Cheap serials, periodicals and mass-market editions

Barclay lived through the second half of the 19th century when access to educational resources improved markedly, providing a more guided route to classical culture. The formal infrastructure, with the Elementary Education Acts of 1870 and 1880, Board schools, and an increasingly standardised curriculum, raised the level of rudimentary education. He also experienced the rapid evolution of an informal infrastructure for self-education, consisting of public libraries, adult educational establishments, reading rooms, educative periodicals and other affordable improving publications. ‘Many a studious youth’, he reflects, ‘has blessed another publisher, namely Cassell, for bringing out the Popular Educator’.“14

This improved educational provision was experienced too by Adams, the ‘Social Atom’, with whom this chapter began. He placed the birth of the cheap popular education periodical in the 1840s. The key publications were Charles Knight’s Penny Magazine, Penny Cyclopaedia and Shilling Volume, William and Robert Chambers’ Chambers Journal and John Cassell’s Popular Educator (Figure 3.2). These pioneers, all ‘in the same ruinous business’, as Cassell would

“ A School, an Academy, and a University.“

Sehool Board Chronicle.

New Serial Issue

in Monthly Parts, 6(1., of the



Cassell’s Popular Educator.

Part 1 ready Nov. 25, 1884, price 67Z.

HoMurable Succeu. Honncred Age.

When the Right Hon. Robert Lowe (now Ix>rd Sherbrooke), a few years ago, addressed the working men of Halifax on the best methods of self-education, he did not hesitate to place The Popular Educator as the first book in the first rank. He said :—

If you give a child instruction, you have given him the potentiality of “ possessing any amount of knowledge he pleases. Another thing I will “ mention for the benefit of those young men who arc wishful to possess “ that amount of knowledge—one or two excellent books, which, if they “ would read, would place them in a position, and give them an intelligent “ power of judging of the world and the things around them superior to that “ of many honourable and other gentlemen with whom I am acquainted. “NOW, THE FIRST BOOK WHICH I WILL RECOMMEND “IS CASSELL’S ‘EDUCATOR.’ A man who has road, and “thoroughly knows tho contents of this, is a man who will undor-“ stand tho greatest part of what is going on around him, which is “a groat deal more than can bo said of tho best Grook or Latin ** scholar, or even tho accomplished lawyer.”

Although more than a million copies have been sold of Cassell’s Popular Educator in the various editions which have been successively

Advert for Cassell’s Popular Educator (1884), reproduced by courtesy of The British Library

FIGURE 3.2 Advert for Cassell’s Popular Educator (1884), reproduced by courtesy of The British Library.

put it, ‘of giving the vulgar people more knowledge for a "Penny” than the lords used to have for a pound’,4’ built on earlier enterprises in south-east Scotland and Lord Brougham’s Society for the Diffusion of Useful Knowledge (on these see below, pp. 122-3 and 241-5). Cassell joked that ‘the country is positively threatened with cooks, housemaids, nurses, footmen, grooms, mechanics, and peasants, that will have more information, intelligence, piety, and morality, than the kings, lords, clergy, and gentry, of the olden time!46

As a teenaged apprentice printer to the owner of the Cheltenham Journal, Adams attended nightly classes and meetings. He founded a literary and debating society called the People’s Institute, the first sign of his political awakening. ‘If I did not at that time educate myself’, Adams reflected on the 1840s and early 1850s, ‘I at least did the next best thing—I tried to’.47 He recalls how ‘English grammar was picked up from [William] Cobbett; the lessons in Cassell’s Popular Educator afforded some insight into Latin; French was studied from the same pages in conjunction with another youth’,48 although he believed that Tom Paine’s works and lectures at the local Philosophical Institution had been more useful.49

Adams moved to London in the 1850s and wrote for the radical press. Under the pseudonym Caractacus he fulminated against slavery and demanded social reform in articles for Charles Bradlaugh’s National Reformer. In 1864 he was the successful editor of the ‘Pit-man’s Bible’ (the radical Newcastle Weekly Chronicle), and continued to educate himself. For Adams, ‘Most of the self-educated people of my age and of later generations owe a deep debt of gratitude to John Cassell’.’0

