Volume VII· Spring 1952 · Number 3
The Columbian Magazine
--PHILIP H. HIGHFILL, JR.
The University of Rochester Library has recently secured for its shelves an eighteenth-century American publication of extreme rarity. It is the first volume of The Columbian Magazine, or Monthly Miscellany, which embraces the sixteen months from September, 1786, through December, 1787, plus a supplementary number. The Library acquired this copy, which had belonged to the well-known book collector, Frank J. Hogan, at an auction last December. It had previously been sold at an auction in January, 1945, shortly after Mr. Hogan's death.
The magnificent Columbian Magazine, with its fourteen folding meteorological tables, its twenty-six rare and beautiful portraits and contemporary views, and its 890 pages crowded with living history, is, notwithstanding its "colonial" origin, one of the most attractive and animated productions of an age noted for the grace, spirit, and utility of its periodicals. It brings to life two of the most exciting years of our country's history, years in which the form of government was being passionately debated, years so soon after the war that a revolutionary ardor of purpose is discernible in most of the acts and thoughts which are recorded in the magazine's pages.
The Columbian Magazine is not a revolutionary journal in the sense of having fomented conspiracy and encouraged rebellion, but it has a revolutionary air. It celebrates the accomplishment of the break with England in every issue and almost on every page. The men who helped make the magazine were all men with a stake in the change. Mathew Carey (1760-1839), the magazine's chief founder, was a fiery Irishman who had been twice jailed in Dublin by the British for being too outspoken against their Irish policy in hisVolunteer's Journal. He had, according to James Playsted Wood, been a printer for Franklin at Passy during one of his flights to France. He had begun his American career with the foundation of the Pennsylvania Evening Herald, a newspaper, with $400 borrowed from the Marquis de Lafayette. Carey was a restless sort, though, and after midwifing the new magazine and writing a number of its articles, including a biography of General Nathanael Greene, he pulled out of the partnership in three months' time to establish the rivalAmerican Museum. Another of the first projectors was Charles Cist, a printer and publisher who had been born in Russia and had later moved from Germany to America bringing with him the genuine republican ideals found in many such early immigrants. Both Carey and Cist had technical knowledge as well as organizational ability, but additional reserves of technique were available in the other three of the five original projectors and especially in James Trenchard, a really fine copper-plate engraver who later became sole owner, and William Spotswood, an influential bookseller. These men were all intimately connected in one way or another with the Revolution and the first institutions of the free states and were acquainted with the leaders of government. Also, after April of 1787 Francis Hopkinson, the patriot poet and signer of the Declaration, and Alexander James Dallas, the future Secretary of the Treasury under Madison, were successive editors of the publication. Among the anonymous contributors were men like Benjamin Rush, David Rittenhouse, John Fitch, and Timothy Pickering, who were active in the intellectual affairs of the new country.
In form the Columbian Magazine resembles very nearly such English publications of the eighteenth century asThe Gentleman's Magazine and Smollett's Critical Review. A usual issue begins with an engraved frontispiece (and after January, 1787, with a table of contents) and continues with a variety of materials, factual and fictional, interspersed with occasional engravings, decorational or diagrammatical, and comes to a close after somewhat less than fifty pages with a few pages of verse ("The Columbian Parnassiad") and a few of news ("Intelligence"). All departments lean on the crutches of unpaid voluntary and anonymous contribution and simple theft - in the absence of copyright protection - from other publications. But there is far less piracy here than in other American magazines of the period, and as time goes on it becomes the studied distinction of the Columbian to publish original contributions from capable hands. It was the first magazine in the country to engage a professional editor and the first one to reimburse a correspondent.
The Columbian early stated its ambition to be "a future criterion of the opinions and characters of the age" and this ambition was later intensified until, in 1789, the publishers wished to assemble a complete "history of the Revolutionary war in documents and narratives . . ." The magazine is a repository of details of history and of biographical facts about the heroes of the Revolution because of its conscientious embalming of documents. But it serves a far wider historical purpose because the editors include letters of controversy and articles on scientific, literary, religious, and political topics. At the same time, they wisely exclude personality and struggle to maintain a fair if not unpartisan view. The large occurrences of the day are thoroughly reported but the small ones are there, too, informally, the way the social and intellectual historian wants them, in the reports of scientific societies, in the lively encounters over Biblical interpretation (the magazine had a font of Hebrew type which it used lavishly), in the news of the latest Indian war, in the beautiful and accurate engravings of city scenes, and, indeed, even in its poetry and prose fiction.
