19th Century

The First British Edition of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s “Feathertop” in Home Circle (1852) | Stephen Basdeo

The good people over at Penn State University Press have a “very liberal” author re-use policy and allow academics to post preprints of their articles on personal websites. I recently had an article published in the Nathaniel Hawthorne Review and will take full advantage of Penn State’s copyright agreement by posting my article here.

The original citation for my article in the Nathaniel Hawthorne Review is as follows:

Basdeo, Stephen, “The First British Edition of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s “Feathertop” in Home Circle,” Nathaniel Hawthorne Review 46 no. 2 (2020), 207–212.

Nathaniel Hawthorne’s “Feathertop” as printed in the Home Circle in 1852 (Stephen Basdeo Personal Collection)

The First British Edition of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s “Feathertop” in Home Circle (1852)

Abstract: This article is an introduction to the publication of the first British edition of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s “Feathertop” in Home Circle in 1852. Hawthorne scholars have previously been unaware of the appearance of “Feathertop” in this magazine. However, a commentary on the appearance of Hawthorne’s work in this little-known periodical reveals, even though no correspondence survives, Hawthorne’s hitherto-unknown connections to the world of nineteenth-century British popular fiction.

In 1849 a new periodical appeared in Britain titled the Home Circle. There is at present no scholarship on this periodical; physical copies of it are very difficult to get hold of from secondhand bookstores. It is not accessible through any of the usual digital archives such as ProQuest’s British Periodicals collections or Gale’s Nineteenth-Century Collections Online. Indeed, some of the volumes in the British Library’s physical holdings of Home Circle were actually destroyed in a fire during World War II, so it is a miracle that this periodical survives at all.[1] It may have become one of those “lost” Victorian magazines like the similarly titled Home, which began later in the century (Clarke). However, perhaps Home Circle will receive renewed attention from scholars because in April and May of 1852 it printed in its columns the first UK edition—as far as can be ascertained—of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s short story “Feathertop.”

The period from 1850 to 1880 in Britain has been called “the zenith of the bourgeoisie” (Evans 276). With the middle classes having become the dominant force in the nation’s political and economic life, the virtues of domesticity, hard work, morality, and religious observance virtually amounted to national “articles of faith.” It was clearly the Home Circle’s mission to promote those values to readers who perhaps hailed from less affluent homes. Retailing at a 1d per issue, Home Circle was clearly targeted toward families whom we might place in the “aspirational” working class or “labour aristocracy.” Such middle-class virtues were emblazoned on the engraved title page that accompanied each volume, which is a series of illustrated vignettes by Henry Anelay—the artist who provided illustrations for some of G. W. M. Reynolds’s novels—depicting idealized scenes from middle-class life. Thus, in Anelay’s illustration we have families sitting together at the breakfast table and the dinner table; an older husband and wife perusing a book; a marriage scene; a nanny placing a baby in a cot; and a boy dressed in a school uniform. The contents of the periodical likewise corresponded to its aim. Within Home Circle’s columns one finds light fiction, a section titled “Hints for the Instruction of Studious Youth,” as well as sewing patterns. The periodical was, therefore, a perfect accompaniment for Victorian families who strove to put the principles of bourgeois domesticity into practice.[2]

The magazine was edited by Pierce Egan the Younger (1814–79) who was something of a celebrity in his day, as the following remarks by a correspondent in MacMillan’s Magazine attest: “Many among us fancy that they have a good general idea of what is English literature. They think of Tennyson and Dickens . . . . It is a fond delusion, from which they should be aroused. The works of Mr. Pierce Egan are sold by the half million” (“Penny Novels”). Egan owed his reputation to his having written a number of popular serialized penny novels, including Quintin Matsys (1838–39), Robin Hood and Little John (1838–40), and Wat Tyler (1839–40).[3] Having originally trained as an artist, Egan also contributed several illustrations to the Illustrated London News in the early 1840s, all the while publishing additional serialized novels.[4]

In 1849, Egan assumed the editorship of Home Circle. It is not known if the idea for establishing the magazine was Egan’s or that of the publisher W. S. Johnson. Egan never actually listed himself as the editor in any of the periodical’s pages; instead, he placed his name alongside all of the other contributors. Scholars know that Egan was the editor only due to the fact that, one year after the periodical began, the publisher Johnson attempted to sue Egan for allegedly not paying for Johnson’s services as publisher (“Court”). Johnson’s case was thrown out of court for being groundless, but the pair must have resumed as friends afterward because Egan continued to edit the Home Circle until 1852, and Johnson even republished several of Egan’s previous penny serials as single volumes in the 1850s, including Robin Hood and Wat Tyler.

