University of Virginia Library


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"My Squeamish Public": Some Problems of Victorian Magazine Publishers and Editors
Oscar Maurer [*]

A publishing house," Anthony West recently remarked, "is a simple business today, and a publisher considers that his first responsibility is not to culture as an abstract idea but to the investors who have provided him with his working capital."[1] Still more recently Arthur Mizener has taken the opposite view: "Publishers are all more or less bad businessmen because they all care to some extent for good books and are forever trying to publish them. It's a mug's game and as businessmen they know it."[2] Both these knowledgeable observers of the twentieth-century literary scene cite striking examples to support their apparently irreconcilable opinions. The question remains open: is a publisher's responsibility primarily to author and public, as his own literary and social conscience may dictate? Or is it primarily to the financial success of his firm—more bluntly, to his own pocket-book? To use a Victorian distinction, is publishing a liberal profession, or a trade?

The answer cannot, of course, be drawn out in black and white. Publishers have been called Maecenas and Barabbas, perhaps with equal justice, equal inaccuracy. The answer, so far as it can be arrived at, will come from an understanding of the subtle web of interacting influences which unites author, publisher, and reader—or, if you prefer, producer, distributor, and consumer. As a step toward understanding such influences, consider a chapter in literary history in which they are to be studied with a fair amount of perspective: the fortunes and misfortunes of Victorian magazines and reviews, their publishers, editors, contributors, and readers.


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From the beginning to the end of the Victorian period the fact that a successful periodical must be financially profitable, must supply a demand, was realized and accepted or deplored. In the eighteen-thirties Carlyle, then a leading contributor to Fraser's Magazine (which he variously described as a "Dog's-meat Cart," a "Scavenger-cart," a "chaotic, fermenting, dunghill heap of compost," and "one of the main cloacas of Periodical Literature")[3] wrote hopefully to John Stuart Mill: "A question often suggests itself, Whether we shall never have our own Periodical Pulpit, and exclude the Philistine therefrom, above all, keep the Pew-opener (or Bibliopolist) in his place; and so preach nothing but the sound word.[4] He was never to achieve such a pulpit. In 1833 Richard Henry Horne, poet and journalist, published his Exposition of the False Medium and Barriers Excluding Men of Genius from the Public, in which he made explicit the complaint implied by Carlyle:

Nearly all the periodicals are strictly commercial in their origin and foundation, which commonly influences, directly or indirectly, all the writers which they engage. . . . Few of the very few who know and wish to say what is right, can afford to do so; neither can they afford to be silent. Hence the periodicals in general, while they seem to lead, only follow public opinion, which is a far more profitable proceeding.[5]

At mid-century and after, the success of two magazines edited by their publishers (John Blackwood, who edited his firm's monthly from 1845 to 1879, and George Smith, actual editor of the Cornhill in the sixties)[6] led some observers to believe that such a system was a practical solution to the problem. After his unsuccessful venture as editor of St. Pauls Magazine Anthony Trollope (whose knowledge of the economics of literature was extensive and peculiar) admitted that he had occasionally been too soft to his contributors:

I think, upon the whole, that publishers themselves have been the best editors of magazines. . . . The proprietor, at any rate, knows what he wants and what he can afford, and is not so frequently tempted to fall into that worst of literary quicksands, the publishing of matter not for the sake


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of the readers, but for that of the writer. . . . The object of the proprietor is to produce a periodical that shall satisfy the public.[7]
And in a reminiscent tribute to John Blackwood, the Reverend A. K. H. Boyd, a voluminous and popular contributor to mid-Victorian magazines, expressed the same opinion:
I am quite sure that a publisher makes the best Editor. He is much less likely than a man of letters to fill a periodical with unreadable papers which echo his own crotchets. He is much more accurate. He is absolutely without jealousy. He knows nothing but the success of his magazine or review. Some editors are like certain unpopular clerics of my youth, who would much rather have their churches empty than filled for them by some better preacher.[8]

Both these apologists for success assumed that the publisher's criterion would naturally be commercial, and tacitly approved. Other mid-Victorian observers made the same assumption, but deplored the results. Writing in Bradlaugh's iconoclastic National Reformer on the controversy over Swinburne's Poems and Ballads, James Thomson let out a characteristic growl:

Periodicals—newspapers, magazines, reviews—are the Fools' Paradise of the commonplace, the mediocre, the orthodox, the respectable. . . . A periodical to live must be a commercial success; the faintest thrill of new ideas would affect its circulation by shocking off some of its regular readers; it must suit its articles to the size of its customers—a very little hat for a very little head, a very little thought for a very little brain.[9]
Thomson, whose militant atheism kept him out of respectable journals, may have been expressing a personal pique. But a more cautious commentator, "Matthew Browne" (William Brighty Rands), an indefatigable contributor to the reviews, echoed his sentiments a few years later—in spite of the efforts of Morley in the Fortnightly and Knowles in the Nineteenth Century to maintain open forums for the expression of all shades of opinion:
Since the time when Jeffrey ruled the Edinburgh, and even since the death of Mr. Napier, 'the advertising element' and commercial elements in general have played a great and new part, an increasing part too, in the fortunes, and thus in regulating the quality and tendency, of current literature. One result of this state of things is an ever-inceasing tendency


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to compromise in the expression of opinion. In spite of the spirit of tolerance of which we hear so much, there was perhaps never a time in which the expression of opinion was so much emasculated in the higher periodical literature, or in which so much trickery of accommodated phraseology was going forward. This will last for a long time yet—as long as perodical literature is a matter of commercial speculation.[10]

At the end of the century, when Newnes, Pearson, Harmsworth, and their followers had pushed their mass-circulation periodicals to the half-million mark and beyond, an ambitious and somewhat cold-eyed young journalist then known as Enoch Arnold Bennett commented in the Academy on the "revolution in journalism." (Bennett had served as sub-editor and then as editor of a weekly called Woman, which bore on its cover the motto "Forward! But Not Too Fast"):

The old autocrats of Maga and Cornhill may be conceived as saying to their readers: 'This is good for you; in consideration of a just payment we permit you to read it.' And when those august periodicals were issued, the readers approached the perusal of them, certainly with some pleasure, but also with the austere and braced feeling of duty to be performed. The modern editor proceeds upon a different path. He explores the nature of the demand as patiently and thoroughly as a German manufacturer. With a mixture of logic and cynicism he states boldly that what people ought to want is no affair of his, and in ascertaining precisely what they in fact do want he never loses sight of the great philosophical truth that man is a frail creature. He assiduously ministers to human infirmities.[11]
Here we are plainly approaching the realm of pre-tested consumer response, if not of the engineering of consent.

