The Monthly Repository and Unitarian Chronicle

In its thirty two-year span of existence, only four editors presided over the Monthly Repository. Its founding editor, Robert Aspland, established the journal as the foremost Unitarian monthly, and was its dedicated editor for twenty years, from 1806 to 1826. Aspland’s affiliations with philosophical Benthamism confirmed the Unitarians as the intellectuals among the dissenting community in England. In 1826 the recently formed British and Foreign Unitarian Association bought out Aspland, and the Second Series was initiated in 1827, continuing until 1837. After a short period of committee editorship, William Johnson Fox became editor of the journal. Fox became owner and proprietor of the Monthly Repository in 1831, and the first volume under his sole editorship, in 1832, initiated a policy of active political engagement that extended the journal’s (and Unitarianism’s) intellectual and cultural reach, making it an avant garde production often far ahead of its time, promulgating in the 1830s what only became current in the 1860s. The short life of the Unitarian Chronicle, price three pence, is connected to Fox’s editorship. When he took over, the magazine’s customary section on ‘Unitarian Intelligence’ was formed into this new supplement in order to make way for larger articles while still maintaining that ‘acquaintance with one another’s condition’ and the ‘contemporary history of our churches’, as the ‘Address’ in the first issue explains. But the supplement lasted for only six months. Richard Hengist Horne succeeded Fox as editor in 1836 but relinquished the role in 1837. Under Leigh Hunt, who became editor briefly from 1837-38, the format changed to two columns and the page span was lengthened. The Enlarged Series of the magazine went into two volumes before the Repository’s life terminated. The journal lost its direction after Fox’s editorship. After 1832 when, at least ostensibly, democratic objectives, however limited, had been achieved, reform politics, too, temporarily lost their bearings. The efforts of both Horne and Hunt to shift the Repository’s agenda and to create a new kind of content are symptomatic of a wider hesitation or check on radical thought.

Throughout its life the price of the Monthly Repository varied little, between one shilling and one shilling and six pence (raised in 1811), just as its page span varied little between 56 and 80 pages. The format adopted was the double column until 1827, when single page format became the norm for the ten years before Hunt’s editorship. The price was well within reach of the educated middle class dissenting community active in Unitarian circles. The journal’s circulation, however, according to F. E. Mineka, the outstanding historian of the journal, seems to have rarely gone beyond 1,250 copies, and though Fox expanded the circulation, it fluctuated as he mounted controversial articles on religion, poetry, politics, female emancipation, and education (Mineka 1944, 167). It has to be remembered, though, that periodicals were read aloud to families and companions, and were borrowed and passed round groups of friends and acquaintances at this time. It is thus highly likely that the journal was read and discussed by many more people than its circulation suggests. Dissenting and Unitarian networks were close knit.

It is inevitable that the glorious years of the magazine appear to be those under the editorship of Fox, from 1827 to 1836. Aspland’s foundational work was supremely important, however. If the key word of Fox’s Repository was ‘community’, those of the Aspland era were ‘bigotry’, ‘persecution’, ‘fanaticism’. The shift in policy that these words represent is less a move from sectarian religion to politics than a redefinition of the purposes of Unitarianism and a new understanding of the political. ‘Community’ is a political word with a Unitarian subtext: ‘bigotry’ is a Unitarian term with a political subtext.

By the time he came to edit, at twenty four, The Monthly Repository of Theology and General Literature (the long title was shortened when Fox took over), Aspland had passed through Calvinism and the Arian Baptists to Unitarianism, and had succeeded the eminent figures of Unitarian thought – Thomas Belsham, Richard Price, and above all Joseph Priestley – as Pastor at the Gravel Pit Chapel, Hackney. Unitarianism’s core beliefs were in Christ’s simple humanity (not, as in Arianism, Christ’s quasi divinity), one God, and a corresponding rejection of the Trinity (views on adult baptism and varying interpretations of the resurrection of the body in non literal terms were often associated with Unitarian thought). Unitarians believed they had returned to the primal principles of early Christianity. Yet the Monthly Repository was not founded simply to proselytise these principles alone. And though Aspland clearly saw the journal as a way of consolidating the Unitarians, who were without a central organisation, as a group, just as he set up the Unitarian Fund (1806) and the Christian Tract Society (1809), established the Unitarian Hymnal (1810), and founded the Non-Con Club (1817), the aims of the journal transcended these organizational objectives.

