The Athenaeum

British Periodicals

General Description

Date: 1828-1921


◦ Graham, Walter James. “The Athenaeum”. English Literary Periodicals. New York: T. Nelson, 1930. pp. 317-321.

◦ Marchand, Leslie A., The Athenaeum: A Mirror of Victorian Culture. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1941.

◦ Sullivan, Alvin, ed. “The Athenaeum”. British Literary Magazines. vol.3. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1983-. pp. 21-24.

◦ Demoor, Marysa, Their Fair Share. Women, Power, and Criticism in The Athenaeum from Millicent Garrett Fawcett to Katherine Mansfield. London: Ashgate, 2000.

Scholarly Commentary


The Athenaeum. London: [William Lewer, 1828], [F.C. Westley, 1829-1838], [John Francis, 1838-1918], [British Periodicals, 1920-1921].

The Athenaeum enjoyed a long tenure as one of the most widely circulated and influential weekly literary reviews of the Victorian era. Particularly under the editorship of Charles Wentworth Dilke (1830-1846) and Norman MacColl (1871-1900), it set the standard for nonpartisan, professional criticism of literature (both English and foreign), art, music, drama, and science. James Silk Buckingham founded The Athenaeum in January of 1828, and it ended when it was incorporated into The Nation in February of 1921.

Several years after its founding, The Athenaeum passed into the hands of Frederick D. Maurice and John Sterling, both early contributors and former Cambridge Apostles, who set the tone of the periodical as liberal, romantic, and morally earnest. Dilke assumed the role of editor in June of 1830, and led The Athenaeum to its first period of real success. Dilke was committed to avoiding the partisanship and puffery of so many other periodicals, and was one of the first English editors to consistently commission reviews from professionals in appropriate fields. Under Dilke, The Athenaeum assumed its characteristic format: a large quarto of 16 pages, each containing three columns of small type. Furthermore, Dilke reduced the price from 8d. to 4d., greatly increasing its circulation to an astounding 18,000 copies per week.

Following Dilke's departure in 1846, T.K. Hervey (1846-1853), Hepworth Dixon (1853-1869), and John Doran (1869-1871) brought The Athenaeum into a period of decline. Although sales continued to be good, the overall quality and range of coverage decreased, and one can observe a return to the partisanship and nepotism that Dilke had avoided. During most of this period, The Athenaeum was unfriendly to the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood (see for example, S. Ghose, Dante Gabriel Rossetti and Contemporary Criticism, pp. 31-3, 44, 51). However, Norman MacColl took over the editorship in 1871, and the magazine entered a second period of success. F.G. Stephens became The Athenaeum's art critic in the early 1860s, William Michael Rossetti wrote for the journal from 1878-1895, and Theodore Watts-Dunton assumed the role of resident poetry critic from 1876 until the end of the century. As a result, The Athenaeum remained friendly to the Pre-Raphaelites throughout this period, publishing Rossetti's response to Buchanan's The Fleshly School of Poetry, as well as a number of Rossetti's poems.

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