Science in the 19th Century Periodical

The Review of Reviews, 1890–1936


Volumes 1–20, 1890–99


William Thomas Stead, 1890–1912


George Newnes, 1890
William Thomas Stead, 1890–1912


William Clowes and Son, 1890–99


6d (1890)




84 (1890)




300,000 (1890)


All volumes: Index to Volume, Index to Periodicals


Sheffield Central Library (vols. 1–20)


Titlepage of Review of Reviews, volume 5 (1892).  Reproduced by kind permission of Leicester University Library.

    Having spent most of his journalistic career working on a variety of daily newspapers, William Thomas Stead had long harboured plans to edit a monthly journal, and in December 1889 he resigned his editorship of the daily Pall Mall Gazette after its proprietor, Henry Yates Thompson, rejected his plans for a regular monthly supplement. Even before leaving the Pall Mall, Stead had agreed with George Newnes, founder of the bestselling Tit-Bits, that they would start a new monthly review, a venture that would combine Stead's editorial flair with Newnes's business acumen. The first number of the Review of Reviews appeared on 6 January 1890, less than four weeks after the initial agreement between Stead and Newnes, and this frenetic pace of production was to become one of the hallmarks of the new journal, which the mercurial Stead moulded in his own image. Stead, who was already notorious for his editorial crusades against various vested interests, had earlier insisted that the 'personality of the editor is the essential centre-point of my whole idea of the true journalism', and readers of the first number of the Review were assured that while the new journal would 'certainly not be a party organ', neither would it be merely 'a colourless reflection of the public opinion' (Stead 1886b, p. 663; Stead 1890b, p. 15). Rather, the Review of Reviews would advance Stead's own idiosyncratic Dissenting (Congregationalist) and radical imperialist outlook, exhibiting an 'almost awe-struck regard for the destinies of the English-speaking man' and exhorting 'a revival of civic faith, a quickening of spiritual life' (Stead 1890b, p. 15 and 18). Indeed, Stead boldly rejected the long tradition of 'effete' impersonal journalism and the 'awe of the mystic "We"', and instead enjoined a partisan and distinctly personal style of writing and editing, allowing him to put into practice his conviction that the 'editor is the uncrowned king' of the new era of mass democracy (Stead 1886b, p. 663; Stead 1886a, p. 664). Such an evangelistic and overtly personal style of journalism, as Newnes quickly realised, was not sufficiently popular to 'gather in the shekels' in a mass-market dominated by fiction-based illustrated magazines, and in April 1890 Stead, with financial assistance from the Salvation Army, bought out Newnes's half-share of the fledgling journal (Quoted in Baylen 1979, p. 74).

Review of Reviews 5 (1892), 298.  Reproduced by kind permission of Leicester University Library.

    Stead was now the editor, publisher and sole proprietor of the Review of Reviews, but he had pledged that the journal would adhere to a certain standard of disinterestedness and be 'without political prejudice or religious intolerance'. Above all, its aim would be to 'make the best thoughts of the best writers ... universally accessible' (Stead 1890a, p. 14). The Review, in Stead's grandiose and somewhat paradoxical vision, would bring 'salvation from untutored democracy' by popularising Matthew Arnold's elitist conceptions of criticism and culture, even though Arnold himself had been one of the principal critics of the 'feather-brained' tendency of what he pejoratively termed the 'New Journalism' (Stead 1890b, p. 19; Arnold 1887, p. 638). The production of the Review of Reviews was initially carried out by Newnes's skilled staff at the Tit-Bits office, but after only three monthly numbers it devolved on to the much less experienced personnel at Stead's new Mowbray House office on the Thames Embankment. While the Review was predominantly 'mononymous' (the only name mentioned in most issues was that of Stead) and deliberately gave the impression that almost every article emanated from the editor's prolific pen, its rapid production required the collaboration of a number of anonymous contributors, including the young Grant Richards, as well as a host of nameless clerks and typists. In fact, when Stead suffered a mild nervous breakdown in 1895, his younger brother, the Rev. Francis Herbert Stead, temporarily took over as editor, although this was never acknowledged in the Review's pages. The staff of the Review was particularly distinctive for the large proportion of women that Stead—an advocate of female suffrage—employed at rates of pay equal to their male colleagues, and, under the supervision of the office manager Marie Belloc, female journalists such as Flora Shaw and Virginia Crawford contributed significantly to the work of the journal. From May 1891, though, the Review's most important employee after Stead was the circumspect business manager Edwin Stout, whose financial prudence helped rein in Stead's editorial recklessness and did much to ensure that the Review actually broke even (assisted by dividend payments from Stead's shares in the more successful American Review of Reviews). Newnes's hard-nosed concern about the commercial viability of the 'kind of journalism which ... upsets governments [and] does many other great things' proved to be accurate, and, despite a circulation of 300,000, the self-proclaimed flagship of the New Journalism struggled to remain financially afloat throughout its existence (Quoted in Friederichs 1911, p. 116).

