What to print and what to leave out can get complicated. Critics often had much to say about what was “appropriate” in fiction for children and for adults.

Here, the Brooklyn Daily Eagle reacts to a criticism of its coverage of a case involving sexual assault. Anna R. McCormick, a servant in the household of Charles Backus, sued his son, Alfred Otto Backus, for $3000, claiming assault and battery and “seduction under promise of marriage.” Alfred claimed that their intimacies were consensual and that no such promise was made. The verdict went against Alfred, the jury awarding Anna $1250.

The trial began 14 July 1859, with Anna’s testimony appearing in the Brooklyn Daily Eagle for 15 July (p. 2). Anna’s printed testimony is harrowing, emphasizing violence and claiming that Alfred not only promised marriage, but when she realized that she was pregnant, tried to get her to miscarry. While coverage includes “(Here witness described the commission of the offense.),” the remaining testimony is filled with details of Anna being roughly handled.

The Eagle’s critic seems to have pounced immediately. Given Anna’s care to describe Alfred’s every move and her own helplessness, the testimony is graphic and overwhelming.

The Eagle’s response is … interesting. It’s easy to to see here a defense of sleaze, as the Eagle puffs up in indignation and explodes in a paragraph threatening the presence of Shakespeare, the bible, and many 18th-century novels in the family home. The (subtly salacious) details are necessary, the Eagle maintains, so as to “elucidate the character of the case.” To “emasculate” the legal record in favor of “mock modesty” and ”artificial prudery” wouldn’t “enlighten the public.” Why else publish the trials? (That The Brooklyn Daily Times reports the basics of the case in a dry paragraph highlights the Eagle’s turn toward the dramatic. [See 16 July 1859; p. 3])

Why else, indeed? Except that the plethora of details the Eagle threw into its reporting on the courts is one of the pleasures of reading them. The write-up of the assault of a butcher on a customer includes the back-and-forth leading to it, which explains how a dollar’s-worth of meat turned into a 1400-dollar verdict. (Amounts are in 2019 dollars.) So the excruciating level of detail on a sexual assault case probably was expected by readers of the Eagle.

Thus, the Eagle’s diatribe comes across as more than a little disingenuous. “Can any sane man suppose that there are among the readers of newspapers any class whose animal instincts are so utterly depraved, and whose intellect so totally imbecile, without force of reason or strength of will, as that they cannot peruse a trial, such as the one we have reported, without injury to their morals?” the Eagle asks indignantly; and the reader who’s been on the internet more than five minutes thinks, Uh … yeah. Of course there were readers relishing every horrific detail. And surely the Eagle knew that.

Still, the Eagle’s focus on the educational aspects of its reporting is on target. The details in its court reporting provide vivid snapshots of ordinary 19th-century Americans at their worst. As Anna cooks, tidies the Backus’ house, and washes clothes, it’s easy for 21st-cetury readers to see how much work one servant was expected to do.

And the diatribe is educational as well. The response of at least one reader to what appeared in the newspaper. Just what was considered possibly salacious in 19th-century America. (Oh, that naughty Shakespeare Shakspeare!) There’s an interesting theme of emasculation and virility, as the Eagle asserts its right to thrust its view of the world into the public gaze. For the researcher in early American periodicals for children, there’s the statement that the Eagle is not published for the delectation of children and the wonderfully weird—and seemingly sarcastic—sentence claiming that young readers of children’s periodicals would think that “the human race is kept up by electricity or steam” and would be “admirably adapted to solve its problems and grapple with its realities in an enlightened and efficient manner.”* Hmm.

The Eagle continued its detailed reporting of the trial, with Alfred Backus’s testimony spread over two days (18 July 1859; p. 2 & 19 July 1859; p. 2); the verdict was reported on 21 July (p. 3). (With the details of the case of the butcher and his unhappy customer.)

No doubt, many readers were grateful for the education.

Some notes about the transcript: It’s interesting to see the Rosetta Stone used to refer to something being made clear; the earliest I’ve found the concept in an American newspaper is 1847. About the “Sickles confession”: U. S. Congressman Daniel E. Sickles shot and killed Philip Barton Key (son of Francis Scott Key, who wrote “The Star Spangled Banner”) on 27 Feb 1859, because Key was having an affair with Sickles’ wife. After a 21-day trial, Sickles was found not guilty by reason of insanity (the first to be so acquitted), took up his Congressional duties, and resumed his relationship with his wife. Newspaper coverage included detailed accounts of the actions of all concerned.

* Children’s periodicals are how I found this piece to begin with. One of my standard search phrases is “children’s paper,” which appears herein. A good search term can net you the most interesting stuff …

“Prudery and Indelicacy” (from the Brooklyn Daily Eagle [Brooklyn, New York] 16 July 1859; p. 2)

We have received a communication from a source entitled to respect, complaining of the testimony in the case now being tried in the City Court, which was published in the Eagle yesterday. With all due regard to the eminent and worthy author we cannot coincide with the feeling he expresses on the subject. The case referred to is brought by a female who accuses a young man of a complication of offences including something very like rape, seduction, and assault and battery. We published precisely the amount of details necessary to show as the trial progresses, whether the case is one of outrage on an unprotected female or a conspiracy to ruin the character and deplete the purse of an innocent man, possessed of wealth and occupying a respectable position in society. Offensive details were carefully omitted, except so far as they seemed necessary to elucidate the character of the case. Perhaps those who object to the testimony will tell us what their idea is of the purpose of publishing the trials which occur in the Courts at all. We imagined that it was to enlighten the public, to inform them of the character of the prosecutions introduced and the manner in which the law was administered. Such being our view of the case, our rule is never to publish details offensive to the most refined delicacy, in fact to exclude them systematically, except when they became a part of a case necessary to its merits and character being understood; but never to succumb to an artificial prudery so far as to emasculate a legal record so that the character of the proceeding is shrouded in a veil of mock modesty, and the purpose of publication entirely frustrated. Was ever a more indelicate publication made than the Sickles confession and yet without the manufacture and publication of that document would the public have understood the characters of the actors on that occasion? it was the very Rosetta stone of the case, and furnished the key to the whole tragi-comedy. Yet the publication of the confession must have been a terrible impropriety.

Indeed, in California, where mob-law overturned all order and established tribunals, and where the courts manufacture divorces in wholesale batches, one of these same legal machines fined a newspaper for publishing the document in question; showing how a tinsel prudery may gild social depravity and corruption.

Nor can we coincide with the views of human nature, entertained by those who deprecate such publications when rendered necessary. Can any sane man suppose that there are among the readers of newspapers any class whose animal instincts are so utterly depraved, and whose intellect so totally imbecile, without force of reason or strength of will, as that they cannot peruse a trial, such as the one we have reported, without injury to their morals? If there are such, they are unfit to exercise the functions appertaining to rational humanity, and their keepers should lock up the family Bible, place Shakspeare beyond their reach, expurgate Sterne, Swift, Smollett, Fielding, and all the authors of the Augustan age of English literature, and build their moral safety on the beautiful structure of unnatural ignorance. But it is said the young cannot, with safety, be permitted to know that seduction or rape are offenses possible to the human organization. In the first place we deny that ignorance is virtue; and in the second place we would say that we do not publish a paper for the nursery. The Tract Society publishes a child’s paper, full of beautiful pictures of precocious little angels, and pretty stories for little boys and girls, which is entirely safe reading. By limiting the literature accessible to the rising generation to innocuous matter, and inspiring them with the idea that the human race is kept up by electricity or steam, we should bring forth a generation into the world admirably adapted to solve its problems and grapple with its realities in an enlightened and efficient manner.

Unless our correspondent, and those whom he represents, are ready to maintain that the publication of trials in the courts is only to be done occasionally, when the issues involved are disputes over real estate, or musty records of the times of the Pharaohs, or in a mutilated manner by omitting what the case must turn upon, they can lay no claim to consistency. Beides the details of law cases are not imposed upon by any one surreptitiously. The cases are headed by the name of the offense charged and when readers commence to read a seduction case they can hardly expect it to be composed of a moral essay.