A few examples may further enlighten some of the problems that had to be faced by publishers, editors, and contributors. John Black-wood, whose magazine was solidly successful in the middle years of the century, once told a young journalist his formula:

I don't, he said, engage the regular literary man. He is apt to be too maniéré. I look out for a man who, say a Dean, has gone in for bee culture for an article—never mind the writing, we will see to that, so long as it has facts. . . . So I get the freshness and knowledge which attract and keep readers.[12]
In 1869 John Murray (third of the honorable name) co-operated in the establishment of the Academy, a learned monthly to consist of


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signed articles by experts; its editor, C. E. C. B. Appleton, hoped to model it on such scholarly German reviews as the Literarisches Centralblatt. Murray had doubts from the start: "No exclusively learned periodical in this country has ever survived to become profitable," he told Appleton on seeing a specimen number. But he helped by his prestige and connections to launch the journal, even contributing an unpublished Byron letter from the family archives to the first number— a concession to sensational journalism which embarrassed the scholarly Appleton. Murray was alarmed by the uncompromisingly learned tone of the Academy, especially, it seems, by the reproduction of cuneiform and Syriac characters in some of the articles. His friend Mrs. Grote suggested that it would be easy "to dilute it with a dash of Athenaeum-like twaddle"; Appleton naturally refused; and after a few months Murray bowed out, taking a considerable financial loss by the surrender of his copyright.[13]

The Fortnightly Review exemplified another sort of publisher-editor relationship. John Morley (editor, 1867-82) made it a vital journal of "liberalism, free-thinking, and open inquiry," and recruited a distinguished group of contributors, including Mill, Arnold, Huxley, and Leslie Stephen. The publisher, Frederic Chapman of Chapman and Hall, Morley recalled, was "a thorough Philistine, hating all our views"; and yet, since the Fortnightly was making a profit, Chapman refused to sell it to Morley for three times what he had paid for it.[14] Later, during Frank Harris's editorship, Chapman apparently asserted himself and began to censor the contents of the magazine, provoking Harris's rueful reminiscence:

I had to be taught that to edit a review in London is not to be a priest in the Temple of the Spirit, but the shopman pander to a childish public with a gigantic appetite for what is conventional and commonplace.[15]
Consider also the difficulties of William Ernest Henley during his five-year editorship of Cassell's Magazine of Art. John Cassell, who had begun life as a temperance lecturer, had launched a number of highly successful family magazines; it was a house rule that beer, wine, or spirits could not be mentioned, nor represented pictorially, in a Cassell publication. Henley as art critic submitted to this regulation. But his praise of Corot, Whistler, and Rodin, his disparagement of moral and


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literary criteria in the judgment of art, were too advanced for Cassell's readers. Circulation dropped, and Henley resigned.[16]


Three sensitive areas—religion, politics and economics, and morals —especially inspired caution in publishers and editors in their role of protecting readers from contributors. The religious controversies of the sixties and seventies were dangerous ground. George Smith's Cornhill is a case in point. Thackeray in his prospectus (1859) set forth the principles which the magazine was to follow:

At our social table we shall suppose the ladies and children always present; we shall not set rival politicians by the ears; we shall listen to every guest who has an apt word to say, and I hope induce clergymen of various denominations to say grace in their turn.[17]
The result, as Leslie Stephen later remarked, was "an unprecedented shillings-worth . . . limited to the inoffensive." In his desire to avoid offense, Thackeray asked Frederick Locker to change the last line in "My Neighbour Rose" from "God go with her" to "Joy go with her": the mention of the Deity in a light love-poem, he felt, might cause objections.[18] When Stephen became editor in 1871, he replied to a friend's congratulations with a complaint about Smith's policies: "What can one make of a magazine which excludes the only subjects in which reasonable men take any interest: politics and religion?"[19] Already known as an agnostic, he had to warn contributors against possible alienation of readers. When James Sully, for example, proposed an article on pessimism, Stephen warned him not to mention Schopenhauer. "The ordinary parson, who is the general object of my dread, has never heard of Schopenhauer; but he may vaguely scent infidelity in a German name."[20] It was apparently George Smith who intervened to suspend Matthew Arnold's Literature and Dogma, breaking off the series rather awkwardly after the second instalment (October, 1871) as "too explosive" for the Cornhill.[21] He had previously rejected George Meredith's "Martin's Puzzle" for its "free-thinking opinions." While


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personally admiring the poem, he wrote to Meredith, "it would offend many of his readers."[22]

One striking phenomenon of Victorian publishing was the magazine for "Sunday Reading," and the most successful of this kind was Good Words, edited by Norman Macleod and published by Alexander Strahan. It was a remarkable monthly, especially distinguished for its wood engravings and for its eclectic range of articles, verse, and fiction; by the mid-sixties it had a circulation of 110,000—larger, according to Strahan, than that of any other magazine in England or America. Macleod, one of Queen Victoria's chaplains and a well known Glasgow clergyman, had Strahan's support in attempting to improve the literary quality of reading matter acceptable to religious families. But he was soon attacked by the Evangelicals for admitting contributions from such liberal clergymen as Charles Kingsley and Dean Stanley. When he advertised a novel by Anthony Trollope, the Evangelical Record (which perhaps remembered Mr. Slope and Mrs. Proudie) threatened that Good Words should be "crushed." Trollope's Rachel Ray, which Macleod had requested and for which he had agreed to pay £1000, could not appear in Good Words. After a considerable portion had been set up in type it was returned, and Strahan paid a £500 forfeit at Trollope's threat of legal action.

