The Athenian Mercury and the Pindarick Lady

  • E. J. Clery
Part of the Palgrave Studies in the Enlightenment, Romanticism and Cultures of Print book series (PERCP)


The greatest early innovator of the discourse of feminization was the printer and journalist John Dunton. In 1691 he founded the Athenian Mercury, the first literary periodical in Britain. It appeared, for the most part twice-weekly, until 1696 — one of the longest lived journals of the century.1 Dunton came from a dissenting background and was an ardent supporter of King William.2 The 1690 Act of Toleration and William’s announced support for moral reformation cemented Dunton’s identification with the new order. Before long he was publicly committing himself, ideologically and financially, to the experiment of the Glorious Revolution. After 1688, he launched a thriving new line in political biography, and made trials of political newsletters in the service of the Whigs (the short-lived True Protestant Mercury and Coffee House Mercury) and an account of his own ‘Ramble Round the World’ in instalments.3 Towards the end of 1690, he had his big idea: a periodical paper that would go beyond simple news reporting. It would be an entirely new kind of interactive publication, which encouraged readers themselves to determine the content by submitting questions on any subject. These would then be answered by a panel of experts.4 All contributions and replies would be anonymous.


Female Manner Male Reader Female Reader Ardent Supporter British East India Company 
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  1. 1.
    The Athenian Gazette, or Casuistical Mercury, Resolving all the most Nice and Curious Questions proposed by the Ingenious first appeared on 17 March 1691 as a weekly, and continued almost without interruption, for the most part twice-weekly on Tuesdays and Saturdays, until 14 June 1697. Briefly in 1692 it appeared three times a week, stimulated by rivalry with Tom Brown’s London Mercury. There were two brief suspensions: in 1692, by order of the Licenser; and in 1696–97, for business reasons. There was a total of 20 volumes, 580 numbers, with 6,000 questions answered altogether. See Gilbert D. McEwen, The Oracle of the Coffee House: John Dunton’s ‘Athenian Mercury’ (San Marino, 1972) 3.Google Scholar
  2. 5.
    It took the form of a half-folio sheet, printed on both sides in double columns. For eloquent accounts of Dunton’s significance as a representative of ‘the new’, see J. Paul Hunter, ‘The Insistent I’, Novel 13: 1 (Fall 1979) 19–31, and by the same author, Before Novels: The Cultural Contexts of Eighteenth-Century English Fiction (New York and London, 1990) especially 12–18, 99–106.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. 12.
    See Klein, ‘Coffeehouse Civility’, 46–7; D.W.R. Bahlmann, The Moral Reformation of 1688 (New Haven, 1957);Google Scholar
  4. David Hayton, ‘Moral Reform and Country Politics in the Late-Seventeenth-Century House of Commons’, Past and Present, No. 128 (1990) 48–89; Craig Rose, ‘Providence, Protestant Union, and Godly Reformation in the 1690s’, Transactions of the Royal Historical Society, 6th ser., 3 (1993) 151–69;CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Tony Claydon, William III and the Godly Revolution (Cambridge, 1996).CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. 13.
    On the tradition of casuistry, ‘the resolution of cases of conscience by the application of general rules to particular instances’ (OED), see G.A. Starr, Defoe and Casuistry (Princeton, 1971); and on Defoe’s connection with the Athenian Mercury, 12.Google Scholar
  7. 17.
    As the present study was being prepared for publication, this previous neglect was remedied by the appearance of Helen Berry’s Gender, Society and Print Culture in Late Stuart Britain: The Cultural World of the Athenian Mercury (Aldershot and Burlington, VT, 2003) with its valuable discussion of platonic friendship, 212–25. Berry’s volume is a very welcome updating of our picture of the Athenian Mercury, with a particular emphasis on the address to women readers, but she dismisses the significance of the involvement of Elizabeth Singer Rowe (55), foregrounded here.Google Scholar
