The More Things Change…

One of the joys of writing historical fantasy is mining the past for tidbits and obscure events on which to hang a story…and one of the best places to do that is the wealth of magazines and other periodicals that survive from the nineteenth century. Even better is the fact that there are plenty of such magazines to be had for a pittance at flea markets and places like eBay.

I’ve been fortunate to acquire a number of issues of a magazine called The Mirror dating from 1824 and 1825. They make fascinating reading: what do you think of the illustration here for a proposed tunnel to be built under the Thames in the May 22, 1824 issue?

Then there’s this extract from an article about ballooning, entitled “On Aerial Travelling”, from the June 19, 1824 issue:

“We have yet to contrast this mode of travelling with that in ordinary rides, over which it maintains a vast ascendancy—you have not to tolerate those perpetually recurring delays occasioned by changing the cattle [horses]…no tiresome tax is levied by coachmen or guards…you are free…from the uncomfortable snatches of refreshment they may choose to provide which, however unpalatable, you are obliged to discuss amidst a heterogeneous assemblage as diverse in their tastes as in their appearance and manners…”

Evidently the author of that piece had not the prescience to imagine just what “aerial travelling” might one day entail: what about flight delays? Extra charges for luggage? Bad airline food?  It seems that the more things change, the more they stay the same.

And last, there are lawyer jokes. No, I’m not kidding. How about this bit from the December 24, 1825 edition?

“Saint Evona, a lawyer of Britain, went to Rome to entreat the pope to give the lawyers a patron; the pope replied that he knew no saint not disposed of to some other profession. His holiness proposed, however, to saint Evona, that he should go round the church of San Giovanni di Laterano blindfold, and after saying a certain number of Ave Marias, the first saint he laid hold of should be his patron. This the good old lawyer undertook, and at the end of his Ave Marias, happened to stop at the altar of saint Michael, where he laid hold not of the saint, but unfortunately of the figure of the devil under the saint’s feet, crying out, “This is our saint, let him be our patron!”

Ah yes—the more things change…!








About Marissa Doyle

Marissa Doyle originally planned to be an archaeologist but somehow got distracted. At long last, after an unsurprisingly circuitous path, she ended up writing historical fantasy for young adults (the Leland Sisters series) and contemporary fantasy for slightly older ones, most recently By Jove from Book View Cafe. She is obsessed by the Regency period, 19th century stuff in general, and her neurotic pet bunny. Visit her at


The More Things Change… — 6 Comments

  1. And I am reading John Quincy Adans’s Diaries for those years, here, on this side of the Atlantic, which too is jammy with terrific titbits of our historical past, and which provoke terrific delight of the same sorts.

  2. I absolutely love finding scanned copies of old magazines online. Utterly fascinating. Books, too–one of my treasures is an eighteenth century set of SPECTATOR. I love dipping into the essays, seeing what riffs were popular at the time. (While there isn’t a comments section, you can tell which ones were popular as the ideas get revisited in second and third sub-riffs.)

  3. The advertising in those old magazines is also fun. I have a bunch of Scribners and Century magazines from the 1890s that came out of my grandmothers attic. Loved them as a kid, still love to read them.

    • Yes! They’re the best. Also, it amazes me how many of the companies advertising consumer goods are still in business–and how many of the products are still being sold.