Trollope's account of the affair in his Autobiography is perhaps not quite fair to Macleod:

There is some dancing in one of the early chapters, described, no doubt, with that approval of the amusement which I have always entertained; and it was to this that my friend demurred.[23]
And he wrote to John Millais:
Good Words has thrown me over. They write me word that I am too wicked. . . . They have tried to serve God and the devil together, and finding that goodness pays best, have thrown over me and the devil. . . . I am altogether unsuited to the regenerated.[24]
Actually Rachel Ray contains an even more unsympathetic picture of Low-Church activities than Barchester Towers. As Macleod wrote to Trollope, "You cast a gloom over Dorcas societies, and a glory over balls lasting until four in the morning . . . enough to keep Good Words


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and its editor in boiling water until either or both were boiled to death."[25] Granted the legitimacy of Trollope's satire on the Evangelicals, Good Words was obviously not the place to publish it; Macleod, I think, was honest when he denied to Trollope that he "sacrificed you to the vile Record and to the cry it and its followers have raised against you, as well as me."[26] Trollope, at any rate, continued to contribute to Good Words. And yet such concessions to puritanism gave rise to a legend about "Sunday magazines"; here is one form of it:
It was the editor of one of these magazines who is said, though I do not vouch for the truth of the story, to have implored the author, who was running a novel through his columns, to shift the date on which he had made his lovers meet from Saturday afternoon to "Sunday after church time," in deference to the susceptibilities of his subscribers.[27]

It was not only family magazines like the Cornhill and magazines for Sunday reading like Good Words which had to be careful to avoid offense in religious matters. Huxley's chapter on the critical reception of Darwin's Origin of Species, contributed to the authorized biography of Darwin, shows how far scientific thought was modified in the reviews by what Darwin called odium theologicum. Later, when James Knowles was making Strahan's Contemporary Review into a menagerie of lions, he welcomed Huxley's defense of The Descent of Man. But he drew the line at Francis Galton's "Statistical Inquiries into the Efficacy of Prayer," which had also been refused by George Grove for Macmillan's Magazine. Knowles wrote to Galton:

I am afraid that after all my courage is not greater than Grove's. You will think that editors are a "feeble folk," and so perhaps they are, but it is certain that our constituents (who are largely clergymen) must not be tried much further just now by proposals following Tyndall's friend on prayer—and of a similar bold,—or as you yourself say, "audacious character."[28]
The essay was finally accepted by Morley for the Fortnightly. After Knowles had left the Contemporary and started the Nineteenth Century—an open forum for the encouragement of the star system, some critics called it—he still felt the need of caution. The controversy between Gladstone and Huxley on the scientific validity of the book of Genesis, in the mid-eighties, was an editor's dream; for an impresario


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like Knowles nothing could have been better. But he asked Huxley to revise one article as too "pungent," and Huxley replied: "I spent three mortal hours this morning taming my wild cat. He is now castrated; his claws are cut."[29]

Knowles had left the Contemporary when Strahan incorporated his firm with the support of Samuel Morley and other prominent Nonconformists in 1877. Strahan had perhaps been disturbed by the furore resulting from the publication of W. K. Clifford's article on "The Ethics of Belief."[30] His break with Knowles was somewhat acrimonious, but he assumed the editorship himself, kept up the standard of the review, and stated his position fairly enough in an article on "The Higher Controversy and Periodical Literature":

The business of the editor of a periodical in which the higher controversy finds a place is not to dam out arbitrarily, but to see, as far as he can, that the waters are not poisoned by any influx of bad faith, cynical ethics, or mere folly.[31]


Another danger zone for publishers and editors was the area of political and economic dissent. Partisan and doctrinaire periodicals in which anonymity encouraged the following of a consistent "line" were standard during the first half of the century. An exile in England in 1839, Mazzini attempted to write for a living but found it difficult. "I write for the quarterly reviews," he told an Italian friend, "and for the magazines (monthly reviews),—often uselessly because they refuse all ideas that are too daring, too general, too systematic, too continental as they say."[32] Carlyle's unorthodox views (and style) also caused editorial difficulties. When Sartor was appearing in Fraser's (a strange companion to the rowdy Toryism of Maginn and Lockhart),

Poor Fraser [Carlyle later told M. D. Conway] who had courageously undertaken it, found himself in great trouble. The public had no liking whatever for that kind of thing. Letters lay piled mountain high on his table, the burden of them being, "Either stop sending your magazine to me, or stop printing that crazy stuff about clothes." I advised him to hold on a little longer, and asked if there were no voices in a contrary sense. "Just two— a Mr. Emerson, of New England, and a Catholic priest at Cork." These said, "Send me Fraser so long as 'Sartor' continues in it."[33]


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Even after Carlyle had established his reputation with the French Revolution he found no editor willing to publish "Chartism" (1839) in a reputable review. It was intended, he told Emerson, for the Quarterly Review:
The Quarterly Review was not an eligible vehicle, but the eligiblest; of Whigs [i.e. the Edinburgh], abandoned to Dilettantism and withered sceptical conventionality, there was no hope at all; the London and Westminster Radicals, wedded to their Benthamee Formulas, and tremulous at their own shadows, expressly rejected my proposal many months ago: Tories alone remained. . . . Finally the thing came out, as an Essay on Chartism; was shown to Lockhart, according to agreement; was praised by him, but was also found unsuitable by him; suitable to explode a whole fleet of Quarterlies into sky-rockets in these times![34]
As Carlyle remarked, "Such an article, equally astonishing to Girondins, Radicals, do-nothing Aristocrats, Conservatives, and unbelieving Dilettante Whigs, can hope for no harbour in any Review."[35] And ten years later John Forster had to cut Carlyle's article on the fall of Louis Philippe and suppress a sequel; their "excessive candour," he said, "might damage the circulation of the Examiner."[36]

