The Compost Pail with a Romantic History
. . .

The Secondary Source Review

"Antebellum literary culture and the evolution of American magazines"
by Heather A. Haveman, Poetics 32 (2004)

The eighteenth century called it a "magazine" in the sense of a warehouse "and there they put all their goods of any valure" and early synonyms included "Collection," "Miscellany," "Cabinet," and "Museum." Any original material was written by the editor, often anonymously or pseudonymously. Otherwise, snippets and clippings and bulletins were strung higgledy-piggledy, with little regard to the original sources' form, genre, topic, or ownership. Magazines tended to be unprofitable and short-lived, often lasting only a year or less, run on personal ego and ideals of community. At least one proudly published a list of its subscribers right up front.

The magazine of 1741 didn't look much like the magazine of the twentieth century and yet it does look familiar, doesn't it?

What transformed this proto-weblog to what we normally think of as a magazine was money. Printing costs strictly limited who could afford such vanity publications and how long they could afford them. Over the next century, increased specialization lured subscribers and advertisers, group editorship reduced the individual's burden, and the slow introduction of copyright 1 increased financial incentives for authors and publishers, who were now dealing with property rather than ideas. In the familiar way of things, publishers began paying the best contributors; writers began to believe they had a right to make a living (anonymity was dropped at this point); publishers then insisted on locking them into exclusive contracts, re-absorbing the author into the "house brand" where most general essayists and critics remain to this day.

Given this history, it might have been predictable that drastically cheapened wide-distribution low-consumption publishing would revive the long-repressed urges of early magazine editors, a process aided by URLs, which make anthologizing less like piracy and more like free advertising.

And other predictions follow: That weblogs will never become highly profitable. That their average lifespan will stay short. That group weblogs will tend to last longer. That weblogs will continue to be somewhat parasitic on the already (often commercially) published. That already (often commercially) published authors will grab the opportunity to re-assert their identity outside of any house brand.

Less certainly, Haveman suggests that specialized magazines were irrigation ditches as much as streambeds. Is it possible that their emphasis on commercially-sustaining communities helped divide America's increasingly heterogeneous culture?

Antebellum religious magazines vied to "sell" their ideas to the general public; in doing so, they were driven to differentiate themselves. An indirect and quite unexpected consequence was that the pluralistic, denomination-focused culture fostered by religious magazines shifted over the course of the nineteenth century from theological concerns to non-theological ones such as class and ethnicity.

From there an optimistic prophet might hope the low-cost grazing inherent in the weblog form could exert some tiny influence against social splintering and towards recognition of the commons. Even I have to admit an apparent beneficial effect on American poets.

Which brings an odder speculation upon me:

... poets abounded and poetry filled the pages of eighteenth-century magazines. However, as norms about paying contributors developed after the 1820s and as competition among large-circulation magazines heated up, poetry became uneconomical, as the cost to fill a column with poetry was higher than the cost to fill it with a short story or essay. George R. Graham, editor of the large-circulation eclectic Graham’s Magazine (1841–1858) paid $50 per poem to top-ranking writers in the late 1840s. When Longfellow submitted a sonnet, Graham complained that "in submitting sonnets at that price [Longfellow] was cheating, for fourteen lines did not fill up enough space for the money." Partly for economic reasons, poetry lost ground in magazines. It appeared in 72% of annual observations on magazines from 1741 to 1794, 61% of observations from 1795 to 1825, and only 29% of observations from 1826 to 1861.

If it's true that poetry died by being priced out of a market it wasn't designed for, then erosion of market barriers might trigger a renaissance of popularity. (Or, depending on your opinion of eighteenth-century magazine verse, a recurrence of plague.)


Despite the 1790 establishment of federal copyright, American magazines continued to freely borrow from each other through the 1820s. Until the end of the nineteenth century, American copyright covered only American publications, and Harper's especially remained habituated to the privateering of work from England.

The present-day Harper's has become the most weblog-like of the old middlebrow standards. Atavism comes easy to conservative types.


Ptarmigan found another path through Haveman's paper. The Happy Tutor noted another early meaning of "magazine."

BertramOnline contextualized my comparison in an endless discussion (not to be confused with the infinite conversation). It's a fine distinction (with no kisses), but I actually didn't intend to say "The weblog is a magazine" so much as to say "The impulses behind the weblog are old impulses that previously lacked a viable outlet."

