The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
VOLUME XV. Colonial and Revolutionary Literature; Early National Literature, Part I.
§ 13. The American Magazine
The next attempt at this sort of periodical came from Boston two years later. Jeremy Gridley was the able editor of The American Magazine and Historical Chronicle. It is an excellent piece of work for that date, both in general arrangement and in details of printing. There is very little original material, however, since the editor not only imitated The London Magazine very closely in plan, but boldly copied most of the essays, articles, and verse from it or from The Gentleman’s Magazine. An occasional translation from the classics by a Harvard student, a burlesque by “Jonathan Weatherwise” on the absurd weather signs of the country folk, or perhaps a timely article from a “neighbouring colony” does not suffice to impart a native flavour to the magazine as a whole. It is distinctly “imported.” The attempt was nevertheless creditable, and certainly kept readers in touch with the best English reviews. The magazine continued for three years.
A dozen years later The New England Magazine of Knowledge and Pleasure announced its motto, “Alluring Profit with Delight we blend,” but it confined itself to hackneyed essays on old models. In the same year, however, at Philadelphia, a magazine of decided originality and of genuine importance in colonial literature was coming out month by month with the first provost of the new college as its editor and guiding spirit. The Rev. William Smith, called to America from Aberdeen in 1752, brought a great love of letters to his new work and soon succeeded in imparting his own literary enthusiasms to a group of young students. It is largely due to his constant encouragement that a strain of lyric poetry at length sounded in clear, welcome notes, a strain all too short and slight, but of real beauty. These young poets belonged to the generation after that of Franklin’s famous Junto, one of the college group being a son of Franklin’s friend Thomas Godfrey, the mathematician. Thomas Godfrey, Jr., needed all the active help of the provost, since poetical gifts did not meet with favour in the Godfrey household. Francis Hopkinson, Joseph Shippen, and Nathaniel Evans were also introduced to the public by Smith.
The interesting thing about William Smith’s own literary enthusiasms is his love of eighteenth-century romanticism. In a thoroughly romantic temper he made himself a retreat by the falls of the Schuylkill, which he describes under the guise of Theodore, the Hermit, in his American Magazine, noting “the singular gloom of its situation,” hidden by “a romantic tuft of trees,” and made more lonely by surrounding waters. He could soon announce in his magazine that he had almost too many poems to draw from. Practically all the verse in its thirteen numbers is original, although at times, especially in the long poems of James Sterling, the most conventional eighteenth-century manner is amusingly evident. The essays, with very few exceptions, were not only written in the colonies but were often well adapted to the problems of the day, the war on the border, the Indians, the public policies of the government. The pride in “this young country” is everywhere evident, combined with perfect loyalty to Great Britain. In this year 1758 the successor of The American Magazine, called The New American Magazine, continued the same general policy, without securing the same originality. William Smith had been called to England, and the new venture lacked his power. It had the honour of publishing Nathaniel Evans’s fine Ode on the late General Wolfe, however, in probably its earliest and simplest form.