Although nothing of Egan’s correspondence survives, he appears to have commissioned a number of works from women writers, who are indeed well represented in the columns of Home Circle. British male authors such as G. P. R. James and Percy B. St. John also contributed original stories. But Home Circle printed a lot of contributions from American and Canadian women writers as well. There appears to have been some communication between the Home Circle and writers across the Atlantic, for several of the contributions from American authors carry a subtitle along the lines of “received by Mrs. Strickland from a Canadian” (this was Jane Strickland, sister of the novelist Agnes Strickland, and, although no official rank was accorded to Jane, she seems to have been Egan’s assistant editor). Alongside the Canadian authors, there appear American writers such as Washington Irving. The Home Circle, in fact, seems to have been the first British periodical to print Irving’s short essay titled “The Catskill Mountains” in 1852, as well as the first outlet for an essay, titled “Indian Pastimes,” written by the Obijwa writer George Copway. For reasons that shall be explained more fully below, it is unlikely that these stories and essays were simply “pirated” from American magazines.

One American author that Home Circle seemed particularly fond of is the subject of this paper: Nathaniel Hawthorne. Book reviews were rarely printed in the Home Circle, and a grand total of eight reviews appeared across the whole of 1852. One of these was a very favorable review of Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter (1850):

The first of these works is a very remarkable book; it is written with considerable power, the construction of the language being as forcible as it is elegant, while the plot is not only of a very startling character, but in none of its phases bear any resemblance to the incidents presented in works of this class. Without straining after a moral, a powerful one is conveyed, although Mr. Hawthorne aims to give a narration of incidents following one terrible crime, rather than to work out the natural consequences of an evil act. The book has created an extraordinary sensation in America, and will no doubt, when known in England, be extensively read. Mr Routledge has published it in his “Railway Library” for the small price of one shilling; it is legibly printed, and well sustains the reputation of the judgment employed by the publisher in selecting the books which form his “Railway Library.” (“Review”)

The above review appeared in the Home Circle issue of February 28, 1852. A few months later, on April 24, the first installment of Hawthorne’s “Feathertop” appeared in Home Circle. It is unlikely that Egan simply pirated “Feathertop” for Home Circle. Although it was a common practice in the penny periodical industry, had the Home Circle simply plagiarized “Feathertop” from the American magazine, it would have contradicted its own highly moralistic aims.

Most of the works commissioned for Home Circle, in fact, seem to have been specially commissioned by the editor. The periodical took pride in the fact that it was able to present the public with original stories for the price of one penny, as the preface for the year 1850 states:

It is said that a periodical with so high an aim as our own, containing almost exclusively original matter, the contributions of high-paid contributors, already world-famous, could not be produced and continued weekly for one penny . . . we can unimpeachably assert that we have been in communication, and have contracted engagements with writers. (“Address”; emphasis in original)

The “almost exclusively original matter,” of course, left the editors with some leeway to insert, if not original content, at least content that had not been published previously in Britain. There is no reason for scholars to be skeptical or cynical about this claim. Most of the short stories in the magazine were written specifically for Home Circle. To take one example, G. P. R. James’s “A Story without a Name” was said to have been “written expressly for this family magazine.” The only story in the Home Circle that appeared in print previously, according to my research, is a revised and expanded edition of Egan’s first novel Quintin Matsys.

