University of Virginia Library


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Predecessors to Burke's and Dodsley's Annual Register
John C. Weston, Jr.

In the recent bicentennial volume of the Annual Register, after quoting from the Preface of the first volume for the year 1758 Edmund Burke's[1] intention of presenting the history of the year in "one connected narrative," the editors state that "this ordered presentation of facts has remained the aim of editorial policy down the years. . . . In broad essentials the volumes of today closely follow the original design."[2] It is a testimony to the breadth of the interest and application of Burke, whose endeavors were largely political, that one important bequest to later generations was to journalism, the form of The Annual Register. But very little has ever been said about the history and origin of this form.[3]

In this account of the English annual periodicals before Burke's, I shall discuss only those which are most closely analogous to his, that is, the yearly serial publications appearing the year after the one covered and intending to preserve, organize, and sometimes comment on the historical events of the preceding year. Thus I shall exclude two kinds of annual serials published before or at the beginning of the year for which the volume is designed: (1) handbooks of convenient current information in the form of lists, like The Court and City Register (1746-1797), and (2) almanacs containing astronomical, astrological, and meteorological information, like John Partridge's Merlinus Liberatus (1690-1709). Also I shall exclude, somewhat arbitrarily, serial compendia of historical information which were not published annually, although several are otherwise similar to Burke's. Examples of these periodicals are monthlies, such as, to mention only the one with the longest run, The Present State of Europe (1690-1738);[4]


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an evidently unique quarterly, The Historical Register (1716-1739), published by the Sun Insurance Office for the first five years;[5] and another evidently unique serial type, the historical biennial, A Help to History in three issues covering 1709 through 1714 (1711, [1713, 1715]).[6]

The first English historical annual was A Compleat History of Europe (for the years 1701-1714).[7] David Jones, its editor, hinted at earlier examples of the type in his Preface to the volume for the first year: "To attempt an Annual History . . . may be as Useful and acceptable, as it seems to be Novel, and almost without Precedent" (my italics). But I have been unable to find such a precedent either in England or elsewhere. Jones in the preface for Volume V explained the purpose of the journalist of annual histories, at least in his more idealistic and public moods:

Tho' it should be allowed, that some Things should necessarily lie


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dormant as to us, and be reserv'd to the Discovery of future Generations, yet surely there are many others that must be unavoidably lost, if protracted to such an uncertain Period, where not only a true Idea of Things, and many Notions relating to the Humour of the Age, upon emergent Turns and Occasions, will be quite extinct.

The contents of the Compleat History were standard from the beginning. The staple was the long historical narrative with supporting public documents inserted at the appropriate places. Two other smaller sections completed the offering: (1) a chronology of events called "Remarkables" which included those occurrences which could not be worked into the narrative, with particular emphasis on the "Deaths, Characters, and Works of the Learned"; and (2) a section of handy reference information in the form of lists of public people with their titles and offices. An index of names stands at the end of each volume.

After Jones's original annual was only one year old and after the accession of a new monarch, the citizen could find in the coffee houses a successful competitor, The History of the Reign of Queen Anne, edited by Abel Boyer, who was most known about this time for compiling a French-English dictionary and somewhat later for editing the well-known historical monthly The Political State of Great Britain (1711-1729). The History of Anne in eleven successive yearly volumes covered the years 1702-1712, that is, all but two of Anne's reign (published 1703-1713).[8] Boyer's most important feature, like his competitor's, was a long historical narrative of domestic and foreign events called "Annals," but he offered a change by putting the public documents in a separate section called "Appendix." These were good solid sections, the Annals and Appendix for Volume V extending to 498 and 201 pages, respectively. Although Boyer did not at first imitate Jones's practice of including special sections for a chronicle and for lists, he later introduced a list of Members of Parliament and later still included handy information in charts and lists among his documents in the Appendix. And for the last three volumes of his series he copied Jones's practice of including a chronicle in a separate section, like Jones calling it "Remarkables."

Two years after the demise of this annual, during one of which Jones's Compleat History appeared without rival, Boyer used the occasion of a new reign to begin another called The Annals of King George. The first issue of this new historical annual covered the first full year of George's reign, 1715, and continued yearly for five more issues (the years 1715-1720,


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published 1716-1721).[9] Unaccountably, Boyer did not use the arrangement established by his eleven years of experimentation on his previous annual, but began his experiments all over again and never did settle down to a standard form. The question again was the handling of his four subject matters: the historical narrative of public events, the documentation, the chronicle of less important occurrences, and the compendium of handy information. He began by jumbling it all together in a long disconnected narrative without heads or glosses but with an index. In the second volume he culled the documentary public papers into an "Appendix." In the fourth volume he introduced mechanical heads to divide his narrative into "Civil Affairs," "Ecclesiastical Affairs," and "Independent Occurrences," the latter containing some handbook-type of information. Then in the fifth volume he substituted lists for the Appendix of documentation: "Advancements, Removes, and New Commissions." And finally in the last volume he reinstalled the Appendix. We will see that Burke profited from these early experiments and was decisive and consistent in his organization from the very beginning.

