Volume 1: February-July 1892 Volume 38: October 1910-March 1911
February 1892-January 1898 Chatto & Windus
February 1898-September 1898 J M Dent & Co
October 1898- ? W R Russell & Co
Later dates uncertain. Publishers included Horace Marshall & Son and Chatto & Windus
February 1892-July 1895 Jerome Klapka Jerome and Robert Barr
August 1895-November 1897 Jerome Klapka Jerome
May 1899-August 1900(?) Arthur Lawrence
September 1900(?)-January 1901 Sidney H Sime
October 1902-March 1911 Robert Barr
Cambridge University Library
United States of America:
Library of Congress
New York Public Library
University of South Carolina Library
State Library of Victoria
The Idler was an illustrated gentleman’s magazine published in London and also distributed in America. It appeared monthly from February 1892 to March 1911. The price in England was sixpence an issue; in America it sold for 25 cents an issue or $3.00 for a yearly subscription. From the first issue, a Scots-Canadian named Robert Barr was instrumental in establishing the success of the periodical. He recruited a co-editor, Jerome K. Jerome, an established London humorist and playwright. From 1895 to 1897 Jerome was in complete control of the journal. After 1897, Arthur Lawrence and Sidney Sime took turns as editor until around 1900. By April 1902, Barr had once again established exclusive editorial and proprietorial control of The Idler; he was at the helm until the final issue was published in March 1911. In its day, the magazine had various competitors, such as The Strand and The Yellow Book, but it always held its own and its popularity increased in the 1890s and in the Edwardian period. Over its life, The Idler changed publishers several times. In America, an early distributor was Charles L. Webster and Company of New York City. With a variety of short stories, novels, interviews, illustrations, and reviews, the magazine set a genial tone that was perfect for the gentleman reader in his leather reading chair. Over the years, the roster of writers who contributed to various issues was impressive, indeed: O. Henry, Mark Twain, Conan Doyle, Eden Phillpotts, Marie Corelli, Barry Pain, Israel Zangwill, Grant Allen, W. W. Jacobs, and Robert Louis Stevenson. At a single sitting, the pages took the reader from travel adventures to cultural appreciations of events in the home island nation. “The Idler‘s Club” was a standard feature of most issues. Various writers sketched out opinions in ironic and exaggerated language. They gave advice on topics ranging from how to enjoy a honeymoon to how to deal with women riding bicycles down city streets in the new age. The gentleman or educated middle-class reader, with curiosity and urbanity, looked forward to updating opinions and speculations by reading the most recent high-spirited articles or chuckling over the often avant-garde illustrations by Sime and others.
The most flamboyant of The Idler‘s editors was Jerome K. Jerome. He had made a name for himself as a writer of humorous fiction and as a London playwright. Robert Barr was, of course, the founding force behind the magazine. However, early on he narrowed his search for an editor to Jerome. According to Jerome, Barr considered Rudyard Kipling briefly for the position, but chose Jerome, thinking that he “should be the easier to ‘manage,'”; furthermore, he had not “liked the look of Kipling’s jaw.”1
It was Jerome K. Jerome who came up with a title for Barr’s new periodical. Perhaps he remembered a shortlived periodical from 1856 called The Idler: Magazine of Fiction, Belles Lettres, News and Comedy. The name, Idler, had also been used earlier by Samuel Johnson when publishing his series of essays in the mid-1700s. More likely, though, the title derived from Jerome’s own fascination with the idea of idling. As a struggling writer who had come from the working class, Jerome savored the idea of a dreamy idealist who could idle away time by contemplating life in general. In fact, Jerome had named an earlier publication of fourteen reflective and humorous essays, Idle Thoughts of an Idle Fellow (1889). Throughout his life, Jerome pursued the theme of The Idler as a noble ideal, but mi his biographer notes, “A less inert idler never lived.”2
By mid-1895, Jerome had taken over the sole editorship of the magazine. In letters to his contributors, Jerome displayed his talents mi a kindly, smart, and crafty editor. In an August 1095 notice “‘To the Readers,” Jerome announced his “sole control of The Idler,” declaring his intention to increase “its present great popularity and prestige.” The magazine’s appeal was not for the general masses, but for “that growing public which possesses literary tastes and artistic sympathies.”3 However, trouble and distractions loomed ahead for Jerome’s high aspirations. The pace of Jerome’s activities was frantic. In a letter that he writes to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle–in which he seeks a strong story contribution from him Jerome captures the pace of his life: “Let me know at once as to this, and if possible let us have a chat over it. I have been trying to get away, but have not been able to spare an hour.”4 In November 1893 Jerome had started a weekly paper, To-Day. A Weekly Magazine-Journal. Each number sold for two pence. It was initially successful, but in November 1897 Jerome and his new publication became embroiled in a financially disastrous libel action. The high court costs of the law suit–9,000 pounds for Jerome’s share– forced him to sell his interests in both To-Day and The Idler.