In that composite portrait of our ancestors painted by the Columbian Magazine the most obvious detail is pride in the new country. Though the literature presented, the institutions portrayed, and the mores and fashions revealed are not very different from their English counterparts, a ground swell of opposition to European ways is already apparent. There is a conscious wish to prove that "Time's noblest offspring is the last," that these are, as Bishop Berkeley had predicted they would be, the
. . .happy climes, the seat of innocence,
Where nature guides and virtue rules,
Where men shall not impose for truth and sense
The pedantry of courts and schools.
Yet though the conviction is clear that the course of empire had taken its way westward the Columbian'spages also reveal, in the very same breath with the formal defiance toward Albion, an almost humble desire to prove to Europeans that American scenery is grand, American ways are civilized, that the American experiment will succeed, a desire that in the succeeding century was to become at times almost pathological. In 1786, though, it is only a healthy and attractive Yankee Doodle showing off before his elders. The editors have this to say by way of introduction to the whole project:
As a considerable number of those magazines will be sent to different parts of Europe, and as they will, possibly, prove a criterion by which the literary taste of this country will be judged there-we hope this will be a strong inducement to men of abilities to favour us with their correspondence.
Thus were "literati of every class and denomination" solicited to assist the patriotic project: "Let not the inexperienced be intimidated from assuming the pen." It was, of course, a monetary project too, and the subscription price of twenty shillings a year was high enough for the times; but subscribers got their money's worth both in useful information and the satisfactions of nationalism.
Though the collection of sovereign states was only a loose confederation when the magazine was born in 1786 already many people in the country felt that further consolidation was imperative. The first abortive Annapolis constitutional convention had been held. The final great convention in Philadelphia, from May to September of 1787 came in time to furnish the best matter for both articles and news columns of this first volume. It was by no means necessary in such a climate for the magazine to prime the pump, but it does so slyly anyway in some of its "Queries submitted to our Correspondents for a fair and candid Discussion." Tongue well in cheek it asks: "Are sumptuary laws compatible with the liberty of the American republics?" and "The laws of Sparta and Athens, were founded upon principles diametrically opposite - which were best calculated to promote the happiness of mankind?"
The Columbian inadvertently proffers some history along these lines in printing as routine matter the address of young John Quincy Adams at the commencement of the "University of Cambridge" on July 18, 1787. Here the young man (a junior who had already studied at Leyden and been fourteen months with the luckless Ambassador Dana at the court of Catherine the Great) looks at Shays's Rebellion, the decline of public punctiliousness in the payment of debts, and especially the tendency of some of the states to renege the implied promise of federation. He reveals some of the asperity which made him so cordially hated and warmly respected as sixth President and, afterwards, in Congress.
The first form of the Federal Constitution of September 17, 1787, with the list of delegates appears in the September issue for that year under the running title "The new Plan for a Foederal Government" but with no preliminary title or introduction whatever, beginning baldly on page 659, "WE, the People of the United States. . ." The proceedings of the four months while the controversial document was in preparation and in the stormy months before its ratification are reflected faithfully in the magazine's pages. The issues in the first volume stretch over the most exciting period, when Philadelphia was crowded with notables, among them Washington, Franklin, Hamilton, James Madison, John Dickinson, Charles Pinckney, Roger Sherman, Robert Morris, Gouverneur Morris, and James Wilson, so that illustrious names brighten the pages. The nation-to-be was divided over whether or not it was to be a nation undivided, but regardless of where men stood, a glowing pride in the works and wonders of the new country was almost universal judging from theColumbian Magazine. The view of America that is held up to the gaze of posterity is by and large an idealistic one. Early eighteenth century optimism about "progress" still burgeons here. There are harsh spots; although the selective policy of the magazine naturally favors the good, the editors make no attempt to suppress the realities of American existence. If credit is low and money is cheap, if Shays's farmers are forcing courts of justice in New England and Indians are being suborned into rebellion by Britishers on the frontiers, still all will come right in a land where the wilderness is fertile and man is free, where General Washington strides, a living, prodigious lesson for all.
