Annals of a Publishing House: William Blackwood and His Sons: Their Magazine and Friends

Author(s): Oliphant, Mrs Margaret Oliphant


Annals of a Publishing House
All Rights reserved
IT was a project ever present to the mind of my
late uncle and partner, John Blackwood, with whom
I had the pleasure and great advantage of working
in the closest intimacy for over twenty years, to use
the abundant records of the firm for some permanent
chronicle of the earlier portion of its history. He
entertained the conviction that it behoved him to
pay to the memory of his father and elder brothers
the tribute of putting on record the not uneventful
annals of the publishing house and the 'Magazine'
which William Blackwood founded, together with
some account of the brilliant band of authors and
contributors whom his energy and his very genuine
love of literature succeeded in rallying to his support.
And in addition to this natural motive, it
was further my uncle's belief, and one which, as
his successor, I am fain to share, that the history
of 'Maga' and its contributors would contain much
that was of literary value as illustrating a strangely
interesting period of our literature, and in especial
as furnishing some important side-lights on the
progress of the periodical press. Unfortunately it
was not given to the projector of this scheme to
live to witness its commencement. My uncle died
after materially adding to the history of the firm
without having had time to superintend the chronicling
of its past.
A few years ago, when I was talking with Mrs
Oliphant over some new outlet for her ceaseless literary
activity, the happy thought struck me of asking
her to carry out my uncle's idea and to become the
historian of the firm in whose service she was already
an honoured veteran. For forty years she had
worked incessantly for the 'Magazine,' intimate with
its history, thoroughly imbued with all its traditions,
and very loyal to its past. Mrs Oliphant eagerly
accepted the trust, entered into its fulfilment with
even more than her wonted enthusiasm, and, with a
pathetic prescience of what was to come, regarded
the work as a fitting completion of her long and
strenuous literary life. To my great sorrow, this
anticipation has proved only too true, and two
volumes of the history of 'William Blackwood and
his Sons,' which was all that their faithful and
accomplished ally had overtaken, are now submitted
to the public surrounded by the melancholy interest
attaching to a posthumous work.
It is proper to add that the first of the three
volumes of these annals was carefully revised by
Mrs Oliphant before her last illness: for any errors
in the second I am responsible. To give these two
volumes a certain completeness, it has seemed to me
best to furnish them with an index.
August 1897.
Birth and antecedents — Apprenticeship to Messrs Bell & Bradfute
— The booksellers of Edinburgh — He is agent to Messrs Mundell
in Glasgow — Introduction to his future wife — Goes to London —
Three years in Cuthill's — Letter of Miss Steuart in reply to
proposal — Establishment in South Bridge — Marriage — Dealer in
old books — Agency of Ballantyne, afterwards of John Murray —
First publication — Letter of Sir Walter Scott — Thomas M'Crie —
James Hogg — Miss Ferrier. . . . . . 1
Correspondence with John Murray — Byron and his publisher — Scott
dines with Blackwood — 'The Siege of Corinth' — Charles Kirkpatrick
Sharpe — Letter to Southey — Negotiations with Ballantyne
for publication of 'The Tales of my Landlord' — 'The Black
Dwarf' — Blackwood's criticism — Scott's rejoinder: the "Black
Hussars of Literature" letter — William Gifford — Murray's letter
to Scott — Friction with Ballantyne — Future editions to be published
by Constable — Blackwood's regard for Scott . . 46
'The Edinburgh Monthly Magazine' — Incompetency and treachery
of the editors, Pringle and Cleghorn — They secede to Constable
— Wilson, Lockhart, and Hogg rally round Blackwood — No more
mediocrity — Blackwood becomes his own editor — Composition of
the Chaldee Manuscript — The first number of 'Blackwood' —
Extraordinary effect of the jeu d'esprit . . . .93
Actions for libel — The Cockney School of Poetry — Leigh Hunt
and Hazlitt attacked — Characteristic letters from Wilson and
Lockhart — Blackwood stands firm — He secures the countenance
and co-operation of Scott — Letters from Scott — William Laidlaw
— Scott's opinion of the Chaldee Manuscript — John Murray's
notion of what a Magazine should be — Lockhart and Wilson's
joint-reply to Murray — They challenge an anonymous assailant
— Blackwood refuses to sell 'Don Juan' . . . . 129
His unique personality — Early friendship with Wilson — Studies in
Germany on funds furnished by Blackwood — Makes the acquaintance
of Goethe — His exertions on behalf of the Magazine — "The
Scorpion which delighteth to sting the faces of men" — A very
Proteus of literary capacity — His share in the 'Noctes' — First
meeting with Scott — At Abbotsford — 'Peter's Letters to his
Kinsfolk' — The Scott-Christie duel — Accepts the editorship of
the 'Quarterly Review' — Letters and contributions from London
— Collaborates with Maginn — Last letter and contribution to
'Maga' . . . . . . . .180
A descendant of Montrose — Election to the Moral Philosophy Chair
— First connection with 'Maga' — An attack on Coleridge —
Charles Lloyd's unfortunate poem — A publisher's injured affections
— A sensitive critic — Onslaught on the "Man of Feeling" —
The ethics of reviewing — Leigh Hunt's threatened libel — The
publisher visits Elleray — Wordsworth assaulted in the 'Noctes'
— An indignant "Jackass" — The giant unnerved — An ample
apology for a bad joke — An author's good resolutions — Sentimental
passages between the Professor and the Publisher — "Not
editor but friend " — More sentiment — Mrs Hemans — Thomas Aird
Recollections of a visit to the Professor . . . . 254
An inherent vanity — A kind patroness — "A frequent guest at his
Grace's table" — An uncompromising critic — "The Tent" — Jamie
Laidlaw's prayer for Cow Wat — At Abbotsford — Laidlaw, Hogg,
and Scott — A unique use to make of a publisher — Writing for
another Magazine — A printer's fine feelings — The mystery of the
fifty pounds — Quarrels and reconciliation — 'Maga' becomes a
serious periodical — A shepherd without any guile — A new way
to pay old debts — Delta — "Feminine pribble-prabble" — The
Shepherd's home — Mrs Hogg . . . . .317
A brilliant youth — The typical Irishman — Ralph Tuckett Scott — A
facile contributor — An anonymous libeller — The Leslie trial —
A repentant satirist of Keats — Complimented by Christopher —
The publisher declines to "swallow blarney" — A criticism of
'Don Juan' — O'Doherty's first appearance in the Saloon — A
joyous reception — Disturbances in Ireland — "Little Crofty" —
Irish diplomacy — How the Martin libel was drowned in chainpagne
— Colburn and his 'New Monthly Magazine' — Criticism of
'Maga' by a candid friend — Theodore Hook — An expert's views
on puffing — The Publisher's eulogy of Maginn's style — Captain
Shandon — Lockhart's epitaph . . . . .361
A magnanimous poet — "The scheme upon which a Magazine should
be conducted" — The Editor's diplomatic reply — The Christabelliad
— Magnificent schemes of work — An alarming seizure —
Coleridge's praise of De Quincey's style — A tribute to 'Maga'
— "An elegiac plusquam sesqui sonnet to my tin shaving-pot" —
The miseries of De Quincey's life — De Quincey's introduction by
Christopher North — An unpunctual contributor — An unfortunate
piece of humour and its result — A plausible apologist — Projects
for articles — The 'Quarterly' v. 'Maga' — Domestic difficulties —
Systematic promises never kept — The Publisher's respect for
literature — A eulogy of Michael Scott . . . .406
Galt the founder of a distinct school — His appearance hailed by the
Publisher — Croker's sensible criticism — Encouraging letters —
Popularity of the 'Annals' — A humble author — The 'Last of the
Lairds' — A Scottish Defoe — Momentary indignation — Life in
Canada — 'Ringan Gilhaize' — Fading health and literary powers
— The 'Borough' — A disappointed contributor — Croker criticises
'Maga' — His eulogy of Galt — A candid friend . . . 445
A publisher with open arms — 'Maga's' crimps — Rev. Dr Croly —
Uninteresting letters — 'Salathiel' — Rev. Dr Gleig, Chaplain-General
— The personality of 'Maga' — The 'Subaltern' — 'Life of
the Duke of Wellington' — Thomas Doubleday, Radical politician
— The question of libels — Mrs Hemans — Miss Caroline Bowles —
Alaric Attila Watts — A chronicler of small beer — A criticism of
Lamb — Advertising schemes — A literary celebrity's costly dinner
— The coronation number of 'Maga' — Murray and Benjamin
Disraeli — The Abbey of Fonthill — Foundation of the 'Spectator'
— Crofton Croker — Compliments from the elder D'Israeli — Newspaper
notes — An epitome of the course of life . . . 477
WILLIAM BLACKWOOD . . . .Frontispiece
From miniature; etched by F. Huth.
WILLIAM BLACKWOOD . . . . . . Frontispiece
From painting by Sir William Allan; etched by F Huth.
ROBERT BLACKWOOD . . . . . . To face p. 254
From painting by R. Scott Lauder; etched by F Huth.
MAJOR WILLIAM BLACKWOOD . . . . . To face p. 414
From photograph; etched by F. Huth.
WE will not begin the history of the house of
Blackwood with the "ell of genealogy" which,
according to Lockhart, is appropriate to every Scotsman.
Such preliminaries are unnecessary to a man
who, in a better sense than that of any of the Norman
invaders of whom others brag, was the father of his
own fortunes. It may be almost taken for granted
that every man in Scotland in the end of last century
who came to any note could, if he took trouble
enough, or if the Lyon Office and court of honour
had been as active as it is now, have proved easily
enough his own descent from, or attachment to, some
rural house of great or small gentry, the vigorous and
continually multiplying race which threw out offshoots
in every generation, not only into the learned professions,
chiefly law, and into the army, but also into
the humbler medium of the trades, when the house
was too full to hope for commissions and appointments
enough to take them all in. The world was tolerably
full then, though not so crowded as now; and though
a boy's living did not in those days hang on the uncertain
chance of an examination, yet there was a
limit, very quickly reached, to a country laird's means
of influence and patronage. It was the hackneyed
thing to say, which every noble father says accordingly
to every son, in fiction and the drama, that the only
profession which could be adopted by a gentleman was
that of arms. If the Scots lairds were ever so foolish,
which we doubt, they changed their minds when there
were seven or eight Quentin Durwards to send forth
into the world. Sir Walter Scott puts into the mouth
of King James himself a very graphic account of this
process, by which the young man put his pedigree and
his blazon in his pocket, and set up his booth and sold
his stuffs until the lucky day when he could cock his
beaver once more with the best, and assert the old
pretensions of the stock from which he came. This
national tendency shows itself perhaps for the last
time with bewildering effect in the black lists of the
Fifteen and the Forty-five, where a number of names,
"fifth son of the laird of Drumthwacket,” "seventh
son of Armiger of Tullieveolan,"though each but
the other day a builder of houses or sawyer of wood
in Edinburgh, appears suddenly as a soldier and a
gentleman among the victims of the forlorn-hope.
We will not attempt to dive into these depths with
the usual industry of the biographer. The name of
Blackwood has had considerable illustration both in
the past and in our own age. From Adam the
Scholar in the sixteenth century to her Majesty's late
representative in France, the Marquis of Dufferin, the
race, never very largely extended, has honour enough
with which to plume itself. The name came originally,
as we are proud to think so many notable families have
come, from Fife, where it flourished in earlier days
near the town, once a regal seat, of Dunfermline.
The particular branch from which the Edinburgh
Blackwoods sprang had, in the person of a well-to-do
burgess of Edinburgh, the ill-fortune, which half of
Scotland shared, to be ruined by the terrible fate of
the enterprise of Darien, and was thus reduced to
comparative poverty. From that period the family
records are vague, until the name was revived by the
founder of a house which has had so much to do with
the great efflorescence of literature in the early part of
this century as to figure among the limited list, confined
to three or four only, of the Great Publishers
who have given a special development to that much-abused
but often important profession.
