Is It Glamorous?
- Absent Minds: Intellectuals in Britain by Stefan Collini
Oxford, 544 pp, £16.99, July 2005, ISBN 0 19 929105 5
George Orwell is commonly invoked as the ideal role model for the intellectual: feisty, independent, outspoken and contrarian, active in the public sphere, and famous. So it’s a surprise to learn that the combined circulation of the three periodicals in which most of his essays appeared was only about half that of the publication you are now reading. On the other hand, A.J.P. Taylor wrote some 1500 book reviews in the course of his career, many of which appeared in the Sunday Express, which in the late 1950s had a circulation of four million and paid him up to £100 a time – a very considerable sum.
Vol. 30 No. 7 · 10 April 2008
In his review of Stefan Collini’s Absent Minds, David Simpson writes of George Orwell that ‘it’s a surprise to learn that the combined circulation of the three periodicals in which most of his essays appeared was only about half that of the publication you are now reading’ (LRB, 6 March). Simpson is repeating Collini’s mistake here. It’s true that Cyril Connolly’s Horizon and Humphrey Slater’s Polemic sold something in the region of 10,000 between them. But Tribune was on a roll when Orwell wrote his ‘As I Please’ columns for it between 1943 and 1947. It wasn’t certificated by the Audit Bureau of Circulations, but its print run was around 40,000 a week towards the end of this period. This is fewer copies than the LRB sells today, but a lot more than half its circulation, even if it’s peanuts compared with the readership A.J.P. Taylor reached by writing for the Sunday Express.
Vol. 30 No. 9 · 8 May 2008
I am very willing to believe that Paul Anderson has new and reliable evidence about the circulation of Tribune in the mid-1940s, in which case my calculation about the combined circulation of the three periodicals in which much of Orwell’s best writing appeared may have to be revised (Letters, 10 April). But, as Anderson acknowledges, the Audit Bureau of Circulations seems not to have certified any figures for Tribune, and one has to rely, therefore, on the figures provided by historians of this period. The most recent, and possibly the most authoritative, of these is Kenneth O. Morgan, in his 2007 biography of Michael Foot, who was an editor of Tribune for part of the period in question, 1945-47. During these years, Morgan writes, ‘sales, at perhaps ten thousand copies (so far as the facts could be uncovered), were disappointing.’ He later makes the point that this figure persisted until the end of the decade. It ‘increased considerably, to perhaps eighteen thousand’, in the early 1950s during the brief heyday of the Bevanites in the Labour Party, though this was long after Orwell’s association with the paper had ended.
So, if, as Anderson agrees, Horizon and Polemic ‘sold something in the region of ten thousand between them’ in the mid-1940s, it was on this evidence entirely accurate to claim that the combined circulation of all three journals was around half of the ABC’s certified figure for the LRB in 2004.