The Repository’s deliberate recall of the title of Joseph Priestley’s earlier periodical, the Theological Repository, indicates the reach of the journal. Priestley’s name is ubiquitous in it. Until he left to live in America in 1794, Priestley – polymath scientist, theologian, historian, aesthetician, philosopher, and preacher, whose house and laboratory had been destroyed by a Church and King riot in 1791 – continued to argue for freedom of thought, rational investigation and above all critical analysis of belief and morality even when, particularly when, these are turned upon Unitarian beliefs themselves. Unitarianism in his hands was an anti-sectarian form of dissent that was inherently dialogical. Intolerance was anathema to it. The Repository was set up as an exemplary form of Unitarian practice, to extend and disseminate the debates of the formation beyond the pulpit and pamphlet into print culture and to extend the rational Christian principle of debate itself into the public sphere. It began its life as a forum for debate, a debate constituted by readers themselves as much as by the editor. Letters and correspondence, as we shall see, were a major structural part of the magazine. It was literally a republic of letters.

Its anti-authoritarianism placed it in sympathy with Utilitarian thought. Benthamite and Unitarian thought were not necessarily homologous: but both were driven by a demythologizing tendency, by rationality, by belief in philosophical analysis, by a thrust towards republicanism and belief in the effectiveness of democratic inspection of opinions and institutions. As Mineka points out, the social and political philosophy of the periodical was ‘modified by religious prepossessions that did not ordinarily affect the leading Benthamites’ (1944, 102). Nevertheless, the First Series of the Monthly Repository used words from Jeremy Bentham’s Fragment on Government as a motto. Bentham warns against sacrificing independent judgement to the ‘shackles of authority’, on being deceived by ‘shewy’ language, and against allowing the imagination to falsify experience (cited in Mineka 1944, 101). The prospectus for the new journal fused Benthamite and Unitarian values. It claimed to ‘blend literature with theology, and to make theology rational and literature popular’, to sustain ‘Protestant’ liberty of conscience, to promote religious investigation and to admit all writers of ability, ‘whatever their peculiar opinions’ (cited in Mineka, 1944, 03). In the Preface at the end of the Repository’s first year, asking for contributions from ‘men of learning and talents’ (v), Aspland claimed that the principle of ‘public examination’ and ‘Free Inquiry’ was paramount: ‘its being the only periodical publication which is open to FREE AND IMPARTIAL THEOLOGICAL INQUIRY AND DISCUSSION’ (vi). The political subtext is clear. This was the counterrevolutionary age of extreme repression in England under the Pitt administration and subsequent Tory ministries lasting from Pitt’s death in 1806 to 1830 – treason trials, paid spies, prosecution and arbitrary imprisonment. Aged twelve, Aspland had seen the state prisoners incarcerated for political belief in the Tower of London, Thomas Hardy and Horne Tooke. The early years of the Repository were concurrent with the French wars, with the post war backlash against sedition, and with economic hardship and oppression that induced popular discontent.

By the second volume of the journal, in 1807, Aspland had gained confidence and established the pattern of the magazine. A look at the Repository at ten year intervals, the January issues of 1807, 1817, and 1827, together with Fox’s first fully independent issue of January 1832, suggests how the journal evolved. Fox’s subsequent editorial policy grew out of his early commitments.

