Home  »  Volume XVII: American LATER NATIONAL LITERATURE: PART II  »  § 10. Scribner’s Monthly; The Century Magazine

The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21). rn VOLUME XVII. Later National Literature, Part II.

XIX. Later Magazines

§ 10. Scribner’s Monthly; The Century Magazine

The early numbers of Harper’s Monthly each contained a few woodcuts, many of them portraits. The proprietors soon began to pay greater attention to illustration, and in 1856 started an engraving department of their own. Among well-known artists who have been upon the staff are C. S. Reinhart, E. A. Abbey, and A. B. Frost, while many others were frequent contributors of pictures. While Harper’s Magazine may well claim to be the pioneer among high-class illustrated magazines in America, it was not spurred to its greatest exertions until the appearance of Scribner’s Monthly in 1870. The rivalry between these two magazines, and later the triangular rivalry engaged in by Harper’s, the Century, and Scribner’s Magazine, has led to great improvements in the art of engraving and in the technique of printing illustrations. When wood engraving reached what was apparently its highest perfection, attention was turned to process engraving, and later to methods of colour reproduction; and though there have been some freakish and inartistic experiments the pictures in the better American magazines have been worthy accompaniments of the letterpress. The excellence of American illustrating attracted attention in Europe, and the three chief illustrated magazines have each maintained a London edition. That of Harper’s was begun in 1880; Andrew Lang became editor in 1884.

The second of the greater illustrated periodicals in point of time, Scribner’s Monthly, began publication in 1870, after Harper’s Magazine had been in existence for twenty years. The editor and one of the proprietors was Josiah Gilbert Holland, who had made a wide appeal as author of commonplace works in prose and verse, and as successful editor of The Spring-field Republican. Associated with Dr. Holland in the ownership of the magazine were Roswell Smith and Charles Scribner, head of the well-known firm of book publishers. After the death of Charles Scribner differences arose between the management and the publishing firm of Charles Scribner’s Sons, which resulted in the withdrawal of the Scribner interests and a change of name to The Century Magazine in 1881. Dr. Holland was to have continued in the editorship, but before the appearance of the first issue of the Century he died and was succeeded by Richard Watson Gilder, who from the first had been associate editor. The change of name brought no radical change in scope or policy, and Scribner’s Monthly and the Century constitute virtually an unbroken series from 1870 to the present time.

Dr. Holland was a clever editor who knew what the public wanted. From the first he secured well-known contributors of high rank. A “Publisher’s Department,” with “A word to our readers,” or “A talk with our readers,” though relegated to the advertising pages, continued the methods of the old-fashioned personal journalist. Richard Watson Gilder was a man of greater literary ability and finer taste, and though he could hardly have gained initial success for the venture as well as did Holland it is to him that the high rank of the Century is largely due. Scribner’s Monthly at first printed serials by English writers, but later made much of the fact that its longer selections in fiction were all of American origin. Howells’s A Modern Instance was made a feature of the first volume after the change of name. The Century has always given much space to illustrated articles on history. There was something a trifle “journalistic” in a series of articles on the Civil War by Northern and Southern generals, yet even in these the editorial control was such as to insure a reasonable standard of excellence. The Life of Lincoln by Nicolay and Hay, large parts of which appeared serially in the Century, was of higher grade. In literary criticism E. C. Stedman had, even in the days of Scribner’s Monthly, contributed articles on the American poets. Without neglecting fiction, poetry, and other general literature the magazine has devoted rather more attention than has Harper’s to matters of timely, though not of temporary, interest. From the first Scribner’s Monthly made much of its illustrations, and both directly and by the effect on its competitors its advent had much to do with the improvement of American engraving and printing. It claims credit for originating, in the mechanical department, several practical innovations of value, such as the dry printing of engravings.