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What the Wellesley Index Left Out: Why Poetry Matters to Periodical Studies
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What the Wellesley Index Left Out:
Why Poetry Matters to Periodical Studies

If poetry is sometimes bracketed as an arcane or elitist literary form apart from popular culture, "magazine verse" has become a signifier of trite or sentimental "filler" worth no one's time. This second assumption underlies the decision of one of the founding documents of periodical studies, the Wellesley Index to Victorian Periodicals, to exclude poetry from its magisterial index. In the preface to volume 1 the fact is simply noted, as if requiring no comment: "poetry . . . is not included." Some demurs prompted this "defensible . . . explanation" in volume 2: "To have included verse would have added an enormous number of worthless items . . . and a large number of obscure authors to be identified and then described . . .."1 Eileen Curran, one of the original Wellesley associate editors, reverses Walter Houghton's policy in her index of Bentley's Miscellany poems.2 Nonetheless, the long-term effect of Houghton's policy has been to discourage attention to poetry as a recurring feature of Victorian periodicals. I contend, however, that poetry should matter to all who are interested in Victorian periodicals whether they care for poetry or not.3 Though I briefly review why periodicals mattered to poets, the more pressing questions, in my view, are why original poetry mattered to Victorian editors and readers and what poetry can tell us about Victorian periodicals as a whole.

Important work on poetry and periodicals has of course been done, including Brian Maidment's study of self-taught artisanal poets; Florence Boos's of working-class women poets; Alexis Easley's of the signed versus unsigned poems of Christina Rossetti; and Kathryn Ledbetter's of Tennyson's career-long engagement with periodicals.4 As their scholarship establishes, poetry like other material in periodicals is context-dependent, inflected by topicality, marketplace competition, available contributors, and the shifting editorial policies and class register of specific titles, as well as by pressures exerted from within poetic tradition and aesthetic innovation. Since it is impossible to speak [End Page 91] knowledgeably about all original poems in periodicals, my argument rests principally upon the following sampling: The Labourer, the Chartist periodical co-edited by poet Ernest Jones and Feargus O'Connor from 1847-1848; the London Journal of 1857-1858, when the editorship passed from George Stiff to Mark Lemon; Cornhill Magazine and Macmillan's Magazine in the 1860s; Fortnightly Review from 1865 into the early 1870s; and Belgravia Magazine from 1877-1878.

The presumptive association of poetry with "filler" is belied by the sheer extent of poems first published in Victorian periodicals that are now deemed canonical. As Appendix I indicates, it is possible to construct a course syllabus using work by canonical poets first published in periodicals. Not only poems responding to public events, like Tennyson's "Charge of the Light Brigade" or Elizabeth Barrett Browning's "Cry of the Children," but also Matthew Arnold's "Stanzas from the Grand Chartreuse"-often considered a defining poem of the era-first appeared in weekly and monthly periodicals. Restoring such poems to their first publication context exposes their participation in cultural dialogues rather than their retreat into autonomous aesthetic realms. In the April 1855 Fraser's Magazine, for example, Arnold expresses the dilemma of "Wandering between two worlds, one dead,/The other powerless to be born" sandwiched between a serial novel and James Anthony Froude's review of Four Years at the Court of Henry VIII.5 The installment of Hinchbrook by historian, novelist, and journalist J. C. Jeaffreson ends with Leonard, soon to sail to India as shipboard surgeon, wishing that he could induce a pious wife to reject Christian dogma and rebel against the abusive husband she "honours as lord and master," while his friend Ardour asserts that she finds comfort in framing her husband's "brutal attack[s]" as "a trial sent from Heaven" (436). Froude's review expresses impatience with the trivia recorded in the diary of Venetian ambassador Giustiniani during the crucial Tudor years of 1515-19. Arnold's representation of a visit to a Carthusian monastery and medieval era of faith from which he is excluded is thus contested...