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‘We want no authors’: William Nicholson and the contested role of the scientific journal in Britain, 1797–1813

  • IAIN P. WATTS (a1)

This article seeks to illuminate the shifting and unstable configuration of scientific print culture around 1800 through a close focus on William Nicholson's Journal of Natural Philosophy, Chemistry, and the Arts, generally known as Nicholson's Journal. Viewing Nicholson as a mediator between the two spheres of British commercial journalism and scientific enquiry, I investigate the ways he adapted practices and conventions from the domain of general-readership monthly periodicals for his Journal, forging a virtual community of scientific knowledge exchange in print. However, in pursing this project Nicholson ran up against disreputable associations connected with the politics of journalism and came into conflict with more established models of scientific publication. To illustrate this, I turn to examine in detail the practice of reprinting, a technique of information transmission which the Journal adapted from general periodicals and newspapers, looking at a clash between Nicholson and the Royal Society that exposes disagreements over the appropriate role for journals during this period of reorganization in the scientific world.

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A version of this paper was awarded the 2012 BSHS Singer Prize.

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1 Attributed to Banks in [Gregory, Olinthus], ‘A review of some leading points in the official character and proceedings of the late President of the Royal Society’, Philosophical Magazine (1820) 56, p. 252.

2 Hatfield, Edward, ‘Utility of periodical publications’, Monthly Magazine (1816) 42, pp. 421422.

3 Preface, Mechanics' Magazine (1826) 5, pp. iii–vi, iv–v.

4 Of course, by emphasizing that Nicholson's Journal counted as a scientific journal for contemporaries and the Philosophical Transactions did not, I do not mean to argue that Nicholson's publication is necessarily closer to a twentieth- or twenty-first-century scientific journal or in some sense represents the modern form of publication in embryo. Both the Philosophical Transactions and Nicholson's Journal naturally operated with distinctive aims and practices that were closely tied to their particular historical circumstances in early nineteenth-century Britain. The relationship between them and the modern scientific journal is a non-trivial one, which we can only begin to trace by first seeking to understand these early nineteenth-century publications on their own terms.

5 Johns, Adrian, The Nature of the Book: Print and Knowledge in the Making, Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1998. Secord, James, Victorian Sensation: The Extraordinary Publication, Reception, and Secret Authorship of Vestiges of the Natural History of Creation, Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2000.

6 For an overview see Topham, Jonathan R., ‘Scientific publishing and the reading of science in nineteenth-century Britain: a historiographical survey and guide to sources’, Studies in History and Philosophy of Science (2000) 31, pp. 559612. More generally see Darnton, Robert, ‘What is the history of books?’, in Darnton, , The Kiss of Lamourette: Reflections in Cultural History, New York: Norton, 1990, pp. 107135; and Secord, James, ‘Knowledge in transit’, Isis (2004) 95, pp. 654672.

7 Topham, op. cit. (6), p. 575. For the economics of print more generally in this period see Clair, William St, The Reading Nation in the Romantic Period, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004.

8 However, see the following two detailed histories, each focusing on a particular French scientific journal: Crosland, Maurice, In the Shadow of Lavoisier: The Annales de chimie and the Establishment of a New Science, Oxford: British Society for the History of Science, 1994; and Bickerton, David, Marc-Auguste and Charles Pictet: The Bibliothèque Britannique (1796–1815) and the Dissemination of British Literature and Science on the Continent, Geneva: Slatkine Reprints, 1986. See also the publishing history of the Philosophical Magazine in Brock, W.H. and Meadows, A.J., The Lamp of Learning: Taylor & Francis and the Development of Science Publishing, London: Taylor and Francis, 1998, pp. 89109; and the more traditional view of the history of the scientific periodical in Kronick, David, A History of Scientific & Technical Periodicals: The Origins and Development of the Scientific and Technical press, 1665–1790, Metuchen: Scarecrow Press, 1976. Looking beyond scientific journals, science in the general-readership periodical has benefited from more sustained investigation, though the focus has tended be on the Victorian era; our understanding of the transitional decades around 1800 remains less well developed. See especially the fine studies Cantor, G.N. et al. , Science in the Nineteenth-Century Periodical: Reading the Magazine of Nature, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004; Cantor, G.N. and Shuttleworth, Sally (eds.), Science Serialized: Representations of the Sciences in Nineteenth-Century Periodicals, Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2004.

