On September 1, Dr. Ralph Poole generously hosted me for a symposium on my most recent work, Forget Me Not: The Rise of the British Literary Annual 1823-1835. The audience was filled with American Studies scholars with a large quantity of them already familiar with textual studies, history of the book, and bibliography. In addition, and to my great pleasure, they were already enamored with David Greetham’s work in philology and textual studies.
At 35c, Salzburg was roasting, especially in the City Center where I was staying near the Mozartplatz in a very quiet area of ancient city streets.
However beautiful the city is, I got lost — lost for 15 minutes into the start of my talk. So, instead of reading from a paper and offering the complexities of my argument about literary annuals, I spoke using slides as my guide and focused on the materiality of the literary annual. The cogent and engaging questions that ensued delved into authorial anonymity, digital re-presentations, history of periodicals, and paratextual materials. Below is the text of the talk that I never gave (but skirted around) along with the slides. The talk is based on the introduction and chapter 1 of Forget Me Not: The Rise of British Literary Annuals, 1823-1835 as well as my legacy digital archive project, Forget Me Not: A Hypertextual Archive.
I thoroughly enjoyed this visit and the chance to speak with scholars about my work!
Title: British Ingenuity from German Invention: The Legacy of Rudolph Ackermann and Nineteenth-Century Literary Annuals
Thank you to Dr. Ralph Poole for being such a generous colleague to entertain my appearance here today.
Intro ABOUT THE BOOK
By wrapping beauty, literature, landscape art, and portraits into an alluring package, for 12 shillings editors and publishers filled the 1820s with this popular and best-selling genre.
Originally published in paper boards, the annuals were usually whisked away to be re-bound in beautiful leather covers.
By 1828, publishers employed the latest innovations in binding and switched to silk to amplify the value of the material object.
Each annual typically offered a confined space for dedication.
Early annuals offered practical information similar to the Stationer’s Company’s almanac. But that would soon disappear in favor of more literary and visual content.
Engravings were cast from popular paintings but rarely garnered fame for the engraver who was deemed a mere copyist and denied entrance into the Royal Academy.
Often engravings were commissioned like this one.
…and then well-known poets were asked to render an accompanying poem, work for hire – eventually much to the poet’s dismay. But let me stress this: EVERYONE contributed to the annuals, even if they despised the genre.
With a large audience almost immediately clamoring for more literary annuals, Rudolph Ackermann and his editor, Frederic Shoberl, created a second Forget Me Not for 1824 and found themselves competing with Friendship’s Offering and The Graces. By 1828, 15 English literary annual titles had joined the market only to vie for an audience against 30 more titles by 1830.
The trade in annuals had become so popular that various titles emerged with hopes and promises of continuing a yearly publication. But with titles like Olive Branch and Zoölogical Keepsake appearing and vanishing in a single year, more often than not, that promise was broken.Many factors led to the success or demise of a particular title – external appearance, engraving quality, literary contents, popular authors, editorial arrangement, marketing, and reviews. This last element provided an introduction and public face to each annual by recommending, denouncing or simply excerpting its contents.
Even with all of this popular success, the critical condescension surrounding the literary annual would haunt the genre well into the 19th century. After finally sputtering out in England in 1857, the literary annual re-appeared as an homage to Rudolph Ackermann during the 1930s – even after Charles Tallent-Batement condescendingly recommends annuals and poetess poetry as the cakes of literature.
Rudolph Ackermann (1764-1834), a printseller, bookseller, publisher, inventor, businessman, popularized aquatint, lithography, and illustrated books from his vast London publishing house, R. Ackermann, and the Repository of Arts shop. Ackermann’s shop preceded the opening of the National Gallery in 1824, but his idea was that his shop, commercial as it was, would essentially exhibit artwork by those who were not admitted into the Royal Academy, especially the work by his engravers, draftsmen, and colormen. His shop and publications had a reciprocal relationship that catered to the idea of consumerism. An industrious inventor, he built a successful business on innovative printing technology and capitalized on current movements in politics and culture but never seemed to personally subscribe to political views himself. By maintaining some distance from British politics, Ackermann adeptly negotiated the conflict between his German heritage and the growing sense of British nationalism: “To the end of his days he retained a strongly marked German pronunciation of the English language, which gave additional flavour to the banters and jests uttered in his fine bass voice; but he wrote in English with great purity on matters of affection and of business long before middle life” (Notes and Queries 1869 qtd. in Samuels 130).
