In 1859 Thackeray was invited to become, first a contributor, then the editor, of a newly founded monthly publication to which he gave the title The Cornhill Magazine. This was successful beyond the publishers’, and the editor’s, best expectations, selling over 100,000 copies of its first issue. Here Thackeray found an outlet for the printed version of his Four Georges, which wended its way through the Cornhill in 1860 and was issued in book form in the following year. These ‘Sketches of Manners, Morals, Court and Town Life’ were based on a selective reading of German and English chronicles and memoirs, including Eduard Vehse’s history of German courts since the Reformation (Geschichte der deutschen Höfe seit der Reformation), the memoirs of Baron Carl Ludwig von Pöllnitz, Jean Hérault de Gourville and Lord John Hervey, the memoirs and letters of Horace Walpole and letters from such contemporary witnesses as Liselotte von der Pfalz, Lady Mary Wortley Montague, and Henriette Countess of Suffolk. His use of these and other sources has nothing of the strictness of the historian; he is in search of colourful anecdotes in an endeavour ‘to sketch the manners and life of the old world; to amuse for a few hours with talk about the old society; and, with the result of many a day’s and night’s pleasant reading, to try and while away a few winter evenings for my hearers’ (xii. 700). He personalizes these accounts by telling of his own encounter with a lady who had seen George I and thus bridged two ages; by description of Celle as he had seen it on his own journey there, using the railway line between Hamburg and Hanover; and by a contrast between the ruling family’s beginnings in ‘a very humble wood-built place’ of 10,000 inhabitants which he had visited, and the ‘illustrious Hanoverian house at present reigning in Great Britain’ (xiii. 699—700). These lectures are the work of a man who had what Robert 437Colby, in Thackeray’s Canvass of Humanity, called a ‘bifocal vision of time’; a Victorian who, as Juliet McMaster has shown in ‘Thackeray’s Things: Time’s Local Habitation’, ‘spent his working life defining his period. And he habitually defined it in terms of its relation to the past’; a novelist who had included in the titles he gave his fictions such terms as ‘diary’, ‘memoirs’, ‘confessions’, ‘letters’ and ‘history’, and who had allowed the eponymous hero of The History of Henry Esmond to ask whether history would ever ‘pull off her periwig’:

Why shall History go on kneeling to the end of time? I am for having her rise up off her knees and take a natural posture: not to be for ever performing cringes and congees like a court-chamberlain, and shuffling backwards out of doors in the presence of the sovereign. In a word, I would have history familiar rather than heroic; and think that Mr. Hogarth and Mr. Fielding will give our children a much better idea of the manners of the present age in England than the Court Gazette and the newspapers which we get thence. (xiii. 14)