[The following passage comes from the Project Gutenberg online edition of Trollope's Thackeray prepared by Barbara Tozier, Bill Tozier, Lisa Reigel, and the Project Gutenberg proofreading team. The decorated initial 'I' is based the one on a Thackeray designed for Vanity Fair. — George P. Landow]

decorated initial 'I' based on a Thackeray illustration

n 1859 he undertook the last great work of his life, the editorship of The Cornhill Magazine, a periodical set on foot by Mr. George Smith, of the house of Smith and Elder, with an amount of energy greater than has generally been bestowed upon such enterprises. It will be well remembered still how much The Cornhill was talked about and thought of before it first appeared, and how much of that thinking and talking was due to the fact that Mr. Thackeray was to edit it. Macmillan's, I think, was the first of the shilling magazines, having preceded The Cornhill by a month, and it would ill become me, who have been a humble servant to each of them, to give to either any preference. But it must be acknowledged that a great deal was expected from The Cornhill, and I think it will be confessed that it was the general opinion that a great deal was given by it. Thackeray had become big enough to give a special éclat to any literary exploit to which he attached himself. Since the days of The Constitutional he had fought his way up the ladder and knew how to take his stand there with an assurance of success. When it became known to the world of readers that a new magazine was to appear under Thackeray's editorship, the world of readers was quite sure that there would be a large sale. Of the first number over one hundred and ten thousand were sold, and of the second and third over one hundred thousand. It is in the nature of such things that the sale should fall off when the novelty is over. People believe that a new delight has come, a new joy for ever, and then find that the joy is not quite so perfect or enduring as they had expected. But the commencement of such enterprises may be taken as a measure of what will follow. The magazine, either by Thackeray's name or by its intrinsic merits,—probably by both,—achieved a great success. My acquaintance with him grew from my having been one of his staff from the first. [51-52]

. . . . .

It would be out of my power, and hardly interesting, to give an entire list of those who wrote for The Cornhill under Thackeray's editorial direction. But I may name a few, to show how strong was the support which he received. Those who contributed to the first number I have named. Among those who followed were Alfred Tennyson, Jacob Omnium, Lord Houghton, William Russell, Mrs. Beecher Stowe, Mrs. Browning, Robert Bell, George Augustus Sala, Mrs. Gaskell, James Hinton, Mary Howitt, John Kaye, Charles Lever, Frederick Locker, Laurence Oliphant, John Ruskin, Fitzjames Stephen, T. A. Trollope, Henry Thompson, Herman Merivale, Adelaide Proctor, Matthew Arnold, the present Lord Lytton, and Miss Thackeray, now Mrs. Ritchie. Thackeray continued the editorship for two years and four months, namely, up to April, 1862; but, as all readers will remember, he continued to write for it till he died, the day before Christmas Day, in 1863. . . .

The magazine was a great success, but justice compels me to say that Thackeray was not a good editor. As he would have been an indifferent civil servant, an indifferent member of Parliament, so was he perfunctory as an editor. It has sometimes been thought well to select a popular literary man as an editor; first, because his name will attract, and then with an idea that he who can write well himself will be a competent judge of the writings of others. The first may sell a magazine, but will hardly make it good; and the second will not avail much, unless the editor so situated be patient enough to read what is sent to him. Of a magazine editor it is required that he should be patient, scrupulous, judicious, but above all things hard-hearted. I think it may be doubted whether Thackeray did bring himself to read the basketfuls of manuscripts with which he was deluged, but he probably did, sooner or later, read the touching little private notes by which they were accompanied,—the heartrending appeals, in which he was told that if this or the other little article could be accepted and paid for, a starving family might be saved from starvation for a month. He tells us how he felt on receiving such letters in one of his Roundabout Papers, which he calls "Thorns in the cushion." "How am I to know," he says—"though to be sure I begin to know now,—as I take the letters off the tray, which of those envelopes contains a real bona fide letter, and which a thorn? One of the best invitations this year I mistook for a thorn letter, and kept it without opening." Then he gives the sample of a thorn letter. It is from a governess with a poem, and with a prayer for insertion and payment. "We have known better days, sir. I have a sick and widowed mother to maintain, and little brothers and sisters who look to me." He could not stand this, and the money would be sent, out of his own pocket, though the poem might be—postponed, till happily it should be lost. [54-55]


Trollppe, Anthony. Thackeray. “English Men of Letters series.” London: Macmillan, 1879. Web. Project Gutenberg. E-text prepared by Barbara Tozier, Bill Tozier, Lisa Reigel. 4 August 2013

Victorian Overview Authors William Makepeace Thackeray

Last modified 4 August 2013