Many publishers, artists, and authors, including Alaric A. Watts, John Clare, J.B. Papworth, John Murray, James Hogg, William Jerdan, Sir Walter Scott, J.M.W. Turner, William Combe, Thomas Rowlandson, and Thomas Hood, refer to Ackermann in their memoirs and letters with a certain fondness. He patented a process for creating waterproof paper, cloth and other substances in 1801 (Patent No. 2491); he was among the first businessmen to use gas to light his workshop; 1818-1820, he worked on a patent for movable carriage axles (Patent No. 4212); he created Lord Nelson’s funeral car in 1805 (Dictionary 58; “The London Book Trades” online).
In 1796, Ackermann began laying the foundation for creating his public/private salon at The Repository of Arts: he moved from No. 96 Strand to a spacious multi-level building at No. 101 Strand by taking over the lease from political lecturer, John Thelwall (Thompson 182). Prior to Thelwall’s occupation of No. 101 Strand, William Shipley ran an art school in the Beaufort Buildings – Shipley being the founder of the Royal Society of Arts (177). Ackermann also ran a drawing school at No. 101 until 1806 when he closed it to make room for his now-famous Repository of Arts shop (Jervis 101), which he advertised in the first number of his premiere magazine, Ackermann’s Repository of Arts: “when the interposition of government put a stop to [Thelwall’s] exhibition, Mr. Ackermann purchased the leace [sic], and it became once more the peaceful academy of drawing” (qtd in Thompson 182). Upstairs was the gallery, tea room, circulating library, and evening talks or conversazione for invited guests (182). Judith Thompson describes it as “the multilevel cultural emporium . . . with a spacious Library and tea-room, decorated with classic busts, draperies and urns, where he also held the evening ‘conversations’ of his dilettanti society, intended ‘for a select number of gentlemen, professors and lovers of literature and the fine arts’” (182).
According to Thompson, with this segregated design Ackermann set up a hierarchy whereby the affluent and elite were invited upstairs, while the common consumer was allowed to browse the endless supply of artwork and art supplies downstairs. Ackermann sold subscriptions to the third floor circulating library where patrons could borrow books as well as prints, water colors, and drawings (Bermingham, 138). The ground floor was the Repository – a large, and very successful, shop that sold furniture in addition to prints.
Ackermann printed and bound his publications in his building and employed a bevy of craftsmen, artisans, and artists to produce his popular publications: letterpress printers, bookbinders, leather suppliers, ink suppliers, fancy papiers, colormen, and more as chronicled by Bermingham and Ackermann’s principle biographer, John Ford (46). After successfully establishing a business based on hand-colored aquatint plates, in 1818 Ackermann became one of the first British publishers to operate and own a lithography press.
At the conclusion of the thirty year lease on No. 101 Strand, in 1827 Ackermann removed to No. 96 Strand which had been completely re-designed by his friend and architect, J.B. Papworth (Jervis 108) with a massive warehouse, private residence, show rooms, library, ware rooms, printing presses, gilders’ rooms, framers’ quarters spread over eight floors (Ford & Fraser, 50), and easy access: “The facility of access for Carriages to his New Premises, and the convenience for their waiting in Beaufort Buildings, are advantages to which he cannot refrain from directing their attention” (Publisher’s Insert, Edinburgh Review, June 1827 XCI n.p.). With more than four hundred fifty volumes (Ford, Ackermann, 220-232) attributed to his publishing house and a yearly income of ₤30,000, Ackermann succeeded in building a recognizable brand, especially with colored plates. His most important contributions to the publishing culture of early nineteenth-century England were the result of various friendships and networks that he established, the successful and productive relationship between Thomas Rowlandson and William Combe among them on The Tours of Dr. Syntax.
With this established printing house and consumer base, Ackermann created a system of printing that yielded a higher production rate. Because of this, consumers of his literary annual did not subscribe to the publication. Instead, in some years, Ackermann printed upwards of 20,000 copies in a year from a quarter of a million plates per edition (Ford, Ackermann, 64-5).
