Page images




Although Defoe's Review, begun in 1704, was, strictly speaking, the first English serial, it was not until Richard Steele and Joseph Addison began to write the pleasant and eloquent papers of The Tatler, that the foundation of our periodical literature was firmly laid. The Spectator followed a yet nobler specimen of the early

a and now old-fashioned serial. Then came, at various intervals throughout the eighteenth century, and with varying fortunes, The Gentleman's Magazine, The Guardian, and The Rambler, the last of which was written nearly all by Samuel Johnson; and in Scotland, The Mirror and The Lounger, to which Henry Mackenzie was the principal contributor.

The older periodicals, which now lie upon our tables, date for the most part from the early years of the present century. We take the Reviews first for a few words of comment. Earliest, and in former times most brilliant of these large Quarterlys, was The Edinburgh Review, whose Whig principles are symbolized by the buff and blue of its pasteboard cover. One day in 1802, Sydney Smith, meeting Brougham and some other young Liberals at Jeffrey's house, which was then a high flat somewhere in Buccleuch Place, Edinburgh, proposed to start a Review. The happy idea took the fancy of all present; and the first number of the Edinburgh” soon appeared. Its circulation reached in 1813 to 12,000 or 13,000 copies. This periodical was afterwards enriched by the stately and magnificent essays of the historian Macaulay.

When the Tories saw the success and felt the power of the “Edinburgh," they in 1809 started The Quarterly Review, which has ever since been growing in public favour. John Gibson Lockhart, the son-in-law and biographer of Sir Walter Scott, was for many years editor of the “Quarterly." The Westminster Review began in 1824 to represent Radical opinions. These serials and their younger brethren, appearing every quarter in thick volumes at a comparatively high price, contain articles on the leading books and political questions of the day. A great work is often singly reviewed; but the usual plan adopted is to collect a number of works bearing on a topic of prominent interest, and upon these to found an essay of tolerable length. Recently, a lighter sort of


[ocr errors]



review artillery has been brought into the literary and political battle-field. Discarding the heavy guns, fired at long intervals, as lumbering and comparatively ineffective, the writers of The Saturday Review and its tribe discharge weekly volleys of stinging rifle-balls and smashing round-shot from their light twelvepounders, often with tremendous effect. The Athenæum stands at the head of the weekly reviews, which are devoted solely to literature, science, and art.

The Magazine, which is generally a monthly serial, though dealing somewhat in light reviewing, aims rather at the amusement and instruction of its readers by a dozen or so of original articles, including tales, sketches, essays, and short poems. Blackwood, Fraser, The New Monthly, The Dublin University, Bentley, and Tait are the older favourites; but, within a year or two, there has come upon our tables a flood of cheaper periodicals of this class, and, riding on the highest crest of the wave, the rich maize-coloured Cornhill, which numbers its readers by the hundred thousand, and supplies for a solitary silver shilling a monthly crop of heavy golden grain, reaped from the finest brain-soils in the land.

A class of serials, deserving a longer notice than we can give them here, are the Encyclopædias. Chief of these is the Ency. clopædia Britannica, of which the eighth edition has just been completed, enriched with articles from the first pens in Britain. The Edinburgh Encyclopædia, edited by Sir David Brewster, is valuable for its scientific articles. Lardner's Cyclopædia contains a valuable series of histories,-part of England by Mackintosh, Scotland by Scott, and Ireland by Moore.

No men have done more for periodical literature than the Messrs. Chambers of Edinburgh. They enjoy the credit of having set on foot the cheapest form of serial by the publication in 1832 of their Journal, which has lived through a long career of usefulness, and is flourishing still in almost pristine vigour amid a host of

younger rivals.

