From the Archives: Cataloguing 'The Month'

POST BY MAllen

The cataloguing of ‘The Month’ – a monthly publication owned and operated by the British Province of the Society of Jesus from summer 1865 until its closure in 2001 - has recently been completed, offering an opportunity to look more closely at ‘The Month’, its story and history. The completed catalogue ended up becoming five boxes worth of material spanning from the publication’s Jesuit takeover in 1865 until its unfortunate closure in 2001, the date ranges found within the collection really show how ‘The Month’ developed from a relatively minor publication into one of the greatly respected Catholic periodicals of its day. Upon cataloguing the collection was split into; general administration; correspondence; articles; notes; editorships and editorial board; developments and changes; the death of Hugh Kay; and photographs.

One of the earliest, and perhaps most significant items found within the collection was a letter from Fr Provincial Alfred Weld SJ to all members of the Society, informing them that the Society is about to take direction of ‘The Month’ and encouraging individuals to submit their articles to it:

Fr Weld encouraging members of the Society to submit articles to it (1865)

This followed the negotiations with Frances Margaret Taylor, or Mother Magdalen, who was declared Venerable in 2014 and whose cause for beatification is currently underway. Taylor had originally founded and edited ‘The Month’ in 1864 as a monthly magazine for the educated, its first issue being published in July of the same year. Though Miss Taylor was the owner of the magazine at this early stage there is evidence to suggest that the Society was actively involved and played a part within its direction prior to the Society’s official takeover of the magazine in June/July 1865.  As demonstrated by the above letter Fr Weld, along with Fr Peter Gallwey, became the publication’s chief promotors in its early days in efforts to attract both readers and contributors. Further efforts to boost the start of ‘The Month’ were also made by its first Jesuit editor, Fr Henry Coleridge, who sought advice and articles from big names such as Cardinal John Henry Newman. Miss Taylor had previously convinced Newman to provide work to The Month under her editorship after failing to convince him to write a piece for her other Catholic magazine at the time; ‘The Lamp’. Just before the official Jesuit takeover she published Newman’s ‘The Dream of Gerontius’ in the May and June issues of 1865. Cardinal Newman is due to be canonised on the 13th of October this year (2019).

Copy of a letter dated 28th April 1865 to Fr Coleridge from Newman describing what he thinks the new periodical should be like

Throughout its lifetime ‘The Month’ underwent numerous changes and transformations. The following extract, taken from a retrospective article written by Fr John Gerard SJ in the December 1902 issue of ‘The Month’, details its first form:

“In 1864 it presented itself as THE MONTH, an illustrated Magazine of Literature, Science, and Art. This description figures on the title-page of the two volumes which the first twelvemonth produced, and with the omission of “illustrated” also on the cover of each number. On this cover was likewise the device of St George and the Dragon, drawn by Richard Doyle, which, on the first occasion only, was enclosed within a heavy border, like the rim of a cartwheel. Beneath the device was the legend, “St George for Merrie England”, without any list of contents. Inside, there were no more than eighty pages, of demy octavo size, though in the second issue they rose to ninety-six, at or about which figure they remained. Despite title-pages, the first number had no illustration, but those from the second to the twelfth contained each one full-page wood engraving… illustrating a story or a poem. These were contributed by a young artist then coming into notice and fame – Walter Crane. The publishers were Simpkin, Marshall, and Co.: the price was one shilling.”

Deed showing the transfer of ownership between Miss Taylor and Fr Coleridge SJ, dated 1865

This preceded further changes made by Father Coleridge, following the Jesuit takeover in the summer of 1865. The most notable of his many alterations was the change in title to the more concise: ‘The Month, a Magazine and Review’. The next changes of any significance came between 1871 and 1874 when the decision was made, and reversed, to publish bi-monthly. At the same time the title of the magazine was changed to ‘The Month and Catholic Review’. Further changes to the title of the magazine followed Father Coleridge’s resignation in 1882, including ‘The Month, a Catholic Magazine and Review’ and ‘The Month, a Catholic Magazine’.

One of the largest series within the collection consists of correspondence, and it is here where the changing personality of the magazine shines through, as it encounters the leaderships of a variety of executive editors and board members. Undoubtedly, one of the publication’s most impactful editors was Fr Philip Caraman SJ, who held the position from 1948 to 1962 and revived a faltering ‘Month’, raising it to a level few before him had been able to do. Fr Caraman had a clear vision for a new direction to take the publication into, which involved hiring the top writers of the day. Writers such as Evelyn Waugh, Patrick Leigh Fermor and Graham Greene brought with them a host of fresh article ideas and an already established fan-base to ‘The Month’, making it an appealing destination for other upcoming talented writers too.

Each sub-series within the correspondence series acts as a snapshot of the issues, plans, and focus of the publication during the tenure of each individual editor. For example, a large proportion of Fr Peter Hebblethwaite SJ’s is focused on the correspondence and court statements surrounding the well-known writer Kingsley Amis’ lawsuit against ‘The Month’ and its editorial staff for libel in 1971-1972, demonstrating the high risks that surround any publication. Whilst Fr Ronald Moffat SJ had the pleasure of serving as executive editor during the year of the publication’s centenary in 1965; receiving a beautiful autographed letter from Pope Paul VI himself, congratulating Moffat and the editorial staff on the occasion.

From the late 1960’s onwards we saw a number of developments and changes made to the infrastructure of ‘The Month’, demonstrating a time of ‘thinking-outside-of-the-box’ as efforts were made to maintain and grow the publication. Between 1968 and 1970 both the ‘Dublin Review’ and ‘Herder Correspondence’ were incorporated into ‘The Month’ through mergers, allowing ‘The Month’ to absorb both publication’s subscription lists. These mergers followed in-depth talks in 1966-1968 for plans to merge ‘Christian Order’ and ‘The Month’ into a new monthly publication called ‘Renewal’, though this never materialised. In the mid-1970s discussions were even made regarding a proposal from another Catholic publication, ‘The Tablet’, to take-over the publication of ‘The Month’ from the Society of Jesus, demonstrating perhaps the first signs that the publication was struggling.

‘The Month’ struggled with increasing operating costs and a diminishing subscription base in the 1980s and 1990s and, after a failure to agree upon a buyout from St Austin’s Press - a small London based Catholic publishing house - decided to finally end its publication, 136 years after the Society had first taken it over. Its final issue was released in 2001. 

If you are interested in the archives of The Month, or in the work of the Jesuits in Britain Archives, please contact us.

Alex van Goethem, Cataloguing Archivist