Flowers of Literature 1801-1809

flowers of literature title page

Flowers of Literature for 1801 and 1802 [1803, 1804, 1805, 1806, 1807, 1808, 1809] or, Characteristic Sketches of human nature and Modern Manners. To which is added A General View of Literature during that Period with Notes, Historical, Critical and Explanatory

[from 1803 the following is added] Portraits, and Biographical Sketches

Though described  and extracted in the Cardiff Corvey database (http://www.cardiff.ac.uk/encap/journals/corvey/articles/database/flowers.html) I thought it might be useful to add more information and offer another take on this interesting periodical. Several volumes are available free through Google Books.

The Flowers of Literature was a commercial miscellany composed of extracts from other publications. It is useful to the publishing and literary historian for several reasons: as an indication of the changing tastes of the market; for its general overview of the literary scene (including fluctuations in the trade) in its annual prefaces; for (from 1805) its catalogues raisonnés of recent publications; and as being one of the many productions of Francis William Blagdon (1778-1819). It was published throughout its run by B. Crosby & Co, Stationer’s Court, London, and printed by J. Swan in  Angel St, and had a circulation of around 3,000. Its first two volumes cost the very considerable 11 shillings but thereafter the price was reduced to 6 shillings.

Its target readership – according to the preface of its first volume was (pace the Corvey Index) threefold:

1)       “gens du monde; who are desirous to become, without serious application, conversant with modern literary taste”

2)       “the lovely British fair, whose minds are formed for tenderness… and whose sensitive faculties, when not involved in the vortex of fashionable dissipation, are susceptible of every passion which can dignify human nature”

3) “the noble youth of our country… whom we will gradually and safely introduce to the path of literary studies”

Begun as a joint publication (of around 400 pages long) with the Reverend F. Prevost (about whom virtually nothing is known), after the first two years Blagdon took sole charge. Blagdon, from a humble background, had been taken up by a Dr Willis who taught him French, Italian, Spanish and German. Around the time Flowers first came out, Blagdon was publishing many translations from French and had just brought out, again in collaboration with Prevost, Mooriana, or Select Extracts from the works of Dr. J. Moore, in 3 volumes in 1803. In 1802 he had begun Modern Discoveries, which amounted to eight volumes over two years. In 1805 he published a pamphlet, with the signature of Aristides, condemning the administration of the navy under Earl St. Vincent. As he describes it in the Preface to the volume of Flowers for 1805, the government had changed by the time the pamphlet had come out and he sent the whole of the print-run to the Earl – who prosecuted him for libel. Blagdon went to prison for six months and had to find sureties of £1,000 to keep the peace for three years. Unsurprisingly, this delayed the appearance of Flowers that year.

Other volumes of Flowers also appeared irregularly, especially from 1807 when Blagdon began to devote more energy to his newspaper, the Phoenix (later the Phoenix and Political Register or Blagdon’s Political Register) and to politics.

The preface to the first volume claims that the compilation was begun initially for the private use of the editors: they are careful to distinguish it from the reviews which are “much more confined in their extracts”. Annotations to the selected texts (actually quite rare) are “designed to direct the taste, to explain obscure passages, and to record facts and circumstances not generally, but worthy of being, known”. Extracts in volume 1 are taken from, amongst many others, Mrs Inchbald, Mrs Opie and Scrofani’s Travels in Greece; a few are translated from French (e.g. Le Brun’s Portefeuille politique).

flowers of literature frontispiece

There is a 32-page overview of the state of literature in the first volume: in later ones the overview, called the “Introduction”, is sub-divided into various classes. In these later volumes too are frontispieces comprising portraits of five writers, always four men surrounding a woman in the centre: in 1803 these comprise Darwin, Cowper, Pratt and Colman around Seward. The five writers are then always granted biographies in the early pages of the volume.

While claiming to describe the state of literature in Europe as a whole, in fact the foreign writers referred to are mostly French, sprinkled with a few German. The effect of the contemporary war with France is visible not only in the inclusion of many explicitly patriotic and/or francophobic texts but in their arrangement within the volume: there is usually a concentration of such texts at the end. The 1806 volume, foe instance, concludes with two letters from Josephine to her daughter Fanny (supposedly revealing the “Character of the French Nation, and the present state of its usurper” – a footnote informs the reader that omitted from the translation is a passage where Josephine describes how Napoleon beats her) and a “National Song” attacking Bonaparte (a footnote declares that when the piece was selected it was thought the war would soon be over).

Published by

Andrew King

Andrew King is Professor of English Literature and Literary Studies at the University of Greenwich. He has always been interested in how and why certain texts are kept for posterity and others disappear. His first degree was in classical and medieval Latin, and he has MAs in Medieval Studies and English. He completed his PhD in English at Birkbeck, supervised by Laurel Brake. He taught for many years at Universities overseas, though immediately before he came to Greenwich in May 2012, taught at Canterbury Christ Church University. His official profile can be found at http://www2.gre.ac.uk/about/schools/humanities/about/departments/cca/staff/andrew-king.

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