History Hoydens


Historical Romance Writers Dishing the Dirt on Research

07 July 2008

The Gentleman's Magazine

I'm sure many of you have heard this periodical mentioned in a novel or two. Heroes are sometimes shown reading it during a visit to White's or while lounging in their library. Intrigued, I hunted down a copy of my own (it happens to be the August 1788 volume, and I like to imagine that the heroine of my first novel, George, would have had this magazine at her home for her male admirers to peruse). To the right you can see the first page/cover of the May 1749 edition (the "cover" is of the same paper as the pages of the magazine).

On the first page inside the magazine is a report of the weather for the month (I've no idea how they supposedly knew that the 11th would be "fair" and the 24th "showery"). At the bottom of the page is a bit of fascinating detail called simply Observations. In my copy they read as follows:

1 Partridges in great numbers.--2 Some beeches begin to be tinged.--3 Very few quails to be seen.--4 Ladies-traces (ophrys spiralis) is bloom. Stone-curlews (charadrius oedicnemus) pass over, followed by their young, who make a piping, wailing nois.e--5 Fly-catchers have withdrawn themselves some days. Thistle-down floats.--6 Immense flocks of martins hovering over the brooks.--7 Dotterel (charadvius morinellus) on the downs. These birds appear there every spring and autumn.--8 Lapwings (tringa vanellus) leave the low grounds, and come in flocks to the uplands.--9 Harvest finished.--10 Redstart (moticil phoenicurus) still appears. Linnets (fringilla linaria) flock.--11 Hazel-nuts in great plenty. No walnuts or plums.--12 First grapes gathered: they were eatable, but not ripe; berries small, and thin on the clusters--13 Young martins still in their nests.--14 Many swallows, some bank-martins, and a few house-martins, about the ponds. They probably roost in the willows. The swallows washed much; a sure sign that rain is at hand.

These notes might seem insignificant at first, but they are invaluable to a writer of historical fiction. These are the kinds of small details that we rely upon to enrich our world building.

The bulk of the magazine is comprised of letters to its editor "Sylvanus Urban." These letters to the editor cover a wide variety of topics, everything from religion to history to the law (and are all addressed to "Mr. Urban"). There are also reports on proceeding session of Parliament (including detailed accounts of who proposed what, who spoke in favor or against, and how some people voted), reports on foreign affairs, births, deaths, and marriages (no announcements of engagements however, as far as I've ever been able to find these are a product of Romancelandia).

On the very back inside page are reports of the average prices of "corn" (grains) as well as the Theatrical Register, which lists all the plays being enacted for the month at Hay-Market (note, there is very little repetition; it's not like today where one play has a "run" and it's the only thing being produced in a specific theatre. There are 14 different main offerings combined with 17 different secondary plays that take place "a quarter of an hour before dinner"). On the very back page-cover is the stock report (the 3 perCts, 4 perCts, Long, Short, India S. Sea, 1 perCts, Exchange Bills and Lottery Tickets).

If you've any interest in exploring an issue of The Gentleman's Magazine for yourself, you're in luck. Goggle Books happens to have a few issues available on their site: January-June 1800, January-June 1812, January-June 1824. I've no idea why only the first volume of each year seems to be available.


Blogger Linda Banche said...

As for "The Gentleman's Magazine" giving weather forecasts, I assume they did it the same way "The Old Farmers Almanac" did--by a special formula, which they never revealed -:).

Really, I suppose the weather forecasts relied on folk wisdom (for example, Red at night, sailors' delight, red in the morning, sailors take warning).

As someone said once, they had a 50-50 chance of being right.

5:33 AM  
Blogger Louisa Cornell said...

Fascinating stuff, Kalen, and something I had missed heretofore. Hey, my Mom swears by the Farmer's Almanac. She was a sharecropper's daughter and they tended to live and die by the weather. (Cotton, peanuts and tobacco in Alabama)

It is interesting to note what was interesting to gentlemen in the Regency compared to what is interesting to men today. Makes on think. Thanks for the Google link, Kalen. Marking it now.

6:34 AM  
Blogger Unknown said...

I love Google Books. I spend a ton of time there hunting down period books and magazines. I love getting my hands on actual period publications, but it's simply not practical, economical, or in some cases even possible to obtain the book itself (and you can't check stuff like this out of a library).

9:17 AM  
Blogger Amanda Elyot said...

Terrific post, Kalen. "The Gentleman's Magazine" seems to combine all the elements of Esquire, The Wall Street Journal, and Field & Stream.

Did men subscribe to these periodicals as individuals, or would they have read them strictly at their clubs or at coffee houses?

4:15 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

Both, just we do today with our newspapers and magazines.

5:11 PM  
Blogger Mary Blayney said...

Thanks for sharing a great research option...

6:43 PM  
Blogger Evangeline Holland said...

The engagement announcement is an American thing. And I love Google Books as well. I have over 1000 books in my "library" if not nearly that number on my poor, overtaxed hard drive. *g*

8:34 PM  
Blogger Tracy Grant said...

This is fabulous, Kalen, thanks so much! Very glad my current book (and the one I'm starting) take place in the first half of the year. I love old periodicals. Canidce Hern has loaned me some of her fabulous collection on occasion, and I use the Morning Chronicle, which UC Berkeley has on microfilm (I found it early in my writing career when there was no internet--sometimes I feel so old :-).

9:42 PM  
Blogger Pam Rosenthal said...

This is fabulous, Kalen. I did read the accounts of parliamentary debates over domestic espionage and also the Report of the Committee of Secrecy (justifying it) in the 1817 Gentleman's Magazine, but I was too single-minded to go for the other info at the time. My bad.

I believe that people had bookbinders put a year or two of them into book form in their personal libraries -- like the bound volumes in our public and institutional libraries.

What I always wonder whether is ladies ever read The Gentleman's Magazine -- or the sly or publicly -- if they were interested in the politics of the day.

11:23 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

I'm sure women did read it. There's no reason for them not to have done so. I would think it would have been of particular interest to political hostess and women of rank who needed to be up on the sort of topics covered in its pages.

7:54 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

We have archived copies of Gentleman's Magazine, back to around the 1760s, in the library where I work - I use them for the weather stats, and any topical conversation pieces (books published, current views), when writing fan fiction (*ducks head in embarrassment amongst published authors*). Each month also publishes accurate weather information for the previous month, so it's easy to check if the forecasts were right!

7:17 AM  
Blogger Unknown said...

Where to you work and what do you charge to make photocopies?!!! I'm obsessed with collecting the theatrical listings on inside of the back “cover”.

7:26 AM  

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