Silencing Joseph Johnson and the Analytical Review

By Oliver, Susan | Wordsworth Circle, Spring-Summer 2009 | Go to article overview

Silencing Joseph Johnson and the Analytical Review

Oliver, Susan, Wordsworth Circle

Joseph Johnson's Analytical Review, from May, 1788, to December, 1798, offered a radical contribution to journalism that for a decade confounded the British government's attempts to restrict the freedom of the liberal press. The Analytical ceased publication shortly before Johnson went to jail for six months in February, 1799, for selling a "seditious" pamphlet in his bookshop. However, I argue that the unusual nature of the Analytical's editorial policy was the underlying reason for the Crown prosecution that silenced the proprietor and his journal.

In the context of my enquiry, "radical contribution" refers to editorial strategy more than to the content of the reviews in the Analytical Johnson and Thomas Christie, the cofounder, encouraged a multiple-editor approach that gave a legitimate public voice to the work of leading anti-government activists including Mary Wollstonecraft, William Godwin, Joseph Priestley, Thomas Paine, Joel Barlow and Gilbert Wakefield. I will look at the consequences of the initiatives taken by Johnson, as proprietor, and Christie in their rejection of a standard, autocratic editorial model of critical journalism. Johnson and Christie's alternative democratic form of editorship, in which a group of selected reviewers commissioned and collated articles, raises questions that are material to enquiries into why the British establishment took moves in 1798 to crush the Analytical Review. The British establishment's perception that a threat to civil order was embodied in the Analytical (considered later in this essay, in an account of Johnson's trial) owed as much to fear of a successful structural model of printed "democracy" as it did to the content of individual critical essays. In other words, the processes leading to the publication of contributions by writers including Wollstonectaft, Godwin, Priestley, Beddoes, Barlow, Fuseli, Cowper, Barbauld and Hays (amongst others) who participated in a journalistic Republic of Letters, comprised an overall language of print culture that made manifest a deeper veined form of "sedition" than where a single editor defined the character of a periodical. (2) Such a war of position was worrying to the British government led by William Pitt because it underpinned what Marilyn Butler calls in Burke, Paine, Godwin, and the Revolution Controversy "the innovative and Utopian enthusiasm" of liberal writers and the free press (5). In the anti-jacobin and regular press, a hierarchy of proprietors, publishers and editors replicated manifestations of power and control in the institutions of State including the monarchy, the government (and legislature), the Anglican Church and the judiciary. It follows that the suppression of liberal representation within the mainstream press contributed to a culture of the manipulation of public opinion, which is what Johnson and Christie--at least in theory--sought to counteract in favour of encouraging intellectual independence and enquiry amongst readers. Johnson, Christie, and the Analytical's reviewers' participation in a procosmopolitan movement that undermined national boundaries of legal and political authority is an important aspect to their promotion of active critical reading; because their practics endorsed the idea that governments and monarchies are answerable to the public within a wider, world view of politics and society. The texts reviewed in the Analytical, its notices of foreign intelligence and imported publications, and Johnson's own transatlantic correspondence with Joseph Priestley and other business associates in the United States, show that that cosmopolitanism derived jointly from European and North American sources already known to have radical connections.

The Analytical was a collaborative project, with Johnson perceived as leader. Even the anti-Jacobin establishment's desire to identify a leader where there did not appear to one reveals conservative anxiety over the success of a non-conformist venture. …

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