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Title: Early History of Blackwood's Edinburgh Magazine
Author: Doane, Alice Mary
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Early History of Blackwood's Edinburgh Magazine" ***

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  A. B. Earlham College, 1914


  Submitted in Partial Fulfillment of the Requirements for the

  Degree of










  June 1 1917

  BY Mary Alice Doane
  ENTITLED Early History of Blackwood’s Magazine

  DEGREE OF Master of Arts in English

  Jacob Zeitlin
  In Charge of Thesis

  Frank W Scott
  Head of Department

  Recommendation concurred in:[1]

  --------------------  }  Committee
  --------------------  }  on
  --------------------  }  Final Examination[1]

  [1] Required for doctor’s degree but not for master’s.


    I. Introduction               p. 1-15

   II. Genesis                    p. 16-29

  III. Dramatis Personae          p. 30-36

   IV. First Years of “Maga”      p. 37-67

       Bibliography               p. 68-69




[2] The information in this chapter is taken from the following: Oliver
Elton: _A Survey of English Literature, 1780-1830_ (Arnold, London,
1912) V. i, ch. 13

_Cambridge History of English Literature_ (Cambridge, 1916) V. xii, ch.

John Gibson Lockhart: _Peter’s Letters to His Kinsfolk_ (Edinburgh,
1819) V. i, ii

People love to be shocked! That explains the present circulation of
_Life_. It explains, too, the clamor with which Edinburgh received
the October number of _Blackwood’s Edinburgh Magazine_ in 1817. For
the first time in periodical history, the reading public was actually
thrilled and completely shocked! Edinburgh held up its hands in
horror, looked pious, wagged its head--and bought up every number! It
is a strange parallel, perhaps, _Life_ and _Blackwood’s_,--yet not so
strange. It is hard at first glance to understand how those yellow,
musty old pages could have been so shocking which now seem to have
lost all savor for the man in the street. But before we can appreciate
just how shocking _Blackwood’s Magazine_ was, or why, it will be
necessary first to remember the Edinburgh of those days, and the men
who thought and fought in those pages, and the then state of periodical

When we call _Blackwood’s_ the first _real_ magazine it is by virtue
of worth, not fact. There were numerous periodicals preceding and
contemporary with it. Most of them have never been heard of by the
average citizen, and no doubt oblivion is the kindest shroud to fold
them in. The _Monthly Review_, founded in 1749, was the oldest. It
ran till 1845 and is remembered chiefly for the fact that it had
decided Whiggish leanings with a touch of the Nonconformist. _The
Critical Review_, a Tory organ, ran from 1756 to 1817, the natal year
of “Maga”, as _Blackwood’s_ was fondly dubbed. _The British Critic_,
1793-1843, was a mouthpiece for High Church opinion; and _The Christian
Observer_, 1802-1857, served the same purpose for the evangelicals.
_The Anti-Jacobin_, 1797-98, was almost the only journal of the time
where talent or wit appeared often enough not to be accidental, and
it ran only eight months. _The Gentleman’s Magazine_, 1731-1868, has
come in for a small share of immortality, but could never aspire to be
considered a “moulder of opinion”. It published good prose and verse,
and articles of antiquarian and literary tone; its scholarship was
fair. When this is said, all is said.

_The Edinburgh Review_ and _The Quarterly_ are the only two besides
_Blackwood’s_ which come down to the Twentieth Century with any degree
of lasting fame. In 1755 had appeared the first _Edinburgh Review_
“to be published every six months”. It survived only two numbers,
being too radical and self-sufficient in certain philosophical and
religious views for that day of orthodoxy. In October 1802 the first
number of the _Edinburgh Review and Critical Journal_, a quarterly,
appeared, which according to the advertisement in the first number was
to be “distinguished for the selection rather than for the number of
its articles”.[3] Its aim was to enlighten and guide the public mind
in the paths of literature, art, science, politics,--with perhaps a
bit of emphasis on the words _guide_ and _politics_. Francis Jeffrey,
of whom Lockhart, later one of the leading lights of _Blackwood’s_,
says, “It is impossible to conceive the existence of a more fertile,
teeming intellect”,[4] was the first editor and remained so until 1829.
In the first number, October 1802, there were twenty-nine articles,
contributed by Sydney Smith, Jeffrey, Francis Horner, Brougham, and
Thomson, Murray and Hamilton. During its first three years the _Review_
distinguished itself by adding such names to its list as Walter Scott,
Playfair, John Allen, George Ellis, and Henry Hallam. With such pens
supporting it, it would have been strange if it had not been readable.
There was indeed an air of vitality and energy throughout, which
distinguished it from any of its forerunners; it spoke as one having
authority; and men turned as instinctively to Francis Jeffrey and
the _Edinburgh Review_ for final verdicts, as it never entered their
heads to seriously consider the _Gentleman’s Magazine_ or even the

[3] _Cambridge History of English Literature_, V. xii, ch. 6, p. 157

[4] J. G. Lockhart: _Peter’s Letters_, V. ii, p. 61

This first number, October 1802, is as representative as any.
Jeffrey wrote the first article, reviewing a book on the causes of
the revolution by Mounier, late president of the French National
Assembly. There was an article by Francis Horner on “The Paper Credit
of Great Britain”; one by Brougham on “The Crisis in the Sugar
Colonies”. Another by Jeffrey, a criticism of Southey’s “Thalaba”,
indicates the young editor’s intention to live up to the motto of
the _Review_:--“_Judex damnatur cum nocens absolvitur_--The Judge is
damned when the offender is freed”. With Jeffrey anything new in the
world of letters was taboo, and Southey he considered “a champion and
apostle” of a school of poetry which was nothing if not new. Quoting
him: “Southey is the first of these brought before us for judgment, and
we cannot discharge our inquisitorial office conscientiously without
pronouncing a few words upon the nature and tendency of the tenets
he has helped to propagate”.[5] Notice that Jeffrey uses the term
“inquisitorial office”, therein pleading guilty to the very attitude of
which Lockhart accused him, and in opposition to which in _Blackwood’s
Magazine_ he later took such a decided stand, offending how similarly,
we are later to discover.

[5] _Cambridge History of English Literature_, V. xii, ch. 6, p. 159

Lockhart admired Jeffrey and praised his talents; it was the use to
which he put those talents that Lockhart assailed. The following
words of Lockhart’s own, even though tinged with that exaggerated
vindictiveness so characteristic of him, give a pretty fair idea of
the attitude he and all the Blackwood group took against Jeffrey and
the _Edinburgh Review_; and shows the spirit underlying the rivalry
that took root before ever _Blackwood’s Magazine_ existed and prevailed
for ever after. “Endowed by nature with a keen talent for sarcasm
(Jeffrey, that is) nothing could be more easy for him than to fasten,
with the destructive effect of nonchalance upon a work which had
perhaps been composed with much earnestness of thought on the part of
the author.... The object of the critic, however, is by no means to
assist those who read his critical lucubrations, to enter with more
facility, or with better preparation into the thoughts or feelings
or truths which his author endeavors to inculcate or illustrate. His
object is merely to make the author look foolish; and he prostitutes
his own fine talents, to enable the common herd”[6]--to look down
upon the deluded author who is victim of the _Review_. This is what
Lockhart considered Jeffrey to be doing, and he was not alone in his
opinion. It is to be remembered, however, that Lockhart’s attitude was
always more tense, keener, and a little more bitter than others’, yet
his words better than any one else’s sound the keynote of the deadly
opposition to the _Review_ which “Maga” assumed from the first. Quoting
him again, "_The Edinburgh Review_ cared very little for what might
be done, or might be hoped to be done, provided it could exercise a
despotic authority in deciding on the merits of what _was_ done.
Nobody could ever regard this work as a great fostering-mother of the
infant manifestations of intellectual and imaginative power. It was
always sufficiently plain, that in all things its chief object was
to support the credit of its own appearance. It praised only where
praise was extorted--and it never praised even the highest efforts of
contemporary genius in the spirit of true and genuine earnestness which
might have been becoming”.[7] Lockhart never quite forgave Jeffrey for
failing instantly to recognize the genius of Wordsworth. He continues,
of the Reviewers: “They never spoke out of the fulness of the heart
in praising any one of our great living poets, the majesty of whose
genius would have been quite enough to take away all ideas except those
of prostrate respect”.[8] Taking all of Lockhart’s impetuosity with a
pinch of salt, the fact remains undeniably true that the _Edinburgh_
assumed the patronizing air of bestowing rather than recognizing honor
when it praised.

[6] J. G. Lockhart: _Peter’s Letters_, V. ii, p. 130

[7] J. G. Lockhart: _Peter’s Letters_, V. ii, p. 207

[8] Ibid, V. ii, p. 208

Among the builders of the _Edinburgh_ Henry Brougham stands one of the
foremost. In five years he contributed as many as eighty articles,
an average of four each number, and it is said that he once wrote
an entire number. He was capable of it! Brougham was a powerful
politician, but unfortunately did not limit his contributions to
political subjects. He wrote scientific, legal and literary papers as
well, with the air of one whose mandates go undisputed. Undisputed
they did go, too. In fact Brougham just escaped being a genius! He made
a big splash in his own little world and age, but his fame has not
outlived him. Another prominent contributor was Sydney Smith, a man of
no small reputation as a humorist. He earnestly applied his talents
to the forwarding of serious causes, and talents undoubtedly he had;
but the wit of his style, according to the Hon. Arthur R. D. Elliot,
erstwhile editor of the _Review_, its cleverness and jollity, prevented
many from recognizing the genuine sincerity of his character.

By the end of 1806, Sir Walter Scott had contributed twelve articles
in all, among them papers on Ellis’s “Early English Poets”, on
Godwin’s “Life of Chaucer”, on Chatterton’s “Works”, on Froissart’s
“Chronicles”. After 1806, he withdrew from the _Review_, and politics
became the more prominent feature. No account of the _Edinburgh Review_
has ever been given, written or told without including a remark of
Jeffrey’s to Sir Walter Scott in a letter about this time. It would
never do to omit it here! The remark is this: “The _Review_, in short,
has but two legs to stand on. Literature, no doubt, is one of them: but
its _Right Leg_ is Politics.”[9] Scott’s ideal was to keep it literary;
and his break was on account of its excessive Whiggism. In Jeffrey’s
mind, however, _The Edinburgh Review_ was destined to save the
nation! He championed the causes of Catholic emancipation, of popular
education, prison reform, even some small degree of justice in Ireland,
et cetera, all flavored, of course, with the saving grace of Whiggism.