Thereafter, Arthur Lawrence and Sidney H. Sime served as editors of The Idler for several years. In 1898 Sidney H. Sime inherited a small fortune and a large house in Pertshire, Scotland, from an uncle. This financial windfall allowed him to marry a fellow artist and an Edinburgh native, Mary Susan Pickett. The new couple lived half of the year in Scotland and half of the year in London. Arthur Lawrence was an admirer of Sime’s art. The two of them worked out a coeditorship relationship for The Idler. Sime used a substantial amount of his new fortune to buy The Idler; however, this venture was not financially successful. Debts accrued and the periodical faced stiff competition in pricing. By 1899, the price per issue of The Idler was 1/- compared to 6d an issue for The Strand, Pearson’s, and the English Illustrated Magazine. In 1901 Sime sold The Idler, and he certainly lost a good deal of money over the transaction. Ten years later his distaste and dislike for magazines had increased to the point that he wrote in a letter (18 August 1910) to his friend Joseph Holbrooke: “Avoid the worst possible form of publication–magazines! Those God-forsaken sponge-cakes of the suburban soul.” By 1922 his withdrawal from the painting and publishing world was nearly total. He told a friend: “I grow more and more fond of loafing.”5
Arthur Lawrence had experience as a journalist and in later years he became an expert on Sir Arthur SullIvan, Sidney H. Sime was better known as an artist–one whose tastes tended toward the fantastic and the surreal. He contributed some sinister illustrations to The Idler, including drawings of menacing birds and insects. One of his more bizarre contributions–“The Kidnappers– showed a cartload of plump babies descending into the cave of a devouring beast. This shocking illustration that appeared in Volume 16 (490) contained a possible autobiographical dimension as its subtext: Sime was born into a poor Manchester family and he was forced to work in the underground mines as a boy. Under Sime’s direction, the magazine began to take on the look of 1890s art nouveau. Cover illustrations included not trees and vine leaves, but the interplay of snakes and butterflies. His illustrations tended toward the esoteric and the romantic, often with a menacing or surrealistic overtone.
Robert Barr, the most influential editor of The Idler, was a man of diverse background and multiple talents. He was born in Glasgow, Scotland, but raised by his middle-class parents in the countryside of Ontario, Canada. He studied at the Toronto Normal School and taught school for several years. Thus, Barr lived in Canada from the age of four to the age of twenty-six. In 1876 William E. Quimby, the editor of the Detroit Free Press, invited Barr to join the newspaper’s staff. By 1881, he had transferred to London where he served as an exchange editor in charge of producing a weekly version of the American paper for British readers. He maintained an active social and literary life; he was a member of several London clubs. Ry 1891, his plans to launch the popular illustrated men’s magazine, The Idler, were complete. During the 1880s the Iroquois nation made him an honorary chief, and in 1900 the University of Michigan bestowed an honorary M.A. degree upon Barr. It was the blend of his Scottish, Canadian, American, and British experiences that accounted for Barr’s lifelong cosmopolitan outlook.