There is a great deal of Washingtoniana in the first issue of the Columbian, but hardly any of it is in the Weems vein. It is hardly possible anywhere to get a better picture, in situ, of the universal veneration in which the ex-Commander was held in the years before his first inauguration. Bits of earlier Washington memorabilia like the "Speech of his excellency General Washington, when the president of congress informed him of his being unanimously chosen commander in chief of the American army," are dredged up for reprint. The leading articles in two successive numbers, for example, are carefully documented letters in defense of Washington's conduct of the affair of the British Captain Asgill who was claiming in Britain (apparently quite falsely) that he had been ill-treated while a war captive. Something of the enthusiasm which had tempted Colonel Nicola and others to offer the purple of royalty to Washington is seen in the news reports of his comings and goings:
We have the pleasure to announce the arrival of General Washington on Sunday last, who was met and escorted into this city, by a troop of light-horse. Notwithstanding the badness of the weather great numbers of respectable citizens assembled in the streets to hail him as he passed, and universal satisfaction was communicated upon finding our old and faithful commander in the full enjoyment of his health and fame.
The new country was, in short, looking at itself in history's mirror and flexing its muscles admiringly. The euphoria and perhaps the surprise of the hard-won victory over the British had not worn off, and America was enjoying the still-new sensation of being able freely to celebrate its own variety of John Bullism. The spectacle is not unpleasant perhaps because the brashness was tempered by a feeling of rawness and gawkiness complicated by a desire to demonstrate to Mother England that we were not gawky and raw. Sometimes there are letters of approval and encouragement from private Britons, friends to the new Republic. These are always quoted in full. Occasionally, though, a real plum falls. Such a one is this report in the May, 1787, issue: "The Herveian society of Edinburgh have adjudged their annual prize, for 1786, to Mr. Benjamin Smith Barton, of Philadelphia." Barton, a Pennsylvania physician and naturalist, was the author ofElements of Botany (1803), America's first textbook on the subject.
There appears to be a genuine anticipation of future greatness in the minds of many of the Columbian'seditors and writers. Carey himself has an anonymous dream of 1850. The dreamer seizes a newspaper in a "coffee-house" and finds that the American navy is soundly thrashing the Algerine pirates; that "At length the canal across the isthmus of Darien is completed. It is about 60 miles long, and half a mile broad ... The cost has been about £100,000." The thirtieth state has just entered the union. (Carey's prescience here is phenomenal: California, the thirty-first state entered when 1850 was well under way!) A man has just been convicted for not sending his son to school. Most striking (and ironic) of all is the item:
Charleston, April 15. No less than 10,000 blacks have been transported from this state and Virginia, during the last two years to Africa, where they have formed a settlement near the mouth of the river Goree. Very few blacks remain in the country now; and we sincerely hope that in a few years every vestige of the infamous traffic, carried on by our ancestors in the human species, will be done away.
In fact it is this matter of slavery which furnishes the most persistent discord in the harmonious hymn to the new land which goes up from the pages of the Columbian Magazine. Every mention of slavery in the first volume of the magazine casts abuse on the institution. There is even a "dream" called "The Paradise of Negro-Slaves" in which the dreamer, quitting this vale, goes to the land where the worn-out slaves go, apparently a Jim-Crow heaven. There he is greeted with an ecstatically sung paean to the Quaker, Anthony Benezet, an anti-slavery educator. More realistic and helpful to this cause is the news-report (by way of London, curiously, whence so much domestic news came):
Accounts from America relate, that Mr. Pleasants, a Quaker, of James River, Virginia, has lately given freedom to his negroes, who, as property, at a low valuation, are estimated at three thousand pounds.
