In 2002, the TLS celebrated its hundredth birthday. According to legend, it was envisioned as a temporary publication to carry book reviews displaced from the Times by Parliamentary reports, but when the Parliamentary session ended, no one remembered to discontinue it. In fact, May demonstrates that the Literary Supplement (as it was known for decades) had been intended by Charles Frederic Moberly Bell, the Times’s manager, as a replacement for Literature, which had been losing money and which the Times had sold to the Academy early in 1902. Bell hoped that the free supplement would lure readers to his newspaper.
The first review in the first issue of the Literary Supplement was of More Letters of Edward Fitzgerald. The article was written by Augustine Birrell, an educated man of letters and an example of the audience that the Supplement hoped to attract. This first issue exemplified the range of the subjects the supplement would discuss throughout its history: In addition to Fitzgerald’s letters, it carried reviews of Scottish Men of Letters in the Eighteenth Century,Scenes of Rural Life in Hampshire, Napoleon’s Polish Campaign: 1806-1807, and The Lore of Cathay. Hugh Monro Ross surveyed “Science in 1901” and A. B. Walkley, the Times theater critic, published three articles about “The Drama.” Three other features appearing in this issue would remain staples for many years: a list of recent publications, notes on forthcoming books, and a chess column that included a problem.
This issue also reflected the range of people who would appear in the pages of the Supplement:staff writers for the Times, professional reviewers, and academics. May notes that over the years, this last group has increased in prominence as both contributors to and readers of the journal. The cantankerous letters for which the TLS is famous also appeared early in its history, with a complaint by the Reverend Alfred B. Beaven about the Dictionary of Literary Biography in the second issue and a debate about William Blake’s poem “Tyger” running through May, 1902, a debate that prompted a letter from William Butler Yeats.
Yeats was one of many important literary figures to appear in the Literary Supplement. In 1905, Bruce Richmond, who would edit the journal almost from its inception to 1937, engaged as a reviewer Miss A. V. Stephen, better known as Virginia Woolf. The titles given her were not always worthy of her mettle but she wrote brilliantly even when the authors she reviewed did not. In her diary, she complained that nothing could be said of W. E. Norris’s Barham of Beltana, but in her review she wittily and subtly criticized the work. Recognizing her skills, Richmond frequently called upon her to review for him. Altogether she would write some three hundred essays for theLiterary Supplement. Her contributions enlivened the journal, but May argues that through these pieces she also honed her ideas about writing fiction.
In March, 1908, Alfred Harmsworth, Lord Northcliffe, bought the Times. He reduced the size of the Literary Supplement from twelve pages to eight. When the Supplement continued to lose money, Northcliffe considered eliminating the journal, or at least the editor. The manager and the editor of the Times supported Richmond, and both the Supplement and Richmond remained. Northcliffe would again consider killing the Supplement in 1922, but it was he who died in August of that year, while the journal continued.
By 1922 the Supplement was, in fact, a publication separate from its parent newspaper, having gained its independence in 1914. Although in 1914 it cut the fees it paid contributors, it still attracted writers such as Max Beerbohm on imaginary novels mentioned in real ones (March 12, 1914) or Henry James on novels of young writers (March 19 and April 2, 1914). The May 14, 1914, issue carried Edith Wharton’s “The Craft of Fiction.”
The Supplement did not generally address current events, but with the outbreak of World War I it began reviewing books on the subject. It also carried patriotic poems. Arthur Clutton-Brock ran a series of front-page essays supporting Britain’s position, and John Galsworthy in 1915 commented on the adverse effect the conflict was having on literature. Reviewers during this period showed little...
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