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History of Political Economy 33.4 (2001) 671-696

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Economists and the Laity:
Economic Articles in the Three Leading British Reviews, 1870–1910

Jeff Lipkes


The following observations are based on a quantitative analysis of articles on economic topics in the three leading reviews in Britain between 1870 and 1910: the Fortnightly Review (FR), the Contemporary Review (CR), and the Nineteenth Century (NC). Table 1 lists the editors of the three reviews and the dates of their tenures. Table 2 shows economic articles and articles on religious subjects as a percentage of the entire contents of the journals over the four decades. Table 3 contrasts the percentages of articles on specific economic topics in the three reviews between 1891 and 1910 with the percentage of such articles in the Economic Journal (EJ) and the Quarterly Journal of Economics (QJE) over the same period. Table 4 displays the changing percentages of economic articles devoted to various subcategories over five-year intervals. [End Page 671] 1

The evidence reveals (1) a steep decline in the percentage of articles on religious subjects in the reviews; (2) a small rise in the percentage of articles on economic subjects; and, the most significant finding, (3) a sharp fall in the percentage of the latter devoted to economic theory. The comparison of the reviews and the new scholarly journals illustrates the extent to which the journals, despite high percentages of articles treating topical issues, superseded the reviews as venues for the discussion of theory.


I believe that the FR, CR, and NC fairly accurately represent the opinions of educated men and women in Britain during this period.

“The venerable old wooden three-deckers, the Edinburgh Review and the Quarterly Review, still put out to sea under the command, I believe, of the Ancient Mariner,” Mark Pattison (1877, 663) observed, “but the active warfare of opinion is conducted by the three new iron monitors, the Fortnightly, the Contemporary, and the Nineteenth Century. In these monthlies the best writers of the day vie with each other in soliciting our jaded appetites on every conceivable subject. Indeed the monthly periodical seems destined to supersede books altogether. Books are now largely made up of republished review articles.” The assessment was reconfirmed in the 1890s. [End Page 672] 2

Apart from the talents of the editors in soliciting and selecting material (they did virtually no “editing”), the success of the three reviews can be attributed to two innovations: the introduction of signed articles and a symposium format. (On the decision to abandon anonymity, see Everett 1939, 1–3, 9, 17; Trollope [1883] 1936, 172–73, 494–95; 1865; Lewes 1866, 890; and Morley 1882, 514.) It was James Knowles, then at the CR, who must be credited with exploiting the full potential of signed articles. As W. T. Stead (1891, 510) put it cynically in 1891, “Editing of the tuft-hunting variety seldom has had a more successful exponent than Mr. Knowles. While other editors have sought for articles, he has sought for names, and he has made a golden harvest out of the quest. [End Page 673]3

Having secured famous names,4 Knowles staged confrontations. Eminent intellectuals and leading politicians went head to head over such irresistible topics as “the effect of a decline in religious belief on morality,” the subject of the NC's first symposium.

Moreover, by 1880, if not earlier, the three reviews were appealing to substantially the same audience. A writer in one review would respond to an article in another. Their practices were similar: under Frank Harris, Stead (1891, 510) complained, the FR had become “as much a mere menagerie of names as the Nineteenth Century, the only difference being that one Barnum is named Harris and the other Barnum Knowles.” The politics of the three reviews was also close, as the once-radical FR drifted rightward, while the CR, founded to “counteract the secular and potentially agnostic attitudes of the FR” (Glasgow 1986, 91), shifted slightly to the left (Mason 1978; Parry 1989). All welcomed...


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pp. 671-696
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Archived 2005
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