    The brand of journalism which Stead pioneered in the Review of Reviews was characterized by its particular relation to other periodical genres as well as its position in the literary marketplace. In 1889 Archibald Grove had founded the New Review, which set out to provide the kind of material usually carried in half-crown reviews like the Nineteenth Century for the cheaper price of 6d. The Review of Reviews, launched less than six months later, was similarly priced as a sixpenny monthly, but it went further by employing the format of so-called 'snippet-papers' like Newnes's penny weekly Tit-Bits (short paragraphs culled from myriad other periodicals) in order to bring the actual contents of the 2s 6d reviews, as well as a wide range of upmarket foreign journals, to a far wider readership. Stead's self-conscious aim in these abstracted articles from other periodicals was to bring expert knowledge, whether this be political, artistic or scientific, to the common reader in a suitably cheap and digested form. At the same time, the Review also borrowed many of the innovative, as well as brashly demotic, formats and devices of North American journalism, using, for instance, 'talking headlines' and illustrated celebrity interviews to make highbrow forms of knowledge both more accessible and more entertaining. It also encouraged its mass audience to participate in the production of the journal, suggesting that, amongst other things, readers submit details of their encounters with spectral apparitions in order to help verify the existence of the controversial phenomena associated with spiritualism, a topic which had come to preoccupy Stead. In a period when the practice of science became increasingly specialized and detached from general culture, the Review of Reviews advanced an avowedly inclusive and populist agenda which regularly challenged not only the necessity of this division, but even the authority of professional scientific experts.

Notes on Indexing

Review of Reviews 5 (1892), 368.  Reproduced by kind permission of Leicester University Library.

    The Review of Reviews, in Stead's conception, was to be 'a combination of two elements,—the eclectic and the personal' (Stead 1890b, p. 15). As well as the editor's personal commentary on currents events in the opening 'Progress of the World' section, and the regular 'Character Sketch' of a notable personality, the bulk of the remainder of the journal's eighty-four pages comprised the 'Leading Articles in the Reviews' and 'The Reviews Reviewed' sections. These summaries and evaluations of articles from domestic and foreign periodicals aimed to 'supply a clue' to the 'mighty maze of modern periodical literature' by providing 'a readable compendium of all the best articles in the magazines and reviews', 'winnowing away the chaff and ...revealing the grain' of the month's journalistic output (Stead 1890a, p. 14). In particular, Stead believed that science, more than any other area of elite culture, stood in need of being made more accessible to the wider reading public, and the Review regularly abstracted material on a diverse range of subjects from specialist scientific journals like the Proceedings of the Royal Geographical Society and the Journal of Mental Science, as well as foreign technical periodicals like the Neue Militärische Blätter. These abridgements ranged in size from over a page to just a couple of lines, but by providing details of every single abstract relating to science, technology and medicine during the 1890s the SciPer Index makes it possible to trace how information on even the most specialist and highbrow scientific concerns continued to reach the diverse audiences of cheap periodicals. Indeed, the Index, which covers the first twenty volumes of the Review of Reviews, suggests the need to revise conventional historiographic understandings of the 1890s as a decade in which the establishment of modern laboratories and salaried positions, as well as the emergence of specialist scientific societies and journals, meant that professional men of science became ever more isolated from the wider public. Working-class readers, as recent scholarship in the history of publishing has shown, attested to how the Review of Reviews provided them with at least some understanding of, and sense of involvement in, the latest developments in subjects such as science from which they had previously felt excluded (see Rose 2001, p. 244).

Review of Reviews 5 (1892), 468.  Reproduced by kind permission of Leicester University Library.

