The Southern Literary Messenger, 1834-1864

By Dardenne, Robert | Journalism History, Spring 2008 | Go to article overview
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The Southern Literary Messenger, 1834-1864

Dardenne, Robert, Journalism History

Minor, Benjamin. The Southern Literary Messenger, 1834-1864. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 2007. 296 pp. $14.95.

In The Southern Literary Messenger, 1834-1864, which was first published in 1905, Benjamin Minor provides a workmanlike history of the magazine, which was rich in names and contributors. Most forthcoming during the years of his proprietorship (July 1843 to February 1847), he offers anecdotes and details to enrich understanding of the magazine's content, authors, and publication and operation. Contributors included Henry Timrod, N. Beverly Tucker, W. Gilmore Simms, Ralph Waldo Emerson, John Quincy Adams, Mary E. Lee, Caroline Lee Hentz, and dozens of other men and women from the North and the South.

The periodical's most famous contributor, however, was Edgar Allen Poe, who edited the magazine among bouts of drinking from December 1835 until January 1837, when publisher Thomas W. White, the magazine's first, had had enough. Poe contributed articles, poems, and reviews before, during, and after his brief and controversial stint as editor. While the book does not dwell on Poe, it mentions him frequently.

Few will find Minor's book a pageturner, as he mentions name after name and sometimes the nature of what they wrote. In the fine introduction, historian Jonathan Daniel Wells says the listings provide information on lesser contributors not available anywhere else. Researchers will find this book valuable for that purpose, especially coupled with David K. Jackson's The Contributors and Contributions to The Southern Literary Messenger, which was published in 1936. Wells notes that periodical literature, important to southern and other readers, is "one of the great, largely unexplored, and woefully underutilized historical resources in modern historical scholarship."

This book offers an intriguing guide to thirty years of political, military, religious, economic, and scientific insight; fiction, poetry, reviews, and criticism; speeches, addresses, and essays; and cultural, artistic, and social trends. Minor includes anecdotes and descriptions of staffing, the publishing process, and the duties and activities of publishers and editors. He notes, for example, that during his time at a Memphis convention in 1845-46, his wife, Virginal Maury Otley, edited and essentially ran the magazine.

The University of Michigan offers a complete set of the Messenger online at

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