William Blackwood was born in Edinburgh on the
20th November 1776: and the period of his youth
and early manhood was thus one in which Edinburgh
was at its highest glory as a centre of intellectual life
and influence. Scotland then was much more widely
separated than now from the other, larger, but not
more distinct capital and metropolis of the south.
The University of Edinburgh flourished greatly, not
perhaps as it does now, by monster classes making
a Scottish chair one of the prizes in the world
of learning; but by the fame, which was European,
of many of its teachers, and the large invasion of
pupils of higher rank and greater pretensions than
the youth of Edinburgh to partake the instructions
which gave an intellectual stimulus beyond their immediate
sphere of action to half the world. There
were thus brought together many of the men who
swayed and were born to sway the conquering race
of the world, the united but various peoples whom
it sometimes vexes our little Scotland, which has
contributed so much to its force, to consent to
hear identified among the heathen as "English,"
— a whimsical yet by no means unreal, though we
fear inevitable, grievance. She has always had
plenty of revenges upon the more abundant neighbour
who, for general purposes, has swallowed up in
his, like a husband with his wife, an equally dignified
and considerable, if not so wealthy, name. She has
never been without her large share in actuating the
policy of the co-partnership; and in those days she
moulded the minds of almost all the budding statesmen
of the time, English as well as Scottish. Even
now, when everything tends towards London, Edinburgh
preserves a very distinct stamp of her own;
but in those days she was as individual and distinct
as Paris or Vienna. That time has had abundant
record. The great professors, the judges, the doctors,
the wits and humorists of the Parliament House, and,
above all, the quaint and highly coloured background
of the ancient ladies and gentlemen, who still lived, as
their ancestors had done, in the stately houses of the
Canongate, and scoffed at all the world — with tender
bursts of romance, and all the tales and wonders of
family history, pathetic and tragical as well as ridiculous,
coming in between — have had such historians as
few cities could emulate. To have had one such as
Walter Scott himself is enough to satisfy any appetite
for fame. We will not attempt to tell anything of
this story, or to depict anew a region and a period
which have had the full honours of portraiture from
the best hands. Our sphere is a different one, not in
the tall houses of Mrs Margaret Bethune Baliol and
her kind, but on levels of social comfort, fresher if
less picturesque, and alive with so much stir of
rising activity and enterprise that they add a
chapter scarcely less interesting to the animated
history of so remarkable a town.
Since the period when literature became a recognisable
agent in national life, the capital of Scotland
has been one of the centres from which that inner
current flowed most strongly; and the Bookseller has
held an interesting place in her annals. The eighteenth
century, in all the glory of the Augustan age,
brought this profession, "the Trade" par excellence,
into higher development: and from the days when
Allan Ramsay, that brave wig-maker and poet, began
the issue of brochures and ballads, which he himself
produced to make the business more simple, at the
shop in the High Street which is still distinguished
by his name, it has become an important link between
the different classes, giving a common ground
of meeting to the writer and the reader, the man
who had something to say and the many men who
desired nothing better than to listen. He is the
first we know of who made his shop an agreeable
lounge for clever persons, where professors and wits
and scholars from the College and Parliament House,
and lairds and lords from the country, who loved a
new book, might drop in to talk and turn over such
new publications as found their way to the North,
and where strangers belonging to what was called
the Republic of Letters were received with enthusiasm.
The smiling master of the place was no
Jacob Toreson, nor was there a Grub Street, so far
as appears, in the Scots capital. On the contrary,
the fashion of the time was to consider literature
something too fine and sacred to be produced for
money. Jeffrey himself, so much later, had an apologetic
air when he suggested the £10 a-sheet, which
was a mere "acknowledgment," not to insult the
divine fire by even a possibility that it could be
brought down from heaven for a price. The early
Edinburgh booksellers were men who themselves
dabbled in that craft of which they had all the
loftier opinion because of what they would have
called their "trifling with the Muses." Creech and
Smellie, two of the first of those booksellers, the
latter a printer besides, wrote Fugitive Pieces, of the
most elegant, moral, and sentimental tendency: some
of which may have appeared in the 'Lounger' or
'Mirror,' two mild imitations of the 'Spectator,' under
the conduct of Henry Mackenzie, the most superlative
of literary leaders, of whom Edinburgh was reverentially
proud — the Man of Feeling, as he was devoutly
called from his earliest production. The Man of
Feeling belonged to the aristocracy of letters, Creech
to the aristocracy of trade. The latter was in the
Town Council, and was eagerly bent on the renovation
and embellishment of Edinburgh.
"Auld Reekie aye he keepit tight,
An' trig an' braw:
But now they'll busk her like a fright —
Willie's awa'!"
was the mournful prophecy of Burns as to what
would happen when the genial bookseller, his crony
and patron, came to the end of his career.
"The brethren o' the Commerce Chaumer
May mourn their loss wi' dolefu' clamour;
He was a dictionar an' grammar
Amang them a';
I fear they'll now mak' mony a stammer —
Willie's awa'."
In the autobiography of Archibald Constable, Mr
Creech is described as "standing on the steps that
led to his shop, as was his fashion, along with a
number of other gentlemen who used there daily to
associate"; and he gave breakfasts at which all the
literati were entertained, and still more convivial
parties, at which that same Ayrshire ploughman,
Robert Burns, who had so dazzled and bewildered
Edinburgh, enjoyed himself more than in the drawing-rooms.
Indeed all the booksellers were fond of
entertaining, and hospitality was the order of the
day. They loved above all to bring a few of the
great men together, and triumph over their social
superiority by something more telling and attractive
still, a distinction which no territorial designation nor
any title could give, — the power of being able to communicate
a novel sensation, to read a manuscript
which was a mystery, and to set a fine scene of
fiction, or a masterpiece of poetry, before their guests'
dazzled and delighted eyes.
This was the condition of "the Trade" in Edinburgh
when Archibald Constable and William Blackwood,
"friends in youth," as the son of the former congratulates
himself, though so much separated afterwards,
began their career — Constable being by a few
years in advance of his future rival. The first was
a country lad from Fife; but Blackwood had the
advantage of being Edinburgh born, and keen to all
the traditions of the historic town. His father died
early, we may suppose without having had time to
make much provision for his family; but there is
never any note of early want, or indeed undue pressure
of any kind, in the history of the little household,
three well-trained, well-dispositioned sons living
under the guardianship of their mother — which soon
turned, as they grew up into manhood, into a kind
and watchful care of her on the part of her boys, the
most fitting and beautiful development of such a relationship.
There are no details, however, of young
Blackwood's education or schools in the scanty remnants
of family tradition. He began his apprenticeship
at fourteen, so that there was not much time for
school-training, nor probably was it very necessary.
Such a man as he was afterwards to be educates himself
unconsciously, by much reading, and that close
observation unawares which furnishes the mind without
betraying even to the possessor the origin of the
stores which gather there. He was apprenticed in
1790 to a firm of booksellers, Messrs Bell & Bradfute
— whose name still remains over premises in a
lower storey of one of those tallest of old houses
on the rising ground between the Old Edinburgh
and the New, though the original firm must long since
have melted away. Their premises at first were in
Parliament Square, beside the courts of law with the
judges and advocates, and near the College with all its
learned professors. With many of these great personages
the boy would be familiar as they came in on
their passage from the quickly growing crescents and
squares of the New Town to the Parliament House
and the University — to turn over the new books and
discuss them, dropping at the same time many a seed
of instruction, as successfully into a young mind in
a bookseller's shop as into those more directly under
their sway.
Here the lad worked out his indentures diligently,
with all the instincts of a man born to advancement,
unconsciously laying by many a suggestion and experience
for use in his after-career — going cheerfully
home at night to his mother and the society of his
brothers, one older and one younger than himself.
Games were not in those days what they are now. No
doubt he would play golf now and then in a foursome
on the Bruntsfield Links, which were then free and
open ground, not restrained and limited by any girdle
of villas. But even golf had not the ascendant which
it holds in our days, and the boys would play only an
occasional match on a Saturday afternoon or in the
long lingering light of a June evening. The long
strolls that young citizens love, especially those who
have it in their power to lose themselves on misty
mountain slopes, or encounter the pleasing risk of a
broken neck on the giant crags within reach of their
homes, were a still more frequent amusement; and
the boys would roam the Pentlands over, or wonder
and wander in Roslin Chapel and the leafy depths
of Hawthornden, as Scott did with his companions.
And they would read and read, and train themselves
in some more ambitious branch of knowledge for which
they had not had time at school, in the long evenings
of winter under the satisfied eyes of the mother,
thankful to see that her sons thought of something
better than play. We hear of no heroic attempts at
self-culture like that of an earlier bookseller of Edinburgh,
one of William Blackwood's predecessors, who
managed to attend the lectures in the College in the
intervals of his work, and of whom it is told that
"the printing-office in which he served being within
the precincts of the College, he generally continued
at work till he heard the bell ring for lecture, when
he immediately laid down his composing-stick, shifted
his coat, ran off with his note-book under his arm,
and returned to his work immediately after lecture."
Young Blackwood, with the strong, practical good
sense which distinguished him, was probably aware
intuitively that doses of knowledge taken in this
way, without leisure to digest and apply them, seldom
came to much; whereas sound and complete understanding
of a subject within the immediate range of
life and duty was the most solid foundation upon
which a man could build his life who meant to thrive
and do well, and to waste none of his energies on
unproductive labours.
We are not told, however, how he took that turn
towards old books which occupied so much of the
earlier portion of his life, and introduced him to many
of the friends of his after-progress. Bibliomania must
have been in the air, one of the many revivals of that
fertile period; for Constable, too, a little earlier, had
entered upon his very active career in the same way.
The Book-hunter had arisen, a new and interesting,
if rather dusty, kind of sportsman, whose fury of the
chase was boundless, and led him everywhere into
much more intricate recesses than those of the woods
and fields. Most people of literary habits are aware
what an entrancing pursuit that is, and what a bond of
union it makes between persons of the most different
pursuits and attainments. And while this gave an
impulse towards the study of old books, the more
difficult science of the new was being attained less
consciously in the ordinary routine of his life. Young
Blackwood had begun at a very early age to study,
and compare, and learn what was really curious and
valuable, keeping his eyes and his ears open to all
that was done and said by Messrs Bell & Bradfute's
important customers: over which volumes the great
men of the College pored, and which the general
public tossed aside in their lighter examination: till
he learned to know, without in the least knowing
what he was learning, that astute distinction between
what will be popular and what will not, which
he possessed so strongly in after-life, and which descended
to his sons after him — a rare and invaluable
gift. This faculty is not a thing which depends on
mere literary perception and taste, for sometimes the
public will prefer the best and sometimes the worst,
and very frequently indeed picks up something between
the two, by some fantastic rule of selection
which never has been fathomed by any man but a
heaven-born publisher. When the young man had
become independent and at liberty to follow his own
instincts, public taste was safeguarded by the unquestionable
reign of Scott, which nobody could gainsay,
and against which criticism was of as little avail
as the spray against a rock. But the very greatness
of Scott, and the romance of his sudden development
and his great semi-transparent secret, produced a
general vividness of expectation in the mind of the
age of other triumphs that might be to come. And
the gift of discernment was never more wanted than at
a time when new codes were forming, and there were
audacious critics who did not fear to crack a joke
upon the Man of Feeling, or even doubt the infallibility
of Alison on Taste.
As soon as he had finished his apprenticeship, which
was in 1797, young Blackwood was engaged by Messrs
Mundell & Co. — a publishing firm in Edinburgh, which
has not attained general fame, though we hear that
its after-failure created almost a panic in "the Trade,"
and brought down several smaller houses — as the
agent and manager of a branch establishment which it
proposed to set up in Glasgow. It does not seem to
have attained much success in what was at that time
by no means a literary city; but one of its transactions
is recorded, in which we should be glad to think
our young agent had been directly employed. Mundell
& Co. were the publishers who bought from
Thomas Campbell the poem which first brought him
into notice, the "Pleasures of Hope" — the price given,
it is said, being "fifty printed copies" of the work,
and no more. This, no doubt, would be considered a
smart bargain in those days, when poetry was by no
means a drug in the market; but we doubt much
whether any publisher nowadays would give the value
of fifty printed copies for a poem on the Pleasures of any
moral quality whatsoever. During young Blackwood's
residence in Glasgow he is believed to have attended
lectures in the College there, though without attempting
to graduate. The first letter of his which we
have met with is one quoted by Mr Thomas Constable
in his Memorials of his father, and shows how, in the
midst of his other occupations, the pursuits of a book-hunter
were taking a foremost place. The young man
was then twenty-two. He assures his correspondent
that it is no trouble, but a pleasure, "to pick up books,"
and sends him the following list of some of his acquisitions,
acquired it would seem on Constable's account.
