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[Adapted by permission of the Online Editor from material on the Penguin Classics Website.]

The most important magazine of the latter part of the nineteenth century was undoubtedly the Cornhill, founded in 1860 by the publisher George Smith. Aiming to combine the critical view and the serial novel, he started with works by Thackeray and Trollope and made Thackeray the first editor. The sale of the magazine, at a shilling, exceeded all expectations, and the first number sold 110, 000 copies — a degree of success staggering by modern day standards. Especially under Leslie Stephen, who took charge in 1871, the Cornhill maintained a remarkable level of literary distinction. It published novels by Thackeray, Trollope, George Eliot, Mrs Gaskell, Hardy and Henry James; as well as by Wilkie Collins, Charles Reade, James Payn and more popular authors. Its general articles included most of Arnold's Culture and Anarchy, part of Friendship's Garland, and Literature and Dogma; several of Stephen's own Hours in a Library essays and three instalments of Ruskin's Unto This Last (before Thackeray had to yield to public opinion and cut the series short). Other contributors included Meredith, Swinburne, Grant Allen, Churton Collins, JA Symonds, and RL Stevenson.

Stephen's own comments on his editorship (in Some Early Impressions) are interesting: he had a strict morality about accepting the best article offered, and not disturbing charity at the cost of the magazine. He was hampered by a certain tradition of inoffensiveness which compelled him to reject The Return of the Native though he had published Far from the Madding Crowd. Arnold, we are told, finally abandoned the Cornhill because he 'wanted to discuss topics to which the magazine had to give a wide berth'. The circulation, of course, could hardly stay at the level of the first number. When Stephen took over it was 'not a fifth of that of the original number', and when he left in 1882 it was about 12 000 — still a respectable figure whose 'soul' was described by Sir Edward Cook as 'the spirit of humane culture.'

Related Materials


Cox, R. G. "The Reviews and Magazines" in The New Pelican Guide to English Literature 6. From Dickens to Hardy, 1996.

Eddy, Spencer L., Jr. The Founding of "The Cornhill Magazine". Ball State Monograph No. 19. Muncie, Indiana: Ball State University, 1970.

Last modified 13 August 2005