The first issue of The Atlantic Monthly came into subscribers' hands in November of 1857, and it can fairly be said that the cover did not scream for attention. On it was a small centered image of John Winthrop, the founder of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, inside a simple decorative border, and a total of twenty-three words and four numbers. None of the words shilled for the magazine's contents. They and the numbers were there only because each of them had to be there to convey the basic facts of The Atlantic's existence: title, date, issue number, price ("25 cents"), the names of the publishers in Boston and London, the location of the Boston offices, and a declaration of purpose: "Devoted to Literature, Art, and Politics."
That declaration was intended not only to signal which subjects The Atlantic's editors would address but also to rank those subjects in order of priority. Literature—words—came first. (That issue featured work by Ralph Waldo Emerson, Oliver Wendell Holmes, Harriet Beecher Stowe, and Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.) By "Art" the editors meant not pictures but words about pictures, and about other forms of nonword art. By "Politics" the editors meant the large questions of the national life and conversation: in other words, what is going on in the American experiment? These questions are ultimately about ideas, as conveyed through words.