The date is Glasgow College, 10th September
1798, though whether this date denotes his presence
there as a student, or that Messrs Mundell's office
was within the University precincts, we are unable
to say.
I have got a book very much in your way, entitled Ane
Dialog betwix Experience and ane Courteour, Compylit by
Schir David Lyndesay, Imprentet at the Command and Expensis
of Dr Machabeus in Copenhagen. At the end there is
a date, 1522. It is a small quarto black-letter. It is certainly
a great curiosity, and though I was not sure of its value I paid
pretty high for it. You will probably know it. I have also
got a copy of Nicol Burne's Disputation, Par. 1581, likewise
Holingshed's Chronicles, black-letter, fol., Lond. 1586; it is
rather gone in the binding, and wants the last leaf of the
Index, but it is otherways clean enough: say what you would
give for any of these. I have also two or three other things
which I could send you at the following prices: Sir Thomas
More's Works, 2 vol. fol., black-letter, fair, J. Cawood, Lond.
1557, 19s. The Works of W. Tyndal, J. Frith, and Dr Barnes,
black-letter, fol., fair, John Daye, Lond. 1573, 9s. (You will
see both of these in White or Egerton's last catalogues.) Home
on Bleaching, 8vo, Edin. 1756, 7s. 6d. Pardovan's Collection,
8vo, Edin. 1770, 6s. 6d. Reynolds' Triumphs of God's Revenge
against Murther, fol., Lond. 1640, 5s. 6d.; Gildæ, de excidio et
conquestu Britanniæ, etc., epistola, 18mo, J. Daius, Lond. 1568.
This, I believe, is a scarce little book, but I cannot see it in any
catalogue, so I leave the price of it to yourself.
This would seem to be about the beginning of his
independent dealings, and the young man was no
doubt picking up knowledge along with the experimental
volumes. But they show at least how his
mind and his thoughts were turning. It is curious
to note the mixture of new and old, of the humbler
and the more ambitious enterprises, which was so
much a matter of course in those days. The bookseller
of the beginning century would not seem to
have been aware that the sale of old books was in any
respect a less worthy work than the production of the
new. He stepped from one to another with the most
easy simplicity. Constable was still buying and selling
libraries, and undertaking their regulation and
arrangement, when he began the publication of the
Waverley Novels. It is a strange conjunction.
William Blackwood came back to Edinburgh, after
a year's absence, a fresh-coloured lively youth, twenty-two,
not averse to talk, full of notions of his own — as
likely a lad as could be met with in the little busy
world of intellectual Edinburgh, where there was a
great deal of liveliness and much talk, and unusual
intercourse among all classes on the subject of books.
He went back at first to his old employers, and there
resumed his work as before, though with his eyes
intent on every opening, and ready to embrace the
first that offered. It was probably at this period that
his friendly employers, who had known him so long
and found him so admirable an apprentice, gave young
Blackwood an introduction which was of the deepest
importance in his after-life. This was to Mrs Bradfute,
a relation of one of the firm, who had at the
time a young lady resident with her for the purpose
of attending classes in Edinburgh. This has always
been an occupation much followed by lonely ladies in
Edinburgh — there having been for many years, as
there still continues to be, excellent instruction to
be obtained in this way, without the confinement,
and, as our forefathers thought, the doubtful associations
of what was called a "boarding-school" — a
place where the best that was produced was a sort
of Lydia Languish, and "a boarding-school Miss," a
well-known title of contempt. Miss Janet Steuart,
the daughter of Mr Steuart of Carfin in Lanarkshire,
was probably a young lady of higher social pretensions
than William Blackwood; but the lady to
whose care she was intrusted took no heed, apparently,
of these punctilios, and William Blackwood
soon became a constant visitor and attendant. Miss
Steuart must have been in her young days a stately
brunette, with the abundant black hair which is so
much more rare nowadays than it used to be, her
somewhat dark but clear complexion tempered by
blue eyes, as if she had been an Irishwoman or
Spaniard, though we are not aware that there was
any Milesian blood in her veins. The pair must have
formed a pleasant contrast to each other — for William
was of light complexion and lively humour; while
Janet was imposing in appearance, grave and caustic
in wit, not given to enthusiasm, which was to him
the breath of life. There are no dates nor other
particulars in the little romance: we are only told
that it did happen, and the manner in which it
happened, through the agency of the old lady, who
found her brother-in-law's young assistant a very
agreeable visitor, always ready to attend upon the
ladies in the evenings, and coming in with all the
news and a new book from time to time.
This would naturally make the young man still
more anxious to find some way of beginning for himself
and pushing his fortune. Perhaps it was his
eagerness on this subject which prompted young
Blackwood's next step in life, which was the formation
of a partnership with a certain Robert Ross, "a
bookseller and bookseller's auctioneer" — a description
which explains some of the early catalogues put forth
by William Blackwood. Some of these are bound
up in a volume of the more dignified and important
catalogues published by Blackwood himself in later
days. The books are described as to be sold at
7 o'clock P.M. for several consecutive nights; and the
sales seem to have been prefaced by some sort of
feast, like the dinner which, in the higher circles of
the trade, formed a preliminary to the periodical sales
of "remainders" and other stock. Blackwood, however,
does not seem to have liked the auctioneer
business, and the partnership of Ross & Blackwood
lasted only one year. He acquired no doubt a little
additional experience by the aid of these sales, in
which the country bookseller, coming up to Edinburgh
to replenish his humble stock, rubbed shoulders with
the book-collector, who knew that a rare work was
now and then to be acquired in this way. The
miniature which forms the frontispiece of this volume,
and in which our young bookseller appears in powder,
with the finest of blue coats and cambric neckerchiefs,
represents a personage who would have been rather
out of place, we should imagine, in the atmosphere
of the auction room.
After this Blackwood started for London, where he
went to the establishment of Mr Cuthill, "famous
for his catalogues," with whom he remained for three
years — making himself acquainted with all the London
methods of work, and especially, no doubt, with
this matter of compiling catalogues, for which already
he had showed so much aptitude. Many years afterwards,
when his own position and fortunes were assured,
he sent his eldest son to go through all the drudgery
of a clerk in a London bookseller's business, which
proves that he thought himself to have profited by it.
There is little information to be gleaned about Cuthill.
If he taught his pupil anything, it was probably the
art of cataloguing, which in its turn led the young
man's thoughts back again to his old fancy for that
class of literature concerning which catalogues are
most interesting — the old books which are loved not
by common readers, but by men of peculiar tastes
and more recondite studies, among whom the young
man was eager to find a footing. He had dreams
already of publishing, of finding some man of great
genius to attach himself to, and of making the welkin
ring again with the name of Blackwood, then so
humble and little known.
We do not know if his private affairs had at this
point reached to an acute stage hurrying a decision,
or if he found that he had as much of Cuthill and the
other methods of London as would serve his purpose.
At all events in 1804, he returned definitely to Edinburgh,
and launched himself upon the world in an
independent establishment on the South Bridge,
which had the advantage of being exactly opposite
the College — the best position possible for the sale of
old books as well as of new. In this place Blackwood
remained for a number of years. He not only sold
old books but bought them, and undertook commissions
to arrange and classify and value gentlemen's
libraries. Constable had begun in a similar way not
many years before. It seems to have been one of the
shortest cuts to fortune. The book-hunters had suddenly
developed in English and Scottish circles, often
in the most unlikely places, hungry for their prey.
Heber was prowling about Edinburgh in every place
that promised discovery of a forgotten volume; and
Dibdin in England was busy with his work on the purchase
of old books and their value and classification.
While these changes were going on Blackwood had
attained the age of twenty-eight, and would seem to
have also risen to such modest prosperity in his business
as made marriage possible. And in the beginning
of 1805 he seems to have found an opportunity
of offering his hand and his rising fortunes to the
young lady who had secured his early admiration.
The letter in which she replied to his proposal has
happily been found among the masses of old letters
put into my hands, and its old-fashioned dignity is
well worthy of quotation: —
April 12, 1805.
SIR, — Yours of the 2d inst. I only received on Monday, and
return you many thanks for your kind inquiries after my
Father, who I am happy to say continues to get better, which
affords me much pleasure. I certainly have thought of what
passed between us when I saw you last, and your candour demands
mine in return. I therefore frankly acknowledge I am
disposed to think favourably of your proposal, but it must rest
upon a better acquaintance. We know too little of each other
to enter into any engagement. I am much afraid you have in
a great measure formed your opinion of me from Mrs Bradfute,
whose good wishes I know I am so happy as to enjoy, and whose
friendship I highly esteem. I could not bring my mind to
write to you without telling my brother, who told me he could
give me no advice, knowing nothing of you; but to act with
candour if I thought you had done so to me, and to let nothing
but my own comfort direct my choice. — I remain your most ob.,
This moderate encouragement had no doubt been
followed by opportunities for the "better acquaintance"
which Miss Steuart prudently desired; for in
October of the same year the pair were married.
Mrs Blackwood was brought home to her own house
on her wedding-day in a postchaise, the bridal pair
being accompanied, as was the remarkable fashion of
the time, by the bridesmaid her sister, and the best
man. The house was an ordinary one in an Edinburgh
street on "the South-side"; but within a year the
young couple removed to a house of their own in one
of the leafy roads of Newington, with a wide view
from the windows over the fair surrounding country,
a pleasant garden, and those large rooms and airy
passages which are the charm of Edinburgh houses.
This dwelling, their first possession, in which the
Blackwoods settled before the birth of their first child,
was large enough to receive and contain the numerous
family of boys and girls who made haste to follow.
The pleasantness of that home is proved with a very
tender pathos by the many pilgrimages made to it still
(1895) by the last survivor,1 Miss Isabella Blackwood,
to whom the image of "my Father" still seems to
smile benignant over the mists of eighty years.
To this house very shortly after there came another
inmate in Mrs Blackwood's sister, Miss Elizabeth
Steuart, between whom and the young wife there
existed one of those lifelong unions which are often
almost the closest of any ties. She was, like her
sister, a woman of somewhat severe and caustic wit,
a bustling housewife, a keen critic, always ready with
the sharp edge of an uncompromising opinion or the
pungent wisdom of an old Scots proverb: but, under
this veil of strong character and perfect independence
of mind, possessed of an absolute devotion to the
family which she had thus adopted and made her
own. None of the disadvantages which sometimes
accompany the presence of such a domestic spectator
seem to have existed in her case, though she always
spoke her mind freely, and was no ministering angel
1 Since the above sentence was written Miss Isabella Blackwood has
ended her long life, to the heartfelt regret of the present writer, who had
hoped to present to so old a friend, and one from whom so much information
was derived, this record of those most dear to her. No one more
faithful to her family or more concerned for its credit and reputation ever
lived, and the scenes and surroundings of her youth were always nearer
to her heart than anything else in life.
in the sentimental sense of the word, but a stout-hearted
and sagacious old Scots gentlewoman, given,
as they all were, to strong statements of the right
and wrong of every question. Till their latest day
the Blackwoods always quoted "my aunt" with the
respect due to a domestic oracle, if with something
also of that affectionate banter which is so often
appropriate to the best-beloved member of the band
of household potentates.
The family opinion of the qualities of the young
wife are expressed with great propriety by Mrs
Steuart of Overton, an aunt, whose letter would
seem to have followed them on their journey home,
thanking the bride for her "kind remembrance,"
which would seem to have taken the form of wedding-cake
and gloves, a gift which it was the Scots custom
at a marriage to send to all friends.
