I have been so beGemmed and beAmuleted and be-forget-me-notted that I have given all these things up.(Alfred, Lord Tennyson)
We beg Somnambulus and others of his stamp to recollect that poetry and verses are not synonymous.(“Notice to Correspondents,” Tuscan Athenaeum)
Good Words are Worth Much and Cost Little.(Quotation from Herbert on title page of each volume of Good Words [1860–1906])
My husband and I are averse generally to the periodical vehicle of publication.(Elizabeth Barrett Browning)
Bored as you are with contributions, many of them doubtless being poems good or bad by unknown authors, I feel ashamed to add the enclosed to the heap: the more so as personal acquaintanceship might make it more unpleasant for you to decline them. Will you therefore give me credit for sincerity when I beg you to accept all or any of the enclosed for Macmillan’s Magazine in case you think them of any use, and to pass upon them a condign sentence of rejection in the (highly probable) opposite case.(Christina Rossetti)1
The Challenge of Periodical Poetry
These epigraphs are a sample of the conflicted and complex Victorian view of periodical poetry: the poems are bountiful yet too bountiful; valuable yet ephemeral; disliked by poets who are nevertheless dependent on periodicals for their career. “The Puff–Poets,” in Chambers’s Edinburgh Journal (March 25, 1843: 73–74), is exemplary in the satire of mass poetry as commercialized, degraded, and (to be quite blunt) generally bad. But, as is becoming increasingly apparent thanks to recent work uncovering periodical poetry, many of the best-known Victorian poems were first published in periodicals. Perhaps most prominently of all, one of the most widely anthologized and recognized Victorian poems, Tennyson’s “Charge of the Light Brigade,” was first published in a the Examiner, on December [End Page 1] 9, 1854 (p. 780), as part of the topical newsprint discussion of the Crimean War. Poetry was intrinsic to the era’s explosion of mass periodical print, adding cultural value and literary prestige for the serial title, and widely circulating and promoting poets to a burgeoning readership.
Poets placed poems in periodicals for many reasons. Poems published in serial print were sometimes part of a bid for book publication, to test the market, exemplified by Rossetti’s rather audacious letter cited above, which led to the acceptance of three poems in Macmillan’s Magazine in 1861 (“Up-hill,” “A Birthday,” and “An Apple-Gathering”), and then to the publication of her first book of poetry, Goblin Market and Other Poems (1862), with Macmillan, the start of a long professional and personal association with the publisher. As Linda K. Hughes comments, the magazine readership for “Up-Hill,” at 20,000, far exceeded that of her poetry volume.2 Indeed, the publication of poetry books and periodical poetry is intertwined through the nineteenth-century network of poets, editors, publishers, and reviewers, and to an extent that we are only beginning to uncover. Periodical publication of a poem was also frequently a marketing strategy to promote poetry volumes, with authors placing poems in a specific periodical readership to advertise a forthcoming book. An example is Barrett Browning’s political poetry in the New York Independent, which were tasters for Napoleon in Italy and Other Poems, a new American edition already contracted by the publisher Francis, who may indeed have placed her first poem in the series (“A Court Lady”) in the same issue of the newspaper that also advertised the volume (March 29, 1860). As Barrett Browning quipped, “think of my having an offer … from a periodical in New York of a hundred dollars for every single poem, though as short as a sonnet—that is, for its merely passing through their pages on the road to the publishers proper,”3 and, indeed, the editor of the Independent, Theodore Tilton, obliged by passing the poems directly to Francis after publication in his newspaper.4 Periodical publication also invited critical notice and promoted and marketed a literary career to a specific periodical readership (such as D. G. Rossetti’s publication of sample sonnets from the House...