Friendshipʼs Offering

Illustrated literary annual, published by Smith, Elder, & Company, 18??-??. While not the first publication to sponsor Ruskin's writing, Friendship's Offering was the first widely distributed venue for his poetry, beginning with "Saltzburg" and "Fragments from a Metrical Journal", which appeared in the annual volume for 1835 (released in October or November 1834, for the holiday season). Thereafter, Friendshp's Offering remained a reliable showcase for Ruskin's verse, which appeared in nearly every volume: debutfeatured some of Ruskinʼs earliest published poetry.
Development and Characteristics
The first volume of Friendshipʼs Offering was published with the date 1824, released perhaps in 1823 in time for the holiday season of 1823–24 (“Chronological Index of British and American Literary Annual Titles”, in Harris, Forget Me Not, 280; Harris, ed., “Forget Me Not” Archive). Thus, the title appeared only one year after the very first of the British annuals, Forget Me Not (1823), was released by the firm of Rudolf Ackermann in 1822 for the holiday season of 1822–23 (see Annuals and Other Illustrated Books). According to a bibliography of the annuals, Literary Annuals by Faxon, Friendshipʼs Offering kept up annual publication through the volume for 1844 (p. 95).
In the wake of Ackermannʼs outstanding success, Friendshipʼs Offering was published by Lupton Relfe, a bookseller in Cornhill Street. According to an 1858 reflection on the heyday of annuals, Relfeʼs product was “unpromising” (“The Annuals of Former Days”, 496). In retrospect, Friendshipʼs Offering was struggling to escape the paraphernalia that attached it to the annualʼs origins in the eighteenth‐century almanac and “pocket book” (see Annuals and Other Illustrated Books). This effort was acknowledged by the editor, T. K. Hervey (1799–1859), in his prefatory remarks for the 1826 volume: while “difficulties” had arisen from the publication having, “very recently, come into the present Editorʼs hands with a view to an entire change in its character and plan” (Hervey had in fact edited the title since 1824), he only now succeeded in making “alterations . . . consist[ing] in the removal of all those features which marked it as more peculiarly adapted for one season of the year than another”, with the aim instead of “combining, with the increased beauty of its embellishments, a high literary character” (Hervey, ed., Friendshipʼs Offering [1826], v, vi). According to Katherine D. Harris, the hodgepodge of calendar pages, informational charts, and sheet music did fall away in the 1826 volume, but Friendshipʼs Offering under the supervision of its founders remained derivative and imitative (Harris, Forget Me Not, 124–26). The annual became a distinctive contribution to the early Victorian type only when, in 1827, the publication was taken over by the relatively young stationery and bookselling firm of Smith, Elder, & Company, which was recently moved to no. 65 Cornhill, near Relfe, and which had so far undertaken only modest publishing ventures.
Relfeʼs final volume was 1827 (released presumably in late 1826), edited by Hervey and B. E. Pote (“Editors and Publishers of British Literary Annuals, 1823–31, in Harris, Forget Me Not, 324). In 1827, Smith, Elder released their first volume of Friendshipʼs Offering “for” 1828, under the editorship of Charles Knight (1791–1873), the future publisher for the Society for the Diffusion of Useful Knowledge, who was then struggling to establish himself in London publishing. Knight was succeeded in the following year by Thomas Pringle, recently returned from disappointed hopes of advancement in South Africa, but gaining recognition as a poet and as an activist in the Anti‐Slavery Society. It was Pringle who would later introduce Ruskin to the fashionable literary world as the author, “J.R.” Under Smith, Elderʼs custodianship, Friendshipʼs Offering (its subtitle expanded to A Literary Album, and Christmas and New Yearʼs Present) improved strikingly in its material appeal. Sales rose, eventually peaking at ten thousand copies per year, assuring the fortunes of Smith, Elder as a publisher. (By comparison, Ackermannʼs Forget Me Not in some years achieved twenty thousand.) See Bell, “Smith, George Murray (1824–1901)”; Ford, Ackermann, 65.
The success of Smith, Elderʼs venture appears to have hinged on a striking physical presentation of binding and printing and on the appeal of the illustrations. The first volume of Friendshipʼs Offering under the new proprietorship received a complimentary notice in The Mirror of Literature, Amusement, and Instruction, the review focusing first on the “exterior, which is somewhat novel in taste, . . . by substituting for the usual paper covering [i.e., like the printed paper boards then covering the Forget Me Not], an elegantly embossed leather binding. This is altogether an improvement on the original plan, since the slight coverings of silk or paper is 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). By the “original plan”, the writer refers apparently to the binding used by Relfe, which consisted of glazed paper boards, printed with a decorative and typographic cover, in imitation of the binding for the Forget Me Not (the latter already moving to silk; see Harris, Forget Me Not, 133). The new binding of Friendshipʼs Offering featured an arabesque design that was blind embossed into the full surface of the dark leather cover, with a lyre design blocked in gilt in the center of the front cover. As Eleanore Jamieson remarks in “The Binding Styles of the Gift Books and Annuals”, the arabesque pattern was regarded as a revival style hearkening to the early book, and the style was associated with Continental models (p. 11; and see Annuals and Other Illustrated Books).
