Wednesday, 7 September 2011

The Harmsworth Monthly Pictorial Magazine

The previous post came from an early issue of the Harmsworth Monthly Pictorial Magazine, which looked worth further investigation. The magazine was launched late in 1898 out of the Amalgamated Press stable owned by Alfred Harmsworth. Here's its launch editorial:


The beginning of a new Magazine, once an event, is now so much a commonplace that the ancient excuse of the "long felt want" no longer serves.

In the days of the Nabobs, the gentle shaking of the Pagoda tree sufficed to bring great stores of wealth, but these be the times of the fallen rupee. Your modern Anglo-Indian toils out his existence for a bare pittance. And it is so in the making of Magazines. One hundred and fifty years ago the mere issue of the "Gentleman's" stirred to their depths the Coffee Houses and the Clubs, not only here in the Old Country, but in our North American Colonies as well.

Times are changed, alas! "The Harmsworth Magazine," though, indeed, it appeals to an English-speaking audience of over one hundred millions, will at best provoke a little favourable comment in the train and the library, for the Magazine field has been vastly exploited, and especially of late. A modern buyer of periodical publications rises as warily to a new lure as a twice-shot-over partridge to the gun.

The reader of Magazines has of late years been harried by a direct, by an enfilading, and a ricochetting fire of new adventures, some honestly and avowedly frivolous, others portentously literary, a few loftily artistic. Every imaginable plan has been adopted whereby his capture might be effected. Projectiles calculated to vanquish by size and weight of paper have been hurled at him; there have even been surreptitious and spy-like attempts to enter his domestic circle by seeking the favour of his wife and daughters by means of "Women's Departments," all frocks, furbelows, and complexion cures; and worse, his very children have been attacked by page on page of "Nursery Chat" and "Tiny Tales for Little Listeners."

Last straw of all, he has been patronised by the vast army of "Great Authors" of the period. And if the chit-chat of the press is to be believed there never were in Rome, in Athens, or in the days of Elizabeth herself, so many distinguished litterateurs as at present. The unfortunate victim has trembled at the solemn pomp of

'The editor of the 'Monster Magazine' has pleasure in announcing he has been so fortunate as to secure the masterpiece of Mr. ."


"It is rumoured that Mr. . has been induced to enter into an agreement to contribute an important series of short stories to the "Monster Magazine" during the Spring of 1905. Mr. . is entirely occupied in the fulfilment of various contracts until that time."

It is "right here," as our American kinsmen have it, that "The Harmsworth Magazine" comes in.

Together with a great many other people, we came to the conclusion long since that a good deal of the literary wares that are foisted on the public by means of the ordinary advertising methods of personal paragraphs and "interviews" is mainly rubbish. Frankly and openly do we, therefore, declare that mere "names" will never command an entrance to the pages of this Magazine. As with our "Daily Mail" and our other journals, we shall rely on new writers. The public is weary of the reiteration of the same contributors to each of the monthly publications. He (and she) wants something new. It is our desire, for the sake of the public, for the benefit of young artists and others, and for our own profit, to avoid the productions of the professional "ring" of much advertised mediocrity which most assuredly dominates many of our Magazines to-day, though the work of really representative men and women will always be secured, without regard to its cost.

In selecting the price at which "The Harmsworth Magazine" should be issued to the British, Canadian, Australasian, South African, and Anglo-Indian public, we choose that of the two most distinguished journals in our language, "The Times" and "Punch."

Can such a publication as this be sold for 3d.? Provided we reach a gigantic circulation, we can do it. We are enabled to issue a threepenny Magazine containing more expensive literary matter, more numerous pictures, and more pages than the sixpenny Magazines of a few months back, at so ridiculous a price, because this Magazine is only a small incident in an organization controlling four daily journals and nearly thirty weekly periodicals; because we already possess and are now building printing machinery of an entirely novel and labour-saving nature.

The Magazine will be cheap as to price only. In every respect, save, perhaps, mere bulk, "The Harmsworth Magazine" will compete frankly, and without reserve, with older friends in the same field.

The experiment, largely due to a devoted band of workers, headed by my brother Cecil, is at least an interesting one. Will it succeed? Much depends upon the good word of those who read it. If it meets with your approval, if you consider that the enterprise is worthy of commendation, will you make our effort known to your circle?

Alfred C. Harmsworth.

The magazine was renamed the London Magazine in 1900, and continued in publication (renamed the New London Magazine in 1930) until 1933. Harmsworth, now better known as Lord Northcliffe, went on to an astonishingly influential career that combined innovative genius with jingoism, power-seeking and outright megalomania; he was the prime mover in creating the ethos of the modern tabloid newspaper empires.

The success of the Harmsworth Magazine isn't hard to understand; it's still extremely readable, combining fiction with quirky illustrated features. Issue 2 is online at Project Gutenberg (E-Text No. 29716) and includes:

Several volumes are accessible via Google Books (search result here) if you're in the USA or use a proxy server. Google finds other oddments; I especially liked If London Were Like Venice, a photo feature imagining a subsided London with canals instead of streets (see clickable index of illustrations).

- Ray

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