Annuals and Other Illustrated Books

Literary annuals were anthologies of verse, short fiction and essays, along with engraved images, which were marketed to serve as gifts and tokens of friendship. In Britain, the annuals first emerged in the 1820s, based primarily on a German model of the form, but also incorporating features of native precursors such as the almanac, album, and the eighteenth‐century “pocket book” used for notes and engagements. Supported by innovations in mass reproduction of images and cheapened production of specialty bindings, the annuals contributed significantly to the visual culture of early Victorian Britain.
Most annuals presented text and image to some extent ekphrastically, typically using a Romantic‐era aesthetic of a shared “poetic” emotion uniting the Sister Arts (see Friendshipʼs Offering: : The Poetry of the Sister Arts). Ekphrastic projects originated with the volume editor, who commissioned writers to respond to an engraving, rather than engaging artists to illustrate existing tales or verse, just as Ruskin composed his poem “Saltzburg” in response to an engraved view of the city that the editor, Thomas Pringle (1789–1834), already had in hand. By the time Ruskin began publishing his poetry in the annuals in the 1830s, they were a widely popular component of middle‐class visual and print culture, in which the Ruskin family already participated as consumers.
As tokens of endearment to be exchanged between lovers, friends, or family members, annuals were published toward the end of a given year, in late October or November, in time for the holiday season of Christmas and New Yearʼs. Their titles therefore named the year following that of their actual publication. For example, Ruskinʼs first appearance in an annual was in the volume “for” 1835, entitled Friendshipʼs Offering; and Winterʼs Wreath: A Christmas and New Yearʼs Present for MDCCCXXXV, but copy was sent to the printer as early as August 1834 (Vigne, Thomas Pringle, 244), in order to be available for purchase no later than November or December.
Because the Ruskins were Scots, they celebrated New Yearʼs rather than Christmas, and the family tradition included Johnʼs presentation of a New Yearʼs poem addressed to his father from almost the earliest time when he could manage a pencil. There appears no foundation for regarding this family tradition as influenced by the annuals: Johnʼs holiday poems long preceded his publications in the annuals, as a feature of the earliest juvenilia, and he continued composing personalized New Yearʼs odes for the family independently of the poems published with the signature “J.R.” for public consumption. One can imagine, however, that the family cheer occasioned by Johnʼs annual recitation of a New Yearʼs ode at the dinner table was augmented by pride in his contribution to the “Christmas and New Yearʼs Present” of Friendshipʼs Offering, which was being exchanged in that season among thousands.
History and Characteristics of the Annuals
The first British annual was Forget Me Not, published by the firm of Ackermann with the date 1823 for the holiday season of 1822–23. As a publisher, Rudolf Ackermann (1764–1834) was known primarily for his high quality, extravagant topographical books, illustrated by brightly colored aquatints. For the Forget Me Not, Ackermann hit upon a successful blend of polite and sentimental verse, tales, and engraved illustration aimed at middle‐ and upper‐class consumers, especially women, who already formed the primary audience for the Ackermann firmʼs in‐house magazine, the Repository of Arts (1809–28). The magazineʼs editor, Frederic Shoberl (1775–1853), did double duty as the editor of the Forget Me Not (Ford, Ackermann, 70, 64–65, 80–83).
Precursors of the Annuals
According to Anne Renier, Ackermann based his creation on a combination of two models, the German Taschenbuch, and the British pocket book. The former kind of publication modeled the literary content and illustration for which the British annuals became known, whereas the latter presented tables of useful information along with blank or illustrated pages for the ownerʼs memoranda (Renier, Friendshipʼs Offering, 5–6). To this ancestry of the annual, Katherine Harris adds the printed traditions of the emblem book and the almanac, as well as the homemade fashions of the ladyʼs album and the scrapbook, which were compiled by hand for personal collecting, although consumers could obtain a pre‐manufactured cover with blank pages (Harris, “Borrowing, Altering, and Perfecting the Literary Annual Form”). (Some confusion of terms arises from the similarity between the German Taschenbuch and the English pocket book, both terms referring to the publicationsʼ portable size, but the German form was literary, whereas the English eighteenth‐century pocket book was akin to the almanac and diary.)
Eighteenth‐century pocket books resembled almanacs by including reference information, especially tables of facts that were deemed appropriate to fashionable readers, such as lists of the members of the British royalty, the crowned heads of Europe, and names of other dignitaries. This convention appealed to Ackermann, since he marketed his books and art supplies primarily to leisured and wealthy clientele, and accordingly the first Forget Me Not included a “General Summary of Houses, Families, and Persons in Great Britain, in 1821, along with tables of other demographic information about England, Wales, and Scotland. This first British annual also reflected the original use of the pocket book as an engagement calendar, being ornamented with a series of emblematic treatments of the twelve months, reproduced from copper engravings (Jung, “Print Culture, Marketing, and Thomas Stothardʼs Illustrations for The Royal Engagement Pocket Atlas, 1779–1826”, 31; Hunnisett, Steel‐Engraved Book Illustration in England, 139; and see the facsimiles of Forget Me Not available in Harris, ed., “Forget Me Not” Archive; and see also Friendshipʼs Offering: The Founding of the Annual by Lupton Relfe—Searching for a Niche).
