A History of Nineteenth Century Literature (1780-1895)

By George Saintsbury | Go to book overview

CHAPTER IV
THE DEVELOPMENT OF PERIODICALS

PERHAPS there is no single feature of the English literary history of the nineteenth century, not even the enormous popularisation and multiplication of the novel, which is so distinctive and characteristic as the development in it of periodical literature. For this did not, as the extension of novel writing did, concern a single department only. The periodical -- it may almost for shortness' sake be said the newspaper -- not only became infinitely multiplied, but it gradually absorbed almost every department, or a share of almost every department, into itself. Very large numbers of the best as well as of the worst novels themselves have originally appeared in periodicals; not a very small proportion of the most noteworthy nineteenth century poetry has had the same origin; it may almost be said that all the best work in essay, whether critical, meditative, or miscellaneous, has thus been ushered into the world. Even the severer and more academic divisions of history, philosophy, theology, and their sisters, have condescended to avail themselves of this means of obtaining a public audience; and though there is still a certain conventional decency in apologising for reprints from periodicals, it is quite certain that, had such reprints not taken place, more than half the most valuable books of the age in some departments, and a considerable minority of the most valuable in others, would never have appeared as books at all.

The first division of our time, the last twenty years of the

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