Friendshipʼs Offering
Illustrated literary annual, which featured some of Ruskinʼs earliest published poetry.
Development and Characteristics
According to the “Chronology of Titles” in Harris, ed., “Forget Me Not” Archive, Friendshipʼs Offering first appeared in 1823, for the holiday season of 1823–24, only one year after the very first of the British annuals, Forget Me Not, was published by the firm of Rudolf Ackermann in 1822, for the holiday season of 1822–23 (see Annuals and Other Illustrated Books). According to the bibliography of the annuals, Faxon, Literary Annuals, Friendshipʼs Offering kept up annual publication through the volume for 1844 (p. 95).
In the wake of Ackermannʼs outstanding success, Friendshipʼs Offering was published by Lupton Relfe, a bookseller in Cornhill. According to an 1858 reflection on the heyday of annuals, Relfeʼs product was “unpromising” (“The Annuals of Former Days”, 496), although this judgment may be colored by the annualʼs subsequent success under a new publisher. That there was some upheaval afoot appears evident from the prefatory remarks by the new editor for the 1826 volume, T. K. Hervey (1799–1859), who acknowledges “difficulties” arising from the annual having, “very recently, come into the present Editorʼs hands with a view to an entire change in its character and plan” (, v). In any case, in 1827 the annual was taken over by the relatively young publishing firm of Smith, Elder.
Smith, Elder released their first volume of Friendshipʼs Offering “for” 1828, under the editorship of Charles Knight (1791–1873), who was then struggling to establish himself in London publishing. Knight was succeeded in the following year by Thomas Pringle—the editor who would later introduce Ruskin to the fashionable world as the author, “J.R.” Smith, Elder strikingly improved the annualʼs material appeal, and sales rose, eventually peaking at ten thousand copies per year (by comparison, Forget Me Not in some years achieved twenty thousand). The fortunes of Smith, Elder were assured (Bell, “Smith, George Murray (1824–1901)”; Ford, Ackermann, 65).
The success of Smith, Elderʼs venture appears to have hinged on a striking physical presentation of binding and printing and on the appeal of the illustrations. The first issue of Friendshipʼs Offering under the new proprietorship received a complementary notice in The Mirror of Literature, Amusement, and Instruction, the review focusing first on the “exterior, which is somewhat novel in taste, . . . by substituting for the usual paper covering [i.e., like the printed paper boards covering the Forget Me Not], an elegantly embossed leather binding. This is altogether an improvement on the original plan, since the slight coverings of silk or paper is scarcely safe out of the drawing‐room or boudoir, and some of the contributions to the ‘annuals’ entitle them to a higher stand” (“Spirit of ‘The Annuals’ for 1828”, 418). The binding of Friendshipʼs Offering featured an arabesque design that was blind embossed into the full surface of the dark leather cover, with a lyre design blocked in gilt in the center of the front cover. As Eleanore Jamieson remarks in “The Binding Styles of the Gift Books and Annuals”, the arabesque pattern was regarded as a revival style hearkening to the early book, and the style was associated with Continental models (p. 11; and see Annuals and Other Illustrated Books).
The annuals dueled to be judged by their covers, the Ackermann firmʼs Forget Me Not having set an initial standard with its printed and glazed paper boards, cloth spine, and slipcase, later replaced by a silk cover (Ford, Ackermann, 65). Innovation and extravagance—or at least the appearance of extravagance—in bindings and engraved front matter became characteristic of annuals, which used this immediate source of appeal to compete in a crowded market (see Faxon, Literary Annuals, xiv–xvi). Perhaps the Mirror of Literature was also commenting on the sturdier content, and not just the cover, of Friendshipʼs Offering, in suggesting that embossed leather would hold up outside the boudoir.
The other notable source of Smith, Elderʼs success, the quality of illustration, was the special care of one partner in the young firm, Alexander Elder (1790–1876). According to Huxley, House of Smith Elder, Elder was interested in art, and aspired to produce elegantly illustrated publications (p. 10). Illustration was key to the popularity of the annuals, as Elder would have realized from the precedent set by Ackermannʼs success. The first issue of Forget Me Not had featured a series of emblematic treatments of the twelve months, rendered in copper etching, along with verses by William Combe (1742–1823). Combe was well known as the author of The Tour of Doctor Syntax, in Search of the Picturesque (1812, 1820, 1821), a spoof illustrated by Thomas Rowlandson (1757–1827). This illustrated work ranked among the Ackermann firmʼs greatest best‐sellers (Ford, Ackermann, 52–60); and by employing Combe along with an illustrator on the new publication, Rudolph Ackermann was probably striving to maintain this popularity.
