It was this concern that brought a handful of men together, at about three in the afternoon on a bright April day, at Boston's Parker House Hotel. At a moment in our history when New England was America's literary Olympus, the men gathered that afternoon could be said to occupy the summit. They included Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, James Russell Lowell, Oliver Wendell Holmes, and several other gentlemen with three names and impeccable Brahmin breeding—men from the sort of families, as Holmes once noted wryly, that had not been perceptibly affected by the consequences of Adam's fall. By the time these gentlemen had supped their fill, plans for a new magazine were well in hand. As one of the participants wrote to a friend the next day, "The time occupied was longer by about four hours and thirty minutes than I am in the habit of consuming in that kind of occupation, but it was the richest time intellectually that I have ever had." Soon the new magazine acquired an editor, James Russell Lowell, and a name—The Atlantic Monthly.
The first issue of The Atlantic Monthly appeared in November of 1857, and the magazine, which billed itself as a "journal of literature, politics, science, and the arts," was an immediate success. Lowell unswervingly trained his attention on American writers, providing a home both for the younger American talents, whom he cultivated, and for the established ones. The magazine thrived. Within two years the circulation of The Atlantic Monthly had risen above 30,000. The number of paid subscribers today is roughly 460,000; newsstand sales average more than 50,000 copies a month. All told, we estimate, at least 1.2 million people, not including the mail carriers, put their hands on each issue of The Atlantic Monthly.
We would like to think that the magazine our readers are getting today is, at least in its tone—in its stance toward the world—similar to the magazine that James Russell Lowell and his friends first brought forth. The Atlantic Monthly's Declaration of Purpose, which was printed in its first issue, went like this: "In politics, The Atlantic Monthly will be the organ of no party or clique, but will honestly endeavor to be the exponent of what its conductors believe to be the American idea. It will deal frankly with persons and with parties, endeavoring always to keep in view that moral element which transcends all persons and parties, and which alone makes the basis of a true and lasting prosperity. It will not rank itself with any sect of anties: but with that body of men which is in favor of Freedom, National Progress, and Honor, whether public or private."
One thing that The Atlantic Monthly is not is an antiquarian enterprise, a museum piece. In 1995, we won the prestigious National Magazine Award for Reporting and were nominated for National Magazine Awards in the General Excellence category—the magazine industry's top honor—and in the fiction category. In May of 1993, we won that coveted National Magazine Award for General Excellence. In 1988, we won three National Magazine Awards, more than any magazine had ever won before in a single year. Our staff is young—on average, about 35. Our editorial gaze is fixed not on the past (though we respect it) but on the beauties and horrors, the steps forward and back, of the modern world in all its awesome range.