Annuals and Other Illustrated Books
Annuals were anthologies of verse, short fiction, and pictures—the latter typically reproduced by engraving—which were intended to serve as gifts and tokens of friendship. Combining literary and pictorial interest, the annuals were essentially ekphrastic collections, in that they tended to privilege pictures, and situated writing in relation to a picture in some fashion. Often, writers were hired to write to an engraving, rather than the artist illustrating existing tales or verse, just as Ruskin composed his poem, Saltzburg in response to an engraved view of the city. As a form of gift publication, the annuals were published toward the end of a given year, typically in November in time for the holiday season of Christmas and New Yearʼs; hence, their titles named the year following that of their actual publication. For example, Ruskinʼs first appearance in an annual was in the volume entitled Friendshipʼs Offering; and Winterʼs Wreath: A Christmas and New Yearʼs Present for MDCCCXXXV, which went to press as early as August 1834, to be available for purchase before December (Vigne, Thomas Pringle, 244). The annuals first emerged in the 1820s, quickly becoming a distinctive feature of early Victorian print culture, and they were widely popular with the middle and upper classes by the time Ruskin began publishing in them in the 1830s.
History and Development
The first British annual was Forget Me Not, published by the firm of Ackermann in 1822, for the holiday season of 1822–23. Rudolf Ackermann (1764–1834) as a publisher—putting aside his many other interests and entrepreneurial successes—was known primarily for his high quality, extravagant topographical books, usually illustrated by brightly hand‐colored aquatints. For the Forget Me Not, Ackermann hit upon a successful blend of polite and sentimental verse, tales, and engraved illustration aimed at middle‐ and upper‐class consumers, especially women, who already formed the primary audience for the Ackermann firmʼs in‐house magazine, the Repository of Arts (180928). The magazineʼs editor, Frederic Shoberl (1775–1853), did double duty as the editor of the Forget Me Not (Ford, Ackermann, 70, 64–65, 80–83).
According to Anne Renier, Ackermann based his creation on a combination of two models, the German Taschenbuch, and the British “pocket book.” The former kind of publication offered the literary contents and illustration for which the British annuals became known, whereas the latter kind were familiar to British consumers as supplying tables of useful information along with blank or illustrated pages for the ownerʼs memoranda (Renier, Friendshipʼs Offering, 5–6). To this ancestry of the annual, Katherine Harris adds the printed traditions of the emblem book and the almanac, as well as the homemade fashions of the ladyʼs album and the scrapbook, which were compiled by hand for personal collecting, although the cover and blank pages may have been manufactured (Harris, “Borrowing, Altering, and Perfecting the Literary Annual Form”). (Some confusion of terms arises from the similarity between the German Taschenbuch and the English pocket book, both terms referring to the publicationsʼ portable size, but the German form was literary, whereas the English eighteenth‐century pocket book was akin to the almanac and diary.)
Eighteenth‐century pocket books resembled almanacs by including reference information, especially tables of facts that were deemed appropriate for fashionable readers, such as lists of the members of the British royalty, the crowned heads of Europe, and names of other dignitaries. This convention appealed to Ackermann, since he marketed his books and art supplies primarily to leisured and wealthy clientele, and accordingly the first Forget Me Not included a “General Summary of Houses, Families, and Persons in Great Britain, in 1821,” along with tables of other demographic information about England, Wales, and Scotland. This first British annual also reflected the original use of the pocket book as an engagement calendar, presenting a series of emblematic treatments of the twelve months, reproduced from copper engravings (Jung, “Print Culture, Marketing, and Thomas Stothardʼs Illustrations for The Royal Engagement Pocket Atlas, 1779–1826”, 31; Hunnisett, Steel‐Engraved Book Illustration in England, 139; and see the facsimiles of Forget Me Not available in Harris, ed., “Forget Me Not” Archive).
After the first Forget Me Not, the Ackermann firm dropped the almanac features; and according to Katherine Harris, by 1825 all annuals had abandoned presentation of fashionably useful information in favor of strictly literary and pictorial contents (Harris, “Borrowing, Altering, and Perfecting the Literary Annual Form”, 7). Nonetheless, the annuals reflected lasting legacies of the pocket book, characteristics that point to the original uses of the earlier ephemeral print items. One legacy was the publication schedule of pocket books, which were released on the market in the autumn for purchase as Christmas and New Yearʼs presents. Pocket books, like modern calendars, usually lost value after the beginning of the New Year, and it was to avoid this obsolescence that the almanac material was dropped from the early annuals (Hunnisett, Steel‐Engraved Book Illustration in England, 139). For example, in an early volume of the annual, Friendshipʼs Offering, the editor, T. K. Hervey, announced his intention to remove “all those features which marked” the publication “as more peculiarly adapted for one season of the year than another” and to raise the production above the annualsʼ “toy‐like attributes” (, vi). Nonetheless, the annuals retained the pattern of publishing in the autumn of one year a title that was meant “for” the following year. Thus, the first Forget Me Not: A Christmas and New Yearʼs Present for 1823 was published in October 1822 (Ford, Ackermann, 65).