Besides his journalistic endeavors, Barr was a prolific writer of stories. In many novels, he portrays aristocratic characters involved in romantic escapades. He also published several collections of short stories, including Strange Happenings (1883) and In a Steamer Chair and Other Shipboard Stories (1892). His fiction became known for its use of irony and plot reversals. As with the stories that were included in The Idler from a range of writers, Barr’s own fiction ranged from the realistic to the romantic. Although romantic comedies were his commercial hallmark, his novel The Mutable Many (1897) exhibits clear dimensions of social realism. In addition to fiction writing, Barr was also successful in penning travel essays and biographical sketches. As editor of The Idler–in the Edwardian period, especially–Barr included more articles about North America, including a travel series on Canada. Barr’s persistent encouragement of a host of young writers that he sought out as contributors to The Idler should not be underestimated. During his lifetime, he was well-respected as a competent journalist as well as an enterprising and resourceful editor. Only a year and a half after the final issue of The Idler appeared, Barr died on October 22, 1912, from the effects of dropsy.
To offer vast generalizations concerning the editorial tastes and varied contents of the thirty-eight volumes of The Idler is to taunt the gods of scholarly accuracy. And yet, some developments over the years seem to be distinctly observable. Certainly, the sheer number of short stories printed per issue increased significantly over the years of the journal’s publication. That this trend was a deliberate editorial decision can be verified by Barr’s announcement appearing in Volume 24 (October 1903): “There will be more short stories in The Idler next year than it has published in any twelvemonth since it began” (8). Besides short stories, there wree also novels serialized over several issues, as well as stories clustered around a single character who underwent various adventures–or misadventures. There also appeared numerous shorter articles of a few pages and these were often enlivened with copius illustrations.
The f irst issue of The Idler foretells the magazine’s mingling of appeals to both male and female readers. There are, for example, advertisements directed toward women for such items as “Priestley’s Dress Fabrics for Gentlewomen,” “Brown’s ‘Dermathistic’ Corset,” and “The Queen Bess Hair Curler.” But the articles are clearly aimed toward male readers. Male companionship and solidarity are stressed. For example, a major theme of the first issue is manly smoking. There is an illustration of Mark Twain on joying his corn cob pipe. “Choice Blends” is the name of a section that blends photographs of such notables as Gladstone, Balfour, and Salisbury into composite portraits. It is an amusing and imaginative photographic essay. The smoking theme continues with “Enchanted Cigarettes,” a piece in which Andrew Lang I inks his own personal literary projects with the reveries that hashish or “enchanted cigarettes” might provide. A final editorial by Barr and Jerome solidifies the masculine smoking theme.
However, the magazine in its future issues included women as well as men; women’s subjects were frequently covered. In “The Idler‘s Club” of November 1891, a sect ion is entitled “A Lady defends Lady Smokers” and “Angelina” objected strenuously to smoking as she linked tobacco to Eve’s apple, the root of all evil, other women offered various opinions in the December 1891 “Idler’s Club,” as well. In September 1894, the topic tor discussion is “How to Court the ‘Advanced Woman'” and it is introduced with an Aubrey Beardsley drawing. George Egerton claimed that “Man is Inferior” in her opinion section; Lady Greville suggested that “She may do her own courting.” Sarah Grand advised “Court her with Respect.” The Idler managed a balanced tone of equality as it included many women writers.
Pictorial illustrations were always a key feature of the pages of the magazine. Women were also given opportunities in this area as well. Jerome chose the most prominent illustrators of his day and gave them equal billing with the writers. An interesting example of a successful harmony between text and photographs is the interview with Emile Zola, with accompanying illustrations of the interiors of his home. Volumes 8 through 12 run an excellent series of articles on black-and-white illustrators. Discussions of the lives and selected works of the following appear: Louis Wain, Raven-Hill, H. R. Millar, Dudley Hardy, E. T. Reed, Caton Woodville, Bernard Partridge, Aubrey Beardsley, Fred Pegram, and S. H. Sime. During Barr’s editorship in the Edwardian years, he chose to use photographs more often than pen art.
