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TRHAT is a Preface? On the part of authors
I anticipate the answer of most people
will be, a little mock modesty. On the part of publishers, a puff direct. The Gentleman's Magazine has no mock modesty, and stands in no need of puffs from editor or publisher. It is, however, I believe, the only English magazine which is in the habit of publishing a preface; in the habit, that is to say, of throwing aside what Mr. Bright calls the unpersonal mask, and of chatting, through its editor, with its subscribers, upon topics which at the moment happen to be interesting to both.
With this magazine, the preface is a tradition. In taking up my pen to write “ Finis” to another volume, and presenting it to my friends with an editorial bow, I am only doing what has been done by a long line of predecessors sitting in the old oaken chair of Edward Cave, under the shadow of St. John's Gate. What a host of men of letters of all sorts these prefaces represent! How many styles you can trace in them as you look back! Here, first of all, we have the regular tradesmanlike puff of that oily, astute old gentleman, Edward Cave, whose bust ought to find a niche to itself in the Reporters Gallery. Dr. Johnson's prefaces are all distinguishable at a glance by their fine Roman hand; for a preface, with him, was "like port wine, a work of art." His prefaces were, of their kind, perfect. But for the kind we cannot say much, and it disappeared from The Gentleman's with him. Yet, probably, no editor of The Gentleman's for the past century has ever sat down to put the finishing touch to his work without a thought of the burly old chief, with his scratch wig, and of what he would have said had he still kept his post. The spirit of Dr. Johnson and of Edward Cave still lingers about The Gentleman's Magazine, as the spirit of Pitt, and Fox, and Burke lingers about the Speaker's chair ; and through every preface of The Gentleman's—poetical, personal, philosophical, antiquarian--you may still trace the spirit of the founder of this dynasty. He breathes through all of them; and if the Doctor were allowed to revisit the pale glimpses of the moon, I have not the slightest doubt that he would spend much of his spirit-leisure in looking through my piles of MSS. and proofs; for Mr. Cave's periodical seems to have been continually in the thoughts of the illustrious contributor. As for Cave himself, it was his companion morning, noon, and night. Within the past two years the magazine has changed its printing office, coming from the classic regions of Whitefriars to the still more classic ground of St. John's Gate. It is now literally printed in the shadow of the original house of the first printer. I have heard that there is a movement on foot for purchasing and presenting to the nation the old place itself. I hope the rumour is true.
These prefaces form the pedigree of The Gentleman's Magazine. “It is the oldest periodical in the British Empire, probably the oldest in the world.” This is the verdict of the latest historian of the Newspaper Press; and this is no mere compliment. It is simply plain historical fact. The history of The Gentleman's Magazine is for the past hundred and forty years the history of the English Press in miniature. What it is now in the days of Tennyson it was in the days of