Tuesday, December 3, 2013

George Biggs’s Family Herald

Family Herald, May 5, 1860
‘…the great thing is to serve up hot. My immortal tale referred to above opened with a wedding ceremony, which was interrupted at the critical moment by an eclipse (“My readers will remember the terrible eclipse of 18–,” &c.) When the darkness had passed, the bride had disappeared!’
‘The Manufacture of Penny Numbers – by a Manufacturer,’ in Pall Mall Gazette, August 9, 1884 (attributed to Peter Pan author J.M. Barrie)

PREFACING his collected numbers of Pickwick Charles Dickens said of serial writing, “that, while the different incidents were linked together by a chain of interest strong enough to prevent their appearing unconnected or impossible, the general design should be so simple as to sustain no injury from his detached and desultory form of publication, extending over no fewer than twenty months.” Adding “every number should be, to a certain extent, complete in itself.”

A WRITER on ‘Social Economy’ in 1862 in The British Controversialist listed the “products of the infidel press,” these “periodicals of a positively pernicious character” as

…such serials as The London Journal, Family Herald, Reynolds’s Miscellany, The Welcome Guest, The Guide, The Home Magazine, The Halfpenny Gazette, and the Halfpenny Journal. The Family Herald, The London Journal, and Reynolds’s Miscellany, are the elder members of this fraternity; and the numbers reported to be sold of them appears almost fabulous; but there are many facts which prove their immense success and popularity. Take the following by way of example. In the newspaper notices of the somewhat recent death of Mr. James Biggs, the projector and proprietor of the Family Herald, it was stated that he had realized a very handsome fortune by that periodical, which in his hands attained a circulation of 260,000 copies weekly!

OLDEST of the ‘serials’ — subtitled: ‘A Domestic Magazine of Useful Information and Amusement’ — the Family Herald was first published from 421, Strand, London, on May 13, 1843. Mr. George Biggs (not James) was the proprietor. The Rev. James Elishama “Shepherd” Smith (1801-1857), a contributor to Benjamin Cousins's Penny Satirist, was the first editor. When George Biggs died on May 22, 1859, the Family Herald was continued under proprietor William Stevens, one of the founders of the Reader. The Family Herald lasted until 1940. Scottish novelist Margaret Oliphant reviewed sixpence worth of the popular penny periodicals of 1858. She wrote of the Family Herald

The Family Herald is blandly narrative and storytelling, with a mixture of the fine, the thrilling, and, for a wonder, the domestic.

Publisher’s Circular, 1844
GEORGE BIGGS began as a compositor for the printer Galignani, and it was there, according to the Literary Gazette, he saved the money to publish the Family Herald — “a species of publication quite new to the public when Mr. Biggs venture first saw the light.” In 1843 “all the capital required was sufficient capital to pay for printing and paper. It must be said of the Family Herald that it is the purest reading of all purely amusing penny literature; it is, indeed, a family paper.” The Family Herald had no illustrations and, other than the occasional initials, the writers remained anonymous. ‘Weekly Romance,’ an article in the Saturday Review, May 8, 1856, described the serial paper as a weekly giving

…at the small cost of a penny, column on column of spirited romance. The stories are not indeed specimens of very high art, and it is difficult to mistake the class for whom they are especially written. They are obviously meant to find their way into the kitchen; and if mistresses want to know what are the evening studies of their cooks and housemaids, they have only to devote a few minutes to turning over the fascinating pages in question.

WITHOUT heirs or next of kin, George Biggs died leaving an estate of £70,000, a fortune in the 1850s. One of his executors was Benjamin Davy Cousins of Helmet-court, Strand, printer of the Family Herald, who was also left £7000 in Biggs’s will. Biggs left over 150 bequests; among them were assistants, printers, contributors to the Family Herald, and his “predecessor” Mr. Leigh. Many an aged printer or printer’s widow had Biggs’s Printer’s Almshouse Society to thank for pensions of £10 per annum, payable half-yearly.  


The FAMILY HERALD, Vol. 18 (1860-61) can be read HERE.

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