Joseph Astley

Joseph Astley (c.1777-1832) studied for the Dissenting ministry at New College, Manchester, in the 1790s, but turned to journalism in London before becoming a successful chemical manufacturer in Edinburgh. He assumed control of the Analytical Review from Joseph Johnson at the end of 1798, an operation he maintained through the following June, when the Review folded. His identity as Johnson’s successor, however, has eluded scholars until now. Some have misread Crabb Robinson’s reference to him as ‘Ashley’ or speculated that Robinson was referring to Sir Astley Cooper (Morley, Books and their Writers,vol. I.5; Brooks, Correspondence, p. 549).  Astley was the son of Thomas Astley (1738-1817), a nonconformist minister at Preston and Chesterfield, Lancashire, and fellow classmate of Joseph Priestley at Daventry Academy. Astley’s Advertisement for the new series of the Review, published in February 1799 (London: T. Hurst), described the periodical as only a Rational Dissenter would do: “untainted by the Prejudices of Party or the Dogmas of Sectarism [sic]” (ii), a periodical worthy of “the Friends of human Improvement” neither hindered “by the Spirit of Faction, nor impaired by the Menaces of Persecution” (iii). Crabb Robinson wrote in his Reminiscences for 1799 that

“It was also thro’ Astley that I became acquainted ^formed an intimacy with a lady^ with whom my acquaintance never ceased till her death a few years since Mary Hayes [sic] of whom I will also say something – Miss Hays was asborn of Dissenting parents And became also thro’ Robert Robinson a Unitn And also a very zealous political & moral reformer She became the friend of Mary Wollstonecraft And professed all her opinions with more zeal than discretion – This brot her into disrepute among the rigid And her character sufferd but most undeservedly – Whatever her conduct migh principles might have been Her conduct was rigidly correct – She confessed to me on our first acquaintce that she was wretched, the consequence of an unrequited a attachment, where a Union was impossible – She early devoted herself to a life of letters . . . (Reminiscences, 1799, 1: ff. 110-11)

Astley appears in several letters by Robinson and in his Diary (30 August 1812; 20 November 1819; and 15 December 1819, and 19 February 1822), almost always in connection with the Reids, Anthony Robinson, Mary Hays, and the Analytical Review. See Derek Roper, Reviewing Before the Edinburgh 1788-1802 (London: Methuen, 1978), p. 23; Crabb Robinson, Diary, 2: f. 129; 7: ff. 752, 760; 22: f. 53; Brooks, Correspondence, p. 566.