9 Alex Csiszar has analysed the ways in which the central problem of how to solicit, select, arrange, reproduce and disseminate article-length units of scientific text had its social and technical solutions repeatedly contested and reworked during the nineteenth century before they reached something like the ‘modern scientific journal’ towards the end of that century. Alex Csiszar, ‘Broken pieces of fact: the scientific periodical and the politics of search in nineteenth-century France and Britain’, PhD thesis, Harvard University, 2010. Also Secord, James, ‘Science, technology and mathematics’, in McKitterick, David (ed.), The Cambridge History of the Book in Britain, vol. 4 (1830–1914), Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009, pp. 451459. For a new perspective via the in-depth history of one journal that achieved particular prominence in this later period see Melinda Baldwin, ‘Nature and the making of a scientific community, 1869–1939’, PhD thesis, Princeton University, 2010.

10 Even so, the modern twentieth-century scientific journal's hegemonic success casts a long shadow into the digital era that can still obscure features of its pre-twentieth-century history in unexpected ways. An example: a peculiar irony develops in some cases when archives of paper journals reaching back into the nineteenth century are made available online by publishers. These resources offer great benefits to the historian, but their imposition of the standardized framework of a modern scientific journal to compartmentalize the contents of current journals’ early nineteenth-century incarnations produces an appearance of long-term continuity that (unintentionally) denies that these publications have a history radically different from their present. Information embodied in the material form of the journal is effaced, and early nineteenth-century print is uncomfortably and anachronistically shoehorned into the catch-all container of a modern ‘scientific paper’. See, for example, the Philosophical Magazine online archive at, and Annalen der Physik at, accessed 22 August 2013. Thanks to mass digitization, access to historical journals and other serials – obviously essential source material for the history of science more generally – has never been easier. What we still need, and what I aim to do here for Nicholson's Journal and the Philosophical Transactions, is to establish a firmer context of authorship, editing, reproduction, distribution and reading for these sources by recovering more of the cultural history surrounding such publications.

11 The important facilitating role played by the Journal and its editor in British science, especially chemistry, in the first decade of the nineteenth century is well known to historians of this period; see, for example, Golinski, Jan, Science as Public Culture: Chemistry and Enlightenment in Britain, 1760–1820, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1992, pp. 253254. But for the last attempt to grapple with the Journal in detail, albeit without the benefit of manuscript evidence, we have to go back over sixty years to Lilley, S., ‘Nicholson's Journal, 1797–1813’, Annals of Science (1948) 6, pp. 78101. Lilley devotes much of his discussion to the ‘Important Papers’ the Journal featured over the years; I therefore do not rehearse these here, instead referring readers to Lilley for a survey of the very best content the Journal had to offer contemporaries. My concern with Nicholson's connections to British commercial magazine journalism resonates more with another side of Lilley's article: his point that the format of Nicholson's Journal encouraged a mass of more minor and fragmentary scientific contributions, to which Lilley gave the suggestive name ‘popular research’ (p. 93).

12 A circulation of a thousand is given in Monthly Magazine (1806) 26, p. 163. Coleridge's reading notes are reproduced in Coleridge, Samuel Taylor, Marginalia, vol. 3 (ed. Jackson, H. J. and Whalley, George), Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1992, pp. 936953.

13 ‘Memoir of William Nicholson, Esq.’, European Magazine (1812) 62, pp. 84–87, 86. Such bold and seemingly hyperbolic claims, like the Mechanics' Magazine's assertion that there was ‘not one scientific journal’ in the world in 1765 (Preface, Mechanics' Magazine (1826) 6, p. v), expose a complicated relationship between commentators at the start of the nineteenth century and the scientific periodical genre's seventeenth- and early eighteenth-century history. In particular, the Philosophical Transactions, Britain's oldest scientific serial, entirely transformed in the second half of the eighteenth century, shedding its original monthly format for annual publication (in 1753) and subsequently switching to biannual publication (in 1773). By the time Nicholson's Journal was founded, the Philosophical Transactions had long since ceased to function like a journal of the seventeenth-century Republic of Letters. It was a pre-eminent example of another genre: the slow-paced ‘memoirs’ or ‘transactions’ of scientific societies and academies. As for Nicholson's Journal, parallels can certainly be drawn between some of its features and aspects of the learned journals of the early modern Republic of Letters, but contemporaries did not usually make the comparison; the commercial journals that began to proliferate at the end of the eighteenth century were generally received as a new species of publication. On the early modern journals see Goldgar, Anne, Impolite Learning: Conduct and Community in the Republic of Letters, 1680–1750, New Haven: Yale University Press, 1995, pp. 54114; Broman, Thomas, ‘Periodical literature’, in Frasca-Spada, Maria and Jardine, Nick (eds.), Books and the Sciences in History, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000, pp. 225238.