We do not wish to be misunderstood or supposed to advocate or justify an indelicate publication. We repeat that we systematically avoid everything of the sort; and we submit to the candor of the reader whether the contents of the Eagle are ever tarnished by an indelicacy of thought or expression. But while we have a most soli[cito]us regard for the moral perceptions and the delicacy of our readers we do not forget that we publish a news-paper and not a daily tract or moral essay. We “hold the mirror up to nature, show virtue her own feature, vice her own image, and the very age and body of the time his form and pressure.” If any body falls in love with the images of vice, the fault lies in the moral affinities of the individual, not in the reflecting medium.

The standard of the Eagle is that of right-minded virility; we do not address ourselves to the unformed mind and character of childhood or adolescence, or that combination of mental imbecility and moral depravity which can only be restrained from rushing into vice by being kept in ignorance of its existence.

The Civil War’s hours of boredom (which of course were punctuated by moments of sheer terror) naturally led to soldiers North and South desperate for entertainment. They played cat ball, barn ball, and other early variations of baseball; they wrote letters; and they read: books, Beadle’s dime novels, and whatever else they had.

Union subscribers to periodicals received their newspapers and magazines whenever possible; Tommy didn’t always receive his issues of Robert Merry’s Museum, to the printed dismay of the editor, who had sent the issues twice and asked, “Will somebody please give Uncle Sam a caution not to so neglect our Merry boys?” (See note in Merry’s Museum.) Henry A. Danker found the Museum “more welcome than ever to me now; its arrival is a certain cure for the ennui of camp life.” (See his letter in Merry’s Museum) “Oliver Onley” quipped that “A welcome visitor looked in upon me this evening—the April Museum. It could get no farther south this route, for three hundred yards from me, across the Rappahannock, the camp fires of the rebel pickets are brightly burning, and there, over the ill-fated city of Fredericksburg, the moon sheds a pale, ghastly light on ‘Rebellion.’ ” (See his letter.)

While some Union soldiers subscribed to children’s periodicals, others had children’s periodicals thrust upon them. The intent was innocuous, if a little syrupy. “To our Brave and Suffering Countrymen, Our Elder Brothers, Defenders of the Union,” was the address of a remarkable speech on the behalf of the Mission School attached to St. Peter’s Episcopal Church in Brooklyn New York:

Brave soldiers we love you; in our heart of hearts we cherish you. What joy it would give us to come into your presence bodily, and passing through the wards and by your couches, in long processions, extend our little hands in sympathy, and smile upon you, if that would ease your pains or lighten your hearts. … It must be a source of comfort to you … to know that your more favored countrymen—those who are enjoying the sweets of home—do not forget you. Witness the streams of benevolence and gratitude flowing into your bosoms through a thousand, thousand channels. … We, too would send a drop to swell that bubbling current. Small though it be, we know you will not despise it. We feel assured that you will accept our humble offerings in the spirit they are given. We are not rich in this world’s goods—we are not many in number. We have sent some articles of diet, such as the weak or the convalescent may relish, and we have sent you books and papers to while away some tedious hours. You will not even despise the “Child’s Paper,” or the “Guest,” as coming from us, we know. In these you may hear as it were the voice of childhood speaking to you, and all that voice to you is love! [See “Doings in the Sunday Schools.” The Brooklyn Daily Eagle [Brooklyn, New York] 28 Dec 1863; p. 2.]

The reaction was not exactly as anticipated, according to the Hartford Courant:

An army letter says: “There is one error that friends North have fallen into worthy of mention. This is, that they appear to look upon soldiers as little children, and furnish them reading matter accordingly. The selections of literature distributed by colporteurs is good as far as it goes, but it is frequently found to lack depth. We have become familiar with most of the nursery rhymes in the calendar. Men who have been accustomed to their daily papers every morning, and the Atlantic every month, fail some times to be edified with the “Young Gleaner,” [probably The Young Reaper] “Little Pilgrim,” “Well Springs,” &c., though the teachings of these papers are excellent. The exploits of “Rolla [sic] in Boston” and the misfortunes of the “Children in the Wood” are no doubt interesting to their immediate sympathizers, but soldiers have little or no time to shed tears over imaginary suffering, designed for the evening edification of intelligent ‘four year olds.’ ” [12 March 1863; p. 2]

(There’s a tiny amount of hectic imagination here. The periodicals mentioned—Young Reaper, the Wellspring, and the Little Pilgrim—were popular moralistic or religious papers. But, to my knowledge, Jacob Abbott’s little Rollo Holliday never made it to Boston, though Abbott’s Marco Paul did, in Marco Paul’s Adventures in Pursuit of Knowledge: City of Boston. The “Children in the Wood” describes the pathetic deaths of two orphan children whose bodies are covered with leaves by sympathetic robins. Yes, this was considered good reading for children in earlier centuries.)

Perhaps because it was published by the influential American Tract Society, The Child’s Paper was heavily distributed. A list of donations for soldiers collected in 1864 in Buffalo, New York, included 60 copies of the Paper; and Charles L’Isle describes the Christian Commission “cram[ming] an arm-full or so of the Child’s Paper, or other tracts for the graceless, into our tents”. [Charles L’Isle. “Our Military Correspondence.” The Jeffersonian Democrat [Chardon, Ohio] 25 March 1864; p. 4.]

“Crammed.” “Tracts for the graceless.” The paper was, it seems, not as appreciated as donors hoped.

Some Union officers did, however, find the Paper, and others donated by citizens useful:

A correspondent in Gen. Rosencrans’ army relates the following:

A few days since Col. Stoughton of the 11th Michigan, was informed that he had a package at the express office. He deputed capt. bennett to go over to the express office and secure the package, supposing, of course, that it contained something for the regiment. The package inclosed 30,000 copies of Lincoln’s proclamations on the negro question, a large number of New York Tribunes and Independents of old dates, besides five or ten thousand copies of the Child’s Paper and Sunday-School Banner. The notion of sending such reading matter to the soldiers could only emanate from the cracked brains of some insane abolitionist. The papers never reached the soldiers. They were used to soften the cot of three or four officers, and there they remain. [See “Reading for the Army.” Quad-City Times [Davenport, Iowa] 21 March 1863; p. 3.]

(Since the Sunday-School Banner ceased publication in 1861, the issues of the Child’s Paper may also have been someone’s detritus.)

The American Tract Society was, however, more successful with Southern prisoners of war, who were eager for reading material. Writing from New York to a North Carolina newspaper, B. T. Eastman—the Army Agent for the American Tract Society—described life in a New York prisoner of war camp:

You will doubtless be glad to learn that the prisoners of war on Hait’s Island near this city, among whom North Carolina is more largely represented than any other State, have been frequently visited by the agent of the American Tract Society and supplied with its publications. Enough has been distributed to furnish something to every man, and the American Messenger, Child’s Paper and Hymn Books donated, were specially prized and kept to be carried to Southern homes. One offered articles of his manufacture for a “Dictionary of the Holy Bible,” and another for the “Happy Voices.” Several prayer meetings have been held every evening, a bible class three times a week, and on the late National Fast Day, two public services were held at their own suggestion, one conducted by a U. S. Chaplain, the other by a Baptist preacher from Lenoir, N. C.

The men are in substantial barracks which surround a yard of four acres. They have an abundant supply of good cold water, and access to the shore of Long Island Sound, where they can fish or bathe. Soup, bread and boiled beef compose the rations which are the same as our own men have. Recently, resolutions of thanks for good treatment were presented by many of the prisoners to the veteran regiments which had been guarding them. The hospital tents are without the camp in an airy location, and extra diet is provided for the patients. Out of 3,400 men, any of whom arrived in poor health, it is not strange that quite a number of deaths have occurred. From the courteous Provost Marshal, I have obtained a list up to June 1st, of all the deceased who were from North Carolina, which I subjoin.

[A list of names and regiments in included here.]

The remains of the above have been neatly interred in Cypress Hill Cemetery, Long Island.