I think your prospect of happiness is fair [says this lady
with caution], and I fondly hope your affections as a Wife will
not fall short of those as a Daughter, in which case your better-half
will have reason to congratulate himself on making such
a choice. Do write me soon and give me all the news. You
know what a treat even a little bit of scandal is, in a long
winter night.
This letter is addressed to Mrs W. Blackwood "with
a cheese," which no doubt — "a specimen of my dairy"
— was her wedding present to the young ménage.
Another Mrs Steuart, the sister-in-law of Mrs
Blackwood, sends a year later with some humour
her kind messages on the first great event which took
place in the Newington house, the birth of Alexander
Blackwood, the first of the family. Mrs Steuart
writes congratulating her sister-in-law, or rather her
sister-in-law's husband, on this auspicious event,
"which gives us much genuine satisfaction."
"Say to her from me," continues this experienced
lady, "that by this time I daresay she agrees in my
Opinion that that business is no Joke." She adds a
very pretty expression of feeling which shows how
mutually serviceable to each other were the different
branches of the family: —
I can make every allowance, my dear Sir, for your silence,
and I am happy to hear how throng [busy] you are — nothing
like a man in business being compleatly occupied; long may it
continue so. I have got a full and particular account of my
youngsters. I want words to express how much I am oblidged
by your Fatherly care of our Children, and if any of them disobey
you they will lose my favour; also, your Brother Mr
Thomas, who, I understand, makes them read on Sunday nights:
it is a friendly office, my dear Sir, to imbibe in the young mind
a sense of Religion and Duty — and a consciousness of so doing
is a noble reward to a good heart.
On this pleasant picture of the pleasant house and
all the many ties that were gathering about the new
family it is agreeable to pause, before plunging into
those records of business which became more complicated
and more important day by day. There is every
proof of the success of that business, and of the prosperous
development of its centre on the South Bridge,
where the young master was, as Mrs Steuart and we
are glad to hear, so throng. In this quiet period
William Blackwood was making for himself many
friends, and gaining recognition everywhere as a safe
and steady man of business, not given to flights of
fancy, but full of enthusiasm for literature — which is
a thing we are but little accustomed to look for nowadays
in the new members of "the Trade" — and with
a distinct opinion and judgment of his own: while his
family life continued full of sunshine and a benignant
atmosphere of kindness. He showed himself, as we
have seen, from the beginning, the most genial member
of his wife's family. He was fatherly to the Carfin
children sent in to Edinburgh for their education, and
the kindest of brothers to the lady who, for all the
rest of her life, formed part of his household. His
own mother lived for many years after his marriage,
and those of her other sons — in serene old age, in a
smaller house than that which she had occupied in
that heyday of a mother's life when her sons were
still under her wing: but still gathering her children
and her children's children round her on all the anniversaries,
and presiding in her retirement over the
general family life in a way most satisfactory to
human sentiment. Her son William never failed day
by day to pause at his mother's door as he went to
and returned from his business, bringing her the news,
consulting her on all that occurred, filling the monotony
of the days of old age with a constant thread of
happy anticipation, and pleasant moments of confidential
talk. It is impossible to imagine a more perfect
exemplification of the kind natural round of duty and
family affection, no one left out, no sense of neglect
possible to even the most retired member of the
family. From her favourite seat in the window of
her parlour, chosen for that reason, the old lady could
see her William's children coming and going to their
first school; and morning and evening watched for her
son's footsteps, secure that, however throng he might
be, these visits were the last things which he would
neglect. This was the cheerful background of his life
for many years.
Meantime an increasing number of book-hunters
and others gathered round the young bookseller.
And there began to be visitors whose names are
enough to stir our hearts, Walter Scott chief among
them: and visions of better things to come irradiated
the dustiness of the old books, suggesting fresh
new ones, damp and delightful, from the press, and
fortune and reputation within reach (almost) of the
young man's eager hand. We hear of no special
difficulty, however, or struggle in the career of one
who established himself so early in all the responsibilities
of life, and who seems to have been so
completely independent without the aid of patronage
or connection. There was from the beginning
plenty, and a liberal provision for all wants, in the
young household in Salisbury Road; but the progress
of business was quiet, and there was no rush for
success nor any sensational strain at a new chance,
until the steady advancement culminated in a crisis of
which William Blackwood was prepared and ready to
take advantage. There were rivals in the same field a
step before him in the race, and straining every nerve
to keep that place, especially in respect to London
agencies and other external signs of prosperity. They
were all somewhat rash in the rush of new energy
which had revolutionised "the Trade," bold in their
ventures, and entertaining a faith in literature which
has been much subdued, we fear, since then, or at
least turned into very different channels. It was the
moment of a wonderful new flood of genius over the
face of the country, and this had been accompanied
by a generation of booksellers, scarcely accustomed as
yet to the larger name of publisher, and not quite
certain of the powers of that Pegasus which they
were eagerly endeavouring on all sides to yoke to
their private chariots. But they overvalued rather
than undervalued his powers. The Ballantynes, who
have a fictitious importance through their connection
with Scott, and Constable, who has left autobiographical
notes of his own progress, throw much light
upon the eagerness with which their eyes were directed
to everybody who showed any signs of literary merit.
Such a discovery as Scott, such an adventure as the
'Edinburgh Review,' disclosing in the heart of the
small capital a very nest of men capable of entertaining
and dazzling the whole world, went a little to the
heads of these new men in the new business which
for the moment seemed about to take its place at
the top of all commercial affairs.
It is a common belief in the literary world that
publishers are the most grasping of middlemen, eager
only to have the lion's share of the profits. But in
those days there was a certain spirit of daring and
romance in "the Trade." The Revival of Literature
was like the opening of a new mine: it was more than
that, a sort of manufactory out of nothing, to which
there seemed no limit. You had but to set a man of
genius spinning at that shining thread which came
from nowhere, which required no purchase of materials
or "plant" of machinery, and your fortune was made.
We remember that, later, Constable went gravely to
the Bank of England to negotiate a loan upon the sole
security of the unwritten books to be drawn from the
brain of the author of 'Waverley.' This confidence
had seemed justified by long experience, and it was
the very breath of the eager booksellers, on tiptoe to
find in the first young gentleman who came into their
shop with a manuscript in his pocket another Scott,
or perhaps a Byron, ready to take the world by storm.
"Abandoning the old timid and grudging system, he
stood out as the general patron and payer of all promising
publications, and confounded not only his rivals
in trade but his very authors by his unheard-of prices,"
says Lord Cockburn, speaking of Constable. "Ten,
even twenty guineas a-sheet for a review, £2000 or
£3000 for a single poem, and £1000 for two philosophical
dissertations, drew authors out of their dens,
and made Edinburgh a literary mart famous with
strangers, and the pride of its own citizens." It was
in one great case a sort of madness while it lasted,
and brought its natural catastrophe: but the result in
others was much prosperity and success, and in the
first stage it stimulated every brain, and half convinced
the world that Poetry, Romance, Philosophy,
and even Criticism, were the first crafts and the most
profitable in the world.
Of all the young booksellers who thus set out
almost at the same moment, 1808, to benefit their
country and develop literature, — among whom might
also be reckoned the new firm of John Ballantyne &
Co., a short-lived competitor, though its possession
of the favour of Scott and a large stock of unsaleable
books made it for as long as it lasted a stumbling-block
in everybody's way, — Blackwood was the only
man who may be said permanently to have mastered
fortune. He was rash like the others, but not so
rash; and though the romance and excitement of
literary assault and attack mounted also for a moment
to his brain, it was but as a temporary ebullition.
There is no trace of anything of the kind in the calm
days of the beginning century. Perhaps, though it
seems a strange thing to say, the fact that he did not
succeed in establishing that connection with Scott
which was the aim of every man's ambition at the
time, and which, had he succeeded, we cannot but feel
might have saved Scott from much of the tragedy of
his life — had also much to do with the steadiness of
Blackwood's brain and fortunes. For Scott was a
discomposing influence in his very greatness and naturalness,
bringing with him to others a sort of moral
vertigo from the very steadiness of his own mind. A
man to whom nothing is impossible, who only buckles
to his work more bravely when it is most crushing,
and does not know what it is to fail in courage or
in strength, is apt to demoralise all about him.
However, all high-flying enterprises were still far
off at the time when the South Bridge was the centre
of Blackwood's life and fortunes. One of his first publications
was one of which he was also the author — a
catalogue of his own books, amounting to more than
fifteen thousand volumes, so admirably executed that
it attracted immediate attention, and brought him
not only orders but the most friendly letters, from all
sides. It shows that his knowledge of old books
must have been very considerable, and afforded in
its succinct descriptions and note of prices an admirable
guide to the book-collector. From this point
of view it was received with much interest by the
many well-known people to whom he seems to have
sent it, on its issue. Among the correspondents who
spring into sight around him after this publication,
all anxious to have some book or other from his
stores, some of them enclosing long lists, there are
one or two whose names have still power to touch
the reader. From their letters we may quote one
from Sir Walter Scott, charming in its pleasant
gleam of character. He ought not to indulge in
books, the great Magician knows — but still —
ABBOTSFORD, 21st May 1812.
DEAR SIR, — I am greatly obliged to you for your attention in
forwarding your curious and interesting catalogue. I am here
ruIning myself with plumbing and building, so that adding to
my library is in fact burning the candle at both ends. But I
am somewhat comforted by observing that the increased value
of books has very nearly doubled the prime cost of my little collection,
and proved me a wise man when I had much reason
to account myself a fool. I therefore subjoin an order for some
articles, to which I may probably make additions on coming to
Edinburgh; for few people except princes can afford to marry
or buy books without making their own eyes the arbiters of
the bargain. — I am, with best thanks for your attention, dear
sir, yours very faithfully, WALTER SCOTT.
It is evident from this that Sir Walter was already
on terms of some acquaintance with the active bookseller.
The list of books — I do not remember that
there are any of special interest — is written at the
back of the letter, which is thus inscribed: "Given
under my hand this day of my flitting from Ashestiel"
— a historical note which goes to one's heart. He must
have paused to write it, his heart all aglow with the
pleasure of that entry into Abbotsford which he was
about to make — Abbotsford, where all was to come to
an end.
Another letter in the same collection is from the
well-known bibliographer, Dibdin, who also "encloses
a list of some articles which I hope I shall be fortunate
enough to obtain from your collection," and
inquires anxiously which will be the safest and most
reasonable method of conveyance. "I suppose the
Waggon," says the careful book-lover, unwilling to
trust his precious books to the mercies of the Smack.
"I have just received your catalogue," he says, " and
without compliment it does you great credit — an
immense collection!" though he regrets that the
Miscellanea are so highly priced; then having done
justice to his correspondent's business, he introduces
his own: —
I enclose you a prospectus of the sumptuous and truly
valuable work on which I am now engaged — the subscriptions
to which fill rapidly. All the 1. c. are bespoken; and when I
inform you that the Bibliomania — of which 750 copies were
printed — has been out of print this month (never to be reprinted),
you will allow I am neither sanguine nor precipitate
when I conclude that the present work, of which a much smaller
impression will be published, will have a similar fate within the
same period. You may procure me subscribers if you feel no
disposition to embark in it yourself. To you each copy will be
£3, 18s. 6d.
On the same subject Mr John Murray writes the
first letter I have found from him, May 1812: "Your
Catalogue I hear incessantly praised by Heber as the
head of many others; it does great credit to you in
many respects. I am just going to the Duke of Roxburghe's
to see his Boccaccio sold; a thousand, fifteen
hundred, and even two thousand guineas are spoken
of." Thus it is evident that in the midst of their
large new transactions they all took an interest in
old books, a fine taste we fear scarcely shared by the
profession now. The Duke of Roxburghe was a great
book-collector, and had been Constable's special patron
when he too was a dealer in old books. We are told
by another authority that Blackwood's catalogue was
the first in which the books were classified, and that
it continues to be an authority in the present day.
