British periodical, 1752–1754
Together with Joseph Addison’s Spectator and Samuel Johnson’s Rambler, the Adventurer was one of the three most influential English-language periodicals of the 18th century. Published serially twice a week by London bookseller John Payne, and running to 140 numbers between 7 November 1752 and 9 March 1754, it was consciously
designed to succeed the Rambler, which made its final appearance on 14 March 1752, but greatly outstripped the Rambler’s popularity, peaking at a circulation three times that of Johnson’s publication. A contemporary hack journalist, Arthur Murphy, author of the
competing Gray’s Inn Journal, complained in print about the “attachment to the Adventurer” felt by so many readers and the impediment such loyalty placed in the way of his own efforts to generate a reliable circulation (no. 53, 20 October 1753). Another
indication of the Adventurer’s success was the personal profit it brought to the publisher John Payne, who netted the then considerable sum of £422 from the sale of the 2000 sets of the second edition of the complete Adventurer and an additional £120 from the sale of
half the copyright.
When Payne decided to follow up the Rambler with another serial of moral, aesthetic, and reflective essays, he turned to John Hawkesworth, then a little known but widely employed journalist and a fellow member of the Ivy Lane Club, which met at the King’s Head, a tavern and beefsteak house located in Ivy Lane near St. Paul’s Cathedral.
Hawkesworth was a particularly astute choice on Payne’s part: he was a regular contributor to Edward Cave’s Gentleman’s Magazine, where he worked closely with Samuel Johnson and developed an essayistic style so like Johnson’s that contemporary and subsequent readers have struggled to distinguish among their many contributions to the Gentleman’s Magazine. Furthermore, Johnson had used the weekly Tuesday night meeting of the Ivy Lane Club to test and develop ideas for his Rambler papers. Johnson was the star attraction of that literary society, whose membership included, with Payne and Hawkesworth, the dissenting clergyman Samuel Dyer, the magistrate and editor John
Hawkins, and three physicians, William McGhie, Edmund Barker, and Richard Bathurst.
The Ivy Lane Club became Hawkesworth’s finishing school as an intellectual, and it was there that he learned to emulate so convincingly the moral and literary voice of Johnson.
The Adventurer followed Johnson’s Rambler in its thematic content and varied in style only in being a little less difficult in its vocabulary and less baroque in its sentence structures. There were, however, two deliberate breaks with the editorial practice of the Rambler: Payne decided to solicit contributions to the Adventurer from several hands,
rather than leave the entire burden of the writing to Hawkesworth; and it was decided the outset that the number of issues would be finite. The number of 140 was determined with an eye to publishing the complete Adventurer in ready sets as soon as the final paper had been issued. seventy essays printed in folio made an ideal single volume, and Payne guessed from its conception that the Adventurer would sell best as a two-volume first edition in folio and a four-volume second edition in pocket-sized duodecimo. Whatever moral excellence we may now attribute to the Adventurer’s reflective essays, its format was entirely determined by a bookseller’s understanding of what would be the most valuable way to approach the marketplace.
Along with Hawkesworth, the principal contributors to the Adventurer were Johnson himself, the literary critic Joseph Warton, and the journalist Bonnell Thornton, author of the periodical the Connoisseur. Various individual papers have also been attributed to Thomas Warton, his sister Jane Warton, the early feminist Elizabeth Carter, Hester
Mulson, George Colman, and Catherine Talbot. Certainly Hawkesworth and Payne approached a wide community of possible contributors with the intention of insuring that the Adventurer offered a variety of style and opinions in its essays. Despite the ultimate range of hands evident in the Adventurer, Hawkesworth found himself solely responsible
for most of the early papers. Johnson first appears with Adventurer no. 34; he would contribute 29 essays in all. There is some speculation that Richard Bathurst of the Ivy Lane Club was originally solicited to contribute but failed to do so, and that Hawkesworth urged Johnson to take Bathurst’s place as the periodical prospered and Hawkesworth himself felt the strain of compensating for the delinquent Bathurst. At any rate, the three main authors of the papers each took up different essayistic approaches: Johnson contributed papers that continued the moral reflections which had characterized the Rambler; Joseph Warton wrote on aesthetic matters, producing papers on literary criticism, taste, and scholarship, including memorable pieces on Shakespeare; and
Hawkesworth, who wrote the lion’s share of the periodical, was particularly predisposed to contribute short fiction, especially oriental tales.
The Adventurer combines aspects of both the Spectator and the Rambler in defining its own place in the history of the essay. As a sort of sequel to the Rambler, it sustained that periodical’s philosophical disposition and its determination to instruct its readers in morality and conscience. It reached back to the Spectator in its ambition to attain a
popular readership. Where the Rambler is meditative and solitary in its ruminations on the human scene, the Adventurer tends more toward the conversational and the social.
Certainly, the Adventurer must be credited with demonstrating the importance of collaboration in sustaining variety and debate in a periodical, especially where the essay was concerned. Looking back on its accumulated achievement in the final issue of the Adventurer, Hawkesworth emphasizes this collaborative effort as crucial to the paper’s popular success. Essays from several hands were essential, he writes, “not because I wanted sufficient leisure, but because some degree of sameness is produced by the peculiarities of every writer; and it was thought that the conceptions and expressions of
another, whose pieces should have a general coincidence with mine, would produce variety, and by increasing entertainment facilitate instruction” (Adventurer no. 140).
The influence of the Adventurer was, perhaps, strongest in the late 18th century, when Edinburgh fostered a resurgence of interest in the periodical essay. The Mirror, the Lounger, and the Bee would all be conceived after the collaborative model of the Adventurer, acknowledging the truth of Hawkesworth’s simple assertion.
The Adventurer, 140 nos., 7 November 1752–9 March 1754; in 2 vols., 1753–54; in The Works of Samuel Johnson (Yale Edition) vol. 2: “The Idler” and “The Adventurer”, edited by Walter Jackson Bate, John M.Bullitt, and L.F.Powell, 1963; selections in Essays from the Rambler, Adventurer, and Idler, edited by Walter Jackson Bate, 1968
Abbott, John Lawrence, John Hawkesworth: Eighteenth-Century Man of Letters, Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1982
Bate, W.Jackson, Samuel Johnson, New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1977
Fairer, David, “Authorship Problems in The Adventurer,” Review of English Studies 25 (1974):137–51
Powell, L.F., “Introduction to The Adventurer” in “The Idler” and “The Adventurer”, The Works of Samuel Johnson (Yale Edition), vol. 2, New Haven, Connecticut: Yale University Press, 1963: 323–38
Sherbo, Arthur, Samuel Johnson, Editor of Shakespeare, with an Essay on the “Adventurer”, Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1956
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