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Notices & Reviews of The Token (1828-1842)

Reviewing the gift annuals must have been one of the banes and the boons of editing a magazine in early-nineteenth-century America. “Bane,” because, as one editor pointed out, “As for despatching the whole contents of an annual at two or three sittings, it would be a surfeit we could by no means undergo. It would be like making a hearty meal on sweet meats.” “Boon,” because reviewing a Token or a Magnolia or an Atlantic Souvenir was a good excuse to fill out the periodical with choice pieces reprinted without payment.

The Token was reviewed by women’s and literary magazines, newspapers and religious monthlies. The critics sometimes took the route of praising with faint damns, and sometimes took the route of damning with faint praises. Thus, the reviewer for the New England Magazine, in 1835, announces that “[t]he stories and poetry are, in general, poor stuff,” and goes on to mention the “freshness and originality” of pieces by Nathaniel Hawthorne and by John Neal. The key word is “mention”: “Can any one be so unreasonable as to require us to read it?” asks the New England Magazine’s reviewer, in 1834; and this seems to have been the attitude of many of the Token’s reviewers. Illustrations were to many reviewers of primary importance in the annuals and are critiqued in great detail; but little is said about the written pieces, especially the stories. Easily skimmed poems are most likely to be discussed—especially if they could be “appended” to the review in space-eating chunks. (The table of contents for The Token includes quick snapshots of most of the engravings to which reviewers referred.)

Many of the reviews are what one editor called “indiscriminate puffery.” Others are less flattering, offering pointed criticisms of engravings and written pieces. Catharine Maria Sedgwick and Lydia H. Sigourney are most often praised; Nathaniel Hawthorne also came in for his share of applause, though one critic disagreed. Samuel Griswold Goodrich—the force behind The Token—often came in for some slamming. Park Benjamin—who focused his praise on Hawthorne—was Goodrich’s fiercest critic, shredding his poetry and mocking the name of Goodrich’s most famous literary character—“Peter Parley”—by referring to Goodrich as “Mr. Parleyvous”.

The reviews here are grouped by year, in rough chronological order, for greater ease of comparison. Reviews for each volume are on a separate page. The editor of the magazine—and probable author of the review—is listed after the page numbers of the review.


The Token for 1828 [all reviews]

Boston Recorder & Telegraph, December 14, 1827: 199; reprinting the Commercial Gazette.

“ ‘The Token’ … is a beautiful volume.”

The Ladies’ Magazine, January 1828: 29-31. Ed. Sarah Josepha Hale.

“We conclude our remarks with recommending the Token to the notice and patronage of all those … interested in the progress of our literature….”

The Token for 1829 [all reviews]

The New-York Mirror, and Ladies’ Literary Gazette, September 6, 1828: 71. Ed. G. P. Morris, Theodore S. Fay, & John Inman.

“It cannot, on the whole, be inferior to any, and it certainly must be superior to most works of this sort.”

Ladies’ Magazine, October 1828: 474-477. Ed. Sarah Josepha Hale.

“Perhaps there has never appeared in the ‘Literary Emporium’ a more splendid specimen of the arts of printing, engraving, &c. than will be furnished by the Token, of 1829.”

The Ariel, 18 October 1828: 99; reprinting the Boston Traveller.

“Of the literary part, we can … speak in terms of praise.”

The New-York Mirror, and Ladies’ Literary Gazette, October 25, 1828: 127. Ed. G. P. Morris, Theodore S. Fay, & John Inman.

“The Token … equals the anticipations of the public in the richness and variety of its contents, as well as in the beauty of its typography and graphic embellishments.”

The Episcopal Watchman, November 1828: 280; excerpted from The Ladies’ Magazine. Ed. Sarah Josepha Hale.

“Nearly all the poetical specimens are above mediocrity, and many of them really and eminently beautiful.”

The Critic, November 1, 1828: 6-9.

“[T]he Token is a work, which, for beauty of mechanical execution, elegance of embellishments, and general literary merit, may be honestly recommended to public patronage….”

