The publication history of the Female Tatler prefigures the plight which plagues literary magazines well into the twenty-first century. Its shifts between authors, publishers, and identities speak to the difficulty of surviving as a periodical, especially one that appeals to a limited audience.
Beginning on 8 July 1709, the Female Tatler appeared almost every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday until its last (extant) issue on 31 March 1710.* The periodical passed through several hands during this short tenure-not only of different authors (see Authorship), but of printing houses as well. The printing house of Mr. B. Bragge in Pater-Noster Row published the first numbers of the Female Tatler, but after five weeks and eighteen issues, the author of the magazine took her efforts to another publisher. Mrs. A. Baldwin at the Oxford Arms in Warwick Lane published the remaining numbers, with an inaugural issue on 19 August 1709.
Map of Pater Noster Row in London. Castle Baynard Ward. Circa 1750.7
Though the original author of the Female Tatler, Mrs. Crackenthorpe, brought her literary flair to Mrs. A. Baldwin, B. Bragge hired a new writer and continued to publish a rival version of the Female Tatler.** For several weeks, two versions of the Female Tatler were published and vyed for authority, as Londoners speculated and quibbled over which was the real and which the fake of the two papers. In a seemingly negligible addition to the second issue published by Baldwin, Mrs. Crackenthorpe provides her own response to the spurious imposter:
Mrs. Crackenthorpe, finding herself disingenuously treated by the first printer of this paper, thought she might take the same liberty of removing it, as a gentleman that is tricked does his tailor or periwig maker. But such is the probity of piracing printers, that authors can't command even their names and titles, and this fellow has set up some pitiful scoundrel, whose principles are as wretched as his circumstances, to impose upon the town a sham paper, upon another person's foundation, and talks of ladies drawing-rooms, who was never yet admitted into tolerable company. But as the ladies gave the first reputation to this paper, 'tis hoped they'll so warmly espouse it as to have just abhorrence for such base proceedings, who are the only court of judicature to be applied to in this matter (no.20).
The author of the real Female Tatler clearly bristles at the presence of the mimicking competitor who threatens her name, reputation, and very identity. In a clever reversal, Mrs. Crackenthorpe later prints a letter from a supposed reader who claims to have found the author of the rival. This reader claims that the author of the fake Female Tatler is a pathetic, broken, alcoholic man who writes as a hack; she describes him as a "surly, sullen, morose, splenetic old dotard" who eventually expresses regret for the harm he may have caused the real author (no. 35). Exposing the author of the rival publication as-of all things!-a man serves as the ultimate disavowal of his authority.
A Grub Street Poet (detail). By Thomas Rowlandson.8
Mrs. Crackenthore's allegations aside, some scholars have speculated that a man did indeed author the fake version of the paper. Thomas Lydal, a mathematician who frequently advertised in the paper, is often supposed to be the writer behind the fake. Others suggest that Thomas Baker, a lawyer and shoddy dramatist, wrote the fake Female Tatler, perhaps with the assistance of Lydal. 9
The fake Female Tatler also insists upon its authenticity in contrast to the competing paper and offers its own account of the author behind the rival (real) periodical. The fake version claims that "the spurious paper foisted into the world under her name is contrived and carried on by the villainy of her man Francis . . . who can expect otherwise, when the poor devil is forced to pump for bread?" (no. 23 [fake]). The original publisher also attempts to capitalize on its possession of the first eighteen numbers; after proclaiming its genuineness as the real Female Tatler, the fake paper often reminds readers that "complete sets [of the paper] may be had from the beginning" from B. Bragge (no. 23 and 27 [fake]).
Though Mrs. Crackenthorpe posits a story behind the identity of her rival, she most commonly defends her paper as authentic by asking readers to recognize its superior literary merit: "And Mrs. Crackenthorpe thinks she may, without vanity, desire those who are still imposed on by the spurious paper, whensoever accidentally met with, to compare two or three of 'em with hers, and she fancies they'll be soon undeceived" (no. 28). The reader who claims to have identitifed the author of the fake publication also notes the distinctions in quality between the two papers: "the difference in style and matter immediately informed me which was the spurious one, for impudence and ignorance always betray themselves."