[9] Elton: _A Survey of English Literature, 1780-1830_. V. i, p. 387

Modern critics more than once have characterized Jeffrey as that
“once-noted despot of letters”. But it is not fair only to be told that
Jeffrey once said of Wordsworth’s Excursion, “This will never do!” That
he considered the end of The Ode to Duty “utterly without meaning”;
and that the Ode on Intimations of Immortality was “unintelligible”;
that he ignored Shelley, and committed other like unpardonable sins.
Those things are true and known and by them is he judged, but they
are not _all_ by which he should be judged by any means! There is no
doubt in the world but what Jeffrey’s mind was cast in a superior
mould. Lockhart himself has already testified there could not be “a
more fertile, teeming intellect”. He was seldom, if ever, profound,
we admit; but even the most grudging critic must grant him that
large, speculative understanding and shrewd scrutiny so prominent in
his compositions. Imagination, fancy, wit, sarcasm were his own, but
not the warm and saving quality of humor. He was a great man and a
brilliant criticiser, though hardly a great critic. The great critic
is the true prophet and Jeffrey was no prophet. As late as 1829 in an
article on Mrs. Hemans in the _Edinburgh Review_, he wrote: “Since the
beginning of our critical career we have seen a vast deal of beautiful
poetry pass into oblivion in spite of our feeble efforts to recall
or retain it in remembrance. The tuneful quartos of Southey are
already little better than lumber:--and the rich melodies of Keats and
Shelley,--and the fantastical emphasis of Wordsworth,--and the plebeian
pathos of Crabbe,--are melting fast from the field of our vision. The
novels of Scott have put out his poetry. Even the splendid strains of
Moore are fading into distance and dimness, except where they have been
married to immortal music; and the blazing star of Byron himself is
receding from its place of pride.”[10] Herein he only redeems himself
from his early condemnation of Wordsworth and Shelley and Southey, to
damn himself irrevocably in our eyes again with his amazing lack of
foresight! No! Jeffrey was no prophet. He had not the range of vision
of the true critic, and “where there is no vision the people perish”.
This was indeed an epitaph written a century ago for a grave not even
yet in view. It must not be hastily concluded from this, however, that
all the criticism in the _Edinburgh Review_ was poor stuff. A vast
amount of it was splendid work; the best output of the best minds of
the time; and it was the one and only authentic and readable journal
for years. This is corroborated by a statement of Sir Walter Scott’s in
a letter to George Ellis: “No genteel family can pretend to be without
the _Edinburgh Review_; because, independent of its politics, it gives
the only valuable literary criticisms that can be met with.”[11]

[10] Elton: _A Survey of English Literature, 1780-1830_, V. i, p. 390

[11] _Cambridge History of English Literature_, V. xii, p. 164

But it was high time for a new periodical of opposite politics and
fresh outlook; and in 1809 Gifford was established as editor of
_The Quarterly Review_. Its four pillars were politics, literature,
scholarship, and science; but its main purpose was to oppose the
_Edinburgh_ and create an intellectual nucleus for the rallying of the
Tories. In October 1808 after plans were well on foot, Scott wrote to
Gifford, prospective editor: “The real reason for instituting the new
publication is the disgusting and deleterious doctrines with which
the most popular of our Reviews disgraces its pages.”[12] This of
course was a reference to the political policies of the _Edinburgh_,
yet the tone of the _Quarterly_ was not to be one of political
opposition only. Scott was eager for the success of the first number
and wrote nearly a third of it himself. Later he busied himself to
enlist the services of Southey and Rogers and Moore and Kirkpatrick
Sharpe as contributors. Southey wrote altogether about one hundred
articles on subjects varying from Lord Nelson to the Poor Laws. Scott
himself contributed about thirty with his usual versatility of subject
matter, all the way from fly fishing to Pepys’ Diary. In the issue for
January 1817 he even reviewed “Tales of my Landlord” and “ventured to
attribute them to the author of Waverley and Guy Mannering.”! John
Wilson Croker, satirist, was another prominent contributor, narrow
of mind and heart, intolerant of soul. He was an accurate and able
“argu-fier” however, and one of the ruling genii in the politics of
the _Quarterly_. In forty-five years he contributed something like
two hundred and fifty-eight articles. Sir John Barrow, traveller and
South African statesman, contributed much and copiously, multitudinous
reviews and voyages, all in his unvarying “solid food” style and tone.
Hallam and Sharon Turner wrote historical papers; Ugo Fosculo wrote
on Italian classics. Such was the tone of the _Quarterly_. It took
itself seriously, and was evidently always taken seriously. But no
modern would consider those dim old pages of criticism as a criterion
to the literature of that age. It was too heavy to be sensitive to new
excellencies, too intent on upholding failing causes to recognize new
ones. In truth, it was a periodical strangely unresponsive to artistic
or literary excellence or attainment. By 1818 and 1819 its circulation
was almost 14,000--practically the same as the _Edinburgh Review_;
but the _Quarterly_ never made the stir the _Edinburgh_ did. Ellis
spoke truth when he pronounced it, “Though profound, notoriously and
unequivocally dull”.[13] Gifford remained editor until 1824; then John
Taylor Coleridge ascended the throne for two years, and after that,

[12] _Cambridge History of English Literature_, V. xii, p. 165

[13] _Cambridge History of English Literature_, V. xii, p. 166

Concerning the _Scots Magazine_ which seemed to be dying a natural
death about the time of the initial impulse of “Maga”, Lockhart
writes: “It seems as if nothing could be more dull, trite and heavy
than the bulk of this ancient work.”[14] An occasional contribution by
Hazlitt or Reynolds enlivened it a bit, but only served to emphasize in
contrast the duller parts.

[14] J. G. Lockhart: _Peter’s Letters_, V. ii, p. 227

The name of Leigh Hunt can scarcely be omitted from this panorama,
though here it is the journalist rather than the journal which attracts
attention. At various times he edited various publications, ten in all,
and all of them more or less short-lived and unsuccessful. Among them
was the _Reflector_ (1810-11), a quarterly which is remembered mainly
because Hunt was its editor and Charles Lamb one of its contributors.
Most noteworthy of his periodical projects was the _Examiner_, a
newspaper which he began to edit (1808) for his brother, and continued
to do so for the space of some thirteen years. It professed no
political allegiance, but was enough outspoken in its radical views
to land both Leigh Hunt and his brother in prison, after printing
an article on the Prince Regent. Among other things of interest, it
started a department of theatrical criticism; and on the whole, with
men like Hazlitt and Lamb contributing, it could not escape being
interesting. The Blackwood group later reacted to it and its editor
as a bull does to a red rag, testifying at least that it was far from

The _London Magazine_ did not start until two years after
_Blackwood’s_, and we will dismiss it with only a few words. It was a
periodical fashioned after the sprightlier manner which _Blackwood’s_,
too, strove to maintain. They were bitter rivals from the first; and as
to which was the more bitter, the more stinging in its personalities,
it would be hard to judge. At one time matters even reached such a
pitch that John Scott, the _London’s_ first editor, and Lockhart found
it necessary to “meet on the sod”. The _London_ put forth many fine
things. In September 1821 it gave to the public “Confessions of an
Opium Eater” by a certain Thomas De Quincey. A year later it offered
“A Dissertation on Roast Pig” by an author then not so well known as
now. A poem or two of one John Keats appeared in its pages; and when
all is said, there is no doubt that the _London Magazine_ did at times
splendidly illumine the poetry of the age. It ran from 1820 to 1829.

Thus in brief was the periodical world. The quarterly reviews were
avowedly pretentious, never amusing, not creative. Contents were
limited to political articles, to pompous dissertations and reviews.
There were no stories, no verse, nothing unbending, never a touch of
fantasy. Their political flavor was the least of their sins. A touch of
the Radical, the Whig or the Tory is a real contribution to the history
of literature, wherein it inevitably involves great historic divisions
of the thought of a nation concerning life and art. No. Our quarrel,
like _Blackwood’s_, is on the ground of their rigidity. It is well to
hold fast that which is good; but it is not well to insistently oppose
and blind oneself and others to the changing order and the forward
march of men and letters.

Knowing what we do of Jeffrey and the _Edinburgh Review_ it is easy
to comprehend what prompted Lockhart’s pen to say: “It is, indeed, a
very deplorable thing to observe in what an absurd state of ignorance
the majority of educated people in Scotland have been persuaded to
keep themselves, concerning much of the best and truest literature of
their own age, as well as of the ages that have gone by”.[15]... His
quarrel is ours for the nonce, and to comprehend the spirit of “Maga”
it is first necessary to comprehend the spirit which prompted much for
which it is so rigorously criticised. Lockhart speaks of the “facetious
and rejoicing ignorance” of the Reviewers. “I do not on my conscience
believe”, says he in Peter’s Letters, “that there is one Whig in
Edinburgh to whom the name of my friend Charles Lamb would convey
any distinct or definite idea.... They do not know even the names of
some of the finest poems our age has produced. They never heard of
_Ruth_ or _Michael_, or _The Brothers_ or _Hartleap Well_, or the
_Recollections of Infancy_ or the _Sonnets to Buonaparte_. They do not
know that there is such a thing as the description of a churchyard
in _The Excursion_. Alas! how severely is their ignorance punished in
itself”![16] Perhaps we can forgive the egotistic note in the following
words, also from Peter’s Letters: “There is no work which has done
so much to weaken the authority of the _Edinburgh Review_ in such
matters as _Blackwood’s Magazine_.”[17] _Blackwood’s_ is at least still
readable which is more than can be said of most of its contemporaries.
Though it did not, like the _London_, discover a Charles Lamb or a De
Quincey, it did and does still overflow with the forging energy and
ardent enthusiasms of youth. Besides the famous “Noctes Ambrosianae”
for the most part attributed to John Wilson, it published good short
stories, good papers by James Hogg, John Galt, and others, good verse,
much generous as well as much vindictive criticism. It opened up new
fields of interest: German, Italian and Norse letters, all hitherto but
slightly touched upon. But we anticipate,--and must needs begin at the

[15] J. G. Lockhart: _Peter’s Letters_, V. ii, p. 141

[16] J. G. Lockhart: _Peter’s Letters_, V. ii, p. 142, 143

[17] Ibid. V. ii, p. 144



We are told that William Blackwood grew impatient of “humdrum
bookselling”, and considering the spirited character of the man, it
is easy to believe. That hardly explains the whole truth concerning
the origin of “Maga”, however. The history of _Blackwood’s Edinburgh
Magazine_ might almost be considered the history of the struggle
between two rival booksellers, Mr. Constable and William Blackwood.
The personality of the man William Blackwood is no less interesting
than the personality of his magazine, and indeed, his was the spirit
which colored the periodical from start to finish. His energy and
acumen were of the sort which leave their mark on all they touch.
To know William Blackwood means to see his vigorous, unwearying
figure through and behind every page. Lockhart knew him as well as
any, and it is his able portraiture that follows: “He is a nimble
active-looking man of middle-age, and moves about from one corner to
another with great alacrity, and apparently under the influence of
high animal spirits. His complexion is very sanguineous, but nothing
can be more intelligent, keen and sagacious than the expression of the
whole physiognomy, above all, the grey eyes and eyebrows as full of
locomotion as those of Catalini. The remarks he makes are in general
extremely acute.... The shrewdness and decision of the man can,
however, stand in need of no testimony beyond what his own conduct has
afforded--above all, in the establishment of his Magazine,--(the
conception of which I am convinced was entirely his own), and the
subsequent energy with which he has supported it through every
variety of good and evil fortune.”[18] Lockhart was in a position to
know the true character of the man, for these words were written two
years after his own first connection with William Blackwood and his
periodical. Again, he describes the publisher as “a man of strong
talents, and though without anything that could be called learning,
of very respectable information, ... acute, earnest, eminently
zealous in whatever he put his hand to; upright, honest, sincere and
courageous”.[19] This was William Blackwood, and it is small wonder
such a man should grow weary of “humdrum bookselling”.