    Although in general the Index provides only the principal details (i.e. author, original location, and an outline of which subjects are referred to) regarding material abstracted from other periodicals, interpretative summaries have been included where either the subject is of particular relevance and importance, or where a significant commentary has been appended to the abstracted material. A particular example of this occurs in the Review's July 1890 number when a summary of one of Thomas Henrys Huxley's articles for the Nineteenth Century suggested that his judgement of 'the accounts given in Genesis of the Creation and of the Deluge as "lies" significant of the mental temperature in which the article is written'. In fact, in the following issue of the Review (August 1890) Stead was forced to offer an unconditional apology for printing 'a railing accusation against Professor Huxley last month which he did not deserve', admitting that the 'blunder' had been caused by 'mistak[ing] a verb [i.e. "lies"] for a substantive'. Such apparently minor errors, as the Index reveals, were actually alarmingly common in the Review of Reviews, and had extremely important implications for the journal's presentation of topics, like science, in which accuracy and precision were imperative.

    When he was not perturbing prominent men of science with inaccurate summaries of their articles, Stead also attempted to appropriate their imprimatur and to present them as supporters of, if not contributors to, the Review. Stead, moreover, continued to do this even when the individuals concerned wanted nothing to do with his piratical enterprise (and because of its method of abstraction the Review was frequently dubbed 'Fagin's Miscellany'). The Index includes many interpretive summaries which indicate where this unscrupulous practice occurs, such as when, in the February 1897 number of the Review, Stead mentions that he has been 'discussing the question of different kinds of amusements as brain rests [i.e. non-cerebral leisure pursuits] with Mr. Grant Allen' and proceeds to relate Allen's views on the matter even though Allen himself had overtly refused to contribute any more articles to the journal. Unless articles in the Review were explicitly signed, as with Arthur Conan Doyle's 'Character Sketch' of Robert Koch in the December 1890 number, no authorial attributions are made in the Index. While it can be inferred that much of the Review's contents were penned by its seemingly indefatigable editor, and, as was discussed earlier, this was certainly the impression given by the apparently 'mononymous' journal, Stead's frequent absences, most noticeably several months spent in Chicago, and regular intervals of ill health make it unsafe definitively to attribute individual articles to him without further supporting evidence. It should also be noted that the Index only includes the Review's occasional supplementary special issues when they were bound into the volumes consulted (and, of course, were relevant to science, technology and medicine), and, for reasons of space, does not include any of the regular Christmas extra numbers, which often featured extensive coverage of spiritualism and other allegedly supernatural subjects.


    Arnold, Matthew 1887. 'Up to Easter', Nineteenth Century, 21, 629–43.

    Baylen. J. O. 1972. 'The "New Journalism" in Late Victorian Britain', Australian Journal of Politics and History, 18, 367–85.

    Baylen. J. O. 1979. 'W. T. Stead as Publisher and Editor of the Review of Reviews', Victorian Periodicals Review, 12, 70–84.

    Dawson, Gowan 2004. 'The Review of Reviews and the New Journalism in Late Victorian Britain', in Geoffrey Cantor et al, Science in the Nineteenth-Century Periodical: Reading the Magazine of Nature, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press

    Friederichs, Hulda 1911. The Life of Sir George Newnes, London: Hodder and Stoughton

    Lee, Alan J. 1976. The Origins of the Popular Press in England, 1855–1914, London: Croom Helm

    McDonald, Peter D. 1997. British Literary Culture and Publishing Practice 1880–1914, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press

     Richards, Grant 1932. Memories of a Misspent Youth 1872–1896, London: William Heinemann

    Stead, W. T. 1886. 'Government by Journalism', Contemporary Review, 49, 653–74

    Stead, W. T. 1886b. 'The Future of Journalism', Contemporary Review, 50, 663–79

     Stead, W. T. 1890. 'Programme', Review of Reviews, 1, 14

    Stead, W. T. 1890b. 'To All English-speaking Folk', Review of Reviews, 1, 15–20

    Wiener, Joel H., ed. 1988. Papers for the Millions: The New Journalism in Britain, 1850s to 1914, New York: Greenwood

    Whyte, Frederic 1925. The Life of W. T. Stead, 2 vols, London: Jonathan Cape

Gowan Dawson