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Introduction: background and launch

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he Welcome Guest. A Magazine of Recreative Reading for All was founded by Henry Vizetelly on the first of May 1858 as a sixteen-page weekly periodical priced at one penny (1d.). Although the periodical has been referred to as a ‘penny dreadful’ (Scheuerle, p.31), this is not an accurate description, judging by the nature and style of its contents. Contributors included George Augustus Sala, Adelaide Procter, Augustus Mayhew, John Lang, Frederick Greenwood, and Edmund Yates. The Welcome Guest described itself as ‘amusing in tone, varied in character, rich in illustration, neat in appearance, and economical in price’, with contributions by the ‘writers and artists of the ‘Illustrated Times’ (Christmas Number, 22 December 1858, p. 2); Vizetelly himself described the periodical as a cross between the London Journal and All the Year Round (Korey, p.32). It was intended for a broad readership and indeed the preface in the first bound volume reinforced this notion of reading for ‘all’, claiming to have received ‘encouraging and eulogistic letters’ from young and old, male and female, and from all sections of society (Welcome Guest, 1 [May-December 1858]: iv).


Vizetelly was certainly innovative in his launch of this periodical. A free sheet (a kind of advertising flyer) of the first story was printed in April 1858: ‘The Story of the Sultan Mourad and his Welcome Guest’. This precursor to the periodical was itself advertised on 11 April 1858 in The Era (p.16) as ‘gratis on application to any bookseller or news vendor throughout the kingdom’, and on 16 April 1858 The Newcastle Courant (p.16) published the complete story, concluding it with the announcement that: ‘THE WELCOME GUEST, illustrated with first-rate Engravings, and beautifully printed, may be obtained of all booksellers and news vendors on and after the First of May, PRICE ONE PENNY.’ The Welcome Guest described its own circulation as having been ‘secured by [the] judicious measures taken to obtain publicity for its advent’ (1.iii).

Text and illustrations

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he magazine’s content was varied, ranging from a reprinted translation of Gustav Freytag’s popular novel Debit and Credit (the first English edition was published by Richard Bentley in 1857) to new stories and journalistic and informative pieces by Sala and others. ‘Twice Round the Clock’ by Sala (for a short time the periodical’s editor) was serialised, beginning in the first issue. There were reprints of poems by Charles Kingsley, Robert Browning, Longfellow, Sheldon Chadwick, Thomas Hood, Coventry Patmore, William Allingham, and William Morris. Several pieces by Adelaide Procter, which had appeared in Household Words, were also reprinted in early issues of The Welcome Guest, shortly after her collected poems were published in Legends and Lyrics (George Bell and Sons) in early June 1858. The last page of each issue was devoted to matters raised by correspondents to the periodical, from questions of etiquette or grammar to factual information; these correspondents were referred to by initials, by first names, or under pseudonyms such as ‘Beauty’, ‘Plebian’, ‘Reformer’ and ‘An Innocent Little Girl’, and a large proportion of them appears to have been submitted by women. The periodical was most probably targeted at the classes of readership who would find the contents stimulating, interesting and broadening in terms of knowledge, but the weekly issues at 1d. were more affordable than some other periodicals of the date. The correspondence pages link The Welcome Guest back to the aspiring working class/lower middle class penny journals launched in the 1840s, such as The Family Herald and The London Journal.


The illustrations were listed in the index without any attribution, but, apart from the reproductions of work by well-known artists, identifiable illustrators/engravers included Arthur Hughes, William McConnell (who illustrated Sala’s ‘Twice Round the Clock’), J.W. Whymper, J.A. Benwell, ‘Bertall’ (Charles Albert, Vicomte d’Arnoux), and L. Chapon. By the second year of publication most illustrations had no discernible signature.

The first issue of The Welcome Guest was headed with a design engraved by Samuel [Vincent] Slader, and every subsequent issue contained a variety of illustrations, and engravings of paintings by Royal Academicians and Associate members, including Thomas Creswick, Frederick Goodall, Clarkson Stanfield, and John Constable. The first issue contained 16 pages, with nine illustrations. On Sunday 2 May 1858 Lloyd’s Weekly Newspaper reported that:

The first number of a new periodical lies before us: excellently printed — gracefully illustrated. It is, most certainly, the highest in tone, of all the penny periodicals now before the English public. We might add thatthere are many literary periodicals of higher price, that are neither so amusing, nor so graceful as the ‘Welcome Guest’ [p.8].

By the time of the third issue, on 15 May 1858, a motto from Shakespeare’s A Winter’s Tale had been added to the masthead: ‘A guest that best becomes the table’, and on 22 May the periodical announced that a smaller typeface had been adopted ‘to give at least one third more reading matter than we could crowd into any previous number’. A review of the Welcome Guest in The Era on 27 June 1858 felt that the periodical was designed

to suit that class of readers who desire to have the gravity of ‘Chambers’ or ‘Household Words’ grafted on the lighter and more exciting literature of the ‘London Journal’. And as far as these objects can be obtained the number under review gives every prospect of success. The literary matter is of a very high order, and as varied as it is excellent, and so, as a general rule, are the illustrations that accompany them [p.10].