[18] J. G. Lockhart: _Peter’s Letters_, V. ii, p. 188

[19] A. Lang: _Life and Letters of John Gibson Lockhart_, V. i, p. 121

_Blackwood’s Edinburgh Magazine_ was the result of more stringent
stimuli, however, than the restlessness of its founder. It was
necessary that the sentiments of those opposed to Jeffrey and the
_Edinburgh Review_ should have a medium of expression. Blackwood
considered the _Quarterly_ “too ponderous, too sober, dignified and
middle-aged”[20] to frustrate the influence of the _Edinburgh_. It was
not stimulating, in other words, and the present day agrees with him.
His ideal was a magazine “more nimble, more frequent, more familiar”.
But not least among the many stirrings of mind and brain which gave
rise to “Maga” was Blackwood’s disappointment over the loss of the
Waverley series. The honesty and courage of the man need no other
evidence than the fact that he criticised “The Black Dwarf” and even
suggested a different ending. Scott, of course, would have none of his
meddling, and transferred his future dealings to Constable, publisher
of the despised _Edinburgh Review_, and the _Scots Magazine_, which was
at that moment more or less insignificant. It is evident that Blackwood
did not take pains to seek out any specious circumlocution in his
criticism, and the idea that any man should criticise the Great Wizard
of the North brings a catch to the breath and a tingling down one’s
spinal column!

[20] Mrs. Oliphant: _Annals of a Publishing House_, V. i, p. 97

There is no doubt that the politics, the conceit, the unappreciative
and at times irreligious tone of the _Edinburgh Review_ were the main
reasons for the bitter hatred of the _Blackwood_ writers; but there is
less doubt that thus to lose the Waverley series was a last incendiary
straw to William Blackwood. He immediately set about putting in action
the plans which had been smouldering so long.

In April 1817 appeared the first number of _Blackwood’s Edinburgh
Magazine_. There seems to be a general understanding among
bibliographers that the first numbers were known as the “Edinburgh
Monthly Magazine”. According to the old volumes themselves, however,
only the second number, the issue for May 1817, went by this title,
the initial number and all the rest bearing the heading, _Blackwood’s
Edinburgh Magazine_.[21] Messrs. Pringle and Cleghorn were the first
joint editors, it was probably through James Hogg, known to us as the
Ettrick Shepherd, that Blackwood first met these two men. If either
of them could boast any literary pretensions, it was the younger,
Thomas Pringle. He was from Hogg’s country, and Blackwood thought he
divined in him the making of just such another “rustic genius” as Hogg.
Cleghorn, former editor of the _Farmers’ Magazine_, was evidently a
stick! It is difficult to conceive how William Blackwood, with his
gift of insight, could give over the conduct of his pet plans into the
hands of such a pair. But if he made a mistake, he soon made amends.
Of the business arrangements between Blackwood and the two editors
little of definite nature is known, except that the three were to
be co-partners. Blackwood sustained the expense of publishing and
printing; Pringle and Cleghorn supplied the material;--and the profits
were to be divided! The editors expected £50 apiece per month, which
seems unusual, considering that the circulation never exceeded 2500.
It looks suspiciously probable that the early numbers were maintained
at real financial loss to the publisher. There is no mention of paying
contributors till later years. Very likely at that time writers were
still _above_ remuneration! The _Edinburgh Review_ had done much to
remedy this attitude, but a complete cure was not effected for some
years to come.

[21] See _Blackwood’s Edinburgh Magazine_, V. i

The Prospectus of the infant journal is interesting. It was to be
“A Repository of whatever may be supposed to be most interesting
to general readers”.[22] One strong point was to be an antiquarian
repository; too, it was to criticise articles in other periodicals; it
was to contain a “Register” of domestic and foreign events. Among other
aims, one was entertainment. It was to be a miscellany of the original
works of authors and poets; and what endears it to modern hearts
above all things else, it was to be an open door for struggling young
writers. By virtue of the anonymous nature of its contributions, this
was made possible with no lessening of authority. The signatures in
the early numbers were intended to be perplexing, and perplexing they
remain to this day. But probably struggling young writers met with less
encouragement at the hands of Pringle and Cleghorn than was William
Blackwood’s original intention. Those two never went out of the way to
drum up new material, while William Blackwood was a man alert and ever
on the watch for another Walter Scott.

[22] _Blackwood’s Edinburgh Magazine_, V. i, p. 2

Several numbers passed along peacefully enough. As Mr. Lang puts it,
“Nothing could be more blameless”. That was the trouble--it was _too_
blameless! Blackwood might have forgiven a flagrant crime, but this
negative and inoffensive monthly fell with a dull thud in comparison
with his mounting expectations! He knew, none better, that a periodical
of any appreciable merit must necessarily bring upon itself as much
genuine censure as applause. _Blackwood’s Edinburgh Magazine_ for April
1817 brought neither. The great day came for the first issue, evening
followed, and Edinburgh went to bed unmoved. With his overwhelming
desire and ambition to rival the _Edinburgh Review_ and electrify
Edinburgh city with a stimulating diet, it is not likely that he would
observe with much composure the advent of this cherished scheme of his
into the world, containing for its first long article[23] six pages of
“Memoirs of the Late Francis Horner, Esq., M. P.”, one of Jeffrey’s
own right hand men!--or in finding in the department of “Periodical
Works”,[24] a statistical and more or less pleasant rehashment of
the contents of the last _Reviews_. Francis Horner had ever been one
of the mainstays of the _Edinburgh_; and though it was altogether
fitting and proper that the death of an illustrious statesman should
be commemorated, it is not likely that William Blackwood welcomed as
the first article in the first number of his new magazine, a wholly
unmitigated extolling of one whose past influence he hoped to erase.
Though the publisher’s generous mind would be the last to begrudge him
the due honor of such phrases as “highly gifted individual”, “eminent
statesman”, and the like, it cannot be imagined that he rejoiced over
the words “original and enlightened views”, “correct and elegant
taste”, when it was his ardent purpose to prove the _Edinburgh_ and
its builders the opposite of enlightened, and the embodiment of poor
taste and incompetent judgment!

[23] Ibid., V. i, p. 3

[24] Ibid., V. i, p. 81

This same first number contains seven pages of discourse on “The
Sculpture of the Greeks”[25], and the relation of Greek art to the
environment in which it grew up,--all very learned and interesting, to
be sure. There is a brief article on the “Present State of the City of
Venice”[26], condensed and unromantic enough to grace a Travellers’
Guide. If Messrs. Pringle and Cleghorn had been anyone else but Messrs.
Pringle and Cleghorn, they might have indulged the public with a
thrill or two on such a subject as the city of Venice; but never a
thrill do we get from cover to cover! The article which follows is
“on the Constitution and Moral Effects of Banks for the Savings of
Industry”[27]; and there are others of similar tone: “Observations
on the Culture of the Sugar Cane in the United States”[28], “The
Craniological Controversy”[29], “The Proposed Establishment of a
Foundling Hospital in Edinburgh”[30], and the like. One short article,
“An Account of the American Steam Frigate”[31], is still of genuine
interest, attributing the conception of the invention to a “most
ingenious and enterprising citizen”, Robert Fulton, Esq. It describes
with naive emphasis the successful trip “to the ocean, eastward
of Sandy Hook, and back again, a distance of fifty-three miles, in
eight hours and twenty minutes. A part of this time she had the tide
against her, and had no assistance whatever from the sails.”[32] It
is known that the signature Zeta was used in the early numbers, by
more than one person; but “Remarks on Greek Tragedy”[33], a criticism
of Aeschylus’ _Prometheus_, signed Zeta, Mr. Lang attributes without
hesitation to Lockhart. “Tales and Anecdotes of Pastoral Life”[34]
and “Notices Concerning the Scottish Gypsies”[35] were also among the
“Original Communications”, as the first division of the magazine was
called. The former is perhaps the one attempt in the whole number at
that sprightly nimble manner which was Blackwood’s aim. The second is a
long article of some sixteen pages, delving back into the early history
of the Egyptian pilgrims, quoting copiously from “Guy Mannering”, and
referring familiarly to Walter Scott, and Mr. Fairburn and James Hogg.
Both of these articles were continued in several subsequent numbers.

[25] Ibid., V. i, p. 9

[26] Ibid., V. i, p. 16

[27] Ibid., V. i, p. 17

[28] Ibid., V. i, p. 25

[29] Ibid., V. i, p. 35

[30] Ibid., V. i, p. 38

[31] Ibid., V. i, p. 30

[32] Ibid., V. i, p. 32

[33] Ibid., V. i, p. 39

[34] Ibid., V. i, p. 22

[35] Ibid., V. i, p. 43

In another department of the contents, entitled “Select Extracts”,
there are two articles: an “Account of Colonel Beaufoy’s Journey to
the Summit of Mount Blanc”[36] and the “Account of the Remarkable
Case of Margaret Lyall, Who continued in a State of Sleep nearly Six
Weeks”[37], both very readable, which is a good deal when all is
said. The Antiquarian Reportory contained six articles as antiquated
as one could wish, all the way from a “Grant of the Lands of Kyrkenes
by Macbeth, son of Finlach”[38] to a “Mock Poem upon the Expedition
of the Highland Host”[39]. The Original Poetry department contained
three poems, none of them startling. The third one, the shortest, is
by far the best, bearing the title “Verses”[40]. They were written
in honor of the entry of the Allies into Paris, 1814; and bear the
unmistakable brand and seal of James Hogg, with his ardent song for
“Auld Scotland!--land o’ hearts the wale!” ...

    “Land hae I bragged o’ thine an’ thee,
    Even when thy back was at the wa’;
    An’ thou my proudest sang sall be,
    As lang as I hae breath to draw.”

[36] Ibid., V. i, p. 59

[37] Ibid., V. i, p. 61

[38] Ibid., V. i, p. 65

[39] Ibid., V. i, p. 69

[40] Ibid., V. i, p. 72

Next comes the “Review of New Publications”, devoting three pages to
Dr. Thomas Chalmers’ “Discourses on the Christian Revelation”[41],
concluding with the words: “If a few great and original minds,
like that of Dr. Chalmers, should arise to advocate the cause of
Christianity, it would no longer be the fashion to exalt the triumphs
of reason and of science.”[42] The other reviews were of “Harold, the
Dauntless; a Poem. By the Author of ‘The Bridal of Triermain’”[43], of
“Armota, a Fragment”[44], and “Stories for Children, selected from the
History of England”[45]. Of what came under the heading, Periodical
Works, we have already spoken. Then followed “Literary and Scientific
Intelligence”[46], notices of works preparing for publication in
Edinburgh and London, and the monthly list of new publications in the
same two cities. There is a page of French books, published since
January 1817. After that the Monthly Register of foreign intelligence,
proceedings of Parliament, the British Chronicle, commercial and
agricultural reports for the month, a meteorological table, and two
pages of births, marriages and deaths, complete the number for April

[41] Ibid., V. i, p. 73

[42] Ibid., V. i, p. 75

[43] Ibid., V. i, p. 76

[44] Ibid., V. i, p. 78

[45] Ibid., V. i, p. 79

[46] Ibid., V. i, P. 85

Mr. Lang was right when he called it “blameless”; and it is not
surprising that Blackwood made some suggestions in regard to the second
number. We know that his suggestions were not cordially received by
Messrs. Pringle and Cleghorn, and it appears equally probable that they
were not acted upon. The second issue, May 1817, is no more resilient
and has gained no more momentum than its predecessor. The contents
are cast in the same mould: an “Account of Mr. Ruthven’s Printing
Press”[47], another on the “Method of Engraving on Stone”[48], and
“Anecdotes of Antiquaries”[49], and the like.