Yesterday all the invalids who were able to travel were allowed to take the oath of allegiance, and to-day they leave for their homes. It did me good to see their smiling faces as they came out of camp to put their names on the roll. The rest will be released at the rate of 250 per day, commencing with those from the most distant States. [See B. T. Eastman. letter. The Daily Standard (Raleigh, North Carolina) 22 June 1865; p. 3.]

(Okay; I couldn’t resist transcribing most of this interesting piece.)

So, if the donated periodicals weren’t appreciated by Union soldiers, they were by Southerners eager for reading material. Or, in the case of the Child’s Paper, perhaps hoping to take a gift to a child at home.

ChPapr53.jpg

Writing isn’t quite as remunerative as people seem to think. Most people notice the J. K. Rowlings and the Stephenie Meyers and assume that if they can just pull off the writing of a book, they’ll be able to retire in comfort.

Not so—really not so. One of the perks of being a self-publisher writer is being privy to the struggles of much more successful self-published writers, as described on various forums. (Producing multiple books per year, writing to the pattern of the chosen genre, and advertising advertising advertising seem to be among the methods some use in order to keep selling.) And one of the pleasures of being on those forums is seeing writers relying on noisome tricks crash and burn. (Trying to trick readers into reporting incorrect numbers of pages read seems to be among the methods some of those use in order to keep raking in the cash.)

Writing quite often don’t pay or don’t pay much. And, judging by “The Pay of Magazines,” it never did. (Also, see Samuel Griswold Goodrich, whose books were hugely popular, but who was arrested for debt and had to sell the house, the cow, and the family dog to climb his way out.) Even in 1867 a writer had to produce and produce; and—as is true today—luck played a huge role in success. Also, writing to the pattern of the chosen genre: “Fanny Fern” ’s popularity stemmed from the combination of quick wit and sentimentality her readers craved. At one point in her career, she was receiving $100 per column—a staggering amount in the 1800s. (And about $2800 now. Yep, still staggering.)

The amounts recorded in “The Pay of Magazines” are far from $100 per column. They’re more $5 per page—and even that, we’re assured, is at the high end. (I’m more familiar with being paid by the word—and when I was, I was very much aware of how many words the copy editor removed, and how many I put back! I imagine 19th-century writers were just as conscious.) The inflation calculator puts that at about $93 per page today. It still took a lot of pages to cover the family bills.

Of great interest to me is how much the children’s magazines paid. Our Young Folks, Riverside Magazine, and Oliver Optic’s Magazine: Our Boys and Girls (the last two being brand new magazines in 1867) are the focus here; and the remuneration is $4-$5 per page—actually, more than one might expect. These magazines were connected with important names: “Oliver Optic” was hugely popular; and the other two magazines were connected with major book publishers. Certainly the pay scale for lesser children’s periodicals was much less. (Btw, John Townsend Trowbridge co-edited Our Young Folks, which is why he was paid a salary. And he’s an interesting writer—for children and adults—whose works you might enjoy.)

So, here’s why your favorite 19th-century writer wrote so much, especially if they were writing for periodicals. And why they may have written the less-enjoyable stuff.

And why, when you put the finishing touches on that time machine you’re building in the living room, you’ll want to find a more remunerative job than writing, if you get stuck in the 19th century.

(My, but I’m glad that “magazinist” dropped out of the English language!)

“The Pay of Magazines” (reprinted from the New York Evening Mail; from the Louisville Courier-Journal [Louisville, Kentucky] 5 October 1867; p. 3)

From time to time there have appeared bits of gossip, mainly set afloat by the city correspondents of out-of-town papers, giving more or less wild guesses at the prices paid by the various magazines for original articles. The grains of truth contained in these statements were generally in meager proportion to the chaff of untruth they blew abroad; but the newspapers, always eager for such intelligence, everywhere caught them up and printed them, after the usual manner of newspapers which depend chiefly on the scissors for their interest.

The magazine which, as a rule, pays the highest prices for matter, is the Atlantic Monthly. Its common price is ten dollars a page; but it sometimes pays no more than five dollars. Even at the lowest rate here named, it is still in advance of any of the other magazines, unless we except the Galaxy. There are from seven hundred to eight hundred words in a page of the Atlantic, while in Harper’s Monthly there are about one thousand words to the page. A common practice with the Atlantic editors, in agreeing beforehand with an author for an article, is to promise him one hundred dollars for it, stipulating that it must make ten pages, or very nearly that, and that if it exceeds ten pages no more shall be paid. Of course with such authors as Holmes, Lowell, Longfellow, etc., the rule does not hold. And of course it does not hold with any author when it is poetry that is paid for. The price of poetry always varies more than that of prose, with all the magazines. Julia Ward Howe was paid five dollars for her celebrated Battle Hymn. The late Beadle’s Monthly paid larger prices than this for poetry. Alice Cary received fifteen dollars from Beadle & Co., for a poem of no greater length than the Battle Hymn.

The Galaxy is entitled to rank next to the Atlantic in this regard, when average rates are under consideration. Its pages do not contain more than from four hundred to five hundred words, and its regular price for prose is four dollars a page. We believe it never pays less than that, and it often pays more, thugh it has few writers who are what may be called “star” contributors—that is, who get large pay by reason of their celebrity in the world of letters.

Harpers’ Monthly ranks next in order. Its regular price is five dollars a page, and its pages contain about one thousand words—equal to the pages of the Galaxy. To its favorite contributors, however, Harper is in the habit of paying more than this. Ordinary story and sketch writers, when they especially please the Harpers, are paid six, seven, or eight dollars a page. For “star” articles, on the other hand, Harper has almost no limit as to price. It will pay whatever an article is worth, and the author who is shrewd at a bargain will often receive pay far in advance of anything paid by any other magazine. When wood cuts are furnished with an article, it of course adds greatly to the price set upon it.

The new Northern Monthly has no established price, and much of its matter is furnished gratis, as was the case with the Knickerbocker, by writers who take a personal interest in the success of the new venture. It pays quite liberally, however, for some of its articles, from the pens of well-known and popular writers. Parton’s “Presidential Nominations” cost the Northern Monthly over one hundred dollars an article. The editor of this magazine, in his searches for “good things,” is in the habit of paying a round sum, cash down, for articles that suit him.

Of the children’s magazines, the Riverside probably pays the most liberal price. Its page is printed in large type, and its common price is five dollars per page. For many of its articles it pays more than this.

The Young Folks’ average is four dollars per page. Trowbridge is paid by the year, and is expected to contribute an article to each number—twelve articles for one thousand dollars.

“Oliver Optic’s” Magazine, Our Boys and Girls, pays to everybody four dollars a page—which is about the same price for the same amount of matter, that is paid by the two last mentioned publications and more than the “regular” price of Harper.

It is a rule with all magazines that contributions shall be paid for on publication. But a successful and popular magazinist is enabled to set aside this rule in almost every case, and to demand that his manuscript be paid for on delivery. With such writers, no hesitation is ade in this regard by the publishers generally, and when any is, the writer can regulate his dealings to suit himself, and decline to furnish contributions to be paid for “in course.” The writer of this article has received hundreds of dollars from Harpers, paid within half an hour of the delivery of the manuscript; and his experience with all the other publishers, with a single exception, is the same in effect.

The usual prices paid by all the magazines in this country are but beggarly, at the best. Authors of world-wide renown get fairer returns for their labor, but the great mass of magazinists find better reward for their labor on the daily press than on the monthly.

Onward—edited by Mayne Reid—should have worked. Reid was a popular British writer of adventure books (who, at the time the magazine was started, had been bankrupted by some unfortunate investments). The magazine was over 86 pages of stories, poetry, nonfiction, and illustrations—much more material than in other monthly periodicals for children. Yes, $3.50 a year was at least double the price of other monthlies, but 86 pages!!!

Hyperbole, in fact, was the theme of the magazine. An early announcement claimed that “Captain Mayne Reid is to publish a magazine in New York to be called Onward, and to be illustrated by English artists brought over for the purpose.” The prospectus—intended to let prospective subscribers know the tenor of the periodical—was equally exaggerated: “ONWARD along the track of civilization—on towards goodness and glory—a finger-post pointing to all that is worthy of attainment—a guide to conduct the Youth of America along that path leading to the highest and noblest manhood: such is the design of Mayne Reid’s Magazine.”