The annuals dueled to be judged by their covers, the Ackermann firmʼs Forget Me Not having set an initial standard with its printed and glazed paper boards, cloth spine, and slipcase, later replaced by a silk cover (Ford, Ackermann, 65). Innovation and extravagance—or at least the appearance of extravagance—in bindings and engraved or lithographed front matter became characteristic of annuals, which used this immediate source of appeal to compete in a crowded market (see Faxon, Literary Annuals, xiv–xvi). Mechanization brought these material appeals within reach of the ordinary consumer; and mass-produced fancy bindings in particular shifted traditional division of labor, since publishers took on this burden, which conventionally was borne by the consumer. Harris also speculates that the annualsʼ elaborately embossed leather covers echoed the only other expensively bound stock that retailers typically offered over the counter (as opposed to cheap temporary bindings, to be replaced by the consumer)—prayer books and bibles—and therefore these “gospel‐like bindings” may have been meant “to convince the reading public of the wholesome value of the literature and engravings within” (Forget Me Not, 131, 133–34). Perhaps the Mirror of Literatureʼs comment that the sturdier cover of Friendshipʼs Offering matched its more substantial content inside, capable of subsisting beyond the boudoir, gestured at an audience that included, not just male readers, but the entire family gathered in the parlor.
The other notable source of Smith, Elderʼs success, the quality of illustration, was the special care of one partner in the young firm, Alexander Elder (1790–1876). According to Huxley, House of Smith Elder, Elder was interested in art, and aspired to produce elegantly illustrated publications (p. 10). Illustration was key to the popularity of the annuals, as Elder would have realized from the precedent set by Ackermannʼs success. The first issue of Forget Me Not had featured a series of emblematic treatments of the twelve months, rendered in copper etching, along with verses by William Combe (1742–1823). Combe was well known as the author of The Tour of Doctor Syntax, in Search of the Picturesque (1812, 1820, 1821), a spoof illustrated by Thomas Rowlandson (1757–1827). This illustrated work ranked among the Ackermann firmʼs greatest best‐sellers (Ford, Ackermann, 52–60); and by employing Combe along with an illustrator on the new publication, Rudolph Ackermann was probably striving to maintain this popularity.
In some respects, however, the illustrated emblems of the months in Ackermannʼs Forget Me Not looked backward to an eighteenth‐century tradition, rather than forward to new fashions. Copper engraving was soon to be displaced by more durable steel engraving, which would allow for much larger press runs; and the very inclusion of a monthly calendar hearkened to the gift annualʼs beginnings in the eighteenth‐century “pocket book” (see Annuals and Other Illustrated Books). The second volume of Forget Me Not, featured much more varied pictorial scenes (albeit with mausoleums predominating), which were highlighted in the front matter by a list of plates that stood separately from the literary table of contents. The dual tables of contents—emblematic of the growing importance of visual culture in the early Victorian period—remained typical of annuals thereafter (see the facsimiles of Forget Me Not available in Harris, ed., “Forget Me Not” Archive).
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.
Smith, Elderʼs Friendshipʼs Offering benefited by these early, rapid developments in the annual as a commodity. Its binding was more sumptuous, and the engraving sharper and more consistent. At the same time, a comparison of Smith, Elderʼs product with the volumes published by the annualʼs creator, Relfe, suggests that the new firm attempted to keep the interior uniform with earlier volumes, at least initially. Smith, Elder did expand the title, however, from Relfeʼs Friendshipʼs Offering: A Literary Album to Friendshipʼs Offering: A Literary Album and Annual Remembrancer and A Literary Album, and Christmas and New Yearʼs Present. In 1833, the title changed again, the annual having absorbed another existing publication, Winterʼs Wreath, which had been published in Liverpool since 1828. This merger resulted in the title, Friendshipʼs Offering; and Winterʼs Wreath (so the title appears on the typeset title page; for a time, the engraved frontispiece with the earlier title remained in production). This latest title was in use when Ruskin first appeared in the annual, in the issue, Friendshipʼs Offering; and Winterʼs Wreath: A Christmas and New Yearʼs Present for MDCCCXXXV.
Early Personal Connections with the Ruskin Family and the Editorship of Thomas Pringle
The founders of Smith, Elder, & Company, George Smith (1789–1846) and Alexander Elder (1790–1876), were Scotsmen;
It is interesting 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 made him a gift of Forget Me Not when he was only eight. Annuals were usually characterized as an appropriate gift for women, whereas the so‐called “juvenile” annuals formed a distinct commodity for children. Ruskinʼs mother, Margaret, reacted to Charlesʼs gift with disapproval of the publicationʼs poor educational influences: “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]). 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;”).
As later in the “Account,” Ruskinʼs own handmade version of an illustrated book, Charlesʼs gift may also have testified to his young cousinʼs precocity, for there appears to be no evidence that Ruskin condescended to be a consumer of the “juvenile” annuals, which were designed for his age group, and which began appearing between 1828 and 1830—precisely when he was presented with the more adult Friendshipʼs Offering (see Renier, Friendshipʼs Offering, 17). 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). It is possible that Ruskinʼs Aunt Bridget meant 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.
Back to top