As I Please

in Tribune

14 January 1944

George Orwell

THE OLD custom of binding up magazines and periodicals in book form seems to have gone out almost entirely, which is a pity, for a year’s issue of even a very stupid magazine is more readable after a lapse of time than the majority of books. I do not believe I ever had a better bargain than the dozen volumes of the Quarterly Review, starting in 1809, which I once picked up for two shillings at a farmhouse auction; but a good sixpennyworth was a year’s issue of the Cornhill when either Trollope or Thackeray, I forget which, was editing it, and another good buy was some odd volumes of the Gentleman’s Magazine of the mid-sixties, at threepence each. I have also had some happy half-hours with Chambers’s Papers for the People, which flourished in the fifties, the Boy’s Own Paper in the days of the Boer War, the Strand in its great Sherlock Holmes days, and—a book I unfortunately only saw and didn’t buy—a bound volume of the Athenæum in the early twenties, when Middleton Murry was editing it, and T. S. Eliot, E. M. Forster and various others were making their first impact on the big public. I do not know why no one bothers to do this nowadays, for to get a year’s issue of a magazine bound costs less than buying a novel, and you can even do the job yourself if you have a spare evening and the right materials.

The great fascination of these old magazines is the completeness with which they ‘date’. Absorbed in the affairs of the moment, they tell one about political fashions and tendencies which are hardly mentioned in the more general history books. It is interesting, for instance, to study in contemporary magazines the war scare of the early sixties, when it was assumed on all sides that Britain was about to be invaded, the Volunteers were formed, amateur strategists published maps showing the routes by which the French armies would converge on London, and peaceful citizens cowered in ditches while the bullets of the Rifle Clubs (the then equivalent of the Home Guard) ricocheted in all directions.

The mistake that nearly all British observers made at that time was not to notice that Germany was dangerous. The sole danger was supposed to come from France, which had shot its bolt as a military power and had in any case no reason for quarrelling with Britain. And I believe that casual readers in the future, dipping into our newspapers and magazines, will note a similar aberration in the turning-away from democracy and frank admiration for totalitarianism which overtook the British intelligentsia about 1940.

Recently, turning up back numbers of Horizon, I came upon a long article on James Burnham’s Managerial Revolution, in which Burnham’s main thesis was accepted almost without examination. It represented, many people would have claimed, the most intelligent forecast of our time. And yet—founded as it really was on a belief in the invincibility of the German army—events have already blown it to pieces.

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