The Philadelphia Magazines and Their Contributors 1742-1850

“Sweet Philadelphia! lov’liest of the lawn,”
Where rising greatness opes its pleasing dawn,
Where daring commerce spreads th’ advent’rous sail,
Cleaves thro’ the wave, and drives before the gale,
Where genius yields her kind conducting lore,
And learning spreads its inexhausted store:—
Kind seat of industry, where art may see
Its labours foster’d to its due degree,
Where merit meets the due regard it claims,
Tho’ envy dictates and tho’ malice blames:—
Thou fairest daughter of Columbia’s train,
The great emporium of the western plain;—
Best seat of science, friend to ev’ry art,
That mends, improves, or dignifies the heart.

The Philadelphiad, Vol. I, p. 6, 1784.

from the Preface to “The Philadelphia Magazines and their Contributors 1742-1850, by Albert H. Smyth” (“A. B., Johns Hopkins, University, Professor of English Literature in the Philadelphia High School; Member of the American Philosophical Society”).

The title page of THE  Philadelphia Magazines AND THEIR CONTRIBUTORS 1741-1850. Work is in the public domain.

The title page of THE
Philadelphia Magazines AND THEIR CONTRIBUTORS 1741-1850. Work is in the public domain.

An interesting gem, accessible to anyone with an internet connection thanks to dedicated volunteers and OCR technology.  This textbook-style survey, written by Philadelphia High School professor and local scholar Albert Smyth, is as he put in in 1892, as much a history of Philadelphia literature as of its magazines, one not “stately nor splendid [but] exceedingly instructive.” This guide is beautifully written, and though in the tone of the Victorian academic, Smyth is an academic of “Philadelphia and Radnor,” a devout Franklinite, and his language can be read with pleasure without training or effort (it helps to read in a doddering and slightly British Ben Franklin voice).  A few choice words from Smyth’s tome:

“For a hundred years Pennsylvania was the seat of the ripest culture in America. The best libraries were to be found here, and the earliest and choicest reprints of Latin and English classics were made here. James Logan, a man of gentle nature and a scholar of rare attainments, had gathered at Stenton a library that comprehended books “so scarce that neither price nor prayers could purchase them.”

Present day residents of the PHL will appreciate this take on our Western pseudo-binary: “The Philadelphia writers had their own little thrills, and their own little ambitions, and amid the poverty of their intellectual surroundings they refreshed themselves with visions of the giant things to come at large. James Hall, in his ‘Letters from the West,’ wrote: ‘The vicinity of Pittsburg may one day wake the lyre of the Pennsylvanian bard to strains as martial and as sweet as Scott; … believe me, I should tread with as much reverence over the mausoleum of a Shawanee chief, as among the catacombs of Egypt, and would speculate with as much delight upon the site of an Indian village as in the gardens of Tivoli, or the ruins of Herculaneum.'”

The textbook covers Colonial Philly through the Revolution up to just before the Civil War, so when thinking notable contributors, think Founding Fathers. This book is available in several different formats at Project Gutenberg, and on the Internet Archive .

Not much has been written about Professor Smyth, but you can learn about him by reading his Facebook posts, I mean letters, and he wrote another textbook you can read on Google books.

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About Kenneth Lipp

Kenneth is a writer and researcher. He’s from Alabama, and will not apologize for it. He moved to Pennsylvania in 2012, but has been in love with Philadelphia since a late-night stroll down Ben Franklin Parkway to the Art Museum in July of 2011 with the love of his life. He is interested in telling Philadelphia’s dynamic and absolutely unique stories with the zeal of a constantly enamored newcomer. Kenneth is also passionate about government transparency and protection of whistleblowers, most notably PFC Chelsea Manning. His research and reporting on law enforcement and surveillance have been featured in various publications, including Rolling Stone (Meet the Private Companies Helping Cops Spy on Protesters) and Popular Science (Boston Tested Crowd-Watching Software That Catalogues People's Skin Color). His training is in both genetics and history and he likes the joke about being a helicase and unzipping your “genes.” He’s driven to know, and thinks you can handle, the truth. Follow him on Twitter @kennethlipp.

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