Carlyle's friend and disciple James Anthony Froude, as editor of Fraser's in the sixties, agreed with his master in condoning Negro slavery and favoring the South in the American Civil War. It is therefore to his credit that at a time when, as John Mill remarked, there was a "rush of nearly the whole of the middle and upper classes, even those who passed for Liberals, into a furious pro-Southern partisanship," Froude accepted Mill's plea for the Northern cause, "The Contest in America" (January, 1862).[37] In publishing it, however, Froude departed from the usual practice of Fraser's and gave the author's name; he protected himself in the same way when he accepted anti-slavery and pro-Lincoln articles by Moncure Conway, which were signed "By an American Abolitionist."[38] Here Fraser's seemed more enlightened than the Cornhill. Thackeray asked Bayard Taylor for an article stating the case for the North, but George Smith vetoed it as controversial (and unpopular).[39] Froude, however, did refuse to publish


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an anti-Prussian article by Sarah Austin in 1866, though backed by authentic facts; he was glad, he said, "to see a great Protestant power established in the north of Europe."[40]

The Fortnightly under Frank Harris, as we have seen, was a trial to its publishers. A sensational series on Czarist tyranny in Russia by "E. B. Lanin" caused an increase in sales but also, apparently, objections from the Foreign Office (as well as an appeal from Swinburne for tyrannicide). Hence, according to a historian of the Fortnightly,

before another editor was appointed, a clause was inserted in his agreement, providing that the proposed table of contents of each number should be submitted four days before going to press to the managing director of Chapman and Hall, who should be entitled to exercise a veto upon any article, poem, or story, which he might not approve.[41]
After Harris's departure, it should be added, the custom lapsed: the new editor, W. J. Courtney, was emphatically a safe man.

Unorthodox economic and social views were also productive of trouble. John Parker, publisher and editor of Fraser's in the forties, sympathized with the lively Christian radicalism of Charles Kingsley. But Kingsley's chaotic novel, Yeast, and especially some verses on the Game-laws ("There's blood on the game you sell, Squire") infuriated propertied readers and brought complaints and cancellations. At Parker's request, Kingsley brought the serial to an abrupt conclusion.[42] Even unfavorable mention of some unpopular names was forbidden. The Quarterly, in attacking the Co-operative movement, listed (as was the custom) a half-dozen books on the subject at the head of its article. But one of them was George Jacob Holyoake's History of the Rochdale Pioneers; the editor could not include Holyoake's name, for fear of scandal, and so omitted all the writers' names. "For the first time," Holyoake noted with amusement, "an article in the Quarterly was devoted to six nameless authors."[43] Henry Adams, too, found that some subjects were untouchable in respectable reviews. His article on "The Gold Conspiracy" was rejected by Henry Reeve of the Edinburgh. "One knew," Adams recorded in his Education, "that the power of Erie was almost as great in England as in America, but one was hardly prepared to find it controlling the Quarterlies." And yet, "for fear of


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Jay Gould and Jim Fisk" Reeve and the Longmans would not risk the publication.[44]

Perhaps the most glaring instance of this problem, as involving economics, was the case of John Ruskin, Unto This Last, Munera Pulveris, the Cornhill, and Fraser's. Ruskin, who had contributed at Thackeray's request to early numbers of the Cornhill, in the summer of 1860 sent the manuscript of his first essays attacking the orthodox economic theory to William Smith Williams, George Smith's reader, with this word:

I send you some Political Economy, which, if you can venture to use in any way for the Cornhill, stigmatizing it by any notes of reprobation which you may think necessary, I shall be very glad. All I care about is to get it into print, somehow.[45]
The articles were accepted, with the stipulation that initials be signed; the editor, according to Ruskin's father, "would not be answerable for opinions so opposed to Malthus and the Times and the City of London." Objections began at once; the Saturday Review was especially bitter, remarking that these were "eruptions of windy hysterics" and that England would refuse to be "preached to death by a mad governess." The result is best told in Ruskin's own words:
The editor of the Magazine was my friend, and ventured the insertion of the three first essays; but the outcry against them became then too strong for any editor to endure, and he wrote to me, with great discomfort to himself, and many apologies to me, that the Magazine must only admit one Economical Essay more.[46]
The series was accordingly stopped. There was no quarrel between Ruskin and Thackeray or Smith as a result, but Ruskin "sulked," as he said, "all winter." The violent reprobation of his essays in the Cornhill, Ruskin later remarked, made him think more gravely on the subject, and he resolved to make it the central concern of his life.

Two years afterward Froude wrote Ruskin saying that he believed there was something in his theories and would risk the admission into Fraser's of what he chose to write on "this dangerous subject." Ruskin thereupon sent four articles which were published as "Essays on Political Economy, Being a Sequel to Papers which appeared in the 'Cornhill Magazine.'" Fraser's was sold by Parker to the Longmans in 1863 (the last of Ruskin's essays appeared in April of that year). Then, as Ruskin


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explained, "though the Editor had not wholly lost courage, the Publisher indignantly interfered; and the readers of Fraser, as those of the Cornhill, were protected, for that time, from farther disturbance on my part."[47] His articles were later published as Munera Pulveris. In the same year Ruskin was attacked for his views on the gold standard by J. E. Cairnes in Macmillan's Magazine. Froude asked him to reply in Fraser's and Ruskin sent him "Gold: A Dialogue." But this time the elder Ruskin apparently interceded for the suppression of the article, for his son's unconventional views had caused him pain.[48]

