The Periodical Table
Backing back issues
Ron Unz, Silicon Valley software entrepreneur, former candidate for governor of California, and publisher of The American Conservative, has started a new venture: a prodigious online library, featuring works by some 400,000 authors. Along with books and videos, unz.org has about 25,000 issues of 122 different periodicals. Some, such as The American Spectator and The Washington Monthly, still appear on newsstands. But most are no longer published, including Saturday Review, Scribner’s, Collier’s, Encounter, The Reporter, I. F. Stone’s Weekly, and H. L. Mencken’s American Mercury.
A browse through The Bookman, a New York-based journal published from 1895 to 1933, unearths some astringent literary pronouncements. Of the second installment of Marcel Proust’s Remembrance of Things Past, published in French in 1919, the reviewer declared that he was “a little surprised to find any but the professional student of letters reaching more than his first half-dozen pages.” In 1922, the novelist and critic Arnold Bennett said of James Joyce’s Ulysses, “As I finished it, I had the sensation of a general who has just put down an insurrection.”
Unz’s library has plenty of politics, too. Sounding like an Occupy Wall Street manifesto, an 1890 article in The North American Review refers to “gigantic corporations, whose greed and cupidity have extended all over the country, fleecing the poor of millions of dollars.” The author: William McKinley, Republican congressman and future president. If he were alive today, McKinley probably wouldn’t be writing for The American Conservative.
In The Literary Digest, you can find the infamous Poll (to use the magazine’s reverential capitalization) on the 1936 presidential election. The Digest distributed more than 10 million ballots by mail and received some 2.3 million responses, on the basis of which it predicted that Alf Landon would trounce President Franklin D. Roosevelt.
“Will we be right in the current Poll?” the Digest asked on Halloween 1936. “That, as Mrs. Roosevelt said concerning the President’s reelection, is in the ‘lap of the gods.’” The gods favored FDR.
The following year The Literary Digest inaugurated “For the Record,” a new department. “Magazines, newspapers, and writers make strange errors,” the Digest said, inviting readers to “send in those you run across in any publication—even in this magazine.”