Still Learning… Harper’s Monthly Magazine & Disaster…

June 8, 2020 by  
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These past few months have been characterized by intense focus.  I wonder if we are all concentrating fiercely on the task at hand, since everything else seems a bit too immense.  Whatever the reason, I have thoroughly immersed myself in systematically working through volumes of titles in search of particular dates of interest as if this is the most important job in the world.  Since publications in view are from the 1800’s, I am glimpsing snippets of similarities and of differences to our modern era.

While shelving Harper’s New Monthly Magazine, I read the following:

“Harper’s Magazine has now reached the close of its Tenth Volume.  During the five years of its existence, its prosperity has been constant and uninterrupted.  It has not been checked even by the disaster which fell upon the establishment of the Publishers, or by the period of general depression from which the country is now emerging.”

I didn’t know about this time of economic difficulty that Wikipedia describes as “lasting [from the Great Panic of 1837] until the Great Panic of 1857.”  From where we stand it is easy to lose a historical perspective, but the December 1854 issue — sandwiched between two economic trials — provides that opportunity.  The editor’s note at the front claims the magazine even flourished through the difficulties.  At 144 pages, with 64 illustrations, this Harper’s devotes the first two-thirds to literary offerings ranging from an account of Napoleon’s exile to an installment of fiction by William Makepiece Thackeray.  Following that are an extensive listing entitled “Monthly Record of Current Events”, three categories of editorials (Editor’s Table, Editor’s Easy Chair, and Editor’s Drawer), two pages of political cartoons, and the illustrated hoops and flounces that comprise those “Fashions for December.” This is a comfortable compilation that seems to provide a wealth of distracting entertainment that was as surely craved then as it is now, situated alongside a factual depiction of the nation and world.

From the current events section I extracted a nugget of reporting that mirrors modern newscasts.

“It may be stated generally, however, in reference to all of them, that partisan divisions have been less rigid than usual — that old party lines have been broken down.”

Somehow, shared disaster still seems to have that unifying effect.


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