Periodical Essay English Literature

Periodical Essay English Literature-63
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Unlike other publications of the time that consisted of a medley of information and news, essay periodicals were comprised of a single essay on a specific topic or theme, usually having to do with the conduct or manners.In 1764, when William King published as The Dreamer a group of essays (infused with all the qualities of the periodical essay form) which had never been published serially, the serial form may be said to have reached historical closure.Wonderful essays continued to be written—by gifted new writers such as Charles Lamb and by others who perpetuated the stylistic and topical qualities that had made the periodical essay so important.So numerous were these serials, so persistent a feature of the reading diet of people throughout English society during nearly the entire century, and so natural did it seem to an 18th-century author to develop a periodical essay series or at least to contribute a paper or two to a series established by another writer, that any discussion of the periodical essay is most appropriately situated in this period.The confluence of three separate cultural developments appears to have caused the emergence of the periodical essay form early in the 18th century.When the popularity of the form was at its height in the middle and later years of the century, the leading series included: Henry Fielding’s Covent Garden Journal (1752); Samuel Johnson’s Rambler (1750–52) and Idler (1758–60); John Hawkesworth’s Adventurer (1752–54), to which Johnson also contributed; the World (1753–56), which Edward Moore conducted in collaboration with Horace Walpole, the Earl of Chesterfield, and Richard Owen Cambridge; the Connoisseur (1754–56) of Coleman and Thornton; Oliver Goldsmith’s “Chinese Letters” in the Public Ledger (1760), which he published separately as The Citizen of the World two years later; and Henry Mackenzie’s Mirror (1779–80) and Lounger (1785–87).One measure of the popularity of periodical essays was the emergence of an entirely new and separate periodical form, designed to allow readers better access to such literature: in 1731, Edward Cave’s Gentleman’s Magazine was established as a monthly collection of the best periodical essays from the previous month.Instead it followed a question and answer or “advice column” format and is one of the first periodicals to solicit questions from its audience.Readers submitted questions anonymously and their candid inquiries were answered by a collection of “experts” known as the Athenian Society or simply the “Athenians.” (Graham 19) Dunton hinted that the Athenian Society was made up of a group of learned individuals, but in reality the society only consisted of three people who were not necessarily “authorities.” Their identities remained a secret, however, and this is one of the first instances of a periodical using a fictional social group or club to answer questions or narrate.The formal properties of the periodical essay were largely defined through the practice of Joseph Addison and Steele in their two most widely read series, the Tatler (1709–11) and the Spectator (1711–12, 1714).Many characteristics of these two papers—the fictitious nominal proprietor, the group of fictitious contributors who offer advice and observations from their special viewpoints, the miscellaneous and constantly changing fields of discourse, the use of exemplary character sketches, letters to the editor from fictitious correspondents, and various other typical features—existed before Addison and Steele set to work, but these two wrote with such effectiveness and cultivated such attention in their readers that the Tatler and Spectator served as the models for periodical writing in the next seven or eight decades.


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