And, yet, Onward failed after 14 months. Editors noticing the end of the magazine were … a little gleeful. They’d poked some fun all along, with more than one editor taking delighted umbrage at the cover. But now editors flicked hot coals onto Reid’s head, quipping that “Captain Mayne Reid’s magazine has exploded; ‘Onward’ has gone upward”; “Mayne Reid’s ‘Onward’ has gone underward”; and “It don’t pay.” No, it didn’t, other editors announced. Reid personally lost $15,000 (about $100,000 in today’s U.S. dollars, and about twice what he’d already gone into bankruptcy over), which was reported as Onward “sunk $15,000,” “went back on [Reid] to the tune of $15,000,” and “not only went onward, but upward, and took [Reid] with it.”

This champion writer, come over from England to show Americans how to publish a children’s magazine, was the supreme target.

Reid apparently didn’t take well the end of his magazine; so the New York World took the opportunity to explain how an editor was supposed to act and what an editor was supposed to do. Basically an editor was to keep poor material out of the magazine and keep a closed mouth about editorial feelings—neither of which Reid had managed.

What’s transcribed here is the version reprinted in the Philadelphia Daily Evening Telegraph; the New York World is unavailable to me. It’s a splendid piece, especially if you enjoy a quippy diatribe. (I rather do.) The constant repetition of “Captain Mayne Reid” reflects the sense of pomposity in Reid’s words. And it’s an interesting discussion of magazine editing in the 19th century, which was a perilous way to make a living.

So, here’s some advice on editing a 19th-century magazine, which appears to boil down to Don’t. Don’t, unless you actually know what you’re doing. Don’t, unless you can afford the pecuniary loss. And—really—don’t, unless you have a hide thick as the Great Wall of China, because somebody out there will go right after you; plus, it’s extremely likely that your magazine won’t last long enough to matter to anyone but you.

“Spirit of the Press: A Magazine Mystery” (reprinted from the New York World; reprinted in The Daily Evening Telegraph [Philadelphia, Pennsylvania] 12 February 1870; p. 2)

Captain Mayne Reid, who is very well and very creditably known as the author of numerous melodramatic relations of moving accidents by flood and field, has lately appeared in the new character of the projector and conductor of a magazine, of the existence of which we imagine many of our readers are now for the first time apprised. The name of it was Onward, and it has been conducted so rapidly onward that in the February number it gives up the ghost, having flickered fitfully for fourteen months.

To Captain Mayne Reid this untoward consummation is not only lamentable, but inexplicable. It strikes him with wonder that a publication which had the advantage not only of his contribution, but of his management, should thus early die, and make no sign upon the politics or the society of the country and the age in which it appeared. Why is this thus? “Why,” says Captain Mayne Reid, in the hour of his agony—“why has Onward not received public support?” And to this question he asks—nay, he “demands”—from the universe in general an “explanation.” He has tried, he knows he has, to do his readers good. He has tried to give them “teachings,” and to “inculcate” in them a “faith.” And yet they have refrained from buying his magazine with an unanimity and a persistency which, it seems to him, can only have been born in spite, and which he can only view with profound and simple disgust.

What renders it still more strange, in the view of Captain Mayne Reid, is that the press has uttered a “pæan of unpaid praise” in his behalf. And he cites some sixteen pages of notices from the provincial press, which all concur to praise him, from the Aroostook Pioneer in Maine and the Canajoharie State Radii in New York, to the St. John the Baptist Pioneer in Louisiana, the Shakopee Argus in Minnesota, and the Silver Mountain Chronicle in California.

Some natural tears must be dropped, of course, over the intimely [sic] death of even an infant magazine by the author of its being, and some astonishment may also be permitted to mingle with one’s sorrow. But the projectors of most magazines indulge their wonder and their grief in silence. That Captain Mayne Reid refuses to “eat his heart alone,” but, contrariwise, wears it upon his sleeve for editorial daws to peck at, argues an unusual degree of ingenuousness in him; and our notion of that characteristic is enhanced when we see him gravely quoting the puffs of the provincial press as evidences of merit. It does not, we assure him, afford the least basis of hope for a magazine that the Schevenus Monitor should pronounce it to be “just the work for the gentleman, the lady, and the scholar;” that the Wapakoneta Union should assert it to be “one of the finest illustrated magazines of the land;” that the Oquawka Spectator should commend it for being “a beautiful magazine and the contents excellent;” that the Dowagiac Republican should “consider it superior to any magazine we receive;” or even that the Waupaca Criterion should test it and find “the literary matter of the first order—its tone high.”

Captain Mayne Reid’s mistake seems to have been in supposing that because he could write popular stories he could conduct a popular magazine. The two require entirely different and, to some extent, incompatible qualifications. One of the three things which, in the view of Sydney Smith, every Englishman believed himself competent to do was to “edit a newspaper.” Though the complication and extension of journalism since his time have dispelled this dream, every educated Englishman, and every educated American as well, still clings to the fond faith that he could edit a magazine, which is a simpler business to look at, and that he could evolve from his inner consciousness an ideal magazine far better than the best actual one. Every little while such a being endeavors to carry his notions into practice. But the amateur magazine editor and his money are soon parted. The magazine fails—not necessarily from its intrinsic demerits, but from its failure to hit the taste of the time—and its conductor is smitten with wonder like the wonder of Captain Mayne Reid. The history of magazines is strewn with such wrecks.

We are inclined to think that there are not more than three profitable magazines in this country. Harper’s is the most successful; and it is so not because it is written for by the ablest men, but merely because it is the best edited. It understands its audience better than any other. Like the aquaria of the lamented Barnum, “it amuse and instruct.” And its amusement and instruction are both conveyed in so lively and lucid a way as to be quite intelligible to the average American mind. The Atlantic aims higher, and contains more articles by men of name. The names sell the magazine; but it is notable that not one of them has been won through the magazine, though it has been established for more than ten years, and that, except what is contributed by these few habitual writers to it, its contents are selected with wretched haste. The Galaxy has the advantage over either of the others of not being really or ostensibly so mere a tender to a publishing-house. It has published many striking articles; and its most conspiculous defect, its inequality in merit, may be expected to disappear as its age increases. Putnam’s, under the new and capable management of Parke Godwin, may reasonably be looked for to show some gleams of its ancient fire, and to attract to it the contributions of those brilliant writers who made its first series the most entertaining magazine ever published in the country.

Real and rigid editing is what mainly makes the difference in this department between success and failure. The editor of a magazine ought not to content himself with merely looking over what contributions it may please providence to send him, correcting copy, and picking the rubbish out of the flotsam and jetsam thrown upon his shores. He ought to exercise such a control as shall insure every prominent topic of full treatment, and make his magazine a symmetrical whole, and not “a fortuitous concourse of atoms.” This demands a special aptitude and a special training. And it was in the absence in themselves of that aptitude and that training that Captain Mayne Reid and many others in his predicament may find the explanation of their fate.

Just because the Civil War was over doesn’t mean it was … over. Southern periodicals after 1865 are filled with snipping and sniping against Northerners and Northern publications.

Thus, this little piece of editorial nastiness, apparently sparked by the reception of a suggested notice from the editor of The Bright Side, with a copy of the March 1870 issue.

The Southern Home, a weekly paper published by D. H. Hill, was not entirely unbiased: “Devoted to the vindication of the truth of Southern History, to the preservation of Southern Characteristics, to the development of Southern Resources, under the changed relations of the Labor System, and to the advancement of Southern Interests in Agriculture, Mining, Manufacturing and the Mechanic Arts.” (An essay could be written about that sentence.) And D. H. Hill certainly here mounts a campaign against Northern influence, referring to Harriet Beecher Stowe as “that obscene old infidel,” calling the Northern children’s magazine Onward “that unrivalled humbug,” and taking potshots at the relative ease of ending a marriage in Illinois. (Hill wasn’t the only one: the editor of the Wilmington Morning Star [Wilmington, North Carolina] quipped that “ ‘Chicago has a new children’s paper called the “Bright Side” ’! We didn’t know Chicago people stayed married long enough ta [sic] have any children.”)