In his August 1895 letter to his readers, Jerome promises that more attention will be devoted to improving illustrations and printing: “The size of the magazine has been increased, we having found it impossible to give our artists fair representation within the former limited size of our pages” (98). He thus increases the size of The Idler from 21 X 13 centimeters to 24 X 16 centimeters. The art changes not only in quality but also to a more “decadent” style in keeping with the fin de siecle. The frontispiece for Volume 8 depicts a nubile “Snow Queen,” clothed only by a diaphanous cloth around her thighs and posed invitingly on a snowy Alpine crag, to accompany Percy Bysshe Shelley’s poem of the same title published in the volume. A voluptuous Eve attempting to hide her nudity behind a skirt of Corinthian frieze-like leaves poised smirking against a tree introduces readers to A. J. Goodman’s illustrations of “Women of the Bible.” Bathsheba is depicted sensuously holding up her long hair as she sits nude and nippleless with draped fabric revealing her thighs and legs. For several years drawings of nude women appear in The Idler along with romantic, exotic pen and ink drawings such as those by Aubrey Beardsley (and similar to those found in such 1890s periodicals as The Yellow Book and The Savoy) . Depictions of snakes, butterflies, spiders, salamanders, worms, mermaids, satyrs, and incubi decorate the pages of the late 1890s issues of The Idler. The frontispiece for August 1896 offers a nude woman with aureole and butterfly wings. However, with the turn of the century, The Idler begins to lose the Ceding of fantasy and eroticism that typifies the art of the fin de siecle. The title page for Volume 19 replaces the snake and butterfly with trees and birds of an ordinary forest.
Social and political issues of the 1890s and the Edwardian period also helped to shape the content of the magazine’s pages. In the 1890s, the journal tended to be light-hearted, given to comic or ironic playfulness. The diversity appealed to readers who enjoyed the interviews with authors at home, the lavish illustrations, the detective and ghost stories, the character sketches, the anecdotes from the world of sports or theatre, the facetious travel accounts, and the tongue-in-cheek opinion columns. In early 1893, when The Strand began to exploit the popularity of the royal family to increase its circulation, The Idler began a series on the Royal pets–the dogs, horses, and donkeys of the Royal Household. Occasionally, The Idler took part in discussion of current public affairs, such as the debate about naming a new poet laureate after Alfred Lord Tennyson’s death in 1892. The magazine staff polled twenty-two writers concerning the question “Who should be Laureate?” and the overwhelming majority favored Swinburne.
The Idler, however, did not always laugh and skip through the times. Allen Upward contributed a disturbing and unsentimental account of the darker side of the metropolis in a series of articles on “The Horrors of London.” Certainly, the standard feature of “The Idler’s Club” exhibited the skills of contributors wl io practiced exaggerated rhetoric and engaged in facetious speculations on a range of subjects. For years “The Idler’s Club” was the most unique and popular feature of the magazine. Also evident, however, in the pages of the journal during the final years of victoria’s reign and continuing through the Edwardian period is an increasing attention to the matters of war or military preparedness. Thus, in articles such as “Britannia Armed,” “Great Britain as a Military Power,” and “Is the British Navy Invincible?,” one can trace the slow and steady movement toward the cataclysmic struggle of European nations in World War I.
The audience for The Idler included members of gentlemen’s clubs, as well as young middle-class readers who lived in London’s suburbs. The newly prosperous middle class as well as the young, single, imsiness-people of London enjoyed the information and entertainment that The Idler provided. It is also Iikely that the magazine attracted the interest of writers because many articles deal with the profession of writing, such as Jerome’s NOVEL NOTES. Exact circulation figures over the nineteen years of the journal’s history are uncertain. However, Jerome observed in his 1895 letter to readers that “in circulation The Idler is second to only one other English magazine,” and that “To launch out monthly a magazine that speaks to hundreds of thousands of men and women throughout the world, appears to me a great work . . . .” (97, 100). Years later in his autobiography, he recalled that “The Idler was a great success, as far as circulation was concerned.”6
The physical appearance of the periodical changed over the years. A new look occurred when Jerome increased the page size of the periodical. Moreover, the number of pages per volume increased over time. For example, Volumes 35 and 36 both contained over 600 pages each; Volume 37 was the longest, weighing in at 1,341 pages! Over the nineteen years of its run, the magazine’s physical size and appearance reflected the aspirations of its readers. The length and content of The Idler‘s entries fit the fast pace of the metropolis. Except for serials, each item was only a iew pages long. Within the text there were numerous illustrations and pen drawings; text was often broken up with full-page pictures. The reader could put down mid take up the magazine at his or her leisure. The content and spirit of the periodical were both delightful and instructive. The Idler was valued in its time as a glossy, irreverent, humorous journal. Its iconoclastic humor offered literary and artistic entertainment; for the urban sophisticate, The Idler presented liberal, casual, breezy, irreverent, and facetious reading. It is no wonder that it gained in popularity over the years of its publication, following its initial success in the early 1890s. The pages of the magazine offered a lively fare–from stimulating table-talk to fashion features, from parody to the sentimental. In its last issue, an expose of the oil industry stands beside light-hearted complaints concerning London’s cockroaches and rats in “The Fauna of London.” A piece by Mark Twain–a contributor to the first issue–also rounds out a circle in publishing history in the final issue.