The first event, however, of radical importance in
Blackwood's life was his appointment as the agent
of John Murray, not then of Albemarle Street, the
great London publisher, whose alliance all the Edinburgh
publishers sought, and who had tantalised one
firm after another by the temporary possession of
his confidence. His first connection had been with
Constable, whose London agent he was; but this
connection being broken, the Ballantynes, who had
succeeded to his favour, disgusted the great London
potentate by their disorderly ways, to which, with
his more prudent standards and sense of the dignity
of his own position as a sort of Metropolitan and High
Priest of the Trade, he objected strongly. They drew
bills upon him which Murray coldly returned, with a
statement that he never did business in that way, and
a few words about the imprudence of going beyond
their capital. The Ballantynes in revenge did not
offer Murray a share in the 'Lady of the Lake' when
they published that poem, and this greatly stung and
mortified the London publisher: —
You cannot suppose that my estimation of Mr Scott's genius
can have rendered me indifferent to my exclusion from a share
in the 'Lady of the Lake'? [he says with much indignation.]
I mention this [he adds], as well to testify that I am not indifferent
to this conduct in you as to point it out to you that
if you mean to withhold from me that portion which you command
of the advantages of our connection, you must surely
mean to resign any that might arise from me. The sole agency
for my publications in Edinburgh is worth, to any man who
understands his business, £300; but this requires zealous activity
and deference on one side, and great confidence on both,
otherwise the connection cannot be advantageous or satisfactory
to either party.
Having thus shaken off the Ballantynes, who were
too hungry for money and bills to escape for long the
grave disapproval of so serious and prudent a man of
business, Mr Murray transferred his connection to
Blackwood, then rising into note. Though he was no
longer connected with Constable in business, Mr
Murray was still on sufficiently confidential terms
with his house to consult him on the subject of his
new alliance. His letter is dated the 25th September
1811, and is the first distinct statement we have of
the increasing value of Mr Blackwood's business and
connection: —
I wish you would do me the favour to say if you think I have
done well in inclining to Blackwood's proposal to be my agent.
He does now and then get a book or two to throw in one's
way; but really no other person does except your house, which
gets all the rest. We should have had everything and done
everything if it had not been for our unfortunate misunderstanding.

If already the young publisher was sufficiently
established to be able to throw a book or two in the
way of the cautious and careful London publisher,
it proves that the progress he had made was very
considerable indeed, and upon this ground of mutual
support and backing up their connection began. The
relations of the publishers of that period, taking share
in each other's enterprises, and setting their hopes
of fortune on the same touch of good or evil chance.
were very close ones, and perhaps, like blood-relationship,
less conducive to peace than the more independent
inter-position of men standing each on his own
ground; but the intercourse between these new
associates was for some time most cordial and
friendly. Murray hastened to communicate to
Blackwood the wonderful terms upon which he stood
with Byron, who was the great glory of London, as
Scott was of Edinburgh; and when Blackwood in
his turn had the triumph of securing, if but temporarily,
the author of 'Waverley,' he made a point of
procuring for his correspondent a share in that much-coveted
honour. The curious intrigues, conspiracies,
checks and counter-checks of these changing combinations
of publishers, scarcely as yet assuming that
name — for they all call themselves booksellers — may
be perceived in the records of the Murrays and
the Constables, already published. There can be
no doubt that the politics of the 'Edinburgh Review,'
for instance, were obnoxious to many of its
readers and even to some of its writers, and that
Murray had long contemplated the establishment
of a rival Review. But it was the fact that the
'Edinburgh,' having been confided to him as its
London publisher, was then summarily taken out of
his hands by the establishment by the Constables
of a branch of their business in London, which sharply
decided him to lose no time in setting up that other —
a periodical very anxiously and carefully ushered into
the world, but which did not command the sudden
and brilliant success of its predecessor, though brought
into being with much more care, capital, and foresight,
and possessing writers quite as distinguished as those
of the rival camp. Murray was a very steady fighter,
very solid and immovable, standing like a tower; but
he had nothing in him of the dare-devil, the reckless
and dauntless spirit which at that period of
literary history certainly seems to have suited the
existing state of affairs better than the most carefully
laid plans. The 'Edinburgh' had started gaily,
taking all the risks with a temerity almost culpable;
and so did the Magazine, of which Mr Blackwood
had scarcely as yet begun to think. They were both
Berserkers, wild riders of the North, incautious, daring,
irresponsible: the 'Quarterly,' on the other hand,
was respectable — if not always in utterance, at least
in methods — from the beginning of its days, and observed
all the rules of success; but did not, I think,
make any commotion to speak of, even in an eagerly
expectant world.
By this time our young bookseller had already
begun to publish cautiously on his own account, the
most conspicuous of his early publications being the
'Life of John Knox,' by the Rev. Thomas M'Crie, —
a work which made much commotion in its day, and
was one of the first of the publications of a new
historical school, more pious, more reverential, less
elegant and classical, than the works of Robertson
and Blair; and starting from an altogether different
point of view from that which regarded Queen Mary
as a wronged heroine, and the Reformer as a fierce
fanatic. M'Crie was a Scottish Dissenting minister,
one of the Auld Licht upon which Burns was so
severe, and which recent Scots romancists have endeavoured
to raise once more to popularity and the
honours of the picturesque. No romance, however,
was in the work of the new historian, which it is
said was suggested by his own careful researches into
the early history of the Scots Church, undertaken
rather by way of clearing up the many schisms and
divisions in his own primitive branch than with
any greater aim. It was the first attempt to present
Knox in the light of a statesman as well as a
divine, and to estimate justly (if too favourably) his
real influence upon Scotland. It was an important
publication to be the first of the new publisher's
undertakings, but it was one worthy of the zeal
and enthusiasm with which he threw himself into
literature. His eagerness to secure distinction for
the authors with whom he was connected comes very
clearly out in a correspondence which I find between
Mr Blackwood and Dr Lee, afterwards Principal of
Edinburgh University, but then occupying the same
position in St Andrews, on the subject of an honorary
degree for Mr M'Crie, which seemed to Blackwood the
most flattering reward that could be obtained for the
still young author, — who was not, however, it appears,
of the same opinion, for there is an amusing letter
of offended dignity from M'Crie, refusing the honour
to which he had no right, in the true spirit of the
The first of the band which was so soon to surround
Blackwood and carry him into the greater tides of
life, appears among the earliest of his connections.
"The Ettrick boar," he writes to Murray in September
1814, "unfortunately left Edinburgh the day I arrived."
James Hogg, the Ettrick Shepherd, had
already published a volume of poetry, and had been
heard of even in London. This son of the soil has
had a curious fortune. He possessed a spark of undeniable
genius; and certainly he had a distinct tune
and melody of his own among the poetical pipings of
the fields. But it fell to his lot to be caught up
from the borders of his forest into the company of
a number of men much more brilliant than himself —
men who, without possessing his special quality, were
in all ways more able, more capable, of higher intellect
and infinitely higher training than he. The Shepherd
never was in the least the half-inspired delightful
talker which he appears in the 'Noctes': but he was
a poet in his way, an echo of the inspiration of Burns,
"trailing clouds of glory" from the inheritance of that
one great Peasant-Poet, who seemed in those days to
make it more possible to find poets among peasants
than in any other class. The Shepherd is the first
of the men with whom he had in future so much to
do, who came visibly into William Blackwood's life.
The beginning of what turned out to be a very long
correspondence refers to the publication of 'The
Queen's Wake,' and is addressed to Blackwood not
as publisher, but as trustee or executor of a certain
Mr Goldie, a minor publisher, who had died before
the book could be brought out. Hogg suggests that
half of the printed copies should be made over to him
on condition that he should pay for paper and print
ing. This no doubt was his simple way of interpreting
an agreement for half profits. "I am suffering,"
he says, "a double injury by having my principal
work thus locked up from the public, it never having
been regularly published." There is a balance-sheet
of the transaction between Goldie and Hogg enclosed
with these old letters — by which it appears that
Hogg received for the slim volume of poetry no less
a sum than £245, a reward which a minor poet in our
own day would certainly think no unsubstantial one.
It was not, however, until the year 1816 that
Blackwood came out prominently in literary history,
through the means of a remarkable and tantalising
incident, which we shall fully relate in the
following chapter, as it is one of which the right particulars
have never been known, — the transaction by
which he became for a moment the publisher of Scott,
with intoxicating hopes of a transference to himself
of the position previously secured by Constable — and
the distinction of seeing his name on the title-page of
the Waverley Novels, the thing most coveted by every
publisher existing. In the meantime he had changed
his establishment from the South Bridge to 17 Princes
Street, an address soon made memorable as the headquarters
of a literary group unequalled in Edinburgh
or within the limits of Great Britain. He was now
not the agent of Murray only, but also of Messrs
Cadell & Davies, in London, and had shaken from his
fingers for ever the dusty traces of the old books. As
the remarkable literary incident to which we have
referred is too long to come in at the end of a chapter,
we may here place, though it is in some degree anticipating
our story, the account of one of those discoveries
which publishers still are proud to make, and
which brought a new novelist, who has proved a permanent
distinction to her age and country, before the
It seems a little doubtful, from the tenor of his first
letter, whether he was aware who the writer was that
had sent him, as appears, a portion only of the MS.
to which it refers; but it is plain that he had already
acquired not only the gift of letter-writing, in which
the house of Blackwood has always been strong, but
much of that wise literary discrimination in which his
descendants have rarely failed. There is a tone in
this communication which will tantalise the literary
aspirant of the present day with visions of what once
were — though we believe only in occasional cases —
the accents in which a publisher addressed an author.
It is dated the 6th May 1817: —
Mr Blackwood now returns to the author the enclosed manuscript,
which he has perused oftener than once with the highest
delight. He feels not a little proud that such a writer should
express a wish to receive any suggestions from him. The whole
construction and execution of the work appear to him so admirable
that it would almost be presumption in any one to offer
corrections to such a writer. Mr B. begs to assure the author
that unmeaning compliment is the furthest from his thoughts,
and he flatters himself that at no distant period he will have
the high delight of assuring the writer in person of the heartfelt
sincerity of the opinion he has ventured to offer. Mr B. will
not allow himself to think for one moment that there can be any
uncertainty as to the work being completed. Not to mention
his own deep disappointment, Mr B. would almost consider it a
crime if a work possessing so much interest and instruction were
not given to the world. The author is the only critic of whom
Mr B. is afraid, and after what he has said he anxiously hopes
that this Censor of the Press will speedily affix the imprimatur."
These words were addressed (though the writer as
yet probably did not know it) to Miss Susan Ferrier,
a lady full of wit and sense, in Scott's very circle, and
well known as a delightful person to meet, though no
one had thought of attributing authorship to a lady in
society, considered in those days to be protected, and
superior to any wish of entering the arena of letters
— or, indeed, any other. We may well imagine that
there was no restraining the new author after this
enthusiastic opinion, which was no "unmeaning compliment,"
and that the half-completed story was carried
on with energy and satisfaction. About three weeks
later it would appear that a second portion of the tale
had been forwarded to him, and Mr Blackwood writes
again: —
30th May 1817.
Mr Blackwood embraces the opportunity of returning the
MS. to offer his warmest thanks to the author for the high
enjoyment he has received from it. It is unnecessary for him
to repeat how much he is flattered by his observations being
considered as at all worthy of notice by one who is so far above
his feeble praise, and who stands so little in need of criticism.
Mr B. cannot forbear remarking how admirably the cold and
selfish character of Lady Juliana continues to be sustained, as
well as the fine contrast afforded by the sensitive and feeling
heart of her devoted daughter. Every one has felt in youth
the glow of enthusiasm so well portrayed in Mary; and any
one who has ever associated with the English of a certain class
will at once recognise in Dr Redgill the living portrait of hundreds,
though never before hit off so well. The first paragraph
of the second chapter is alike remarkable for its truth, brevity,
and neatness. Mr B. hopes he will be excused for making these
observations, which he has been tempted to make from the portion
he now has before him being so small. If he had attempted
to say what he felt on perusing the former part of the work, he
fears he would have said too much for the author's patience, and
at the same time would not have been able to do justice to his
own feelings. He anxiously hopes that the author will not lag,
but finish the work with all convenient speed. When it suits
the author's conveniency Mr B. need not add how happy he
would be to receive either a large or small portion of the MS.
