- The Periodical as Monitorial and Interactive Space in Judith Sargent Murray's "The Gleaner"
In 1796, Judith Sargent Murray began an aggressive subscription campaign for the upcoming publication of the book form of The Gleaner, a three-volume collection of her column, "The Gleaner," which was originally published in the monthly Massachusetts Magazine.1 Including a subscription blank in each letter, Murray attempted to sell her text by revealing that The Gleaner contained two volumes of previously unpublished columns. Among the many recipients of her campaign were her literary cohorts Mercy Otis Warren, Sarah Wentworth Morton, and Joseph Dennie. Hoping to ensure the return of Dennie's subscription card, Murray enticed him by indicating that the book would unveil her male narrator and by revealing the esteemed company he would be among: "The Gleaner will contain a reason for my assumption of the masculine character. Possibly the knowledge that I have received the sanction of the Presidents—Washington and Adams—may facilitate the filling up of my subscription."2 While Murray expected to turn Dennie, Morton, and Warren into readers of The Gleaner, these potential readers were in fact best known as authors. Morton, perhaps the most popular poet of her day, responded to Murray's notice both as a willing reader when she completed and returned her subscription card, and as a rival author when she scribbled a letter to Dennie to notify him of Murray's publishing plans. To Dennie, Morton frantically wrote, "Yet you must not presume to flatter yourself with being distinguished as the only Author; for Mrs. Murray has given out Proposals for printing by Subscription 600 Pages of 'The Gleaner'!!! This Intelligence, I conclude, cannot fail to be interesting to you—."3 Morton's intelligence attests to the fact that Dennie was clearly not the "only Author" as they anxiously debated how to respond to the threat of Murray and "600 Pages of 'The Gleaner.'" [End Page 1]
While the casting of Morton, Dennie, and Murray as rivals may initially seem odd, since their authorial projects as sentimental poet, political polemicist, and essayist differ dramatically, their rivalry makes perfect sense when considering that they shared the early American periodical as the vehicle for their poems, diatribes, and lectures. At the end of the eighteenth century, Morton's poetry had appeared in the New York Magazine, the Columbian Centinel, the Gazette of the United States, and the Federal Orrery.4 Dennie had founded the periodicals the Tablet and the Port Folio, edited the Farmer's Weekly Museum, and penned several celebrated columns, such as "The Lay Preacher," "Farrago," and the "Colon and Spondee," all of which were printed and reprinted in various periodicals.5 And, around the same time, Murray had published in the Gentleman and Lady's Town and Country Magazine, the Massachusetts Magazine, the Boston Weekly Magazine, and the Boston Magazine.6 Interestingly, all three authors have in common the Massachusetts Magazine as one of the outlets of their work. The Massachusetts Magazine published Dennie's and Murray's respective series, the "Socialis" and "The Gleaner" and "The Repository," as well as Morton's poems, under the pseudonym "Constantia."7 Morton later changed her pseudonym to "Philenia" after Murray publicly insisted that she was the first to claim the coveted signature.8 The early American periodical, then, operated as the site of a burgeoning literary culture that resulted in the close acquaintance of Dennie, Morton, and Murray and their competing claims to fame.
The periodical functioned not only as an interactive space for authors but between authors and readers as well. During her subscription campaign, which resulted in the impressive sale of eight hundred and twenty-four sets of The Gleaner, Murray corresponded with a large and varied audience, an extension of the interaction that she maintained with her readers in the Massachusetts Magazine. Her relationship with her readers practically spans the history of the Massachusetts Magazine, which claims the honor as "the longest lived of all eighteenth-century American magazines."9 A poem on the death of her son George appeared in the inaugural January 1789 issue, and in February 1792, after the publication of various poems and her...