Another legacy of the pocket book was consumersʼ perception of this niche of print culture as representing elegant, but not costly mementos. In the case of a shrewdly produced and marketed pocket book, such as The Royal Engagement Pocket Atlas (17791826), the ephemeral publication could anticipate the literary annual by being turned into permanent keepsakes. The publisher commissioned sophisticated, historical‐ or literary‐themed engravings that were worth preserving, and the pocket book was available in a range of bindings, from functional to elegant. Owners, too, transformed the ephemeral publication into a keepsake, by dedicating the diary pages to memoranda more lasting than notes about engagements, and in some cases by decorating copies with precious handmade coverings, presumably to serve as personal gifts (Jung, “Print Culture, Marketing, and Thomas Stothardʼs Illustrations for The Royal Engagement Pocket Atlas, 1779–1826”, 34–36). With the addition of embellishments to the diary pages, such as the vignettes on literary themes heading the otherwise blank pages of the Royal Engagement Pocket Atlas, pocket books of this class were produced well into the nineteenth century, and they even began themselves to feature literary content in response to—and even anticipating—the impact of the annuals (Jung, “The Illustrated Pocket Diary”, 25, 33, 36; and see Samuel Rogers (17631855)).
When adapting features of the Taschenbuch from his native Germany, Ackermann drew on the popular Gothic and sentimental emphasis in these publications. As Harris has discovered, Ackermann modeled the Forget Me Not more closely than he acknowledged on a particular Taschenbuch, the Vergissmeinnicht, edited by Heinrich Clauren (Karl Heun, 17711854), whose popular story, “Mimili,” appeared in the Forget Me Not for 1824 (Harris, “Borrowing, Altering, and Perfecting the Literary Annual Form”, 14–16). Based on the proven success of these formulas, the popularity of these first volumes of Forget Me Not proved so overwhelming that the Ackermann firm diverted a major share of its resources into the booksʼ production, consequently relinquishing experiments with lithography, a new method of reproducting images that the firm had recently helped to introduce to Britain. Ackermann turned over the opportunity to develop the new technology to Charles Hullmandel (see Samuel Prout (17831852)). Ackermannʼs success and increased production immediately inspired other publishers to enter the field with their own annual. The first imitator was the firm of Lupton Relfe, whose Friendshipʼs Offering appeared in 182324; and the second was Hurst, Robinson, whose Literary Souvenir appeared in 182425. The latter was edited for a decade by the energetic Alaric Watts (17971864).
Hereafter, as shown in the “Chronological Index of British Literary Annual Titles” (Harris, ed., “Forget Me Not” Archive), new annuals proliferated exponentially, surviving the depression in the book trade caused not only by the panic of 1826 but also the Reform agitation of 1832. While all this effort could be summed up by the poet laureate, Robert Southey (17741843), as “picture‐books for grown children” (Renier, Friendshipʼs Offering, 12–13), the ekphrastic connection between picture and text was profoundly significant to the audiences—child and adult, alike—of the unfolding Victorian Era. For example, copies of the three most important founding titles of the genre—Forget Me Not, Friendshipʼs Offering, and the Literary Souvenir—were owned by the Brontë family, and it was the pictorial appeal of annuals that most influenced the siblingsʼ imaginations (Alexander, “‘That Kingdom of Gloom’”, 414–18). Ruskin was captured by an engraving after Turner (1775–1851), “Ehrenbreitstein,” in the Keepsake for 1833, even before the boy began his long association with the annual Friendshipʼs Offering in 1834.
Some successful aspects of marketing of the annuals, such as their time‐consuming method of steel engravings and their extravagant bindings, ultimately proved the undoing of the annuals. For some publishers, the high cost of production, often combined with an expensive pursuit of celebrated contributors, became unsustainable by the 1840s, and the annuals died out altogether by the 1860s (Currie, introduction to Contributions to Annuals and Gift‐Books, xvii–xviii). After the reign of the annuals had passed, the later Victorians found it easy to mock the often run‐of‐the‐mill contents of these publications, which alternated between simpering sentiment and melodramatic horror, but the grown‐up Victorians could not so easily escape the influence of the annualsʼ images over their imagination in youth.