Ackermann understood the value of a beautiful volume and committed his business to producing works that married print culture to visual and verbal beauty. More importantly, he understood the business of producing and re-producing literary and artistic culture. His goal, in the end, was to produce commodified and exportable representations of England’s best works in a time when readers were overwhelmed with reading materials.
Why Ackermann’s Forget Me Not succeeded where other earlier experiments had failed is still somewhat of a mystery. Numerous conduct manuals flooded the market during the 1790s. Some ladies magazines were beginning to flourish, but they were not as permanent a material object as the annuals. The mystery lies in the combination of German publishing history and literary culture as well as Ackermann’s business savvy in the London publishing industry. Ackermann’s willingness to invent new forms and demonstrate shifts in taste-making stems from his ability to eschew the traditions of British publishing and literary culture. As a German émigré, he was the right man to capitalize on these middle-class reading audiences.
Introducing the Literary Annuals
I’ve been working on an archival project that historicizes the first decade of an early 19th-century literary genre.
Inspired by intercontinental literary forms and created by a successful art publisher, Rudoloph Ackermann, the literary annual first appeared in London in 1822 and was claimed by a myriad of publishers to represent the best of British ingenuity – even though the material form, the printing process and the editorial methods were really borrowed from French and German pocket-books, albums, and emblems. Originally, literary annuals were to replace the conduct books of the late 18th Century, but the editors’ and publishers’ claims don’t match that intention.
In my larger work, I argue that the British19th-century literary annual in its textual production is best seen as a female body, its male producers struggling to make it both proper and sexually alluring, its female authors and readers attempting to render it their own feminine ideal. At first, reviewers enjoyed the annuals, offering long excerpts and recommending particular annuals to their readers. Within 5 years, though, reviewers began to write with disgust about the genre – primarily with objections to the poetess aesthetic.
Laura Mandell points out that “two myths pervade the study of this immensely important and influential body of writing. One is that canonical writers shunned this work, refusing to publish in well-paying annuals and choosing instead to create great, high art; the other is that poetess poetry is ‘bad’ writing.”
Both myths rely on the production of aesthetics, and it was the reviewers who produced this demarcation about literary annuals – at first praising as possessing “a tone of romance, which, set off as it has been by poetry of a very high order, can have no other possible tendency than to purify the imagination and the heart” (Nov. 1826 Monthly Review 274). Lest we become mired wholly in the aesthetic reception of the annuals’ contents, it’s important to note the materiality and the genesis of this particular genre in order to understand its eventual “trashing” and imminent resurrection.
Published in the German magazine The Free Speaker in 1815, the novel, Mimili sold nine thousand copies in three years and inspired a genre of sentimental prose that capped the German Enlightenment and was typically referred to pejoratively as part of Biedermeier literature, a style that supposedly appealed to middle class readers because the authors were themselves middle class. This style of writing also signals a shift toward family and relationships as opposed to concern for the self or individual experience.
In 1839, German literary critic, Herman Marggraff, reflects on Mimili as “a threat to German culture” (qtd in Lowenthal 36) and describes Clauren’s work as almost pornographic and certainly erotically charged for an audience of men:
The reader is warned that we are now in the period in which the authors of almanacs and the late Clauren are leading the dance of literature. Mediocrity, naked, unadorned, wanton, with its paunch, wallowed on the slovenly couch of literature and on the boards of the stage. There it stretched itself and blinked its eyes, and molded, with the very soft wax of language, delicate little fingers with kissable lips and velvety cheeks, with dainty calves and lovely legs that could be seen as far as the garters, for Mimili’s frock was rather short; and quite a good deal of the bosom could be seen for the bodice was cut low. (qtd in Lowenthal Literature & Mass Culture 36-37)
Summary of Mimili
Mimili, written by German author H. Clauren, tells the story of a Swiss woman’s naivete inadvertent sexuality and conflicted love. A foreign traveler, a young man, approaches the young shepherdess’s bucolic home and is welcomed by her father. The young man falls in love with Mimili but is often tempted by her beauty. He makes several sexual advances but is rebuffed. By the time he must leave, he begs Mimili’s father for permission to marry her. Her father, not wanting to be hasty and acknowledging that this young man is the first that Mimili has encountered, asks him to return in a year to see if the passion still burns between them. During this year, the patriotic young man joins the military and disappears after the 1815 Battle of Waterloo. When Mimili receives a friend’s letter informing her of her young man’s fate, she mourns endlessly until the moment when the young man miraculously appears, having been only wounded in the battle. They are married as evidence of their fortitude and genuine love.
