Opposing Periodicals: The Irish Magazine and Cabinet

In exploring The Irish Magazine or a Monthly Asylum for Neglected Biographies I believe it is important to juxtapose the text against a periodical of the same era under the control of the very governing bodies The Irish Magazine itself pushes back against.  The Boston Public Library has a serialization of Cabinet; or Monthly Report on Polite Literature, specifically the fourth volume that includes issues from July of 1808 through December 1808. This edition comes two years previous to my own pet book, but this is a journal Walter Cox, The Irish Magazine’s publisher, would most likely be responding to. Similarly, both texts first began publishing in 1807. By Daniel Nathan Shury and published by Matthew & Leigh in London, the mainstream publication Cabinet represented and reinforced all the ideological and political views, The Irish Magazine denounced, chastised and ridiculed; therefore, Cabinet works as a perfect foil for my pet book, helping us to possibly better understand Cox’s decisions throughout the printing process.

Initially, looking at just the materialism of these texts, Cabinet is far larger than The Irish Magazine covering only July to December in roughly the same number of pages as The Irish Magazine uses for the entire year.  Cabinet appears to have a greater funding source or more revenue coming in for Shury can use a separate publisher, Mathew & Leigh, whereas Cox produces his own periodicals. This difference in quality is also seen in the difference of imagery. Each edition within the Cabinet collection has an image, whereas, especially in earlier editions such as 1810, pictures accompanying an issue are scattered throughout the collection. There is also an obvious difference in quality between the two publications. Below are the first images presented both texts, starting with The Irish Magazine followed by the title page of Cabinet. Although not digitally recreated and on worn, yellowed paper, the engraving for Cabinet’s title page is significantly more detailed and intricate.  Throughout each text Cabinet is also far more uniform in format. The Irish Magazine on the other hand moves between different types of section breaks, heading fonts and sizes. This could possibly be due to the lack of attention to detail from Cox that a professional publisher, such as Mathew & Leigh would have not only the training, but also the staff to catalogue and fix those differences in format.  It’s important to note though, that Cox would not be looking to mirror Cabinet; on the contrary, these mistakes throughout the serialization could very well be intentional creating an air of grassroots publishing, from the “ordinary” people Cox hoped would read his work.

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Almost immediately these two publications begin to situate themselves as opposites with simply their titles alone. Despite, presenting themselves in the same format– an initial title with subsequent “or”, followed by an explanation of the content therein– each periodical offers readers a drastically different experience within their pages.  With Cabinet, the periodical presents itself as a “report”, creating the perception of truth. The word report suggests something back by evidence, data, and quantifiable. This phrasing also situates Cabinet as an authority; it is a reliable source for “polite literature”.  Similarly, in distinguishing their material as “polite literature” the publisher’s make a claim about their audience. The title implies that readers of the periodical are of a certain, desirable, “polite” class, one potential readers should want to associate themselves with. Cabinet and its “polite literature” are for the elite, and to be considered as such, those opinions expressed within the pages of the magazine should be a reader’s own. This becomes even more pertinent when you realize that even though the work within the magazine is considered “polite literature” it predominantly addresses current events, creating a specific commentary on the British Empire.

In terms of distinguishing its own audience, The Irish Magazine makes very clear who is meant to gravitate towards the publication. Similarly, versus the polite reports from Cabinet, Cox provides for readers the content which has been denied of them, the “neglected biographies.” Cox offers a different type of truth than Cabinet, the “real truth”, the conspirator’s truth rather than the ruling class’.  The use of the word “neglected”   implies that at some point there was a conscious choice or collection of events that led to the active ignorance of these stories, events, and opinions published in The Irish Magazine.  A rebellious tone defines the magazine before it is even opened, insinuating that something has been kept from the audience, that these biographies, typically inversions of popular public figures histories, have purposefully been stifled.  The Irish Magazine attempts to establish itself as the entity to right that wrong.

Looking through the collection of issues, the content itself in Cabinet does bolster and reinforce a ruling class ideology, especially in contrast with The Irish Magazine, which so excitedly opposes similar accounts.   Both publications use storytelling as a way to enlighten readers to the comings and goings of their respective areas. This style, in contrast to our modern day understanding of “news”, better allows both Cox and Shury the ability to color any one story to best fit their world ideologies; however, the stories they tell drastically stand in opposition with one another.  For example Cabinet begins its whole collection with, and includes within every edition of the magazine, “Anecdotes of Heroism”.  These briefly detail the acts of different British figures in various coordinates across the globe, including, but not limited to Ireland, Scotland, France, as well as at sea,. These characters are saving children in the midst of war, winning important battles and defeating fleets of French ships despite the odds against them. One tale even ends with James II exclaiming, “’None but my brave English could do this’” (Shury 1).  This section, unlike The Irish Magazine that does little to site any of its publication, includes footnotes establishing who first reported any one event and or where the story was found. Sources include seemingly reputable, although undoubtedly biased sources such as, Entick’s History of the War or Dobson’s Annals of the War. Footnotes accompany nearly every article within the text, showing not only sources, but also providing background information for readers. This is one more way in which Cabinet is attempting to establish itself as an authoritative publication. If Cabinet acknowledges sources, however reliable they may be, the opinions inevitably woven into these tales are also portrayed as truth.

