John Frederick Smith (1804?-1890)
From 1800-1829 Literary Anecdotes

THE little world of purveyors of penny popular literature . . . was startled about this time with the news that Stiff, the lank, cadaverous-looking proprietor of the London Journal, one of the most successful cheap publications of the epoch, had sold the copyright of it to Ingram and McMurray, the papermaker, for the large sum of £24,000....

Eventually Stiff worked up the weekly circulation of the London Journal to several hundred thousand copies, for he allowed nothing to turn him aside from his one set purpose—the increasing of the sale of this publication; not, however, by means of bogus prizes and illusory insurance tickets after the favourite practice of the present day, but by providing his factory and servant girl readers with lengthy and exciting stories, telling how rich and poor babies were wickedly changed in their perambulators by conniving nursemaids, how long-lost wills miraculously turned up in the nick of time, and penniless beauty and virtue were `led to the hymeneal altar by the wealthy scion of a noble house', after he had gained the fair one's affections under some humble disguise.

In the early days of the London Journal, radical G. W. M. Reynolds furnished Stiff with his fiction, but he subsequently resigned the task, and started a miscellany of his own, when Stiff luckily came across J. F. Smith ... So cleverly did J. F. Smith pile up the excitement towards the end of the stories which he wrote for Stiff, that the latter told me his weekly circulation used to rise as many as 50,000 when the dénouement approached. He surmised that the factory girls in the north, the great patrons of the journal, were in the habit of lending it to one another, and that when their curiosity as to how the story would end was at its greatest tension, the borrowers, being unable to wait for the journal to be lent to them, expended their pennies in buying it outright.

Eventually John Cassell enticed J. F. Smith away from the London Journal on to some publication of his own, and the pair kept the affair a profound secret. Smith, who always wrote his weekly instalment of `copy' at the London journal office, chanced to be in the middle of a story for Stiff at the moment he had chosen for abandoning him. In this dilemma he decided upon bringing the tale to a sudden close, and to accomplish this artistically he blew up all the principal characters on board a Mississippi steamboat, and handed the `copy' to the boy in waiting. Then, proud at having solved a troublesome difficulty, he descended the office stairs, and directed his steps to La Belle Sauvage yard to take service under his new employer. When Stiff saw the number after it was printed off, and recognized how completely he had been tricked, he was thunderstruck, but he speedily secured a new novelist—Pierce Egan, the younger, I believe—who ingeniously brought about the resurrection of such of the characters as it was desirable to resuscitate, and continued the marvellous story in the London Journal for several months longer.

From Vizetelly, Glances Back, ii. 12-13.

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