The New Bon Ton Magazine; or Telescope of the Times was a monthly satirical journal published by John Johnston of Cheapside from May 1818 until April 1821. Its contents were primarily political in nature and focused on the fight for political and social reform in the Peterloo era. As the preface to the first edition explained:
We have exposed VICE, and held it up to general contempt wherever we could discover it; and sorry are we to say, that vicious examples in high life have (when by us weighed against those in common society)… made the terms of ‘rich’ and ‘contemptible’, synonymous.
This stirring stuff was combined with less controversial pieces on the theatre, books , fashion, London life and numerous amusing anecdotes.
The New Bon Ton took its inspiration from William Naunton Jones’s Scourge; or Monthly expositor, of imposture and folly, which had run from 1811 to 1816 and offered a similar mix of reformist political satire and humorous miscellany. It’s likely that John Johnston had been closely involved in the publication of this earlier journal, having been one of only two official distributors, and was consequently able to employ all the same writers and artists to work on his own publication. This included the caricaturists George and Robert Cruikshank, Charles Williams and the 22 year old J.L. Marks. A selection of their works for the magazine has been used to illustrate this post.
What chiefly distinguished the New Bon Ton from its predecessors was the decision to replace the large gatefold caricature plates which had accompanied earlier magazines like the Scourge, Town Talk and the Satirist, with a single octavo-sized frontispiece to
each edition. This was presumably introduced as a cost-cutting measure which reflected the constrained economic circumstances that both the publisher and his potential customers found themselves in during the difficult post-war years. The subject matter of the plates typically reflected the reformist editorial agenda of the magazine and oscillated between attacks on the government and promotion of the reformist agenda.
Perhaps the most interesting story connected with the New Bon Ton is that of John Mitford, the jobbing writer and journalist hired to produce most of the magazine’s written content. Mitford came from a respectable Northumbrian family and had served in the Royal Navy for sixteen years prior to taking up his career as a writer. But he was also a man plagued by mental illness and rapidly descending into an full-blown alcoholism.
Mitford began his writing career after being discharged from the Royal Navy on health grounds in 1811. He began writing for Whig and reformist journals and quickly gained a reputation as a man with a talent for humour and a good eye for the satirical. His career ground to a half for two years, between 1812 and 1814, when he was confined to a lunatic asylum following the onset of some acute form of madness. He emerged from hospital in time to begin contributing articles to some of the later editions of the Scourge and to begin work on a book, The Adventures of Johnny Newcome in the Navy, a humorous poem in four cantos accompanied by 16 engraved plates by Thomas Rowlandson which was published in 1818.
By this time Mitford had become a chronic alcoholic who was living rough on the streets of London. His publisher Robert Marshall recalled the Mitford had to be kept on a stipend of one shilling per day in order to ensure that he remained sober enough to work. He would take the money and spend “two pennyworth [on] bread and cheese and an onion, and the balance on gin. With this, and his day’s supply of paper and ink, he repaired to an old gravel-pit in Battersea Fields, and there wrote and slept till it was time to take in his work and get his next shilling. For forty-three days he is said to have lived in this manner, and, the weather continuing fine, without being conscious of discomfort.”
Johnston is thought to have resorted to similar methods whilst employing Mitford to work on the New Bon Ton Magazine; confining him to a cellar of his Cheapside print shop and providing him with food, some old carpet to sleep on and a daily ration of cheap gin. Mitford produced a sequel to Johnny Newcome for Johnston in 1822 but their business relationship seems to have been brought to a close after that. By 1827 he was attempting to pass himself off as a relation of the eminent historian William Mitford in order to secure minor commissions as a writer. He was described in that year as being “Ragged and filthy in his person” incapable of “distinguishing truth from falsehood” and “lodging over a coal-shed in some obscure street near Leicester Square”