The Contemporary Review

Columbus Company

General Description

Date: 1866-


◦ Brown, Alan Willard. The Metaphysical Society: Victorian Minds in Crisis, 1869-1880. New York: Columbia U.P., 1947. esp. Chapter 9.

◦ Glasgow, Eric. The Beginnings of the Contemporary Review. Contemporary Review (February 1966). pp. 91-97.

◦ Houghton, Walter, ed. The Contemporary Review. The Wellesley Index to Victorian Periodicals, 1824-1900. Vol. 1. Toronto: Univ. of Toronto Press, 1966. pp. 210-213.

◦ Sullivan, Alvin, ed. The Contemporary Review. British Literary Magazines. vol.3. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1983-. pp. 77-82.

Scholarly Commentary


The Contemporary Review. London: [A. Strahan, 1866-1872;1873-1876; 1876-1882], [Henry S. King, 1872-1873, 1876], [Isbister, 1882-1899], [Columbus Co., 1900-].

In January of 1866, Alexander Strahan founded The Contemporary Review, intending it to be the church-minded counterpart of the resolutely secular Fortnightly Review. In the editorial hands first of Henry Alford (1866-1870) and then of James Thomas Knowles (1870-1877), The Contemporary Review became known as a forum for open, erudite inquiry into controversial theological and philosophical issues of the day. As such, it serves as an important record of the conflicts between Christian belief and modern scientific thought that helped define the Victorian zeitgeist.

Not merely an organ of the Established Church or a publication for scholarly clergymen, The Contemporary Review also published important articles on music, art, literature, and science, in a monthly magazine format of 150-200 pages. Henry Alford, Dean of Canterbury, was a man of many cultural accomplishments and interests who brought to The Contemporary Review the “tone of solid learning and quiet fervor” ( Brown, 170 ) that characterizes its early volumes. Alford was also an early member of The Metaphysical Society, the famous collective of learned Victorians founded by Knowles, his editorial successor at The Contemporary Review. Under Knowles, the Review published many articles by members of The Metaphysical Society (such as Gladstone, Huxley, Manning, and Ruskin), leaning away from its Anglican beginnings towards more secular, political, and scientific concerns. This drift eventually caused a split between Strahan and Knowles, who left in 1877 to found The Nineteenth Century. Strahan then guided The Contemporary Review back to academic and clerical concerns, with less success. In 1882, Percy Bunting took over and transformed the journal into a Liberal political forum, which it remained throughout his tenure (to 1911).

Robert Buchanan was a frequent contributor to The Contemporary Review under Knowles. His article, “The Fleshly School of Poetry: Mr. D.G. Rossetti” was one of the more controversial episodes in the history of the journal, which Rossetti and his friends began referring to as “The Contemptuous Review.” Other P.R.B. associates did publish there, however, such as Lowes Dickinson and Ruskin. Furthermore, Harry Quilter defended Rossetti and the P.R.B. in a series of articles (signed by Holman Hunt) published in the 1880s.

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