Today on Project Gutenberg #14

Today on Project Gutenberg, we have…

Graham’s Magazine, Vol. XXXIV, No. 2 by various authors

A magazine! Have we done a magazine before? I don’t think so. These are cool because you get a wider sampling of writing styles and topics to look at. And this particular magazine I’ve found here seems to be quite eclectic.

Some quick research reveals that Graham’s Magazine was a periodical based out of Philadelphia that ran for most of the 1840s and 1850s. Founded by George Rex Graham, the magazine mostly published short stories and poems but also music, book reviews and articles about fashion. A little something for everybody. If by chance you’ve heard of Graham’s at all, you probably know it via its connection to Edgar Allan Poe. He served as editor of the magazine in the early 1840s and published some of his most famous short stories there, including “The Murders in the Rue Morgue” and “The Masque of the Red Death.” He was also quite the harsh critic when it came to the reviews section, apparently. But by February 1849, the time of this issue’s publication, Poe was long gone and the magazine was on the decline. That doesn’t mean we can’t still have fun with it, though.

From a literary perspective, the 1840s fall into the Romanticism period. While that particular movement was mostly past its heyday by that point, it was still kicking around here and there, especially in the United States. Looking through the table of contents in this issue of Graham’s, we can see a strong inclination toward creativity, heightened emotion and emphasis on nature, all characteristics of Romanticism. You’ve got poems like “Christine” by E. Curtiss Hine, which is about vivid recollections of a lost loved one, or A.J. Requier’s “A Phantasmagoria,” which uses lots of florid prose and Gothic imagery to explain why gambling is a bad idea.

It is a parlor dimly lit,

And shadows on the arras flit;

Shadows here and shadows there,

Shadows shifting everywhere,

Very thin and very tall,

Moving, mingling on the wall—

Till they make one shadow all!

An old clock in the corner stands,

  Clicking! clicking! all the while;

And its long and shadowy hands

Would seem to say this hour is man’s,

But Life hath swiftly running sands,

  And may wither in a smile.

“A Phantasmagoria,” page 120

It’s not terrible, but I can’t help but hone in on the parts where the meter is almost but not quite Green Eggs and Ham.

If dark poetry isn’t your thing, you can also read some fanciful short stories like “The Man in the Moon” by Caroline C. or “The Wager of Battle” by W. Gilmore Simms, described as “a tale of the feudal ages.” They’re pretty imaginative and fun to read, and I find them better than the poems. Then you’ve got nonfiction articles like “History of the Costume of Men” (eighteenth century, to be specific) and “Wild Birds of America” (today’s edition: the mockingbird!). The most amusing part, however, is the book reviews section. Check out this zinger that somebody wrote on a book called “The Forgery” by G.P.R. James:

It is a common charge against critics that they do not read the books they review. We acknowledge the charge in the case of Mr. James’s latest novel, with a feeling akin to exultation. We have read some twenty of his romances, more to verify an opinion than to gratify a taste, and certainly the man is to be praised for doing so large an amount of business on so small a capital. Though his mind is exceedingly limited in its range, he has contrived to fill more space with his books than the most comprehensive and creative of intellects would be justified in occupying. His success must be mortifying to all novelists who really possess original power, and who consider that a new character is something else than an old one with a new name. If Mr. James possessed sufficient force to stamp any character, incident or description, on the imagination, he would miserably fail in the application of his science of repetition and philosophy of dilution. His salvation from popular martyrdom is owing to the very feebleness of the impression he makes on the popular mind.

Page 153

Huh, I didn’t know they had Nicholas Sparks novels in 1849.

This was really fun to look through. Most of the stories and poems are fairly short and the language is accessible, so it should be easy to jump in and find something that appeals to you. I’d like to see if Gutenberg has any issues that were published during Poe’s tenure as editor, if only to see how he left his mark on the magazine. Poe or not, however, Graham’s has some pretty entertaining stuff.

And that’s what we found today on Project Gutenberg! See you next time!

— Dana

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