Based on the success of Mimili, Clauren began publishing the annual, Vergissmeinnicht (Forget Me Not), named after the flower given to a young man by the heroine, Mimili. The Foreign Quarterly Reviewin 1828 is lukewarm in its reception of the German pocket-book:
[E]dited, indeed hitherto exclusively written by H. Clauren, an author who has never been a special favourite with us, though his works are highly popular in Germany, and some translated specimens have been well received in England. His Annual seldom exhibits poetry, and now consists of two novels, entitled “The Three Orphans,” and “Love in the Mail Coach.” Prefaced by a laudatory sonnet of Hofrath Winkler, this volume seems to be as lively and well adapted, ad captandum [to please or arouse the rabble], as its predecessors. (645)
Ignoring this type of negative reception that had been consistent since Clauren’s publication of Mimili in 1815 and the Vergissmeinnicht in 1818 – or perhaps because of it – Ackermann borrowed the title to create his Forget Met Not. Ackermann and his editor, Frederic Shoberl – also German – translate, condense, and publish an English version of Clauren’s Mimili in the 1824 Forget Me Not. Ackermann’s translation follows the seemingly didactic path as the German original, including the more lascivious tests of Mimili’s chastity. With this type of ladies’ publication, one would expect that Mimili would become expurgated even bawdlerized, but not so. The battle scenes and Mimili’s fashions are expunged, perhaps in the interest of space. After all, Ackermann condenses the novel from 150 pages to 62 duodecimo pages. The engravings of Mimili herself do not necessarily represent the heaving bosoms of either version. In fact, these are in the tradition of the bucolic, landscape scenes that will come to dominate the literary annuals, scenes engraved by those craftsmen whom Ackermann advocated for entry into the Royal Academy as “artists.”
As was the tradition of the day, much literature and engravings were plucked from more expensive hard-bound publications and re-published in periodicals, such as the weekly Mirror of Literature, for consumption by the lower classes. Ackermann’s version of “Mimili” apparently is revised without attribution to Clauren and published in The Flowers of Literature, a four-volume anthology published in 1824 as a hardbound edition that professes to collect the finest literature from several years. With a similar mission, The Portfolio for 1824, a two-pence sixteen-page weekly periodical, borrowed an even further abbreviated and defiantly expurgated version of Clauren’s novel from The Flowers of Literature, reduced the tale to five pages of double column text spread over two weeks, and re-titled it “The Soldier’s Reward: A Tale of the Mountains.” The title itself removes Mimili as the main character while the revised story re-focuses the reader on patriotism, war, and the domestic role of women – a true Beidermeier account. Gone are the “pornographic” references to Mimili’s heaving bosom or her shapely calves with the exception of the soldier’s initial description:
She indeed seemed to the romantic fancy of our youthful traveler, no less than a beautiful though frail vision. She appeared not to have passed her 16th year, and, joined to a form the most exquisite, possessed the most beautiful countenance imagination can conceive. Youth and health revelled in her dimpled cheek, in her coral lips, and the plumpness of her whole love-inspiring figure. The silent mirrors of her soul were of an azure blue, and protected from your admiring gaze by long and silken lashes, which tempered the tire of her own passion-fraught glances. She was drest in a simple though elegant dress ; she wore a corset of velvet, with muslin sleeves; a habit-shirt of the finest cambric, modestly, though to our traveller’s mind, enviously concealing her neck and bosom, and yet not so much as to deprive you of an idea of its beautiful whiteness, which sight was sufficient to remind you of the “glance that some saint has of heaven in his dreams.” Her petticoat would be, to our English notions, rather too short, and yet he would not have it half an inch less for the world; inasmuch as it gave sufficient testimony of an exquisitely shaped leg, and a well turned ancle.” (“The Soldier’s Reward,” The Portfolio Vol III, No. 74, 1824, 217)
The engravings of Mimili in the Forget Me Not do not necessarily represent either Clauren or Ackermann’s versions.[ii] Nor do they seem to represent the pornographic references made by Margraff.
