“The Evergreen Chain is a magazine
Of far & wide renown.
The writers are, some of them, not thirteen,
And the head of it all is lovely “Miss Brown.”
“It goes on its round each month in the year,
The addresses are given inside,
The rules are not strictly kept, I fear,
Which the Editor made as a General Guide.”
“Towards the end of the month come letter, with curses,
From the justly impatient “Miss Brown”:-
“Oh, where are your drawings, your stories & verses?
The receivers these of take them meekly, – or frown!”
“Two of the writers are very well known to the author of this little ditty,
After one of these letters, she hears a moan:-
“No time,” – “no ideas,” – seems a Pity!”
“But in spite of these letters, delays & small woes,
Which are kept quite behind the scenes,
The result is a neat-written volume, which grows,
Of the Evergreen Chain, Best of All Magazines!”
(by S.E. otherwise “Sarah”, a pal of “Miss Brown’s”)
British teenage girls and occasionally boys contributed to the home-made magazine, The Evergreen Chain. The volumes which are held in the Museum of Childhood date from 1892 to 1897 were never published, but were bound and have been carefully preserved for posterity. Each young person in the Chain would send their creative work to the editor every month who then copied out the writing in her own hand and stuck the pictures in to the bound volume. The editor then sent the completed edition, with notes, and later with criticism, back around the Chain members, under strict instruction to send it on to the provided address, and to not keep the volume for longer than two days.
It is not entirely clear how all of the contributors knew each other, and how the word about the Chain was spread, but there were certainly groups of relations and friends within the Chain, and one can only imagine the reams of correspondences that were exchanged alongside the magazine. In each edition, which was loosely ‘published’ every month, there is an index detailing a list of the stories, poems and illustrations; the works themselves, then an editor’s page, the Voting Table, and it is eventually concluded by the Critics Page. The finished product is a charmingly aspirational object, in which girls culture and nineteenth-century British society merge.
The first picture which opens the 1898 volume is a watercolour in green tones of a ring of frogs, with the central frog wearing a crown, holding a shrunken volume of the Evergreen Chain, written on it in tiny cursive is ‘Xmas 1897 The Evergreen Chain.’ The painting encapsulated two major events in the previous year’s calendar: the Diamond Jubilee of Queen Victoria on 20th June 1897, and Christmas, which the monarch helped to popularise earlier in the century by ushering Christmas trees and cards into British culture. The ring of frogs presumably allude to the Frogmore Estate which adjoins Windsor Castle, so named because of the preponderance of frogs in the area, where the ageing Victoria breakfasted on the morning of her jubilee. The bright watercolour has an inscription in the bottom left corner which reads ‘by a lion, aged 13, original.’ Many of the creative works in The Evergreen Chain, and the illustrations especially, were made anonymous.
Other illustrations in the edition with titles such as ‘A Handful’, ‘Ready to go into the ring’, ‘Studies of horses’, ‘Sketches of horses’ all depict the girls’ skill in equestrian sketching. As the illustrators were all middle- or upper- class girls, they may well have kept their own horses, and indeed, following the publication of Anna Sewell’s immensely popular Black Beauty in 1877, the sentimentality of horses and their associations with girlhood imagination was well crystallised in the late-Victorian milieu. Moreover, the skill in depicting a horse’s form was evidently a desired one for this group of girls. When a critic’s page was introduced to The Evergreen Chain in 1897, one of the critic’s first actions was to provide corrective sketches of fetlocks and other aspects of the horse which could be improved by the amateur artists. Instead of being disheartened by the critic’s advice, the Chain girls clearly took up the challenge, which would explain the continued proliferation of horse drawings in the later volumes.
The animal references don’t end at horses in the Chain’s contents. The poem ‘Bagheara’ anthropomorphises a black cat who chooses to name himself after Rudyard Kipling’s character in The Jungle Books, and is apparently immersed in literary culture:
He was very well read
Thought highly of “Stead”
Liked “Merisman”, “Kipling” and “Twain”,
But he said for my part
I see no one in art
To compare with the great “Louis Wain.”
His own name he took
From the famed “Jungle Book”
For thought he – “I can see nothing clearer
From tail-tip to paws
We’re as like as two straws
From henceforth my name is “Bagheara.”-
In this short and charming poem (which was well-received by the other Chain members, judging by the tally-style competition page results) the writer, one ‘H. N. C., age 18’ showcases her tacit understanding and immersion in late Victorian culture. Of course at this point in time, creativity and culture manifested for girls in ways that had not been possible previously. From the burgeoning periodical press encouraging girlish camaraderie, in publications such as the Girl’s Own Paper, Atalanta, and The Monthly Packet, to the introduction of various sporting and society opportunities for girls, there was a type of ‘New Girl’ identified at this time, alongside her better known counterpart, the New Woman (see Sally Mitchell, 1995). Like the New Woman, the New Girl took advantage of more opportunities and educational experiences available to her. One such indicator of the ‘New’ identity was the bicycle, and this one painting in the Chain, by a 13 year-old in 1897, provides a cheerful account of a teenage girl’s cycling adventures.
The Evergreen Chain offers a fascinating and rare insight into the self-generated, shared culture of British adolescents in the late nineteenth-century. The girls were well aware of their culture, and through the magazine they were able to engage with it, and even compete with one another in their creative execution. There are many more aspects of The Evergreen Chain that make for fascinating study; chiefly I am interested in the creative writing of the girls, and what they hoped to communicate when they were presented with the opportunity to create their own art. I look forward to digging deeper into the unique Evergreen Chain!