Adams was not exaggerating. John Cassell (1817-1865), who began life as a child labourer in a Manchester cotton mill and velveteen factory, was apprenticed at 16 to a joiner in Salford.51 He became involved with the Temperance movement and lectured for the National Temperance Society, dressed in his joiner’s apron. At 20, he walked away from the poverty of his childhood to London, married and opened a tea and coffee business. He ventured into the world of educational publishing, ‘for the purpose’, as he wrote in May 1851, ‘of issuing a series of publications... calculated to advance the moral and social wellbeing of the working classes’.’2 One of these was The Working Man’s Friend, and Family Instructor (established 1850). From its inception it aimed to deliver ‘what was wanted at the fireside of THE WORKING MAN, to improve his evening hour after his day of toil’.53 Cassell had become a vociferous advocate for ‘mutual instruction’, which took place in what he called the ‘operative academy’:

Oxford, Cambridge, Edinburgh, Glasgow, and similar places, are insignificant institutions, compared with our smithies, weaving, spinning, grinding, tailoring, carpentering, and shoe-making establishments. When boys or girls, men or women, go to any of these operative academies, they are not merely taught the art, trade, or mystery to which they are apprenticed, but there is a deeper and more important moral and intellectual education to which they are subjected.54

In 1852 Cassell launched his famous Popular Educator, which immediately became the staple reading of the working-class autodidact. The alumni of Cassell’s ‘school, academy and university’ include not only Barclay and Adams, but the future Prime Minister David Lloyd George, and the workhouse boy who became Oxford Professor of Comparative Philology, Joseph Wright. We shall meet them both later.’5

Thomas Burt (1837-1922), a Northumberland miner, began working life as a ‘trapper boy’ at Haswell Pit but lived to become Privy Councillor to King Edward VII and Father of the House of Commons. Burt considered Cassell’s publication the ‘chief handbook’ in his self-instruction. He remembers sitting

at the end of the table armed with the Popular Educator and a Latin dictionary, while with slate and pencil I translated as best I could the Latin lessons into English and the English into Latin. For variety and exercise I occasionally strolled into the fields and lanes, usually taking with me long lists of words, written out in shorthand, which I had taught myself from Pitman’s Phonographic Manual. These Latin words, with their English meanings, I committed to memory.56

Cassell, however, cannot take credit for the lessons in his Educator; he was no classical scholar. The philological brains behind his entrepreneurial brawn belonged to the Reverendjohn Relly Beard. A devout Unitarian minister, Beard opened a school in Salford and later an important college for training Unitarian preachers. He was a crucial force behind the movement for popular education in Lancashire. His father was a Portsmouth small tradesman, with nine children, who were therefore brought up in a degree of poverty. At a time when other Unitarians feared that training ministers from the lowest classes would harm their cause, Beard never wavered in his zeal for universal educational to the highest level.

By the time he contributed the weekly lessons in Latin, Greek and English Literature to Cassell’s Popular Educator, he had already produced Latin Made Easy (1848) and several accessible works on biblical subjects. He demonstrated the true extent of his political radicalism by publishing a biography of the leader of the Haiti slave rebellion, Toussaint L’Ouverture.57 In his Greek lessons, released as a collected textbook edition entitled Cassell’s Lessons in Greek ... Intended Especially for those u>ho are Desirous of Learning Greek without the Assistance of a Master, he describes the readership he assumes:

Little more than some general acquaintance with grammar, and some general knowledge, shall I take for granted as possessed by my students. My purpose is to simplify the study of Greek so as to throw open to all who are earnest in the great work of self-culture. Nor need any industrious person of ordinary capacity despair of acquiring skill to read the New Testament; and if he pleases, and will persevere, he may go on to an intimate acquaintance with Xenophon, Demosthenes, Thucydides, Homer, and the other Greek classics.58

Although he did not did not learn Greek with Beard, Burt’s classical education was extensive. With only two years’ worth of formal schooling, at 17 he embarked on a serious course of self-study, which included Latin via the Popular Educator.