The Critic, November 1, 1828: 12.

“[Illustrations] exhibit, in a very favorable light, the state of the arts among us.”

Ariel, 10 January 1829: 150.

“The entire edition … has been sold….”

North American Review, April 1829: 480-488. Ed. Jared Sparks.

“The improvement in this work since its first appearance, only the last year, is scarce within measure.”

The Token for 1830 [all reviews]

The New-York Mirror, and Ladies’ Literary Gazette, September 19, 1829: 83. Ed. G. P. Morris, Theodore S. Fay, & John Inman.

“Altogether the Token is well worthy of the patronage of the public.”

The Ladies’ Magazine, November 1829: 529-531. Ed. Sarah Josepha Hale.

“The literary department of the Token is respectable: the prose is however superior to the poetry.”

The Token for 1831 [all reviews]

The Euterpiad, October 1, 1830: 111.

“We have seen the Token, and admire it; not only for the beautiful style with which it is got up, but also for the original matter which it contains.”

The Ariel, October 30, 1830: 108.

[With the Atlantic Souvenir,] “… both beautiful, both well worth having, and both honorable to the taste, skill, and enterprise of their Editors and publishers.”

The Euterpiad, November 15, 1830: 132.

“One of your correspondents, in noticing the Token and Atlantic Souvenir, has acted, I think, in a singularly uncandid manner.”

Ladies’ Magazine, December 1830, pp. 571-573. Ed. Sarah Josepha Hale.

“It is a beautiful book, and American ladies will look with peculiar favor upon this fair specimen of genius and taste to which female talent has contributed its full share of excellence and interest.”

The Euterpiad, December 15, 1830: 155.

“When the writers of this country leave the Indian warrior tales—their description of the manners of their foresters—the adventures of Tyger Cat and Panther hunters—the biography of their boatmen of the Mississippi—the stories connected with the Revolutionary War—or the peculiar quaintness of their old puritanical biography,—they are like the inhabitants of a mountainous country, who suffer themselves to be enticed to go down into the plain and fight battles with cavalry.”

The Token for 1832 [all reviews]

The New-York Mirror, October 29, 1831: 135. Ed. G. P. Morris, Theodore S. Fay, & N. P. Willis.

“[I]t contains several contributions of unusual power.”

The Ladies’ Magazine, December 1831: 567-569.

“This fifth volume, is truly a splendid book, much superior in appearance to any of the preceding volumes, and highly creditable to the taste, liberality and enterprize of the Publishers.”

American Monthly Review 1 (Feb 1832): 154. Ed. Sidney Willard.

“It has indeed the usual ingredients of good, bad, and indifferent.”

The Token for 1833 [all reviews]

Boston Literary Magazine, November 1832: 341-343. With “The Shipwrecked Coaster.”

“Every page is sparkling with the impress of genius.”

New England Magazine, November 1832: 425-426. Ed. Joseph T. & Edwin Buckingham.

“With regard to the literary portion it does not seem to be quite equal to what we have a right to expect….”

Cincinnati Mirror, November 10, 1832: 31.

“As a whole, we think this volume equal to any of its predecessors that we have seen.”

North American Review, January 1833: 276-279. Ed. Alexander Hill Everett.

“… so far as we have observed, the Token has had no undue proportion of bad [pieces], and a fair proportion of the good.”

The Token for 1834 [all reviews]

New England Magazine, November 1833: 435-437. Ed. Joseph T. Buckingham.

“The merit which has enabled it to outlive its competitors still sustains it.”

The Knickerbocker, November 1833: 397-398. Ed. Timothy Flint & S. D. Langtree.

“The very binding has an air of slovenly elegance about it, which may be called any thing but taste, and the embossed design, like the engravings—a piracy.”

North American Review, January 1834: 198-209. Ed. Alexander Hill Everett.

“Of the annuals of this year, the Token is decidedly the first [to be published].”

