Introduction

London Society — or to give it its full title, London Society. An Illustrated Magazine of Light and Amusing Literature for the Hours of Relaxation — was one of the most popular journals of its time. Presented as an illustrated magazine, it was set up in 1862 and continued until 1898. Its publisher and first editor was James Hogg (1829-1910), the brother of John (the editor and proprietor of The Churchman’s Family Magazine). However, unlike his brother’s magazine, which focused on church and Family, James’s periodical was aimed at the metropolitan middle-classes, and was specifically intended for the leisured bourgeoisie rather than working professionals or business people (Cooke, pp. 67–68).

Left to right: (a) Title-page of annual volume. (b) Title-page of monthly number (November 1866). (c) Page with verse and illustration (I). (d) Page with poem and illustration (II) [Click on these images for larger pictures.]

Some critics have compared it unfavourably to The Cornhill Magazine, but it is important to point out that London Society does not pretend or attempt to be a ‘serious’ literary journal. Its ambitions are narrow ones and its range strictly limited. Calculatedly superficial, it could never be described as pious, challenging, ‘intellectual’ or ‘improving’; in the words of the subtitle, it offered ‘Light and Amusing Literature for the Hours of Relaxation’, and had no pretensions of being anything other than a piece of entertaining ephemera.

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Its focus on leisure is embodied in articles that deal with fashion, manners, holidays and other recreational pursuits. Typical examples are ‘Ladies’ Costume at Brighton’ (London Society, 3, 1863, pp. 154–56), ‘Housekeeping in Belgravia’ (3 [1863]: 193–207), and ‘Our Pic-Nic’ (4 [1863]: 97–105). This focus is supported by reviews of opera and theatre, articles about managing servants, congestion in Town and ‘going to Court’, as well as sentimental poems about love and loss, romance and inheritance. These entries address and celebrate the life-styles of the magazine’s audience, providing a vivid portrait of a particular class at play; charting how the wealthy lived in the mid and later nineteenth century, its definition of ‘society’ is an exclusive one. The journal never engages with society at large, and avoids controversy.

The overall effect of this narrowness is necessarily anodyne, making the marginally more adventurous pages of Once a Week and The Cornhill Magazine seem radical and challenging. London Society’s conservatism is nevertheless of great historical importance, presenting a detailed portrait of bourgeois life that provides a running accompaniment to texts such as Anthony Trollope’s satirical exploration of middle-class society in The Way We Live Now (1875). Trollope examines ‘the way’ the wealthy were living, and London Society shows the ‘living’ itself with uncomplicated directness. Free of any sense of moral or social uncertainty, its value for modern critics of the period lies in its very absence of self-reflection, embodying both the character and limitations of its readership.

London Society’s illustrations

The magazine’s focus on middle-class life is vividly conveyed by its fine illustrations, which support and sometimes expand the textual information. London Society contains wood-engravings in black and white by some of the outstanding designers of the Sixties, and their images provide a clear representation of its emphasis on leisure and pleasure. In contrast to his brother, whose management of The Churchman's Family Magazine was sometimes relatively ill-focused and led to a sense of visual incongruity, James Hogg appears to have held a tight rein on the artists contributing to London Society. This strategy is revealed in his surviving papers (The British Library), which show how closely he supervised their work.

Under his direction the illustrations depict the trappings of wealth while also presenting sometimes formulaic images of the moneyed at play. There is a strong emphasis on ostentatious and fashionable dress. Contemporary costumes are represented in a series of large, showy, extravagant designs in which the real subject is visual pleasure: figured as a medium of display, they act as both the signs and equivalents of their subject-matter. Prime examples of this type of glamorous self-regard can be found especially in the issues of the early 1860s. In Walter Crane’s ‘Fashionable Promenades’ (London Society, 2 [1862]: facing 172), for instance, the artist deploys an iconography that veers perilously close to the imagery of the fashion-catalogue; giving equal emphasis to the ladies’ ‘silks and laces’ (172) and the gentlemen’s elaborate jackets and watch-chains, it also celebrates the ‘beautiful faces’ (172) of the leisured as they engage in a public display, presenting themselves (as the illustration presents itself) for all to see.

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Left: George Housman Thomas's The Artist at the Flower-Shows: Bewitched! (an incident at the Royal Botanic Society's Garden, Regent's Park). Right: Walter Crane's The London Carnival.

Public gatherings recur throughout the engravings as another sign of leisured activity, notably those by Crane and George Thomas, and within these images of gatherings there are numerous representations of material wealth and polite manners. These compositions are relatively dynamic, stressing the bustle of urban life while (unconsciously) revealing the ornamental uselessness of their subjects’ lives. The range is noticeably on recreational gatherings such as playing golf, visiting the opera or theatre, or going on holiday; tellingly, there are no illustrations of the crowded streets in which the wealthy rub shoulder with the poor, and few which show the middle-classes at an urban place of work.

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Left: Alfred Cooper's The Pic-Nic . Right: J. D. Watson's A Summer’s Eve in a Country Lane.

In A. W. Cooper’s designs the emphasis is on idleness in a rural setting, showing his characters as monumental forms in a still landscape, walking, rowing up the river, or at a picnic (2, facing p. 352). Landscape also plays an important part in Watson’s designs of lovers courting in a rural idyll. In ‘A Summer’s Eve in a Country Lane’ (2, facing p. 162) the artist shows his couple as the epitome of well-dressed respectability, enjoying their capacity to move from a metropolitan setting to a country estate. In this intensely beautiful design –which is finely engraved by the Dalziels – the countryside is figured as a garden, showing the two lovers as innocents in a perfect England where there is no toil (there being no sign of workers in the fields) and there is nothing to do but commune with the landscape. This is very much a notion of ‘Nature’ as a pleasure-commodity, a place, as Christopher Wood explains, where the urban middle-classes could engage with the ‘artistic fiction of the rural paradise’ (p. 10).

London Society’s illustrations are thus figured as visual equivalents to the light-hearted articles and poems contained in the letterpress. The wood-engravings capture and enshrine the magazine’s ethos, and there is seamless integration between the images and the overall content, if not necessarily between the illustrations and particular texts. Hogg’s journal is in this sense a prime example of careful matching in which the dual texts, written and pictorial, combine to create an overwhelmingly hedonist effect.

Published long before pictorial glamour-magazines such as the British Hello! or the American Harper’s, it enshrines a winning formula. The magazine’s imagery of the sixties also prefigures the grand themes of pleasure and leisure that feature in Impressionist paintings of the seventies and eighties, and it would be interesting to know if Monet, Manet, and Renoir had any knowledge of this most English of journals.

Works cited

Cooke, Simon. Illustrated Periodicals of the 1860s. Pinner: PLA; London: The British Library; Newcastle, Delaware: Oak Knoll Press, 2010.

London Society. London: Clowes & Co., 1866–98.

Wood, Christopher. Paradise Lost. London: Barrie & Jenkins, 1988.


Victorian Periodicals

Last modified 26 March 2013