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Why poetry in Chambers’s Journal matters
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The Database of Victorian Periodical Poetry is currently completing the indexing and scanning of the weekly Chambers’s Edinburgh Journal (which, after 1854, a change to monthly publication, and re-location to London, was re-titled Chambers’s Journal of Popular Literature, Science, and Arts, and which changed again in 1898 to Chambers’s Journal). By the end of March 2014 we aim to include all the poems up to 1883, which marks the end of the fourth series (and, funding permitting, we hope to progress to the end of the century). Currently we have indexed poems between the start of the journal in 1832 and 1879, and our scanning and uploading of images is not far behind. All the RA and work study team are dedicated to completing this phase of the database: Heather Donnova, Willow Falconer, Kylee-Anne Hingston, Sam MacFarlane, and Raya MacKenzie. Thanks to their hard work we have indexed so far 2,100 poems from Chambers’s, which represents around 30% of the total poems in the Database from seventeen periodical titles.

chambers_3_08_201_304_goneIt is clear from these numbers alone that Chambers’s was a major publisher of poetry in the nineteenth century. The magazine’s price (11/2 d at the start, increasing to 7d in 1855 as it became a monthly) attracted a working-class and lower middle-class readership. Its circulation, according to the entry in the Waterloo Directory of English Periodicals and Periodicals: 1800-1900, swung between 24,000 at the start of the journal’s life, an impressive 90,000 in 1840, and 60,000 in 1870. The poems published were a wide range of big name authors (Wordsworth, Hemans, Lamb, Landon, Thomas Hood, Caroline Norton, Mary Howitt, Isaac Watts, Tennyson, Keble, Charlotte Brontë, Meredith, Charles Kingsley), Scottish poets (Scott, James Hogg, Joanna Baillie), American poets (Lydia Sigourney, William Bryant, Longfellow, James T. Fields), and many French poets in translation (such as Hugo). But many, many poets who are unsigned, pseudonymous, and simply untraceable, also published in Chambers’s. The journal is significant to the history of Victorian poetry, and print culture, because it represents the promiscuous mixing of high and low culture in ephemeral print, and it points to a construction of the category “popular poetry” based on a heterogeneous mixture of well known, little known and unknown poets. In other words, Chambers’s Journal points to a history of nineteenth-century poetry that we have not yet fully uncovered.

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