And Hill appears to have taken issue with Northern presentation of the recent War, sarcastically quoting from “Our Old War Horse,” a piece by “Neal” in The Bright Side (March 1870; p. 3). The biography of a horse named Jack, the piece details amusing and exciting incidents in Jack’s life, including the horse’s time with his master in the Union army.

The notice with which Hill takes issue isn’t reprinted here (Hill wasn’t about to give this divorce-promoting, Confederacy-destroying, Stowe-promoting publication the words it wanted), but probably it was something on the order of the one suggested by The Little Corporal, which played off the fact that “little corporal” was a nickname for Napoleon:

The wonderful growth of this young Napoleon of the juveniles has been as surprising as it is interesting. Its circulation has shot far ahead of that of any of its competitors. Its matter is entirely original and of a very high order. The freshness and vivacity of its pages cause the eyes of all our young people to sparkle. In its new, improved form it is one of the handsomest, as it is the cheapest, magazine we have ever seen. [July 1870; enclosure for editors]

Yep, that’s quite a notice.

It’s probable that Hill was pleased that The Southern Home lasted much longer than did The Bright Side, being published until at least 1881 (though edited by someone else).

And it’s just as probable that he never quit griping about Northerners and their Northern ways and their Northern, Northern, Northern publications.

An editorial (from The Southern Home [Charlotte, North Carolina] 31 March 1870; p. 2)

This the 24th day of March, 1870, is a bright balmy day, and we are enjoying gratefully the first breath of Spring after the late cold, wet blustering weather. A beautifully printed paper, white as the liver of our bellicose U. S. Senator, comes to our sanctum on this lovely morning and bears the cheering title “Bright Side.” A pleased glance falls from the editorial eye as it catches the charming name, and then a little lower down is seen “Chicago, March, 1870.” “Eh bien! we will learn all about divorces and the law of divorce,” mutters the uncompromising Union editor. But what’s this?—“A paper for children.” The “Bright Side” is a child’s paper, and published in Chicago! But dear, delightful Bright Side, you don’t explain whether it is for the child or children of the first marriage, the child or children of the second marriage, the child or children of the third marriage, &c., &c.

A good, plain countrywoman of the county of Edgecombe once had a conversation with an inquisitive gentleman, which ran in this way:

Gentleman. You have a large family, madame.

Countrywoman. A right smart chunk of a family.

Gentleman. What are your children?

Countrywoman. Well, they are right pertly mixed, but mostly boys and gals!

Under the very accommodating system of divorce in Chicago, when a wife can change her husband every week in the year, we would think that the Bright Side children would get “right pertly mixed.” At any rate, we thought that it would not be safe to let in a paper from that interesting locality be seen by the children on the “model farm,” until an examination had satisfied us, that it was not a teacher of the loyal and eccentric opinions held by “the city on the lake.” We proceeded then to a patient and impartial investigation. On opening the elegantly gotten up pamphlet, was found a long puff of the Bright Side, written by the editor of the Bright Side himself, but in such a way that it would appear to be written by the editor who published it. “Well,” said Southern Home, “this is looking at the bright side of your paper sure enough.” And now comes the modest bribe to the accommodating editor who will publish the gentle puff:

Publishers of Exchanges inserting the above or equivalent notice, and sending us marked copy of their paper, will receive The Bright Side regularly in exchange, without necessity of sending their own in return.

Publishers who would like to use our paper as a premium, for clubbing, for Sunday Schools, or for any other purpose, and who will keep the accompanying advertisement, or such other as we may send occupying equal space, standing in their papers, may send us orders at the net price of 25 cents per copy.

John B. Alden & Co.

Did you ever? No! I never did. Kind reader, do you think that any Southern editor would publish the big compliment for the sake of the little equivalent? Look out and you will see it in many Southern papers. Take up almost any Southern paper and you will find it full of Northern advertisements of Godey, Demorest, Vick’s Floral Guide, Die Modenweldt, &c., &c. The editor will publish twelve times a year long notices, and throw in his own paper for a year, and get back as his pay twelve copies of that trash. We have known one religious paper give a lengthy tribute of commendation to that unrivalled humbug, the “Onward” of Mayne Reid; another religious paper, within our knowledge, was quite complimentary to Hearth and Home, when that obscene old infidel, Mrs. Stowe, was one of the editors. Many Southern papers have no kind word for their own exchanges and are full of extravagant laudations of every thing from the North. It is not strange, then, that the experiment with Southern monthlies and quarterlies has always proved a failure.

The puff of “Bright Side,” written by the editor, which we will not publish, will be published all over the South, and we will therefore give our readers a few dainty morsels from it, which they may chew and digest at their leisure. We give some touching episodes in the life of an “old war-horse”:

“You may read in your history of the defeat of our brave soldiers under Gen. Sturgis, in Mississippi, where they retreated over ground in three days, which it had taken them two weeks to travel over in going out. There, Jack’s regiment covered the retreat, that is, stopped and fought till the infantry had time to get ahead a little, then would break and run for dear life till they would catch up, then stop and fight again. There, a stumble or lagging of poor Jack’s nimble feet would have, very probably, doomed his rider to a death of starvation at Andersonville.

“Another time, the chase, though fleeter, was not so dangerous or gloomy. ’Twas when our cavalry, under Gen. Mower, was driving the rebel Price from Missouri. They ran, at one time, a hundred miles, over the big prairies, in twenty-four miles, over the big prairies, in twenty-four hours, without stopping to eat or drink. That was pretty hard, don’t you think, on both men and horses? Indeed it was, and only the toughest could stand it. Out of sixty horses of Jack’s company, only eight lived to get back to Rolla.”

Postscript.—Having concluded not to send Bright Side to the “model farm,” we have just thrown it into the fire and it makes a nice, “bright” blaze.

Editors of 19th-century periodicals had one never-ending job: filling those column inches. There could be a lot of inches: Onward was around 92 pages, and advertisements for the Young Folks’ Rural boasted of the 64 columns each issue contained.

There were a number of ways to fill a periodical. Some editors published “correspondence” from writers in other cities, which often covered a wide variety of subjects, from politics to children’s periodicals published in that city. (So far, the only indication that The Fountain could have been published is “Claude” ’s mention of it in one of his “letters” on Southern periodicals. I’m delighted by Claude: he was just completely focused on periodicals and seems to have described every single one he got his hands on. Bless you, Claude, even though I wouldn’t have wanted to hear your politics.) Editors copied pieces from other magazines and newspapers—with or without crediting them. (And, oh, the rancor when the other editor found out you hadn’t credited their periodical.) Or they published whatever was sent to them, which is why the less widely known newspapers have proved so valuable for my research: they were so pressed for text that they printed whatever notices were sent by publishers of children’s periodicals. (And sometimes complained about them; there’s an amusing reaction to one of the suggested notices of Young Folks’ Rural, which the editor who received it called “a cooked up notice for our insertion, which same we inserted into the fire.”)

And, of course, there’s “just write the whole blasted thing, yourself.” Onward’s pages were filled by its editor to the extent that there were complaints. (The editor was Mayne Reid, a British writer well known for his adventure books, whose adventure in American children’s periodicals cost him today’s equivalent of over $100,000. Other editors were— Well, “gleeful” is such an ugly word, but it’s awfully accurate.) One of Louisa May Alcott’s complaints about editing Robert Merry’s Museum is that she was expected to fill most of the pages herself—something that Samuel Griswold Goodrich did for years after he founded the magazine.

