Thursday, August 18, 2011

The Covent-Garden Magazine

A detour on my Hoyle voyages...

In a previous essay, I mentioned a 1775 publication called The Annals of Gaming, anonymously written by "A Connoisseur", and wondered whether it was another reprint of Hoyle triggered by the end of copyright protection in 1774. According to bibliographer Frederic Jessel, The Annals of Gaming reprints the gaming material from a periodical called The Covent-Garden Magazine. I'll discuss the book in a later essay and give the reasons why I reject it as part of the Hoyle canon. In this essay, I will share the amusing history of The Covent-Garden Magazine and its ill-fated publisher George Allen. 

The magazine was serialized in forty-two parts from July 1772 until December 1775. The advertisement for the first number appeared in the London Evening Post of July 18-21, 1772:
On Saturday the 1st of Aug. will be published, price 6d. to be continued the first of every month, as long as gallantry and gaming prevail in the fashionable world, embellished with a frontispiece, exhibiting that pious and celebrated mother Abbess, Charlotte Hayes, giving instructive lectures to her nuns, for the regulation of their conduct in their religious vocation. Also a well known Macaroni, making love to the famous Poll Kennedy, admirably designed and engraved, Number I. of  The Covent-Garden Magazine; or, Amorous Repository. Calculated for the entertainment of the polite world, and the finishing of a young gentleman’s education; intended as the pantheon of literature, where the gay, the voluptuous, the witty, and jocose, will be introduced into the company of the choice votaries of Bacchus and Venus, and enabled to figure with eclat at Arthur’s, Alma K’s, Boodle’s Newmarket, and all places of elegant entertainment. London: Printed for the authors, and sold by G. Allen, No. 59, in Pater-noster-row, and all other booksellers in Great Britain and Ireland.
Well, who would not want to subscribe to such a publication? You can get a flavor of the magazine from almost any of the advertisements. Number V treats the game of lansquenet "with all the frauds and artifices practiced at it" and publishes an "account of a snug rendezvous in the city for cuckolding common councilmen." (Public Advertiser of December 1, 1772). Number XII contains an account of backgammon and "the legerdemains practis'd at it" as well as a copper plate "exhibiting a whore's last shift." (General Evening Post of July 3, 1773).

Alas, as one might imagine, all did not go well for publisher George Allen. The London Chronicle or Universal Evening Post for November 27-30, 1773 reports:
Last Thursday the publisher of the Covent Garden Magazine was brought up to the Court of King's Bench, Westminster, to receive sentence for publishing what was judged an indecent print in that magazine for May last; the Court fined him 6s. 8d. and committed him to the King's Bench Prison for one month.
Allen continued to publish the magazine with no gap during his imprisonment. He addressed the matter of his punishment in a December 30, 1773 advertisement in the General Evening Post:
After the severities of the law, to which the publisher of the Covent-Garden Magazine has been exposed and undergone, the public cannot doubt of the resolution and fortitude with which the proprietors are resolved to prosecute this Miscellany. The publisher is now discharged from prison, and is happily settled in his old shop, No. 59 Paternoster-row, after having been immured several weeks, for publishing a humourous print in this magazine, which a scandalous informer thought proper to represent as an infamous publication, tending to prejudice the morals of the rising generation. The little success he has met with, will probably deter him, and all such innovators of public liberty, from pursuing the like scandalous practices; and the generous public, to whom the proprietors of this magazine acknowledge the greatest favours, may rely upon the exertion of their utmost abilities, and that no expense whatever shall be spared in conducting this work with a spirit suitable to its original plan; and they moreover pledge themselves to the public, to make such improvements, as may occur or be pointed out to them, resolving to make the Covent-Garden Magazine worthy of the extensive patronage it has received.
The advertisement continued by announcing issue XVIII for December, 1773.

A year later, in the London Evening Post of December 31, Allen advertises number XXX for December, 1774, also noting for the first time the availability of The Annals of Gaming; Or, A Players Sure Guide for 2s. 6d. That advertisement allows us to date the book with precision. The final issue of the magazine was advertised in the same paper on March 2, 1775—Number XXXII (misprinted XXXVII) of February, 1775.

The troubles were not over for Mr. Allen. On April 29, 1776 he was sentenced to three months imprisonment for publishing a book called The Rat-Trap (Timperley) and on June 8 of that year, he was adjudged bankrupt (Maxted).

Yes, a detour, but a worthwhile one, I hope!

  • Frederic Jessel,  A Bibliography of Works in English on Playing Cards and Gaming. London: Longmans, Green, and Co. 1905. Available for download.
  • Ian Maxted,  "Bankrupts" in Exeter Working Papers in British Book Trade History, published online.
  • H. R. Plomer, et al. A Dictionary of the Printers and Booksellers Who Were at Work in England, Scotland, and Ireland From 1726 to 1775. Oxford University Press, 1930.
  • C. H. Timperley, A Dictionary of Printers and Printing, London: H. Johnson, 1839. Available for download

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