Locussolus expressed a skepticism that I've often expressed myself: "My own sense is that the peer-review-through-linking process is leading people to be more and more insular in their reading." All the more reason to celebrate the miscellaneous. When the second, and tidal, wave of poets discovered weblogs I predicted they'd stay fixed in a predetermined unbreakable infighting lump. To a large extent they do stick to crosslinking, but to an extent I never expected they've enaged in noncombative, pleasurable, and instructive discussion across what might otherwise seem warring tribes. So I maintain some small hope for some small advances.

Keeping things on the scat..."I shit nickels" or bricks etc. is folk poetry. Imagine nomadic Scythians jangling through the Caucasus, no poetry? Inferior poetry? Or just non-commodified poetry eh? We inherit the breezeway, and call it a refuge from the tempest.
The odd thing about these recent conversational turns is that I'm actually a very prim little fellow, completely un-Rabelaisian except for the drunkeness, gluttony, lechery, blasphemy, and logorrhea bits. Carry on robustly while I avert my gaze.
Public access to poetry was snuffed like a home-dipped candle in the (pardon) pseudo-polis of the abstract-agora of nascent retail media. People now spend more time in the mediated "zone" than they ever did clumped before outdoor rostrums or nose-deep in gazettes. That zone-time came blooming right out of the still-unraked muck of the capitalist sloughs of desire. Quibble away, scribes and fairies, but Britney Spears has poets on her payroll.Real poetry, like nature, bats last.

Poetry an idealized second-hand afflatus is not quite the same thing as poetry a form of writing once widely found in books, magazines, and newspapers. I use the word exclusively in the latter sense.

In my first draft, I mentioned the use of song lyrics in online postings, but I felt too lazy to collect statistics. Still I'm willing to bet a miniscule sum that they're quoted more often on Usenet and weblogs than in paper publications.

Most often newsgroups etc. Quoted, conceded. But heard? Even by, especially by the ink-stained? "Fortunate Son"? That's the folk poetry angle. Work chants. Sea chanteys. Lullabies. The actual names for, the naming of, the ding an suche. Poetry in those rectilinear packagings was commodified to get there. The formalising of it. And really of course what I'm throwing is that underneath the pop is Miltonian rock and roll brevity. Somewhere. Maybe.

. . .

Up & Down with Dr Johnson

No man but a blockhead couldn't find an easier way to make money than writing.

* * *

Dr Robertson and I said, it was a pity Lord Hailes did not write greater things. JOHNSON. 'I remember I was once on a visit at the house of a lady for whom I had a high respect. There was a good deal of company in the room. When they were gone, I said to this lady, "What foolish talking have we had!" "Yes, (said she,) but while they talked, you said nothing." I was struck with the reproof. How much better is the man who does anything that is innocent, than he who does nothing. Besides, I love anecdotes. I fancy mankind may come, in time, to write all aphoristically, except in narrative; grow weary of preparation, and connection, and illustration, and all those arts by which a big book is made. If a man is to wait till he weaves anecdotes into a system, we may be long in getting them, and get but few, in comparison of what we might get.'
- The Journal of a Tour to the Hebrides with Samuel Johnson, LL.D.


Correspondence with pf brought forth the reflection that Johnson to some extent fulfilled his own prophecy posthumously via Boswell's big book.

. . .

Addendum: No Single Reason in the World

Readers inquire:

God the Ambivalent hises up his tartan petticoats, hauls out his schlong, and pisses on the beach every once in a while, to search for buried treasure. Hence these bluffs and cliffs, out of which the rockin' bones prick. (See, for instance, "Rockin' bones, rockin' bones, rock rock rock it" by The Rockin' Bones; or don't.) I think I was trying to talk about evolution, was it?
Do the pseudopodium form at different parts of the amoebae body?

Usually, yes.

My recent series on the origin of evolutionary sociology nattered on mercilessly; I, like you, would welcome a change of subject. But self-publication must go where self-indulgence directs, and, you know, other folks are still talking about it, and I recently had my attention drawn to a phenomenon I wished I'd included, and, oh dear, oh well, I apologize to you and to my best intentions.

To recap a bit: When a respected compeer questioned the evolutionary value of homosexuality, I answered "Who needs one?" Sex as aggression, sex as social duty, and sex as friendly gesture are all fully capable of baby-making, and homosexual lust doesn't interfere with them. Heterosexual lust, as usually defined, is therefore not necessary for reproduction. Just look at the Hapsburgs.

But there's another common trait that's 100% effective at eliminating baby-making: infertility.

The human Y chromosome consists of decaying debris. Its presence triggers maleness, but its contents are mostly ignored. And they mostly have to be. Senile and solipsistic, the Y genes don't take part in recombination, and so there's no way for their basic structures to be reinforced over time. Genetic rot and drop-offs are common.