So … Why all this verbiage? Because some of what got into early American periodicals for children is … not exactly what you’d expect. For example, this (rather whiny) “explanation” of what editors did. Youth’s Monitor is difficult to find; I’ve seen only the issue digitized as part of the American Antiquarian Society’s Historical Periodicals database. But judging by that issue, it was one of the duller periodicals of the time. (And I have appallingly low standards.) There’s a lot of little essays, some spatterings of informative paragraphs (“Mild winters have happened at a regular periodical distance of twenty-six years, as follows: 1686, 1712, 1738, 1764, 1791, 1816, 1842.”), and driblets of inspirational poetry. This issue is from the Monitor’s last year, when it may have been on its last legs. But still

“The Editor” is probably more interesting to 21st-century readers than it was to its original audience. It points up the difficulties of putting together the text for 19th-century periodicals—a topic important to those of us obsessed with researching their history. There’s a layer of venting that’s entertaining, as the editor—possibly D. C. Colesworthy—reveals frustrations in the lives of several editors. There’s a hint that it would be nice if people paid for their paper.* The layer of humor is probably unintentional, as the editor points out that, now that they know of the “perplexities and trials” of editing, children probably won’t want to become one; and that instead they’ll want to take up “some honest trade”—hinting, of course, that editing … isn’t.

This, by the way, is what keeps me researching early American periodicals for children. They get a little slick and professional later in the century. But earlier you get strange stuff like this. Makes research fun.

“The Editor” (from The Youth’s Monitor. 9 April 1842; p. 1)

It is the business of an Editor of a periodical, to select the copy for the paper, and to enable him to do this, he receives papers (free of postage) from all parts of the Union in exchange for his own.—All communications, designed for publications, must be sent to him. If he thinks they are worthy of a place in his paper, he publishes them; if not, he puts them on file, or throws them into the fire.—Sometimes an Editor receives a communication containing excellent ideas, but clothed in very bad language. This he corrects, and so much so, that the writer himself would hardly know it in print.—He is often perplexed to know what to do with some articles he receives; he is afraid, if he publishes them, it will offend some of the readers of his paper; and if he refuses, he does it at the hazard of losing the support of the contributors.—Very often he receives an article, with something like the following appended to it: ‘Mr. Editor, please publish the enclosed and oblige a young writer.’ Or, ‘A constant reader is desirous that you would insert the above.’ Or, ‘It will gratify a subscriber, should you deem the enclosed article worthy a place in your interesting paper.’ Now, in such cases, what can an Editor do? As we said before, he is placed in a trying situation; he wishes to please all and to offend none. And we never knew an Editor—and we are acquainted with a great many—who had not some enemies.—One told us not long since, that he refused to publish an article sent a year or two ago, and from that time to this, the writer has felt unpleasant towards him.—An Editor has a great many readers to please, of a variety of tastes. Some readers are pleased with one article while another will not spend time to read it.—He also receives a great many letters of complaint. He fills his columns with too long articles, say some—while others complain they are too short. You are too serious say some, while others contend he is too light. Sometimes an Editor is vexed as he goes to the post office, and there finds a letter, postage unpaid, written by a subscriber, stating that he wishes to have the direction of his paper altered, or that he did not intend to take it longer than last year, and shall not feel authorized to pay for it after that time.

Thus you see, young friends, how difficult and trying it is to be an Editor.—When we think of the poor man, it brings to mind the fable of the ass; whichever way he moves, he is sure to offend. To-day he receives a pat for his fearlessness in exposing some particular vice of the community. To-morrow he will be summoned to prove the truth of his assertion. And thus it will be through his whole editorial career—pleasing and displeasing—hated and beloved.

When the copy is furnished by the Editor, it is given to the printer. And before the paper goes to press, it is his duty to read it carefully, and correct all the mistakes.

We know, children, you will never wish to be Editors, after you have known their perplexities and trials—you would rather work at some honest trade, take their papers, and pay for them, and occasionally try to write well enough to have something of your own published in their columns—would you not?


* Believe it or not, the tradition in the 19th century was for a periodical to be sent to subscribers even if they hadn’t paid for it. Sometimes there was one price if subscribers paid in advance, and a higher one if they paid later. And if you failed to pay for the subscription’s renewal, you received the periodical anyway, sometimes for years; the only way to signal that you no longer wanted to subscribe was to send back the issue. Editors often tried to guilt readers into paying for their subscriptions. (Robert Merry’s Museum pointed out that surely subscribers wouldn’t want “Robert Merry”—the fictional editor—to go hungry, so please please pay up.) Some editors of periodicals for adults actually published the names of delinquent subscribers in the paper. Begging for dollars was pretty standard in children’s periodicals, so the hint here that readers would like to “pay for them” is probably there for a reason.

In honor of the publication (cue trumpets! cue 1000 singers! signal the dancing mastodons!) of the 2nd edition of American Children’s Periodicals, 1789-1872, I present the following:

People seem to like to think that works for children are written and produced by light-minded fools who know not of sex, rock and roll, or the occasional glass of wine. (This stereotype extends also to those who teach literature for children.) But authors are people and so, it is no surprise to discover, are those who publish. In the case of early American children’s periodicals, especially those who publish.

Because when you search databases of small-town newspapers for the names of periodicals, editors, and/ or publishers, you can get quite an eyeful.

When I first began my research, it was all big, unwieldy reference books and poorly researched indexes; and it was impossible to find that much information. Then—lo!—digital databases were formed; and there was more search capability (though part of it was still based on a certain poorly researched index). Then there was full searching of digital databases; but these databases contained the staid, stolid, high-falutin’ newspapers and magazines that seemed to earlier generations worthy of preservation via microfilm—the stuff that makes our culture look its noblest. Yes, there were a sprinkling of mentions of early periodicals for children; but there wasn’t much.

But finding a database specializing in small-town newspapers was … Well, “revelation” is too bland a word. It was more like an explosion. Of new titles (I added 40 to the list!). Of information (I came closer to the date of the first issue of The Flower Basket! I added 300 pages to American Children’s Periodicals, 1789-1872!).

And, yeah, there also was an explosion of scandal, of types which will seem very familiar. (This, by the way, goes beyond the usual hubris of the 19th-century publisher, who puffed his product in every notice and advertisement; if I had a half-dollar for every time a 19th-century American children’s periodical was called “the cheapest and best publication for the young,” my retirement would be a lot more well-funded than it is.)

There’s the acrimonious breakup. When the partnership of the publishers of The Little Forester went to smash, there were simply the founding of The Little Traveler and some enticing sniping: “We caution the public against being influenced by a circular, issued by Mr. Howard Durham. We have found him unworthy of confidence. Influenced by editorial jealousy, he suddenly deserted his post and violated all his engagements with us. Now he undertakes the labor, as he himself expresses it, of ‘sinking us in an infamous oblivion.’ ” This was published in The Little Forester. For children. Who probably had no idea what the editor was talking about.

Years later and 1000 miles away, however, the breakup of the team of Forde & Collins included larceny, assault, and arrest. William C. Forde and J. Clarence Collins published The Pacific Youth in San Francisco, until 1871, when the partnership was dissolved and Collins appropriated the subscription books and partnered with his brother, working from their own office. Forde, left only with the empty office, then found a minion, and they mugged an agent for the Pacific Youth, taking from him his subscription book and the money he’d collected. The charges for assault and battery were dismissed, but the charge of larceny (Forde took $20) stood. Oh, and Forde supposedly was publishing Youth’s Gazette, which is mentioned in only one newspaper article and of which there appear to be no copies known. See, Collins may have the books, but Forde still had the office and the right to print Pacific Youth, which he apparently decided meant he could publish a paper by some other name and claim it was the Youth. Or maybe he just wanted the subscription money.

(And what I have to ask now is, Did publishing a periodical for children bring in that much money, that you’re willing to commit crime to keep in business? because 19th-century editors and publishers were always complaining that they were losing money. And it sure ain’t profitable to write about 19th-century American children’s periodicals … )

There’s the lawsuit. Our Young Folks will always stand as one of the best American periodicals ever published for children. It printed etchings by Winslow Homer (not, I have to say, his best work) and Mary Hallock. (Spring Whistles is simply gorgeous.) It published Harriet Beecher Stowe and Charles Dickens. Theodore Roosevelt adored it as a boy and as an adult. It’s just a glorious, literate magazine.