But freeing slaves was, except for a few idealists like Mr. Thomas Jefferson, still largely an eccentricity of Quakers, who had been active abolitionists since long before the days of John Woolman.
Most other complaints against life in the new land are aimed either at the British or at various British and European shackles of convention which must now be thrown off, or at the savage Indian who harassed the western frontiers. It is still a shock to twentieth-century readers to realize how close even the be-periwigged seaboard cities were, for all their new elegance, to the frontier which in the eighteenth century generated incident after bloody incident. In the October, 1786, issue alone several columns of the "Intelligence" feature are given over to grim news of the relentless antipathy (fanned by the British, it was charged) of the Indian to the white. Sudden raids and massacres in western Pennsylvania, along Lake Erie, where Wyandots and Delawares are on the rampage are recounted with grim circumstantiality, and lists of missing and murdered appear.
There are the same brutal tidings from Richmond about Virginia's western borders and Kentucky. Here militia are forming to chastise the Indians. A fifteen-hundred-man expedition under "General Clark of Virginia, whom the Indians dread, and stile the Big Knife," has forayed to the falls of the Ohio, where Clark is said to be planning "to lay their towns in ashes, destroy their corn, kill and scalp as many as he may conquer." As if in answer to any possible protest against excessive severity, the next dispatch taken from a letter from the Gajahaga river, charges: "The Shawanese seem inclined for war--they lately burnt two white women, and two white men, prisoners, alive, having first cut off their legs." The whole bloody chronicle is summed up with a dispatch received by Congress from a Colonel Harmar, reporting the "hostile designs" of the western nations, in which the chief plotters are Shawnees, "Pewtawatimes," Chippeways, Wabash, Cherokees, and Mingoes. Congress replies by furnishing a levy of 1340 men from the militia of several states to help stop the depredations, but not before a "most melancholy disaster . . . between Laurel-river and Racoon-creek" in which twenty-five Chicamogas kill sixteen whites and capture five young women. General Clark retaliates by burning some Wia towns on the Wabash, with "great slaughter" and sixty prisoners taken. Such news is a staple throughout the first volume, and even in the poetry columns there is hardly any of the sentimentalizing of the "noble savage" so popular in eighteenth-century Britain. (Though there is a filler: "Anecdotes of Pocahunta [sic], an Indian Princess from whom several respectable families in Virginia are descended." This is in the same tone as George Washington Parke Custis' drama Pocahontas, and Barker'sIndian Princess in which the Princess herself is the noblest savage of them all.)
Although the questions of federalism, slavery, and hostile Indians a little mar the idyllic picture, they are really minor blemishes on the scene of general progress and optimism. The view of the country that emerges is, discounting these spots, not unlike the allegorical engraving with which volume one of theColumbian opens. In this noble picture:
While Commerce spreads her canvass o'er the main,
And Agriculture ploughs the grateful plain
Minerva aids Columbia's rising race
With arms to triumph and with arts to grace
The obligation to record the bitter with the sweet hardly interrupts the Columbian's celebration of the national virtues. The "Parnassiad" for May, 1787, for instance, points with pride to a recent patriotic accomplishment by an ex-Revolutionary soldier soon to distinguish himself as a diplomat:
Joel Barlow, Esquire, of Hartford, in Connecticut, has just published a Poem in nine books, entitled THE VISION OF COLUMBUS. This Poem, written with true poetic energy, and enrich'd with a great variety of just and elegant sentiments, does honor to the author and to his country. The following extract from the Seventh Book, or the Progress of Arts in America, cannot but be acceptable to our readers.
The editors are right, though neither this brocade-stiff effusion by Barlow, nor his later, longer Columbiadwere ever as popular as his celebration of a lowlier American blessing, The Hasty-Pudding.
A defensive pride in the new American cities is exhibited, too. Philadelphia, the home of the Columbian, in 1787 "affords the most striking picture which has been exhibited for ages." Why?:
Here, at the same moment, the collective wisdom of the continent deliberates upon the extensive politics of the confederated empire, an episcopal convention clears and distributes the streams of religion throughout the American world, and those veterans whose valour and perseverance accomplished a mighty revolution [the Society of the Cincinnati?], are once more assembled to recognize their fellowship in arms.