14 In a chapter that appeared after this article was substantially finished but which nicely complements the close analysis of a single journal that I offer here, Jonathan Topham has recently drawn attention to the commercial context of a range of new British technical and scientific serials from the 1790s and 1800s, highlighting how they offered purchasers affordable collections of previously printed information, or ‘anthologies of scientific discovery’. This harmonizes well with my position that the reprinting of material from other publications was fundamental to Nicholson's model of the scientific journal, and that the emergence of Nicholson's Journal as a key venue for original research in galvanism and related subjects in 1800 was an important but in some ways rather accidental (and, for its editor, lucky) development. Topham, Jonathan, ‘Anthologizing the book of Nature: the circulation of knowledge and the origins of the scientific journal in late Georgian Britain’, in Lightman, Bernard, McOuat, Gordon and Stewart, Larry (eds.), The Circulation of Knowledge between Britain, India and China: The Early-Modern World to the Twentieth Century, Leiden: Brill, 2013, pp. 119152.

15 Stuart Andrews, The British Periodical Press and the French Revolution, London: Palgrave, 2000. Outsider status also applied to early Continental editors of commercial journals, for example Jean-Baptiste François Rozier, the founder of the Journal de physique: McClellan, James, ‘The Scientific press in transition: Rozier's journal and the scientific societies in the 1770s’, Annals of Science (1979) 36, pp. 425449.

16 Biographical information on Nicholson deployed here is sourced primarily from a biographical memoir of him published in European Magazine (1812) 62, pp. 83–87; an obituary in the New Monthly Magazine (1815) 4, pp. 76–77; and an incomplete manuscript ‘Life of William Nicholson’ by his son, also William Nicholson, housed in the Bodleian Library, Oxford (Bodleian MS Don. e.125). This manuscript is less helpful than one might expect: it was written over half a century after Nicholson's death and apparently mostly from memory. I also draw on manuscript correspondence as much as possible, though remarkably little of it survives for this man who lived by the written word. A Journal of Natural Philosophy, Chemistry, and the Arts is hereafter cited as Nicholson's Journal. The journal was numbered in two series: Series 1 ran April 1797–December 1801 (five volumes), Series 2 January 1802–December 1813 (thirty-six volumes).

17 Wedgwood possessed extensive scientific and commercial connections as well as links to Dissenter-owned periodicals such as the Monthly Review: DNB; Nangle, Benjamin, The Monthly Review, Second Series, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1955, p. xii.

18 For Godwin's exertions in this world see Marshall, Peter, William Godwin, New Haven: Yale University Press, 1984.

19 ‘Life of William Nicholson’, op. cit. (16). The novel was Alwyn, or, The Gentleman Comedian, London: Fielding and Walker, 1780. Nicholson's prologue composed for Holcroft's play, Duplicity, is quoted above.

20 Nicholson surely ranks as one of the most industrious scientific writers of his time; according to Hazlitt, William, he once claimed that in twenty years he had written enough prose to fill three hundred octavo volumes. Hazlitt, William, Table-Talk: Original Essays on Men and Manners, vol. 1, London: Templeman, 1857, p. 128.

21 Nicholson, William, An Introduction to Natural Philosophy, 2 vols., London: J. Johnson, 1782.

22 Nicholson, William, A Dictionary of Chemistry, 2 vols., London: G.G. and J. Robinson, 1795.

23 Nicholson received £420 for the copyright of his Chemical Dictionary, and a further £250 for improvements to the second edition. ‘George Robinson copyright documents’, Greater Manchester County Record Office, ff. 81, 71.