Which is probably why E. C. Allen appropriated the title for his … ah … less glorious Our Young Folks’ Illustrated Paper. It’s—yes—an 8-page newspaper, with decidedly unliterary stories. It also featured biographies and portraits of “distinguished scholars” in various high schools—already a feature of Frank Leslie’s Boys’ and Girls’ Illustrated Weekly. Frank Leslie didn’t sue, but the publishers of Our Young Folks did, maintaining that subscribers were fooled by Allen’s title into thinking they were subscribing to the superior magazine. However, both periodicals folded by the end of that year.

There’s the legal shenanigans. Ah, Young Folks’ Rural, which kept flipping its name back and forth between Rural and Monthly, so it looked like two separate periodicals, until I spent an hour or two gnashing my teeth and charting everything out. (Not that I’m bitter, or anything.) Ah, Horatio Lewis, sued for libel by a furniture company that went out of business before the suit could continue. And then arranging some complex financial arrangements that ended with him arrested, bankrupted, and forced to sell his periodical. Ah, karma.

There’s the swindling. In an attempt to get subscribers to pay in advance, publishers offered premiums: a “$15 chromolithograph” (Our Young Folks’ Illustrated Paper), books (Robert Merry’s Museum), sewing machines (Robert Merry’s Museum), the entire catalog of your average hardware store. Unsurprisingly, there sometimes was a gap between the promise and the premium. Subscribers to Our Young Folks’ Illustrated Paper didn’t always get what they paid for, as one subscriber complained, “The papers have not yet been forthcoming, ditto the pictures. Neither has the agent, who has been written to, been heard from in reply. Nor, indeed, does the Publishing Company, who have been written to about the matter, seem disposed to throw any light upon the subject. Is the whole thing a swindle?”

But the record is held by The Young Folks Gem, which once spent two pages of an eight-page issue listing its premiums. Hyperbole seems to have been in the very ink of this paper, which reprinted a notarized document asserting that there were, indeed, 60,000 copies of the Gem printed monthly (implying that there were 60,000 subscribers; at the time, 20,000 was a substantial number) and included an editorial piece entitled “Are our Premiums a Swindle?” The answer was “yes,” according to Harry Allen, who collected money from his friends, sent it, and then collected more subscribers and subscriptions: “After waiting a long time I received as the premium for my first club a few diminutive tools made of bass wood and tin, not worth a cent for use and costing, may be, ten cents. I also received the picture for each member of the first club, which I delivered to them. Several weeks after I received as a premium for the second club a small magnifying glass, but the pictures for the second club were never sent, and the paper was never sent to either of the clubs. I wrote to Mr. Clark [the publisher] several times asking him to send the papers and pictures that had been promised and paid for, but he paid no attention to my request. … I got my Pa to write Mr. Clark for me, but he had no better success than I.” The Gem lasted another year after Allen’s complaint.

And there’s the catfishing. Which leads to the attempted murder. The long tradition (see Cyrano de Bergerac) of creating a fictitious—and, sometimes, seductive—person through written text has not died in the age of online social media. It was a force in the 19th century, too, with Stephen R. Smith, the young editor whose Forest Garland had just folded, pranking a friend named Jessup by pretending to be a love-struck young woman eager to exchange letters with Jessup. The prank took a racist turn when Jessup and his correspondent were to meet: “The lady was to pass Alf Burnett’s saloon in a carriage, and at a signal, Jessup was to hand her out. Of course, he was all impatience for the arrival of the happy moment. A number of those in the secret were present, and when to the horror of Jessup, the lady proved to be a very sooty wench; they were overjoyed at his shame and the result of their trick. Not satisfied with this, Smith had the letters published with such comments, and slight alteration of names as informed everybody who was meant.” Unsurprisingly, Jessup took this badly and shot Smith, who appears to have survived. (Though if he’s the Stephen R. Smith appearing in later 19th-century newspapers, this was just the beginning of a … colorful life.)

So, yes, there is more than sugar and innocence to early American periodicals for children. And to researching them. There’s wondering if you’re ever going to find out any more information about The Bubble other than it was maybe published in 1849 in probably New York City and could possibly be for children. There’s wishing you knew more about St. Alfonso’s Angel (which could also be St. Alphonsus’ Angel), a Catholic paper that sparked a positively libelous letter in a Vermont newspaper. There’s daydreaming that some day you’ll actually get to see issues of every periodical listed in American Children’s Periodicals, 1789-1872. There’s hoping that you’ll find the titles of even more periodicals. And, of course, there’s dipping into the seamier and very human side of American publishing, made easier by sources much closer to the subject.

(Wow; I really hadn’t planned to present this many ads for quack medicines, but I love the way things get worded, and I find it fascinating that we haven’t changed our bizarre fascination with using weird medicine.)

Ah, research and the things you uncover. Searching “juvenile magazine” at newspapers.com, I was chagrined to find a piece apparently reprinted from a “Phil. Juvenile Magazine.” What Philadelphia juvenile magazine? Did I miss one? And what’s the piece?

The “piece” turned out to be an advertisement for Kemp’s Worm Pastilles. (Not what it sounds like.) The “Philadelphia juvenile magazine” turned out to be— I’m still not sure. There were multiple children’s periodicals published in Philadelphia in 1857. If it was Robert Merry’s Museum or The Little Pilgrim, it may have appeared in an advertising section or on the covers. John Newton Stearns might have printed the thing—he printed just about anything—but I don’t think Sarah J. Lippincott would have printed an advertisement like this.

I mean, look at that headline: “Giving Poison to Children.” That’s the finest kind of clickbait—you just have to take a look, because who would want to poison children? And use of the word “pastille,” which is—yes—a medicated tablet, but is also a candy.

But an ad that pretends to be a piece reprinted from a “Philadelphia juvenile magazine” … The format is exactly the format used for reprints: headline in small caps as the first phrase of the paragraph; source at the end, sometimes set apart with a square bracket. In fact, until you get to the name of the product, it does read like the kind of piece you might find in a magazine for women—especially parents concerned that intestinal parasites are harming their children. It’s an advertisement shaped like an informative article; and we don’t still do that, do we? And (1) “juvenile magazine”—how wholesome! With (2) “Philadelphia,” land of 10,000 members of the Society of Friends. There are a number of 19th-century American pieces satirizing them as hypocritical lowlifes, but they’re also presented as pure of mind and soul and honest as the sequoia is tall. So we have wholesomeness with a side order of truthfulness and purity—just what you want in an advertisement for a children’s medicine.

Did the “pastilles” work? Who knows. So often, if the effect of the medication isn’t as desired, the doser or the patient gets the blame. I’m sure it was then just as it is now: if it don’t work, you did it wrong.

“Giving Poison to Children” (from The Louisville Daily Courier [Louisville, Kentucky] 9 November 1857; p. 3)

Giving Poison to Children.—Hundreds of thousands of children have been poisoned, with the best intentions in the world. We do not now refer to the result of accidental mistakes—such as the substitution of laudanum for paregoric, or oxalic acid for Epson Salts; but to the practice which prevails of dosing the young with improper medicines. It is bad enough to administer nostrums impregnated with mineral poison to adults, whose more vigorous vitality enables them better to withstand the deleterious influence; but to give mercurialized preparations to young children is downright madness. And yet this is done daily, and, as we have said, with the best intentions. The nauseous vermifuges forced with such persistent folly down the throats of children, in defiance of their young instincts, and in contempt, it would seem, of common sense, belong to this class of medicines. Calomel is their staple ingredient. Now it is not to be denied that calomel will sometimes destroy worms; but it is a corrosive poison, and cannot be absorbed into the tender system of children without periling their lives.

Why should it be employed when a vegetable preparation like Kemp’s Worm Pastilles will answer the purpose infinitely better? Chemical analysis has demonstrated that these Pastilles contain no mineral substance; and experience has proved that even where calomel fails, they produce the desired effect. It appears that they contain within themselves all the elements of cure; requiring no medicine of any kind to be taken before or after them.