Ruskin's experience was significant in that a decade or so later he could probably have found a free platform in the Fortnightly or the Contemporary or the Nineteenth Century, to all of which controversy carried on by "big names" was the breath of life. But editorial caution died hard. In 1873 the semi-legendary Delane of The Times shied away from allowing an article on Samuel Butler's Erewhon; it was too dangerous for the "organ of the common, satisfied, well-to-do Englishman," as Matthew Arnold called it. "Erewhon," Delane told a member of his reviewing staff, "I won't touch. It could not be reviewed as favorably as perhaps it deserves without alarming the goodies—and they are powerful."[49] And at the end of the century the young H. G. Wells found that the new mass magazines were cramping to new or unfamiliar ideas. He wrote to his father (December, 1898): "I'm under a contract to do stories for the Strand Magazine but I don't like the job. It's like talking to fools, you can't let yourself go or they won't understand. If you send them anything a bit novel they are afraid their readers won't understand."[50]


Finally, publishers and editors were concerned to protect their readers from moral shock.[50a] Observers at mid-century and later commented frequently on the improvement in the moral tone of the press, looking back to such scurrilous and indecent journals of the twenties and thirties as Theodore Hook's John Bull, Charles Molloy Westmacott's Age, Barnard Gregory's Satirist, and Renton Nicholson's Town.[51] One cause was the wide circulation of "improving" journals


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aimed at the lower-middle and upper-working-class reader. In 1836 a witness before the Select Committee on Arts and Principles of Design described how his firm, with their steam printing machines, produced the Penny Magazine (published by Charles Knight and sponsored by the Society for the Diffusion of Useful Knowledge), the Saturday Magazine (published by Parker for the Society for the Promotion of Christian Knowledge), and Chambers's Journal. "And every Saturday," he said, "I have the satisfaction of reflecting that 360,000 of these useful publications are issued to the public, diffusing science and taste and good feeling, without one sentence of an immoral tendency in the whole."[52] Another cause—and symptom—was the success of Punch: Bradbury and Evans, publisher, and Mark Lemon, editor, took pride in the fact that "Punch has blotted out the Age and the Satirist, and other vile publications which, before Punch existed, were the only amusing journals of the day."[53] Thackeray in 1854 commented characteristically on the change. Humor, he said, is a satyr:
But we have washed, combed, and taught the rogue good manners. . . . Frolicsome always, he has become gentle and harmless, smitten into shame by the pure presence of our women and the sweet confiding smiles of our children.[54]
By the end of the century W. T. Stead could remark approvingly, in a review of the republication of the first fifty years of Punch:
The reader may examine every page of these twenty-five volumes without finding a single specimen of the indecent cartoon, or the more or less questionable innuendo. . . . You might read Punch from beginning to end without ever being reminded of the existence of the demi-monde.[55]
And a commentator in the Quarterly noted that this moral tone was financially profitable. "If the literary level of the weekly press be low," he wrote, "its morals are irreproachable. Fortunately it has been found that immorality and indecency do not pay. . . . A print such as the


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Vie Parisienne, the Gil Blas, or the Petit Journal pour Rire would not live for a month in London."[56]

One important function of periodicals is of course reviewing and literary criticism, current or retrospective; here the caution of publishers and editors, and the alleged sensitiveness of readers, operated significantly to limit free expression. An essay by William Hale White on "The Morality of Byron's Corsair," for example, was rejected by Strahan for the Contemporary as "a defense of immorality."[57] When Swinburne in the early sixties attempted to hoax Richard Hutton of the Spectator with a review of an imaginary Baudelairean French poet (Les Abîmes, by Ernest Clouet), Hutton was understandably hesitant. "Les Abîmes are in type," he wrote Swinburne, "but I cannot say I think they will appear. The subject seems to me to deserve no more criticism than a Holywell Street publication, nor could I speak of it in the Spectator without more real disgust than your article inspires. There is a tone of raillery about it which I think one should hardly use to pure obscenity."[58] After his experience with the reviews of Poems and Ballads in 1866, Swinburne replied with a blast at the prudery of the journals:

The disease, of course, afflicts the meanest members of the body with most virulence. Nowhere is cant at once so foul-mouthed and so tight-laced as in the penny, twopenny, threepenny, or sixpenny press. . . . The virtue of our critical journals is a dowager of somewhat dubious antecedents; every day that thins and shrivels her cheek thickens and hardens the paint on it.[59]
Since John Morley had referred to him in the Saturday Review as "the libidinous laureate of a pack of satyrs," his indignation was perhaps pardonable.

Admirers in England of Walt Whitman found it difficult to express their critical admiration for him in reputable periodicals. Edward Dowden had a laudatory article on Whitman turned down by the Cornhill and by Macmillan's; it was finally accepted by the Contemporary, then (1869) edited by Dean Alford. Strahan approved, and the article was set up (though Dowden admitted that he felt Whitman out of place in such a clerical company as the Contemporary would introduce him to). At the last minute Alford objected: the article was too "dangerous," too "alarming," to appear. It finally came out in the


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Westminster. In Dowden's first contribution, it should be noted, on "French Aesthetics," Alford had asked him to change the word "nude" ("an indecent, or rather, a nice word"); Dowden substituted "unclothed."[60]

Refusal to publish critical opinions if the subject-matter was unacceptable seems to have been the rule rather than the exception. George Moore was not allowed to publish in the Fortnightly a defense of Henry Vizetelly, prosecuted for publishing translations of Zola in England. H. W. Massingham, the distinguished editor of the Daily Chronicle in the nineties, stated his intention of defending the scientific value of Havelock Ellis's Sexual Inversion in his paper. When the book was suppressed as obscene, however, the Daily Chronicle attacked it as morbid and scientifically worthless. "The courts of law and the criticisms of the press," Massingham wrote, "are the responsible organs of public opinion in such matters."[61]