After the first Forget Me Not, the Ackermann firm dropped the almanac features; and according to Katherine Harris, by 1825 all British annuals had abandoned almanac‐ and diary‐like elements in favor of strictly literary and pictorial contents (Harris, “Borrowing, Altering, and Perfecting the Literary Annual Form”, 7). Along the way to this stabilization of annuals in shared elements of early Victorian ekphrastic print culture, what might now be viewed as transitional publications eshibited devices of engaging a Romantic‐era reader. As Sara Lodge has shown, pocket books published shortly prior to Ackermannʼs Forget Me Not combined features of the diary and almanac with the literary and artistic anthology, with the aim of inviting reader response. In the words of Leigh Hunt prefacing the Literary Pocket‐Book; or, Companion for the Lover of Nature and Art (1818–22), the reader was encouraged to mark each passing day with a “little homage . . . to a favourite writer or artist” and to “discuss the influence he has had upon taste and opinion”. The result would be the ownerʼs own “Calendar of Nature” in place of a calendar of royalty (quoted in Lodge, “Romantic Reliquaries”, 25; see also Bentley, “Leigh Huntʼs ‘Literary Pocket‐Book’, 1818–22).
Similarly, the Royal Engagement Pocket Atlas (1779–1826) invited the user to transform an ephemeral pocket book into a permanent keepsake. The publisher commissioned sophisticated, historical‐ or literary‐themed copper engravings to adorn a print item worth preserving, and offered a range of bindings, from functional to elegant. Some owners dedicated the diary pages to memoranda more lasting than notes about engagements, and decorated their copies with handmade coverings, presumably to serve as personal gifts (Jung, “Print Culture, Marketing, and Thomas Stothardʼs Illustrations for The Royal Engagement Pocket Atlas, 1779–1826”, 34–36). Prior to Samuel Rogers realizing his travelogue poem Italy in its influential form as an illustrated gift book, quotations from the poem were used to head the memorandum pages of a pocket book, along with engraved vignettes by Thomas Stothard (Jung, “The Illustrated Pocket Diary”, 25, 33, 36; and see Samuel Rogers [1763–1855]).
As the literary annuals abandoned the features of the pocket book that invited readers to leave material traces of their creative engagement, and became what Harris summarizes as a “more marketable and completely prefabricated book of printed memories” (Harris, “Feminizing the Textual Body”, 607), some features derived from precursors to the form came to seem endemic rather than inherited. The annuals took over the publication schedule of pocket books, requiring release on the market in late October or November in time for purchase as Christmas and New Yearʼs presents. Also like pocket books and almanacs, annuals lost perceived value as gifts after the beginning of the New Year; however, unlike their precursors, annuals were meant to be kept as permanent remembrances. They were elegant, but, at a base selling point of twelve shillings, affordable keepsakes, putting aside more costly annuals produced for the high‐end market (see Harrisʼs table comparing the price of annuals with other types of print publications between 1814 and 1835, “Feminizing the Textual Body”, 579).
Steel Engraving
In order to make a profit based on a twelve‐shilling‐per‐copy bookseller price, publishers needed to produce and move copies in the thousands each season. An important printing development, which made high volume possible without degrading quality of image reproduction, was the practical introduction of intaglio printing from a steel plate. Because steel is much harder than copper—the material that had been more commonly used in engraving and etching—its durability increased the viability of print runs to the thousands of impressions, compared to the few hundreds of impressions possible from a copper plate. The advantage of copper is its pliable surface, which is easily engravd, but copper plates wore thin from the abrasion of wiping excess ink in successive impressions. Steel could stand up much longer to this routine procedure on the press, but innovations were required to make steel practicable for engraving, such as manufacturing a softer metal for plates while retaining sufficient hardness for press. Engravers learned to combine techniques in order to work the plates, such as combining etching by acid with engraving by incision. Mezzotint was an important approach initially in the 1820s (For detailed accounts of the processes of tracing the source image, etching and engraving the steel plate, taking proofs for checking, and printing from the plate, all of which typically required many weeks and even months for very ambitious projects, see Bain, “Gift Book and Annual Illustrations”; Benson, Printed Picture, 36; Hunnisett, Steel‐Engraved Book Illustration in England, 42‐52; and Hunnisett, Engraved on Steel, 63, 110, 116, 110. For an overview of the production and business of the annuals, involving artists and engravers as well as writers, see Onslow, “Gendered Production: Annuals and Gift Books”.)
The annuals were not born from the development of steel‐plate engraving. The first three British annuals—Forget Me Not, Friendshipʼs Offering, and The Graces—were illustrated initially in 1823–24 from copper plates. In Britain, the art was first tested in topographical and book illustration. In literary publishing during the first half of the 1820s, steel was used in new editions of contemporary poets, such as Walter Scott, Thomas Campbell, Thomas Moore, as well as some editions of classic poets. Key specialists in the art during this period included the Finden brothers, Edward Goodall, and—an especially early developer in the field—Charles Theodosius Heath (1785–1848). Heath was the son of the engraver James Heath (1757–1834), who had risen to Associate of the Royal Academy in the time of Reynolds. Later, Heath supervised production of his own annuals, including Heathʼs Book of Beauty and the Keepsake, the latter an important source for wide public exposure to the work of J. M. W. Turner (Hunnisett, Engraved on Steel, 110–21; Hunnisett, Steel‐Engraved Book Illustration in England, 84–95, 101–2, 163–67; and see Samuel Rogers (1763–1855)).