In contrast to this, The Irish Magazine barely sites anything or anyone alongside its articles. Even the “excerpts from Newspapers” section doesn’t name the publications from which it obtains the excerpts.  Not all the submissions have legitimate signatures from their author either. Many of the stories simply have categories of people that would have supposedly been inspired to write something, such as “An enemy of Extortion” on a letter to the editor focusing on claimed “illicit practices” of Dublin’s Mayors and Town Clerks and how to “redress said grievances” (Cox 23).  Far from Cabinet’s “Anecdotes of Heroism”, The Irish Magazine undermines authority, taking figures typically receiving of praise and changes the story. Where Cabinet needs legitimate, traceable, and verifiable sources to validate its work, The Irish Magazine’s attempts for credibility could rely on its opposition to the most the circulating popular opinion. These were the stories that no one was telling; those willing to come forward would require secrecy, anonymity in the face of the powers that be should they be true. Again Cox is offering a different type of “truth” than Shury, one he wants perceived as coming from the people rather than the ruling class. Supplying sources, could very well diminish Cox’s argument, because they would most likely have to come from vetted texts by the British. Cox wants to share the “neglected” therefore there would be no “paper trail” or verifiable, official record of his accounts.

These distinct dissimilarities, these oppositions continue throughout the various sections of each publication. Cabinet’s sections make sweeping judgements on numerous topics such as ongoing criminal cases, literature, ethnicities, as well as global figures.  Examples include, from page 23, on an article titled “Spaniards and Portuguese”, “they cannot be excited to any great effort, but by superstitious terrors, love, revenge, and a fandango, the favorite dance of all ranks, in which, from a state of death-like stupidity, they will, at the first touch of an instrument, join with enthusiasm, animation grace and delight.” One article is even titled “Instance of an honest Jew” (Cabinet 25).  Although under British Rule the Irish could not elude criticisms and ridicule either.  On page 32 there is a “joke”, “A Dialogue between an Irish Innkeeper and an Englishman”, at the expense of Irish intelligence. The innkeeper consistently misconstrues the Englishman’s vocabulary, going often for the simpler of definitions than intended by the Englishman.

Cox obviously was attempting to incite and foster the rebellion of the masses, by feeding off sentiments of frustration among those under British rule by establishing a magazine for the oppressed that would share their disenchantment of the popular ideology of the ruling class. Especially since the publication comes only several years after the 1798 Irish Rebellion initiated by the Society of United Irishman; The Irish Magazine was a space in which to incubate and continue the aggressions of that rebellion in the wake of its failure (Encyclopedia Britannica).  A quote by Cox himself, from the September issue from the 1811 edition of The Irish Magazine or a Monthly Asylum for Neglected Biographies is used in a piece by Gillian O’Brien discussing the importance of The Northern Star, one of the “radical” newspapers published Belfast that was  instrumental in beginning the 1798 Irish Rebellion. In this quote Cox praises the efforts made by the publishers of The Northern Star; he writes,

“’A planet of light and heat: its influences were commensurate with its circulation and its circulation was only restricted by the Ocean. It warmed the cold; it animated the feeble; it cheered the afflicted; it stimulated the intrepid and instructed all. Pernicious dogmas, false reasonings, slavish superstitions and gothic prejudices, which broke the people into different sects and marshalled them against each other disappeared before it’” (O’Brien 1).

It appears that Cox wanted his own publications to follow in that tradition, especially noting that in 1815 Cox had to end the publication run of The Irish Magazine after being pensioned by the Government “on the understanding that he was to cease his attacks on it”, and terminate the periodical (O’ Donoghue 46).

In Trish Loughran’s “Disseminating Common Sense: Thomas Paine and the Problem of the Early National Bestseller”, she writes, “Revolutionary consensus was never contained in or expressed by sophisticated communal structures…revolutionary community was, on the contrary, pieced together in distinctive (and at times conflicting) ways in the many local worlds that comprised it” (Loughran 3).  Although this periodical is in Ireland, and come well before the revolution, we see this in The Irish Magazine, a first step in cementing a “revolutionary consensus” by feeding the flames of people’s anger. We know this was not a sanctioned publication; Cox was often sued previous to his pension for libel and slander.  The magazine portrayed known figures in a new, contorted, and malcontented view, which could contribute to a growing disillusionment of the Irish while also infuriating British and Irish loyalists, creating a divide amongst the people of Ireland. In situating The Irish Magazine against Cabinet we see decisions being made by Cox, consciously or out of necessity, to create a publication which so thoroughly opposed and set itself apart from sanctioned and “polite” magazines of the time.



Works Referenced

Clifford, Brendan, and Walter Cox, eds. Walter Cox’s Union Star: A Reprint of His 1797 Paper. Belfast: B. Clifford, 2007. Print. Belfast Magazine no. 31.

Cox, Walter. The Irish Magazine, and Monthly Asylum for Neglected Biography. Feb.-Nov. 1808, Jan. 1809 – July 1812. N.p., 1810. Print.

“Irish Rebellion | Irish History [1798] | Britannica.com.” N.p., n.d. Web. 21 Nov. 2016.

Loughran, Trish. “Disseminating Common Sense: Thomas Paine and the Problem of the Early National Bestseller.” American Literature 78.1 (2006): 1–28. americanliterature.dukejournals.org. Web. 23 Nov. 2016.

Madden, Richard Robert. The United Irishmen: Their Lives and Times, with Several Additional Memoirs, and Authentic Documents, Heretofore Unpublished, the Whole Matter Newly Arranged and Revised. James Duffy, 1858. Print.

O’Brien, Gillian. “Spirit, Impartiality and Independence':" The Northern Star", 1792-1797.” Eighteenth-Century Ireland/Iris an dá chultúr n. pag. www.academia.edu. Web. 21 Nov. 2016.

O’Donoghue, David James. The Poets of Ireland: A Biographical Dictionary, with Bibliographical Particulars. O’Donoghue, 1893. Print.

Shury, Daniel Nathan. The Cabinet: Or, Monthly Report of Polite Literature. Vol. 4. Mathews and Leigh., 1808. Print.


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