This year The London Magazine celebrates its 280th anniversary. It is pertinent to think that George Washington and Lord North "the man who lost America" were both born in the year of the magazine’s inception.
Years before Britain and America were sundered by the strife of revolution, Samuel Johnson (admittedly no friend of the American cause) said that languages are the pedigrees of nations. This was reported by Dr. Johnson’s biographer James Boswell, who was also a columnist for The London Magazine.
Two years ago Chris Ruddy was guest speaker at a meeting of the Britain Club in the House of Parliament. In a moment of deliberate devilment I asked him whether he believed that the relationship between the United States and the United Kingdom now rested on nothing more than a romantic attachment to a shared language. Chris responded, as I hoped he would, that it would be foolish in the extreme to downplay the crucial significance of two nations bound by a common tongue.
If, as Dr. Johnson averred, languages are pedigrees, then they surely hold the cultural DNA of nations — their history, their art, and their emotions. And for nearly three centuries The London Magazine has played its part in the generation of vivid aesthetic and political thought. I say political, because The London Magazine has always attempted to keep faith with its 18th century grounding.
This was the epoch where the arts and the rub of life, of discourse and creation, all cohered. This was the era of Wilkes, Burke, and Fox; men whose thunderous prose shaped notions of liberty on both sides of the Atlantic. Later, this sense of liberty inspired the Romantics poets, Wordsworth, Keats, Byron, Shelley and Clare — all of whom were published in The London Magazine.
Moreover, the long cultural transaction between America and Britain has often been framed in the pages of The London Magazine. William Burroughs, Sylvia Plath, John Steinbeck, Ezra Pound, Robert Frost, and Jack London have all appeared, and this is a far from complete list.
These names ring with the grand ambition of American English, with all its muscularity and its innovation.
It is perhaps best left to the strange figure of a man who was at once American and British to speak for the magazine. T.S. Eliot celebrated it as a periodical that would "boldly assume the existence of a public interested in serious literature."
The London Magazine celebrates eclecticism, refinement of expression, and freedom of thought. It continues to engage readers in both the United States and Canada. Indeed, an increasing number of subscribers come from across the pond. The special intimacy of this linguistic give and take is continually being smelted and re-forged in England’s oldest journal of the arts and literature.
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