ConclusionLike many of Brett’s experimental papers, Boys of the Empire ended its colorful run in 1888, when it was folded into another periodical, Young Men of Great Britain. Why would the fabulous novelty of Boys of the Empire wear off so soon? Perhaps inflation had not grown significantly enough to account for the weekly’s added cost, turning parsimonious readers to less expensive papers with equally vivid (albeit monochromatic) illustrations. No evidence of commercial advertising is present within the pages of the paper (aside from the self-promotion of various Brett publications) that would suggest the publisher attempted to find additional funding for his more expensive color operation. Technologically, Brett’s mass-market printing was remarkably ahead of its time, and maybe even ahead of its youthful readers. No conclusive circulation numbers for the paper are readily available, though its short run suggests that they were considerably less than the circulation of Boys of England.
The patriotic themes championed in the pages of Boys of the Empire had inherent problems and limitations, however. Brett’s heavy-handed imperialist message may have been the ultimate cause of the magazine’s abbreviated career. For a publication to align itself so carefully with the dynamics of “Empire” dictates that its content be as morphogenic as the term’s varied meanings, a practical impossibility for a weekly periodical dependent on consistent storylines. Brett’s propagandized brand of imperialism may have been too reductive for the complex ideological response to empire that characterized the period. A simplistic marketing response to Victoria’s golden jubilee, the paper’s downfall may have in fact foreshadowed eventual fin de siècle disillusionment with imperial policy. In the end, Brett’s Boys of England (prizing elite culture) far outlasted his Boys of the Empire (prizing geographical expanse). The fantasy stories printed in Brett’s Empire were very much dependent on an affirmative attitude of Imperialism; the entire premise of the paper in its optimistically bright colors would never withstand a turn in public opinion against colonialism. Kimberly Reynolds cites the coming economic downturn and the failure of the Boer War (that “epitomized incompetence abroad”) as factors that undermined the unflagging masculine ideals of courage and strength that were stretched to ridiculous lengths in the boy’s papers (57).
A final obstacle to Boys of the Empire’s success as a publication may have been the paper’s deliberately strong association with Queen Victoria. At the end of his book on imperial boyhood, Joseph Bristow proposes a critical reason for fanatical representations of manliness in boys’ papers:
Victoria, then, was fulfilling her symbolic function as the maternal nation…although her femininity provided the empire with an assuring image of continuity, her gender was a sign of imperial vulnerability…British culture invested so much energy in glamorizing male heroes because they represented…a tremendous lack: they were not to be found in the empire. (224-25)
A dearth of male political figures in conjunction with increased absentee fatherhood caused by industrialization presented the problem of adequate masculine role models in Fin de Siècle England, particularly for the working class boy. An imperial masculine periodical with the matronly Queen Victoria as its source of inspiration exemplified this problem. Brett’s color paper was (like the empire itself) doomed to fail. The Christmas issue of 1888 was printed monochromatically, and Brett would never print with such vibrancy again. His Boys of England lasted until 1899, four years beyond the prolific publisher’s own death in 1895 (Boyd 34).
To properly understand popular culture, it is necessary to examine the most widespread objects of its dispersion. At the fin de siècle, Edwin J. Brett’s periodicals enjoyed the largest readership of any boy’s paper. And though Boys of the Empire was not as lucrative an endeavor as Boys of England, the publisher’s interest in the project and its eventual failure are indicative not only of the rapid turnover of fin de siècle publications, but also the era’s social and political atmosphere. Emblematic of empire, the paper is itself a microcosm of imperial discourse that sheds light on necessary and acceptable Victorian modes of masculinity. - back to Empire Boys