The life of a scholar can often become single-minded and myopic, bordering on obsessive. The temptation to slip into the library and immediately grab and devour those books necessary for the latest project or paper consumes even the most pleasure-seeking scholar on occasion. Every now and again, one should peruse the cheap thrills of another generation to keep the myopia of constant study at bay. Over the last couple of weeks I have managed to dodge the philosophy of Hegel, debates concerning transatlantic modernisms, a sizeable comps reading list, and the rigors of grading by dipping into the Dublin Penny Journal from the 1830s whenever I duck into the Burns Library during an off moment. Philip Dixon Hardy (1794-1875) designed the Dublin Penny Journal to be entertaining and edifying. In a single issue, I can read about Strancally Castle in Co. Waterford, the reminiscences of a Rockite (a member of a rural uprising in Cork during the 1820s), Indian zoology (with etchings of the little horned owl and long-tailed squirrel), the physiology of animals, a pirate tale entitled “The Corsair Chief,” the origin of cropped hair in Ireland, the story of a highwayman shot in the face by the blunderbuss of a guard on the Stamford fly (a coach), and the construction of a “curious American steam vessel” with two cigar shaped buoys designed in New York to navigate the Hudson river.
I like the eclectic style of the periodical and the ways in which the images and articles bend to the interests and preoccupations of its editor. Hardy was a Dublin printer, poet, and bookseller who entered into the burgeoning periodical market in Ireland in the 1830s. He took over the Dublin Penny Journal from its founder Caesar Otway (1780–1842) and editor George Petrie (1790–1866) in 1833, and he continued printing the publication until he became ill in 1836. Under Hardy, the paper became more diverse in focus, and arguably less national and literary in tone. Although Ireland’s intelligentsia rejected Hardy’s approach, under its new editorship, the magazine reached a circulation of about 40,000. (Bridget Hourican, “Philip Dixon Hardy”, Dictionary of Irish Biography). Occasionally, the subject matter of the nineteenth century resonates strongly with the news of today. For instance, an article on a Polish cave diver named Artur Kozlowski who died while traversing the underwater caverns of Co. Galway in early September of this year. As distant echo of the 21st century Irish Times article, the Dublin Penny Journal reported on the caves of Ireland as they were in 1834. The fascination with this space bridged the gap of almost two centuries. These fortuitous connections provide a sense of continuity between past and present.
But in the end, the brief pleasures of the strange and exotic yield to my own obsessions and objects of study. Hardy shared my fascination with the printing press and the latest technologies of the word. He took every opportunity in the Dublin Penny Journal to illustrate and describe the inner workings of the print shop, his new equipment, and the printer’s mind. For instance, Hardy purchased and operated the first steam powered printing press in Ireland and proudly displayed this technological advance in the pages of his journal. This reminds me that all things come back to work—the work of the printer and the work of the scholar—but it is nice to know that the wonderful and strange juxtapositions of nineteenth-century periodicals await my quiet moments of relaxation when they come. The Dublin Penny Journal (1832 – 1836) is available for your perusal in the Burns Library Reading Room. Or, if you don’t have a quiet moment to stop by the Burns and you have access to JSTOR Ireland through your local library, then you can also enjoy the Dublin Penny Journal online. Some issues of the Dublin Penny Journal are also available through Google Books.
- Andrew Kuhn, Burns Library Reading Room Student Assistant & Doctoral Candidate in the Department of English,firstname.lastname@example.org