The Gentleman's Magazine; or Trader's Monthly Intelligencer:
Being a Collection of all Matters of Information and Amusement: Compriz'd under the following Heads, viz.
Publick Affairs, Foreign and Domestick, Births, Marriages, and Deaths of Eminent Persons, Preferments, Ecclesiastical and Civil. Prices of Goods, Grain and Stocks. Bankrupts declar'd and Books Publish'd. Pieces of Humour and Poetry. Disputes in Politicks and Learning. Remarkable Advertisements and Occurrences. Lists of the Civil and Military Establishment. And whatever is worth quoting from the Numerous Papers of News and Entertainment, British and Foreign; or shall be Communicated proper for Publication. With instructions in gardening, and the Fairs for February.

By Sylvanus Urban of Aldermanbury, Gent. Prodesse et Declectare.
Printed for A. Dodd without Temple-Bar. Price 6d.

Such was the description of the very first issue of The Gentleman's Magazine which appeared in the January of the year 1731. Its publisher and editor was one Edward Cave who had been variously employed as a printer and journalist after his expulsion from Rugby School for the theft of a chicken before acquiring his own printing works and deciding to launch his own journal and adopting the pseudonym of Sylvanus Urban.

Prior to this time no one had ever used the word 'magazine' to describe a periodical, and Cave was using 'magazine' in the original sense of a storehouse; his journal was intended to be the storehouse of all current matters of interest. Such was the success of his journal that Samuel Johnson was to note in his Dictionary of 1755 with reference to the term magazine that 'Of late this word has signified a miscellaneous pamphlet, from a periodical miscellany named the Gentleman's Magazine, by Edward Cave.'

It seems that Cave had been previously been operating something like a rudimentary press agency involved in the supply and exchange of stories between rural and urban newspapers, and so the Gentleman's Magazine was initially a monthly digest of items cribbed from newsletters and other journals. (The enforcement of copyright law was somewhat lax at the time.) However The Gentleman's Magazine soon began to include its own original material, including literary criticism, poetry, essays and even parliamentary reports. Such was the volume of contributions it proved necessary to publish an 'overflow' periodical, under the name of 'Miscellaneous Correspondence'.

In 1738 Samuel Johnson began his long association with journal and over the years contributed a number of essays, poems, biographies, prefaces and reviews. (Johnson was engaged in the task of identifying and enumerating his contributions to the magazine when he died leaving the task unfinished.) Indeed it was Johnson who was responsible for the journal's parliamentary reporting although, thanks to the then prohibition on such they were presented in a semi-fictional form under the title of 'Debates in the Senate of Magna Lilliputia'. Voltaire was much impressed and concluded "that the eloquence of ancient Greece and Rome was revived in the British senate". However the plain truth was that the reports were as fictional as the 'Senate of Lilliputia' and were largely conjured out of Johnson's imagination; not that this has prevented them since being cited as authentic 'historical' sources.

It was largely due to Johnson's contribution and Edward Cave's success in building a successful regional distribution network that the magazine built up a significant readership throughout the country, and by 1741 Johnson could claim that "the Gentleman's Magazine is read as far as the English Language extends, and we see it reprinted from several Presses in Great Britain, Ireland, and the Plantations."

After his death in 1754 Edward Cave was succeeded as editor by David Henry, but the journal perhaps experienced its heyday under John Nichols who was its editor and publisher from 1797 until his death in 1826. Thereafter improvements in communication, particularly the creation of a national railway system in the mid to late 19th century, permitted the London newspapers to develop a national distribution network of their own and their availability soon undermined the raison-de-etre of the journal. The style and content changed with the passing of John Nichols, and the journal went through a number of different owners, each of whom made an effort to recreate the original success of the magazine. But sales dwindled and the Gentleman's Magazine eventually came to end in 1914.

Neverthless during the the first century of its publication it was the leading journal of its age, containing details of the latest scientific advances and discoveries, poetry, politics, debates on issues of the day and news of important events such as the Lisbon Earthquake of 1755, the Gordon Riots, the Peterloo Massacre of 1819, and the execution of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette. Much of provincial England saw the world through the eyes of The Gentleman's Magazine and the journal thus had a profound infleuence on public attitudes and opinion. It therefore remains an important source of information about contemporary life from its inception in 1731 to the mid nineteenth century and has been described as "a gold mine of contemporary information concerning virtually every facet of British life and public interest" and an "unrivalled document of the cultural history of the era".


AVAILABILITY

The Internet Library of Early Journals at http://www.bodley.ox.ac.uk/ilej/ allows access to facsimiles of Volumes 1 to 20 covering the years 1731 to 1750.
There is a 16 Volume Set of The Gentleman's Magazine in the Age of Samuel Johnson, 1731-1745 (£1,400/$2,380) published by Pickering and Chatto and a more reasonably priced The Best of Gentleman's Magazine, 1731-1754 (£79.95/$129.95) published by the Edwin Mellen Press.


SOURCES

  • Charles Arnold Baker The Companion to British History (Longcross Press, 1996)
  • No. 633: The Gentleman's Magazine by John H. Lienhard http://www.uh.edu/engines/epi633.htm
  • The Gentleman's Magazine http://www.spartacus.schoolnet.co.uk/Jgentleman.htm
  • Attributions of Authorship in the Gentleman's Magazine 1731-1868 A Supplement to Kuist by Emily Lorraine de Montluzin http://etext.lib.virginia.edu/bsuva/gm/gm-intro.html
  • Georgian Index - Newspapers www.georgianindex.net/publications/newspapers/news_sources.html

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