Turner was an early experimenter with steel in the 1820s, particularly in mezzotint (Herrmann, Turner Prints, 144–62). The artistʼs first published project in steel was the Rivers of England series (1823–27), produced by the entrepreneur W. B. Cooke, head of another family of engravers who contributed importantly to the development of steel engraving. It was a logical development, then, that scenes by Turner figured prominently in the annualsʼ breakthrough to steel engraving in 1825–26.
The first two annuals to exploit steel engraving, in 1825, were Forget Me Not and an annual perceived from its inception that year as dedicated to high standards of production and taste, the Literary Souvenir, edited by Alaric A. Watts (1797–1864) (Ford, Ackermann, 65; Hunnisett, Engraved on Steel, 121–23). The Gentlemanʼs Magazine pronounced the Literary Souvenir for 1825 to be “one of the most beautiful little volumes that ever came under our notice”; and before turning to the literary contents, the reviewer highlighted as “gems of art” the topographical views, attributing them to the engravers, Heath and Edward Finden, without mentioning the artists (Copley Fielding, Italy—The Bay of Naples; the elder Charles Cope, Kirkstall Abbey, a vignette; William Brockedon, France—Lyons and Spain—Fortress of Saguntum; and Frederick Nash, “France—Paris from Père la Chaise) (Unsigned review of The Literary Souvenir [1825], 445; Literary Souvenir [1825], 23, 155, 187, 259, 332). The literary roster was equally dazzling, Watts having drawn on his “pretty extensive literary acquaintance”, as remarked by the Mirror of Literature, Amusement and Instruction, both this reviewer and the writer for the Gentlemanʼs Magazine emphasizing the originality of contributions by Scott, Campbell, and the gothic writer, the Reverend C. R. Maturin (who died in 1824), as well as by favorites among the writers who were becoming reliable names in the annuals (“Christmas and New Yearsʼ Presents”, 411; and on Wattsʼs ambitions for the annual, see Harris, Forget Me Not, 136–37).
For the second volume of the Literary Souvenir (1826), Watts obtained two plates by Turner, Richmond Hill and Bolton Abbey, Wharfdale, the first drawings by the artist to appear in an annual, and engraved for the purpose respectively by Edward Goodall and Edward Finden. (The coup coincided with the financial panic of 1826, which brought down many publishers, including Hurst, Robinson, the publisher of the Literary Souvenir, yet Watts kept the annual afloat under his own proprietorship as well as editorship.)
In both the 1825 and 1826 volumes of the Souvenir, the topographical views are paired with emphatically English voices, Watts having adapted tropes from Wordsworthʼs “Tintern Abbey” to compose his poems “Kirkstall Abbey Revisited” for Copeʼs vignette and “Richmond Hill” for Turnerʼs plate. In the latter poem, Englishness degenerates into a chauvinistic snub of an effeminate Continental tourist—a “fool of fashion” who “spurns” native scenes in preference for satisfying a “sickly fancy” for “foreign climes” (Watts, ed., Literary Souvenir [1826], 40; and see Watts, ed., Literary Souvenir [1825], 155–58). The jingoism affirms a patriotic assessment of the Literary Souvenir in the previous year by the Monthly Review, which reacted to the emergence of the new annual as a symbol of British progress in the arts, and a demonstration of superior British innovation over anything borrowed from the Continent, such as the annuals (see Friendshipʼs Offering: The Founding of the Annual by Lupton Relfe—Searching for a Niche). In contrast, the first steel engraving in Friendshipʼs Offering, published in the volume for 1826, featured a view of Rouen by the French‐English artist, Richard Parks Bonington. Although its English engraver received praise in reviews, the other examples of contemporary French art in the volume were met with mixed reactions (see Friendshipʼs Offering: Genre and Landscape Art in the Annual, and the Contest between the British Picturesque Aesthetic and French Neoclassicism).
The Literary Souvenir ushered in a class of elegant, more expensive annuals, led by the Keepsake, published by Charles Heath. Harris characterizes this trend as a “cult of beauty” (Harris, Forget Me Not, 147–52). Between 1827 and 1837, Turner contributed seventeen plates to the Keepsake (Herrmann, Turner Prints, 164–65).
The Reception of the Annuals
As suggested by Wattsʼs poem, a forceful current of English nationalism ran throughout the annuals. Early in the annualsʼ history, as Harris shows, editors and reviewers acknowledged the German origins of the annual, only to erase that debt with an assertion of English superiority (Harris, Forget Me Not, 41–60). As the quality of production improved, the claims of English superiority seemed all the more self‐justifying. A critic for the Monthly Review promoted this English achievement in universal terms, a basis for uniting the empire in a common standard of taste: “a single glance at their [the annualsʼ] contents” reveals a poetics “[s]tripped of all religious and political animosities, desiring only to please those individuals in every circle of society, whose taste and virtues, best entitle them to the courtship of the mușes”; and therefore, “it is impossible for . . . [the annuals] to circulate through the country, without carrying in their train the happiest consequences”, by “informing the understanding, and . . . attuning the heart and the fancy to the finest issues”. A universal “love of the arts” would be “kindled by . . . [the annualsʼ] presence in the remotest corners of the empire”, acceleerating progress through distribution of these “admirable specimens of the pencil and the graver” to places that “might not otherwise have [been] reached” with these unrivaled witnesses to English superiority “in the course of a century” ( “Unsigned review of The Literary Souvenir [1825]”, 279). In the review of the annuals for 1830, the Monthly critic turned these attentions to “the loneliest hamlet” and “provincial towns” where the annuals, sent as “ministers of taste”, will rescue the “inhabitants of the provinces” by supplying “something to console them for the want of exhibitions and rare collections”; accordingly, the daughters of tradesmen and manufacturers, who visit neither London nor Italy, will not want the means of forming a good taste, the best and most valuable adornment, next to the moral ones, of woman” ( Unsigned review of Friendshipʼs Offering [1830], etc., 435).