In some respects, however, the illustrated emblems of the months in Ackermannʼs Forget Me Not looked backward to an eighteenth‐century tradition, rather than forward to new fashions. Copper engraving was soon to be displaced by more durable steel engraving, which would allow for much larger press runs; and the very inclusion of a monthly calendar hearkened to the gift annualʼs beginnings in the eighteenth‐century “pocket book” (see Annuals and Other Illustrated Books). The second volume of Forget Me Not, featured much more varied pictorial scenes (albeit with mausoleums predominating), which were highlighted in the front matter by a list of plates that stood separately from the literary table of contents. The dual tables of contents—emblematic of the growing importance of visual culture in the early Victorian period—remained typical of annuals thereafter (see the facsimiles of Forget Me Not available in Harris, ed., “Forget Me Not” Archive).
This is how Forget Me Not stood in 1826–27, when Ruskinʼs aunt, Bridget Richardson (1783–1830), of Croydon, presented him with the volume for 1827, containing “Monument at Verona,” by Samuel Prout (1783–1852) (Ruskin, Works, 35:91). Engraved by Edward Finden (1791–1857), this plate would have among the early steel engravings produced by the Finden brothers (see Hunnisett, Steel‐Engraved Book Illustration in England, 84–85). Ackermannʼs annual had now caught up with the technology of steel engraving for book illustration, which proved key to the success of the annuals. As compared with softer copper, which soon lost its edge in repeated impressions, steel engraving made possible the mass production of images, and helped to satisfy the craving for pervasive, but affordable visual culture by the early‐Victorian middle class. These developments coincided with Alexander Elderʼs ambitions for Friendshipʼs Offering.
Smith, Elderʼs Friendshipʼs Offering benefited by these early, rapid developments in the annual as a commodity. Its binding was more sumptuous, and the engraving sharper and more consistent. At the same time, a comparison of Smith, Elderʼs product with the volumes published by the annualʼs creator, Relfe, suggests that the new firm attempted to keep the interior uniform with earlier volumes, at least initially. Smith, Elder did expand the title, however, from Relfeʼs Friendshipʼs Offering: A Literary Album to Friendshipʼs Offering: A Literary Album and Annual Remembrancer. In 1833, the title changed again, the annual having absorbed another existing publication, Winterʼs Wreath, which had been published in Liverpool since 1828. This merger resulted in the title, Friendshipʼs Offering; and Winterʼs Wreath (so the title appears on the typeset title page; for a time, the engraved frontispiece with the earlier title remained in production). This latest title was in use when Ruskin first appeared in the annual, in the issue, Friendshipʼs Offering; and Winterʼs Wreath: A Christmas and New Yearʼs Present for MDCCCXXXV.
Early Personal Connections with the Ruskin Family and the Editorship of Thomas Pringle
The founders of the new firm, Elder and George Smith (1789–1846), were Scotsmen; and this connection, along with Smithʼs apprenticeship in the publishing house of John Murray, the publisher of Byron, would have been important to John James Ruskin, who was of course a Scot himself, and whose counting house in the city was situated close to that of Smith, Elder (Hilton, John Ruskin: The Early Years, 29). Among Smith, Elderʼs early successes were ambitious illustrated works on Scotland, such as a series of engraved views of the principal towns. Gillian Hughes suggests that Elder in particular was a central figure for the expatriate group of literary Scotsmen in London during the 1820s–30s (“Introductory and Textual Notes”, 309). Gathered around Elder were a number of Scottish literary men who were proving their way in the burgeoning London publishing market—men such as Leitch Ritchie (1800–1865) and Thomas Pringle (1789–1834). It would have mattered to the Ruskins that Pringleʼs editorship of Friendshipʼs Offering; and Winterʼs Wreath had been appreciately noticed in the “Noctes Ambrosianae” of Blackwoodʼs Edinburgh Magazine (Huxley, House of Smith Elder, 10–11; Vigne, Thomas Pringle, 185, 183).