The frontispiece for July, 1787, is a beautiful Trenchard engraving of the drawing by C. W. Peale of the Pennsylvania state-house, "a building which will, perhaps, become more interesting in the history of the world, than any of the celebrated fabrics of Greece and Rome." The account continues, with a sharp sense of history, after recalling the signing of the Declaration of Independence, to say that at the moment another fateful document is being deliberated there. "Nor," it concludes, "will posterity easily determine whether greater gratitude is due to those citizens whose courage originally asserted the liberties, or to those whose wisdom afterwards provided the means for perpetuating the happiness of America."
But Philadelphia through its publication can be urbanely gracious to its sister cities, especially when by doing so it can serve the end of national aggrandizement. The frontispiece to the last regular issue of the first volume is a long, twice-folded panorama engraving of "A View of the Town of Boston the Capital of New England," a view which is, incidentally, extremely rare and which in the Library's copy is in excellent condition. Opposite the view is a text which informs us of the town's dimensions and its population (20,000), enumerates its buildings, and describes the beauty of its streets. Here "Arts and Sciences seem to have made a greater progress ..." admits the Columbian, "than in any other part of America. Harvard-college has been founded above a hundred years ... The arts are, undeniably, much forwarder in Massachusetts' Bay, than either in Pennsylvania or New-York. The public buildings are more elegant; and there is a more general turn for music, painting, and the belle lettres."
But while commendations are given for excelling in Europe's ways, there are hardier correspondents who are eager to erase all traces of English influence. Already, in 1786, we find one who subscribes himself simply "a business man" demanding the establishment of an authoritative academy to regulate pronunciation and orthography. It seems to the reader as if the very variety of American regional speech and spelling which so annoys him should force him logically to demand regulation from some older authority, perhaps the British. But this is not so. We are in Babel in the states because we are "determined to copy after every European whim." A "Doctor Plainsense," who writes from "New York Island" protests not only the "pedantry of technical phraseology" and the "prolix formal stiffness" of botanical classifiers and others "who servilely follow Linnaeus, or Caspar Bohan in their dead language," but thinks that Americans should collect the common remedies of the back country and the Indians and let them be "improved by gentlemen of physic, of clear philosophic heads." There is no necessity for foreign languages or "cramp terms," but if there should be "It would perhaps be better to introduce the tongues of the six nations, Chicksaws, Cherokees, &c. instead of the ones in vogue; for among these tribes of savages, there is more useful knowledge of our country vegetables, than in Europe, Asia, and Africa."
Occasionally even a European would urge an America-first course, and such admonitions were gladly given space. "The Utility of Fixing the fine Arts in America, in a Letter from a Foreigner of rank, to a Citizen of the United States" is an example. The anonymous foreigner urges an indigenous American culture, with no dependence on Europe.
"Buy American" had been a familiar cry for a hundred years and the Columbian prints articles encouraging American manufactories of several items. "Americanus," in an article of economic theory "On American Manufactures," proposes in typical eighteenth-century fashion, "that a Society be instituted, for the encouragement of arts, manufactures, and commerce," and another correspondent rejoices that our subservience to Great Britain in the matter of making the homely nail is now over.
Americans reveal themselves persuaded above all things of the physical superiority of their country to Europe. There is an elixir in freedom's air, affecting both man and state:
New-York, March 26 . There is a singular instance of longevity, exhibited in Montgomery county, in this state. One William Coppernall, being now living there, who was born in the year 1677, and is now 109 years old. This old man has lived to see seven sovereigns wield the British sceptre; and in the evening of life has the happiness to see liberty dawning in the West, under the auspices of a new and rising empire established in those wilds. . .
This sort of claim was no doubt put forward in part defensively against the sort of affront to the Western Hemisphere for which Jefferson had taken the French naturalist Buffon so severely to task in Notes on the State of Virginia published in 1784-85. Buffon, an environmentalist, had said that America's fauna, including perhaps her men, were inferior to their European counterparts. Jefferson had cited impressive manifestations of life, from animal fossils to Washington and Rittenhouse to prove that the productions of this hemisphere are superior. The Columbian pointedly refutes Buffon, and once reprints Jefferson to do so.
