Tuesday, 9 April 2013

The Bewitching Britishness of the Absorbing Apollo

               The Athenian Mercury and The Athenian Oracle are still remembered and referenced, although perhaps not quite well enough, by literary historians, journalistic historians, social historians and lovers of the curious, but another publication that followed after them is now almost forgotten. Which is a pity, as in many senses, it was as least as interesting and valuable, if not more so, than its predecessors. 

The British Apollo - 4th Edition 1740

It commenced publication on February 15th 1708, with editions appearing on Wednesdays and Fridays, with occasional supplements, and ran until March 22nd 1711. Published for its authors by J Mayo, it bore the title, 
The British Apollo; or Curious Amusement for the Ingenious: to which is added the Most Material Occurrences, Foreign and Domestick. Performed by a Society of Gentlemen.” 

The British Apollo - 3rd Edition 1726

A second edition appeared in 1711, a third edition in 1726 and a fourth in 1740. This final edition was entitled, 
The British Apollo, Containing two thoufand answers to curious questions in most Arts and Sciences, Serious, Comical, and Humorous; Approved of by many of the moft Learned and Ingenious of both Univerfities and of the Royal Society. Perform’d by a Society of Gentlemen.” 

The British Apollo - Frontispiece

An engraved frontispiece depicts Britannia dictating either a question or an answer to a kneeling figure, who has a quill in one hand and a book bearing the words “To the British Apollo” in the other. Above them, in the clouds, are Pegasus and figures representing Fame and Apollo, and below is the legend, “Apollo Britannicus.” 

Apollo's Address

In place of a preface is a poem, entitled “Apollo's Address to the Town by way of Prologue,” which was written at the beginning of 1708, and its 
"…scenes of death and wars, Domestick Strifes and military fears,” 
refers to the contemporary Great Northern War and the War of the Spanish Succession that were raging in Europe, the recent Battles of Blenheim and Ramillies, and the capture of Gibraltar. 
But on a sudden, shouts of praise were giv'n. 
And Union echoed to the gates of heav’n,” 
is a reference to the Act of Union of 1707, when England and Scotland united to become Great Britain. 

The British Apollo - Index

It was suspected that, sometimes, the answers came first, and the questions supplied later, in order for the writers to make a certain point, and it may even be that the authors foresaw they were found out when they wrote the following question and answer, 
Q. Hark ye, you Apollo, don’t you make questions and answer ‘em your self? 
A. Not at present, really Sir, but should soon take that method, if other people's questions were of no more consequence than yours.” 

The dramatist and poet John Gay (author of The Beggar’s Opera) makes a reference to the British Apollo in his The Present State of Wit (1711), which is a description of contemporary papers and publications written in the form of a letter. In a postscript, Gay adds, 
Upon a review of my letter, I find I have quite forgotten the British Apollo; which might possibly have happened, from its having, of late, retreated out of this end of the Town into the country: where, I am informed however, that it still recommends itself by deciding wagers at cards, and giving good advice to shopkeepers and their apprentices.” 

John Gay - The Present State of Wit - 1711

This rare contemporary reference to The British Apollo has misled some historians to dismiss it as a slight irrelevance, James Grant, in Volume 1 of his The Newspaper Press: Its Origin – Progress – and Present Position (1871), wrote, 
What Gay says of the character of the newspaper in question is simply, that ‘it still recommends itself by deciding wagers at cards.’ How strange, that if this was the principal feature of the British Apollo, it should have lasted for three years as a twice-a-week paper!” 
It seems clear to me, at least, that Grant had never seen a copy of ‘the newspaper in question’ – hardly the sort of research you’d expect for a journalist and historian (but then again, plus ça change …).  

The British Apollo did have a few articles concerning wagers, one regarding the Rule of Three when applied to playing the card game Piquet (an almost forgotten game, similar to Whist, and well worth learning to play if you wish to pass a rainy afternoon in pleasant company), which was more of a mathematical enquiry, rather than specifically about gambling. 

Entry on Gaming - The British Apollo

A second is, “What effectual method shall a man take to refrain himself from the 'vice of gaming?’ which is hardly the sort of thing that a committed gambler would ever ask. Another, in favour of gambling if played without swearing or quarrelling, received short shrift and the answer recommended honest labour as the source of wealth, rather than dabbling in the sin of covetousness. There are questions put where a wager is placed on the answer, but these are not really treated seriously – 
Q. Gentlemen, there is a wager laid upon the following question, which depends upon your answer, Whether the moon in Ireland is like the moon in England ? 
A. There may be a little likeness so far as is usual between sisters, but by no means fully like; for certainly nature, who adapts all things proper, wou'd give a far more glorious moon to GREAT BRITAIN, than to little Ireland.” 

Selections from The British Apollo - 1903

In 1903, a selection of articles from The British Apollo was reprinted, with a commentary and notes, under the editorship of G W Niven, a chapter from which appeared first in Notes and Queries in August 1901, another magazine of note, to which I turn next.

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