Grub Street - Journals and Newspapers in the 18th Century

 class=In 1737, in the hope of making his name as a man of letters, Samuel Johnson went to London. A year later, he wrote a column about London for Edward Cave's the Gentleman's Magazine. Between 1740 and 1743, Johnson also edited the parliamentary debates ("Debates of the Senate of Magna Lilliputia") for the Gentleman's Magazine. Established in January 1731, the Gentleman's Magazine was a monthly digest of news and commentary on any subject within the general interest of the educated public. Read throughout the English-speaking world, it became the most famous journal of its day. For most of his career, Johnson endured a life of poverty and literary drudgery, common to many aspiring authors and hacks of the eighteenth century who tried to make a living by their pen. A decade later, when he was still penniless, Johnson anonymously wrote a series of witty, perceptive essays on aspects of the human condition, which he published in periodical form as the Rambler (1750-52) and The Idler (1758-60). "It is the duty of every man to endeavour that something may be added by his industry to the hereditary aggregate of knowledge and happiness," Johnson wrote in the Rambler on 11 June 1751. "To add much can indeed be the lot of few but to add something, however little, every man may hope." Metaphorically speaking, for much of his life, Johnson lived on Grub Street. In his famous Dictionary, he defined Grub Street in the following terms: "originally the name of a street... much inhabited by writers of small histories, dictionaries, and temporary poems, whence any mean production is called grub street." The major outlet for writers on Grub Street was the periodical press–newspapers, bulletins, journals, and annuals of all kinds.

Although news sheets in Great Britain stem from the period of the Civil War, magazines and newspapers did not really start in earnest until the beginning of the eighteenth century. After the Glorious Revolution in 1688 and the ascendancy of William and Mary to the English throne, citizens were given constitutional rights and liberties. Previous legislation imposing reservations on freedom of the press was permitted to lapse. Periodical publishing flourished, and London quickly became the centre of published news. Serial publications varied considerably in appearance, format, subject, and length. A typical serial publication, consisting of four pages, sold for two pence. Set in several columns, a journal or newspaper would often contain opinion pieces, letters from the public (often with pseudonyms), poetry, excerpts from a larger fictional work, foreign and domestic news, notices of forthcoming books, and advertisements. Published between 1704 and 1713, Daniel Defoe's A Review of the State of the British Nation is one of the earliest instances of periodical publication in which a writer used satirical commentary and positioned himself as a statesman and man of letters. In 1702 when Queen Anne came to the throne, there were only two provincial newspapers in England. By 1760, when George III became King, there were weekly newspapers in twenty-nine English towns.

Literary journals, such as the Tatler (edited by Richard Steele under the nom de plume of Isaac Bickerstaff), the Spectator (edited by Richard Addison and Richard Steele), the London Magazine, Macaroni and Theatrical Magazine, and the Novelist's Magazine were in abundance. Political magazines–the True Briton, the Old Whig, and the Royal Magazine–offered different points of view and allegiance on social questions. Women found magazines to be a fascinating, creative source of literary endeavour and amusement: the Female Spectator and the Lady's Poetical Magazine, for example. Audiences were found among the scientific community and the educated classes in journals, such as the Philosophical Magazine and History of the Works of the Learned. There were annuals devoted to horse racing and cock fighting (the Racing Calendar) and to the gruesome spectator sport of prisoners in the dock and convicts on the way to the gallows (the Malefactor's Register and the Newgate Calendar). Newsletters in manuscript form were penned for select audiences.

Roy M. WilesThis exhibition provides a selection of these wide-ranging documents in periodical form; taken together, they are a reflection of eighteenth-century society and values. We have also included several serial publications in French and German.

The Division of Archives and Research Collections has an outstanding collection of eighteenth-century journals and newspapers. These are individually described in the Library's online catalogue, and a special list of our holdings has been compiled by Mark MacEachern. In addition to standard sets of microfilms and microfiche, such as those provided by the Bodleian Library, the Library houses other unique microfilms, obtained by Professor Roy M. Wiles in 1960s and 1970s when he did his pioneering, scholarly work on serial publication in England. We look forward to the future digitization of these microfilms to assist scholars even further. Notwithstanding the importance of microfilms, the Library also houses many significant serial publications in original form. We dedicate this exhibition to Professor Wiles in recognition of his dedication and passion for this field of study.


