School Magazines

By Harvey, A. D. | Contemporary Review, July 1998 | Go to article overview

School Magazines


Harvey, A. D., Contemporary Review


ROBERT GRAVES and Kingsley Amis had their first poems printed in school magazines, and we can see why E. M. Forster was unhappy at school when we read in The Tonbridgian for November 1895 that in the previous year the school library had lent out only 15 books on art and architecture, as compared to 172 Harrison Ainsworth novels and 112 Captain Marryat naval yarns. We find that Philip Larkin wrote comic sketches somewhat in the manner of Tony Hancock soliloquies for The Coventrian. The Review: the Magazine of Hackney Downs School tells us that the twenty runs achieved by Harold Pinter, Vice-Captain of Cricket, against `Recent Departures' was the third-best score of the 1948 season: a couple of years previously The Review had printed an essay by Pinter on James Joyce: `As a very sensitive young man, James Joyce experienced seething discontent with his life in Dublin ... all his work was about Dublin, which was the one great influence of his life -- a great Irish Catholic shadow that forever lay over him.'

School magazines also provide early glimpses of future cabinet ministers practising the politician's skills of excuse-making and knee-jerk optimism, e.g., in The Nottinghamian, December 1958, Kenneth Clarke, later Chancellor of the Exchequer, explains that though the school Fives Club was easily defeated in an Eton Fives match at Mansfield, `this was hardly surprising as the court and tactics for this game are very different from those of the Rugby Fives that we play ... So long as this enthusiasm for the game is maintained, the Fives Club can continue to extend its activities and can look forward to the future with complete optimism.'

The first school magazine was The Microcosm which appeared weekly at Eton between November 1786 and July 1787, and thus predates the first undergraduate magazines, Olla Podrida (1787-8) and The Loiterer (1789-90). Each issue consisted of a literary essay in the style of Addison and Steele's Spectator: the school as such was never mentioned. Amongst the quartet of boys who produced The Microcosm was George Canning, afterwards Foreign Secretary. A similar work entitled The Trifler began appearing at Westminster in May 1788.

Eton and Westminster were at that time the largest schools in Britain, and the boys tended to come from more than averagely wealthy and sophisticated families. These early magazines were aimed primarily at readers outside the school; The Microcosm was reprinted at least five times, the last edition being in 1827, the year in which George Canning became, briefly, Prime Minister. The Eton College Magazine claimed in 1832 that `all Eton publications have, in a pecuniary point of view, been unsuccessful,' but in fact the publisher of The Microcosm had paid its authors 50 [pounds sterling] for the copyright.

With a couple of exceptions, mainly from Westminster, the school-boy magazine remained essentially an Eton phenomenon till the 1830s. All these early magazines were primarily literary ventures, but there was no standard format. The College Magazine (1818-19) was circulated in manuscript, though the editors, explaining that they were `well aware that most of the communications in prose are only partially interesting,' later issued the poetry contributions in a printed volume. The Etonian (1820-21), on the other hand, contained more than 80 printed pages in each of its ten monthly issues, much of it written by ex-Etonians up at Cambridge. The contents included reviews of Wordsworth and Coleridge, but there was also a series of would-be amusing letters purporting to be from an Eton boy to his parents, which for the first time in such a magazine attempted to give a picture of school life.

A very different type of publication was The Hazelwood Magazine (1822-1830). At Eton and Westminster there was little the teachers could do to stop older boys from producing magazines, though Robert Southey, the future Poet Laureate, was expelled from Westminster for denouncing corporal punishment in The Flagellant (1792); but there is nothing to indicate that school staffs offered any sort of encouragement.

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