English press: then & now

The Lady's Magazine (1770 - 1800)
"The subjects it treats of are such as are appropriated to the fair.
Subjects that may tend to render your minds not less amiable than your persons."

The Lady's Magazine;
or Entertaining Companion for the Fair Sex

remains
one of the most influential and unique periodicals,
offering a wealth of
information upon subjects from the seriousness
of the French Revolution
to the comparative banalities of
curing cramps

Lady's Magazine - 1773 title page

Lady's Magazine - August 1770

Title Page of the 1773 Lady's Magazine Lady in the Full Dress of August 1770
  The Lady's Magazine was one of the most enduring and influential periodicals of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century.
For six pence a copy, readers were provided with a monthly miscellany promising to both entertain and educate.
Short stories, serialized fiction and poetry were combined with essays extolling the female virtues of propriety and modesty,
advice for wives and mothers, information on fashion, recipes, medicinal 'receipts' offering cures for maladies from cramp to 'hectic fevers', accounts of trials and biographies of famous historical and contemporary figures, enigmas, rebuses and domestic
and foreign news reports.
 
  Publishing history  
  The first issue of the Lady's Magazine appeared in August 1770 as a joint venture between the bookseller John Coote and
publisher John Wheble. During April 1771 Coote sold his interest in the publication to the publishers George Robinson and
John Roberts. The resulting dispute between Coote and Wheble led to a trial in July 1771 which found in favour of
Robinson and Roberts. Undeterred, Wheble continued to publish a rival Lady's Magazine, but was forced to concede
defeat to Robinson and Roberts in December 1772, when the final issue of Wheble's magazine appeared.

Sadly, little is known of the life of George Robinson. According to his DNB entry, Robinson's partner John Roberts
died circa 1776, after which the magazine was published solely under Robinson's name until he later went
into partnership with his son George and brother John, whose name appears on the title page from 1798.
Robinson's precise role in the publication is unclear. It is apparent from reader correspondence printed
within the publication that Robinson was widely assumed to its editor of the Lady's Magazine - a belief probably
corroborated by the fact that the editor's annual addresses to readers appears to have written by a man
to the 'fair sex' rather than by one of them. However, it seems unlikely that such a time-consuming role
was adopted by Robinson, whose publishing interests extended well beyond that of the Lady's. What is certain,
however, is that the Lady's Magazine was a valuable asset to Robinson's publishing business,
already well-known for producing travel books and other noted periodicals including the Critical Review
and the New Annual Register. Not only was the Lady's a popular title with estimated monthly sales of
up to fifteen thousand copies, but Robinson could even use it as a showcase for other literary works in which he had a financial interest.
A further mark of the Lady's success was the numerous imitations it encouraged, the most successful of which was Reverend Stanhope's New Lady's Magazine which ran from 1786 to 1795.

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  Content  
  In its introductory address to readers, the Lady's Magazine outlined its aim to 'render your minds not less amiable
than your persons'. While it would provide sporadic fashion engravings, reports on the latest styles
in London and Paris, embroidery patterns for gowns and aprons and recipes for cosmetics,
the magazine's main concern
, as it so vehemently protested, was for the adornment of its readers' minds.
Such comparative trivialities as dress were counterbalanced by an interest in historical events and biographies of prominent men and women through the ages as well as articles upon world geography ranging from descriptions of topography, foreign customs and dress and description of cities, to a detailed account of james Cook's voyage serialized over a five year period from 1784 to 1789.

While these descriptions were designed to enlarge the reader's mental horizons, much more of the publication
was designed to keep her in the here and now of the domestic household. Essays on subjects such as
methods of child-rearing, the nature and importance of modesty and propriety, social ambition and its pitfalls
and debates upon female education sought to advise women on how to be good wives and mothers.
The Lady's even had its own long-running version of an agony aunt column entitled 'The Matron' which ran
for seventeen years from 1774 to 1791 to which readers could look for advice on subjects such as marriage
and the education of children. In addition, issues often reprinted extracts from popular eighteenth-century conduct
books (such as those of Fordyce and Dr. Gregory), literary works perceived to be of particular artistic
and didactic merit from Addison's Spectator essays to Elizabeth Inchbald's novels, and philosophical and
political works, including those of Rousseau and Wollstonecraft.

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  The construction of a literary community  
  One of the factors that made the Lady's both unique and uniquely successful was its reliance upon the contributions
of readers for much of its content. Extracts from the works of leading literary figures were quite literally placed
side by side with the amateur works of anonymous contributors. The monthly 'To our Correspondents' columns
give the sense of a vibrant and active community of readers and writers producing more works than the publication
room to include. While this unique form of interaction secured an apparently firm following, the magazine's dependence
upon this unpaid labour force often led it into difficulty. Frequently the editor justifies the exclusion of certain
contributions due to their lack of quality, and more frequently has to lament the unreliability of contributors
whose tardiness in providing instalments often led to hiatuses in serial fictions, while other writers simply failed
to complete stories they had begun. Volunteer fashion reporters proved perhaps the most unreliable of all.
Their failure to satiate reader desire for information on the latest styles worn in the metropolis was
a recurrent cause of editorial complaint. Despite these problems, however, the Lady's Magazine remains
one of the most influential and unique periodicals, offering a wealth of information upon subjects
from the seriousness of the French Revolution to the comparative banalities of curing cramp, as well as
providing an insight into how the eighteenth-century periodical sought to construct an ideal of femininity,
and how the eighteenth-century periodical reader sought to construct herself.

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  READ the issues...  
 
  1. AUGUST 1770
  2. JULY 1771
 
     
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