Among the few bodily traits blueprinted in the Y are some which help bring spermatozoa fully to term, so to speak, pampering the little dears till they grow up to be big and strong like daddy's. When chromosome rot strikes out that genetic mapping, the eventual result is someone who's indisputably male but almost always infertile, with few and immobile sperm.

How many offspring will an infertile man's genes selfishly acquire? None considerably less than the average number of offspring among my gay and lesbian acquaintances. That's about as little support from natural selection as possible.

And yet a significant percentage of men are infertile. Why is this permitted?

If you want to, you can try to work out some convoluted untestable Rube Dawkins explanation of how it might actually benefit the species.

I have a simpler, and thus preferable, answer. It's permitted because natural selection and genetic reproduction are too dumb and too hamstrung by earlier choices to be able to prevent it. Too many changes would need to be coordinated. Oh, maybe if we're left to breed undisturbed (with a pinch of radiation) for another hundred million years or so, a row of cherries will line up. How likely is that?

Admittedly, this is reductio ad absurdum. But I believe that most interesting aspects of human behavior are closer to that reductio ad absurdum than to the bill of Darwin's finch.

I can't prove my belief. I don't even want to prove my belief. I do want evolutionary psychologists and evolutionary sociologists to disprove my belief before they leech funding and publicity from legitimate science. Wild speculation from iffy evidence can be a beautiful thing in a creative writing department.


Infertile man is not permit, no. He is weeded out and all genes of him are not spread unto next generation. But think now, is his infertility controlled by his genes? Or is it function of his use of saran wrap for lunchbox, inhalation of rubbish fume from factory, imbibation of excess of absinthe or what have you. There is always environment factors to be consider. Best weeshes, Ricardo Dorkanvilla
Different type of infertility. They're all good.
okay smart guy, why do men have tits? huh? huh?
Men have tits to make Iggy Stooge possible.
why isn't elvis god?

Hoo boy. Why isn't the sky blue? Doesn't a bear shit in the woods? What am I, the IM question answerer?

That particular blasphemy wasn't mine.

I'm glad to hear it.

More topically, a long, playful message from professional speculator Paul McEnery unexpectedly reinforced my dominant thesis when I found the negative reviews of Steve Jones's innocuous works splitting between snubbed creationists and snubbed evolutionary psychologists and when I found Steve Jones espousing my dominant thesis.

Try checking out recent research on the evolution of the Y-chromosome, particularly Nature. 2003 Jun 19;423(6942):873-6. The Y-chromosome is actually able to stave off deterioration through a process of gene conversion, which is basically a form of self-recombination. A dandy evolutionary strategy if there ever was one...

The research reported in that issue was what started me off again, actually. It's great science: painstaking data collection; ingenious pattern-tracing; reasonable contextualizing with plenty of mystery left to entice wonderful stuff.... What I instead tried to apply above for entertainment purposes only were techniques of crummy science as I see them popularly applied: an assumption that for every phenomenon there must be an "evolutionary" justification conveniently tucked just up the explainer's ass.

. . .


Page 27 was dropped:

    SHERMY: Well! There goes ol' Charlie Brown!
    SHERMY: Good ol' Charlie Brown.... Yes, sir!
    SHERMY: Good ol' Charlie Brown...
  4. SHERMY: May he rot in Hell!
We regret any inconvenience.


Jesus, what a downer. What next, Pogo beanie babies?
Another satisfied customer assures us:
there is no inconvenience only banality

Lawrence White:

What surprised me was the odd appropriateness of the tone. Yes, it was unceasingly morbid. But the original is often morose. We got a video of one of the specials when our oldest was around two & were very surprised. Neither my wife nor I remembered it being so mean. That is, it's mean by the standards of contemporary children's fare. But for the Midwestern Weltanschauung, it's just another day.

The tribute's art was awful but its script was dead-on. Most of the strip's wordier fans (including me) prefer its nasty and depressive side. But there's no arguing that the Snoopy and Woodstock show was more lucrative, and I remember Schulz himself talking about how he began to feel less mean-spirited with success. At least he gave us Spike as a bitter digestif.

. . .

Now, gods, stand up for bastards

... the number of authors must have been immense in a time when the writer was his own editor, the poet his own reciter, the dramatist his own actor. In a certain sense, the printing press was a hindrance to the practice of letters. It exercised a selectivity and cast contempt on writing that had not succeeded in being printed. This situation still obtains [1900], but is attenuated by the low cost of mechanical typography. The invention that threatens us now a home printing apparatus would multiply by three or four times the number of new books, and we would find ourselves in the situation of the Middle Ages: everyone who is the least literate and others, as is the case today would venture his lucubration which he would pass out to his friends before offering it to the public.
- Remy de Gourmont (via xvarenah)

I don't have many guilty pleasures, because when I find one I rationalize the guilt away. (Benefit of being a critic, I think. Perhaps that's why the criticism-writing gene has survived despite its negative effect on sexual attractiveness?)

