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Scientific Content in The GentlemanÂ?s Magazine

The Gentleman's Magazine was first published by Edward Cave in January 1731, and was one of a number of publications aimed at a general public, but which contained some scientific content. It was issued monthly, with each issue being approximately fifty pages, and paginated consecutively throughout the year. According to Dr Johnson, by 1739, the circulation was as much as ten thousand.


Its aim was to be of interest to the general reader and so the contents were varied including accounts of travels, reports of parliamentary activity and legal cases, reports on war, as well as notes on inventions, medical advice, proceedings of the Swedish and French academies of science, and the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society.


Despite a later paucity of scientific content and content shift towards the more topographical, the Gentleman 's Magazine, and other popular journals such as The Universal Magazine and the London Magazine, would have increased public awareness of and created debate about scientific and mathematical issues. There was considerable public appetite for scientific publications with books such as Cocker's Arithmetick reaching its fifty-sixth edition by 1767, Simpson's A New Treatise of Fluxions publishing five editions between 1737 and 1823 and A Treatise of Algebra with ten editions 1745-1826. There were also popular almanacs, scientific books published by subscription, and science books for children.


Popular topics such as astronomy and sundials were frequently covered. Mathematics was initially a prominent topic and mathematical problems and ideas were often debated through contributions from readers. Similarly, the problem of longitude was a frequently considered with a number of solutions offered in the magazine in the 1740s.


Other important scientific material was published in the magazine, for example, John Pringle 's 'Experiments upon septic and antiseptic substances, with remarks relating to their use in the theory of medicineÂ?, for which he earned the Copley Medal, was published in 1751 and 1752, following its publication in the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society. And post-1746, electricity was a regular subject of interest, with Benjamin Franklin's electricity experiments described in the 1750s.


The accounts of experiments were intended to be replicable and verifiable by an amateur reader.


Publication of the Gentleman's Magazine continued until the early twentieth century.


Sources:


Carlson, C., The first magazine; a history of the Gentleman 's magazine, with an account of Dr. Johnson's editorial activity and of the notice given America in the magazine, Providence, R. I, Brown University, 1938.


Delehar, P., 'Illustrations of Scientific Instruments in the Gentleman's MagazineÂ?, in Anderson, R.G.W., Bennett, J.A., and Ryan, W.F., Making Instruments Count: Essays on Historical Scientific Instruments presented to Gerard L'Estrange Turner, Aldershot, Variorum, 1993, pp. 383- 394.


Honeybone, M., Â?The communication of science by popular books 1700-1760Â?, Eight Papers from the Joint Meeting between the Textbook Colloquium and The British Society for the History of Science held on January 10th 1998 at Leeds University.

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