[47] Ibid., V. i, p. 125

[48] Ibid., V. i, p. 128

[49] Ibid., V. i, p. 136

If Blackwood was disappointed over the first number, he was irritated
at the second; but when a third of no more vital aspect appeared, his
patience gave way, and Pringle and Cleghorn had to go! It is easy to
imagine that the man who did not hesitate to criticise the “Black
Dwarf” would not be overawed by the two mild gentlemen in charge of
his pet scheme. William Blackwood’s ideal had indeed been to startle
the world with a periodical which in modern terms we would call a
“live wire”. And now with the magazine actually under way, it is not
likely that a man of his stamp would sit by unperturbed, and watch one
insignificant number after another greet an unresponsive public. After
the appearance of the third number, he gave three months’ notice to
Messrs. Pringle and Cleghorn, which somewhat excited those gentlemen,
but was none the less final. They had done all they could to evade
Blackwood’s “interest in the literary part of his business”, and
intended to keep the publisher “in his place”. William Blackwood was
not made that way, however.

He himself illuminates the situation in a letter to his London agents,
Baldwin, Craddock and Company, dated July 23, 1817[50].

[50] Mrs. Oliphant: _Annals of a Publishing House_, V. i, p. 104

“I am sorry to inform you that I have been obliged to resolve upon
stopping the Magazine with No. 6. I have been much disappointed in
my editors, who have done little in the way of writing or procuring
contributions. Ever since the work began I have had myself almost the
whole burden of procuring contributions, which by great exertions
I got from my own friends, while at the same time I had it not in
my power to pay for them, as by our agreement the editors were
to furnish me with the whole of the material, for which and their
editorial labors they were to receive half of the profits of the work.
I found this would never do, and that the work would soon sink, as I
could not permit my friends (who have in fact made the work what it
is) to go on in this way for any length of time.... I gave a notice,
according to our agreement, that the work would close at the period
specified in it--three months. Instead, however, of Pringle acting in
the friendly way he professed, he joined Cleghorn, and without giving
any explanation, they concluded a bargain with Constable and Company,
by which I understand they take charge of their (Constable’s) ‘Scot’s
Magazine’ as soon as mine stops.”

“It is not of the least consequence to me losing them, as they were
quite unfit for what they undertook.... I have, however, made an
arrangement with a gentleman of first-rate talents by which I will
begin a new work of very superior kind. I mention this to you, however,
in the strictest confidence, as I am not at liberty yet to say anything
more particularly about it.... My editors have very dishonestly made it
known to a number of people that we stop at the sixth number. This will
interfere a little with our sale here, but I hope not with you.”

The editors wrangled at great length, but Blackwood’s mind was made up,
and as we see by the foregoing letter, already launching new plans
and busy with them. A letter to Pringle and Cleghorn, gives us the
first hint of John Wilson’s connection with the magazine (other than
mere contributor), and shows the tone of finality with which Blackwood
could treat what was to him a settled subject:

“As you have now an interest directly opposite to mine, I hope you
will not think it unreasonable that I should be made acquainted with
the materials which you intend for this number. It occurs to me it
would save all unpleasant discussion if you were inclined to send the
different articles to Mr. John Wilson, who has all along taken so deep
an interest in the magazine. I do not wish to offer my opinion with
regard to the fitness or unfitness of any article, but I should expect
that you would be inclined to listen to anything which Mr. Wilson
might suggest. He had promised me the following articles: Account of
Marlowe’s Edward II, Argument in the Case of the Dumb Woman lately
before the Court, Vindication of Wordsworth, Reviews of Lament of
Tasso, Poetical Epistles and Spencer’s Tour. His furnishing these or
even other articles will, however, depend upon the articles you have
got and intend to insert.”

“I beg to assure you that it is my most anxious wish to have the whole
business settled speedily and as amicably as possible.”[51]

[51] Ibid., V. i, p. 106

Here exit the prologue; and the real show begins with _Blackwood’s
Edinburgh Magazine_ for October 1817. To attract attention was
Blackwood’s first aim; interest once aroused, he did not worry over
maintaining it. Of that he felt assured. Respectability, mediocrity
were taboo! By respectability is inferred that prudent, cautious,
dead-alive respectability whose backbone (such as it has) is fear of
public censure!


_Dramatis Personae_

One of Blackwood’s aims in life was to make 17 Princes Street a
literary rendez-vous; and indeed the background and atmosphere of
“Maga”, and the men who gathered round it, are perhaps as fascinating
and absorbing as the magazine itself!

Blackwood’s shop is described by Lockhart as “the only great lounging
shop in the new Town of Edinburgh”[52]. A glimpse of the soil and
lights and shades which nourished “Maga” cannot help but bring a
warmer, more familiar comprehension of its character and the words
it spake. Just as Park Street and the Shaw Memorial and the grave
portraits of its departed builders color our own _Atlantic Monthly_,
just so did 17 Princes Street tinge and permeate the magazine which
grew up in its precincts. “The length of vista presented to one on
entering the shop”, says Lockhart, “has a very imposing effect; for it
is carried back, room after room, through various gradations of light
and shadow, till the eye cannot trace distinctly the outline of any
object in the furthest distance. First, there is as usual, a spacious
place set apart for retail-business, and a numerous detachment of young
clerks and apprentices, to whose management that important department
of the concern is intrusted. Then you have an elegant oval saloon,
lighted from the roof, where various groupes of loungers and literary
dilettanti are engaged in looking at, or criticising among themselves,
the publications just arrived by that day’s coach from town. In such
critical colloquies the voice of the bookseller himself may ever and
anon be heard mingling the broad and unadulterated notes of its Auld
Reekie music; for unless occupied in the recesses of the premises with
some other business, it is here that he has his station.”[53]

[52] J. G. Lockhart: _Peter’s Letters_, V. ii, p. 186

[53] Ibid., V. ii, p. 187

From this it is evident Blackwood’s ideal shop was realized, and
that there did gather in his presence both those who wielded the
pen and those who wished to, those who were critics and those who
aspired to be. At these assemblies might often be found two young
men, who, says Mrs. Oliphant, “would have been remarkable anywhere
if only for their appearance and talk, had nothing more remarkable
ever been developed in them”.[54] These two, of course, were John
Wilson and John Gibson Lockhart. She continues: “Both of them were
only too keen to see the ludicrous aspect of everything, and the
age gave them an extraordinary licence in exposing it.”[55] This is
an important note, the “extraordinary licence” of the age,--a straw
eagerly grasped at!--corroborated, too, by Lord Cockburn[56] who
testifies: “There was a natural demand for libel at this period.” It
explains much that we would fain explain in the subsequent literary
pranks of these same two youths. They were ready for anything; and
more,--enthusiastically ready for anything. John Wilson was a giant,
intellectually and physically, “a genial giant but not a mild one”[57].
Lockhart had already made some small reputation for himself as a
caricaturist. Perhaps it was insight into their capacities which
strengthened Blackwood’s disgust with the two mild gents in charge of
his to-be-epoch-making organ! At any rate, it was to these two, Wilson
especially, that he turned for the resuscitation of his dream.

[54] Mrs. Oliphant: _Annals of a Publishing House_, V. i, p. 101

[55] Ibid., V. i, p. 103

[56] Henry Thomas Cockburn, a Scottish judge

[57] Mrs. Oliphant: _Annals of a Publishing House_, V. i, p. 101

John Wilson is the one name most commonly associated with
_Blackwood’s_, and with the exception of William Blackwood himself,
perhaps the most important figure in its reconstruction. The
name Christopher North was used in the earlier years by various
contributors, but was soon appropriated by Wilson and is now almost
exclusively associated with him. In the latter part of 1817 he became
Blackwood’s right hand man. He has often been considered editor of
“Maga”, but strictly speaking, no one but Blackwood ever was. After the
experience with Pringle and Cleghorn, William Blackwood would naturally
be wary of ever again entrusting full authority to anyone. He himself
was always the guiding and ruling spirit, though never admittedly, or
technically, editor.

It was “Maga” that gave John Wilson his first real literary
opportunity. His gifts were critical rather than creative, and his most
famous work is the collected “Noctes Ambrosianae” which began to run
in the March number (1822) of _Blackwood’s Edinburgh Magazine_. He was
one of the very first to praise Wordsworth; and though in general, far
too superlative both in praise and blame to be considered dependable, a
very great deal of his criticism holds good to the present hour. Along
in the first days of Wordsworth’s career, Wilson proclaimed him, with
Scott and Byron, “one of the three great master spirits of our day in
the poetical world”. Lockhart, long his close friend and associate,
writes thus: “He is a very warm, enthusiastic man, with most charming
conversational talents, full of fiery imaginations, irresistible
in eloquence, exquisite in humor when he talks ...; he is a most
fascinating fellow, and a most kind-hearted, generous friend; but his
fault is a sad one, a total inconsistency in his opinions concerning
both men and things.... I ... believe him incapable of doing anything
dishonorable either in literature or in any other way.”[58]

[58] A. Lang: _Life and Letters of John Gibson Lockhart_, V. i, p. 93

It was the pen of John Gibson Lockhart, however, almost as wholly as
Wilson’s which insured the success of the magazine; and Blackwood was
as eager to enlist Lockhart into his services as Wilson. Like Wilson,
too, “Maga” was Lockhart’s opportunity! He had given early promise as
a future critic. Elton says he wrote “sprightly verse and foaming
prose”. From 1817 to 1830 he was not only one of the invaluable
supporters of “Maga”, but one of its rare _lights_! In announcing the
marriage of his daughter to Lockhart, Sir Walter Scott said: “To a
young man of uncommon talents, indeed of as promising a character as
I know”.[59] His gift for caricature colored his writings. His was a
mind and eye and genius for the comic. His satire was that keen and
bitter piercing satire which all are ready to recognize as talent, but
few are ready to forgive if once subjected to it. But there was little
malice behind it ever. Much of what he wrote has been condemned for its
bitter, and often personal, import. But Lockhart was only twenty-three
at the time of his first connection with the magazine--and what is
more, “constitutionally a mocker”. All is well with his serious work,
but according to Mr. Lang, the “Imp of the Perverse” was his ruling
genius! Others say, “as a practitioner in the gentle art of making
enemies, Lockhart excelled”,[60] and that he possessed the “native gift
of insolence”[61]. They are strong words, not wholly without cause, and
illustrate the attitude of many minds towards his work; yet perhaps
they only go to prove that he began to write responsible articles too
young, and was allowed entirely too free a swing.