Steel Engraving
One great significance of Wattsʼs Literary Souvenir lay in the introduction of steel engraving to the annuals—that is, intaglio printing from a steel plate. Typically, the steel plate was covered with an etching ground, which was engraved by an etching needle in preparation for etching by acid, and then the image was further worked using a burin. Because steel is much harder than copper, its durability increased the viability of print runs to the thousands of impressions, compared to the few hundreds of impressions possible from a copper plate, which rapidly wore thin from the abrasion of wiping (Benson, Printed Picture, 36; Bain, “Gift Book and Annual Illustrations”, 19–21; and see Samuel Rogers (17631855)). While copper rapidly yields lighter and dimmer impressions, its more pliable surface is easier to engrave than stubborn steel; and therefore innovations were required to make steel practicable for this use, such as softening the steel for engraving and then hardening the plate. With these developments, the art grew rapidly in the 1820s (Hunnisett, Engraved on Steel, 63, 110, 121; and for detailed accounts of the processes of tracing the source image, etching and engraving the steel plate, taking proofs for checking, and printing from the plate, all of which typically required many weeks and even years for very ambitious projects, see Bain, “Gift Book and Annual Illustrations”, 21–23; and Hunnisett, Steel‐Engraved Book Illustration in England, 42‐52).
In book illustration, the literary annuals were among the first kinds of publications to profit from the new technique. Forget Me Not had been illustrated using copper etching for its first three volumes, until steel was adopted in the volume for 1825 (Ford, Ackermann, 65). In this regard, the Literary Souvenir, published by Hurst, Robinson, raced alongside its famous competitor, producing fine results in the second year of Wattsʼs editorship. Unfortunately, the success coincided with the financial panic of 1826, which brought down many publishers, including Hurst, Robinson, yet Watts kept the Literary Souvenir afloat under his own proprietorship as well as editorship. Payments to authors were not always substantial or regular, except in the cases of lavish fees offered to the most celebrated writers, such as Wordsworth, or to the most sought-after artists, such as Turner. (Privately, some editors, engravers, and publishers built up significant collections of paintings from the canvases and drawings commissioned for engraved images [Hunnisett, Steel‐Engraved Book Illustration in England, 42‐41, 37‐38, 166; Currie, introduction to Contributions to Annuals and Gift‐Books, xx–xxi].)
Another feature of the annuals that set apart these publications as especially desirable consumer items was their rich bindings. The first annuals were covered with glazed paper boards that were printed with a design framing the title, and the volumes were protected by a slipcase of the same materials and printed design. By the final quarter of the 1820s, these paper and cloth bindings were being outdone by silk, which was regarded as not only a luxurious and feminine material but also as supplanting the need for a slipcase. In 1827, however, all this showiness was trumped by Friendshipʼs Offering, which announced itself as newly acquired by the firm of Smith, Elder by boasting embossed leather boards. As Eleanore Jamieson explains in “The Binding Styles of the Gift Books and Annuals”, the stylized patterns used in embossed covers like that for Friendshipʼs Offering were called arabesque, incorporating floral and other pictorial elements. The arabesque pattern was distinguished from cathedral patterns, which were associated with devotional publications. A cheaper alternative means of embossing was to employ engine‐turned designs, resulting in the fine‐lined ornaments developed originally for bank notes. But by the final quarter of the 1820s, arabesque designs could as well be produced by machine (pp. 10–13, and see 7–14). Indeed, the flamboyance, yet relative inexpensiveness, of these bindings, which anticipate the ornate fancifulness achieved in the heyday of Victorian bookbinding, the 1860s–70s, indicates how suddenly factory modes of production had transformed a cottage industry that, at the start of the nineteenth century, had remained essentially unchanged for centuries (Stone, ed., Pictures and Patterns, 10).
The Landscape Annual
A special class of the annual was the landscape annual. The emergence of this subclass, when viewed from the perspective of the 1820s–30s, can be understood as a project by a star entrepreneur of steel engraving, Charles Heath (1785–1848). Heath was associated with the founding of one of the earliest, showiest, and longest surviving of the annuals, the Keepsake (1828–57). From the annualʼs beginnings in 1827, Heath showcased engravings after Turner, and in the same year Heath also published Picturesque Views in England and Wales (1827), for which the engraver commissioned and purchased 120 watercolors by Turner. In 1828, Heath and his editor for the Keepsake, Frederic Mansel Reynolds (ca. 1800–1850), journeyed personally to the Scottish borders and the Lake District, aiming to solicit contributions from the celebrated poets associated with these landscapes, Scott, Wordsworth, and Southey.