24 For the ‘Philosophical and Chemical Lectures’ see advertising in, for example: The Sun, 22 October 1799.

25 Nicholson's reputation for scientific and technical acumen dates from at least 1784 when he was appointed secretary of the Coffeehouse Philosophical Society: Levere, T.H. and Turner, G. L'E., Discussing Chemistry and Steam: The Minutes of a Coffeehouse Philosophical Society, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002, p. 19. The decomposition of water was in collaboration with the surgeon Carlisle, Anthony: Nicholson's Journal, 1st series (1800) 4, 179187. On the context of this experiment see Pancaldi, Giuliano, Volta: Science and Culture in the Age of Enlightenment, Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2005, pp. 212218, 228–230.

26 For an overview see Andrews, op. cit. (15).

27 Literary business merged with scientific pursuits in this short-lived project: Nicholson's General Review, as was common practice, dealt with books of all kinds, including scientific texts.

28 Prospectus of a new Miscellany, to be Entitled, The Monthly Magazine; or, British Register, London, 1796, p. 2. See Carnall, Geoffrey, ‘The Monthly Magazine’, Review of English Studies (1954) 5, pp. 158164.

29 For example Monthly Magazine (1796) 1, pp. 111–112, on improving electrical machines.

30 Advertising pamphlet for Nicholson's Journal, London, 1799, p. 1.

31 See the review of Nicholson's Journal in Critical Review (1799) 26, p. 283.

32 On Tilloch, a Glasgow-born newspaper owner, journalist and inventor, see his obituary in Gentleman's Magazine (1825) 95, pp. 276–281; also DNB; and Brock and Meadows, op. cit. (8), 90–93. The Philosophical Magazine launched only a year after the founding of Nicholson's publication; it was heavily inspired by it and shared many of its practices and overall aims. Many of the points made here apply to it as well; my choice of Nicholson's Journal as the object of analysis and not the eventually more successful Philosophical Magazine is motivated primarily by Nicholson's willingness to open debate with Joseph Banks on the Royal Society's publication system and thus make evident the differences between the practices of journals and the Philosophical Transactions. Additionally, Nicholson's Journal ceased publication in 1813 and therefore, unlike the Philosophical Magazine (which is still published), never transformed into a modern scientific journal. This makes it easier to grapple with on its own terms; it did not last long enough to discard techniques like reprinting that were vital to scientific communication around 1800 but which later become obsolete.

33 For Banks's efforts to exclude any trace of radical politics from the Royal Society see Gascoigne, John, Joseph Banks and the English Enlightenment: Useful Knowledge and Polite Culture, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003, pp. 251253.

34 Gentleman's Magazine (1825) 95, p. 281. On Nicholson's candidature see the admittedly highly polemical [Gregory], op. cit. (1), p. 252, whose report of the ‘sailor-boy turned schoolmaster’ jibe is corroborated by Nicholson's son in the MS ‘Life of William Nicholson’, op. cit. (16). The rejection obviously rankled: Nicholson's son recalled that his father ‘always had a feeling that Sir Joseph had not done him justice’, and that ‘the main point on which my father felt aggrieved was his rejection at the Royal Society’. Another failed Royal Society candidate, Joseph Des Barres, had previously been disdained for supposedly being a ‘writer of periodical publications’: An History of the Instances of Exclusion from the Royal Society, London: Debrett, 1784, p. 16.

35 Andrews, op. cit. (15).

36 Nicholson's own religious allegiances are difficult to determine. While he was a close associate of Godwin, Wedgwood and other Dissenters, I have found no firm evidence that he himself was spiritually committed to any Dissenting tradition. However, an anonymous radical pamphlet critical of the Anglican Church is ascribed to him: The Doubts of the Infidels: or, Queries Relative to Scriptural Inconsistencies and Contradictions. Submitted to the Consideration of the Bench of Bishops. By a Weak Christian, London, 1781; the identification is written in on the title page of the British Library copy.

37 Anti-Jacobin Review and Magazine (1798) 1, pp. 13.

38 Wharam, Alan, The Treason Trials, 1794, Leicester: Leicester University Press, 1992. Holcroft was indicted but never tried. Thelwall (and the other defendants) were acquitted.