Fortunately, his father, also a collier at Seaton Délavai, had a collection of books that Thomas read.’9 ‘It was greatly to his credit’, mused Burt,

that, with his [father’s] scanty education and his narrow means, he had collected together so many good books. Yet, in truth, his books were few and insignificant enough. They greatly lacked variety, consisting almost entirely of sermons and theological works.60

One book that made a significant impact on Burt was Gibbon’s Decline and Fall, which he purchased one volume at a time:

My father, whom I always consulted about books, expressed grave doubts as to whether Gibbon was altogether safe and healthy for me. He had not himself read Gibbon’s masterly work, except in extracts, but he knew something of the author’s reputation for learning, and, alas! he must often have heard Gibbon classed with Voltaire, Hume, and others, and denounced from pulpits as an infidel ... My heart however was set upon Gibbon ... With youthful glee I read [the first volume] till a late hour. I slept but little that night; the book haunted my dreams. I awoke about four on the bright summer Sunday morning, and went into the fields to read till breakfast-time.

Gibbon was available to Burt on a pitman’s wage because it had between 1853 and 1855 been published by another titan of cheap literature, Henry Bohn (1796-1884), in his ‘Bohn’s British Classics’ series. Before Bohn, buying new books would have been unthinkable for a miner. His ‘Libraries’, including his famed ‘Classical Library’ of Greek and Roman classics, consisted of over 600 volumes; the Gentleman’s Magazine opined in 1884 that it had ‘established the habit in middle-class life, of purchasing books instead of obtaining them from a library’.61 But Bohn’s inexpensive volumes, as Burt’s case shows, were not bought only by the middle classes.

The stately, majestic march of Gibbon’s periods had some attraction for me even then; but the Decline and Fall, it must be admitted, was hard reading for an unlettered collier lad. Yet I plodded on until I had finished the book which, besides its direct teachings, brought me many indirect advantages.62

Bohn’s contribution to people’s Classics goes deeper. He pioneered the provision of translated literature to the Victorian mass market, thus proving instrumental in the démocratisation of reading. ‘Bohn’s Classical Library’ (established in 1848), consisted of 79 titles,63 which amounted to 116 volumes, each bound in durable dark blue cloth boards ingeniously treated to resemble leather, with gilt titles on the spine and embossed with a luxurious pattern. These volumes were enticingly cheap (between 3 and 5 shillings), but their uniformly ornate aesthetic made them desirable to collect.64 Their popularity endured several decades. In 1924, Edward Bell (who had taken Bohn’s over) was still claiming annual sales of over 100,000 volumes.6’ No library was complete without blocks of Bohn’s dappled blue and gold on their shelves. One obituary relates how the British Library had to remove Bohn’s books from the reading room because they quickly ‘became so mutilated by students who were not content with reading them during the hours at which that institution was open’.66 We do not know whether readers were smuggling them out, or tearing parts out. But they appealed widely and were abundantly useful.

The series was designed to provide what it termed ‘literal translations’ of Greek and Roman classics. The 1840s-1850s therefore saw a departure from the earlier model of fluent ‘Englished’ texts, or ‘vernacular classics’. Some of those famous translations needed to be revised, augmented with prose translations or replaced altogether. The Classical Library, ran the advertising copy, would ‘comprise faithful English translations of the principal Greek and Latin Classics’:

The versions will be strictly literal, that is, as true a reflection of expression, style, and thought, as the idioms of the languages will permit. Each work will be given without abridgment, but in the smallest practicable compass. The volumes will not be distended by diffuse notes and illustrations ... but brief suggestive notes, adapted to the real wants of the student, will be introduced wherever they are deemed essential... Of existing translations, such as are satisfactory will be adopted; but the far greater number require correction, and will be carefully and competently revised.67

‘Correction’ sometimes meant bowdlerisation. Paul Selver (1888-1970) was the son of a Polish Jewish immigrant tailor. He grew up in New Cross, graduated from the University of London, and became a prolific writer and translator from Germanic and Slavonic languages. He recalled how his school friend Angus, son of a Lewisham Presbyterian minister, was disappointed by Ovid: ‘Or rather, it wasn’t so much the fault of Ovid as of Bohn, who had left all the tasty chunks in Latin’. Angus was not easily diverted from fornicating divinities. He began the long march towards satisfaction of his teenage curiosity: ‘Angus was learning Latin, and hoped that in time he would be able to snap his fingers at the caitiff Bohn’.68

