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  • Indexes:Periodical Parts and the Bookish Afterlife
  • James Mussell (bio)

Nineteenth-century periodicals managed abundance by imagining a future. Positioned between accumulating back issues and the promise of more to come, every issue of a periodical was oriented to a moment destined to pass. Yet with pagination running from one issue to the next and terminating only with the book-like closure of the volume, the periodical was also written through with the promise of an archival life. While the individual issue was designed for readers reading in the moment, it also addressed that unknown reader who would read the periodical when bound into a book.

The index was not only a crucial part of the paratext that constituted the periodical as book; it also set out how the periodical as book might be read. Like the covers of the volume, the index gathered together diverse content so that it might be grasped as a whole. Styles might have varied in the period, but every index, because it listed content alphabetically, flattened it out, disassociating articles from their position on the page and in the issue. The index, in other words, disassociated content from both the where and when of its periodical publication, instead presenting it in a repository without hierarchy in which every article was as recoverable as any other. In our digital present, we too use indexes to jump straight to articles, reading them out of order and out of time. It says a lot about how we continue to understand periodicals that nineteenth-century indexes imagined a reader who reads just like we do. [End Page 204]

This faith in an archival afterlife was an integral part of the periodical as genre. The Philosophical Transactions (1665–) conceived of itself as an ongoing repository of information and so provided an index by which it might be searched, one volume at a time, in the future. This was rapidly lampooned, and publications such as The Transactioneer (1700) and Useful Transactions in Philosophy (1708–09) mocked both the tone of the Philosophical Transactions and its bibliographic apparatus (Wheatley, How To Make an Index 42). The Gentleman's Magazine (1731–1907), too, included contents pages with every monthly issue and an index at the end of its first volume. Even early newspapers such as the London Evening Post issued volume title pages (Harris 45), and some provincial weeklies had continuous pagination well into the nineteenth century. From 1811, the Liverpool Mercury, for instance, numbered its pages in a continuous sequence over each year; in 1845, it added a second set of page numbers for each issue, running both sequences concurrently until 1853. The Tenby Observer, which began in 1853, labelled each issue with an issue and volume number, something it continues to do today.

Over the course of the nineteenth century, however, the newspaper divested itself of this concern for futurity, leaving only the periodical to imagine a bookish afterlife. The fecundity of the periodical press in the period was a cause for both celebration, marking as it did the spread of literacy and so culture, and alarm, as readers drowned in print, reading the right things wrongly, or, worse, the wrong things rightly (Mays 165–94; "Reading as a Means of Culture" 316–23). If it was difficult to keep up, indexes at least promised a chance to catch up, and, as long as a reader knew which volume to consult, an index could direct him or her to the relevant article.

Of course, that depended on the accuracy of the index. In 1893, Eliza Hetherington, W. T. Stead's long-term collaborator, detailed some of the idiosyncrasies of periodical indexes. Firstly, there were those compiled from monthly tables of contents, usually by the periodical's printers. Most aggregated the tables into a single alphabetical list, with articles arranged under words culled from their titles (Strand Magazine used one word; New Review and Cassell's Family Magazine two or three; it was claimed that the Cornhill indexed under them all). Not only did this practice assume that titles expressed content, but it could also result in misleading entries. Hetherington, for instance, cited the index to volume 273 of the...


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pp. 204-207
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