For twenty years after the cessation of Annals of George England, from all that I can discover, was without an historical annual, and when one appeared it survived for only a brief time. The Annals of Europe in six volumes covered the five years of 1739 through 1744 (published 1740-1745).[10] George Gordon, its editor, did not, like his predecessors, present a separate chronicle of non-public events. Instead he concentrated on a yearly narrative of all the events he deemed worth preserving and a single other smaller section devoted to abstracts of public documents and political pamphlets. The length of the historical account is impressive: 570 pages for the year 1741 (as compared to 40 pages for abstracts in the same issue). Another difference is that the long historical part is broken by an elaborate system of mechanical sub-heads, repeated exactly each year, under the two main divisions of domestic and foreign affairs. The section of domestic affairs is usually about four times the size of that of foreign affairs, the subsection devoted to Parliamentary reporting for the year 1741 alone extending to 228 pages. A dozen or so pages of handbook-type information without title or division came at the end of each volume. Like most of these annuals, The Annals of Europe offered an extensive index.

Burke's undertaking The Annual Register, fourteen years after the final volume of Annals of Europe, was bold. Robert Dodsley, its publisher,


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certainly had no assurance that Burke's project in 1758 would work. Although a market had been established for historical annuals in the first quarter of the century, it had pretty much been allowed to lapse or had not been exploited. Dodsley must have been impressed with this young writer to have ventured his money in this scheme.

The scheme itself also must have impressed Dodsley, because while taking advantage of the experiments of the earlier annuals, Burke proposed to offer something new for a different age.[11] As he wrote in the Preface to the first issue, "endeavouring to be as extensively useful as possible, we aimed at uniting the plan of the Magazines with that of the Reviews." Burke had in mind the innovation of employing features in an annual that had grown in popularity in the world of periodical literature since the time when the annuals flourished under Anne and George I. The Gentleman's Magazine had been offering monthly collections of miscellaneous prose and poetry since 1731; Burke would offer such things too with the added advantage of a more judicious selectivity allowed by the yearly period. The Monthly Review had been offering monthly accounts of books since 1749; Burke would offer reviews too with again a more compendious and judicious choice provided by a yearly perspective. Burke's main innovation in the history of the annual was to introduce sections on Characters, Natural History, Antiquities, Useful Projects, Miscellaneous Essays, Poetry, and Books. None of his predecessors had such sections because they came before the era of the magazines, although Jones in the Compleat History had included some account of books interspersed in his section called "Remarkables."

But the main attraction of the Register from the beginning was the historical part, which Burke placed first in each volume, on which he lavished most attention, and which survived the longest in the history of the periodical. Although Burke did not mention any earlier annuals in his first Preface and could have derived hints from the monthly magazines on how to handle historical material, I think he or Dodsley probably did know of Jones's and Boyer's efforts thirty or so years before. For whereas the latter never did quite know how to handle satisfactorily the three matters of narrative, chronicle, and document, Burke evidently learned from their experiments. Burke from the outset began with a connected and unified narrative of the important and public events of the year, followed with a "Chronicle" containing a day-by-day account of private and sometimes curious occurrences, and concluded the historical part with a section elegantly called "State Papers" containing public documents "to illustrate


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and confirm the facts advanced" in the narrative.[12] This was Burke's main improvement on the traditional subject of his predecessors. And this invariable and severe relegation to the Chronicle of matters unrelated to the main flow of public events during the year allowed Burke to unify his narrative. He could thus also divide it into natural and organic divisions, which he called chapters, and eschew the older amorphous or mechanically-divided narrative of his predecessors in annual historical writing. Further, the historical narrative could be more succinct by consistent documentation in a separate section for primary sources. It is tempting to conclude that The Annual Register survived while its models, as admirable as they were, had relatively short runs because it bore the stamp of a superior mind which could produce unified and connected history and which as a consequence made improvements in the conventional arrangement to allow for it.



For Burke's authorship of the "Historical Articles" and book reviews in the early issues of the Register see Thomas W. Copeland, Our Eminent Friend Edmund Burke (1949), pp. 92-146, and John C. Weston, Jr., "Burke's Authorship of the 'Historical Articles' in the Early Issues of Dodsley's 'Annual Register,'" PBSA, LI (1957), 244-249.


Annual Register for 1958, p. xv.