[59] Ibid., V. i, p. 230

[60] J. H. Millar: _A Literary History of Scotland_, p. 517

[61] Same

The story of James Hogg is by far the most fascinating of those
connected with _Blackwood’s_; and in a later series of articles in
that magazine on these first three stars, the writer says: “Hogg
was undoubtedly the most remarkable. For his was an untaught and
self-educated genius, which shone with rare though fitful lustre
in spite of all disadvantages, and surmounted obstacles that were
seemingly insuperable.”[62] It is difficult to ascertain his exact
relations with the magazine. One thing at least is certain,--he
contributed much. Wilson and Lockhart found great joy in “drawing” him,
and Hogg was kept wavering between vexation and pride “at occupying
so much space in the most popular periodical of the day”.[63] As
Saintsbury puts it, he was at once the “inspiration, model, and butt of
_Blackwood’s Magazine_”[64]. But indeed the shepherd drawn so cleverly
in the Noctes “was not”, his daughter testifies, “the Shepherd of
Ettrick, or the man James Hogg”. And in all justice to him, there can
be no doubt that he is totally misrepresented therein.

[62] _Memorials of James Hogg_, p. 11

[63] J. H. Millar: _A Literary History of Scotland_, p. 530

[64] Saintsbury: _Essays in English Literature, 1780-1860_, p. 37

His poetry is his only claim upon the world. It was the one thing
dearest to his own heart, and the one thing for which he claimed or
craved distinction or recognition of any kind. The heart warms to
this youth with his dreams and aspirations, brain teeming with poems
years before he learned to write. As might be expected from a man
whose own grandfather had conversed with fairies, in Hogg’s poetry
the supernatural is close to the natural world. He is reported once
to have said to his friend Sir Walter Scott: “Dear Sir Walter! Ye can
never suppose that I belang to your School o’ Chivalry! Ye are the
king o’ that school, but I’m the king o’ the Mountain and Fairy School,
which is a far higher ane nor yours.”[65] This “sublime egotism” is
not displeasing in one whose heart and soul was wrapt up in an earnest
belief in and reverence for his art. It is the egotism of a deep nature
which scorns to hide its talents in the earth. James Hogg spoke to the
heart of Scotland, and was proud and content in so doing.

[65] _Memorials of James Hogg_, p. x

To all appearances Blackwood was now the centre of a group after his
own heart! With these three as a nucleus, others of considerable talent
joined the circle. Talent, wit, keen and zealous minds were theirs,
with enough fervor and intrepidity of spirit to guarantee that “Maga”
would never again pass unnoticed. Henceforth there was sensation
enough to satisfy even the heart of a William Blackwood! Whatever
accusations were afterwards levelled at “Maga” (and they were many) no
one could again accuse it of being either dull or uninteresting--the
one unpardonable sin of book or magazine! The last thing that “Maga”
wished to be was neutral! Better to offend than be only “inoffensive”;
better to raise a rumpus than grow respectable! And from October 1817
on, “respectable” is the last word anyone thought of applying to
_Blackwood’s Edinburgh Magazine_!


_First Years of “Maga”_

With its new grip on life in October 1817, the editorial notice of
Blackwood’s omitted any profession of a new prospectus. It reads: “In
place of a formal Prospectus, we now lay before our Readers the titles
of some of the articles which we have either already received, or which
are in preparation by our numerous correspondents.” Follows some two
pages or more of titles alluring and otherwise, whereupon the notice
continues: “The Public will observe, from the above list of articles,
that we intend our Magazine to be a Depository of Miscellaneous
Information and Discussion. We shall admit every Communication of
Merit, whatever may be the opinion of the writer, on Literature,
Poetry, Philosophy, Statistics, Politics, Manners, and Human Life....
We invite all intelligent persons ... to lay their ideas before the
world in our Publication; and we only reserve to ourselves the right
of commenting upon what we do not approve.”[66] That right was always
reserved, and there was never any hesitancy on the part of any of them
in acting thereon, as the magazine itself testifies.

[66] _Blackwood’s Edinburgh Magazine_, V. ii, p. 2

A short paragraph of “Notices to Correspondents”[67] following the
editorial notice, is of more than casual interest. Its flavor is
shown by the following:--

“The communication of Lupus is not admissible. D. B.’s Archaeological
Notices are rather heavy. We are obliged to our worthy Correspondent
M. for his History of ‘Bowed David’, but all the anecdotes of that
personage are incredibly stupid, so let his bones rest in peace.... We
have received an interesting Note enclosing a beautiful little Poem,
from Mr. Hector Macneil ... and need not say how highly we value his
communication.... Duck-lane, a Town Eclogue, by Leigh Hunt--and the
Innocent Incest by the same gentleman, are under consideration; their
gross indecency must however be washed out. If we have been imposed
upon by some wit, these compositions will not be inserted. Mr. James
Thomson, private secretary for the charities of the Dukes of York
and Kent, is, we are afraid, a very bad Poet, nor can the Critical
Opinions of the Princes of the Blood Royal be allowed to influence
ours.... Reason has been given for our declining to notice various
other communications.” Many of the contributors, probably most of them,
received personal letters; in fact, this paragraph does not appear in
every number.

[67] Same

This number, _The_ number of _Blackwood’s Edinburgh Magazine_, the
startling and blood-curdling number of October 1817, contained
among other sensations, the Chaldee Manuscript, supposedly from the
“Bibliotheque Royale” (Salle 2, No. 53, B. A. M. M.)--in reality a
clever and scathing piece of satire couched in Biblical language,
which spared no one of note in the whole town of Edinburgh, and written
by heaven knows whom! Its interest was strictly local, dealing with
Edinburgh and Edinburgh personalities, written with the Edinburgh
public in view; but its fame spread like wild fire! Like Byron,
_Blackwood’s Magazine_ woke up one morning to find itself grown famous
over night! As Mrs. Oliphant puts it: “Edinburgh woke up with a roar
of laughter, with a shout of delight, with convulsions of rage and
offense”. Its fame involved, however, not only the clamor of Edinburgh,
but instant recognition throughout the kingdom. Result? Libel actions,
challenges to duels, lawsuits, and--the suppression of the Chaldee
Manuscript. Its fame has come down to the present day, but one peep at
it involves carfare to the British Museum!

This amazing piece of literature seems innocent enough at first glance;
and in truth it was what people read _into_ it rather than what they
read _in_ it that made all the trouble. Quoting from it:

“I looked, and behold a man clothed in plain apparel stood in the door
of his house: and I saw his name ... and his name was as it had been
the color of ebony, and his number was as the number of a maiden--(17
Princes Street, of course)....

“And I turned my eyes, and behold two beasts came from the lands of
the borders of the South; and when I saw them I wondered with great
admiration.... And they came unto the man ... and they said unto him,
Give us of thy wealth, that we may eat and live ... and they proffered
him a Book; and they said unto him, Take Thou this and give us a sum
of money, ... and we will put words into the Book that will astonish
the children of thy people.... And the man hearkened unto their voice,
and he took the Book and gave them a piece of money, and they went away
rejoicing in their hearts.... But after many days they put no words in
the Book; and the man was astonished and waxed wroth, and he said unto
them, What is this that ye have done unto me, and how shall I answer
those to whom I am engaged? And they said, what is that to us? See thou
to that.”[68]

[68] Mrs. Oliphant: _Annals of a Publishing House_, V. i, p. 119-20

All this seems innocent tomfoolery enough--pure parody on our friend
Ebony, and the two beasts Pringle and Cleghorn who “put no words in
the Book”. But that was not all, Constable and the _Edinburgh Review_
figured prominently; and Sir Walter Scott who, we are told, “almost
choked with laughter”, and Wilson and Lockhart and Hogg.

“There lived also a man that was _crafty_ in council ... and he had a
notable horn in his forehead with which he ruled the nations. And I saw
the horn that it had eyes, and a mouth speaking great things, and it
magnified itself ... and it cast down the truth to the ground and it
practised and prospered.”[69]

[69] Ibid., V. i, p. 121

Constable never outlived this name of the Crafty and the reputation of
the _Edinburgh Review_ for “magnifying itself” lives to the present
day. “The beautiful leopard from the valley of the palm-trees” (meaning
Wilson) “called from a far country the Scorpion which delighted to
sting the faces of men”, (Lockhart, of course) “that he might sting
sorely the countenance of the man that is crafty, and of the two beasts.

“And he brought down the great wild boar from the forest of Lebanon
and he roused up his spirits and I saw him whittling his dreadful
tusks for the battle.”[70] This last is James Hogg. There were others.
Walter Scott was the “great Magician which has his dwelling in the
old fastness hard by the river Jordan, which is by the Border”[71] to
whom Constable, the Crafty, appealed for advice. Francis Jeffrey was
“a familiar spirit unto whom he (the Crafty) had sold himself”.[72]
The attack on the Rev. Prof. Playfair, later so sincerely deplored in
_Peter’s Letters_, reads in part thus: “He also is of the seed of the
prophets, and ministered in the temple while he was yet young; but
he went out and became one of the scoffers”[73]--in other words, one
of the Edinburgh Reviewers! The spirit of prophecy seems indeed to
have been upon the writer of the Chaldee, for it ends--appropriately,
thus: “I fled into an inner chamber to hide myself, and I heard a great
tumult, but I wist not what it was.”[74] The great tumult was heard, to
be sure, and the authors fled to be safe.

[70] Ibid., V. i, p. 123

[71] Ibid., V. i, p. 122

[72] A. Lang: _Life and Letters of John Gibson Lockhart_, V. i, p. 161

[73] Same

[74] Same

Just who wrote the Chaldee will never be known; but all indications
are that the idea and first draft were James Hogg’s, and that it was
touched up and completed by Wilson and Lockhart, with the aid, or
rather with the suggestions and approval of William Blackwood.

The number for August 1821 contains the first of a series of “Familiar
Epistles to Christopher North, From an Old Friend with a New Face.”[75]
Letter I deals with Hogg’s Memoirs. This is anticipating a bit,
anticipating some four years, in fact, but is nevertheless apropos of
our discussion of the Chaldee. Just who the Old Friend with a New Face
was would be hard to judge. Mr. Lang has surmised him to be either
Lockhart or De Quincey. It is a lively bit of work, worthy the wit
of either, but the sentences do not feel like Lockhart’s. That both
these men were friends of Hogg, encourages one to hope that the biting
sarcasm of the thing was its own excuse for being, and came not from
the heart. Such was ever the tone of “Maga”, however; and none can deny
that once begun the article _must_ be read! Excerpts follow: “Of all
speculations in the way of printed paper, I should have thought the
most hopeless to have been ‘a Life of James Hogg, by himself’. Pray who
wishes to know anything about his life? ...

