Annuals


"For the next forty or fifty years [after 1822] we find practically no magazines of verse, a result, no doubt, of the rise of the Annual, which flourished during the '20's and '30's, and absorbed the production of poets up to and beyond the middle of the century." --Walter Graham, British Literary Periodicals (New York: Thomas Nelson & Sons, 1930): 368-9.


In 1849, a major source of poetry and artwork was the gift-books, or annuals. Though they had peaked in the 1820s and 30s (when a single volume could sell up to fifteen thousand copies), between 1849-50 between fifty and sixty American gift-books and ten English gift-books were still in production, including the most famous of all, The Keepsake. Annuals would not fade out completely until the end of the century. Costing between twelve shillings and one guinea, their target audience was middle-class women. Usually published just before Christmas, annuals arrived just in time for purchase by devoted suitors seeking a sentimental token of affection that would impress a young lady.

From the start, the poetry in the annuals played a secondary role to the accompanying illustrations. The high quality of these illustrations was made possible by the replacement of steel for copper in the engraving process. While copper plates could break down after a hundred impressions, steel was hard enough to preserve the quality of the original plate for thousands of impressions. Most annuals included between eight and twelve engravings of famous or contemporary paintings, landscapes, exotic settings, or portraits of fashionable men and women.

Another mainstay of the annuals were the extravagant bindings. Bound in leather, cloth boards, silk, and even sometimes velvet or satin, annuals displayed ornately decorated embossed covers and gilt-edged pages calculated to charm the eye of young middle- class women.

Most annuals were duodecimo (pocket-sized) or octavo volumes. To increase their potential "snob appeal," gift-book publishers sought titled women for editors and offered famous contemporary writers tremendous sums to submit poems or stories. Among those successfully solicited were Wordsworth, Coleridge, Byron, Scott, Percy and Mary Shelley, Dickens, Thackeray, Tennyson, Robert and Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Southey, Landor, Disraeli, and Bulwer-Lytton. Most contributors, however, were middle class women, famous (Letitia Landon, Felicia Hemans) or unknown, who supported themselves by writing on demand for the annuals.

The quality of the verse and prose in annuals tended to be low, since publishers relied more on the quality of the engravings and the reputations of the writers to sell copy. Contributing to the low quality of the verse was the fact that the poetry was written on demand to accompany the (already-selected) engravings, rather than the reverse. Common subjects for gift-book poetry included courtship, orientalism, "sensational" subjects, and non-explicit eroticism.

The arrangement of The Germ implies a rejection of the tradition represented by the annuals. For one, the paper binding of each volume stands in stark contrast to the elaborate gift- book covers. In addition, the Pre Raphaelites chose to illustrate The Germ with etchings rather than steel engravings. The etching process, which subjects a metal plate to an acid bath instead of cutting it with a burin, produces lines which exhibit a "freedom, genuinely akin to drawing," in contrast to the "much more formal and artificial lines" produced by engraving. [Bamber Goscoigne, How to Identify Prints (Thames and Hudson, 1986) 55e.]

The Pre Raphaelites used one etching per issue (in contrast to the eight to twelve engravings in each annual), and, in all but the third issue, avoided any correlation between the artwork and the written works. (see "Cordelia")

Further Information on Annuals

Adburgham, Alison. Silver Fork Society: Fashionable Life and Literature from 1814 to 1840. Constable: London, 1983.

---. Women in Print: Writing Women and Women's Magazines from the Restoration to the Accession of Victoria. London: George Allen and Unwin, 1972.

Bose, A. "The Verse of the English `Annuals.'" Review of English Studies 4 (1953): 38-51.

Boyle, Andrew. An Index to the Annuals. Worcester: Andrew Boyle, 1967.

Faxon, Frederic W. Literary Annuals and Gift Books: A Bibliography, 1823-1903. 1912. Boston: Private Libraries, 1973.

Manning, Peter J. "Wordsworth in the Keepsake, 1829." Literature in the Marketplace: Nineteenth-Century British Publishing and the Circulation of Books. Ed. John O. Jordan and Robert L. Patten. New York: Cambridge UP, 1995.

Renier, Anne. Friendship's Offering: An Essay on the Annuals and Gift Books of the 19th Century. London: Private Libraries, 1964.

Watts, Alaric Alfred. Alaric Watts: A Narrative of His Life. 2 vols. 1884. New York: AMS, 1974.