Though not well known today, the Literary Gazette (1817-62) commanded unprecedented power and influence from the 1820s through the 1840s. Unlike the quarterlies, whose "book reviewers" generally ignored the book they were supposedly reviewing in favor of writing political tracts, the Literary Gazette provided the reader with copious quotes from the book under review. William Jerdan, the editor for most of the Gazette's run, was a professional journalist who cared little for disseminating political ideology. The weekly format, which provided "a spontaneity which the monthlies and quarterlies could not acquire" (Sullivan 242), the promise of abundant chunks of newly published reading matter, and the low price of eight pence ensured its success with a mass audience. At its height, the Gazette sold four thousand papers a week; writers and publishers knew that a favorable review in the Gazette all but guaranteed a successful run, while a mixed review could produce disastrous consequences. Though the reviews were what sold copy, the Gazette strove to provide a wide range of information through features ranging from original poetry to theatre reviews to new developments in architecture and the sciences.
The founding of The Athenaeum in 1828 ensured the slow death of the Literary Gazette. Charles Dilke, its editor during the 1830s and 40s, adopted the Gazette's practice of avoiding blatant political commentary and providing long book reviews. Dilke's target was a mass audience, as demonstrated by his lowering the price of his weekly from eight pence to four in 1831; circulation soon increased to over eighteen thousand. The Athenaeum was even more successful than the Gazette in providing a literary and quasi-intellectual alternative to the quarterlies, covering the fields of foreign literature, science, music, drama, opera, and gossip more thoroughly than any contemporary periodical. Its art and literary criticism were competent, but popularized; as befitting a magazine aimed at mass circulation, The Athenaeum focused on traditional works to the exclusion of vanguard movements in the arts. The quality of its literary criticism, especially, was comparably low between the time of its founding and mid-century. Later in the century, however, important figures like Carlyle, Leigh Hunt, Lamb, Landor, Browning, Watts-Dunton, Gosse, and Pater wrote articles for its pages; Dante Rossetti furnished several poems for publication.
The notion of a periodical devoted primarily to original compositions of literature is an innovation of the nineteenth century. Prior to that, the "magazine" tended to reflect its etymological meaning as a storehouse of miscellaneous information. Eighteenth century magazines tended to present a random assortment of interesting facts, without specialization or even strict separation according to subject matter. As the nineteenth century progressed, however, magazines began to develop which devoted themselves to areas of specialized interest.
Among all literary monthlies which preceded The Germ, The Liberal was probably closest to it in spirit. The brain-child of Byron, Shelley, and Leigh Hunt, it was unique among nineteenth century periodicals for emphasizing literature over politics, which it consciously avoided. Though the overall quality of its poems and articles was rather uneven, it produced a number of stupendously important works, including Byron's "The Vision of Judgment" and Heaven and Earth, Shelley's translation of Faust, and Hazlitt's essay "My First Acquaintance with Poets."
Unfortunately, like the Pre-Raphaelite journal, it was plagued with problems from the beginning. Uneasy about the effect of Byron's and Shelley's radicalism on a mass audience, conservative periodicals lambasted the magazine before the first issue had even been printed. Soon after production on The Liberal began in 1822, Shelley drowned. When the first number was published in October of that year, the response was explosive. Byron's "Vision of Judgment" was almost universally condemned as a vicious attack upon the recently deceased monarch, George III, and the magazine's publisher, John Hunt, was subsequently prosecuted for printing the poem. Though sales were encouraging (the first number sold over four thousand copies), the damage from the barrage of negative publicity was irreparable. The Liberal ended after only four numbers.
Other literary monthlies of the era did not share the misfortunes suffered by The Liberal. The New Monthly Magazine and Universal Register was set up in 1814 as a Tory magazine, a counterpart to the Quarterly Review. When Thomas Campbell became editor six years later, however, he changed the magazine's title to The New Monthly Magazine and Literary Journal, and significantly shifted its focus. Hazlitt contributed essays on major figures of the era, and Mary Shelley submitted book reviews. During the next decades, thoughtful criticism of Wordsworth, Lamb, and Keats were found in its pages. The New Monthly's poetry section was unusual in that many of its pieces included the names of the authors. Selling for three shillings, sixpence, The New Monthly enjoyed a long, successful run, not halting production until 1884.
Bentley's Miscellany, which began in 1837, was a magazine whose contents were consistently literary: politics, gossip, and other mainstays of the magazine format were largely discarded in favor of fiction, verse, and essays. Dickens edited the magazine for its first three years, and serialized Oliver Twist in its pages. Many poems of Longfellow appeared in Bentley's, as well as critical essays on important writers of the era. It enjoyed a successful run until 1869. Dickens gave up the editorship and later founded Household Words in 1850. Much shorter than Bentley's one-hundred-page length, it usually consisted of twenty-odd pages of fiction, poetry, and anecdotes. It was aimed at a lower- to middle-class audience, and largely avoided any material that might be construed as too "highbrow." It lasted until the end of the decade, when Dickens replaced it with a magazine virtually identical in format, All The Year Round, which had a much more successful run, continuing until 1895.
Though the original Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood broke up not long after The Germ ceased publication, in 1856 a new periodical was founded to promote "Pre-Raphaelitism." The Oxford and Cambridge Magazine lasted only a year, but its content was of the highest quality, including poems by Dante Gabriel Rossetti and William Morris, reviews and poetry by Edward Burne-Jones, and insightful criticism of important artists like Tennyson, Ruskin, Browning, Thackeray, Charlotte Bronte, and Macaulay.
The Germ left a substantial legacy to the world of literary periodicals. Inspired by the work of the Brotherhood, eight American painters and writers founded the Association for the Advancement of Truth in Art in 1863 and published a journal, The New Path, which was intended to be the American counterpart of The Germ. Discussions of Pre-Raphaelite artistic principles and promotion of naturalism in painting occurred frequently in its pages. Unfortunately, like The Germ, it did not last long, halting production only two years after it began. In 1855, an art journal, The Crayon, began publication in New York, and regularly defended Ruskinian and Pre-Raphaelite ideology during its six-year run. In large part, it was The Crayon which brought Pre-Raphaelite artwork to the attention of American audiences, stirring up enough enthusiasm that Dante Rossetti and others organized an exhibition of Pre-Raphaelite paintings in America in 1857-58. Rossetti demonstrated his support for both periodicals by contributing poems for publication. The Germ paved the way for many similar enterprises by groups of amateur writers, including the Decadent Yellow Book of the 1890s, and the numerous "little magazines" of the twentieth century.