From the 1820s through the 1840s, as shown in a “Chronological Index of British and American Literary Annual Titles” (Harris, Forget Me Not, 280–85), new annuals proliferated exponentially, with many publishers vying for a share in the market. The fashion survived the depression in the book trade caused by the panic of 1826 as well as by the Reform agitation of 1832. While publishers strove to make their annuals distinctive in a competitive market, the writers, artists, and engravers who filled the contents (many of whom depended on these publications for a steady income) appeared in multiple annuals each year, and from year to year, so that, by December 1830, a writer for the Eclectic Review, who was “expected to say something of the [seasonʼs] Annuals [for 1831] before the blossom is off”, started with a yawn: “what can we say of them? They make . . . as fair a shew as in any former year, as regards the names of contributors, the efforts of the engravers, the splendour of the binding; and each preserves a strong family likeness to its predecessor volumes. . . . The bill of fare is much the same” (Unsigned review of Forget Me Not [1831], Friendshipʼs Offering [1831], The Winterʼs Wreath [1831], and The Iris [1831]).
The “cult of beauty” was strikingly embodied by its red silk covering of the Keepsake, but the annuals had always been set apart from other publications by their bindings, which made them immediately desirable objects of consumption. The annuals dueled to be judged by their covers, a marketing ploy that arose from the broader mechanization of bookbinding, which shifted the responsibility and cost of permanent bindings from the consumer to the publisher. At the start of the nineteenth century, bookbinding was still a cottage industry that relied on hand tools and techniques that had remained essentially unchanged for centuries. Even small towns supported a bookbinder to replace the drab paper boards, which protected most new books in the form they came from the bookseller (McKitterick, “Changes in the Look of the Book”, 96–97). In the 1820s and 1830s, however, “machines for case binding, graining cloth and gold blocking . . . transformed binding into a factory production using assembly‐line methods” (Stone, ed., Pictures and Patterns, 10). The flamboyance of the annualsʼ ready‐made bindings, therefore, as they jostled with one another in this changing and competitive market, formed the beginning of developments that would lead to the heyday of Victorian bookbinding in the 1860s–70s.
When first published, Forget Me Not and Friendshipʼs Offering were covered with glazed paper boards, which were printed with a design framing the title, and enclosed by a slipcase of the same materials, likewise printed with a design—the same or distinct from the design on the front boards (Harris, Forget Me Not, 129–30, 133). Since McKitterick notes that this style of binding arose in Germany in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries (McKitterick, “Changes in the Look of the Book”, 97) perhaps its use initially for the annuals was a nod to the annualsʼ origin the German Taschenbuch. At Princeton, a well‐preserved copy of the 1825 Friendshipʼs Offering, which retains its slipcase, exhibits distinct designs on the boards and slipcase, both in a brightly multicolored Gothic Revival style, inviting readers to discover the treasure within, while perhaps stealing a march on the rival Forget Me Notʼs monochrome printed covers (see Friendshipʼs Offering: Binding).
If these printed and glazed paper bindings were outdone by silk in 1828, the greater appeal presumably lay in the impression of luxuriousness, and perhaps femininity, but the gendered implications of this material are not definite. In 1836, some copies of Samuel Rogersʼs illustrated edition of his poem Italy were bound in silk (McKitterick, “Changes in the Look of the Book”, 97–98), and the audience for that work was not exclusively female, though those copies may have been marketed for women. In the same year when the Keepsake flamed onto the scene in red silk, Friendshipʼs Offering for 1828 announced itself as newly acquired by the firm of Smith, Elder by presenting leather boards embossed over the entire surface, front and back, along with gilding on the spine and in the center of the front cover. That this presentation was meant to be more sober and masculine than feminine silk may be the sense of a reviewerʼs comment that “substituting . . . an elegantly embossed leather binding” constituted “altogether an improvement on the original plan, since the slight coverings of silk or paper is [sic] scarcely safe out of the drawing‐room or boudoir, and some of the contributions to the ‘annuals’ entitle them to a higher stand” (“Spirit of ‘The Annuals’ for 1828”, 418). Harris has suggested that embossed leather covers may have suggested the bindings of prayer books and bibles—the only expensively bound stock that retailers typically offered over the counter (as opposed to paper temporary bindings, to be replaced by the consumer). These “gospel‐like bindings” may have been meant “to convince the reading public of the wholesome value of the literature and engravings within” (Harris, Forget Me Not, 131, 133–34; and see Friendshipʼs Offering: Binding).
Another sign of luxury was the larger trim size of the Keepsake, measuring six by nine inches in place of the approximately four‐by‐six size of the earlier duodecimo or small octavo annuals. The extra inches were taken up by white space in the margins rather than by text, countering any suggestion of practical considerations (Harris, Forget Me Not, 148).
