Poetess Tradition

The Poetess Archive

Monologue, or Soliloquy on the Annuals               TEI-encoded version

"Monologue, or Soliloquy on the Annuals"

John Wilson

[In Blackwood's Edinburgh Magazine vol. 26 (December 1829), pp. 948-976: ]

PERIODICAL Literature -- how sweet is the name! [...] We often pity our poor ancestors. [...] What a weary waste must have seemed expanding before their eyes between morning and night! [...] True, ladies sighed not then for periodicals -- but there, in the depths of their ignorance, lay their utter wretchedness. [...] True that many sat all life-long at needle-work; but is not that a very sew-sew sort of life? Then oh! the miserable males! We speak of times after the invention, it is true, of printing -- but who read what were called books then? Books! no more like our periodicals, than dry, rotten, worm-eaten, fungous logs are like green living leafy trees, laden with dews, bees, and birds, in the musical sunshine. What could males do then but yawn, sleep, snore, guzzle, guttle, and drink till they grew dead and got buried? [...] [D]eath itself is no relief to the dulness; a funeral is little better [...] ; along with the sables is worn a suitable stupidity by all the sad survivors – And such, before the era of Periodicals, such was life in merry England. Oh! dear! – oh! dear me!

[...][I]n the times we allude to (don’t mention dates) there was little or no reading in England. There was neither the Reading Fly nor the Reading Public. What could this be owing to, but the non-existence of periodicals? What elderly-young lady could be expected to turn from house affairs, for example, to Spenser's Fairy Queen? [...] As to Shakespeare, we cannot find many traces of him in the domestic occupations of the English gentry during the times alluded to [...] . We have Mr Wordsworth's authority for believing that Paradise Lost was a dead letter, and John Milton virtually anonymous. We need say no more. Books like these, huge heavy vols. lay with other lumber in garrets and libraries. As yet, periodical literature was not; and the art of printing seems long to have preceded the art of reading. It did not occur to those generations that books were intended to be read by people in general, but only by the select few. Whereas now, reading is not only one of the luxuries, but absolutely one of the necessaries of life, and we no more think of going without our book than without our breakfast; [...] -- Thomas Campbell and Thomas Mo[o]re sweeten tea for us -- [...] .

We have not time [...] to trace the history of the great revolution. But a great revolution there has been, from nobody’s reading anything, to everybody’s reading all things; and perhaps it began with that good old proser Richardson. He set the public a-reading, and Fielding Smollett shoved her on -- till the Minerva Press took her in hand -- and then -- the Periodicals. But such Periodicals! The Gentleman's Magazine --God bless it then, now, and forever!-- the Monthly Review, the Critical and the British Critic! The age had been for some years literary, and was now fast becoming periodical. Magazines multiplied. Arose in glory the Edinburgh, and then the Quarterly Review -- Maga,1 like a new sun, looked out from heaven [...] --and last of all, "the Planetary Five," the Annuals,2 hung their lamps on high; other similar luminous bodies emerged from the clouds, till the whole circumference was bespangled, and astronomy became the favourite study with all ranks of people, from the King upon the throne to the meanest of his subjects. Now, will any one presume to deny, that this has been a great change to the better, and that there is now something worth living for in the world? Look at our literature now, and it is all periodical together. A thousand daily, thrice-a-week, twice-a-week, weekly newspapers, a hundred monthlies, fifty quarterlies, and twenty-five annuals! No mouth looks up now and is not fed; on the contrary, we are now in danger of being crammed; an empty head is as rare as an empty stomach; the whole day is one meal, one physical, moral, and intellectual feast; the Public goes to bed with a Periodical in her hand, and falls asleep with it beneath her pillow.

What blockhead thinks now of reading Milton, or Pope, or Gray? Paradise Lost is lost; it has gone to the devil. Pope's Epistles are returned to the dead-letter office; the age is too loyal for "ruin seize thee, ruthless king," 3 and the oldest inhabitant has forgotten "the curfew tolls." 4

All the great geniuses of the day are Periodical. The Scotch Novels -- the Irish Novels -- the English Novels -- the American Novels -- the Family Library -- the Library of Useful and Entertaining Knowledge -- Napier's History of the Spanish War -- Tytler's History of Scotland -- Chalmers's Civic Economy -- But what is the need of enumeration -- every work worth reading is published in numbers [...] .

What Donkey was the first to bray that the Annuals, the subject of this our Monologue, were introduced into this country from Germany? Gentle reader, did you ever see a German Annual, or Literary Almanack? [...] . But you know better -- you know that the Annuals are a native growth of the soil of England, springing up like white and red clover beneath lime (a curious fact that) wherever the periodical ploughshare has drawn its furrows. [...]

But lo! arrayed in figure of a fan, and gorgeous as spread-peacocktail -- the Annuals! [...] They have formed themselves into classes beneath our touch -- according to some fine affinities of name and nature; and behold in one Triad, the Forget-me-Not , the Souvenir , and the Keepsake .

One word embraces them all -- Memorials. When "absent long and distant far," 5 the living, lovely, loving, and beloved, how often are they utterly forgotten! But let something that once was theirs suddenly meet our eyes, and in a moment, returning from the region of the rising or the setting sun, lo! the friend of our youth is at our side, unchanged his voice and his smile; and dearer to our eyes than ever, because of some slight, faint, and affecting change wrought on face and figure by climate and by years! Let it be but his name written with his own hand, on the title-page of a book; or a few syllables on the margin of a favourite passage which long ago we may have read together, "when life itself was new," 6 and poetry overflowed the whole world! Or a lock of her hair in whose eyes we first knew the meaning of the word `depth' applied to the human soul, or the celestial sky! But oh! if death hath stretched out and out into the dim arms of eternity the distance -- and removed away into that bourne from which no traveller returns7 the absence -- of her on whose forehead once hung the relic we adore in our despair -- what heart may abide the beauty of the ghost that, as at the touch of a talisman, doth sometimes at midnight appear before our sleepless bed, and with pale uplifted arms waft over us -- so momentary is the vision -- at once a blessing and a farewell!