We have in this chapter glanced along the whole course of our serial literature up to the present day, because we shall not have an opportunity of returning to the subject, and no historical

[ocr errors]



sketch of English literature would be complete without such a view. Laying down the last number of the “Quarterly" or the “Cornhill,” we bethink us of the little leaf, on which, a hundred and fifty years ago, poor Dick Steele and stately Mr. Addison wrote the first magazine and review articles, that deserve the name in English literature; and are filled with wonder at the vast increase of the kind. There are many Addisons and very many Steeles among the literary men of our day; but so great is the supply of healthy, graceful English writing, and so much have matters altered in the way of remunerating literary men, that the Commissioners of Stamps and the Secretaries of State are not chosen by Lord Palmerston from among the contributors to Blackwood or All the Year Round. Then, there is the pleasant thought to compensate for this want of fame and of political promotion, that every man of letters, who can use his pen well, and can sit steadily at his desk for some hours a day, is sure of earning a comfortable livelihood, and holding a respectable place in society. In Queen Anne's day, it was Addison and Steele, Pope and Swift, and a few more, who got all the fame and the guineas, who drank their wine, and spent their afternoons in the saloons of the great; while the great majority of authors starved and shivered in garrets, or pawned their clothes for the food their pens could not win. In Victoria's reign there are few political prizes, but there is widespread comfort; and the man qualified to live by pen-work, is sure of finding that work to do, if to his ability he but adds the all-important qualities of industry and common sense.

[blocks in formation]

WHEN Joseph Addison was born in 1672, his father was rector of Milston, near Amesbury in Wiltshire. He received the best part of his education at the Charter-house in London, a school which has sent forth many of our first wits and literary men. It was there that he met Dick Steele, a good-hearted, mischief-loving Irish boy; and the juvenile friendship, cemented no doubt by numerous tart transactions and much illegal Latin-verse making, was renewed at college and in later life. At the age of fifteen Addison left school for Queen's College, Oxford; two years later he obtained a scholarship in Magdalen, where his Latin poems won for him considerable renown.

His first flight in English verse was an Address to Dryden (1694), by which he gained the great man's friendship,-no slight matter to a newly fledged poet, whose face was hardly known in the coffee-houses. Dryden admitted his Translation of part of the Fourth Georgic into a book of Miscellanies. Other poems followed from the same pen. Some verses in honour of the King, though poor enough, won the favour of Lord Somers, through whom they reached the royal hand; and the fortunate writer

received a pension of £300 a year, that he might cultivate 1699 his classic tastes by travel on the Continent. So, with a

full purse and the reputation of being the most elegant

scholar of his day in England, Addison set out upon the grand tour. From Italy he wrote a poetical Letter to Lord Halifax, which is looked upon as the finest of his works in English verse.




King William's death, however, stopping his pension, cut short his travelled ease; and home he came, a poor yet cheerful scholar, to wait quietly for fortune in a shabby lodging up two pair of stairs in the Haymarket. While he lay thus under eclipse, the great battle of Blenheim was fought; and being employed by Treasurer Godolphin to write a poem in praise of the event, his performance of the task gave such satisfaction to the Ministry, that he was soon made Commissioner of Appeals. The lucky poem, known as The Campaign, chanted loudly the praises of Marlborough, who is compared, in a passage that took the whole town by storm, to an angel guiding the whirlwind. Mr. Commissioner Addison changed by-and-by into Mr. Under-Secretary of State; Mr. Under-Secretary, into the Secretary for Ireland; the Secretary for Ireland, into one of His Majesty's principal Secretaries of State (1717), the last being the greatest eminence reached by Addison in that most slippery profession of politics.

To mount so many rounds of the ladder took him a full dozen of years, during which his pen had been doing its finest work. Though he made his literary début as a poet, he achieved his highest fame as the writer of some of the sweetest and most artless prose that adorns our literature.

In the spring of 1709 his old school-fellow, Steele, started a triweekly sheet called The Tatler, which for a penny gave a short article and some scraps of news. Addison, who was then in Ireland, wrote occasionally for this leaf. But when the "Tatler," after living for nearly two years, gave place to the more famous daily sheet, called The Spectator, Addison became 1711 a constant contributor, and by his prose papers exalted the periodical to the highest rank among the English classics. There, on the tray beside the delicate porcelain cups, from which beauty and beau sipped their fragrant chocolate or tea by the toilette-table in the late noonday, lay the welcome little sheet of sparkling wit or elegant criticism, giving a new zest to the morning meal, and suggesting fresh topics for the afternoon chat in the toyshops or on the Mall. Addison's papers were marked with one of the four letters, C. L. I. 0.-taken either from the Muse's name,


« PreviousContinue »