The next letter of the series is written in the first
person, and shows that the veil had been removed,
and that Blackwood was now aware who his correspondent
was. His admiration goes on increasing,
and his desire — for which he is "quite impatient" —
to "have it in my power to let others enjoy what I
have enjoyed so much myself." "You are quite in
the right spirit at present," he says; "I entreat you
to go on, and to have no advisers but your own heart
and feelings." There is in some of these remarks a
curious resemblance to the style in which his son, fifty
years after, executed the office of the genial critic and
encouraging friend. "You are quite in the right
spirit," dans une bonne voie, as the French painters
say. Those of us, and the number is fast decreasing,
to whom John Blackwood wrote on similar subjects
in the fifties and sixties, will recognise with a smile
and a sigh the accents of the son in those of the
'Marriage' was published in the beginning of the
next year.
I am almost sorry [Blackwood writes], when I ought to be
glad, now that I send you the end. I have had more enjoyment
and pleasure in the progress of your work for the last
twelve months than I have ever had in any that have passed
through my hands. I am now as impatient to have it fairly
afloat as I was to have it concluded, being confident that there
will only be one opinion of its merits.
The copyright of the book, or rather I think of the
first edition, would seem to have been bought for £150
— which was a very reasonable price for the new work
of an unknown writer, of which the publisher had good
He was already established in Princes Street, in
premises more adapted to his rising fortunes, when
these negotiations were going on. The old books
dropped out, the bookselling altogether became but
an unimportant adjunct to his business, which was
now plainly that of a publisher, and the establishing
of his career in the lines which it was to follow till
the termination of his life was now complete. And
his household was flourishing and multiplying year by
year. Already the eldest son Alexander was sufficiently
grown to be sent, no doubt a proud messenger,
riding into town upon his pony in the freedom of the
holidays from the house in Newington, or more probably
from the more important dwelling in the country,
to which the family had already begun to migrate
for the summer months. "He will ride out again
with the sheet completed if you give him the manuscript.
Do not mind my sending him out again, for
I can perfectly spare him," writes the father, no doubt
proud of the publisher in bud, on his pony in his holiday
time, making acquaintance with the new author.
The sons who were to carry on the work, so many of
them in succession, were thus brought in early to lend
an ornamental aid, and to cultivate that personal pride
and glory in the work, as of a profession intermediary
between the immortals and the ordinary world, which
distinguished them all in later life.
That Blackwood very early showed the true discrimination
of a literary critic is evident from an
accidental letter to Miss Ferrier on the subject of
another novel, evidently sent to him through her
hands, his tone in respect to which is most flatteringly
different from that which he used in speaking
of her own performance. He approved on the whole,
and had "formed a high opinion of the talent displayed
in it," and, "commercially speaking, I should
be happy to publish the work."
At the same time [he adds], I hope the author will pardon
me for the liberty I take in hinting that I feel confident she
could very greatly improve the first volume, so as, in my
humble opinion, to make it more acceptable to British readers
—who are not accustomed to a husband knocking down his
wife, nor yet to some other traits of Continental manners.
That novel has gone the way of all novels: it was
one of Lady Charlotte Bury's, and probably no one
living knows whether she took the advice of her
judicious publisher or not; but the letter transports
us whimsically back to the period in which "Continental
manners" were credited with all kinds of
atrocity, and only a chance traveller here and there
had brought any knowledge of the dark countries
long shut up by the wars, and naturally believed to
be the home of every cruelty. We fear that, in respect
to the knocking down of wives, at least, the association
nowadays is anything but Continental.
Perhaps it may be well here, and more convenient to
the reader as enabling him to keep the thread of the
different interests and personages who cross this busy
scene, to anticipate a few years of Mr Blackwood's
career, and trace out his connection with Miss Ferrier
to its conclusion. Everybody now knows something
of the witty and delightful "sister shadow" to whom
Sir Walter paid so beautiful a tribute. She came
from the same original, genial, sagacious, and humorous
race, that strata of Scottish gentry deposited in
Edinburgh, and owing, perhaps, some readiness and
flow of social gifts to the associations of the northern
capital, and the constant intercourse and sharpening
of its wits--which produced Sir Walter himself, and
was his sister spirit in more than writing. She was
afterwards connected with the circle of wits who inspired
the Magazine through her nephew, J. F. Ferrier,
the well-known metaphysician, and his witty wife, the
daughter of Professor Wilson: but these were all
"unborn faces" at the time of Susan Ferrier's literary
beginning. There was as yet no Magazine; and
Wilson was an unknown young university man, known
at least only for athletic feats, and an inclination towards
poetry of the sentimental kind. 'Marriage'
came out of the cheerful and critical centre of Edinburgh
society, as 'Sense and Sensibility' came from
the serene levels of English country life, with no
warning, floating upwards like the tiny balloons which
were one of the wonders of that day, carrying each
the little circle of a new undiscovered world to the
bigger universe around. Miss Ferrier was as Scotch
as Miss Austen was English; but the Edinburgh lady
had not that fine and pointed cynicism with which her
contemporary touched the lines of the minute all-embracing
picture. There was much fine sentiment and
ideal portraiture mingled with the broader humour
and larger laugh of the Scot, and perhaps her superfine
Marys and Gertrudes took away a little of the
unmingled effect of the other; though Miss Girzy,
on the other hand, is as amusing as Miss Bates,
although she has a much sweeter attraction. The two
writers may, however, be now said to occupy a very
similar level, and there are very few names which can
be placed beside them. We feel disposed to believe
that part of the divine element which had gone to the
making of Scott, being left over, had framed these
other secondary yet not inferior souls. It was Mr
Blackwood, ever thoughtful of giving pleasure to his
friends, who sent to Miss Ferrier "the concluding
sentence of the new 'Tales of my Landlord,' which
are to be published to-morrow." This consisted, if
the reader perchance may have forgotten, of the
following words:—
"If the present author, himself a phantom, may be
permitted to distinguish a brother or perhaps a sister
shadow, he would mention in particular the author
of the very lively work entitled 'Marriage.'"
"After this," says the publisher, "surely you will
be no longer silent. If the great Magician does not conquer you, I shall give up all hopes" Up to this
time, it is evident, Miss Ferrier, like her contemporary,
Miss Austen, shrank with a horrified femininity,
which it is amusing to see nowadays, from any betrayal
of identity. Her packets of proof are directed
on one occasion under cover to a friend, as if they had
been clandestine love-letters. "There are none of my
people who will suppose anything whatever," says the
publisher demurely. We are not informed whether
the great Magician overcame these scruples — but
there are some delightful. letters from Blackwood to
Miss Ferrier, dated in the year 1824, touching another
of her novels, which I must be allowed to quote. The
first has been published before in an article upon Miss
Ferrier in the 'Temple Bar Magazine.' The last, I
believe, is quite new to the public:—
On Wednesday I dined in company with Sir Walter Scott,
and he spoke of the work ['The Inheritance'] in the very highest
terms. I don't always set the highest value on the Baronet's
favourable opinion of a book, because he has so much kindness
of feeling towards every one; but in this case he spoke so
much con amore, and entered so completely and at such length
into the spirit of the book, and of the characters, as showed me
at once the impression it had made on him. Every one I have
seen who has read the book gives the same praise to it.
On another occasion he has been urging the writer
to go on with and finish her next novel, "having full
confidence in your own power." "You are in such a
vein for it just now," says the genial publisher, "that
I hope you have been able to shut yourself up to-clay,
and not been disturbed by the Saturday's young
folks." And he adds the following as his highest
I had not had time till now to read the two new chapters,
and I wanted to tell you how much I had been delighted with
them, particularly the last one. Lyndsay is admirably brought
out, and you have only to go on as you are going to sustain the
character which Sir Walter gave me of 'Marriage'—that you
had the rare talent of making your conclusion even better than
your commencement: for said this worthy and veracious person,
"Mr Blackwood, if ever I were to write a novel, I would
like to write the two first volumes, and leave anybody that
liked to write the third"!
The delightful ease and irresponsibility of "this
veracious person's" wish is enchanting. It is a
wish, however, which will be echoed by many a
smaller romancer.
For this novel, 'The Inheritance,' which was the
second of Miss Ferrier's books, the publisher gave
£1000, a great improvement upon the £150 he had
given for the first; and this not for the entire copyright.
But, curiously enough, the book does not seem
to have been successful—so little so indeed that the
correspondence in respect to 'Destiny,' her third work,
was much cooler in tone; and this book was not published
by Mr Blackwood. It was, in fact, much less
able than the others.
Miss Ferrier lived to old age, and became, we are
told, so completely occupied with religious questions
as to dislike and disapprove of the delightful works
of her earlier days, which is an unfortunate circumstance.
She has retained a high and quite individual
place in fiction, one of a band of three women who
form a sort of representative group in their way of
the three countries, which, it is to be hoped, no unpropitious
fate will ever sunder or make to be other
than one.
THE correspondence between Murray and Blackwood
is our chief guide through the obscurity of these early
years. Not long after the Edinburgh bookseller became
the agent of the important house in London, he
extended his business at home in the following manner
—a step which he immediately communicates to his
W. Blackwood to J. Murray.
EDIN., 10th March 1813.
John Ballantyne has transferred to me all his retail customers,
and makes me his retail publisher here. This will be of
very great use to me, as it interests Walter Scott deeply in all
my concerns. I have of course a stock of all their books, and
will therefore be able to supply you with any new book of
theirs 5 per cent below sale. If you want any 8vo 'Rokeby'
when ready, please write me. They have just published a very
pretty poem, 'Triermain,' which Jeffrey talks of in the highest
terms, and is to review in the next number of the 'Edinburgh.'
I have sent you 20 copies by yesterday's smack, and enclosed
12 'Widow's Lodgings,' a novel which they have also just published.
I have not been able to hear who he [the author] is,
nor yet who is the author of 'Triermain' . . .'Triermain,'
you may be sure, is not written by Mr Terry.
The occasional item of news which occurs from time
to time in these letters sometimes throws a curious
contemporary light upon a well-known event. Here
is the first intimation of the battle of Waterloo.
There is a solemnity in the tone of the announcement
which must have made the reader fear a great disaster
instead of the extraordinary triumph which
changed the whole course of modern history. The
letter is dated June 21, 1815:—
I sent you yesterday the 'Courier,' and have ordered another,
that you may learn more satisfactory particulars of the dreadful
event than have yet been published by Government, or
(perhaps) received by them. I very much fear the truth to be
that both Wellington and Blucher were surprised, and that it
was a desperate battle, falling chiefly upon the British, and
that it [here words omitted, "ended well"] only by Bonaparte's
not effecting his too well-designed attack. We have lost one-fourth
at least of our army—perhaps one-third of our very best
troops. We ought not to conclude, however, without authentic
despatches, and we shall certainly be more vigilant hereafter.
It is an awful moment.
In the biography of the Murrays, we are informed
that Blackwood ran all over Edinburgh with this
wonderful news; but the way in which it is stated
would scarcely justify any such outburst of delight.
A great controversy, scarcely silenced even now, arose
afterwards as to whether Wellington was surprised
or not; and Alison in his History, which was one
of the most successful books ever published by the
Blackwoods, warmly maintained that he was. It
is curious to note what seems to have been the
opinion of the moment — though this, of course, is
the merest passing report.
More in the usual scope of the correspondence is
the long letter in which the proud and delighted
publisher of London reports to his friend the last
new incident of his intercourse with Byron, of which
he was naturally so proud. If Blackwood had the
hope of interesting "Walter Scott deeply in all my
concerns," Murray could for the moment overcrow
him with his noble poet:—
John Murray to W. Blackwood.
Dec. 5, 1815.