The fake Female Tatler maintains certain attributes of the genuine paper, such as the use of example in communicating standards for proper behavior and the use of Mrs. Crackenthorpe's drawing room as a site of gossip. (See Gossip.) However, Mrs. Crackenthorpe's claim to the superiority of her paper over the rival version rings accurate, as the fake Female Tatler lacks the exceptional writing and wit of the original. The fake also contains numerous grammatical errors, which the original largely succeeds in avoiding, and exhibits a degree a of bawdiness and crudeness not present in the original. For example, the final issue of the spurious publication displays a supreme level of vulgarity. Quoting a letter ostensibly sent from a reader frustrated with the magazine's tendency to bring bad behavior to public light, that issue reports: "Mrs. Crakenthorpe, You are a dirty, impudent B-ch of a Harridan, if you proceed to expose me, I will cut your throat by all that's good" (no. 44 [fake]).
That the original publisher of the Female Tatler attempted to continue selling the magazine in the absence of its original author is not surprising. For, "pirated editions, deliberate misattribution and outright literary theft" dominated the publishing world in the eighteenth century. 10 Mrs. Crackenthorpe's lament that "authors can't command even their names and titles" forms a comment not only upon her own situation, but upon an epidemic in the publishing industry. Richard Steele's Tatler had three spurious continuations, and even Samuel Richardson, who penned the wildly successful novels Pamela (1740) and Clarissa (1747-8), had to contend with counterfeit sequels to his books. 11
Samuel Richardson. By Mason Chamberlin. 1754 or before.12
"Fraudulent" publications were able to flourish because, as historian John Brewer points out in his account of the making of literary culture, a publication was considered to be formed "not by the literary inspiration of the fellow who scribbled the copy but by the publisher's sense of the market. Without means and control, the writer became a manufacturer of components in a factory of literature." Authors-especially authors of work published in periodicals-endured a tentative or nonexistent relationship to their own writing, as far as the literary establishment was concerned. Brewer explains, "What [an author] wrote was not properly his: it was designed by another and had value only as part of a larger whole." 13
Given such attitudes toward an author's ownership over his material, the public's decision over which version of the Female Tatler was the fake and which the authentic was much more complicated than simply identifying the publishing house with which the author resided. Ultimately, however, the public chose the superior style and content of the first writer over the original publisher's new hire, and the fake Female Tatler sold its last number on 17 October 1709. It had persisted for twenty-five issues, beginning on 19 August 1709.14 The first printer's attempts to continue producing the Female Tatler without its original writer testifies that he shared the conventional view of the author's insignificance and failed to recognize the important role the author's efforts played in the magazine's popularity. The original author's clear success in maintaining control of the Female Tatler in the face of the publisher's efforts to the contrary serves as a notable early victory of author over publisher and highlights the centrality of good writing in this magazine's (limited) repute.
After endeavoring to survive through changes in publishers and authors and fighting off a spurious rival, like many literary magazines during this period and after, the Female Tatler eventually stopped producing altogether. Because no known records relay the reasons behind the Female Tatler's demise, we can only speculate about why the paper folded. The inferior writing of the issues by the Society of Ladies, in comparison to those penned by Mrs. Crackenthorpe, probably contributed to a slump in sales. As well, since the paper relied on a small number of writers, even an individual author's decision to move on to a different venue may have ended its run. The last extant issue of the magazine, number 111 of 31 March 1710, may or may not have been the true final issue, as further numbers may have been published and since lost. The Tatler probably provides the only definitive ending we have to the Female Tatler, declaring it officially dead on 26 September 1710.
*Actually, scholars do not know whether the last issue appeared on 31 March 1710, or if this is simply the last extant issue.
**Alison Adburgham claims that both real and spurious were published by A. Baldwin, but Fidelis Morgan's claim that B. Bragge continued to publish the paper after the original authors of the Female Tatler went to another publisher seems more plausible.15
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