Marketing and Materiality.

The eighteenth century heralded the age of the marketable, expendable word. As Alvin Kernan, drawing from Walter Benjamin's essay "The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction," argues, the flood of printed material, especially books, "in its accumulation both of different texts and identical copies of the same texts, threatened to obscure the few idealized classics, both ancient and modern, of polite letters, and to weaken their aura by making printed copies of them, and of books in general, familiar, even commonplace objects."20 Such "accumulation" had both negative and positive consequences: while it made it more difficult for one voice to be heard among the many that now joined the squabble, such squabble was now, for the first time, possible.

The eighteenth century inaugurated, among other things, the great age of the periodical-one of the most disposable of all literary artifacts. A description of the materiality of the periodical, specifically the Female Tatler, allows a more complete understanding of the experience of the eighteenth-century reader. The Female Tatler had no cover akin to a modern-day magazine cover. It was instead a single sheet measuring about eighteen centimeters wide by thirty-three centimeters high; it was formatted in four columns, with two columns on each side of the sheet. (See Sample Issues for a reprint of two actual issues). The authors of the Female Tatler were well aware of its conciseness and attempted to justify it. Mrs. Crackenthorpe notes: "Several people have complained of the brevity of this paper, which Mrs. Crackenthorpe takes to be a very great compliment. A dull paper is too long by every line; and when this appears short 'tis for want of useful intelligence" (no. 13).

The periodical was further shortened by the lack of illustrations. It only later affixed a sketch of a female face-ostensibly Mrs. Crackenthorpe-to the head mast. Although appearing only sporadically even in those later issues, the face seems amused, its intelligent eyes gazing directly into the eyes of its readers. She displays an understanding in her otherwise carefully controlled countenance that seems to elicit a responding gaze. Rather young and attractive, this image of Mrs. Crackenthorpe fails to correspond with her descriptions of herself. (See Women's Beauty.) Yet the image is another instance of the way Mrs. Crackenthorpe eludes readers' desire to learn about her. The reader believes the picture is a reproduction of her actual face but, like her name, the face is a fiction as well-it is not actually her face since she does not exist, since she possesses no corporeal presence. (See Authorship and Publication Details for a discussion of "Mrs. Crackenthorpe's" fictionality.) The image is her presentation of what she wants readers to think her face looks like; like her words, her "portrait" represents Mrs. Crackenthorpe as she would like to be known. She even notes at one point: "as no person can truly define themselves, I shall only tell the town what sort of woman I'd have them imagine me to be" (no. 43).

The Cries of London. London, Colnaghi. 1793-1798. By Francis Wheatley. 21

Advertisements were few (especially when compared to the number of advertisements in modern-day periodicals). Many were for quack doctors hawking miraculous cures for any number of ailments or infirmities. There are even testimonials of the sort one might find in a twenty-first-century infomercial:

Whereas I, Rachel Morbury, now living with Madam Huffy, in Church Lane in Great Chelsea, have been violent ill of the headache, for above this two years last past, but for the last half year in a more violent manner; so that I thought I must have left my place, and after I had made use of several medicines, without the least success, I at last received an effectual cure, by Mr. J. Moore, Apothecary, at the Pestle and Mortar in Abchruch Lane, London. I desire this certificate may be published for the good of mankind, under the same affliction witness my hand, Sept. 7, 1709. 22

Treatments, after all, are as only as good as their cure. But despite their business of purportedly selling cures, these advertisers nevertheless relish describing diseases and afflictions in great detail. Another runs:

A famed elixir, for the wind which expels it to admiration, whether in the stomach, or bowels, all sewer or windy belch or hiccups, from indigestion, etc. It removes it upon the spot, and cures pains in the stomach, griping in the guts, stitches in the sides, the wind cholic to miracle; being no pretended, but a real and effectual medicine, for the use of old and young. To be had only at Mr. Spooner's new living, at the Golden Half Moon in Lemon Street, Goodmans Fields near Whitechapel, at 2s.6d a bottle, with directions.23

Since the Female Tatler was distributed in London, advertisements were local-directions, addresses, and the names of distributors were included in the advertisements.

The tomb of Venus, or plain and faithful directions how everyone may infallibly be rescued both from the obvious and hidden relics of that dangerous disgraceful distemper which so many of both sexes are infected with, such as weepings after supposed cures, pains, swellings, breakings out, and also from the noxious remainders of ill-prepared medicines. Likewise a demonstrable method on which the most doubtful may depend, of certainly knowing whether they have the distemper or not. By a foreign physician. Sold by Bernard Lintott, Bookseller, at the Cross Keys, between the Temple Gates, in Fleet Street, Price 1s. 24

Such a riotous mixture of religions-English Christian men and women, who use the relics of pagan ancient Rome-is a notable characteristic of these advertisements. What is important here is not a specific belief but the willingness to believe in the miraculous, the far-fetched, and the last resort.



 Main PageEighteenth-Century England HomeBibliographySource NotesCredits