[More to come.]
The Annuals and the Ruskin Family
The founders of Smith, Elder, & Company, George Smith (1789–1846) and Alexander Elder (1790–1876), were Scotsmen.
It is striking that an eighteen‐year‐old youth, Ruskinʼs cousin, Charles, deemed it appropriate to present a younger boy, aged ten, with Friendshipʼs Offering as a gift. It is even more surprising that Ruskinʼs Aunt Bridget made him a gift of Forget Me Not when he was only eight, according to Praeterita (Ruskin, Works, 35:91). However, these gifts become less surprising in view of a study by Paula R. Feldman of personal inscriptions found among a large collection of British annuals dating mostly from the 1820s and 1830s. While findings based on a single collection must be considered tentative, the study gives sufficient grounds to question the assumption that annuals were most commonly purchased by men to present to women as a courtship gift; instead, “literary annuals appear to have been purchased much more often as gifts between family members”, since “it is far more common to find inscriptions between siblings, or from parents to daughters, from aunts and uncles to nieces, and from husbands to wives”. Thus, the presentation of an annual to John by an aunt or cousin would not have been considered unusual; and while Feldman finds that apparently “it was not permissible for a female to have given an adult male one of these volumes”, the sampling did reveal instances of annual giving between males and (more commonly) between females (Feldman, “Women, Literary Annuals, and the Evidence of Inscriptions”, 58, 57).
Ruskinʼs mother, Margaret, reacted to Charlesʼs gift with disapproval of the publicationʼs poor educational influences: “Charles has given John a Friendshipʼs Offering. . . . The plates are well done but they are not interesting[;] the tales are horrible enough[;] the poetry very so so I think[;] upon the whole it does not improve” (letter of 31 October 1829 [Burd, ed., Ruskin Family Letters, 208]).
It is possible that Ruskinʼs Aunt Bridget intended the gift as a mourning momento for his Perth cousins, Jessie Richardson (1820–27), who died in 1827, and James Richardson (1808–26), who died in 1826.
In Praeterita, Ruskin read the gift as prompted by Charlesʼs pride in the material sumptuousness that his employers had bestowed on their newly acquired title: Charles “took personal pride in everything produced by the firm”, as Ruskin believed “all right‐minded apprentices and good shopmen do”; and it was in keeping with the reputation of Smith, Elder for producing fine illustrated books that Charles “on Sundays always brought a volume or two in his pocket to show us the character of . . . [the firmʼs] most ambitious publications; especially choosing, on my behalf, any which chanced to contain good engravings” (Ruskin, Works, 35:91). It was the up‐to‐date materiality of Friendshipʼs Offering that could make this adult annual appealing to young people; and Ruskin would demonstrate his engagement with modern technology of reproducible imagery in his Account of a Tour on the Continent (see Hanson, “Ruskin in the 1830s;”).
This is how Forget Me Not stood in 1826–27, when Ruskinʼs aunt, Bridget Richardson (1783–1830), of Croydon, presented him with the volume for 1827, containing Monument at Verona, by Samuel Prout (1783–1852) (Ruskin, Works, 35:91). Engraved by Edward Finden (1791–1857), this plate would have numbered among the early steel engravings produced by the Finden brothers (see Hunnisett, Steel‐Engraved Book Illustration in England, 84–85). Ackermannʼs annual had now caught up with the technology of steel engraving for book illustration, which proved key to the success of all the annuals. As compared with softer copper, which soon lost its edge in repeated impressions, steel engraving made possible the mass production of images, and helped to satisfy the craving for pervasive, but affordable visual culture by the early‐Victorian middle class. These developments coincided with Alexander Elderʼs ambitions for Friendshipʼs Offering.
As later in the “Account”, Ruskinʼs own handmade version of an illustrated book, Charlesʼs gift may also have testified to his young cousinʼs precocity, We can only guess at gift‐giversʼ motives, however. Ruskinʼs auntʼs present, the 1827 Forget Me Not, seems particularly marked by the Victorian sentiment of mourning. Its frontispiece, “The Motherʼs Grave” (likewise engraved by Edward Finden) features a trio of children sweetly gazing at a churchyard tombstone; the contents include “A Dirge” by George Croly (1780–1860), who would later become an impressive guest at Herne Hill dinners; and Ruskinʼs beloved plate by Prout depicts, as Ruskin emphasizes in Praeterita, a “sepulchral” monument (Ruskin, Works, 35:91; Shoberl, ed., Forget Me Not: A Christmas and New Yearʼs Present for MDCCCXXVII; and see Harris, ed., “Forget Me Not” Archive for facsimiles of the plates, list of plates, and table of contents for the 1827 Forget Me Not).