Starting his editorship in 1828, Pringleʼs first volume of Friendshipʼs Offering was that for 1829 (i.e., marketed during the holiday season of 1828–29). He served as editor until his death in December 1834, having prepared the volume for 1835 (i.e., for the holiday season of 1834–35). This last volume, which featured the young Ruskin, was substantially completed during the summer of 1834 (Vigne, Thomas Pringle, 244). In this volume, Ruskin made his first appearance in a prominent professional anthology, publishing two poems: Fragments from a Metrical Journal,”, which was abstracted from his Account of a Tour on the Continent; and Saltzburg, which accompanied an engraved vedute of the city, drawn by William Purser (1790–1852), and engraved by Edward Goodall (1795–1870) (Pringle, ed., Friendshipʼs Offering; and Winterʼs Wreath . . . for 1835, 37–38, 317–19). Pringleʼs relationship with the Ruskin family was struck considerably earlier than his editing of Ruskin for the 1834–35 volume, for it was either his first volume, for 1829, or his second, for 1830, that was presented as a gift to Ruskin in October 1829 by his cousin, Charles Thomas Richardson (1811–34), who was an apprentice or shopboy with Smith, Elder (Burd, ed., Ruskin Family Letters, 208). Certainly, Pringle was on a familiar footing with the family by January 1832, when he introduced the Ruskins to the writer, James Hogg (ca. 1770–1835).
It is interesting that an eighteen‐year‐old youth, Ruskinʼs cousin, Charles, deemed it appropriate to present a younger boy, aged ten, with Friendshipʼs Offering as a gift. It is even more surprising that Ruskinʼs aunt made him a gift of Forget Me Not when he was only eight. Annuals were usually characterized as an appropriate gift for women, whereas the so‐called “juvenile” annuals formed a distinct commodity for children. Ruskinʼs mother, Margaret, reacted to Charlesʼs gift with disapproval of the publicationʼs poor educational influences: “The plates are well done but they are not interesting[;] the tales are horrible enough[;] the poetry very so so I think[;] upon the whole it does not improve” (Burd, ed., Ruskin Family Letters, 208). In Praeterita, Ruskin read the gift as prompted by Charlesʼs pride in the material sumptuousness that his employers had bestowed on their newly acquired title: Charles “took personal pride in everything produced by the firm,” as Ruskin believed “all right‐minded apprentices and good shopmen do”; and it was in keeping with the reputation of Smith, Elder for producing fine illustrated books that Charles “on Sundays always brought a volume or two in his pocket to show us the character of . . . [the firmʼs] most ambitious publications; especially choosing, on my behalf, any which chanced to contain good engravings” (Ruskin, Works, 35:91). It was the up‐to‐date materiality of Friendshipʼs Offering that could make this adult annual appealing to young people; and Ruskin would demonstrate his engagement with modern technology of reproducible imagery in his Account of a Tour on the Continent (see Hanson, “Ruskin in the 1830s;”).
As later in the “Account,” Ruskinʼs own handmade version of an illustrated book, Charlesʼs gift may also have testified to his young cousinʼs precocity, for there appears to be no evidence that Ruskin condescended to be a consumer of the “juvenile” annuals, which were designed for his age group, and which began appearing between 1828 and 1830—precisely when he was presented with the more adult Friendshipʼs Offering (see Renier, Friendshipʼs Offering, 17). We can only guess at gift‐giversʼ motives, however. Ruskinʼs auntʼs present, the 1827 Forget Me Not, seems particularly marked by the Victorian sentiment of mourning. Its frontispiece, “The Motherʼs Grave” (likewise engraved by Edward Finden) features a trio of children sweetly gazing at a churchyard tombstone; the contents include “A Dirge” by George Croly (1780–1860), who would later become an impressive guest at Herne Hill dinners; and Ruskinʼs beloved plate by Prout depicts, as Ruskin emphasizes in Praeterita, a “sepulchral” monument (Ruskin, Works, 35:91; Shoberl, ed., Forget Me Not . . .for MDCCCXXVII; and see Harris, ed., “Forget Me Not” Archive for facsimiles of the plates, list of plates, and table of contents for the 1827 Forget Me Not). It is possible that Ruskinʼs Aunt Bridget meant the gift as a mourning momento for his Perth cousins, Jessie Richardson (1820–27), who died in 1827, and James Richardson (1808–26), who died in 1826.