Lord Byron is a curious man. He gave me, as I told you,
the copyright of his two new poems, to be printed only in his
works. I did not receive the last until Tuesday night. I was
so delighted with it that even as I read it I sent him a draught
for 1000 guineas. The two poems are altogether no more than
twelve hundred and fifteen hundred lines, and will together
sell for five and sixpence. But he returned the draught, saying
it was very liberal—much more than they were worth; that I
was perfectly welcome to both poems to print in his (collected)
works without cost or expectation, but that he did not think
them equal to what they ought to be, and that he would not
admit of their separate publication. I went yesterday, and
he was rallying me upon my folly in offering so much, that
he dared to say I thought now I had a most lucky escape.
"To prove how much I think so, my lord," said I, "do me the
favour to accept this pocket-book "—in which I had brought
with me my draught changed into two bank-notes of £1000
and £50; but he would not take it. But I am not in despair
that he will yet allow their separate publication, which I must
continue to urge for mine own honour. These poems are not
by any means equally finished as the 'Corsair,' but the 'Siege
of Corinth' contains two or three of the finest scenes he ever
conceived, and the other, called 'Parisina,' is the most interesting
and best conceived and best told story I ever read. I was
never more affected; and you may be sure, from habit, I can
tell when a thing is very good, and, moreover, that I have,
according to our respective situations, as much to resign in
my property in his name and fame as he has. I shall long to
send them to you, and should think that James Ballantyne
would give you and Scott and Erskine a dinner to read them.
It was Mr Blackwood himself who gave the dinner
at the house in Salisbury Road; which, I think, must
have been the time when a little speech made by the
distinguished guest found its place in the domestic
archives. Mr Scott, sitting by the side of the mistress
of the house, and looking out upon the garden, remarked
upon the fact that a green lawn occupied
the greater part of it, instead of flowers—to which
Mrs Blackwood replied that the pleasant green was
better for her little boys than flower-beds. "Ah, they
are your flowers," said the genial guest, no doubt
with a glance at the sturdy little figures trooping
in with joyful pride to dessert, whoever might be
there: a pride and joy more complete to the father
of the family than even the presence of the greatest
poet, or of Parisina' on the side-table waiting to be
read. But Mr Scott was "quite enthusiastic with
regard to the Poems, and considers Monday's meeting
one of the highest treats and greatest favours
ever done him," as Blackwood made haste to report.
It was not, however, solely on Byron's account
that this dinner was given.There were in the
meantime mysterious hopes and speculations in the
air which touched the Edinburgh publisher with an
excited expectation fully equal to the complacent
delight of the Londoner over his noble poet. James
Ballantyne, the man of confidence, agent, and to some
extent, as such a confidential vassal always believes
at least, director of the veiled Prophet of the day—
the great unknown author of 'Waverley'—had lately
been throwing out hints and suggestions enough to
turn a young publisher's head. Ballantyne had a
double prize in his hand for skilful manipulation.
There was Mr Scott, with the poetry which had
been supreme till Byron appeared, and which even
now was popular enough to be well worth securing,
not to speak of the honour and glory; and there
was the author of 'Waverley,' who was or was not
Scott, according to the balance of surmises which
rose and fell every day. The next poem perhaps—
the next novel: whichever it was, it would be a
piece of immense good fortune for the young bookseller
in Princes Street, aspiring to the very highest
levels of the trade. And Ballantyne's vapourings and
often-repeated hints and professions—quite sincere,
no doubt—of friendship and desire to serve his friend
might refer to either. "He assured me that Mr
Scott would take an interest in me, and matters
would take that turn with you and me which I had
so long been wishing to bring about," Blackwood
wrote."Independent of the delight of listening to
Lord Byron's poetry, it was one of the great objects
I had in being so anxious for your sending me
the poems, that I might have an opportunity of
drawing closer as it were to Mr Scott, and at the
same time showing him the confidence you had in
me and the friendship you showed me. All this
acts for our mutual interest."
There are few writers in the literary world now, or
at any time, whose works excite the general mind,
and above all the mind of a publisher, as Byron and
Scott did in their time; neither, so far as we are
aware, in these days when literature is weighed by
the thousand words like a packet of tea, would any
publishers, scarcely perhaps the heads of the traditionary
houses, rouse each other's enthusiasm, and
fish for one man of genius with the celestial bait
of a primeur of the productions of another. Murray
and Blackwood were both careful business men, calculating
the effects of such a coup, and with many solid
and serious meanings under the social triumph and
literary enthusiasm of such a party as that in the
Salisbury Road. But shrewd and astute as they
were, they had also a true literary enthusiasm, and
were perfectly sincere in the conviction that this same
genius, though so excellent a slave and so apt to draw
their chariots to the heights of fortune, was at the
same time the finest thing in the world, made to be
adored and applauded for its own sake. There was
true delight and admiration, as well as high policy,
in the pocket-book with its two crisp new notes
which John Murray tendered to the jesting disdainful
lordship whom still, notwithstanding several
refusals, he did not despair of persuading to accept
it in the end; and honest enthusiasm in William
Blackwood for the great northern minstrel and magician,
already the pride of Scotland, whom he made such
eager efforts to attract and convince that he himself,
in the confidence of the great English publisher, and
intrusted with an astounding unpublished work of the
great English poet, was the man above all others to
be trusted. The rumour of that great entertainment
—"that Mr Scott dined with me, and read the poems,
and was in raptures with them"—ran over all the
town. "I should have liked," adds Blackwood
with natural triumph, "to have seen Constable
when he first heard the intelligence." Thus all the
elements of dramatic interest were in the position,—
pure hero-worship and love of literature, honest determination
to secure one's own interest, and lively
pleasure in discomfiting a rival. To the credit of
both publishers, it must be added that the first motive
was quite as genuine as the others; and if ever the
younger of the two envied his partner, it was for
his power magnificently to send that thousand
guineas to the object of their admiration, without
taking thought. " You have the happiness of making
it a liberal profession, and not a mere business
of pence," he wrote admiringly. "This I consider
one of the greatest privileges we have in our business."
We may pause, however, here to note that these
poems were of course published shortly after, not in
Lord Byron's collected works, and that he was persuaded
to accept the publisher's liberal offer, though
before this time the noble poet's career was drawing
near that crash of ruin and misadventure in which it
closed in England, but into which we are glad to have
no occasion to enter. Here is a curious piece of criticism
on Murray's part, in answer, it would appear, to
some impertinent comments of the public upon the
publication. It accompanies a consignment of four
hundred and fifty copies of the'Siege of Corinth,' to
be sold in Edinburgh:-
I am glad that your friend M'Crie is pleased, for he is a
Genius, and represents many of a strong but peculiar form of mind
whom one would not have expected to be smitten. And I am
no less delighted to find Dr Brewster occupy half a letter today
with an account of his exstasies. Many who "by numbers
judge a poet's song" are so stupid as not to see the powerful
effect of the poems, which is the great object of poetry, because
they can pick out fifty careless or even bad lines. The words
may be carelessly put together, but this is secondary. Many
can write polished lines who will never reach the name of poet.
You see it is all poetically conceived in Lord B.'
s mind.
There is a dazzled vagueness in this comment
through which one can see that the writer had a
faint comprehension of what he himself meant, without
much power of expressing it. It is prose expounding
poetry with a general sense of something in it
beyond verbal criticism.
I find very early in Blackwood's career a sharp
little correspondence with the well-known Charles
Kirkpatrick Sharpe, in which the young and scarcely
yet fully fledged publisher puts forth his own principle
of action against the querulous writer—whose attempt
to stand upon what he considered his superior station
is more contemptible than dignified—with much precision
and firmness. Sharpe was about to publish a
book heavily laden with notes, and had warned the
publisher that he would admit no criticism. The date
is so early as 1815:—
W. Blackwood to C. Kirkpatrick Sharpe.
I have only this moment on my getting home opened your
packet and found your note. I feel as much as you can do the
necessity of our understanding each other. Till we do so I do
not consider myself at liberty to read a single line of your notes,
and have therefore sealed them up till I hear from you. You
state as your sine qua non that you will not cancel a single line
of these notes. Now, I hope you will pardon me for saying
that if I understand you rightly this is so much en cavalier that
I cannot without some explanation publish a work where I
conceive myself to be so very differently treated from what I
have always been by the authors with whom I have had the
honour to be connected. I have always been accustomed to
take an interest in the literary department of my business, and
however trifling my suggestions may have been, I have had them
considered and attended to by men of no small note. From the
very slight glance I had of your notes on Thursday I could
form no decided opinion; but I expected when you did me the
honour of putting your MS. into my hands I should have been
at liberty to state frankly my opinion if anything occurred to
me that I conceived might be either altered or omitted. I
never, however, conceived that, contrary to your own judgment,
you would either have altered or omitted what you thought
right. I have thus fairly stated to you what occurs to me, and
if we now understand each other I shall be extremely happy to
go on with a work which I hope will do credit both to Editor
and publisher. I therefore wait your answer till I know
whether or not I may commence the lecture of your notes, from
which I expect not a little entertainment.
Mr Sharpe answered this note in a still more cavalier
strain, treating the very independent person he addressed
as one so much beneath him in the social scale
as to make good manners unnecessary. " Dear Mr
B.," he says, "I shall be sorry if I have said any
rudeness to you, because. I hold that no distinctions
of station warrant ill-breeding." Mr Blackwood was
not one who held distinctions of station lightly; but
the pretensions of "Cheeping Charlie" fired his blood.
After the previous correspondence [he says] it was quite
unnecessary for you to propose anew my publishing 'Kirk-ton.'
I should never be able duly to appreciate the "distinctions of
society" and the "punctilios," which really I was not aware of.
My mode of conducting business is uniform, and I hope will
always be found correct as well as honourable. As I am to pay
you for your labour it mattered not to me, nor did I ever think
for a moment whether you were, as you term it, an author by
profession. Your choosing another publisher puts me to no
inconvenience whatever, except that on the faith of our agreement
I had ordered paper, and engaged with a printer, who
ordered type on purpose for the book; but it surely can be no
matter of difficulty with you to make it a condition with your
new publisher that he should employ Mr Cleast, and take the
paper from Messrs Cowan.
It may have been—who can tell?—this passage of
arms which made Kirkpatrick Sharpe figure in the
Chaldee Manuscript; but no doubt the young men
had their grievances against him too.
To show that Blackwood's suggestions were very
differently received in some quarters, and that his
correspondence was already extensive, I may quote
here the following note:-
W. Blackwood to R. Southey.
EDINBURGH, July 5, 1816.
A few weeks ago I took the liberty of sending you a small
packet, which I hope you have received. I now beg leave to
enclose my friend Dr M'Crie's report concerning the Protestants
in the South of France. I have always been expecting to see
an article on this interesting subject in the 'Quarterly Review,'
and I hope it will yet be taken up. I trust you will pardon
me, almost a stranger to you, for venturing to suggest the
The suggestion bore fruit: we find an allusion to it
in one of Murray's letters, in which the London publisher
thanks the Edinburgh one for the idea, and
begs him when he thinks of anything of the kind to
be sure always to mention it.
In the meantime, while Byron and his proceedings
occupied all the foreground in London, the great hope
which had irradiated the Edinburgh publisher's horizon
began to take form. The transaction that followed
has been curiously misrepresented, though probably
not with any unkind meaning. Lockhart distinctly
assures us that, both Ballantyne and Blackwood being
dead at the time he wrote, and Murray having no
personal knowledge of the facts and evidently no
desire to dwell upon them, he had no accurate information
on the subject. The transaction is dismissed
accordingly with a hot and hasty note from Scott;
and the impression left by the incident altogether is
disagreeable, disrespectful to Mr Blackwood, and harsh
and unfriendly to all concerned. The letters which
passed day by day, however, and which are now
before us, convey no such impression, nor did Scott's
resentment in respect to criticism, or any other similar
sentiment, occasion any breach between author and
publisher. We are glad to be able to set this incident,
which was one of great importance in Black-wood's
early life, in its proper light. It may be
premised that Scott at this time had not definitely
connected himself with any one publisher. It had
been Constable who brought out 'Waverley,' while 'Guy Mannering' was given to Longman. Whether
the negotiations with Blackwood were intended as
a third experiment before the matter was finally
settled, or whether their design was to stimulate
Constable to stronger efforts to secure such a valuable
monopoly, as some people think, I am unable to say:
at all events, the offer to Blackwood seemed of a perfectly
honest and straightforward kind to begin with.