This alteration to the translated and then continued revisions to British versions of “Mimili” is important for three reasons: 1) the contents of literary annuals were marketed as respectable literature intended to counteract the titillation of novels and periodical readings; and 2) they were supposed to represent the best of British literary culture and publishing. Ackermann’s version of “Mimili” would certainly draw reviewers’ disdain similar to that received from German critics, in addition to the negative British and German reviews of the Vergissmeinnicht. Why would Ackermann include a piece that was essentially considered a contamination of literary culture? Did he not then anticipate the eventual disdain for his literary annual in England? Or, did he foresee the continued transmission of this tale to the weekly periodicals and an inherently larger, less-educated reading public?
Clauren’s weren’t the only German translations slipped into the Forget Me Not: Ackermann also relied on the fiction of Augustus von Kotzebue, a prolific German novelist and playwright who was violently murdered in 1819, and whose autobiography was offered by a London publisher in 1827. Kotzebue’s prose appears three times in literary annuals, all in Ackermann’s Forget Me Not: once in the 1823 volume and twice in the 1824 volume. After 1824, no prominent German author appears in Ackermann’s again. (Ackermann lost control of the volumes in 1831 when he turned over the business to his sons.)
Though he was a naturalized British citizen in 1809, Ackermann maintained ties to Germany, especially as a benefactor to wartime victims – as is evidenced by an pamphlet apparently published to “increase the Subscriptions for the Fatherless and Widows of 1870 and 1871” by relaying the generosity of Ackermann in supporting victims after an assault on Leipzig in Narrative of the Most Remarkable Events which occurred in and near Leipzig … 1813 (written by Frederic Shoberl). Sir Walter Scott wrote to Ackermann commending him on his endeavors and speaking of his own actions. He calls Ackermann’s Narrative “the most striking picture I ever read of the realities of war” (14 from March 26, 1813 letter). Ackermann also took in French and Spanish immigrants to work in his printing house, but this is a well-documented fact — and some suggest, perhaps not so benevolent.
Returning to Ackermann
Anglicizing Mimili and offering a re-constituted Vergissmeinnicht is perhaps a response to the German critics and an effort to preserve German culture while celebrating British innovation. Or, perhaps Ackermann and Shoberl were actively engaging in nationalizing German literature for the British. Andrew Piper suggests that
translations in the early nineteenth century played a key role in importing and domesticating the foreign, in smoothing over such linguistic differences. In responding to the increasingly mass, and monolingual, reading public, romantic translations contributed to the standardization of European cultures. . . . Translations drew attention to the foreign as much as they made such foreignness intelligible to domestic audiences. (Dreaming, 155)
Piper also suggests that translations allowed British publishers to avoid authorial control and copyright issues with translations, all the while supplying the public with new content (155). Translators, then, Piper continues, “came to stand in the romantic age for a new industrializing world of letters” (155). Shoberl, an experienced and successful translator of German and French texts, would have most likely committed the German prose to an appropriate English translation.
The story of “Mimili” was more than a tale of morality and sentimentality – it represents a patriotic triumph over war and an enemy who had plagued the British throughout the Romantic era. For his women readers, Ackermann fails to be wholly didactic in publishing “Mimili,” but perhaps he wasn’t completely loyal to the idea of representing femininity in another repressive literary representation. Instead, he offers women an eroticism without over-indulging in celebrations of warfare as was originally portrayed in Clauren’s version. Or, was he attempting to transport the Beidermeier literary culture into England to encourage moving away from British High Romanticism and into a cosmopolitan representation of Britishness?
After such a successful career in the publishing industry early in his career, Ackermann’s last venture, the Forget Me Not, proved to be one of his most successful because he anticipated his readers’ desires for a collection of literary and artistic materials that could become a valuable family heirloom, a literary work that would influence aesthetic taste and empower a female readership well beyond his death.