It was in the censorship of creative writing—principally of fiction— that the publishers and editors of Victorian magazines found the most pressing need to interfere with their contributors to avoid giving offense to their readers. While serving as editor of Bentley's Miscellany in 1837, Dickens wrote to an unnamed author of a paper which had been delayed in publication:

Mr. Bentley considers it too broad, although it does not strike me as so broad, as to render its insertion dangerous. The question is, whether you can so alter it, as to make the doubtful lady a mantua-maker and give the interview more of a "courting" character.[62]
In 1880 William Blackwood, who succeeded his uncle John as editor of the family magazine, warned a contributor about a passage in a serial novel. "Parsons," he said, "will tolerate any amount of looseness if you don't point it against themselves, and in a novel of this kind we do not want to provoke the Parsons."[63] Ten years later, in setting up his immensely successful Weekly, Arthur Pearson proclaimed as his motto "To Interest, to Elevate, to Amuse"; he promised a supply of pure fiction as well as the "tit-bits" of curious information which his master, George Newnes, had found so profitable; and he assured his readers that "from title to imprint no word or suggestion will ever appear that is capable of giving offense to the most fastidious."[64]

The history of the Cornhill—conducted for forty years under what


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Leslie Stephen called "the moral code proper to a popular magazine, the first commandment of which is 'Thou shalt not shock a young lady'"[65] furnishes perhaps the best examples of this phase of the problem. Mrs. Browning, contributing at Thackeray's request, sent "Lord Walter's Wife" (1861) and Thackeray rejected it, with apologies:
You see that our Magazine is written not only for men and women, but for boys, girls, infants, sucklings almost, and one of the best wives, mothers, women in the world, writes some verses, which I feel certain would be objected to by many of our readers—Not that the writer is not pure, and the moral tone pure chaste and right—but there are things my squeamish public will not hear on Mondays though on Sundays they listen to them without scruple. In your poem you know there is an account of unlawful passion felt by a man for a woman—and though you write pure doctrine and real modesty and pure ethics, I am sure our readers would make an outcry, and so I have not published this poem.[66]
When Thackeray turned down Trollope's short story "Mrs. General Talboys" on the ground that allusion is made in it to a man with illegitimate children and to a woman not as pure as she should be, Trollope wrote understandingly:
An impartial Editor must do his duty. Pure morals must be supplied. And the owner of the responsible name must be the index of the purity. A writer for a periodical makes himself subject to this judgement by undertaking such work, and a man who allows himself to be irritated because judgement goes against himself is an ass.
He defended himself none the less by reference to other novelists, including Thackeray. "You speak of the squeamishness of 'our people,'" he added. "Are you not magnanimous enough to feel that you write urbi et orbi:—for the best and wisest of English readers; and not mainly for the weakest?"[67] Leslie Stephen, editor in the seventies, had to continue such censorship. His troubles with Thomas Hardy will be discussed later; other contributors were also carefully watched.


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"The fear of Mrs. Grundy was ever before his eyes, and this rendered him inexorable," W. E. Norris recalled.[68] And in the nineties when Reginald Smith, George Smith's son-in-law, became editor, contributors complained of his propriety: he would not permit such words as "stays" or "corsets" to appear in the magazine.[69]

A number of Victorian writers, including Trollope, Charles Reade, and Wilkie Collins, were made to undergo bowdlerization by magazine editors.[70] The most striking example of this was Thomas Hardy, who was plagued during his whole career as novelist by problems of this sort. When two instalments of Far from the Madding Crowd had appeared in the Cornhill, Leslie Stephen wrote urging that Fanny's seduction be treated in a gingerly fashion. "I mean," he wrote, "that the thing must be stated, but that the words must be careful." Complaints from readers had been received about a passage of rustic humor already published. When the novel appeared in book form, the Times singled out the very passage for quotation and commendation, and Hardy was triumphant. Stephen replied, "I spoke as editor, not as man. You have no more consciousness of these things than a child."[71] So in The Hand of Ethelberta Stephen asked Hardy to change "amorous" to "sentimental," and to "Remember the country parson's daughters. I have always to remember them!" After reading the opening chapters of The Return of the Native, Stephen feared that the story would develop into something dangerous for a family magazine, and Hardy wrote no more for the Cornhill.[72] In Belgravia, however, where the novel did appear, it had to be substantially softened, especially as to the past actions and future intentions of the tempestuous Eustacia.[73] The Mayor of Casterbridge, A Group of Noble Dames, and Tess all were subjected to similar censorship in the Graphic, The Woodlanders in Macmillan's, and Jude in Harper's (American and English editions simultaneously). Before sending Jude Hardy had promised that it would be "a tale that could not offend the most fastidious maiden"; but the first instalments brought protest from H. M. Alden, editor of Harper's. He wrote, "My objections are based on a purism (not mine,


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but our readers'), which is undoubtedly more rigid here than in England." Hardy agreed to bowdlerize. He must have known, however, that British standards were if anything stricter than American, for A Group of Noble Dames and parts of Tess had appeared uncensored in Harper's Weekly and Bazar, purified in the Graphic.[74]

The changes Hardy made for magazine publication were partly verbal: "lewd," "loose," and "bawdy" in Far from the Madding Crowd, for example, appeared in the Cornhill as "gross," "wicked," and "sinful."[75] More substantial changes, such as the omission of the seduction scene in Tess and the substitution of a mock marriage, were more damaging to the structure and characterization of the novels.[76] Hardy restored and revised for book publication nearly all that the caution of editors had made him modify; but marginal notes on his manuscripts ("deleted against author's wish, by compulsion of Mrs. Grundy," for example) show how he felt. In an article on "Candour in English Fiction," published in the New Review in 1890, he made his views explicit. Magazines and circulating libraries, as media for "household reading," tend to exterminate by monopolizing all literary space the novel "which reflects and reveals life." Not only do they pre-empt the market, but they modify the shape of the product:

The opening scenes of the would-be great story may, in a rash moment, have been printed in some popular magazine before the remainder is written; as it advances month by month the situations develop, and the writer asks himself, what will his characters do next? What would probably happen to them, given such beginnings? On his life and conscience, though he had not foreseen the thing, only one event could possibly happen, and that therefore he should narrate, as he calls himself a faithful artist. But, though pointing a fine moral, it is just one of those issues which are not to be mentioned in respectable magazines and select libraries. The dilemma then confronts him, he must either whip and scourge those characters into doing something contrary to their natures, to produce the spurious effect of their being in harmony with social forms and ordinances, or, by leaving them alone to act as they will, he must bring down the thunders of respectability upon his head, not to say ruin his editor, his publisher, and himself.[77]
Hardy's conclusion was that as a vehicle for fiction dealing with human feeling on a comprehensive scale the magazine was tottering to its fall, and might as well assume openly the position it already covertly occupied, that of a purveyor of tales for the youth of both sexes.