39 The Corresponding Society was an occasional topic of discussion by Thelwall and others during gatherings at Nicholson's house; ‘Life of William Nicholson’, op. cit. (16). Thelwall maintained a close involvement with periodical journalism, and eventually edited the Monthly Magazine; Carnall, op. cit. (28), p. 163.

40 Banks to Count Rumford, April 1804, in The Scientific Correspondence of Sir Joseph Banks, vol. 5 (ed. Neil Chambers), London: Pickering and Chatto, 2007 (subsequently Banks Correspondence), p. 348.

41 But he did display in private correspondence a strong sympathy for reformist causes like the rights of ‘the poor, the actual workmen’: Nicholson to Mr Acton, 5 August 1814, Wellcome Library, London, MS 7358/51.

42 Godwin's diaries record his frequent conversations with Nicholson at the time on subjects such as ‘constitutions’, ‘labour’, ‘government’, ‘contract’ and ‘property’: Diary of William Godwin for 1792–3, Bodleian Library, Oxford, MS. Abinger e.4.

43 He also published Nicholson's Dictionary of Chemistry. For the early links of both men to Robinson see Marshall, op. cit. (18), 71.

44 My reconstruction is based on information contained in the small collection of contracts and receipts in ‘George Robinson copyright documents’, op. cit. (23); on a few letters between Nicholson and George Robinson's firm preserved in the Wellcome Library, London, MS 7358/49–50; and on the internal evidence of the Journal. For the intricacies of the trade in general see St Clair, op. cit. (7), esp. pp. 177–209.

45 Advertising in, for example, London Chronicle, 30 March 1797, 1 April 1797; St James's Chronicle, or the British Evening Post, 28 March 1797, 30 March 1797; Star, 1 April 1797. Robinson was known as the ‘King of Booksellers’ and formed a central figure in the London book trade (DNB). The Journal initially appeared in quarto format, but after five volumes began a new series in the more portable octavo form, bringing it into line with other British monthly periodicals, including the Philosophical Magazine.

46 Nicholson's worries about Robinson's costs are indicated by Genevan scientific journalist Marc-Auguste Pictet's comment on visiting Nicholson in London in March 1798: ‘Son journal paye seulement les frais du libraire et sa peine est jusqu'à present perdue’ (quoted in Bickerton, op. cit. (8), p. 331). Fairly substantial sums apparently changed hands in the business operations behind monthly scientific journals; Nicholson received a sizeable £285 from his share in the first (yearly) volume, though most of this would probably have been needed to cover previous outlays on paper and printing. ‘George Robinson copyright documents’, op. cit. (23), f. 69.

47 For the copyright transfer see Nicholson's, statement in Nicholson's Journal, 2nd series (1813) 34, p. 152; and ‘George Robinson copyright documents’, op. cit. (23), ff. 66–67.

48 Nicholson both sold the Robinsons firm copies of the journal at a wholesale price and (at another time) had them sell it on a 5 per cent commission: ‘George Robinson copyright documents’, op. cit. (23), ff. 57–58, 66–67. After this, as Journal title pages show, Nicholson made arrangements with other booksellers such as H.D. Symonds and John Murray; the publication was also available for sale at his house in Soho Square. Strains in the business relationship with Robinsons, compounded by Nicholson's debt problems and his failure to deliver corrected editions of his Dictionary and First Principles of Chemistry on time, are revealed in Nicholson to Messrs Robinsons, 1 February 1803, 17 April 1804, Wellcome Library, London, MS 7358/49, MS 7358/50.

49 Alongside his authorship of scientific textbooks and dictionaries, his production of translations, and his short-lived General Review, he gave scientific lectures, ran a school and was involved with naval architecture and the construction of water-supply infrastructure. He also patented inventions, including a never-built rotary printing press. The identity which covered Nicholson's multifarious activities best was perhaps that of a ‘projector’, a man concerned with moneymaking ventures related to the sciences and mechanical technologies by the application of ‘useful knowledge’. New Monthly Magazine (1815) 6, p. 77, describes him in these terms. For the origins of the natural-philosophical ‘projector’ see Stewart, Larry, The Rise of Public Science: Rhetoric, Technology, and Natural Philosophy in Newtonian Britain, 1660–1750, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1992. For similar figures in the context of the Industrial Revolution and ‘useful knowledge’ see Mokyr, Joel, The Enlightened Economy: An Economic History of Britain 1700–1850, New Haven: Yale University Press, 2009.