Bohn’s policy was to print the ‘untranslatable’ in the original language, either in the body of the text or in a footnote.69 But the man behind the translation of Ovid was Henry Thomas Riley (1816-1878), an excellent Latinist, who also wrote for the Athenaeum and the Gentleman’s Magazine. He was the son of a South London ironmonger prosperous enough to send him to a boarding school in Ramsgate, from which he entered Charterhouse and Cambridge. He then embarked on a long career as a scholar, translator and editor.70

Yet Seiver’s advancement was precarious. He began school in Deptford, a deprived area of London, then mainly populated by dockworkers. ‘There is quite an appreciable difference’, explains Selver, ‘between the son of a stevedore and the son, let’s say, of a commodore’.71 At his Board school in Gibraltar Street, he studied clay-modelling, basket-weaving and paper-folding rather than academic subjects:

It is probable that while I was busy with such frolics as these, my upper-class counterpart, perhaps the scion of an earl, poor little devil, tethered in the kind of prep-school where they wore top hats on Sundays, was having his mind improved, with the aid of Latin deponent verbs and select chunks of Xenophon.72

Selver reminds us that the appeal of Latin was not universal: ‘Latin, I didn’t care much for, anyway. I couldn’t imagine what value it had, except to brag about’.73 When he did win a scholarship to a school that offered him more options (Whitaker Foundation School, 1900), on the advice of his father he chose German rather than Latin. But he proceeded on a scholarship to grammar school and could no longer avoid Classics. On entering ‘Classical Fifth’, he was impressed by how far he had come from Gilbraltar Street, now studying the Aeschylean Prometheus Bound and Horace’s Odes:

I discovered too that the boys of the Classical Fifth not only read Greek and Latin poetry, but actually wrote it. Witness the chestnut-covered work by Sidgwick on Greek verse composition, and the companion volume, scarlet as a pillar-box, in which Gepp, the darling of the Muse, led the pupil up the garden of Latin elegiacs. Hitherto I had felt no urge to pour out my feelings lyrically in the vernacular, yet now, it seemed, the wand of Sidgwick and Gepp would cause me to pen strophes in the dead tongues of Athens and Rome. I looked forward keenly to this Pentecostal process, which turned out to be, not so much fine frenzy as cold-blooded jigsaw.74

Selver had unwittingly stumbled into the most prized exercise in the Victorian, public-school, classical education—composition in Latin and Greek. The goal was ‘the instant construction of inspired verse, the effortless composition, the immediate contact with perfection’,75 but Selver found it frigid and mechanical.

Seiver’s turn-of-the-century metropolitan experience may have been nationally atypical, and his world was a new one: the tenacity of a poor but intellectually curious lad was rewarded by an education that led to a university degree. In the South Wales iron town of Rhymney lived the young clerk who would become Deputy Secretary under four consecutive Prime Ministers: Thomas Jones (1870-1955). Opportunities for higher education were not in equivalent abundance,76 and Jones remained pessimistic about the real possibilities for talented individuals to transcend working-class origins.77 But the iron workers of Rhymney were enabled to engage with the Greek and Roman classics via the popular press. In 1858 the Rhymney Iron Company paid £3,000 to provide the town with a National School.78 A library and reading room in Middle Rhymney, to house the Scientific Institution (established in 1850), was run by company officials and religious leaders. It opened with 126 members, workers paying 1 shilling and a quarter and everyone else 1 shilling and 6 pence.

Among the first library loans were translations of Plutarch’s Lives, Josephus’ Jewish Wars, Chambers’s Information for the People, Chambers’s Miscellany of Useful and Entertaining Tracts, Chambers’s Papers for the People and Chambers’s Edinburgh Journal (established 1832). The Chambers brothers, William and Robert, did much to improve the reading materials of the British poor as we shall see in Chapter ll.79 These ‘improving’ periodicals promoted a familiarity, even fluency with world culture, including the literary and material remains of ancient Greece and Rome.80

In the mid-1850s, the library stocked ‘Gibbon’s Rome’—probably Bohn’s British Classics edition. In the early 1900s the library was moved and subsidised by miners’ subscriptions and the company. In 1905 a new institute was built; the stock of books rose to 3,000 with a weekly issue of 300. While his father read only the Bible and religious periodicals, Jones made full use of the Rhymney Workmen’s Institute Library and booksellers, where he could buy for threepence one of the 209 paperback volumes issued weekly by Cassell’s National Library:

