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  • “Of the making of magazines there is no end”:W.T. Stead, Newness, and the Archival Imagination
  • James Mussell (bio)

When the british journalist W.T. Stead (1849 to 1912) launched the Review of Reviews in 1890, he excused his new monthly on the basis of its bibliographic function: “Of the making of magazines there is no end. There are already more periodicals than any one can find the time to read. That is why today I have added another to the list. For the new comer is not a rival, but rather an index and a guide to all those already in existence” (“Programme” 14).

Stead’s justification for adding yet another publication to the overwhelming number of periodicals was that his new title would make this abundance manageable. “In the mighty maze of periodical literature,” he writes, “the busy man wanders confused, not knowing exactly where to find the precise article that he requires and often, after losing all his scanty time in the search, he departs unsatisfied” (“Programme” 14; see Mussell and Paylor). The Review of Reviews was intended to “supply a clue to that maze in the shape of a readable compendium of all the best articles in the magazines and reviews” (“Programme” 14). One aspect of the bibliographical challenge presented by periodical publishing could be managed, creating more space in the already crowded market, but at the cost of creating [End Page 69] a further challenge, as the issues of the Review of Reviews joined the other publications accumulating on the shelves.

This paper focuses on the rhythms of periodical publication, particularly the novelty of the current issue and its relationship with the accumulating archive that periodical publication leaves in its wake. The current issue establishes its novelty through the way it differs from its predecessor, yet magazines, like all serials, are predicated on repetition, where novelty is tempered by formal features such as layout, typeface, certain features or articles, even the recurrence of the name itself. The current issue proclaims its novelty but does so within a framework that links it to its predecessor. Equally, the repetition of formal features might temper the new, but the accumulated (and accumulating) back issues constitute a past, a background against which the new can emerge (see Mussell, Nineteenth-Century Press 50–56 and “Elemental Forms).”

The dynamic of seriality means that serials such as periodicals and newspapers address a moment that is provisional and is destined to pass. For the Review of Reviews, which was oriented toward the monthly periodical, its belatedness was unproblematic. However, in Stead’s earlier career as a newspaper editor, firstly on the Northern Echo (1871 to 1880) and then at the Pall Mall Gazette (1883 to 1889), belatedness and provisionality were pressing problems. Whereas each issue of the Review of Reviews was intended to occupy a month before it was relegated to the past, the newspaper had only a day. Throughout his career, Stead experimented with different publication modes in an attempt to manage the flow of seriality. The Pall Mall Gazette, for instance, was complemented by a series of “Extras,” published intermittently when occasion or content permitted. The Extras supplemented the rhythm of the newspaper, allowing Stead to prolong a debate, usually by gathering together timely material and then setting it out at length. While working on the Review of Reviews, he did something similar, using book publication—sometimes in series, sometimes not—to complement the seriality of the magazine, soliciting responses in other periodicals that could, in turn, be recapitulated in the Review.

Stead’s management of rhythm over his career lays bare the central dynamic of serial publication. On one hand, serial publication is structured by a drive for novelty, in which the new replaces the old; on the other, this newness is always tempered by things from the past. Stead’s journalistic instinct—he was oriented toward the new, whether this was the next scandal, the latest technology, his next project—was complemented by his bureaucratic imagination and his concern for the provisionality of the moment and all those moments that had passed. While editing the Pall [End Page 70] Mall Gazette he initiated half-yearly indices...


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pp. 69-91
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