“It is no doubt undeniable that the political state of Europe is not so
interesting as it was some years ago. But still I maintain that there
was no demand for the Life of James Hogg.... At all events, it ought
not to have appeared before the Life of Buonaparte.”[76]

[75] _Blackwood’s Edinburgh Magazine_, V. x, p. 43

[76] Same

But to come again to our Chaldee Manuscript, the correspondent says
concerning Hogg’s claim to its authorship: “There is a bouncer!--The
Chaldee Manuscript!--Why, no more did he write the Chaldee Manuscript
than the five books of Moses.... I presume that Mr. Hogg is also the
author of Waverley.--He may say so if he chooses.... It must be a
delightful thing to have such fancies as these in one’s noodle;--but
on the subject of the Chaldee Manuscript, let me now speak the truth.
You yourself, Kit ... and myself, Blackwood and a reverend gentleman
of this city alone know the perpetrator. It was the same person who
murdered Begbie!”--Begbie, by the way, was a bank porter, whose murder
was one of the never solved mysteries of Edinburgh. “It was a disease
with him to excite 'public emotion’. With respect to his murdering
Begbie ... all at once it entered his brain, that, by putting him to
death in a sharp and clever and mysterious manner ... the city of
Edinburgh would be thrown into a ferment of consternation, and there
would be no end of ‘public emotion’.... The scheme succeeded to a
miracle.... Mr. ---- wrote the Chaldee Manuscript precisely on the same
principle.... It was the last work of the kind of which I have been
speaking, that he lived to finish. He confessed it and the murder the
day before he died, to the gentleman specified, and was sufficiently

“After this plain statement, Hogg must look extremely foolish. We shall
next have him claiming the murder, likewise, I suppose; but he is
totally incapable of either.”[77]

[77] Ibid., V. x, p. 49-50

It is altogether probable that Hogg’s frank avowal dismayed the men
who had studied to keep its authorship secret for so many years,
fearing lest the confession implicate his colleagues. At any rate,
such vehement protestations as the above are to be eyed askance in the
light of saner evidences. “Maga” was prone to go off on excursions of
this kind; and William Blackwood had at last realized his dreamed-of
Sensation! No doubt he knew the risk he took in publishing the Chaldee;
but in the tumult which followed, he stood equal to every occasion.
Hogg was not then in Edinburgh, and Wilson and Lockhart too thought
it wise to leave town. The letters of the two latter to Blackwood
during the days of the libel suits remind one of the tragic notes
of boys of twelve a la penny dreadful! But Blackwood was firm and
undisturbed through it all, disclaiming all responsibility himself,
never disclosing a single name. The secret was safe and the success
of “Maga” sure. In the November number, however, he saw fit to insert
such statements as the following: “The Publisher is aware that every
effort has been used to represent the admission into his Magazine of an
article entitled “A Translation of a Chaldee Manuscript” as an offence
worthy of being visited with a punishment that would involve in it his
ruin as a Bookseller and Publisher. He is confident, however, that his
conduct will not be thought by the Public to merit such a punishment,
and to them he accordingly appeals.”[78]--And again, on a page by
itself in the same November number appears the following statement:
“The Editor has learned with regret that an Article in the First
Edition of last Number, which was intended merely as a _jeu d’esprit_,
has been construed so as to give offence to Individuals justly entitled
to respect and regard; he has on that account withdrawn it in the
Second Edition, and can only add, that if what has happened could have
been anticipated, the Article in question certainly never would have

[78] Ibid., V. ii, p. 1 of the introductory pages

[79] Ibid., V. ii, p. 129

Aside from the Chaldee, there were two other distinct and decided
Sensations in this memorable number, both too well known to
demand detailed attention. They were Wilson’s attack on Coleridge,
“Observations on Coleridge’s Biographia Literaria”,[80] the leading
article and a long one; and Lockhart’s paper “On the Cockney School
of Poetry”[81]. The former is an inexcusable, ranting thing which
concludes that Mr. Coleridge’s Literary Life strengthens every argument
against the composition of such Memoirs”[82], ... that it exhibits
“many mournful sacrifices of personal dignity, after which it seems
impossible that Mr. Coleridge can be greatly respected either by
the Public or himself.”[83] Such words were strong enough in their
own day, but seem doubly presumptuous in the light of our present
hero-worship,--especially as the article continues with verdicts like
the following: “Considered merely in a literary point of view, the
work is most execrable.... His admiration of Nature or of man,--we had
almost said his religious feelings toward his God,--are all narrowed,
weakened, and corrupted and poisoned by inveterate and diseased

[80] Ibid., V. ii, p. 3

[81] Ibid., V. ii, p. 38

[82] Ibid., V. ii, p. 5

[83] Same

[84] Same

This was a sin for which “Maga” later atoned by repeated tributes to
his genius, to his poetry and its beauty in many subsequent numbers
of the periodical. Lockhart two years afterwards spoke of it as “a
total departure from the principles of the Magazine”[85]--“a specimen
of the very worst kind of spirit which the Magazine professed to
be fighting in the _Edinburgh Review_.”[86] “This is indeed the only
one of the various sins of this Magazine for which I am at a loss to
discover--not an apology--but a motive. If there be any man of grand
and original genius alive at this moment in Europe, such a man is
Mr. Coleridge.”[87] And two months after this paper, in the issue
for December 1817 appeared a “Letter to the Reviewer of Coleridge’s
Biographia Literaria”, beginning with the words: “To be blind to our
failings and alive to our prejudices, is the fault of almost every one
of us.... It is the same with me, the same with Mr. Coleridge, and
it is, I regret to state it, the same with his reviewer!”[88]... And
this writer, who signs, himself J. S., sums up his valiant defense,
declaring “it is from a love I have for generous and fair criticism,
and a hate to everything which appears personal and levelled against
the man and not his subject--and your writing is glaringly so--that
I venture to draw daggers with a reviewer. You have indeed imitated,
with not a little of its power and ability, the worst manner of the
_Edinburgh Review_ critics. Forgetting ... that freedom of remark does
not exclude the kind and courteous style, you have entirely sunk the
courteousness in the virulency of it.”[89] Thus “Maga” redeemed itself
and Coleridge was avenged.

[85] J. G. Lockhart: _Peter’s Letters_, V. ii, p. 218

[86] Same

[87] Same

[88] _Blackwood’s Edinburgh Magazine_, V. ii, p. 285-6

[89] Ibid., V. ii, p. 287

As for the third of the three articles which best illustrate the
whoopla-spirit of this new venture, Lockhart’s paper “On the Cockney
School of Poetry”, all is said when we say it was the first of a
series of corrosive and scurrilous articles directed against Leigh
Hunt in particular, and Hazlitt and Webbe, and in general, the
“younger and less important members” of that school, “The Shelley’s
and the Keatses”! Modern critics! Beware how you cast stones at our
Percy Smith’s and Reggie Brown’s! Says our young friend Lockhart in
this article that Leigh Hunt is “a man of little education. He knows
absolutely nothing of Greek, almost nothing of Latin”[90] ... and
so forth and so on. He cannot “utter a dedication, or even a note,
without betraying the _Shibboleth_ of low birth and low habits. He is
the ideal of a Cockney poet.... He has never seen any mountain higher
than Highgate-hill, nor reclined by any streams more pastoral than the
Serpentine River. But he is determined to be a poet eminently rural,
and he rings the changes--till one is sick of him, on the beauties of
the different ‘high views’ which he has taken of God and nature, in
the course of some Sunday dinner parties at which he has assisted in
the neighborhood of London.... As a vulgar man is perpetually laboring
to be genteel--in like manner the poetry of this man is always on the
stretch to be grand.”[91]

[90] Ibid., V. ii, p. 38

[91] Ibid., V. ii, p. 39

This is just a taste of what is in reality very clever stuff. The
subject of approbation or disapprobation had best be omitted. At any
rate “Maga” “started something”, for the term “Cockney School” was
taken up by the major and minor Reviews and nearly every daily paper
of England and Scotland. What Wilson said later (1832) in a review of
Tennyson’s poems, characterizes the _Blackwood_ attitude toward the
Cockneys from the first: “Were the Cockneys to be to church, we should
be strongly tempted to break the Sabbath.”[92] Whatever our evaluation
of this sort of criticism, the admission perhaps saves the reputation
of Lockhart and other _Blackwood_ critics! Their opposition was more a
matter of principle than of judgment.

[92] J. H. Millar: _A Literary History of Scotland_, p. 506

The rest of the contents of the October 1817 number are interesting
and lively, though it must be admitted scarcely so startling as this
famous triad. A discussion of the “Curious Meteorological Phenomena
Observed in Argyleshire”[93] reads interestingly and rapidly, and is
of sufficient weight to save the magazine from flying away altogether!
“Analytical Essays on the Early English Dramatists, No. II., Marlowe’s
Edward II”[94] is the work of John Wilson, and bears the stamp of his
outpouring of appreciation and enthusiasm. Another article, “On the
Optical Properties of Mother-of-Pearl, etc.”[95] seems to be a purely
scientific offering, and so far as the writer can judge, presumably
accurate and just as it should be. Page 47 bears side by side, a tender
little “Elegy” of James Hogg’s and a poem in honor of the Ettrick
Shepherd and his songs by John Wilson. “Strictures on the Edinburgh
Review”[96] and “Remarks on the Quarterly Review”[97] are two articles
one would scarcely go to sleep over.

[93] _Blackwood’s Edinburgh Magazine_, V. ii, p. 18

[94] Ibid., V. ii, p. 21

[95] Ibid., V. ii, p. 33

[96] Ibid., V. ii, p. 41

[97] Ibid., V. ii, p. 57

There are other papers in this same issue which time will not allow
even brief mention. It is easy to picture the great publisher when the
new copies first arrived, crisp and new with the smell of printers’ ink
upon them. There was no despair, no disappointment this time, but the
eager palpitation and anxiety of the parent, solicitous but equally
certain of the success of his child! A letter penned in haste to John
Wilson before ever “Maga” was seen by public eye betrays better than
any polite effusion could have done, the genuine emotion of the man.