In 1807 the magazine listed eleven Departments or genres of discussion. These were ‘Biography’, ‘Miscellaneous Communications’, ‘Biblical Criticism’, ‘Poetry’, ‘Review’, ‘Obituary’, ‘Religious, Literary, and Politico-Religious Intelligence’, ‘Correspondence’, and ‘New Publications’. But this is a deceptive taxonomy. The privileged categories are actually biography and the letter, followed closely by the brief review, where controversial publications from opposite points of view were juxtaposed. ‘Biblical Criticism’, for example, consists of a series of epistolary contributions, and is hardly to be distinguished from the ‘Miscellaneous Communications’ that precede it. Similarly, though the lead biographical section (1-6) is a memorial to the life of Dr James Foster, who died in 1752, it reads like an obituary, and the ‘Obituary’ (41-4), of the Duke of Richmond, grandson of one of the illegitimate sons of Charles the Second, reads like a biography. Indeed, these two biographical-memorial studies flank the dialogical content of the central parts of the issue. They are not so much records as, respectively, religious and political narratives of the lives of significant figures who lived their religion and politics. They are exemplary stories that bring the abstract ideals of Unitarianism into everyday possibility. The pattern of Foster’s life follows closely the Unitarian trajectory traced in Volume One, exemplified by the biography of Edward Evanson. The narrative describes a training in orthodoxy, an agonistic moment of recognition, as the doctrine of the Trinity is rejected on rational grounds, a decision to make a public acknowledgement of this discovery, and the turn to Unitarianism, often involving very considerable material sacrifice and financial hardship.

These are everyday martyrs, conversion narratives that chart practical choices, but they are also about the fate of public debate itself. In Evanson’s case, who left the Church of England in 1777, ‘I soon found that the system of religion, called Orthodox . . . was so far from being taught by the apostles . . . that it was the very apostacy from it’ (3). Interestingly, his departure was precipitated not by an attack on his Unitarian principles but by an offence against Unitarian respect for liberal principles against bigotry. The Bishop of Litchfield preached that the Church of Rome was ‘exclusively anti-christ’ (5). Foster, like Evanson, ‘began to waver in his belief of the received doctrine of the Trinity’ (2), and was persecuted by members of his church: ‘Thus Protestant Dissenter[s], forgetting their own principles, attempted to introduce other standards of faith than the Holy Scriptures’ (2). The Duke of Richmond’s obituary is a direct critique of the Pitt years, which had only just ended. ‘The Duke of Richmond’s political notions were very liberal indeed, which, if, like Pitt, when in administration he ceased to profess, he never ventured like him openly to retract; still less to persecute those among whom he had imbibed them’ (43). In fact, Richmond refused to make restitution for the beheading of Charles 1. He ‘believed his ancestor suffered most justly’ (42). He resisted the American war of Independence. He was a member of the Revolution Society: ‘I am more and more convinced, that the restoring of the right of voting universally to every man not incapacitated by nature, for want of reason, or by law, for the commission of crimes, together with annual election, is the only reform that can be effectual and permanent’ (43). An obituary is a difficult document to prosecute for sedition. As if to indicate the openness of the Repository, this obituary is followed by one on the Rev. P. Good, a dissenting Trinitarian, friend of Roman Catholics and an opponent of the repeal of the Test Acts (45).

The six letters included under ‘Biblical Criticism’ (which include a letter of Priestley’s, sent in by a correspondent) again indicate Aspland’s liberal principles (6-28). An allegorical interpretation of the Scriptures sits side by side (11-14) with ‘A Catholic’s Appeal against the Orthodox’ (10-11), which is preceded by an account of conversion from Catholicism (pp. 7-10). The poem, ‘The Orphan’, that follows this Biblical Criticism, was sent in by letter. The six reviews that follow this poem almost invariably document controversies. The genealogy of bigotry and persecution that they constitute is exemplified in the review of Richard Wright’s life of Michael Servetus (34-9: ‘being designed to eradicate bigotry’) condemned to death by Calvin and ‘ecclesiastical tyrants’. Article V analyses the ‘inflammatory, mob-adapted style’ and ‘ludicrous ignorance’ (40) of Robert Dickinson’s funeral oration on the Bishop of St. Asaph. Dickinson describes Priestley as ‘the prince of heretics’, attempting, like a vulture, to tear away ‘the very vitals of Christianity’. Even a review of lighthouse technology in ‘Religious, Literary and Politico-Religious Intelligence’ begins with a critique of Roman power. ‘Rome, in the plenitude of power, enriched with the plunder of conquered provinces’ left ‘ostentatious monuments of unbounded ambition’ that left behind ‘a wide scene of ruin and desolation’ (52). The principle of utility embodied in the lighthouse now preserves life. The excitement of this poetics of rational controversy is the driving impulse of the Repository’s rhetoric. Though it makes space to notice the religious affairs of various societies and Unitarian bodies under ‘Religious [….] Intelligence’, and to document a number of technological advances, including inoculation for Smallpox (49-52) – a typical science-directed, ‘greatest happiness’, Utilitarian preoccupation – it has little time for literary production. Aspland’s list of new publications includes Charlotte Smith’s Beachy Head, and Other Poems next to G. Ogs’s Admonition. A Poem. On the Fashionable Modes of Female Dress.

