A brief history of the Cambridge Review

Image credit: Mario Sánchez Prada

A magazine once bought by students and staff across the city, the few remaining copies of the Cambridge Review now lie forgotten in the UL Rare Books room. Established in 1879, the first editorial announced that the aim of the magazine was to represent the “life and thought of the University, whether that be College debates and Utopias pictured by solitary fire-sides, the quips of the breakfast table, and, if needs be, of the grumbling at the hall dinner”. Despite these modest original intentions, the Cambridge Review would go on to print writing from some fine minds in the century that followed: Bertrand Russell, Michael Oakeshott, T. S. Eliot, William Empson, Joseph Needham, Quentin Skinner, John Dunn and Simon Schama all delivered copy for the Review.

In the later decades of the twentieth century the magazine went through some dramatic shifts in style. The 1960s saw a radical Marxist takeover, with issues celebrating the sixtieth anniversary of the Russian Revolution and the student movements of 1968; the 1970s saw a return to austere Conservatism and the call to defend culture against the “philistines”. Like Granta, another student magazine founded in late Victorian Cambridge, the Cambridge Review struggled with financial troubles owing to dwindling sales. Yet whereas Granta was re-launched as a now renowned literary magazine outside Cambridge, the decline continued for the Review up to 1998 when it ceased printing altogether.

Thankfully two publications have recently been established to fill the vacuum left by the old Review. In 2009 the Cambridge Literary Review was born, its first issue including poetry by J. H. Prynne and essays by Stefan Collini and Raymond Geuss. This was followed three years later by the Cambridge Humanities Review, a termly magazine of reviews and essays which has featured a diverse mix of contributors, from Rowan Williams to Alastair Campbell. It is heartening that the final editorial of the old Cambridge Review expressed hope that “another “intellectual”, “cultured” or “academic journal will be born in Cambridge.” The Cambridge Review is dead; long live the Literary Review! Long live the Humanities Review!

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