  “John Wilson, Esq.
  Queen Street

  October 20, 1817

My dear Sir,--As in duty bound I send you the first complete copy I
have got of the Magazine. I also beg you will do me the favor to accept
of the enclosed. It is unnecessary for me to say how much and how
deeply I am indebted to you, and I shall only add that by the success
of the Magazine (for which I shall be wholly indebted to you) I hope to
be able to offer you something more worthy of your acceptance.--I am,
dear Sir,

  Yours very truly,
  W. Blackwood”[98]

[98] Mrs. Oliphant: _Annals of a Publishing House_, V. i, p. 127

Mrs. Oliphant draws a pretty picture, which reveals better perhaps
than some more erudite account, the mental state of William Blackwood
the night before “Maga” was offered to the world. “He went into his
house, where all the children ... rushed out with clamor and glee to
meet their father, who, for once in his excitement, took no notice of
them, but walked straight to the drawing room, where his wife, not
excitable, sat in her household place, busy no doubt for her fine
family; and coming into the warm glow of the light, threw down the
precious Magazine at her feet. ‘There is that that will give you what
is your due--what I always wished you to have’, he said, with the
half-sobbing laugh of the great crisis. She gave him a characteristic
word, half-satirical, as was her way, not outwardly moved.... Sometimes
he called her a wet blanket when she thus damped his ardor,--but not, I
think, that night.”[99]

[99] Same

It might easily be guessed that after the sudden bursting into glory
of the October number, the same high level would be difficult to
sustain. But although subsequent numbers boast no Chaldee to convulse
or enrage the town, the popularity of “Maga” seems never again to
lag. The November number begins properly enough. The afore-mentioned
apology and explanation of the Chaldee introduced it to the watchful
waiters, impatient to ascertain what a second issue would bring forth.
The first long article, nine and a half pages, “On the Pulpit Eloquence
of Scotland”[100], very thoughtful, very serious, very earnest, in
tone, thanks God that Scotland has been blessed with the heavenly
visitation of her well loved preacher, Dr. Chalmers, and extols and
praises and appreciates the man, “like an angel in a dream”. The second
article continues the learned discussion “On the Optical Properties
of Mother-of-Pearl”[101]. The third is John Wilson’s famous review of
Byron’s “Lament of Tasso”[102], wherein says he “There is one Poem in
which he (Byron) has almost wholly laid aside all remembrance of the
darker and stormier passions; in which the tone of his spirit and his
voice at once is changed, and where he who seemed to care only for
agonies, and remorse, and despair, and death, and insanity, in all
their most appalling forms, shews that he has a heart that can feed
on the purest sympathies of our nature, and deliver itself up to the
sorrows, the sadness and the melancholy of humbler souls.”[103]

[100] _Blackwood’s Edinburgh Magazine_, V. ii, p. 131

[101] Ibid., V. ii, p. 140

[102] Ibid., V. ii, p. 142

[103] Ibid., V. ii, p. 143

The lighter tone again asserts itself in “Letters of An Old Bachelor,
No. 1.”[104], who waxes indignant over French opinion concerning
English ladies! He quotes a certain French writer who represents “the
dress of the English ladies” as mere imitation of the French, only
“all ridicule and exaggeration. 'Does a French lady, for instance, put
a flower in her hair--the heads of the English ladies are immediately
covered with the whole shop of a bouquetière. Does a French lady
put on a feather ... in this country--nothing but feathers is to be
seen!’ This, of course”, says the old bachelor in all earnestness, “is
all a vile slander”[105],--although he must admit having seen heads
covered with flowers, and “ladies wearing _quite as many_ feathers
as were becoming.”[106] He resents too that a French priest should
accuse English ladies of having bad teeth. “Is he ignorant”, he would
know, “that young ladies by applying to Mr. Scott, the dentist, may
be supplied with a single tooth for the small sum of two guineas,
while dowagers may be accommodated with a complete set of the _most
beautiful_ teeth, made from the tusks of the hippopotamus ... for
a very trifling consideration? In fact, it is quite astonishing,
to see the fine teeth of all our female acquaintances;... And yet
this abominable priest has the impudence to talk of bad teeth!”[107]
Besides, “what ladies of any nation”, says he, “play so charmingly the

[104] Ibid., V. ii, p. 192

[105] Ibid., V. ii, p. 193

[106] Same

[107] Same

[108] Ibid., V. ii, p. 194

This little skit is followed by the second installment “On the Cockney
School of Poetry”[109],--this time that well known and scandalous
handling of Hunt’s “Story of Rimini”,--Lockhart’s again, of course.
This was the article whose turbulent discussion of the moral depravity
of Leigh Hunt threw Baldwin, Cradock and Joy, then Blackwood’s London
agents, into such a state of pious horror. They evidently feared
getting mixed up in anything livelier than antiquarian projects, and
threatened to withdraw their name. The articles on the Cockney School
went merrily on, however; and so did Baldwin and Cradock even until
July 1818. No doubt they found it a paying proposition!

[109] Same

Sir Walter Scott tried to wean both Wilson and Lockhart away from
“that mother of mischief”[110] as he termed the magazine. According to
Mr. Lang, he “disapproved (though he chuckled over it) the reckless
extravagance of juvenile satire”. But it is easy to comprehend how “a
chuckle” from Sir Walter would be the last incentive to curb their
literary abandon. Blackwood worked long for the support of Scott,
knowing well what it would mean to “Maga”. A semblance of support, at
least, he secured through his patronage of Scott’s favorite, William
Laidlaw, whose agricultural chronicles ran for a time as one of
the regular features. Scott even contributed an occasional article
himself from time to time, which, though anonymous, could not escape
recognition. Probably he never attained a very cordial affection for
the publisher, and it is well known that he disapproved of much that
“Maga” said and did, yet outwardly he professed neutrality between
_Constable’s_ and _Blackwood’s_; and in a letter to William Laidlaw,
February 1818, while “Maga” was still in its youth, his verdict is not
vindictive. “Blackwood is rather in a bad pickle just now--sent to
Coventry by the trade, as the booksellers call themselves and all about
the parody of the two beasts. Surely these gentlemen think themselves
rather formed of porcelain clay than of common potters’ ware. Dealing
in satire against all others, their own dignity suffers so cruelly from
an ill-imagined joke! If B. had good books to sell, he might set them
all at defiance. His Magazine does well and beats Constable’s; but we
will talk of this when we meet.”[111]

[110] A. Lang: _Life and Letters of John Gibson Lockhart_, V. i, p. 193

[111] J. G. Lockhart: _Life of Sir Walter Scott_, V. v, p. 268

Continuing the panorama, the issue for February 1818 contains three
pages of notes “To Correspondents”, of which several deserve mention:
“We have no objection to insert Z.’s Remarks on Mr. Hazlitt’s Lectures,
after our present Correspondent’s Notices are completed. If Mr. Hazlitt
uttered personalities against the Poets of the Lake School, he reviled
those who taught him all he knows about poetry.” This same issue was
then starting a series of articles entitled “Notices of a Course of
Lectures on English Poetry, by W. Hazlitt”.[112] With no personal
comment, they give the gist of Hazlitt’s lectures at the Surrey
Institution in London. The first article covers the lectures on “Poetry
in General”[113], “On Chaucer and Spenser”[114], and “On Shakespeare
and Milton”[115]. These papers ran for several months, and the promised
Remarks of Z. do not appear in any recognizable form unless the paper
“Hazlitt Cross-Questioned”[116] in the August issue (1818) is the
awaited article. It is presented in the form of eight questions, the
first: “Did you, or did you not, in the course of your late Lectures
on Poetry, infamously vituperate and sneer at the character of Mr.
Wordsworth--I mean his personal character; his genius even you dare not
deny?”[117] Again--“Do you know the difference between Milton’s Latin
and Milton’s Greek?”[118] and--“Did you not insinuate in an essay on
Shakespeare ... that Desdemona was a lewd woman, and after that dare
to publish a book on Shakespeare?”[119] The eighth question closes the
article: “Do you know the Latin for a goose?”[120]

[112] _Blackwood’s Edinburgh Magazine_, V. ii, p. 556

[113] Same

[114] Ibid., V. ii, p. 558

[115] Ibid., V. ii, p. 560

[116] Ibid., V. iii, p. 550

[117] Same

[118] Ibid., V. iii, p. 551

[119] Same

[120] Ibid., V. iii, p. 552

But to return to our notes “To Correspondents” in February 1818, there
remains one or two others of especial interest as illustrating the
attitude these notes assumed. For instance: “Can C. C. believe it
possible to pass off on us for an original composition, an extract
from so popular a work as Mrs. Grant’s Essay on the Superstitions
of the Highlands? May his plagiarisms, however, always be from works
equally excellent.” Another: “The foolish parody which has been sent us
is inadmissible for two reasons; first, because it is malevolent; and
secondly, because it is dull.” We are inclined to think the latter was
the decisive reason.

This same issue includes the first contribution of a man who
was henceforth to wield an important pen in the make-up of the
magazine--one William Maginn. He was a brilliant writer, and a
reckless, and contributed copiously. Some one has characterized him
as “a perfectly ideal magazinist”. The article, “Some Account of the
Life and Writings of Ensign and Adjutant Odoherty, Late of the 99th
Regiment”[121], well reveals the serio-comic tone of his work which was
so popular. Ensign Odoherty was destined to fill many a future page. In
fact, Maginn was “a find”!

[121] Ibid., V. ii, p. 562

Quoting from this article: “One evening ... I had the misfortune,
from some circumstances here unnecessary to mention, to be conveyed
for a night’s lodging to the watch-house in Dublin. I had there the
good fortune to meet Mr. Odoherty, who was likewise a prisoner. He
was seated on a wooden stool, before a table garnished with a great
number of empty pots of porter.... With all that urbanity of manner by
which he was distinguished, he asked me ‘to take a sneaker of his
swipes’.”[122] This is the Ensign Odoherty of whom it is said “Never
was there a man more imbued with the very soul and spirit of poetry....
Cut off in the bloom of his years, ere the fair and lovely blossoms of
his youth had time to ripen into the golden fruit by which the autumn
of his days would have been beautified and adorned,”[123]--etc.--“His
wine ... was never lost on him, and, towards the conclusion of the
third bottle he was always excessively amusing.”[124] The writer offers
one or two specimens of Odoherty’s poetry, among them verses to a lady
to whom he never declared himself. “This moving expression of passion”,
we are told, “appears to have produced no effect on the obdurate fair
one, who was then fifty-four years of age, with nine children, and
a large jointure, which would certainly have made a very convenient
addition to the income of Mr. Odoherty.”[125] On being appointed to
an ensigncy in the West Indies, he sailed for Jamaica with a certain
Captain Godolphin, and has left a charming poetical record of the trip,
of which the following will sufficiently impress the reader:

    “The captain’s wife, she sailed with him, this circumstance I heard of her,
    Her brimstone breath, ‘twas almost death to come within a yard of her;
    With fiery nose, as red as rose, to tell no lies I’ll stoop,
    She looked just like an admiral with a lantern at his poop.”[126]

The whole poem is not quoted, but the latter part of it gives an
account “of how Mrs. Godolphin was killed by a cannon ball lodging in
her stomach”[127], as well as other pathetic and moving events. In
describing the rest of the stanzas, however, Maginn assures us, “It
is sufficient to say they are fully equal to the preceding, and are
distinguished by the same quaintness of imagination.”[128]!