Since Americans are in these first years after the war busily exploring the country, descriptions of its natural wonders take a good share of space. There is a striking full-page plate of the great natural bridge in what is now Rockbridge County, Virginia, which tradition says was first discovered by the young Washington as he surveyed lands for Lord Fairfax. Most interesting to New Yorkers, there is a large engraving of a "Chalybeate Spring near Saratoga." The Springs, "about eleven miles west from Gen. Schuyler's house" are carefully investigated by a correspondent, who gets most of his information on the springs' overflow from a "gentleman, who had his daughter at the waters for the cure of the king's evil" (scrofula). His conclusion is interesting: that the flow of the springs is not regulated by the influence of the moon.
Any information of a scientific cast seems grist for the magazine's mill because the century was consumingly interested in such matters. Then there was a great deal of travelling, much of it perforce in wild and little-known country, so that there was encouragement for every literate frontiersman and circuit-riding parson and judge, every surveyor and trapper and trader to keep his eyes open for "wonders." The frontispiece for November, 1786, is a large plate showing such a collection, a part of which was brought by a Colonel de Bralun from western Pennsylvania the year before. There is a jet-black three-foot thighbone weighing seventy-nine pounds, "part of a jaw, with the grinders, and part of a tusk" which is also three feet long, a snake rattle with forty-four fibulae, and "a curious Non-descript Fish." The fish looks a good deal like a gar pike, but the fossil bones might be anything so far as the colonel and the lay subscriber are concerned.
Correspondents in America and abroad, caught up in the fever, send in "experiments" and comments, ranging from the attempts of a Viennese physician to transfuse blood, to the claims of the Frenchman Bottineau to be able to detect by a "philosophical method" the approach of vessels at sea up to 250 leagues.
The scientific spirit is combined with regulation eighteenth-century moral didacticism in an essay on "The Art of procuring pleasant Dreams." This, while it ends conventionally enough with the admonition that the best inducement to sleep is a good conscience, is really written to advance the startling (and possibly typically American) doctrine that you should have "a constant supply of fresh air in your bed-chamber." It is a mistake to sleep in curtained beds and rooms "exactly closed." "No outward air that may come in to you, is so unwholesome as the unchanged air, often breathed, of a close chamber." There is more of this heretical nature directed against "aerophobia."
If one wants to expell "those noxious Vapours, called Damps," from wells being dug, one researcher has discovered empirically that the best equipment is a fire hose and a large bellows, with which fresh air can be blown in to men at work. In "tonguing" a harpsichord, says another writer, use shoe-leather for the "tongues" instead of the orthodox crow's quills. The method is minutely exposed. In several issues the Reverend Manasseh Cutler, F.A.A. and M.S., is given space for botanical lists of native American plants. The erring Comte de Buffon is welcomed respectfully when he sends a memoir to Dr. Franklin on the preparation and preservation of marine and ornithological specimens. Edwards, in one of his volumes on natural history, had advanced William Bartram's claim of having discovered a new variety of wren, one "Ruby-crowned." This bird is reproduced in a full-page plate. The constitution of the Philosophical Society is proudly carried in full and many of the proceedings and speeches are recorded. "A Letter from David Rittenhouse, Esq. to the Hon. Francis Hopkinson, respecting the Generation of Clouds in the Atmosphere," is run in full. A communication to the magazine from Timothy Pickering, society secretary, on the efficacy of binding soil with grass is reproduced. Every month after October, 1786, a folding meteorological table appears. There is an article on and an engraving of Fitch's twelve-paddle steamboat. There are solemn "scientific" observations on the possibility of "spiritual beings," essays on bee-keeping, conjectures as to the origins of fountains, announcements of agronomical prizes, interesting (and perfectly incorrect) speculations about the origins of icebergs. Rhyming mathematical problems are posed in many "Parnassiads" by pseudonymous correspondents and answered in subsequent issues by others. Such a wit-cracking exchange, like the one between "Philaster" and "Philelios" may go on for months. Navigational problems are great favorites in this competition.
