[To “Voices from 19th-Century America”]
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.