In the Ruskinsʼ family usages, the annualʼs function as memento may have been made specifically consolitory on occasion (see The Annuals and the Ruskin Family). Critics have unpacked the self‐referentiality and ironies entailed in the annualʼs containing works that, in typical Romantic manner, derive imaginative gain from loss, while also materially embodying a memento mori in itself—an object that the individual giver could inscribe with reference to a particular bereavement, while also laying claim to the kinds of status it conferred (Lodge, “Romantic Relinquaries”; Mourão, “Remembrance of Things Past”). It would not have been a stretch for the annuals often to serve this function. When transferring features of the Taschenbuch from his native Germany, Ackermann emphasized the popular Romantic Gothic and sentimental elements. As Harris has discovered, Ackermann modeled the Forget Me Not more closely than he acknowledged on a particular Taschenbuch, the Vergissmeinnicht, edited by Heinrich Clauren (Karl Heun, 1771–1854), whose popular story, “Mimili” appeared in the Forget Me Not for 1824 (Harris, “Borrowing, Altering, and Perfecting the Literary Annual Form”, 14–16). Based on the proven success of these formulas, the popularity of these first volumes of Forget Me Not proved so overwhelming that the Ackermann firm diverted a major share of its resources into the booksʼ production, consequently relinquishing experiments with lithography, a new method of reproducting images that the firm had recently helped to introduce to Britain. Ackermann turned over the opportunity to develop the new technology to Charles Hullmandel (see Samuel Prout (1783–1852)). Ackermannʼs success and increased production immediately inspired other publishers to enter the field with their own annual. The first imitator was the firm of Lupton Relfe, whose Friendshipʼs Offering appeared in 1823–24; and the second was Hurst, Robinson, whose Literary Souvenir appeared in 1824–25. The latter was edited for a decade by the energetic Alaric Watts (1797–1864).
Audience, Especially Children and Women
The audience for annuals is often interpreted as primarily women and girls, particularly young women of courtship age (Harris, “Feminizing the Textual Body”; Lodge, “Romantic Reliquaries”, 26–31). The introductory poem for the 1829 Friendshipʼs Offering assumes a female recipient, the “Lady of the Book”, whose eye and mind “as in a glass” reflect the Sister Arts of painting and poetry, which unite to form “quintessence of Poësy” in the “fair enclosure” of this ekphrastic publication (James Montgomery, “The First Leaf of an Album”, in Pringle, ed., Friendshipʼs Offering [1829], 1–2). Within five years of publication of the first British annual, this presumed middle‐class female audience becomes manifold with the emergence of specialized annuals for children (e.g., The Christmas Box; The Juvenile Forget Me Not), and for the religious (e.g., Winterʼs Wreath), with additional titles soon targeting these subcategories as well as other niches such as the comic annual. Margaret Ruskin reacted to the first copy of Friendshipʼs Offering to enter the household as both irreligious and lacking educational improvement for a child (see The Annuals and the Ruskin Family), but no evidence indicates that the elder Ruskins steered the family consumption of annuals toward these more constrained and targeted publications. Despite Margaretʼs initial qualms, the presumed audience for the annuals could accmmmodate children of both sexes.
An example of consumption of the annuals by young girls survives from the Ruskin family library. An outlier, in that it is dated too early to have been acquired for Johnʼs sake, the volume is a copy of Friendshipʼs Offering for 1825, which was inscribed to Johnʼs cousin, Mary Richardson (see Dearden, Library of John Ruskin, 122 [no. 953]; and see also Friendshipʼs Offering: The Founding of the Annual by Lupton Relfe). If inscribed to Mary in the year of publication, she would have been about ten years old, too young for a courtship gift. Anecdotal evidence indicates that John also received a copy of Forget Me Not at about the same age (see The Annuals and the Ruskin Family).
On this evidence, gender may have been considered irrelevant when inscribing an annual as a gift to a child; alternatively, specific content may have influenced giversʼ judgments about a volumeʼs appropriateness for a girl or for a boy. The 1825 Friendshipʼs Offering includes an engraving of a girl and her mother, in which the girlʼs palm is being read by a gypsy fortune teller. Katherine Harris remarks that the girlʼs body dominates the scene, thrusting the two mature women into shadowy background, and that the girlʼs gaze is turned directly toward the viewer. That gaze, Harris comments, presents a rare instance in the annuals of a female subject engaging directly with the reader/spectator, rather than treating the female subject as passive and specular to be relished voyeuristically by the consumer (Harris, “Feminizing the Textual Body”, 600–603). Could this unusual picture have influenced the giverʼs choice for Mary?
One might have expected that, at ten, Mary and John would have been given an annual edited specifically for children, one of the so‐called “juvenile” annuals. This distinct commodity began production between 1828 and 1830 (Renier, Friendshipʼs Offering, 17 and see “Chronological Index of British and American Literary Annual Titles” in Harris, ed., “Forget Me Not” Archive). By that time, both children may already have outgrown such a present. Mary would have been too advanced in adolescence, while John, though young enough, would have recognized as too precocious. In a broader context, research by Paula R. Feldman has revealed that gifting of annuals in general—not just of specialized titles—was very common among family members. While Feldman does not mention children specifically, except as recipients of school prizes, presumably children would have been included in the exchange of annuals among family members (Feldman, “Women, Literary Annuals, and the Evidence of Inscriptions”, 54–58; see also The Annuals and the Ruskin Family).
No evidence, in any case, links John to the juvenile annuals (see Books Used by Ruskin in His Youth). his signature as “J.R. of Christ Church”.