Not all correspondents are in sympathy with the new science. Some are Swiftian in opposition. There is a half mock-heroic, half seriously didactic poem on the folly of flouting the laws of God by attempting flight, in one of the "Parnassiads." The poet's exemplary folly is that of the infatuated Pilatre de Rosiere who with another aeronaut had ascended in a vapour balloon near Boulogne, only to crash and be killed when the balloon caught fire.
And hence let distant future ages know
What dire effects from mad ambition flow,
Learn hence to curb each wild presumptuous dream,
Each foolish project, each aerial scheme;
To keep their veins within their proper sphere,
Nor cars, nor castles launch into the air.
As interested as the practical new nation is in government, science, and mechanics, however, there is room for art. One of the best things about the Columbian is its attempts within its means to encourage American writers of poetry and fiction. Most of the prose writers bring weak "Gothic" and sentimental offerings: "eastern tales" of the conversion of beautiful Ottoman maidens under the influence of pious and brave Christians, "moral" and "instructive" stories straight out of Richardson's bag of tricks. But Jeremy Belknap'sThe Foresters, an American Tale, the first faint glimmering of the purely American historical romance, makes its appearance in the first volume of the magazine. Amelia, or the Faithless Briton, which the Library also owns in one of the 1798 book editions, appears in the first volume and the supplement thereto. There is no evidence that the proprietors of the magazine saw special significance in either of these stories. Belknap is paid for his, but then his story line is superior to everything else which appears.
Amelia, indeed, almost never got finished in volume one. It begins well enough, with the leading spot in the October, 1787, issue, where it is heralded as "an Original Novel, founded upon recent facts." The novel runs for the first six pages and ends at one of those moments of suspense familiar to readers of any literatureseriatim or attenders of serial movies, where the betrayed and abandoned Amelia is about to quaff poison: "She rose and lifted the glass. At that instant, a noise on the stairs attracted her attention, and a voice anxiously pronouncing-- 'It must be so!--nay, I will see her--' arrested the dreadful potion in its passage to her lips. 'It is my Amelia!' exclaimed Horatio [her searching father], as he hastily entered the room. (To be continued.)" The frontispiece is an engraving of this scene: a shabby room, a dead child wraith-like laid on the tattered bed, the distraught Amelia with a poison-chalice raised, turning toward the door which is opening to disclose the horrified father. The editors embarrassedly put off printing the final portion in November and December, though there is a notice under "To Correspondents" in November that it "will be inserted in our next ... if subjects of a prior claim do not prevent it." It is finally printed, among remedies for gout and texts of treaties, in the supplement to the first volume.
Amelia is hardly art and scarcely a novel. Its anonymous author has written a tale plainly derived from Goldsmith's Vicar of Wakefield, weakened by sensationalism and sentimentalism, and rather obviously dragging in the Revolution by the heels as a matter to add topical interest to its preposterous fable. But it has historical interest both for the latter feature and for being, as Quinn says, the leader of a "procession of moral tales by which a suffering heroine is made the innocent victim of seduction." In 1798 Spotswood, one of the original proprietors of the Columbian, was instrumental in printing up the novel with a separate title page and binding it with other small productions, in several forms, to take advantage of the wave of tales of unfortunate girls, of which Amelia had been the first in this country. The Library's copy is bound up with a brief life of Cervantes, de Florian's adaptation of Cervantes' pastoral Galatea in translation, Amelia, or Malevolence Defeated (which bears no relation whatever to the other Amelia), and "Miss Seward's Monody on Major Andre," a very pro-British and even anti-American poem. Whether it is the first, second, or third form of the book version is uncertain. Three and perhaps more came out in 1798.
The tale, like the magazine in which it first appeared, exhibits that division in the early American character of defiance toward the motherland and reverence toward her opinion. But the tale, interesting as it is to the scholar is a slight thing beside the richness of the magazine, in which it is hard to conceive any American, whether his interests are antiquarian or not, being uninterested. In both, however, the Library has acquired literary property of far more than ordinary interest and value.