The enticement of this class of annuals for the Ruskin family can be measured by an episode in 1832, when the idea was floated of producing a new deluxe edition of The Queenʼs Wake (1813–19) as a charitable scheme supporting the Scottish poet, James Hogg (ca. 1770–1835). Hogg urged that the gift book “should be a work something like The Keepsake” with landscape illustrations by John Martin (1789‐1854) “so as to make it a drawing‐room book”. To this effort, John James Ruskin subscribed generously with a donation of £20, pleading for the honor of being listed as the first subscriber (Hughes, ed., The Collected Letters: Volume 3, 1832‐1835, 33, 32n.). It is significant that John James sent the donation on 8 February 1832, his sonʼs thirteenth birthday, when the boy is believed to have received another deluxe edition of an established modern landscape classic‒the 1830 edition of Italy by Samuel Rogers (17631855), illustrated by Turner and others. The deluxe The Queenʼs Wake was never produced. Had it appeared, the book might have taken a place in the Ruskin family mythology alongside Rogersʼs Italy, since both Hogg and Rogers served personally as mentors to Ruskin in 1834, when the youth published his own topographical poem to the accompaniment of a steel‐engraved landscape plate, “Saltzburg”, in Friendshipʼs Offering; and Winterʼs Wreath: A Christmas and New Yearʼs Present for MDCCCXXXV (see Account of a Tour on the Continent: Discussion—Mentors).
Heath secured famous poetsʼ contributions to the Keepsake, by enticing them with offers of cash that were so princely that he fatally strained relations with his publishers, the firms of Robert Jennings and of Hurst, Chance. These ambitious schemes suggest that Heath was interested less in promoting landscape art per se than in promoting and rewarding himself, rather than publishers, with the proceeds of his talent for steel engraving; however, Basil Hunnisett may be correct to credit Heath at least incidentally with the development of the landscape annual as a class (Steel‐Engraved Book Illustration in England, 142–43, 146–48, 163–67; and see Ledbetter, “‘The Copper and Steel Manufactory’ of Charles Heath”). The landscape annuals produced in association with Heathʼs large workshop included the Landscape Annual (later retitled Jenningsʼ Landscape Annual) (1828–39), the Picturesque Annual (1832–45), and Turnerʼs Annual Tour (1833–35). These titles also prompted imitators, such as the Continental Annual and Romantic Cabinet, published in 1832 by Smith, Elder, and illustrated by another favorite artist of the Ruskinsʼ, Samuel Prout (17831852).
At the same time, viewed in a longer perspective, the landscape annual can be situated in the broader context of travel writing and illustration, in which the steel‐engraved landscape annuals formed a stage between the British copper‐engraved topographical and antiquarian magazines published between the last three decades of the eighteenth century and first two decades of the nineteenth, and the magazines promoting the etching revival in the final three decades of the nineteenth century (see Roberts, “British Art Periodicals of the Eighteenth and Nineteenth Centuries”, 3–4). In this context, for the Ruskins, the landscape annuals belong to the category of topographical poetry and prose, such as Italy by Samuel Rogers (1763–1855); pictorial travelogues, with or without letterpress, such as Facsimiles of Sketches Made in Flanders and Germany by Samuel Prout (17831852); and Travel Narratives and Guidebooks. Topographical poetry, travel narrative, and landscape illustration were often included in annuals that were not specifically landscape annuals; an example is Ruskinʼs own first contribution to an annual, the poem “Saltzburg”, published in Friendshipʼs Offering. Unlike the illustrated literary annuals, however, which typically anthologized a miscellany of verse and prose along with illustrations of both landscapes and figures, which were contributed by a variety of writers and artists, the landscape annuals featured a single artist paired with a single writer of the letterpress. Although subordinated to the artist, the writer for a landscape annual could, like Leitch Ritchie, see himself as contributing “bona fide sketches of his own” (qtd. in Hunnisett, Steel‐Engraved Book Illustration in England, 147).
Collected Editions
Another illustrated publication of the period, one that shared the medium of steel engraving with the annuals, but not their fancy bindings, was the collected edition of poetry or prose by a British author, gathered into uniformly bound volumes, which were solidly but inexpensively produced. The Ruskins had first‐hand experience of these editions in the magnum opus of Walter Scott>, which started the trend, and they witnessed the failed attempt by James Hogg (ca. 1770–1835) to complete such an edition of the Altrive Tales. In order to economize, these editions featured only a few illustrations per volume, but publishers made up the deficiency by selling portfolios of prints, which collectors could bind either separately or along with the uniform edition in question (Hunnisett, Steel‐Engraved Book Illustration in England, 135–36).