The Token for 1835 [all reviews]

The Knickerbocker, October 1834: 318-320. Ed. Lewis Gaylord Clark.

“We commend the Token to our readers as entertaining and valuable in matter, and discreditable in embellishments, only so far as it fails to be original and American.”

New England Magazine, October 1834: 331-333. Ed. Joseph T. Buckingham.

“[H]aving gone faithfully through with the plates … we have disposed of the most important part of the volume. Can any one be so unreasonable as to require us to read it?”

The New-York Mirror, October 4, 1834: 110. Ed. G. P. Morris, Theodore S. Fay, & N. P. Willis.

“We like the new volume, better, much better than … its predecessors ….”

The Token for 1836 [all reviews]

Knickerbocker, September 1835: 265-268. Ed. Lewis Gaylord Clark.

“As a whole, we cheerfully commend the ‘Token and Souvenir’ to our readers, as a work well deserving the fostering encouragement of the American public.”

New England Magazine, October 1835: 294-298. Ed. Park Benjamin.

“The stories and poetry are, in general, poor stuff.”

Boston Pearl, October 3, 1835: 23.

“[S]uch an insipid sorting of trash we never saw before, and hope not to see again.”

Atkinson’s Casket, December 1835: 716.

“[H]e who would ask for a more beautiful present for his lady-love, deserves to be punished by disappointment.”

The Token for 1837 [all reviews]

The Knickerbocker, October 1836: 484-487. Ed. Lewis Gaylord Clark.

“The literary contents of the Token, with some few exceptions, are much above the average of annual literature.”

American Monthly Magazine, October 1836: 405-407. Ed. Charles Fenno Hoffman & Park Benjamin.

“We commend the Editor for his good taste in the selection of his prose papers, and we can think of only one method by which he can do better than he has done;—this is, next year to employ Hawthorne to write the whole volume….”

Maine Monthly Magazine, November 1836: 235-237. Ed. Charles Gilman.

“[W]hatever may be the defects of ‘The Token’ for 1837, it is well worthy of being purchased for a friend.”

The Token for 1838 [all reviews]

Gentleman’s Magazine, October 1837: 278-281. Ed. William E. Burton.

“Our friends, who have not seen the current number of this splendid Annual, must not injure it by any recollection of the appearance of last year’s Token.”

Knickerbocker, November 1837: 447-449. Ed. Lewis Gaylord Clark.

“[T]he work greatly exceeds in merit … any of its predecessors.”

American Monthly, November 1837: 486-488. Ed. Park Benjamin.

“We commend it to all lovers, and husbands, and maiden aunts, who have money enough left out of ‘the Pressure’ to devote to the purchase of a tasteful literary present.”

The Token for 1839 [all reviews]

The Knickerbocker, September 1838: 285. Ed. Lewis Gaylord Clark.

“The literary contents are creditable, but not of exalted merit.”

The New-Yorker, November 17, 1838: 142.

“[I]t is a poor affair, redeemed only by pretty printing, gold edging, and silk covers.”

The Token for 1840 [all reviews]

The Corsair, September 7, 1839: 490.

“On the whole, we congratulate the Boston Publishers on the early appearance of their handsome annual, and the creditable character of its contents.”

The Hesperian, October 1839: 399-402. Ed. William D. Gallagher.

“The Token was once a creditable representative of the state of literature and the fine arts in this country, and we hope these recent improvements are indications that it is soon to be so again.”

North American Review, October 1839: 490-491. Ed. John Gorham Palfrey.

“[T]he literary merits of the book are greater than those of some of its predecessors.”

The Token for 1842 [all reviews]

North American Review, October 1841: 518-519.

“[W]hen we pass on to the literary contributions, we can conscientiously award the ‘Token’ liberal praise.”

The Knickerbocker, November 1841: 451-452. Ed. Lewis Gaylord Clark.

“In its literary contents, the ‘Token’ is unwontedly rich, and quite superior to any of its rivals.”
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