Essay on Publication Dates

Problems caused by a disjunction between title page dates
and actual publication dates of the Quarterly Review

The Review is shockingly late, & curses not deep but loud are bellowed in Murray's ear—as for me, I sit like one of Epicuras's gods, untouched by their cries.

—William Gifford[1]
  1. Researchers into the history of the Quarterly Review have often been tripped up in their interpretation of evidence by a lack of correspondence between the journal's title page date and its appearance date (the date when the Quarterly actually appeared at booksellers, in coffee shops, and in subscribers' homes). This incongruence is a phenomenon not unique to the Quarterly among early nineteenth-century journals, but certainly the Quarterly is an acute case. In only a few instances during the period of Gifford's editorship are the two dates—the title page dates and real publication dates—identical for any given Number. Indeed this understates the problem, for there is also often a lack of congruence between the date that appears on a Number's original wrappers and the date on the Number's inside title page. A researcher can, then, for a single issue be faced with three 'publication' dates, no two of which agree: the title page date, the date on the wrapper, and the appearance date. To give a single, but not untypical example, the title page date of Volume 21 Number 41 is January 1819, the Number appeared at booksellers on 4 June 1819, but the date on the original wrappers reads 'May 1819.'

  2. For students of the Quarterly Review sorting out the journal's real and putative publication dates is important for the proper understanding of references to particular articles in relevant letters and other documents. The question is also of interest more generally for it casts light on Gifford's conduct of the Review and on his relationship with Murray.

  3. The Quarterly's lateness was a matter of grave concern to Murray and Gifford and the cause of serious friction between the two men. When because of the journal's non-appearance topical comments in the review were overtaken by events, the Quarterly, as Gifford's friend George Ellis put it, became at best a historical journal. Chronic lateness was suicide for a journal that aspired to be current; it was also professionally embarrassing and it affected sales. Subscribers were left frustrated and booksellers inconvenienced. In the end, it was simply nonsensical in a journal whose title advertised regularity to be reliable only in being reliably late. Because of the seriousness and recalcitrance of the problem, a full two years after establishing the Quarterly Review Murray and Gifford were still seriously considering changing the journal's name.

  4. In the course of thirteen years Gifford met only 25 of 64 deadlines (if deadlines are measured as three months following the publication of a number). In almost half of the years under Gifford, the Quarterly issued less than the full quota of four numbers. Thirteen numbers appeared in excess of four months in arrears; three numbers were over five months late.

  5. Murray invested tens of thousands of pounds in the journal, along with his reputation as a reliable bookseller. When, early on, it looked as if the journal might go under he sought a scapegoat; he found it in his editor, William Gifford. Shattered in body, sickly, and ageing, Gifford was frequently ill. He would often retire to the seaside village of Ryde to gain respite from London's bad air. There he would try to work, so he said, but he seems to have accomplished little during these periods. On two occasions the death of friends rendered him unable to work for months. Not surprisingly, then, Murray saw Gifford as the source of confusion and tardiness, but in truth the causes were manifold.

  6. Gifford depended for copy largely upon amateur writers. He had a number of professional writers in his stable, but among those who were frequent contributors only Robert Southey was both reliable and worth his salt. Otherwise, most of his contributors led busy professional lives at law, in government, the civil service, medicine, the academy, or the church. Most had, or would take, little time for "promiscuous" writing. They were independent men not used to meeting someone else's deadlines. They were proud men deeply offended when asked to amend their work; sometimes weeks, months would pass before Gifford could pile upon them enough entreaties to reach a critical mass.

  7. Another problem was a paucity of articles Gifford held in reserve; not having built up these necessary reserves Gifford called the original sin of the journal. Forever depending upon fresh contributions subjected Gifford to the whims of that criminal class of writer, the procrastinator, who cost Gifford, as he put it, "scores of letters, & hundreds of anxious hours." A single author could delay the journal for months, just as Robert Grant, one of Gifford's best writers, but a murderer of time, did more than once. On two notable occasions for months on end Grant simply could not be convinced to produce a final version of his articles. On both occasions, however, the articles turned out to be great reviews, well worth waiting for. One, a review of a biography of Charles James Fox, was the first to excite general interest in the journal. Its success led to an increase in subscriptions just when the journal appeared to be facing financial ruin. The other, a review of a life of Pitt the younger, the editor called "our manifesto." It put the journal over the top by establishing the Quarterly's reputation for literary brilliance. But during the painful process of trying to convince Grant to put pen to paper, Gifford lost two or three other valuable writers who, impatient to see their labours in print, refused ever again to write for the Quarterly Review.

  8. A shortage of articles was a problem that Francis Jeffrey, Gifford's counterpart at the Edinburgh Review, had taken pains to avoid. He did so partly by himself producing sufficient material to fill the gaps. But from the beginning Gifford had insisted—he had made it a term of his employment—that he had no responsibility to write for the journal. After the death of Gifford's friend George Ellis, Gifford had only one regular contributor he could rely upon in a pinch. This was Sir John Barrow, who, single-handedly, produced over 200 articles for the Quarterly in a span of just over 30 years.

  9. The problem of lateness, then, was a serious one. Yet, even in the face of this persistent problem the journal thrived, buoyed up by some strong writing and by the journal's reputation—with its connection to Government—as a source of inside knowledge. During its first 16 years the journal's status soared and its sales increased dramatically. In the early days, Murray had difficulty disburdening his warehouse of the 2,000 copies printed per number. By the time Gifford retired (1824), Murray had trouble satisfying booksellers' orders. The journal regularly sold over 13,000 copies within hours of their appearing at Murray's offices (to satisfy publication-day demand, Murray's staff resorted to leaning out of the ground floor windows of Murray's Albemarle Street offices to distribute copies directly to booksellers and other buyers waiting on the sidewalk), reprintings were called for, and subsequent editions of individual issues and complete runs continued to sell in high numbers for the balance of the century.

  10. The attached table (for which, follow this link) supplies the publication and appearance dates for each number of the Quarterly Review in the period 1809-24.