50 New Monthly Magazine (1815) 4, p. 77.

51 Anthony Carlisle to John Symmonds, 21 May 1815, Royal Literary Fund Collection, British Library, Loan 96 RLF 1/208. One of the more bizarre instances of Nicholson's financial problems is captured in a letter from 1803 which finds him threatened with arrest for a debt due to the supplier of paper for his own Journal (Nicholson to Messrs Robinsons, 1 February 1803, Wellcome Library, London, MS 7358/49). He presided over a household which his son remembered for its ‘thoughtless hospitality, and reckless expenditure’ (‘Life of William Nicholson’, op. cit. (16)). For Godwin's repayment of this hospitality in repeatedly bailing Nicholson out of debtors' prison see Clair, William St, The Godwins and the Shelleys: The Biography of a Family, Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1989, p. 290.

52 Nicholson's Journal, 2nd series (1813) 36, pp. 387–390.

53 Nicholson did, however, eventually increasingly rely on the labours of an unknown editorial assistant, referred to in the text of the Journal only as ‘C’.

54 Preface, Mechanics' Magazine (1826) 5, pp. iii–vi, as quoted in my introduction.

55 This was five times the price of a daily newspaper, one-tenth of the price of Walter Scott's Lay of the Last Minstrel published that year, or a little more than the daily wages of a male farm labourer.

56 The easiest way to identify readers of the Journal is to look at who wrote letters or articles that were published in its pages, but this clearly omits a large class of readers who regularly consumed or just casually perused the Journal but never identified themselves by writing in with questions or scientific findings. The degree to which women participated in this probably largely male readership is therefore very hard to ascertain; Mrs Agnes Ibbetson, an Exeter widow and botanical enthusiast, remains the only woman reader positively identified, and this only because she took the very unusual step of publishing in the Journal under her own name. Other women may well have occasionally written in under pseudonyms, or gender-neutrally as Ibbetson initially did as A. Ibbetson’: Nicholson's Journal, 2nd series (1809), 23, pp. 161173, 293–300.

57 Philosophical Journal, New Series’, Nicholson's Journal, 1st series (1801) 5, p. 2. This issue's ninety-six pages make it unusually long: the number of pages for the octavo format varied from sixty-four to ninety-six pages and was commonly eighty (i.e. five sheets of letterpress folded in octavo).

58 As the presence of articles on ‘Air Bellows’ and the ‘Secret Lock’ suggest, the Journal featured much information on subjects related to the ‘Mechanical Arts’ (i.e. technology), and sought to appeal to the ‘practical men’ of early industrial Britain as well as the ‘philosophical’ scientific community. This set it apart from scientific journals on the Continent, which rarely featured mechanical inventions. Nicholson was himself a practical man as well as a man of science, and this arrangement reflected his own vision of the unity of abstract and practical knowledge; it was also a sound business strategy that helped to widen the Journal's readership, making the project more commercially viable.

59 This was indeed the famous Lewis and Clark Expedition.

60 The divide is implicit in sources such as the letters of Joseph Banks analysed in the next section. Even a few decades later, John Herschel still drew a distinction between scientific journals and ‘the more ponderous tomes of academical collections’ in his A Preliminary Discourse on the Study of Natural Philosophy, London: Longman, 1831, p. 352. See also the introductory remarks to the first issue of Benjamin Silliman's American Journal of Science (1818) 1, pp. 1–2, which in listing British scientific journals does not list the Philosophical Transactions among them.

61 Information on the society's operation deployed here is extracted from the Journal Book of the Royal Society and its Council minutes (Royal Society Archives, JBO, CMO), and from the Philosophical Transactions. See also Hall, Marie Boas, All Scientists Now: The Royal Society in the Nineteenth Century, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1984, pp. 115.

62 For claiming priority of discovery, the paper's reading before the Royal Society was more important than printing in the Transactions (where the title of each paper printed was accompanied by the date it had been read). On the history of priority claims and their shifting relation to print see Biagioli, Mario, ‘From ciphers to confidentiality: secrecy, openness and priority in science’, BJHS (2012) 45, pp. 213233; Csiszar, op. cit. (9), pp. 101–152.

