In the early nineteenth century, literary magazines published in the North, such as Harper's, set the tone for American literary dialogue. To capitalize on the relatively untapped market of southern readers, several editors attempted to establish similar journals in the South. But most of these journals failed quickly, in large part because there were fewer southern readers, and those who did read preferred the better-established northern magazines.
In 1842, after suffering a stroke, White sold the Messenger to Benjamin Blake Minor (1818–1905), a Richmond attorney. Under Minor the journal shifted from chiefly literary content to primarily political and historical issues, publishing a long series on Virginia history, Captain John Smith's A True Relation (1608), essays on military strategies and diplomacy, and defenses of slavery. In 1845 Minor acquired William Gilmore Simms' Southern and Western Monthly Magazine and merged it with the Messenger, briefly using the convoluted title Southern and Western Literary Messenger and Review. In 1847 Minor took a teaching position at the Virginia Female Institute in Staunton, Virginia, and sold the journal to John Reuben Thompson.
Thompson returned the journal to its literary focus, publishing work by many of the most prominent southern authors, including Poe, Philip Pendleton Cooke, William Gilmore Simms, and Henry Timrod. In spite of increasing quality, the journal struggled to generate subscriptions, again perhaps reflecting a limited audience for literature in the South. As issues related to slavery flared during the 1850s, the journal's content increasingly veered toward issues of states' rights, defenses of slavery, and polemics against abolitionism.
1834 - The Southern Literary Messenger, one of the most successful and influential literary magazines in the antebellum South, is founded by Thomas Willis White.
1835 - John Pendleton Kennedy encourages Edgar Allan Poe to apply for an assistant editor position at the Southern Literary Messenger, a Richmond-based magazine founded the previous year by Thomas Willis White. Poe receives the job and is soon promoted to editor.
January 1837 - Edgar Allan Poe leaves his job as editor of the Southern Literary Messenger and moves north, working in various editorial posts, most notably at Graham's Magazine in Philadelphia.
1842 - The Southern Literary Messenger is sold to Benjamin Blake Minor, after Thomas White suffers a stroke.
1845 - The Southern Literary Messenger acquires Southern and Western Monthly Magazine.
1847 - The Southern Literary Messenger is sold to John Reuben Thompson.
June 1860 - George William Bagby is named editor of the Southern Literary Messenger and uses the journal to promote Southern secessionism before and during the Civil War.
1864 - The Southern Literary Messenger ceases publication as economic conditions deteriorate in Virginia during the American Civil War.
Cite This Entry
- APA Citation:
Davis, D. A. Southern Literary Messenger. (2014, August 8). In Encyclopedia Virginia. Retrieved from http://www.EncyclopediaVirginia.org/Southern_Literary_Messenger_The_1834-1864.
- MLA Citation:
Davis, David A. "Southern Literary Messenger." Encyclopedia Virginia. Virginia Foundation for the Humanities, 8 Aug. 2014. Web. READ_DATE.
First published: February 6, 2008 | Last modified: August 8, 2014
Contributed by David A. Davis, assistant professor of English at Mercer University.