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Friday, 27 August 2010

Mr Knightley's Bedtime Reading?

If Jane Austen’s hero Mr Knightley (Emma) wanted an entertaining bedtime companion, he might have chosen the latest issue of the Gentleman’s Magazine, which was founded by Edward Cave under the nom-de-plume 'Sylvanus Urban'.  The first issue, which appeared in January 1731, included a report on the ‘Melancholy Effects of Credulity in Witchcraft’ concerning recent witch trials in Somerset, and Pennsylvania in America.
Dr Samuel Johnson, then an unknown, starving hack writer, was an early contributor. Johnson had no regular income until Cave took him under his wing. The magazine published essays of antiquarian interest, reviewed the latest books such as Austen’s Emma, and included human interest stories like that of ninety year old William Crossman, a Somerset man who ‘kept his coffin by him for fifty years, and used it as a cupboard.’ (July 1824).
This immensely popular publication lasted right into the twentieth century. You can find out more about the Gentleman’s Magazine success story in the latest issue of Jane Austen's Regency World. There are also some early issues of the magazine at The Internet Library of Early Journals.
Images from the author’s collection:
Edward Cave. Boswell’s Life of Johnson, (Routledge, Warnes, & Routledge, 1859).
Portrait of Joseph Cradock (1741-1826), Senior Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries, Gentleman’s Magazine Vol. XCVII, January 1827.
Frontispiece of Gentleman’s Magazine Vol. XCVIII (July-Dec 1828), depicting the newly built St Katharine’s Hospital, Regent’s Park London, the Master’s House and coats of arms.

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