The Monthly Repository 1806-1837

monthly repository preface vol 1

While the Monthly Repository has been well studied (see the bibliography at the end) – and it occupies a central place in the ncse project – it is nonetheless worthwhile here assembling information here that is not available elsewhere.

Running January 1806 – December 1837, this shilling monthly went through quite a series of publishers:

Longman, Hurst, Rees and Orme 1806

Sherwood, Neely and Jones 1810

Sherwood, Jones & Co, 1824

Sherwood, Gilbert and Piper, 1825

Monthly Repository Office, 3 Walbrook Buildings, and R. Hunter, St. Paul’s Churchyard, 1827

Monthly Repository Office, 3 Walbrook Buildings, and R. Hunter, St. Paul’s Churchyard; Bell and Bradfute, Edinburgh, G. Hamilton, Edinburgh; Bowles and Dearborn, Boston US, 1828

C. Fox, 67 Paternoster Row; R. Hunter, St. Paul’s Churchyard; Bell and Bradfute, Edinburgh, G. Hamilton, Edinburgh; G.G. Bennis, 55 Rue Neuve St. Augustin, Paris, 1832

C. Fox, 67 Paternoster Row; R. Hunter, St. Paul’s Churchyard; William Tait, Edinburgh; G.G. Bennis, 55 Rue Neuve St. Augustin, Paris; Gray and Bowen, and L. Bowles, Boston, 1833

C. Fox, 67 Paternoster Row; R. Hunter, St. Paul’s Churchyard; William Tait, Edinburgh; G.G. Bennis, 55 Rue Neuve St. Augustin, Paris, 1834

It was more stable in its printers:

C. Stower, 1806

George Smallfield, 1817

William Clowes, 1832

The Monthly Repository is mainly famous today for its volumes from 1832 onwards when, having become completely secular, it carried contributions by noteworthy radical and literary figures such as Harriet and James Martineau and John Stuart Mill. Earlier volumes are however very useful for the student of Dissent and Radicalism.

It had been founded by the 24-year-old Reverend Robert Aspland who, from a modest background, had converted to Unitarianism four years previously and become the minister at the Gravel Pit Chapel, Hackney. The same year he established the Unitarian Fund of which he was secretary and later founded other periodicals and societies, by means of which he became a leading light in Unitarianism.

Unitarianism can be considered a means by which the industrial managerial class consolidated its identity through cultural and religious means, and the Monthly Repository in its first 21 years functioned as an important method of creating and sustaining a communicative network amongst this class. Typical of Unitarianism, it prioritised reason and toleration over tradition and was one of the first periodicals actively to embrace the new methods of biblical criticism developed in Germany. Poetry in its first two decades was largely devotional, but there is an exceptional amount of translated work, with again the emphasis on German.

The Monthly Repository also embraced Utilitarianism and was active in politics, promoting a radical agenda, which included the education of women. In 1813, a member of Aspland’s congregation introduced the Trinity Bill into Parliament which abolished penalties for refusing to believe in the Trinity: unsurprisingly, this is covered extensively in the volume for that year.

Under Aspland’s editorship there are several areas of especial interest, not least of which is the use of obituaries. These, along with the extensive coverage of Unitarian activities and debating points and the finely engraved portraits that acted as frontispieces, were key to the monthly’s identity. One of the principal commonplaces of attack on Unitarians comprised claims of deathbed recantation: many of the obituaries stressed on the contrary unwavering adherence to, and indeed comfort in, Unitarianism throughout long illness and death. As Ruston points out, the proportion of women whose lives were recorded in this way is high ‑ some 27% ‑ though this is typical of nonconformist journals in general.

A further point — of interest for post-colonial historians — is the coverage of the ‘Calcutta Controversy’ and the space devoted to the Indian Unitarian Rammohun Roy. Even one of the frontispieces is given over to his portrait (1824). Considerable space is devoted to the role of the press, both Indian and British, in this controversy 1823-1824.

After 21 years, Aspland, never having earned anything for his editorial work, ceded the task to William Johnson Fox, a Unitarian famous for his oratorical powers. Fox was also noted as a drama critic, and had written for the Contemporary and Westminster Reviews. He was also moving away from Unitarianism, and, having bought the magazine from Aspland, he transformed the Monthly Repository into a secular periodical: from January 1832 it may be considered wholly so, acting now less as a medium of interchange amongst a commercial and religious network as amongst a radical cultural élite. Its years under Fox are today the most famous and studied, when it was very much concerned with social and political reform, and sophisticated literary criticism. It also carried some fiction and, importantly, gave voice to early feminists (see Robson, 1987).

Every month from July 1834 it also carried an insert consisting of a song for voice and piano that was tied into the relevant issue of the body of the magazine in some way, enabling thus the domestic performance of the magazine.

In June 1836 Fox resigned the editorship to R.H. Horne. A year later, Fox gave the magazine to Leigh Hunt, who, with his son, wrote a very large proportion of it. Although this was Hunt’s tenth editorship, his experience failed to help the magazine make money and under him it died.


Francis E. Minneka, The Dissidence of Dissent: The Monthly Repository 1806-1838, Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1944

Ann Robson, ‘The Noble Sphere of Feminism’, Victorian Periodical Review, 20, 1987: 102-7

Walter Graham, English Literary Periodicals, New York: Octagon Books, 1966: 272-3

Alan Ruston, Monthly Repository 1806-1832: Index and Synopses of Obituaries, 1985

Contributions to The Monthly Magazine, Dr. Aitken’s Athenaeum, The Monthly Repository, and the Christian Reformer by the Late Reverend Eliezer Logan, extracted and compiled by his son Richard Logan, London: Woodfall and Kinder, 1856

R. Brook Aspland, Memoir of the Life, Works and Correspondenc of the Reverend Robert Aspland of Hackney, London: Edward T. Whitfield, 1850

The DNCJ of course has an entry (by the indefatigable Matthew Taunton), but the most important resource remains the ncse.