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A reply appeared in Macmillan's in the following month, probably by Mowbray Morris, the editor who had warned Hardy about The Woodlanders ("If you can contrive not to bring the fair Miss Suke to too open shame, it would be as well. Let the human frailty be construed mild").[78] It was no answer, but an appeal to the past in defense of the status quo:

He must be a very remarkable novelist who does not think that form of publication good enough for him which has satisfied Thackeray, Dickens, Lytton, Lever, Whyte Melville, George Eliot, Mrs. Gaskell, Anthony Trollope, the Kingsleys, Charles Reade, Wilkie Collins, Miss Braddon, Mr. Blackmore, Mr. Besant, Mr. Meredith and Mr. Thomas Hardy! So we will leave the editors and their magazines alone.[79]

One recurrent theme may have been noted in this examination of the problem. Editors and publishers, in warning and censoring contributors, implied a double standard of judgment in protecting the reader. It was "my squeamish public"; it was "a purism not mine but our readers'." "Forgive this shred of concession to popular stupidity," Leslie Stephen wrote to Hardy, "but I am a slave." I think there is no hypocrisy here. Editors and publishers acted in this matter under a complex of influences: economic pressures, literary conscience, social and political and religious influences all played their part. It is doubtless just to say that the reading public got, from publisher and editor, the kind of periodicals it deserved. But public demand — the satisfaction of the reader, as Trollope called it — was considered a legitimate influence.

It was a part of the Victorian compromise — a serving of God and Mammon, of which Dickens, with his sensitivity to the circulation of Household Words and All the Year Round, was a conspicuous example. But the compromise is potent today in the affairs of the few gallant survivors ("quality" or "upper-middle-brow") from the great age of periodicals. For, setting aside subsidized specialist journals and little magazines, the publisher must keep his readers or perish. The result is bound to be conservatism in ideas, opinions, and literary forms. The successful editor, however, can adjust the conflicting demands of publisher and contributor without either alienating his readers or (at the other extreme) merely supplying what they are supposed to want. That he must occasionally strain his literary and intellectual conscience in doing so, this glimpse of some Victorian prototypes has demonstrated.



Read before the English Institute on 5 September 1957.


Principles and Peruasions (1957), cited by K. G. Jackson, Harper's, CCXIV (April, 1957), 100.


"The Pulitzer Prizes," Atlantic Monthly. CC (July, 1957), 45.


C. E. Norton, ed., Two Notebooks of Thomas Carlyle (1898), pp. 232, 255, 259.


A. Carlyle, ed., Letters of Thomas Carlyle to John Stuart Mill, John Sterling, and Robert Browning (1923), p. 21.


Exposition of the False Medium and Barriers . . . (1833), pp. 254-255.


In 1861 Thackeray told Whitwell Elwin: "I am only a sham editor. Mr. Smith, the publisher, does most of the work and likes it." See "Some Letters of Whitwell Elwin," TLS, Sept. 25, 1953, p. 620.


Autobiography (World's Classics ed., 1936), pp. 263-264 (my italics).


Twenty-Five Years of St. Andrews (1892), I, 16.


"The Swinburne Controversy," National Reformer, Dec. 23, 1866; reprinted in Satires and Profanities (1884), p. 103.


"Matthew Browne" (i.e. William Brighty Rands), "Mr. Napier and the Edinburgh Reviewers," Contemporary, XXXVI (Oct., 1879), 272.


"A Note on the Revolution in Journalism," Academy, March 10, 1900; reprinted in Fame in Fiction (1901), p. 126.


T. H. S. Escott, Great Victorians: Memories and Personalities (1916), pp. 371-372.


"George Paston" (i.e. E. M. Symonds), At John Murray's (1932), pp. 213ff.; J. H. Appleton and A. H. Sayce, Dr. Appleton: His Life and Literary Relics (1881), pp. 82ff.


F. W. Hirst, The Early Life and Letters of John Morley (1927), I, 83-84.


Contemporary Portraits (1915), p. 121.


J. H. Buckley, William Ernest Henley (1945), pp. 112ff.; Newman Flower, Just As It Happened (1950), pp. 71-72.


W. M. Thackeray, Works (Biographical ed., 1898-99), XI, xvii.


Augustine Birrell, Frederick Locker-Lampson (1920), p. 107.


F. W. Maitland, The Life and Letters of Leslie Stephen (1906), pp. 257-258.


James Sully, My Life and Friends (1918), p. 192.


Leslie Stephen, "Editing," Atlantic Monthly, XCII (Dec., 1903), 751. With ironic urbanity Arnold "forgave" Smith, "viewing his conduct with sorrow rather than with anger." See Arnold, Letters (ed. G. W. E. Russell, 1895), II, 103.


W. M. Meredith, ed., The Letters of George Meredith (1912), I, 162.


Autobiography, p. 172. On Good Words see also Strahan's series, "Twenty Years of a Publisher's Life," Day of Rest, Jan.-Dec., 1881; Donald Macleod, Memoir of Norman Macleod (1876), pp. 291ff.


