*The Quarterly Review
The Quarterly Review
British periodical, 1809–1967
The Quarterly Review originated in opposition to the Whiggish Edinburgh Review, whose success as a weighty and popular journal dealing with every aspect of contemporary culture added substance to its liberal politics, a fact unwelcome to supporters of a distinctly conservative administration. The Edinburgh’s decisive offense was to publish in 1808 a vigorously radical article by Henry Brougham on the Spanish insurrection against the French invaders. It was insufficiently enthusiastic about the war itself, and this was felt to make the establishment of a truly patriotic review imperative.
The Quarterly, however, turned out to be very much a conservative organ, and contributors like Robert Southey, who had a radical past and prided himself on his free and fearless thinking, were sometimes indignant at the way their reviews were “gelded” to tone them down. This was not just in connection with sensitive political or theological questions. Charles Lamb wrote a sympathetic review of Wordsworth’s Excursion, and was distressed to find, when he read the published text, that it had been altered beyond recognition. As he put it in a letter to Wordsworth, “Every warm expression is changed for a nasty cold one… The eyes are pulled out and the bleeding sockets are left.”
The editor who performed these mutilations was William Gifford, according to Hazlitt a “low-bred, self-taught man” who was formed in the school of “anti-Jacobin” journalism, savaging any manifestation of liberality or intimation of reforming sentiment.
This was the reason for the notorious review by John Wilson Croker of Keats’ Endymion (1818): the poet was an associate of Leigh Hunt, the editor of the radical Sunday newspaper the Examiner, so inevitably the poem had to consist of “the most incongruous ideas in the most uncouth language.”
In 1826 the Quarterly was taken over by Walter Scott’s son-in-law J.G.Lockhart, but the Gifford mode continued to feature in the reviews written or revised by Croker, in his heavily sarcastic notice of Tennyson’s 1833 volume, for example, but perhaps most strikingly in his revision of a review by P.H.Stanhope, Lord Mahon, of a book by the Whig politician Lord John Russell on the causes of the French Revolution. Stanhope included his own version of the review in a collection of historical essays published in 1849. It is a temperately critical analysis. But the review in the Quarterly for April 1833, though it retains large fragments of the original text, is transformed into a scurrilously abusive party-political polemic.
All this may seem to reinforce the early 19th-century liberal consensus that the Quarterly was a brutal bully hired by a corrupt establishment. But like the Edinburgh, a large proportion of the review essays dealt with a wide range of topics likely to be of interest to the intelligent reader. Walter Scott’s contributions are invariably magnanimous, not least when reviewing (anonymously of course, and with some editorial enhancements) his own Tales of My Landlord (1817). His essay on the Culloden Papers (1816) is a moving lament for the Highland clearances. The number that contained Croker’s attack on Endymion included an article on Egyptian antiquities which helped to inspire Keats’ vision of the temple of Moneta in the second version of Hyperion. Many of Southey’s articles on the state of the poor are pioneering formulations of the concerns of Victorian social reformers, and when a late 20thcentury publisher attempted to illustrate the Victorian social conscience in a score or so volumes of reprints of contemporary periodical essays, the Quarterly featured extensively.
The ethos of the Quarterly in mid-century is perhaps best illustrated by Benjamin Disraeli’s Coningsby (1844), with its satirical portrait of Croker in the appalling Mr.Rigby—author of many “slashing” pieces in the Quarterly Review—and its idealized mentor for the hero in Sidonia, who had “exhausted all the sources of human knowledge” and was master of the learning of every nation: precisely the impression that writers tried to create when adopting the reviewers’ “we.” John Ruskin, for one, provides a pleasant example of this in one of his rare excursions into reviewing, when he made Lord Lindsay’s history of Christian art the occasion for his own wide-ranging survey (1847).
At their best, reviews in the Quarterly convey a vivid sense of public discussion in the more conservative parts of British society. There is a fine review of Vanity Fair and Jane Eyre by Lady Eastlake (1848), which has usually been cited as an illustration of Victorian moral outrage with its allegation that Charlotte Brontë’s novel breathes the spirit of disaffection and revolution that has threatened the social fabric in Britain and abroad. But the reviewer’s frank avowal of how disturbing readers find Jane Eyre, enabling normally reticent English people to drop their defenses in unwontedly uninhibited discussion, is a conscious and perceptive tribute to Brontë’s literary power.
The Quarterly took an intelligent part, from a conservative angle, in most of the major Victorian controversies. William Ewart Gladstone appeared as a formidable critic of Roman Catholicism, while Bishop Wilberforce was the reviewer chosen for Darwin’s Origin of Species. W.J.Courthope contributed his view of the debate on culture initiated by Matthew Arnold (“Modern Culture,” October 1874), and it was writers like himself, with Francis Turner Palgrave and Churton Collins, who did much to establish the canon that initially dominated the teaching of literature in British universities. The process may be usefully examined in the pages of the Quarterly.
The review continued publication until 1967, and perhaps retained its preeminent position at least until the early years of the century. Latterly it became just one periodical among many, but its very survival for over a century and a half is in itself deeply impressive.
Further Reading“The Centenary of the Quarterly Review,” Quarterly Review 210 (1909):731–84; 2–11
Graham, Walter J., Tory Criticism in the “Quarterly Review” 1809–53, New York: AMS Press, 1970 (original edition, 1921)
Koss, Stephen, The Rise and Fall of the Political Press in Britain, vol. 1: The Nineteenth Century, London: Hamilton, 1981
L., C.E., “Retrospect: Nos. 1–500, Quarterly Review” Quarterly Review 253 (1929):1–17
“Musings Without Method: The Quarterly Review—Its Origins—The Slashing Article— The Reigns of Gifford and Lockhart,” Blackwood’s Edinburgh Magazine 173 (1903):100–17
Shattock, Joanne, Politics and Reviewers: “The Edinburgh” and “The Quarterly” in the Early Victorian Age, Leicester: Leicester University Press, 1989
Shine, Hill, and Helen Chadwick Shine, The Quarterly Review Under Gifford: Identification of Contributors, 1809–24, Chapel Hill:University of North Carolina Press, 1949
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