63 The two parts were usually published in June and in November, with occasional slight deviations. Philosophical Transactions Receipt Book for 1800–11, Royal Society Archives, MS/212; confirmed for the 1790s by checking notices to fellows in the newspaper St. James's Chronicle or the British Evening Post. The Transactions was distributed to fellows at no charge, but was priced at a costly fifteen shillings or so (figure for 1800, Part 1) for everyone else.

64 The publication schedule was shaped by the fact that Royal Society meetings did not take place over the summer due to the exodus of the upper ranks of society from London. Nonetheless, other scientific academies and societies in this period tended to be even slower with their publications; on the long delays in the French case see Crosland, op. cit. (8), pp. 121–122.

65 A non-fellow who aspired to have a paper heard at the society would therefore have to cultivate the patronage of a fellow who would be willing to act as an intermediary in communicating the paper and who would have sufficient influence with the president and secretaries to ensure it was chosen.

66 Golinski, op. cit. (11).

67 Prospectus of a new Miscellany, op. cit. (28), pp. 1–2.

68 Nicholson's Journal became a leading venue to publish results in galvanism as soon as Volta's battery was announced in Britain, beginning with Nicholson's own investigations into the electrochemical decomposition of water. Nicholson's publication model was clearly well suited to the urgent and often brief or fragmentary nature of many of galvanism's early results, as Lilley, op. cit. (11), noticed long ago. Among many examples is the work that helped to launch the career of Humphry Davy, who had six separate reports of experiments printed over seven consecutive issues. Nicholson's Journal, 1st series (1800) 4, pp. 275–281, 326–328, 337–342, 380–381, 394–402, 527. These short letters, adding to or commenting on previous recent work, were not a form of scientific writing for which there was previously a route to publication in Britain (though occasionally some writers had sent reports to the Monthly Magazine and other general periodicals).

69 Critical Review (1799) 26, p. 283.

70 The Journal appeared at the beginning of the month associated with the issue, in common with general monthly periodicals and magazines. The last day of each month was dubbed Magazine Day at Paternoster Row (the centre of the London bookselling trade), when periodicals arrived from the printers and were made ready for sale or packed up to be shipped off to the provinces. Charles Knight, Passages of a Working Life during Half a Century: With a Prelude of Early Reminiscences, vol. 1, London: Bradbury and Evans, 1864, pp. 263–264. The Journal would have gone to press several days before Magazine Day (it would have taken two pressmen about five or six workdays to print the run of an issue at the maximum size of a thousand copies each of six octavo sheets, i.e. 12,000 impressions. On printing turnarounds for journals and press speeds in this period see Bickerton, op. cit. (8), p. 239.

71 Knight, op. cit. (70), p. 271.

72 Prospectus for Nicholson's Journal, London, 1797, pp. 1–2.

73 Nicholson's Journal, 1st series (1799) 2, pp. 467–468.

74 Nicholson's Journal, 1st series (1800) 3, pp. 23–28.

75 On anonymity in science in other contexts see Secord, op. cit. (5); Terrall, Mary, ‘The uses of anonymity in the Age of Reason’, in Biagioli, Mario and Galison, Peter (eds.), Scientific Authorship: Credit and Intellectual Property in Science, New York: Routledge, 2003, pp. 91112. Additionally, publicly expressing opinions and judgements in an open, non-anonymous editorial role exposed Nicholson to direct ad hominem attacks in print. One particularly virulent onslaught came from the controversial gas lighting entrepreneur F.A. Winsor, who objected to Nicholson's response to a reader's question about Winsor's exaggerated claims. Winsor replied with a fifty-six-page pamphlet that hurled insults, invective and occasional bursts of execrable poetry at Nicholson, cast aspersions on his gentlemanly and scientific credentials, and poured scorn on his occupations of ‘schoolmaster’ and ‘journalist’. Winsor, F.A., Mr. Nicholson's Attack in his Philosophical Journal on Mr. Winsor and the National Light and Heat Company; with Mr. Winsor's Defence, London: printed by G. Sidney, 1807.

76 Of course, the process could work both ways: original articles from Nicholson's Journal were regularly reprinted or excerpted in translation by Continental journals, among them the Annales de chimie, Bibliothèque Britannique and Annalen der Physik. The growth of a system of journals practising this reciprocal reprinting was clearly an important new force in the dynamics of the international dissemination of scientific work in this period.