The January issue of Volume 12 of the Monthly Repository for 1817 displays much the same loose categorical structure, with an abundance of epistolary contributions, headed by ‘Biography’ (presented as a letter to the Editor), a section which consists, in fact, not of historical figures but of two obituaries (again, the genre of biography and obituary is fused) of major figures in the Unitarian community, William Vidler and Benjamin Carpenter (1-7). Vidler had edited the Universalist’s Miscellany from 1797, which went through a number of title changes before Aspland bought it out to found the Repository. The ten departments are listed as ‘History and Biography’, ‘Original Letters’, ‘Extracts’, ‘Miscellaneous Communications’, ‘Gleanings […] in a course of General Reading’, ‘Review’, ‘Poetry’, ‘Obituary’, ‘Monthly Retrospect of Public Affairs’, ‘New Publications in Theology and General Literature’. The ‘Extracts’, which consist of letters of Benjamin Franklin to Priestley, are not distinguishable generically from the Original Letters. Many of the ‘Miscellaneous Communications’ are in the form of letters. A ‘Believer in Miracles’ submitted a careful critique of Hume’s ‘Objection to Miracles’ (17-20), and William Johnson Fox wrote eloquently on the resurrection of the body (33-4). As in 1807 the Review section documented controversies that raised issues of intolerance and free inquiry. Richard Price’s Sermons on Various Subjects , was reviewed at some length (43-8). ‘ “Is it visionary”, asks this eloquent preacher, “to expect a better world? […] This is what some tell us. Such infidelity is the greatest misfortune” […]’

There is one notable difference between 1817 and 1807: ‘The Christian’s Survey of the Political World’ (61-3), in the ‘Monthly Retrospect of Public Affairs’, is an unequivocal attack on the corrupt state of the House of Commons: ‘The great question at issue is the reform of the House of Commons, and it is argued that this House no longer answers the end for which it was established, namely, the interference of the people in the affairs of government: for the voice of the people, it is said, has not its due weight in that House, being overwhelmed by that of the oligarchists, or the proprietors of rotten boroughs’ (61). The article considers universal suffrage – it is an article and not a letter – and defends the Spa Fields gatherings of the previous year, when a riot occurred, arguing that the mass of the 30–40,000 people present were gathered peacefully. This is a policy document that does not have its parallel in the Repository until a much later date. It shows the extent of Aspland’s political seriousness, and marks a moment when the conventions of his journalism were changing. Open debate began to be defined not as the dialogic juxtaposition of discrete positions, an anthology of different theological views, but a sustained and coherent development of an argued case on several fronts. It was deliberately opinion-forming and promotional, arguing a radical case. Democratic debate in the public sphere comes to be defined as the development of policies that extend to all areas of the culture, where print culture is consciously used as an agent of persuasion to formulate and disseminate policies. Aspland’s Repository stood for the principle of participatory debate and controversy within the Unitarian formation: what mattered was the debate form. It performed a rational politics. Later volumes of the journal stressed content. It developed a rhetoric that persuaded its readers to accept a new view of intellectual culture and civil society.