Guilty guilts are harder to resolve. Or, more precisely, guilty shames, if we understand guilt as a private emotion and shame as a social one. Our pain is intensified when our shame is unjustifiable. Twisted by contrary winds, we sin against the light, Peter being the canonical example four times over.

I'm as content with online self-publishing as I've been with anything short of Old Overholt. But contentment is private and vanity is social, and vanity takes charge when, for example, I've just been introduced to someone at a party. I can't just talk about what I do; no, I feel an impulse to insist, with a great show of 't'weren't-nothin'ness, that I have been printed on real paper, and I could be printed again, I've been invited to, if I could only bring myself to write what editors would print and not feel so ill afterwards that is, if I was capable of doing what I'm not doing then I might do what I don't want to do except that I still wouldn't want to.

"This is what I would be if I was the sort of person I think you'd like to meet. Let's talk about that person, shall we?" The misogynous libertarian feels compelled to mention the existence of an ex-wife; the layabout assures us she once quit a marketing job; the straights reminisce about the time they dropped acid. Attempts at legitimizing our authority merely reinforce the legitimacy of the institutions we insist we're more than.

Publishing figured out the scam decades ago. Commodify a self-image for your labor force, make it your major product, and you'll be fighting off wannabe indentured servants with a stick. Higher education has it down now, too. Anyone who's not willing to work long hours at a demeaning job in dreadful conditions for almost no money is, by definition, a loser. In shows like American Laughingstock and Rich Narcissist with Too Much Time on His Hands Eye for the Working Person, TV has joined the act.

The goal is brand loyalty to the company store; brand identification is the method. It works, both coming and going. The Catholic lapsed remains a Jesuit. Everyday Stockholm syndrome: My prison, right or wrong.

So although I wish thewonderchicken well, I doubt I'll go to the launch party. I don't want to pretend to search for my papers again, much less pretend to want to peddle them. Maybe I'll stay home and read instead. Maybe pick up a bottle of Old Overholt first.


Regarding the author photo above, a reader writes:
In the big picture I think the most valuable thing I've done in the working world my entire life has been to build and maintain sanitary sewer systems, but I never expected to see a reference to this job's "romantic history."
the relationship between the definition of pseudopodium and the meaning of the name?
more on elvis please

Doesn't this entry count?

I think I'm a reasonably avid weblog reader. Of that list of that weblogging book, I recognized ONE. One which I didn't like that much. This admission is shameful. Wait, is Creeley or Yusef Komunyakaa editing this Best? But I heard the Billy Collins Best is the best Best of them all!

Shame, yes, but not on you. (For what it's worth, I follow four of the selected sites, and recognized a fifth which nowadays holds drafts of National Public Radio pieces; at least two of the other winners appear on that author's very Eggerisch group site. One McSweeney's Junior, extra cheese, hold the production value.)

We might easily theorize that a "Best of Weblogs" book would be a terrible idea (except for the easy money), but, even after experiencing newspapers' Best-Weblog lists, the things themselves come as a shock. Still, easy money is easy money, and the dot-com cows are long since dry or mad. So long as the authors keep their original publications online, no real harm's been done.

Grand-dad crow. Jack and Jack again. Or if Scotch Glenlivet, or -fiddich in a Pinch.But I really do believe the goal is immersion in the mediated. Get them all used to 24/7 camera on. And then some still-building group-mind will suck our souls into its mechanical belly and the thwarted God of all our history will be born and die in the same awkward sad unnecessary moment.
Why not just call it False Feet and be done with it? -- Renfrew Q. Hobblewort

The Thomas Nashe influence dies hard. Leave plain English to the genuine aristocrats; we upstarts need all the inkhorn we can reach.

sometimes all I want is to hear music I've never heard before. Is that too much to ask?

If you haven't found a copyright owner and paid them their asking price, yes, it is, yes.

Authorial firelight. That circle of what we were, gathered in. The spark of genius just as profound to make the young worried mother laugh and forget as to garner the adulation of ink-stained wretches by the busload. The man who could pretend to be a bear so well the children screamed, and then resolved it with a quick-change. The hand sliding down his face as the mask dropped away to reveal... That guy!

. . .

