I have been interested in antiques ever since I can remember, particularly in antiquarian books and maps. Of all antiquarian books, I think for me the most pleasurable to read are 18th and early 19th century magazines.
I find it fascinating to read the almost conversational articles and correspondence from people of that time. To see what they viewed as important, and what they did not, and whether they approached issues in the same way as we do today.
The first ever magazine was the Gentleman’s Magazine, which was founded in 1731 and edited by Edward Cave (under the pen name of Sylvanus Urban). There have been three series. The original ran 1731 – 1833, the “new series” ran 1834 – 1868, and the “entirely new series” ran 1868 – 1907.
Gentleman's Magazine Contents Page from July 1788 (click to enlarge)
The first regular writing job of Dr Samuel Johnson was writing parliamentary reports for The Gentleman’s Magazine. This was illegal at the time, so they were published as fictional “Debates of the Senate of Magna Lilliputia”. For this, he invented names for people and countries. His name for the American colonies was Columbia, which was later adopted by the United States as their Latinised name.
The Gentleman’s Magazine in October 1745 contained one of the earliest published versions of the British National Anthem, God Save the King. It was listed as being “a new song set for two voices” “as sung at both playhouses” (Theatres Royal at Dury Lane and Covent Garden).
The Gentleman’s Magazine had the motto, E Pluribus Unum (Out of many, one), which was taken by Pierre Eugene du Simitiere for the motto of the Great Seal of the United States, and so is now on every dollar bill. The Gentleman’s Magazine was widely-read in America at the time.
Most monthly magazines contain a number of articles, correspondence, book reviews, poetry, Parliamentary proceedings, foreign news, births and obituaries, stock prices and a meteorological table.
I currently own 35 volumes of the Gentleman’s Magazine, and find it very enjoyable to dip into them every now and then. So far, my favourite quote was from July 1823, from correspondence by the Rev. Samuel Hopkinson to Sir Joseph Banks1.
The Toad, though a loathsome, is not generally considered a venomous animal by the common people, many of whom so far from indicating any disgust at its sight, will frequently grasp it in their hands, and throw it wantonly at each other.
He goes on to give an example of the toad’s venom at work. This caused Sir Joseph Banks and a Mr. Bufon-Amicus to reply, both saying that they often rub toads around their faces to prove they are not venomous. Mr. Bufon-Amicus has even gone so far as to put one down his bosom!
1. Sir Joseph Banks was the naturalist and botanist who accompanied James Cook on HMS Endeavour on his first great voyage to Australia.