Two books from the shelves which fascinated me at some stage were a Life of Napoleon by E. Gifford and the History of the Jews by Josephus. But I relied mainly on the weekly volume of Cassell’s National Library which introduced me to Shakespeare and all the chief poets; to Plutarch’s Lives ... and to most of what was worth while in the whole realm of English literature and such classics as had undergone translation.81

Launched in 1886 by one of the ‘titans of the reprint trade’, Cassell and Co., The National Library was edited by the philanthropic UCL Professor of English, Henry Morley (1822-1894).82 Jones could afford these slim volumes and found that he could smuggle them into the office at the ironworks. The manager was indulgent, even giving him Samuel Smiles’ self-help books.83

By the age of 20, Jones’ wages increased; he began to buy Cassell’s sixpenny cloth boards and second-hand books, became a prize-winning Calvinist Methodist preacher, and inevitably decided to study for the ministry at University College of Wales, Aberystwyth. He graduated from Glasgow 11 years later, having lost his Christian faith. He went on to become one of the most powerful civil servants in London between 1916 and 1930. Affectionately known as ‘T.J.’, he became Deputy Secretary under David Lloyd George, and was considered indispensable by three subsequent Prime Ministers.

Cheap book production reached fever pitch around 1830 when the provision of reading material for the newly discovered ‘mass reading public’ was essayed by respectable London publishers.84 While their trashier competitors were symbolised by the ubiquitous and infamous ‘penny bloods’ (later ‘penny dreadfuls’), they specialised instead in improving—and at first predominantly religious—literature. The residual evangelical suspicions surrounding imaginative texts without an overtly Christian message faded; poetic and fictional non-copyright texts became a staple both of affordable periodicals and the mushrooming series of ‘Classics’, such as the sixpenny Plutarch’s Lives issued monthly by Ward, Lock & Co. in 1885-1886, or ‘classical libraries’ (Figure 3.3).

Great literature thus began to arrive in the homes of the British middle and working classes.8’ Cheaper than Cassell’s National Library were the thin wire-stapled, and intentionally ephemeral volumes of W.T. (William Thomas) Stead’s ‘Masterpiece Library’. Stead (1849-1912) brought out weekly pamphlets ofPenny Poets and Penny Popular Novels.86 The ‘novels’ were digests of classic novels, and the ‘poets’ reproduced selections from out-of-copyright English poets. They both, of course, sold for one penny. And sell they did: 11,500,000 copies in a year.87 Stead was also a newspaper editor, publisher and social reformer, and he aimed at enhancing the cultural range of‘the New Reader, who is the product of the Education Act’.88 His first issue was a Penny Poets version of Thomas Babington Macaulay’s Lays of Ancient Rome (1895), which sold 200,000 copies in 4 months. As Lockwood has noted, the ‘fairly austere classicism’ of Macauley’s Lays was a conscious choice by which Stead created the maximum ‘clash’ between the lofty content and its cheap medium, complete with advertisements for cocoa and tonics for various ailments.89 But he also published versions of classical works specifically for children.90

The ‘Books for the Bairns’ series launched in March 1896 with Aesop’s Fables. The son of an under-employed iron foundry worker and later an iron-moulder himself, Joseph Stamper (born in 1886) recalls reading Stead’s pamphlets as a child in St. Helens, Lancashire. Stamper disliked school. ‘Every day I came out ... with the feelings of a prisoner released after a long “stretch”’.91 But he was enchanted by the tales from ancient Greece and Rome. He discovered them in Stead’s ‘Books for the Bairns’, which

had a pink cover and contained selections from the ancient classics: stories from Homer, the writings of Pliny the younger [i.e. the Epistles], Aesop’s “Fables” [Books for the Bairns Nos. 1 and 26]. I took a strong fancy to Aesop, he was a Greek slave from Samos, in the sixth century bc, and workpeople were only just beginning to be called “wage slaves”. I read all these; non-selective and Catholic [sic] my reading.92