[122] Ibid., V. ii, p. 563

[123] Ibid., V. ii, p. 562

[124] Ibid., V. ii, p. 564

[125] Ibid., V. ii, p. 566

[126] Same

[127] Same

[128] Same

This article is followed by “Notices of the Acted Drama in
London”[129], the second of a series of sixteen articles which ran
regularly, January 1818 to June 1820.[130] These are decidedly
interesting,--even thrilling, if such a term may be employed,--in that
they approach with contemporary assurance names which dramatic legend
bids the present day revere:--Mr. Kean, Mrs. Siddons, Miss O’Neil,
Mr. C. Kemble, and others. The first of these articles (January 1818)
states: “our fixed opinions are few;” ... but continues further that
one of these fixed opinions is that “it would be better for all the
world if he (Shakespeare) could be thought of as a poet only--not as
a writer of acting dramas. If it had not been for Mr. Kean, we should
never have desired to see a play of Shakespeare’s acted again.”[131] As
for Desdemona,

“The gentle lady married to the Moor!--

“If we had been left to ourselves we could have fancied her anything
or anybody we liked, and have changed the fancy at our will. But, as
it is, she is nothing to us but a slim young lady, in white satin,
walking about on the boards of a Theatre.”[132] The writer of this
article furthermore reminds the public: “we shall ... always have more
to say on five minutes of genius, than on five hours of dulness.”[133]
And--“It would also be desirable for both parties, if our Edinburgh
readers would not forget that we write from London, and our London
ones that we write for Edinburgh.”[134] The second installment,
February 1818, of these dramatic notices, comes down to more specific
criticisms.--“Perhaps we were more disgusted by this revived play, the
Point of Honour, than we should otherwise have been, from being obliged
to sit, and see, and hear Miss O’Neil’s delightful voice and looks cast
away upon it.--Though they have chosen to call it a play, it is one
of that herd of Gallo-Germanic monsters which have visited us of late
years, under the name of Melo-Dramas;... It makes the ladies in the
galleries and dress-boxes shed those maudlin tears that always flow
when weak nerves are over-excited.”[135]

[129] Ibid., V. ii, p. 567

[130] Ibid., V. ii-vii

[131] Ibid., V. ii, p. 428

[132] Same

[133] Ibid., V. ii, p. 429

[134] Same

[135] Ibid., V. ii, p. 567

Needless to say, the whole tone of the magazine was not of this light
and popular kind. Much that it published was heavy, some of it dry.
All the preceding gives in general the atmosphere of what ensured
the success of the budding “Maga”. It continued in this manner, but
ever mingling the steady, the serious, the grave, with the lively
and the scandalous. For instance in the number for April 1818 we
find an article “On the Poor Laws of England; and Answers to Queries
Transmitted by a Member of Parliament, with a View to Ascertaining the
Scottish System”[136],--some four pages or more of serious discussion.
In the same number appears “Letters on the Present State of Germany,
Letter I”[137], earnestly setting forth the causes of discontent in
Germany, acknowledging into the bargain, that “the triumph of human
intellect over the sway of despotism was never made more manifest than
it has been within the last fifty years among the Germans”[138], and
concluding with a paragraph from our modern point of view more than
interesting: “If the Germans have a Revolution, it will, I hope and
trust, be calm and rational, when compared with that of the French.
Its precursors have not been, as in France, ridicule, raillery,
derision, impiety; but sober reflection, Christian confidence, and
manly resolutions, gathered and confirmed by the experience of
many sorrowful years. The sentiment is so universally diffused--so
seriously established--so irresistible in its unity,--that I confess
I should be greatly delighted, but not very much astonished, to
hear of the mighty work being accomplished almost without resistance,
and entirely without outrage.”[139] This number likewise includes an
article discussing the “Effect of Farm Overseers on the Morals of Farm
Servants”[140], another called “Dialogues on Natural Religion”[141],
and a “Hospital Scene in Portugal. (Extracted from the Journal of a
British Officer, in a series of Letters to a Friend)”[142], a graphic
description which spares no horrible detail or opportunity for the

[136] Ibid., V. iii, p. 9

[137] Ibid., V. iii, p. 24

[138] Ibid., V. iii, p. 25

[139] Ibid., V. iii, p. 29

[140] Ibid., V. iii, p. 83

[141] Ibid., V. iii, p. 90

[142] Ibid., V. iii, p. 87

The first article in the number for May 1818 is a brief but strictly
specific “Description of the Patent Kaleidoscope, Invented by Dr.
Brewster”[143]. This issue too presented the first of a series
entitled “The Craniologists Review”[144], No. I being a description
of Napoleon’s head, supposedly by “a learned German”, a Doctor Ulric
Sternstare, who may or may not have been a _bona fide_ personage. One
is apt to suspect, however, that these articles are by our young friend
Lockhart. “Maga” owed many a _nomme de plume_ to Lockhart’s German
travels; the subject matter, craniology, is one of his own hobbies,
as later revealed in _Peter’s Letters_; and the last sentence is more
reminiscent of the young scamp than any “learned German”! The article
concludes: “I think him a more amiable character than that vile toad
Frederick of Prussia, who had no moral faculties on the top of his
head; and he will stand a comparison with every conqueror, except
Julius Caesar, who perhaps deserved better to be loved than any other
person guilty of an equal proportion of mischief.”[145]

[143] Ibid., V. iii, p. 121

[144] Ibid., V. iii, p. 146

[145] Ibid., V. iii, p. 148

There is a gem of an article in _Blackwood’s_ for July 1818, the
fourth of a series of “Letters of Timothy Tickler to Eminent Literary
Characters. Letter IV--To the Editor of _Blackwood’s Magazine_”.[146]
Timothy Tickler was an uncle of John Wilson’s, a Mr. Robert Sym;
but it is doubtful whether Robert Sym was the author of many, if
any, of the compositions laid at the door of the venerable Timothy.
This Letter IV is professedly in answer to one from the editor of
_Blackwood’s_. Obviously it is only another device, and a clever
one, to discuss the merits of “Maga”, and make a stab at the Whigs
and the _Edinburgh Review_. Old Timothy says, “You wish to have my
free and candid opinion of your work in general, and I will now try
to answer your queries in a satisfactory way. Your Magazine is far
indeed from being a ‘faultless monster, which the world ne’er saw’;
for it is full of faults, and most part of the world has seen it....
Just go on, gradually improving Number after Number, and you will
make a fortune.”[147] Seeming criticism, then a sudden tooting of the
Blackwood horn, seeming praise of Constable, then a flash and a dig,
characterize the article throughout. He continues: “You go on to ask
me what I think of Constable’s Magazine? Oh! my dear Editor, you are
fishing for a compliment from old Timothy again!--I have seen nothing
at all comparable to it during the last three score and ten years.
Thank you, _en passant_, for the Numbers of it you have sent me. Almost
anything does for our minister to read.”[148] He concludes thus: “I
shall have an opportunity of writing you again soon ... when I hope to
amuse you with certain old-fashioned whimsies of mine about the Whigs
of Scotland, whom I see you like no more than myself.”[149]

[146] Ibid., V. iii, p. 461

[147] Same

[148] Ibid., V. iii, p. 461-2

This is followed by a very brief sketch of the “Important Discovery
of Extensive Veins and Rocks of Chromate of Iron in the Shetland
Islands”[149]; and this in turn by a “Notice of the Operations
Undertaken to Determine the Figure of the Earth, by M. Biot, of the
Academy of Sciences, Paris, 1818”,[150] eleven pages in length, and
though decidedly statistical, discursive and meditative enough in tone
to interest more than the merely scientific reader.

[149] Ibid., V. iii, p. 463

[150] Same

The less said about the poetry in _Blackwood’s Magazine_ the better.
Most of it is pretty poor stuff. It is strange, with men like
Wordsworth and Coleridge and Byron living, that “Maga” should print
such feeble verse--all the more strange when those responsible for
the periodical were such venerators of intellectual power and so ably
appreciative. The Wordsworthian influence is largely reflected in
much of the _Blackwood_ verse, in fact the Wordsworthian love for
the simple and the commonplace is reflected to such an extent that
it assumes the aspect of the commonplace run to seed. Of course,
opposition to the Cockney School was pure principle on the part of
the magazine; and no matter what fine poetry “the Shelley’s and
the Keatses” produced, “Maga” must per necessity say nay! With the
exception of some of the verse of James Hogg, and occasional bits like
the anonymous “To My Dog”[151] in the issue for January 1818, there
is practically nothing to hold one spellbound. There is a good deal
of satiric verse on the order of that by “Ensign Odoherty”, already
sampled. The first twelve volumes of the magazine contain much lengthy
and serious verse bearing the signature Δ, whom we know to have been
David M. Moir, “The amiable Delta” of the Blackwood group. His poetry
takes no hold upon us of the present hour, but strangely enough, men
like Tennyson, Jeffrey, Lockhart, found it praiseworthy, and even
Wordsworth. It must be of some value if Wordsworth praised it who was
not often known to show interest in any poetry but his own.

[151] Ibid., V. ii, p. 378

The number for March 1822 began the “Noctes Ambrosianae”[152], which
continued till February 1835[153]. These papers are too well known to
demand much mention here. Suffice it to say that during their career,
they were the most popular and eagerly read feature of all periodical
literature of the time.

[152] Ibid., V. xi, p. 369

[153] Ibid., V. xi-xxxvii

In July 1820, Lockhart reviewed Washington Irving’s “Knickerbocker’s
History of New York”[154]. All mention of such papers as “Extracts
from Mr. Wastle’s Diary”, which made its first appearance in March
1820[155], can scarcely be omitted. It is the Mr. Wastle of _Peter’s
Letters_ whom Lockhart makes responsible for this series, which, like
the compositions of Timothy Tickler, is but another device for merry
making over local events and persons.

[154] Ibid., V. vii, p. 360

[155] Ibid., V. vi, p. 688

Interesting reviews of now famous books, wholesale massacre of now
worshipped men, sweeping conclusions historical and political, among
them at times such momentous verdicts as appeared in May 1819, that “no
great man can have a small nose”[156]--such marked the progress and
reputation of the magazine. Whether we feel we can exalt wholly and
unreservedly _Blackwood’s Edinburgh Magazine_, we can at least heartily
agree with Lockhart when he says: “I think the valuable part of The
Materials is so great as to furnish no inconsiderable apology for the
mixture of baser things.”[157] Moreover, it did more to counteract the
influence of the _Edinburgh Review_ than any other periodical living or

[156] Ibid., V. v, p. 159

[157] J. G. Lockhart: _Peter’s Letters_, V. ii, p. 225

[158] This discussion makes no pretense at finality. Treatment herein
has been cursory and suggestive, not exhaustive. A vast and fruitful
field remains untouched.


Biography and Criticism

Cambridge History of English Literature, V. xii, 6. New York
and Cambridge, 1916

Douglas, Sir George. The Blackwood Group. Edinburgh, 1897

Elton, Oliver. A Survey of English Literature, 1780-1830.
V. i, 13. London, 1912

Encyclopedia Britannica, eleventh edition. Article on
“The Periodical Press after 1800” by
H. R. Tedder

Lang, Andrew. Life and Letters of John Gibson Lockhart. 2 vols.
London, 1897

Lockhart, John Gibson. Life of Sir Walter Scott, V. v, Edinburgh,

   "        "    "   . Peter’s Letters to His Kinsfolk. 3 vols.
Edinburgh, 1819

Memorials of James Hogg, The Ettrick Shepherd, by his Daughter,
Mrs. Garden. London, 1903

Millar, J. H. A Literary History of Scotland. New York, 1903

Oliphant, M. O. Annals of a Publishing House. William
Blackwood and His Sons. V. i. Edinburgh
and London, 1897-8

Saintsbury, G. Essays in English Literature, 1780-1860.
New York, 1895


Blackwood’s Edinburgh Magazine. Vols. i-xiv. Edinburgh
and London, 1817-23

Hogg, James. The Works of The Ettrick Shepherd. Prose and
Poetry. Ed. Rev. Thomas Thomson.
London, 1869

Maginn, William. Miscellanies, Prose and Verse. 2 vols.
London, 1885

Wilson, John. Works. Ed. Prof. Ferrier. 12 vols.
Edinburgh, 1855-8

[Transcriber’s Note:

Inconsistent spelling and hyphenation are as in the original.]

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