A striking change is evident in Volume I of the New Series for January 1827. The journal is now titled The Monthly Repository and Review . The departmental categories have been pruned: ‘Review’, ‘Critical Notices’, ‘Obituary’, ‘Intelligence’, ‘Correspondence’, survive. Elements of the earlier scheme remain in the ‘Critical Notices’, which mount controversy – on the British and Foreign Bible Society (63), on John Mitford’s choice of religious poems in an anthology of sacred verse (64-5), on the character of Unitarianism (65). ‘Biography’ and ‘History’, those markers of Unitarian experience that were the lead articles of earlier issues, have entirely disappeared. Instead the review begins with and virtually consists of, a series of ten articles, some relatively brief (‘Thoughts on Christian Charity’, 17-21; the issue of imprisonment for debt, 61), but most substantial. Their theological character is strong (for example, a discussion of the Corporation and Test Acts, defining religious persecution as injury inflicted for religious belief, 25-32), but the lead article, ‘On the State of Religious Parties in England’ (1-9), reads like an editorial. It argues that since 1688 all subsequent national events have been nearly or remotely connected with religious opinions and feelings’ (1). It is a theological and sociological analysis of the different factions and class composition of the Church of England, from High Church to Evangelical. It is scathing about the emotionalism of Evangelical preaching: ‘Some read well-written and not over-long sermons; others deliver themselves extempore and let the hour-glass fairly run out . . . [they] are to be seen at prayer meetings, expounding meetings, experience meetings, if not at camp meetings’ (7). It deprecates the lazy quietude of the established church, where ‘the possession of power’ must ‘satiate the desire of change’ (8). This discussion falls between a religious discourse with a political subtext and the political discourse with a religious subtext that was to supersede it. A sophisticated account of Frederick Schliermacher’s A Critical essay on the Gospel of St Luke (33-48), bringing speculative continental philosophy into the journal for the first time, looks forward to the Fox era. It is thoroughly at home with the notion of a fragmented, multi-authored biblical text. Most surprising of all, the section headed ‘Correspondence’ is actually a sharp request to readers not to correspond. It curtails a correspondence on the Baptismal Controversy and brings it firmly to an end. Significantly, the short obituaries now include women.

The Monthly Repository for January 1832 (New Series, Volume 6) was the first wholly edited by Fox in his capacity of owner-editor. It represents the birth of what we think of as a modern periodical. Mineka describes it as in ‘transition from a religious to a secular magazine’ (1944, 249), and, ‘Once the predominance of clerical contributors had been broken, the Repository progressively substituted literary, aesthetic, social, and political subjects for religious’ (1944, 250). As evidence for a transitional phase followed by a secular phase, Mineka points to the relatively unchanged roster of contributors in the early months of Fox’s journal, that were superseded by others as the proportion of religious articles declined. Fox added John Stuart Mill to his early contingent of reviewers, but Harriet Taylor, John Beard, and Harriet Martineau continued for a time to contribute. Likewise John Johns, J.J. Tayler, Emily Taylor, Jane Roscoe, William Turner, John Bowring, John Moggridge, and Crab Robinson. Sarah Flower, her husband, William Bridges Adams, Ebenezer Elliot, Mary Leman Grimstone, W.T. Hayley and James Martineau were later contributors, as were Robert Browning, R.H. Horne, Caroline Southwood Smith, and William and Mary Howitt (1944, 249-50). [footnote 1]

Yet most of these contributors were Unitarians or Unitarian sympathisers, and all were dissenting intellectuals. The extraordinary flowering of the magazine in the 1830s suggests that Unitarianism, or some currents of it, began to flow in different directions. Rather than abandoning Unitarian principles Fox and his contributors were redefining them. The revolution in culture and society that Fox envisaged was founded on religious passion. The ‘secular’ character of the magazine was the result of religious energy directed into re-shaping society and the very idea of civil society. Without having the word available in the modern sense, the Fox circle was engaged with inventing the meaning of a common ‘culture’. And to do so, again without having the term available, they had to become an avant garde group.