J. G. Millais, The Life and Letters of Sir John Everett Millais (1899), I, 283-284.


Macleod, op. cit., p. 301.


Michael Sadleir, Trollope: A Commentary (1927), p. 241.


"F. Anstey" (i.e. T. A. Guthrie), Vice Versa (1882), pp. 204-205.


Karl Pearson, The Life. . . of Francis Galton (1930), II, 131n.


Leonard Huxley, The Life and Letters of Thomas Henry Huxley (1901), II, 125.


Alan Willard Brown, The Metaphysical Society (1947), pp. 180-181.


Contemporary, XXXI (Feb., 1877), 517.


Cited by A. K. Tuell, John Sterling (1941), pp. 229-230.


Moncure D. Conway, Thomas Carlyle (1881), pp. 71-72.


C. E. Norton, ed., The Correspondence of Thomas Carlyle and Ralph Waldo Emerson (1888), I, 277-278.


J. A. Froude, Carlyle's Life in London (1884), I, 171-172. "Chartism" was published by Fraser as a pamphlet.


D. A. Wilson, Carlyle at his Zenith (1927), p. 22.


Mill, Autobiography (World's Classics ed., 1935), pp. 228-229.


Moncure D. Conway, Autobiography (1904), II, 204-205.


J. G. Wilson, Thackeray in the United States (1904), II, 42-43.


Janet Ross, Three Generations of Englishwomen (1888), II, 162.


Arthur Waugh, "The Autobiography of a Periodical," Fortnightly, CXXXII (Oct., 1929), 520.


Una Pope-Hennessy, Canon Charles Kingsley (1948), p. 68.


G. J. Holyoake, The History of Cooperation in England (1879), II, 369.


The Education of Henry Adams (1918), p. 286.


John Ruskin, Works (Library ed., 1903-19), XVII, xxvi, note.


Ibid., XVII, 143.




Ibid., XVII, 491.


The History of "The Times" (London, 1939), II, 491.


H. G. Wells, Experiment in Autobiography (1939), p. 341.


Norman St. John-Stevas, in Obscenity and the Law (1956), has an enlightening discussion of the legal aspects of this problem. See especially his chapters on "The Victorian Conscience" (pp. 29-65) and "The Law Intervenes" (pp. 66-85).


Gladstone to Mrs. Humphry Ward in conversation, 1888; see Janet Trevelyan, The Life of Mrs. Humphry Ward (1923), p. 58; "Social and Political Life Five-and-Thirty Years Ago," Fraser's, LXII (July, 1860), 131.


J. L. and Barbara Hammond, The Age of the Chartists (1930), p. 314.


Speech by Mark Lemon at Punch's twenty-fifth anniversary dinner, 1866; see G. S. Layard, Shirley Brooks of Punch (1907), p. 284.


"Pictures of Life and Character by John Leech," Quarterly, XCVI (Dec., 1854), 79-80.


W. T. Stead, "The First Fifty Years of Punch," Review of Reviews, XXI (April, 1900), 382. Stead was not quite accurate: Douglas Jerrold in the forties had dealt with a "fallen woman" (The Story of a Feather), and in 1857 John Leech's poignant cartoon, "The Great Social Evil" appeared, said to have been inserted during Mark Lemon's absence through illness.


"Penny Fiction," Quarterly Review, CLXXI (July, 1890), 161.


Catherine Maclean, Mark Rutherford (1955), p. 221.


T. J. Wise, The Ashley Library . . . A Catalogue (1922-36), VII, 42.


Notes on Poems and Reviews (1866), pp. 20-21.


Letters of Edward Dowden and his Correspondents (1914), pp. 30, 64.


Havelock Ellis, My Life (1939), p. 367.


Walter Dexter, ed., The Letters of Charles Dickens (Nonesuch ed., 1938), I, 141.


F. D. Tredrey, The House of Black-wood (1954), p. 159.


Sidney Dark, The Life of Sir Arthur Pearson (1922), pp. 49-50.


Leslie Stephen, The Life of Sir James Fitzjames Stephen (1895), p. 183.


Gordon Ray, ed., The Letters . . . of William Makepeace Thackeray (1946), IV, 226-227. Mrs. Browning replied, "From your Cornhill stand-point (paterfamilias looking on) you are probably right ten times over. But . . . it is exactly because pure and prosperous women ignore vice, that miserable women suffer wrong by it everywhere."


Ibid., IV, 206-207.


"Leslie Stephen, Editor," Cornhill, n.s. XXVIII (Jan., 1910), 48-49. In spite of Stephen's efforts, the "painful and unwholesome" tone of Cornhill fiction was criticized. "It is not well that a popular serial, which lies on all our tables, should be made the field for creating sympathy with a woman who wants to marry her brother-in-law, as in Hannah." See "Magazine Literature," Church Quarterly Review, III (Jan., 1877), 390.


Stephen Gwynn, Experiences of a Literary Man (1926), pp. 145-146.


See Forrest Reid, "Minor Fiction in the 'Eighties," in Walter de la Mare, ed., The Eighteen-Eighties (1930), pp. 111-112; "Victorian Editors and Victorian Delicacy," Notes and Queries, Dec. 2, 1944, pp. 251-253.


F. W. Maitland, Leslie Stephen, pp. 273-274.


Ibid., pp. 276-277.


J. W. Beach, "Bowdlerized Versions of Hardy," PMLA, XXXVI (1921), 634ff.


Richard W. Purdy, Thomas Hardy: A Bibliographical Study (1954), pp. 52ff.


See Carl J. Weber, ed,, Colby Notes on "Far from the Madding Crowd" (1935), pp. 75ff.


See Mary Ellen Chase, Thomas Hardy from Serial to Novel (1927), pp. 75ff.


New Review, I (Jan., 1890), 18-19.


Purdy, op. cit., p. 55.


"Candour in English Fiction," Macmillan's Magazine, LXI (Feb., 1890), 319.