Text and selection of documents: Carl Spadoni
Mounting of the exhibition: Renu Barrett
Original Website: Lela Radisevic

 class=In 1737, in the hope of making his name as a man of letters, Samuel Johnson went to London. A year later, he wrote a column about London for Edward Cave's the Gentleman's Magazine. Between 1740 and 1743, Johnson also edited the parliamentary debates ("Debates of the Senate of Magna Lilliputia") for the Gentleman's Magazine. Established in January 1731, the Gentleman's Magazine was a monthly digest of news and commentary on any subject within the general interest of the educated public. Read throughout the English-speaking world, it became the most famous journal of its day. For most of his career, Johnson endured a life of poverty and literary drudgery, common to many aspiring authors and hacks of the eighteenth century who tried to make a living by their pen. A decade later, when he was still penniless, Johnson anonymously wrote a series of witty, perceptive essays on aspects of the human condition, which he published in periodical form as the Rambler (1750-52) and The Idler (1758-60). "It is the duty of every man to endeavour that something may be added by his industry to the hereditary aggregate of knowledge and happiness," Johnson wrote in the Rambler on 11 June 1751. "To add much can indeed be the lot of few but to add something, however little, every man may hope." Metaphorically speaking, for much of his life, Johnson lived on Grub Street. In his famous Dictionary, he defined Grub Street in the following terms: "originally the name of a street... much inhabited by writers of small histories, dictionaries, and temporary poems, whence any mean production is called grub street." The major outlet for writers on Grub Street was the periodical press–newspapers, bulletins, journals, and annuals of all kinds.

Although news sheets in Great Britain stem from the period of the Civil War, magazines and newspapers did not really start in earnest until the beginning of the eighteenth century. After the Glorious Revolution in 1688 and the ascendancy of William and Mary to the English throne, citizens were given constitutional rights and liberties. Previous legislation imposing reservations on freedom of the press was permitted to lapse. Periodical publishing flourished, and London quickly became the centre of published news. Serial publications varied considerably in appearance, format, subject, and length. A typical serial publication, consisting of four pages, sold for two pence. Set in several columns, a journal or newspaper would often contain opinion pieces, letters from the public (often with pseudonyms), poetry, excerpts from a larger fictional work, foreign and domestic news, notices of forthcoming books, and advertisements. Published between 1704 and 1713, Daniel Defoe's A Review of the State of the British Nation is one of the earliest instances of periodical publication in which a writer used satirical commentary and positioned himself as a statesman and man of letters. In 1702 when Queen Anne came to the throne, there were only two provincial newspapers in England. By 1760, when George III became King, there were weekly newspapers in twenty-nine English towns.

Literary journals, such as the Tatler (edited by Richard Steele under the nom de plume of Isaac Bickerstaff), the Spectator (edited by Richard Addison and Richard Steele), the London Magazine, Macaroni and Theatrical Magazine, and the Novelist's Magazine were in abundance. Political magazines–the True Briton, the Old Whig, and the Royal Magazine–offered different points of view and allegiance on social questions. Women found magazines to be a fascinating, creative source of literary endeavour and amusement: the Female Spectator and the Lady's Poetical Magazine, for example. Audiences were found among the scientific community and the educated classes in journals, such as the Philosophical Magazine and History of the Works of the Learned. There were annuals devoted to horse racing and cock fighting (the Racing Calendar) and to the gruesome spectator sport of prisoners in the dock and convicts on the way to the gallows (the Malefactor's Register and the Newgate Calendar). Newsletters in manuscript form were penned for select audiences.

Roy M. WilesThis exhibition provides a selection of these wide-ranging documents in periodical form; taken together, they are a reflection of eighteenth-century society and values. We have also included several serial publications in French and German.

The Division of Archives and Research Collections has an outstanding collection of eighteenth-century journals and newspapers. These are individually described in the Library's online catalogue, and a special list of our holdings has been compiled by Mark MacEachern. In addition to standard sets of microfilms and microfiche, such as those provided by the Bodleian Library, the Library houses other unique microfilms, obtained by Professor Roy M. Wiles in 1960s and 1970s when he did his pioneering, scholarly work on serial publication in England. We look forward to the future digitization of these microfilms to assist scholars even further. Notwithstanding the importance of microfilms, the Library also houses many significant serial publications in original form. We dedicate this exhibition to Professor Wiles in recognition of his dedication and passion for this field of study.


Text and selection of documents: Carl Spadoni
Mounting of the exhibition: Renu Barrett
Original Website: Lela Radisevic