Like other popular magazines of the period, The Idler followed the standard format in the use of serials that were intended to lead the reader to purchase subsequent issues. The novels whose chapters appeared in several issues of the journal included those by some of the most popular writers of the nineties Mark Twain, Andrew Lang, James Payn, Robert Barr, Sherlock Holmes, Israel Zangwill, Oliver Wendell Holmes, and others. We have indicated all such serializations of novels for example, Mark Twain’s THE AMERICAN CLAIMANT–in capitalized letters. Serialized fiction is a continuing narrative that is divided into parts or chapters, as in a novel. Another kind of series includes short stories (or sketches) held together by common characters. Thus, we have also applied a broader definition of the term serial. We include under this rubric clusters of stories that involve a single character, or a cast of characters, such as THE PINCH AND POTTY series. We have included only a very few nonfiction pieces–selections by well-known writers about the craft of fiction writing.
The Idler occasionally featured stories written by several authors, such as in ‘A Cornish Mystery: Tale Told by Twelve,’ which was actually a competition in which readers were asked to continue the beginning of a story printed in volume 19 by submitting chapters and illustrations. Volume 20 lists ‘Toby Dog’ and ‘Persephone’ and others as authors of this story. However, our research has failed to identify ‘Toby nog,’ ‘Persephone,’ as well as other pseudonyms, such as ‘Haltivack,’ ‘Shirliana,’ and ‘Erraticus.’ This may be explained by the highspirited, somewhat irreverent, ‘tongue in cheek’ tone that the editors maintained in The Idler to help set it apart from the proliferation of other periodicals published in the 1890s.
We are most grateful to several individuals who offered us either research or technical assistance during the months of our work. Charles Brower and Eddy Ball devoted some of their research assistance hours to our project. Most especially, we are grateful to Irene Martyniuk whose word-processing assistance with the author index was invaluable. We are most appreciative of her long and dedicated efforts on the computer. The English Department of the University of South Carolina provided some funds for xeroxing and postage. The staff at the Thomas Cooper Library was cheerful and helpful in answering our demands. We also thank Peter Edwards and Barbara Garlick of the Victorian Fiction Research Unit for their patience and advice. Our respective spouses, Jane I. Thesing and Kevin Lewis, sacrificed our pleasurable company as we devoted our energies to library or computer centers to finish our work on this bibliography. We are grateful to them for their understanding and encouragement.
William B. Thesing & Becky W. Lewis
University of South Carolina, Columbia, SC, USA
- Jerome K. Jerome, My Life and Times (New York: Harper, 1926), p. 166. [↩]
- 2 [↩]
- Jerome K. Jerome, “To the Readers of The Idler,” The Idler, Volume 8 (August 1895), pp. 97-100. [↩]
- Quoted in Connolly, p. 90. [↩]
- For biographical information concerning Sime, see Paul W. Skeeters, Sidney H. Sime: Master of Fantasy (Pasadena, Cal.: Ward Ritchie Press, 1978), pp. 5-18, and Simon Heneage and Henry Ford, Sidney Sime: Master of the Mysterious (London: Thames and Hudson, 1980), pp. 7-31. [↩]
- Jerome K. Jerome, My Life and Times, p. 167. [↩]