The New Republic by W. H. Mallock

If I know you, you're most likely to have encountered (and immediately forgotten) W. H. Mallock as the unwitting source of A HUMUMENT, which paints over his ponderous three-decker, A Human Document. In his own time, however, Mallock's name was made by his first novel, The New Republic, a best-selling satire à clef consisting almost entirely of dialog.

Its timing was right. His targets (Jowett, Huxley, Arnold, Ruskin) were in the ascendant, and their tones would remain recognizable well into the next century. Mallock himself established at least one long-lasting Victorian reputation: Most of his readers came to the book already holding some image of Thomas Carlyle, which Mallock's timid "Donald Gordon" wasn't likely to reshape, but most would first encounter Walter Pater, then at the start of his unprolific publishing career, as "Mr. Rose," and "Mr. Rose" Pater would stay for the rest of their lives.

Mallock obtained his B.A. from Oxford in 1874. Two years later, still hanging around Oxford, he began serializing the book. It's the work of a clever and vindictive student, a vicious mimic with little experience of life outside home or school. The New Republic's deflating and punctured monologues, drawn from close observation of college lectures and sermons, match his gifts perfectly. (Its gauche attempts at poetry and man-of-the-worldliness match his limitations just as strikingly.)

Contemporaries naturally saw Mallock as the successor to Thomas Love Peacock. But Peacock's mockery was affectionate, based on the long drop from his friends' grand hot air balloons to their farcically messy private lives. In contrast, there's real venom in Mallock and little else of potency and so I'm more inclined to see him as the founder of that new line of satire which was to include Aldous Huxley and Wyndham Lewis. George Orwell was equally inclined to see him as the founder of the endemic "silly-clever religious book, which goes on the principle not of threatening the unbeliever with Hell, but of showing him up as an illogical ass."

Mallock was a pioneer in still another way. It's only a rumor that Carlyle bid him farewell with "Can ye hear me, Mr. Mallock? I didna enjoy your veesit, and I dinna want to see ye again." And it's only a rumor that, before Mallock's homophobia ruined Pater's reputation in the world at large, he ruined Pater's career at Oxford by fetching stolen private letters to the Master of the College, Benjamin Jowett. But we have sufficient proof before us that Mallock was unscrupulous in the spreading of rumors a piece of work, as they say. Willing to allow for the doctrines of might makes right (when he has the might) and survival of the fittest (while the rankings stay frozen in his favor), courageously resolved to manipulate the foolish masses for the benefit of the greater good (that is, himself), vehemently defending all the privilege of noblesse and none of the oblige, combining the social conscience of a libertine and the self-righteousness of a roundhead, Mallock's a recognizably contemporary conservative. It's easy to picture him as a Young Republican at Yale, blitzing out a novel which tells off PC and poststructuralism and women's studies to great acclaim and publicity....

And it might be pretty funny. He might actually do a book or two worth reading before his toothsomely juicy contempt shrivelled into a Buckleyish (or even Bennetish) bore. The New Republic is often (always at its nastiest) very funny. God forsake me, a few times I even squirmed. As David Daiches wrote for a newer moribund Republic in 1951:

If we can read through The New Republic without at one point or another being made to feel a little foolish, we are wise indeed. On questions of religion, culture and progress the view of the modern liberal intellectual tends to be a conflation of Benjamin Jowett and Matthew Arnold, and it is salutary (to use a favorite word of Arnold's) to have it so cunningly challenged.

(This on-line edition is dedicated to The Happy Tutor.)


Lawrence White wrote:
Your link to the Tribune columns led me to think, Orwell would have made a great blogger. Or is that going too far? I do like reading Orwell & thinking about his right-wing advocates. When I'm reading him gleefully fantasizing about the underclass training machine guns on the army, what is Roger Kimball reading?

For that matter, what is Roger Kimball wearing? Did his mom buy those clothes?

and ann coulter will be remembered more for her bosom than her buddies

Hey, that's unfair!

even constant vigilance may not be enough (dan reynolds)

Good thing, 'cause I need some sleep.

Gosse on Pater is wonderful!

Gosse may have been a dull critic but as an easy-going late Victorian raconteur he was excellent. From the same essay collection, I pulled the more personal comments on Walt Whitman and Christina Rossetti.

Lawrence White likes those too:

The Gosse on Whitman is quite beautiful. I guess I'm just a sap at heart but it was the sweetest thing.

In honor of all this Gosse love, I've just posted a portrait of the man himself.

tell them all how it really is

I used to have a blue guitar,
Till I smashed it one green day.
It would not play things as they are,
As Peter Townshend may....

. . . before . . .. . . after . . .

Copyright to contributed work and quoted correspondence remains with the original authors.
Public domain work remains in the public domain.
All other material: Copyright 2004 Ray Davis.