E.g., Professor Asa Briggs, in the commemorative essay in the bicentennial volume on the history of The Annual Register, mentions as models only the insurance quarterly Historical Register and the monthly Gentleman's Magazine (p. xxii). But Professor Richmond Bond has an excellent but very brief survey of the history of the English annual periodical in his introductory essay to Studies in the Early English Periodical (1957), pp. 26-27. I am much indebted to my former teacher Professor Bond for counsel in the preparation of this paper.


For a summary account of early historical monthlies, see Bond, pp. 25-26.


Probably edited by an Edward Bysshe, according to P. G. M. Dickson, The Sun Insurance Office, 1710-1960 (1960), p. 38.


This periodical, by Peter Heylin, contains the same matter as the historical annual, as the subtitle to the first volume shows; "A Short Memorial of the most Material Matters of Facts and Passages, Domestic and Foreign, Which may be useful either in Conversation at present, or History for the future. With an Account of the Births, Deaths, Rise, Fall, &c of Persons of Distinction at Home and Abroad." It presents, in weekly divisions, a chronicle of events mixed with important documents and vital statistics.


This periodical, brought to my attention by Professor Bond, has not hitherto been noticed by cataloguers, probably because the curious history of its publication obscures its annual frequency. It first appeared as a history book in the form of annals for the later years of the 17th century; this volume went through two more editions, each of which added two more years of history; then appeared in consecutive years the annual volumes each covering the history of the previous year; in the meantime, four volumes were published containing the history of the previous century. A reconstruction of this publication based on inspection of its prefaces, title pages, and advertisements had best be given in a chronological list of events:

  • 1. 1698, 1st ed. of CH for 1676 through 1696.
  • 2. [1699], 2nd ed. of CH for 1676 through 1698, i.e., with the addition of 2 years.
  • 3. 1701, 3rd ed. of CH for 1676 through 1700, i.e., with the addition of 2 more years; this edition becomes Vol. V of the series; "Printed for John Nicholson, at the King's Arms; J. Harris, at the Harrow, in Little-Britain; and Andrew Bell, at the Cross-Keys, in Cornhill."
  • 4. 1702, CH for 1701 (becomes Vol. VI of the series), "To be Continued Annually," which promise was fulfilled through Vol. XVII for the year 1712 (1713).
  • 5. 1705, CH for 1600-1642 in 2 volumes, i.e., Vols. I and II of the series; "Printed by T. Mead, for H. Rhodes, near Bride-Lane, Fleet-Street; John Nicholson, in Little-Britain; and Andr. Bell, at Cross-Keys, in Cornhill."
  • 6. [1706], CH for 1643-1676 in 2 volumes, i.e., Vols. III and IV of the series.
  • 7. 1720, CH for 1713 and the portion of 1714 to the death of Anne, Vol. XVIII of the series.
The first bona fide annual periodical is Vol. VI of the series. The bibliographers evidently looked only at the first five volumes, which are parts of an history published at various times, not volumes of a periodical.


The first year published by Francis Coggan in the Inner-Temple Lane and A. Roper at the Blackboy over against St. Dunstan's Church; II by Coggan; III by Roper; IV by Coggan; V by Roper; VI-VII by Margaret Coggan; VIII-IX by T. Ward in the Inner Temple Lane; X: "Printed by D. L. and Sold by J. Lawrence, J. Knapton, J. Wyat, R. Smith, D. Midwinter, R. Robinson, J. Tonson, B. Lintott, J. Round, W. Taylor, T. Ward, N. Cleff, and J. Osborne"; XI: list of booksellers remains the same as in preceding vol. except that Tonson and Ward are out and J. Baker is in.


Vols. I-II: "Printed for A. Bell, at the Cross-Keys and Bible in Cornhill; W. Taylor, at the Ship, and J. Baker, at the Black-Boy in Pater-Noster Row"; III: Baker out and T. Vernon and J. Osborn at the Oxford Arms in Lombard Street in; IV: Vernon out; V: same; VI: Taylor out.


The history of the first year (1739) appeared in two separate volumes (1740 and 1741). The subsequent publication dates were irregular: the vol. of 1740 in 1742, of 1741 in 1743, of 1742 and of 1743 in 1745. George Hawkins at Milton's Head on Fleet Street published the 4 volumes covering the first 3 years and was joined by T. Astley in the last 2 volumes.


There is really no way of determining how much either publisher or author was responsible for the plan. It probably emerged from discussions to which they both contributed. The statement in Burke's contract with Dodsley that the new periodical "be printed in octavo in the manner of Millers Kalender [sic]" (Copeland, p. 96) probably refers to the format of Philip Miller's The Gardener's Kalendar (1732, with many subsequent editions), which, however, is a smaller, more elegant and leisurely book than The Annual Register.


Burke's only faltering was with the matter of the lists and charts. He first put them unlabeled after the "Chronicle," then called them "Appendix to the Chronicle." The use of the heading "Appendix" suggests perhaps that Burke knew Boyer's annuals.