Perhaps—and this is pure speculation because no correspondence survives—it was the above reviewer’s favorable opinion of Hawthorne’s Scarlet Letter that induced Egan, the editor, to solicit a contribution from Hawthorne. With the first installment of “Feathertop” appearing in the February 1852 issue of The International Magazine and the first installment appearing in Home Circle in April 1852, there would have been enough time for either a printed or manuscript copy of “Feathertop” to reach Egan in London, for by 1850 transatlantic steam vessel journeys took on average between ten and twelve days (Rodrigue, 172).[5]

There is another reason why it is unlikely that Home Circle simply plagiarized Hawthorne. This is because, in further volumes, Hawthorne is listed in the preface for the year 1853 as one of Home Circle’s “Professional Contributors” (“Preface”).[6] However, of the short stories listed in the 1853 volume, none of them were written by Hawthorne. It seems likely, therefore, that Hawthorne, in his role as a contributor, perhaps wrote some of the unsigned essays. It now remains for Nathaniel Hawthorne scholars to conduct attribution research into the 1853 volume, which holds out the tantalizing possibility that new work by Hawthorne might yet be discovered.


[1]. Physical copies of Home Circle (1849–53) are located in the British Library, London, (shelf mark DSC 4326.005200N).

[2]. On domesticity, see Tosh.

[3]. For a biography of Pierce Egan the Younger, see the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography entry by J. W. Ebsworth and revised by Megan A. Stephan. I have also compiled further research on Egan’s life, which is available in my “Pierce Egan the Younger.”

[4]. The titles of these novels and year of publication are as follows: Captain Macheath (1841), Adam Bell, Clim of the Clough, and William of Cloudeslie (1842), and Fair Rosamund (1844).

[5]. Jean-Paul Rodrigue takes his data, presented in a graph, from P. J. Hugill and M. Stopford.

[6]. In 1853, Home Circle discontinued listing the actual date of publication on its title page and opted instead to list simply volume and issue numbers, hence the discrepancy in referencing.


“Address.” Home Circle, 6 July 1850, p. i.

Basdeo, Stephen. “Pierce Egan the Younger: Biography of a Penny Dreadful Author.” Reynolds’s News and Miscellany, 6 Aug 2016, https://reynolds-news.com/2016/08/06/pierce-egan-the-younger-1814-1880-biography-of-a-penny-dreadful-author/. Accessed 7 Oct. 2020.

Clarke, John Stock. “‘Home’ a Lost Victorian Periodical.” Victorian Periodicals Review, vol. 25, no. 2, 1992, pp. 85–88.

Copway, George. “Indian Pastimes.” Home Circle, 14 Feb. 1852, p. 102.

“Court of the Exchequer.” The Times, 19 Apr. 1850, p. 7.

Ebsworth, J. W., revised by Megan A. Stephan. “Egan, Pierce James (1814–80).” The Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford UP, 2004, doi.org/10.1093/ref:odnb/8578.

Egan, Pierce. Quintin Matsys: The Blacksmith of Antwerp. W. S. Johnson, n.d.

—. Robin Hood and Little John; or, The Merry Men of Sherwood Forest. W. S. Johnson, 1850.

—. Wat Tyler; or, The Rebellion of 1381. W. S. Johnson, n.d.

Evans, Eric J. The Forging of the Modern State: Early Industrial Britain, 1783–1870. Longman, 1983.

Hawthorne, Nathaniel. “Feathertop.” Home Circle, 24 Apr. 1852, pp. 264–66, and 1 May 1852, pp. 280–83.

Home Circle. 1849–53. Edited by Pierce Egan, held at the British Library, London, shelf mark DSC 4326.005200N.

Hugill, P.J. World Trade since 1431. Johns Hopkins UP, 1993.

Irving, Washington. “The Catskill Mountains.” Home Circle 17 Jan. 1852, pp. 33–35.

James, G. P. R. “A Story without a Name.” Home Circle, 5 July 1851, pp. 1–4.

“Penny Novels.” MacMillan’s Magazine, June 1866, p. 96.

“Preface.” Home Circle, vol. 9, no. 1, 1853, p. i.

“Review: The Scarlet Letter.” Home Circle, 28 Feb. 1852, p. 143.

Rodrigue, Jean-Paul. The Geography of Transport Systems. 5th ed., Routledge, 2020.

Stopford, M. Maritime Economics. 3rd ed., Routledge, 2009.

Tosh, John. A Man’s Place: Masculinity and the Middle-Class Home in Victorian England. Yale UP, 1999.