77 On the availability of French scientific material in Britain see Topham, Jonathan R., ‘Science, print, and crossing borders: importing French science books into Britain, 1789–1815’, in Livingstone, David N. and Withers, Charles (eds.), Geographies of Nineteenth-Century Science, Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2011, pp. 311344.

78 Nicholson's Journal, 1st series (1797) 1, pp. iii–iv. Advertising pamphlet for Nicholson's Journal, London, 1799, p. 1. General magazines had previously occasionally reprinted material from the publications of scientific societies; additionally, there was the London physician John Aikin's more specialized 1793 Memoirs of Science and the Arts, originally planned as a monthly serial but apparently only appearing as a single volume; on this publication see Topham, op. cit. (14), pp. 128–130.

79 Monthly Review (1799) 29, p. 304; Analytical Review (1798) 28, pp. 363–377; Critical Review (1799) 26, pp. 283–289.

80 British Critic and Quarterly Theological Review (1799) 12, p. 117.

81 For a broad survey see Johns, Adrian, Piracy: The Intellectual Property Wars from Gutenberg to Gates, Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2009.

82 Nicholson's Journal, 1st series (1797) 1, p. iv.

83 On this point for the publications of scientific academies more generally see Csiszar, op. cit. (9).

84 Nicholson to Banks, 12 March 1802, British Library Add. MS 33981, f. 4, published in Banks Correspondence, op. cit. (40), pp. 147–148.

85 Draft letter of Banks to Nicholson, 12 March 1802, British Library Add. MS 33981, f. 4, published in Banks Correspondence, op. cit. (40), pp. 148–149. Since 1774 the copyright period had been fourteen years, with a possible fourteen-year extension if the author was still living – but in practice this was irrelevant for much text in journals, magazines and newspapers, which by long-standing custom freely reprinted each other's articles. Nonetheless, since Banks regarded the Philosophical Transactions as above these journalistic media, he saw any kind of reprinting from its pages as a special privilege granted by the Royal Society, which owned the copyright. The legal situation regarding the offprints is still harder to pin down, since Nicholson and Banks disagreed over the fundamental question whether their semi-private circulation actually constituted publication. In any case, the penalty held in reserve for anyone violating the arrangements was not legal but rather ostracism by Banks and his elite circle.

86 Miller, David, ‘Sir Joseph Banks: an historiographical perspective’, History of Science (1981) 19, pp. 284292.

87 Gascoigne, op. cit. (33), p. 256.

88 Unpublished letter, Nicholson to Banks, 23 April 1802, British Library Add. MS 33981, f. 25.

89 Unpublished draft letter, Banks to Nicholson, 24 April 1802, British Library Add. MS 33981, f. 26.

90 Unpublished letter, Nicholson to Banks, 25 April 1802, British Library Add. MS 33981, ff. 27–28.

91 The papers in question were Thomas Young's well-known 1802 Bakerian lecture on three-colour vision and a mineralogical paper by Hatchett, Charles: Nicholson's Journal, 2nd series (1802) 2, pp. 7891, 129–138.

92 Unpublished draft note from Banks to Nicholson, 4 June 1802, British Library Add. MS 33981, f. 28.

93 Nicholson to Banks, 28 June 1802, British Library Add. MS 33981, ff. 31–33, published in Banks Correspondence, op. cit. (40), pp. 206–208.

94 Royal Society Council Minutes, 15 July 1802, Royal Society Archives, CMO.

95 Brock and Meadows, op. cit. (8), pp. 89–109.

96 Anthony Carlisle to John Symmonds, 21 May 1815, Royal Literary Fund Collection, British Library, Loan 96 RLF 1/208.

97 New Monthly Magazine (1815) 4, p. 77.

A version of this paper was awarded the 2012 BSHS Singer Prize.

For helpful comments during the writing process I am very grateful to Michael Gordin, Jan Golinski, Alex Csiszar, Jonathan Topham, Linda Colley, Hasok Chang, Cate Reilly, Melinda Baldwin, Alex Chase-Levenson, the two BJHS referees and the members of the Princeton History of Science Program Seminar.

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