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Some Scottish Publishers: Part II

Library Review

ISSN: 0024-2535

Article publication date: 1 July 1962



William Blackwood, the founder of the firm of the name, saw service in Edinburgh, Glasgow, and London before opening in 1804 as a bookseller at 64 South Bridge, Edinburgh. Blackwood continued in his bookselling capacity for a number of years, and his shop became a haunt of the literati, rivalling Constable's in reputation and in popularity. His first success as a publisher was in 1811, when he brought out Kerr's Voyages, an ambitious item, and followed shortly after by The Life of Knox by McCrie. About this time he became agent in Edinburgh for John Murray, and the two firms did some useful collaborating. Blackwood was responsible for suggesting alterations in The Black Dwarf, which drew from Scott that vigorous letter addressed to James Ballantyne which reads: “Dear James,—I have received Blackwood's impudent letter. G ‐ d ‐ his soul, tell him and his coadjutor that I belong to the Black Hussars of Literature, who neither give nor receive criticism. I'll be cursed but this is the most impudent proposal that was ever made”. Regarding this story Messrs. Blackwood say: “This gives a slightly wrong impression. Scott was still incognito. William Blackwood was within his rights. He was always most loyal to Scott.” There has been some controversy as to the exact style of this letter, and it has been alleged that Lockhart did not print it in the same terms as Sir Walter wrote it. Blackwood came into the limelight as a publisher when he started the Edinburgh Monthly Magazine in 1817, which was to be a sort of Tory counterblast to the Whiggish Edinburgh Review. He appointed as editors James Cleghorn and Thomas Pringle, who later said that they realised very soon that Blackwood was much too overbearing a man to serve in harness, and after a time they retired to edit Constable's Scots Magazine, which came out under the new name of The Edinburgh Magazine and Literary Miscellany. [Messrs. Blackwood report as follows: “No. They were sacked—for incompetence and general dulness. (See the Chaldee Manuscript.) They were in office for six months only.”] Blackwood changed the name of The Edinburgh Magazine to Blackwood's Edinburgh Magazine, and became his own editor, with able henchmen in John Wilson, Christopher North, John Gibson Lockhart, and James Hogg as contributors. It was a swashbuckling magazine, sometimes foul in attack, as when it told John Keats to get “back to the shop, back to plaster, pills, and ointment boxes”. Lockhart had a vigour of invective such as was quite in keeping with the age of Leigh Hunt, an age of hard‐hitting. The history of Blackwood in those days is largely the history of the magazine, though Blackwood was at the same time doing useful publishing work. He lost the Murray connexion, however, owing to the scandalous nature of some of the contributions published in Maga; these but expressed the spirit of the times. John Murray was scared of Blackwood's Scottish independence! Among the book publications of Blackwood at the period we find Schlegel's History of Literature, and his firm, as we know, became publisher for John Galt, George Eliot, D. M. Moir, Lockhart, Aytoun, Christopher North, Pollok, Hogg, De Quincey, Michael Scott, Alison, Bulwer Lytton, Andrew Lang, Charles Lever, Saintsbury, Charles Whibley, John Buchan, Joseph Conrad, Neil Munro—a distinguished gallery. In 1942 the firm presented to the National Library of Scotland all the letters that had been addressed to the firm from its foundation from 1804 to the end of 1900, and these have now been indexed and arranged, and have been on display at the National Library where they have served to indicate the considerable service the firm has given to authorship. The collection is valuable and wide‐ranging.


MACLEOD, R.D. (1962), "Some Scottish Publishers: Part II", Library Review, Vol. 18 No. 7, pp. 514-520.




Copyright © 1962, MCB UP Limited