Fox’s leading article in 1832 is a campaigning editorial. It is a manifesto for the periodical and an agenda for civil society that goes far beyond what was achieved later in the year with the 1832 reform act. ‘We ‘are in a state of transition’, he argued, ‘and old things are passing away’ (2). Society ‘is in the very act’ of ‘assuming a new form’. Its forms no longer ‘realized the desires of the community’. He predicted throes and convulsion, but revolution is not his object: he saw the Bristol riots of the previous year as the tragic result of the monopoly of government by the privileged (p.10): he itemised the ‘extensive changes’ that would have to come about as a corollary of peaceful reform and democratic representation; indeed reform was merely the catalyst that would bring about wider and deeper transformations in society. In a series of rhetorical anaphora, he listed each of the institutions that ‘cannot remain as it is. The Church ‘cannot remain as it is’: it was no longer a national Church (the corollary was disestablishment): the obfuscations and oppressions of the Law cannot remain; they must be swept away; Education must be changed – ‘the poor must be educated, though it be at the public expense’, and knowledge must be changed with the introduction of a scientific curriculum that entertained ethics as well as the classics ( this would also impact on the training of the medical profession); the Press must be reformed with the abolition of the ‘taxes on knowledge’ that prohibited the free circulation of opinion. Print culture was crucial in a democracy. He might have added other things that were part of the radical programme of the journal, the reform of the divorce laws and a sexual politics that saw women as equals, and a belief in the emancipatory power of art, of poetry in particular. An internationalism that transcended the boundaries of the nation state was also, he claimed, an ideal of Unitarianism, and he followed the great traditions of Aspland by condemning fanaticism (9).

One can see these ideas already altering the taxonomy of the departments in the first issue of 1832. After a series of speculative articles the sections are listed as ‘Critical Notices’, ‘History and Science’ (tellingly, science rather than biography), ‘Miscellaneous’, ‘Religious Intelligence’, ‘Obituary’. The reviews include, not only ‘Luther’s Table Talk’ (61-7), but also Charles Knight’s The Working-Man’s Companion. Rights of Industry. Capital and Labour , 1831, a sharp critique that indicate Fox’s interest in working class politics (58). The speculative articles include a powerfully argued ‘The Rise and progress of the Doctrine of the Trinity’ (15-23), by John Relly Beard. But the first section also included Harriet Martineau’s brisk ‘On the Duty of Studying Political Economy’ (24-34). A utilitarian argument against the arbitraryness of charity, it argued for a scientifically organised economy that understands distribution and consumption. It is thoroughly Benthamite in its rationalist optimism and belief that economic laws properly understood eradicate poverty and crime, so that utility is beauty. John James Tayler contributed ‘Herder’s Thoughts on the Philosophy of the History of Mankind’ (34-42), the first of four articles that argue for Herder’s unique, holistic reading of history and society. The connection of the solar system and ‘the most delicate fabric of the spider’s web’ (37), argue for an integrated reading of history that brings together natural and civil history, physical geography and the history of societies. Herder’s belief that art and society are organically linked and that the spirit of a particular literature derives from a particular condition of society (one of the earliest formulations of the idea of ideology and popular culture) introduces the article: ‘He thought with Bacon that a ballad or a legend more faithfully indicated the current of popular feeling’ than ‘graver productions’ (36). Emily Taylor contributed her translation of the striking, boldly idealist ‘The Visible and the Invisible’ (42-61), by the Pastor of Nismes, S. Vincent. Vincent distinguishes between the sensoria that bring the visible into being and the invisible nature of mind. This, rather than a transcendental being, is spirit, he argues. The movement towards continental thought here is arresting, and indicates Fox’s willingness to move across national boundaries beyond a narrowly British focus (the 1832 volume lists a Parisian distributor). It can be no accident, also, that women play such a strong part in this first issue of the year. Taking all these contributions together, this is intellectually a revolutionary issue.

