The magazine began its career with the respectable number of 369 subscribers. The list is headed by their Excellencies the President and V ice-President of the United States, and in its columns appear the names of New York's most prominent citizens, the Jays, Duers, Bleeckers and DePeysters, Richard Varick, Gabriel Eurman, Elias Hicks and John Pintard. There are also a goodly number of out-of-town subscribers, among them Ralph Izard, of Charleston, and the Van Rensselaers, of Albany, and curiously, there are not a few names from that—in those steamerless days—far-off land of the blue noses, Nova Scotia. The New York Magazine certainly began its career under fairly promising auspices, and should have enjoyed a longer period of usefulness.
The literary feast which the editors of the New York Magazine spread before its readers was sufficiently diversified to suit the most catholic tastes. It embraced meteorological observations, historical sketches, essays, travels, hints on gardening, short stories, tales of adventure, Congressional reports, foreign and domestic intelligence, marriages and deaths. A large portion of its space was devoted to poetical effusions, and the editors appear to have made every effort to foster the budding American muse, and assist in its laborious ascent of Mount Parnassus.
The stories are either of the highly sensational or sentimental order, and are generally pointed with a moral. All are clothed in the stilted phraseology, ornate to the point of grotesqueness, that flowed in such full and turgid streams from the pens of eighteenth-century story-tellers. The poetry leans to the pathetic and lovelorn, and is attuned to touch the tender sensibilities of the members of the gentler sex who were among the favored readers of the only literary magazine of the day. What a fluttering of maidens' hearts there must have been when this sugar-coated sonnet appeared in the department of "selected poetry ":
Charlotte hath charms to catch the roving eye,
And force the timid youth to heave a sigh;
Maria, tripping lively through the streets,
Enraptures by her smiles the beaux she meets.
Sweet Nancy, how can any on thee gaze
And not in transport celebrate thy praise?
In Wall Street oft I view that beaut'ous form
Which does my breast with soft emotions warm.
The Muse with pride and exultation tells
That fair Rebecca ranks among the Belles;
All that behold her must admire her face,
And own each gesture is replete with grace.
Mary, a tribute surely now is due
To Hymen's fav'rite—and it is to you
When join'd in wedlock may you ever prove
The joys which spring from innocence and love.
Fain would I mention, in this present ditty,
The num'rous fair ones that adorn our city;
But this sweet talk would soon exhaust my rhyme—
Will therefore leave it to another time.
Aside from the record of marriages and deaths and a few local items of some slight historical importance, there is nothing in the literature of the New York Magazine that, if it had been totally destroyed, would have proved a serious loss to posterity or to the world of letters; but in its pictorial features we find matter of very considerable value and interest. The publishers built better than they knew when they summoned to their aid Anderson, the artist, and Tiebout and Scoles, the copper-plate engravers, and bid them depict for the pages of their magazine the architectural beauties of the city of New York. Unfortunately, however, with these embellishments to tempt the cupidity of the print collector, they implanted the seeds of destruction in their work. What has become of the 369 copies of the New York Magazine that we know must have been printed is as unanswerable a query as is, "What becomes of all the pins?" Presumably an edition of at least 500 copies was issued, and yet there is at the present time in all probability not half a dozen perfect copies in existence. The one belonging to the New York Historical Society is perfect, and contains all the plates, but it required years of cat-like watchfulness of auction sales and patient groping through booksellers' catalogues to make it so. I doubt if all the descendants of all the subscribers named in the prospectus could muster among themselves a perfect copy. Some old gray garret rat in one of their ancestral homes might possibly pilot us to the hiding-place of a few of its sere and yellow leaves.