An article in The Critic on 15 January 1858 (p.28) had commented on the sheer number of metropolitan weekly periodicals, forty-nine at that date, with new periodicals springing up as a consequence of the reduced cost of paper and the growing speed and size of newspaper presses. A later comment about The Welcome Guest in 20 November 1858 issue of The Saturday Review, suggested that additions to ‘The Penny Weekly Press’ were already rather too numerous: ‘The Welcome Guest [has] only yet attained half a year’s existence, and we must say that we should have thought the diggings already sufficiently occupied’(502). Despite this, a series of advertisements in The Athenæum from the beginning of 1859 seems to indicate that The Welcome Guest was still hoping to extend its readership. On 9 January 1859 The Era (p.10) described The Welcome Guest as sparkling with ‘information and amusement suited to all readers,’ with the ‘woodcut illustrations [ . . . ] worthy of the letterpress’; the review also described the writing in the periodical’s pages as ‘above that in any other equally cheap serial’, and judged that it was ‘midway between The Household Words and Punch, with some of the merits of each’.

When Robert B. Brough became the editor of The Welcome Guest in September 1859, the magazine announced changes in its format with an increase in the number of pages and a new typeface. Although it listed the artists who would be providing designs for future issues: H. K. Browne (‘Phiz’), H.G. Hine, Kenny Meadows, Harrison Weir, T.M. Macquoid, C.H. Bennet, W. McConnell, J. Deffett Francis, W.H. Prior, and Julian Portch, there were to be fewer illustrations in later numbers. The cost was also raised to 2d. per weekly issue.

The Welcome Guest allegedly had a circulation of 120,000 copies in the first year (Altick, p.395), but Vizetelly lost between £2,000 and £3,000 on it and eventually sold the copyright to John Maxwell, the publisher and husband of the novelist Mary Elizabeth Braddon, in 1860 (Korey, p.32). Several of Braddon’s short stories were published in The Welcome Guest during 1860-61 and The Lady Lisle was serialised from 6 April to 24 August 1861; Braddon’s last story in the periodical, ‘My First Happy Christmas’, in the Ralph the Bailiff and Other Tales series, was published in the issue for 15 December 1861 (Wolff, I, i, pp. 134, 140).

The Welcome Guest was a short-lived publication, folding in 1864 after further modifications in title and format, and a reduction in its price to ½d. (Beller, p.167), which is probably why Dickens failed to mention the periodical in his introduction to Procter’s Poems in 1866. The last issue of The Welcome Guest, no. 173 (volume 5), appeared on 17 December 1864, when it became incorporated with The Halfpenny Journal (Jay, 21 December 1918).

Related Material

Sources and Works Cited

Athenæum, The.

Derby Mercury.


Lloyd’s Weekly Newspaper.

Newcastle Courant.

Saturday Review.

The Welcome Guest. London: Houlstead and Wright, 1858–59.

Allingham, Helen, and E. Baumer Williams, eds. Letters to William Allingham. London: Longmans, Green, 1911.

Altick, Richard D. The English Common Reader: A Social History of the Mass Reading Public, 1800–1900. Second edn. Columbus, Ohio: Ohio State University Press, 1998.

Beller, Anne-Marie. Mary Elizabeth Braddon: a Companion to the Mystery Fiction. Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland, 2012.

Jay, Frank. ‘The Welcome Guest’, in ‘Peeps Into the Past: “Old-Time Periodicals” ’, The London Journal 21 December 1918. Compiled by Bill Blackbeard and Justin Gilbert (2001). Web. 12 April 2013.

Korey, Marie Elena.‘ “Plodding Along as Printers and Engravers”: The Early Years of Vizetelly & Company’, in Vizetelly & Compan(ies): A Complex Tale of Victorian Printing and Publishing. Ed. Marie Elena Korey and Richard Landon. Toronto: University of Toronto Library, 2003, pp.9–38.

Lohrli, Anne. Household Words: A Weekly Journal 1850 –1859 Conducted by Charles Dickens: Table of Contents, List of Contributors and Their Contributions Based on the Household Words Office Book in the Morris L. Parrish Collection of Victorian Novelists, Princeton University Library. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1973.

Scheuerle, William H. 'Belgravia', in British Literary Magazines: The Victorian and Edwardian Age, 1837-1913. Ed. Alvin Sullivan. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1984 , pp. 31-34.

Wolff, Robert Lee. Nineteenth-Century Fiction: A Bibliographical Catalogue Based on the Collection Formed by Robert Lee Wolff. New York: Garland, 1981–1986; facsimile edn, 5 vols in 2. Mansfield, CT: Martino, 1993.

Last modified 24 April 2013