  8. Another interesting feminist review is offered in Shawn Lisa Maurer, Proposing Men: Dialectics of Gender and Class in Eighteenth-Century Periodicals (Stanford, 1998).Google Scholar
  9. 18.
    See Stephen Orgel and Roy Strong, Inigo Jones: the Theatre of the Stuart Court, 2 vols. (London, 1973) I, 55;Google Scholar
  10. especially chapter 4, ‘Platonic Politics’; and K. Sharpe, Criticism and Compliment: the Politics of Literature in the England of Charles I (Cambridge 1987) chapter 5, ‘The Caroline Court Masque’.Google Scholar
  11. 19.
    See Jill Kraye, ‘The transformation of Platonic love in the Italian Renaissance’, in Anna Baldwin and Sarah Hutton, eds, Platonism and the English Imagination (Cambridge, 1994) 76–85.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. 20.
    See Derek Taylor, ‘Clarissa Harlowe, Mary Astell and Elizabeth Carter: John Norris of Bremerton’s Female “Descendants”’, Eighteenth-Century Fiction 12: 1 (October 1999), 19–38; 31 n.28.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. 21.
    See Robert Wieder, Pierre Motteux and les débuts du journalisme en Angleterre au XVIIe siècle: Le Gentleman’s Journal (1692–94) (Paris, 1944).Google Scholar
  14. 23.
    McEwen, Oracle, 145–7. This material appears again first in the Ladies Dictionary in 1694, and was then published with additions in monthly serial form as the Night Walker (1696–97); McEwen, Oracle, 213–15; Stephen Parks, John Dunton and the English Book Trade: A Study of His Career with a Checklist of His Publications (New York and London, 1976) 317. In his autobiography Dunton confessed that he himself had undertaken the ‘Night Rambles’ with two young dissenting clergymen, and all had been led into temptation; The Life and Errors of John Dunton (London, 1705) 269–77.Google Scholar
  15. 25.
    Kathryn Shevelow, Women and Print Culture: The Construction of Femininity in the Early Periodical (London and New York, 1989) 74–8.Google Scholar
  16. 29.
    For Rowe’s biography, see The Miscellaneous Works in Prose and Verse of Mrs Elizabeth Rowe (London, 1739) with a memoir by her brother-in-law Theophilus Rowe; and Henry F. Stecher, Elizabeth Singer Rowe, the Poetess of Frome: A Study of Eighteenth-Century Pietism, European University Papers vol. 5 (Bern and Frankfurt, 1973).Google Scholar
  17. 32.
    See McEwen, Oracle, 103, 104; Parks, John Dunton, 104; Bertha-Monica Stearns, ‘The first English periodical for women’, Modern Philology, 28 (1930–31) 45–59.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. 33.
    Gertrude E. Noyes, ‘John Dunton’s Ladies Dictionary, 1694’, Philological Quarterly, 21 (1942) 129–45.Google Scholar
  19. 43.
    Daniel Defoe, The True-Born Englishman and Other Writings, eds. P.N. Furbank and W.R. Owens (Harmondsworth, 1997) 225.Google Scholar
  20. 47.
    For instance, as an element in the attack on the Tatler’s bad faith in the Female Taller (1709–10), a periodical to which Bernard Mandeville, shameless proponent of the monied interest, notably contributed, see M.M. Goldsmith, Private Vices, Public Benefits: Bernard Mandeville’s Social and Political Thought (Cambridge, 1985) 35–46; and below pp. 63–5.Google Scholar
  21. 57.
    Cit. Peter Murray Hill, Two Augustan Booksellers: John Dunton and Edmund Curll (University of Kansas Publications Library Series No. 3, 1958) 20.Google Scholar
  22. 61.
    See Elizabeth Kowaleski-Wallace, Consuming Subjects: Women, Shopping and Business in the Eighteenth Century (New York, 1997) 19–36, on the tea-table as a site of discipline for the female subject, and for the suggestion that this constitutes part of a relatively undefined ‘feminizing process’ (29).Google Scholar
  23. 62.
    Cit. Jon Klancher, The Making of English Reading Audiences 1790–1832 (Madison, 1987) 24.Google Scholar

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© E. J. Clery 2004

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