Another peculiarity is giving Kemp’s Pastilles an immense popularity among mothers. They have neither the appearance nor the taste of physic. Never was a remedy for diseases more pleasant to the eye or more palatable. They are just the articles that a child would invest its pennies in at the confectioner’s. Then their operation, unlike that of calomel, is quite harmless. These are merits which it is almost unnecessary to commend to the attention of judicious mothers. They can appreciate without argument, the blessings of an infallible cure for worms in the disguise of tempting “candies.” We can sympathize with all urchins condemned to swallow disgusting potions. The time when our own throat was the conduit for that sort of thing yet lives in our recollection. Ugh! we shudder as we recall the spoon and its thick, black contents!—[Phil. Juvenile Magazine.


A couple notes: The “thick, black” medicine, was possibly sulphur and molasses, which was the homemade cure-all of earlier generations. And the image of a little child investing its pennies at the confectioner’s shop is a far cry from the diatribe against candy shops reprinted in Parley’s Magazine a generation earlier.

Nineteenth-century publishers chased just about every money-making avenue there was, including, in the case of A. W. Wilgus (publisher of a very short-lived periodical for school children), acting as agent for the maker of a … creative medication. Brandreth’s Pills apparently cured everything from fever to “costiveness”—a polite word for constipation—by passing through every part of the body, then politely “evacuating” with whatever disease the Pills were intended to cure.

It’s a hyperbolic ad, with Brandreth claiming that the Pills (capital letter used pretty consistently) work in accordance with Holy Writ and asserting that most people are walking around half dead, which explains why some corpses putrify faster than others. (I just can’t think why that last part has dropped out of advertising for today’s medications … )

Brandreth’s ad for the Pills is full of mystery and woo: the life-giving pills cleansing humors and clearing up just about anything that might ail a person. It’s earnest, it’s unspecific, and it has the wordiness of prose meant to lull you into reaching for your wallet. The insistence that the Pills are so wonderful that they’re being counterfeited, that address—so specific—and the paragraph on Brandreth’s copyright are likely intended make the whole thing look even more legitimate.

The woo factor is, of course, entertaining, and we tend to snicker at the kind of assertions Brandreth makes; but we haven’t actually grown past that, have we? People buy shoe insoles that are supposed to suck toxins out of their bodies and make their children drink bleach for … well, I’m not really sure what. Apparently we still believe in magic.

Here, though, you have the magic of words. A lot of words.

“The Brandreth Pills” (from the Commercial Advertiser and Journal [Buffalo, New York] 20 July 1842; p. 4)

At the present time, when the counterfeiters of these celebrated Pills are completely cornered, it is not surprising to find that they endeavor to get off their stock of spurious pills under any name. It is not the first time that the “poor Indian” has had to father the abortions of cunning men. The remarkable cures which have been effected by Brandreth’s Pills, have astonished the whole medical faculty, many of whom have considered that they are the greatest blessing that was ever given to the world. The reason these pills have such universally good effect is, because their action harmonizes with the human body.

“Purge out the old leaven, that ye may become new lump,” is the language of Holy Writ, a figure applied spiritually, it is true, but how could it have any application unless confirmed by practical experience in the body of matter? The foundation upon which this figure of scripture rests is as immoveable as the laws which govern the tides, or occasion the thunders of Heaven.

The Condition.”—The condition upon which God has given health to man is a constant care to keep his stomach and bowels free from all morbid and unhealthy accumulations. The means to effect this must be those remedies which cleanse the bowels and purify the blood.

Good healthful medicine is only a species of food; when the animals, whose habits we have the means of observing, are sick, they wander through the fields, and make selections of those herbs which open their bowels and purify their fluids, which immediately restore their health.

When a dose of Brandreth’s Pills are taken, they are digested, and pass to every part of the system; but they leave the body when they have effected the intended purpose, and health and vigor are by them ensured.

Mineral medicines may enter the system; but they are with difficulty got out again, and they always occasion pain and misery while they remain in the body.

Whereas Brandreth’s Pills are as innocent as a piece of bread, and are evacuated with the disease for which they are taken. From the time we are born to the time we cease to breathe, our bodies are constantly wasting, and as constantly building up. The action of the atmosphere wears or wastes them. The food we eat, the digestive organs convert into blood, which renews or builds up by its circulating power. Thus the human body is healthy when the blood circulates freely, and when any thing prevents its free course thro’ the veins, disease commences.

Costiveness, Dyspepsia, Fevers, Inflammations, are all owing to this, and all the troubles attending them could always be prevented by the timely use of Brandreth’s Pills, as their very action at once tends to clear the circulation of all impediment, and remove every cause or occasion of impurity from the blood. There are thousands—nay, millions—at this moment, in this country, and all others, whom we may really consider as half dead. They may be said to carry their death in their bowels and circulation. This is no imaginary circumstance. I wish it were. The thousands whom we meet every where with cadaverous looks, yellow skins, and green eyes, speak in a language not to be mistaken, of the state of their stomach and bowels, and the consequent condition of their blood. The body is thus, while in life, reduced to the condition of a corpse; and the reason why some bodies are so soon in a putrid condition after death, is more from the quantity of impure humors contained in them at the time they expired, than from any other cause. And who is there that will not allow, that if Brandreth’s Pills had been employed, so as to have removed those impure humors, that life might not have been saved? Whoever will but give this subject a very little consideration, will at once perceive the perfect identity between the putrid humors of the body before death, and the humors which occasion the peculiar fœtor of a dead body.

THE COUNTERFEIT’S DEATH BLOW.

The public will please observe that no Brandreth’s Pills are genuine unless the box has three labels upon it, each containing a facsimilic signature of my hand writing, thus—B. Brandreth. These labels are engraved on steel, beautifully designed, and done at an expense of several thousand dollars. Remember the top, the side, and the bottom.

PRINCIPAL OFFICE, 241 Broadway, opposite the City Hall, New York ONLY.

Entered according to act of Congress, in the year 1841, by Benjamin Brandreth, in the Clerk’s Office of the District Court of the Southern District of New York.

Always been thus, 1859

March 13, 2020

I’m old enough to have soaked in the “fact” that second-wave feminists were all just ugly, unattractive women who couldn’t get a man and were just jeeeeealous of pretty ones who could … Oh, please.

Looking at stuff published about the Philanthropic Convention in Buffalo, New York, in 1859 (in search of other mentions of the children’s paper published by Anna Denton Cridge), I’ve been soaking in bits of aftermath—many of them sarcastic.

Like the “fashion report” reprinted in a North Carolina paper. Apparently, some of the women attending the Convention wore—are you sitting down? have you prepared yourself for the horror?—bloomer dresses. Bloomer dresses! Fetch the smelling salts!

Plus, the men reporting this thought the women were ugly. Yeah, some things don’t change.

“Bloomers” (from The Buffalo Daily [or Weekly—it doesn’t say] Republic; reprinted in the Newbern Daily Progress [New Bern, North Carolina] 28 Sept 1859; p. 2)

We have noticed, says the Buffalo “Republic,” many of the women who have attendid [sic] the philanthropic Convention, now in session in this city, dressed in the bifurcated raiment peculiar to men, and the stiff blouse of silk goods, peculiar to nobody but Bloomers. It is a singular fact that among them all there is not a pretty woman, nor did we ever see a pretty woman who would deprive herself of all curves of beauty, and grace of flowing robe, to dive into such inconveniences, and paraded their unbustled, uncorsetted and unearthly charms.


Whatever did they think they were seeing, when they looked at women arrayed in yards of skirt and acres of petticoat and mounds of bustle? “Curves of beauty”—did anyone really think women were actually shaped that way, without corsets or wads of cloth? At this end of the time period, it’s difficult to see any bloomin’ [sorrynotsorry] difference between miles of cloth in the shape of a dress and miles of cloth in the shape of something less likely to expose your nether naughtiness if the wind caught you just wrong.

And that “grace of flowing robe” could get pretty ungraceful when it got wet or had been draggled through the muddy (and—let’s face it—manure-y) streets or was accidentally stepped on by a stumbling adolescent.

And those Bloomer outfits could look pretty great:

two women in Bloomer dress

And, really, why wouldn’t a woman who felt she was actually able to walk not be pretty bloomin’ (again, sorrynotsorry) attractive? unless you wanted them hobbled …