Other Illustrated Books
The Landscape Annual
The emergence of the landscape annual as a subclass, if viewed from the perspective of the 1820s–30s, can perhaps be understood as the project of a star entrepreneur of steel engraving, Charles Heath (1785–1848). Heath was associated with the founding of one of the earliest, showiest, and longest surviving of the annuals, the Keepsake (1828–57). From the annualʼs beginnings in 1827, Heath showcased engravings after Turner, and in the same year Heath also published Picturesque Views in England and Wales (1827), for which the engraver commissioned and purchased 120 watercolors by Turner. In 1828, Heath and his editor for the Keepsake, Frederic Mansel Reynolds (ca. 1800–1850), journeyed personally to the Scottish borders and the Lake District, aiming to solicit contributions from the celebrated poets associated with these landscapes, Scott, Wordsworth, and Southey.
The enticement of this class of annuals for the Ruskin family can be measured by an episode in 1832, when the idea was floated of producing a new deluxe edition of The Queenʼs Wake (1813–19) as a charitable scheme supporting the Scottish poet, James Hogg (ca. 1770–1835). Hogg urged that the gift book “should be a work something like The Keepsake” with landscape illustrations by John Martin (1789‐1854) “so as to make it a drawing‐room book”. To this effort, John James Ruskin subscribed generously with a donation of £20, pleading for the honor of being listed as the first subscriber (Hughes, ed., The Collected Letters: Volume 3, 1832‐1835, 33, 32n.). It is significant that John James sent the donation on 8 February 1832, his sonʼs thirteenth birthday, when the boy is believed to have received another deluxe edition of an established modern landscape classic‒the 1830 edition of Italy by Samuel Rogers (1763–1855), illustrated by Turner and others. The deluxe The Queenʼs Wake was never produced. Had it appeared, the book might have taken a place in the Ruskin family mythology alongside Rogersʼs Italy, since both Hogg and Rogers served personally as mentors to Ruskin in 1834, when the youth published his own topographical poem to the accompaniment of a steel‐engraved landscape plate, “Saltzburg”, in Friendshipʼs Offering; and Winterʼs Wreath: A Christmas and New Yearʼs Present for MDCCCXXXV (see Account of a Tour on the Continent: Discussion—Mentors).
Heath secured famous poetsʼ contributions to the Keepsake, by enticing them with offers of cash that were so princely that he fatally strained relations with his publishers, the firms of Robert Jennings and of Hurst, Chance. These ambitious schemes suggest that Heath was interested less in promoting landscape art per se than in promoting and rewarding himself, rather than publishers, with the proceeds of his talent for steel engraving; however, Basil Hunnisett may be correct to credit Heath at least incidentally with the development of the landscape annual as a class (Steel‐Engraved Book Illustration in England, 142–43, 146–48, 163–67; and see Ledbetter, “‘The Copper and Steel Manufactory’ of Charles Heath”). The landscape annuals produced in association with Heathʼs large workshop included the Landscape Annual (later retitled Jenningsʼ Landscape Annual) (1828–39), the Picturesque Annual (1832–45), and Turnerʼs Annual Tour (1833–35). These titles also prompted imitators, such as the Continental Annual and Romantic Cabinet, published in 1832 by Smith, Elder, and illustrated by another favorite artist of the Ruskinsʼ, Samuel Prout (1783–1852).
At the same time, viewed in a longer perspective, the landscape annual can be situated in the broader context of travel writing and illustration, in which the steel‐engraved landscape annuals formed a stage between the British copper‐engraved topographical and antiquarian magazines published between the last three decades of the eighteenth century and first two decades of the nineteenth, and the magazines promoting the etching revival in the final three decades of the nineteenth century (see Roberts, “British Art Periodicals of the Eighteenth and Nineteenth Centuries”, 3–4). In this context, for the Ruskins, the landscape annuals belong to the category of topographical poetry and prose, such as Italy by Samuel Rogers (1763–1855); pictorial travelogues, with or without letterpress, such as Facsimiles of Sketches Made in Flanders and Germany by Samuel Prout (1783–1852); and Travel Narratives and Guidebooks. Topographical poetry, travel narrative, and landscape illustration were often included in annuals that were not specifically landscape annuals; an example is Ruskinʼs own first contribution to an annual, the poem “Saltzburg”, published in Friendshipʼs Offering. Unlike the illustrated literary annuals, however, which typically anthologized a miscellany of verse and prose along with illustrations of both landscapes and figures, which were contributed by a variety of writers and artists, the landscape annuals featured a single artist paired with a single writer of the letterpress. Although subordinated to the artist, the writer for a landscape annual could, like Leitch Ritchie, see himself as contributing “bona fide sketches of his own” (qtd. in Hunnisett, Steel‐Engraved Book Illustration in England, 147).
The Gift Book
The gift book shared features with the annual, such as steel‐engraved illustrations and elaborate bindings, but differed in being produced only once. Typically, these embellishments were lavished on a previously published text (Harris, “Feminizing the Textual Body”, 580 n. 13). For ʼs involvement with a gift book project, see James Hogg (ca. 1770–1835).
Collected Editions
In another characteristic venture of the period, which took advantage of steel engraving, and which was related to the gift book but less expensive, the collected poetry or prose of important or popular authors was gathered into uniformly bound volumes, typically with a single illustration serving as frontispiece for each volume. These could be budget‐priced reprints of classic texts, British or otherwise, or they could represent significant bibliographical efforts to edit or at least collect works by modern British authors.
