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Inaugural Poems in Victorian Periodicals
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New or re-launched Victorian periodicals often published as their very first item, in their very first issue, a poem to define the “personality”, ideological orientation, and readership community of the title. These inaugural poems emphasized the cultural value of poetry to the periodical, a value that enhanced the periodical’s claim to literary prestige and also the serial’s educational, political, or religious mandate. The poems are usually — but not always — meta-textual commentaries on the aims and ambitions of the periodical. Sometimes the relationship between the inaugural poems and the periodical is harder to decipher.

The crucial factor is placement. When inaugural poems are positioned first, in the first issue of a new periodical, as the initial contribution, usually their status as the interpreter of the title’s “personality” is clear (see, for example, Edwin Arnold’s poem for Atalanta). When the first poem in a new title is placed later in the volume the relationship to the periodical overall is less certain and open to interpretation (as with Good Words‘ first poem, “Little Things”, and Woman’s World‘s “Hazely Heath”, respectively discussed by Caley Ehnes and Kathryn Ledbetter). The positioning of poems within each separate part of a periodical title conveys important information about the conceptual place of poetry overall, which was part of what Robert L. Patten and David Finkelstein term the “editor function”. Poetry is often placed repeatedly in the same position in a periodical part: such as at the beginning, after a fictional instalment, and at the very end of the issue before the advertisements. In addition, poetry read across periodical issues often creates a pattern in terms of the visual layout and illustration, linking poems across issues as well as within each issue.

The Database of Victorian Periodical Poetry offers many inaugural poems, some of which are listed below. What features do different inaugural poems share? Are inaugural poems a poetic category all of their own? What do they tell us of the cultural value of poetry at a title’s launch? Do inaugural poems always have to be on the first page? Here I interpret the category of inaugural poems as generously as possible to include the first poems published in the first issue of a periodical title.

Unsigned, “To My Bird (Adelaide)”, The Keepsake, 1829, 19-20.

Leigh Hunt, “Abraham and the Fire-Worshipper. A Dramatic Parable,” Household Words, 30 March 1850, 12-13.

Edmund Ollier, “The City of Earthly Eden,All the Year Round, 30 April 1859, 11-13.

Shirley Brooks, “Once a Week”, illustrated by John Leech, in Once a Week, 2 July 1859, 1.

Unsigned, “Little Things”, Good Words, January 1860, 15.

Edwin Arnold, “Atalanta,” illustrated by F. Somerville Morgan, Atalanta, October 1887, 2-3.

Violet Fane, “Hazely Heath”, Woman’s World, November 1887, 16.

Richard Le Gallienne, “Tree-Worship,” The Yellow Book, April 1894, 57-60.

Algernon Charles Swinburne, “A Roundel of Rabelais,” Pageant, 1 (1896): 1.


Works Cited

Caley Ehnes, “‘Little Things’: Poetry, The Periodical Press, and Good Words

Kathryn Ledbetter, “Time and the Poetess: Violet Fane and Fin-de-Siècle Poetry in Periodicals,” Victorian Poetry Spring 2014 (52.1)

Robert L. Patten and David Finkelstein, “Editing Blackwood’s; or, What Do Editors Do?”, Print Culture and the Blackwood Tradition, 1805-1930. Ed. David Finkelstein. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2006.


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