In its 138-year history, Harper's has undergone a number of changes, each calculated to perpetuate or recapture its past popularity. Harper and Brothers began publishing it because they had extra time to fill on their printing presses. 1 In the beginning it was a collection of miscellaneous material reprinted from British periodicals. It was 144 pages of cramped type in double columns with a few woodcuts at the end. Its strength was literature, especially the Long serialized novels of the famous nineteenth-century English writers. 2 It published Charles Dickens Bleak House, William Makepeace Thackeray The Virginians, Anthony Trollope Small House at Allington, and Thomas Hardy Return of the Native. 3
By the end of the nineteenth century, it had become one of the most successful of the serious, general periodicals of the time. It reflected the growth in wealth and refinement that characterized the period. It was longer, with larger type, and lavish illustration. It published history, science, geography, literature, and three departments, one each of literary criticism (The Editor's Study), news (The Monthly Record of Current Events), and humor (The Editor's Drawer).
During this period Harper's became a major force in shaping America's literary tastes. William Dean Howells used his position as author of the Editor's Study from 1888 to 1894 to defend the new realism in American literature against the more romantic, melodramatic English literature that had been so popular up to that time. Harper's had always published works by such great American authors as Nathaniel Hawthorne, Herman Melville, Stephen Crane, Mark Twain, Bret Harte, and, of course, Howells. But during this period Harper's became identified as a major vehicle for native authors such as Edward Bellamy, Lefcadio Hearn, Richard Harding Davis, and J. W. De Forest. 4