The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
VOLUME XVI. Early National Literature, Part II; Later National Literature, Part I.

XX. Magazines, Annuals, and Gift-books, 1783–1850

§ 1. Experiments before 1815

OF the short-lived literary journals that were founded before and during the American Revolution, none appears to have survived the closing years of that struggle. Hardly had peace been declared, however, before new magazines were undertaken, and throughout the years covered by this chapter much of the literary history of America is bound up with a history of its periodicals. A complete account of American magazines during the early part of this period would be to a great extent a story of literary Chauvinism, of absurd literary ambition on the part of individuals and of communities, of misplaced faith in the literary tastes and interests of the people. The many failures are reminders of the unattained intellectual ambitions of the nation; a few commercially prosperous magazines furnish an index to the taste of the average reader; and a few show the best that was being thought and written. In a brief presentation only the most general tendencies can be considered and a few magazines cited as examples of important types. For convenience the period may be divided roughly into two sub-periods, one extending from the close of the Revolution to the close of the War of 1812, the other from 1815 to 1850.

During the period between the first and the second wars with Great Britain Americans were unduly sensitive over the lack of a national literature, and absurdly determined that such a literature should at once be produced. A considerable number of magazines were projected with the deliberate purpose of improving literary conditions, and of avoiding the taunts that crystallized in Sydney Smith’s notorious question. The feeling of patriotism is reflected in such titles as The Columbian Magazine, The American Magazine, The American Museum, The American Apollo, The Monthly Magazine and American Review, The United States Magazine, The American Universal Magazine, The American Moral and Sentimental Magazine, The National Magazine—all of which were used before 1800. The rapid growth of periodicals was encouraged by the liberality of the post office. While under the Act of 1793 the postage on a single-sheet letter varied from eight to twenty-five cents according to distance, the postage on magazines was one and one-half cents a sheet for distances up to one hundred miles, and two and one-half cents per sheet for all greater distances—a rate but slightly higher than that charged for newspapers.