Of 288 titles issued between March 1896 and June 1920, only 10 were overtly from classical sources: Aesop’s Fables [1]; Aesop’s Fables Pt 2 [26]; The Labours of Hercules [27]; The Story of Perseus and the Gorgon’s Head [30]; Stories from Ancient Rome [64] (Figure 3.4); Some Fairy Tales of the Ancient Greeks [99]; The Quest of the Golden Fleece [101]; Stories of the Persian Kings [152]; Stories of the Greek Tyrants [210]; and The Quest of Orpheus [235]. Stories from ancient Rome [64], issued in May 1901, was as usual lavishly illustrated, with prints on almost every page. The

No library, though it consist only of a single bookcase, can afford to dispense with PLUTARCH. While each separate life is a complete study in itself, and full of information and interest, the work taken as a whole, is an education in Ancient History and polity. No man who has read Plutarch carefully can he considered ignorant ; and it may be added that every man who has omitted to read him can be accounted as having yet before him the pleasure of making himself acquainted with an inexhaustible source of valuable, delightful and varied information.

IN MONTHLY PARTS, SIXPENCE EACH. Complete in Twelve Parts. Part 1 ready Nov. 25, 1885.





The Text abundantly elucidated with various Historical, Critical, and A ntiquarian Notes, and completely


Representing Portraits, Scenes, Antiquities, &c.

“ ltTvin|E have endeavoured to bring the English reader acquainted with the Greek KAAfW aQd R°man Antiquities: when Plutarch had omitted anything remark-able in the lives, to supply it from other authors, and to make his book in some measure a General History of the Periods under his pen. In the notes, too, we have assigned reasons for it, where we have differed from the former translators.”

In these words, the learned translators justly indicate the value of the great work, the rendering of which into English was to them a most congenial labour. Plutarch is pre-eminently the Popular Historian and Biographer of Antiquity. He tells the lives of his heroes in the manner best calculated to charm and interest the general reader; and it is impossible to read him attentively, without gaining a very decided general knowledge of the spirit and the institutions of the ancient world. The translators, indeed, point out this fact very clearly, in their explanation of the plan on which they have distributed their notes. “ Where Dacier or other anno-tatorsoffered us anything to the purpose," they say, “ we have not scrupled to make

London: WARD, LOCK & CO., Salisbury Square, E.C.

New York : Bond Street


FIGURE 33 Sixpenny Plutarch’s Lives, issued monthly by Ward, Lock & Co. in 1885— 1886, or, classical libraries, reproduced from copy in Hall’s personal collection.

r' OOKS for the BAIRNS—No. 64.



Cover of Stories from Ancient Rome, no. 64 of William Thomas Stead’s ‘Books for the Bairns’ series, reproduced from copy in Stead’s personal collection

FIGURE 3.4 Cover of Stories from Ancient Rome, no. 64 of William Thomas Stead’s ‘Books for the Bairns’ series, reproduced from copy in Stead’s personal collection.

writing is divided into two thin columns, summarising tales from Virgil’s Aeneid and Livy’s History of Rome from its Foundation (Ab Urbe Condita).9i The opening of ‘The Story of Coriolanus’ invites the child reader to make comparisons between contemporary and Roman Republican politics:

The Patricians and Plebeians did not always get on well together. The Patricians, like some of the kings, wanted too much of their own way, and at last the Plebeians said they must have two officers, appointed by themselves, to look after their interests ... The Tribunes were a little like our House of Commons, and the Patricians were something like the House of Lords’.94

Stead encouraged other cheap publishing endeavours, lauding the 1901 launch of Grant Richards’ ‘World’s Classics’ series:

A publisher has arisen who has had the courage to attempt to bring out at Is books fit to stand on any library shelf containing complete editions of the very best work to be found in the literature of the world.95

Before Richards was forced to sell his series to OUP, in 1906, he published Pope’s Odyssey (1903) and Dryden’s Virgil, including the Aeneid, Georgies and Eclogues.96 The quality of these shilling books is remarkable. They are a rich, navy blue octodecimo with gilt titles and gilt patterned spines, somewhat resembling Bohn’s duodecimo volumes. Cheap but expensive-looking, they were also portable. They could be read out of doors or on a train, but were small enough to shelve even in a cramped household.

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