But we must be cheerful, for these are cheerful volumes, and they are bound in smiles. Yet often "cheerful thoughts bring sad thoughts to the mind," 8 and the eye slides away insensibly from the sunshine to the cloud-shadows, feeling that they are bound together in beauty by one spirit [...] .

But come -- this will never do; we shall never, at this rate, get to the Annuals. Now, then, for the


The name is a good one and belongs, we believe, to a pretty little flower of a truly poetical character, that loves to smile in the shade. Forget-me-Not! why there is no fear -- no danger at least, of that, my love; yet were we to forget thee, for an hour in the day, or a day in the week, where would be the harm? [...] Mr Ackerman, you are one of the best bibliopoles -- Mr Shoberl, though your name is hard to pronounce, you are a most worthy editor. [...] -- Shaded in the solitary arbour there sits, with her lyre laid on roses by her side, the dark-haired Improvisatrice; and we who never saw her face, though we have in numerous verses seen her very soul, cannot but have a dream of L. E. L. [...]

Not much poetry, we observe, in the Forget-me-Not -- so much, perhaps, the better; yet what there is, is either agreeable, curious, or good; or all the three in one, such as the lines by Francis Jeffrey, written originally in a lady's album. [...] -- Barry Cornwall9 often writes beautifully -- but why will he persist in being [...] so Cockneyish? [...] [I]f a man who is privileged to drink of the pure waters of Helicon10 prefer dabbling his lips in the puddle of the New River,11 there seems to be no help for it. 'Tis distressing to hear him who can sing like a nightingale, screeching like a sparrow with a sore throat. will pardon us, but we grieve to see him the only Cockney in the Collection. We are very angry; for we never entirely lose our temper with any poet whose genius has not, in its happier moments, given us delight. As for Lord Byron's boyish verses [...] ; what an absurdity it is for a man of sense, taste, and judgment, like Mr Shoberl, to suppose that any value can be given to his volume by [adding] such verses as the weakest, worst, and most worthless of "Poems by a Minor"12 when we all know that, with one or two exceptions, Byron was ashamed of the very best of them; and that even the very best afforded no intimation of his future genius, which was the sudden growth of his inspired manhood. -- Miss Jewesbury's "Lines on Receiving a Bunch of Flowers from the Author of the Excursion" are worthy of the subject, -- and so beautiful, indeed, that with them we must adorn our Number.


We have no room to praise, and no inclination to abuse, any body else in the the Forget-me-Not [...] . It has long had, and long will have, a deservedly extensive circulation -- its embellishments are beautiful -- and the whole volume inspired by a benign spirit of humanity, which disposes us to think with much esteem and regard of Publisher, Editor, and Contributors, even the stupidest among them, -- and that some of them are pretty stupid in their own way, it would be hypocrisy to conceal, and impudence to deny; but we see no reason why a little occasional and temporary stupidity should not be as excusable in Ackerman's Forget-me-Not , as in Blackwood's Magazine. [...]


1. Blackwood's Edinburgh Review was also called Maga; it is the periodical in which this essay appears. [Poetess Archive Editor.] Back.

2. Also called `Gift Books', collections of poetry published annually and lavishly embellished were the major medium for publication of poetess poetry (see , "Bijoux Beyond Possession: The Prima Donnas of L.E.L.'s Album Poems," and , "The Poet and the Profits: Felicia Hemans and the Literary Marketplace," in and , Women’s Poetry, Late Romantic to late Victorian, 102-114 and 71-101, respectively. [Poetess Archive Editor.] Back.

3. "ruin seize thee, ruthless king" : Wilson quotes the first line of The Bard (1757). [Poetess Archive Editor.] Back.

4. "the curfew tolls" : these are the first three words of the first line of Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard by (1751). [Poetess Archive Editor.] Back.

5. "absent long and distant far" : Wilson quotes , La Douce Chimère (line 29), Poems (1802). [Poetess Archive Editor.] Back.

6. "when life itself was new" : Wilson quotes The Old Man’s Song by , co-author of Poems on the Abolition of the Slave Trade (1809) . [Poetess Archive Editor.] Back.

7. and removed away into that bourne from which no traveller returns: Wilson's phrase comes from Hamlet III.i.78-79: "The undiscover’d country, from whose bourn / No traveller returns." [Poetess Archive Editor.] Back.

8. "cheerful thoughts bring sad thoughts to the mind," : Wilson quotes , Lines Written in Early Spring, Lyrical Ballads (1798) : "In that sweet mood when pleasant thoughts / Bring sad thoughts to the mind." [Poetess Archive Editor.] Back.

9. is the pseudonym for , a name that Wilson uses subsequently, although he erroneously spells it "Proctor." [Poetess Archive Editor.] Back.

10. "Helicon" is the name of a mountain in Boeotia sacred to the Muses (O.E.D.) [Poetess Archive Editor.] Back.

11. The New River is a river in London, tributary to the Thames, at this time providing the metropolis with water; see BOPCRIS: "New River." [Poetess Archive Editor.] Back.

12. Wilson misrembers the title: Hours of Idleness (1807); Byron responded to criticism of the volume by writing and publishing English Bards and Scotch Reviewers (1809). [Poetess Archive Editor.] Back.

Date: 1829 (Coding Revisions: 04/12/2013). Author: John Wilson (Coding Revisions: Laura Mandell).
The editorial work appearing here is copyrighted; the page is available according to the terms of fair use.