Though the Fox group did not have the word ‘culture’ in their vocabulary, they did possess a Benthamite word that indicated the scope of their social vision – ‘community’. Fox used it more than once in his editorial, ‘the desires of the community’ (3), ‘the state of the community’ (7). In 1832 Fox reprinted Southwood Smith’s oration (450-1) after the dissection of Bentham’s body (he attended the dissection): ‘the only comprehensive and only right and proper end of the social union, or of the aggregate of individual men which constitutes a community, is the greatest happiness of all members of the community’. Even the issue of January 1832 shows how far he and his circle went in imagining this community. The titles of articles even in the early volume of 1832 indicate the extent of Fox’s project. ‘On the Parliamentary Pledges to be Required of Candidates at the Ensuing Elections’ (Fox – Parliamentary Reform); ‘The Irish Tithe Question’, ‘Religion Without Taxation’ (R.W.Hinks, Fox – Church reform); ‘Prison Discipline’ (Harriet Martineau – Law Reform); ‘Sunday School Education’, ‘National Education’(John Relly Beard, Harriet Martineau – Educational reform); ‘Taxes on Knowledge’ (Fox – Reform of the Press); ‘Domestic Manners of the Americans’, ‘Notices of France’(Harriet Taylor, John Moggridge – internationalism); ‘Rise of Unitarianism in America’, ‘On the Character and Philosophy of the late Jeremy Bentham’ (John Relly Beard, Fox – the entwining of Unitarianism and Utilitarianism in continuity with the Aspland’s Repository); ‘The Poor and their Poetry’, ‘Goethe’s Works’, ‘Connection between Poetry and Religion’ (Fox, Crabb Robinson, John Johns – the uses of the aesthetic). There was still an important component of theological writing, such as William Turner’s ‘Thoughts on Power, and on the Universal Agency of the Deity’, and the extent of the deep connection of theology with social analysis can be gauged by the same writer’s later ‘On the Relation of the Wealthy and Educated Classes to the Poor’ (Vol. 7, 726-32). This list does not, of course, do justice to the energy and intensity of the writing. We might take as an example Fox’s‘The Fast Day and the Cholera’, a satire on the government edict for a day of fasting and prayer in the face of the Cholera epidemic, a mixture of medical ignorance and superstition. ‘The fast day will come, and people will leave of working, but nobody will fast’: it will be a national holiday, though it was to be hoped that charity will not withhold the soup distributed to the poor, who fast involuntarily, soup distributed to prevent cholera itself from decimating them (p. 146).

The above is a brief indication of the changing nature of a middle-class dissenting radical periodical of the 1830s. Mineka’s great history describes in detail the writings of the Fox era. Though an extraordinary period in the history of print culture, it was brief. It foundered when reform politics searched for new directions. But it also foundered on Fox’s own policies. In 1833 he wrote supporting divorce (Vol. 7, 145-53), and seems to have lived out his beliefs. James Martineau, who was nevertheless loyal to him, called his circle a ‘free-thinking and free-living clique’ (Webb, 2008). His commitment to divorce, his formal separation from his wife, and his liaison with Eliza Flower the composer, his ward, and eventually the head of his household, daughter of another powerful reforming editor, Benjamin Flower (who had edited the Cambridge Intelligencer (1793-1800)), caused upheaval among his congregation and undoubtedly dissipated his energies. His beliefs, though, lived on when he became MP for Oldham in 1846. Even his feminism was recognised. When the English Woman’s Journal reviewed an exhibition of women painters, a portrait of Fox by his daughter received special mention. ‘Miss Fox sends a large oil portrait of her father, the member for Oldham, whose noble sense of justice to women has been marked at every stage of his public and parliamentary career’ (208).

The Monthly Repository in ncse

This edition of the Monthly Repository was sourced form the hard copy held at the British Library at St Pancras. It includes its supplement, the Unitarian Chronicle, which is held separately in the library. There is one volume – Second Series, Volume 1, 1827 – missing from the British Library run. This was generously provided by the Bodleian.

Works Cited

  • Mineka, Francis E., 1944, The Dissidence of Dissent. The Monthly Repository, 1806-1838 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press).
  • Webb, K., 2008, ‘Fox, William Johnson (1786–1864)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, Sept 2004; online edn, Jan 2008 [, accessed 8 May 2008]
  • [text for footnote 1] Mineka (1944, 395–400) identifies the contributions of a number of prominent contributors to the First Series, though as no key exists for this series, the sources (see 394-5), are scattered and not wholly reliable. For the Second Series (1830-37) a detailed though incomplete key is available, held by the British Library. Mineka lists the ‘essential information’ of this key (400-28).

Isobel Armstrong