Collected Editions of “Classics”
Ruskinʼs imagination was influenced by the “Doveʼs English Classics” series issued by the printer and publisher J. F. Dove. Two volumes in the series that Ruskin counted among his earliest and most lasting books were his 1824 copy of Popeʼs translation of the Iliad by Homer, and his 1825 copy of Drydenʼs translation of the Aeneid and other works by Virgil (for bibliographical details, see Books Used by Ruskin in His Youth: Physical Descriptions). An advertisement in the Public Ledger and Daily Advertiser for 18 November 1826 describes the series as a “Pocket Edition of the Most Popular Authors, with Illustrations on Steel, engraved by Charles Heath, W. Finden, and others, from Designs by [Henry] Corbould and [Thomas] Stothard. Copies of the whole are kept in elegant bindings, for presents, &c., &c.” (reproduced in (Worms, “Doveʼs English Classics”, accessed 30 March 2022).
The advertisement emphasizes current printing technologies—illustrations on steel by engravers recognized as masters of the new art, and “elegant bindings” supplied by the publisher rather than left to the consumer to commission. The covers were probably case bindings, which coming into use in the 1820s. Taking the place of traditional bookbinding, whereby the craftsman treated each book as a distinct artifact, replacing the sellerʼs temporary covering with a binding of the consumerʼs choice, case bindings were manufactured and decorated by machine separately from the text block of the book (see Friendshipʼs Offering: Binding). As an early indication that Dove seized on these new technologies as a foundation of his “English Classics” series, in 1823 when Dove was taking over an existing series, “Walkerʼs British Classics”, from another publisher, he issued The Poetical Works of James Beattie and William Collins, which earned a gold medal for its engraver on steel, Charles Warren (1767–1823). Warrenʼs plates for the series became known for standing up to thousands of impressions, a crucial advantage for a series targeted at a broad public (Hunnisett, Engraved on Steel, 116–17; and for the relation between “Doveʼs English Classics” and “Walkerʼs British Classsics” see Worms, “Doveʼs English Classics”, accessed 30 March 2022).
Because these technologies enabled Dove to print and bind in high volume without degradation of quality, the company profited by selling in bulk at affordable prices, which typically ranged from three shillings sixpence to five shillings per volume, according to an advertisement, circa 1825 (“English Classics”). As a comparison, these prices averaged one third the cost of a literary annual, which typically sold at twelve shillings per copy (one guinea for select titles, such as the Keepsake), and which likewise depended on bulk sales to clear a profit (Harris, Forget Me Not, 188–90). Given the affordability of the series and its pretensions to canonicity—albeit presenting “a fairly elastic definition of both ‘English’ and ‘Classics’”, as Worms comments (“Doveʼs English Classics”)—combined with the volumesʼ physical features, which offered illustration and solid binding in a pocket size, these little books were appropriate to a childʼs library, provided the six‐year‐old in question could measure up to classical epics rendered in heroic couplets and poetic diction of the previous century. However accessible Ruskin found the content when he first saw these books, he immediately imitated their typography, which was “more than usually distinct and clear”, according to a Dove advertisement (“English Classics”). His copies of Popeʼs Iliad and Drydenʼs Aeneid very likely served as models for his hand‐lettered imitations of print in his Red Books and his presentation copies of poems (see The Ruskin Family Handwriting: Ruskinʼs Early Print Lettering in Pencil).
Collected Editions of Modern Authors
Modern authors, too, were issued in collected editions in the 1820s and 1830s, most famously the Waverley Novels of Sir Walter Scott in the Magnum Opus edition. This series was conceived by its publisher, Robert Cadell, on the pattern of a series like Doveʼs—cheap at five shillings per volume, issued monthly in 18mo. pocket‐sized volumes, with an engraqved frontispiece and title page, but exploiting recent technological advances in steel engraving, papermaking, stereotype printing, and binding to assure a quality product. Setting apart this edition from reprints of older classics, however, was not only the living presence of its author but also the editorial significance of Scottʼs correction of the texts and his annotation with prefaces and notes. Doveʼs volumes were provided with anonymously authored prefaces, which the aspring reader of the workʼs “classic” status, but Scottʼs own preparation of the texts and notes obviously placed the Magnum Opus on an altogether different order of editorial importance. The idea for such an edition had been mooted initially by Scottʼs original publisher, Archibald Constable, appealing to a more elite class of reader with the novels re‐edited and produced in a “superior style” and sold at a guinea per volume (not per novel, some of which were three‐deckers). Those plans were scuttled by the financial ruin in 1826 of Constable and Co. along with the Edinburgh printer, Ballantyne and Co., and many other publishers caught up in the collapse of loan schemes brought on by the speculation of Constableʼs London partner, Hurst, Robinson, and Co. Constableʼs prudent son‐in‐law, Robert Cadell, then reconceived the Magnum Opus as a “popular” edition but without sacrificing its editorial and artistic distinction (Millgate, Scottʼs Last Edition, 1–13).
The Ruskins were privileged with a close‐up look at a failed attempt at an edition modeled on the Magnum Opus—the collected Altrive Tales of James Hogg. For this story, along with John James Ruskinʼs role in a gesture to honor Hogg with production of a gift book, see James Hogg (ca. 1770–1835).
While in order to economize, these editions featured only a few illustrations per volume, but publishers made up the deficiency by selling portfolios of prints, which collectors could bind either separately or along with the uniform edition in question (Hunnisett, Steel‐Engraved Book Illustration in England, 135–36).
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