Shortly after the dinner-party above recorded, the
hints and promises of Ballantyne came to a definite
proposal, and he offered to Blackwood, "by instructions
from the author," a work in four volumes to be
called 'The Tales of my Landlord': each volume was
intended to contain a separate tale, an arrangement
afterwards altered, and the work was thus to be of
more than usual importance, as including a succession
of books. We may quote from Blackwood's letter
to Murray an account of the interview in which the
proposal was first definitely made:—
W. Blackwood to John Murray.
He [James Ballantyne] began by telling me that he thought
he had it now in his power to show me how sensible he was of
the services I had done him, and how anxious he was to accomplish
that union of interests which he had so long been
endeavouring to bring about. Till now he had only made
professions: now he would act. He said that he was empowered
to offer me, along with you, a work of fiction in four
volumes such as 'Waverley,' &c.; that he had read a considerable
part of it, and knowing the plan of the whole, he could
answer for its being a production of the very first class; but
that he was not at liberty to mention the title, nor was he at
liberty to give the author's name. I naturally asked him, was
it by the author of 'Waverley'? He said it was to have no
reference to any other work whatever, and any one would be at
liberty to form their own conjecture as to the author. He only
requested that whatever we might suppose from anything that
might occur afterwards we should keep strictly to ourselves:
that we were to be the publishers. The terms he was empowered
by the author to offer for it were:—
1. The author to receive one-half of the profits of each
edition: these profits to be ascertained by deducting the paper
and printing from the proceeds of the book sold at sale price—
the publishers to be at the whole of the expense of advertising.
2. The property of the book to be the publishers', who were to
print such editions as they chose. 3. The only condition upon
which the author would agree to these terms is, that the publisher
should take £600 of John Ballantyne's stock selected
from the list annexed, deducting 25 per cent from the affixed
sale prices. 4. If these terms are agreed to, the stock to the
above amount to be immediately delivered, and a bill granted
at twelve months. 5. That in the course of six or eight weeks
J. B. expected to be able to put into my hands the first two
volumes printed, and that if, on perusal, we did not like the
bargain, we should be at liberty to give it up. This he considered
to be most unlikely; but if it should be the case, he
would bind himself to repay or re-deliver the bill on the books
being returned. 6. That the edition, consisting of 2000 copies,
should be printed and ready for delivery by the 1st October
I have thus stated to you as nearly as I can the substance of
what passed. I tried in various ways to learn something with
regard to the author, but he was quite impenetrable. My own
impression now is that it must be Walter Scott, for no one else
would think of burdening us with such trash as John B.'s
wretched stock. This is such a burden that I am puzzled not a
little. I endeavoured every way I could to get him to propose
other terms, but he told me these could not be departed from in
a single part; and the other works had been taken on the same
conditions, and he knew they would be greedily accepted again
in the same quarter. After giving it my consideration and
making some calculations, I confess I feel inclined to hazard
the speculation; but still I feel doubtful until I hear what you
think of it.
That this curious offer of a mysterious work without
name or author known, however strongly and justly
divined, and weighted by a preliminary tax of £600,
for the unsaleable books of John Ballantyne's "wretched
stock," should yet have been, notwithstanding their
anxious correspondence, accepted in each man's mind
from the beginning and with eagerness, is a wonderful
evidence of the atmosphere of wonder and expectation
with which the author of 'Waverley' had filled the
world. There could be no doubt, to any one who
knew the circumstances, that the book was his; and
yet it was his caprice that there should be a double
veil of mystery over this new venture, and that the
new publisher should accept it blindly from the silent
hand stretched out from the darkness, with the most
complete faith. The success of this astonishing proposal,
and the scarcely concealed eagerness of the
serious and sober men of business to whom it was
made, must have afforded a whimsical amusement as
well as satisfaction in his own boundless success and
power to that mysterious author, the so-little-mysterious
man who met them every day with all the
frankness and cordiality of his nature. But he would
not waive a jot of the demands, which he knew would
be "greedily accepted" in other quarters, indeed wherever
it might please him to offer them. These demands
were harder than the two publishers at first understood.
"James has made one or two important mistakes
in the bargain with Murray and Blackwood,"
writes Scott. "Having only authority from me to
promise six thousand copies, he proposes they shall
have the copyright for ever. I will see their noses
cheese first. . . . He talks of volumes being put
into the publishers' hands to consider and decide
on. No such thing; a bare perusal at St John
Street only." Notwithstanding all this, there never
was really any doubt that the proposal would be
The following letters respecting this bargain which
passed between James Ballantyne and Mr Blackwood
disclose all the different steps of the transaction very
J. Ballantyne to W. Blackwood.
30th April 1816.
I enclose you a formal offer, with this positive assurance that
I cannot vary from it in one single particular; so that if you
wish, as I believe most firmly you do, that the bargain should
be completed, I will sign the offer to-day before dinner. But I
again repeat, that whatever may be my wishes I cannot vary
from the terms of the offer in any one respect. By the by, I
should say that bills for the author's profits will be accepted at
twelve months if you insist on it; but I advise you not to insist
upon it. The compromise I have put in of six and twelve
months would be extremely well taken by the author. And he
knows he could get them from other quarters.
A subsequent letter hesitates even in respect of this
compromise, repeating the warning that there were
other ways of obtaining all that the author desired.
"If the bargain appears in the least hard to Mr B.,
there are others ready to accept for these profits at
six months, the instant the first volume goes to press.
He is only to accept at six and twelve months from
the period that the whole four volumes come from
the press." These lesser stipulations, however, seem
at last to have been accepted, and, what was perhaps
most important to the intermediate agent at least,
the six hundred pounds' worth of John Ballantyne's
unsaleable stock was unwillingly selected, and the
money paid in bills at six months, according to the
ordinary custom.
In this as in the other conditions of the bargain,
Mr Murray writes that he is willing to take his "full
share of the responsibility." The manner in which he
agrees to the transaction is characteristic: —
"I enter upon it, however, not as a matter of
business, or even almost experiment, but in the same
way as I should buy a lottery ticket, considering it as
money which I could afford, or rather choose, to throw
away — and think no more of it unless it actually
came up a prize."It is perhaps also in respect to
this that he writes significantly in another letter,
"I take care that everything pays me in some way,"
— a statement full of meaning.
After this there occurred an interval of silence, and
everything dropped into its usual routine, — a silence
soon full of uneasiness for Blackwood, who waited week
by week with great anxiety to hear something more of
his book: but not a word came. The bills for John
Ballantyne's stock had been given at once and the
books delivered, and there for the moment the transaction
seemed to have stopped short. In the original
bargain it had been stated that the book was to be
ready for publication on the 1st of October. In the
meantime other incidents had occurred to make Blackwood
uneasy. A historical work, described as "Letters
upon the History of Scotland, by Walter Scott," had
been offered to him in conjunction with Murray, and
then had been announced as about to be published by
Constable, — a fact which wounded him deeply. He
complained to Ballantyne of this, and received through
him a somewhat haughty message from Scott desiring
Mr Blackwood to apply for information on the subject
to himself, as it was a matter with which Ballantyne
had nothing to do; but this was the last thing in the
world that the publisher desired. "One in business
must submit to many things," he writes to Murray,
"and swallow many a bitter pill when such a man as
Walter Scott is the object in view." Murray too was
willing rather to swallow the pill than to endanger
the attainment of Walter Scott with the author of
Waverley' at his back. But as the summer went on
the sense of uncertainty and the tediousness of waiting
grew more and more. In July it began to be insupportable,
interrupting every other thought. Early in
this month Blackwood communicated his feelings to
Murray, who was little less anxious than himself: —
W. Blackwood to John Murray.
July 2, 1816.
This morning I got up between five and six, but instead of
sitting down to write you, as I had intended, I mounted my
pony and took a long ride to collect my thoughts. Sitting,
walking, or riding, it is all the same. I feel as much puzzled
as ever, and undetermined whether or not to cut the Gordian
knot. Except my wife, there is not a friend whom I dare
advise with. I have not ventured to mention the business at
all to my brother, on account of the cursed mysteries and injunctions
of secrecy connected with it. I know he would
blame me for ever engaging in it, for he has a very small opinion
of the Ballantynes. I cannot, therefore, be benefited by his
advice. Mrs Blackwood, though she always disliked my having
any connection with the Ballantynes, rather thinks we
should wait a few weeks longer till we see what is produced.
I believe, after all, this is the safest course to pursue.
By the end of the month, however, his impatience
was no longer to be controlled, and on the 31st July
he addressed James Ballantyne as follows: —
It surely will not be thought unreasonable that Mr Murray
and I should, at a distance of three months from the period
at which we granted our acceptances for six hundred pounds,
feel rather impatient at hearing nothing whatever of the Work
of Fiction of which you assured use the first volume would be
printed and put into my hands upwards of two months ago.
We beg you would now inform us what is doing, or is to be
done, as it is most unpleasant to have the business hanging in
this way.
The plausible James replied instantly to Mr
Blackwood: —
I should be myself entirely unreasonable if I thought there
was anything unreasonable in the solicitude which you express
in Mr Murray's name and your own respecting this work, for
which you have granted your bills — I think it, on the contrary,
natural and unavoidable.
This matter has taught me a lesson which I will not forget —
which is, never to give my own conviction for that of others.
In place, therefore, of saying what I think upon the subject, I
shall tell you what the author says to me. He says, then, that
I shall have the first vol. in my hands by the end of August,
and that the whole work will, as he all along said, be ready for
publication by Christmas. This I say for him: I will pledge
myself no longer.
This clever assumption of a grievance in his own
innocent person, and candid incapacity to answer for
another unaccountable individual, is a very good example
of Scott's Aldiborontophoscophornio, the genial
vassal ready to serve his principal's eccentricities even
by blaming him when needful, with uplifted hands and
eyes of regret and wonder. "This matter has taught
me a lesson which I will not forget"! Plausible as
it all was, however, it did not satisfy Mr Blackwood,
and there would seem to have been in the beginning
of August a conversation of the most important kind
between the impatient publisher and the slippery
agent. There is no record of this conversation, but
its purport is easily divined from the letter that
follows: —
J. Ballantyne to W. Blackwood
5th August 1816.
After the decisive conversation which we had on Saturday,
you may perhaps be surprised that I should again wish to
bring the subject before you. But, independently of my most
anxious desire that a thing which I continue as strongly as
ever to think would be mutually advantageous, should not be
blown away by a trifling delay—independently of this wish,
it is my duty to remove one important misconception under
which you appear to have long laboured, and this I am sure
I can accomplish although I should fail in everything else.
You appear to think, and I rather think you have distinctly
stated that you do so, that the author of the work of fiction has
wittingly or rather wilfully delayed putting the volume into
your hands "because he had views elsewhere," views which you
must suppose to have arisen after my first being empowered to
make an offer of the work to you. Now, if this was really the
case, it is undeniable that he would joyfully avail himself of
your rejection, and feel that he had accomplished the object
he was driving at. But so far is this from being the case, that
he desires me to express to you in the strongest terms his wish
not to change his publisher. His words are these: "The work
is now ready to go to the press; and you will have the copy
in two days. The work will to a certainty be out in the
month of November, a period which I have always understood
to be the very best for publication. This I beg you
will state to Mr Blackwood distinctly and explicitly; and
there is so much reason in the thing that I cannot but think
he will listen to it."
Such are the precise words of the author, and whatever
other impression they may produce on you, you will surely
admit that they at least prove beyond the possibility of denial
that he had and has no such views as you ascribe to him
that he does not wish to change his publishers; and that he
has no views elsewhere. Indeed, it is with a view of clearing
his and my own good faith to you and Mr Murray, that we
are anxiously desirous you should be convinced that you
refuse the work, if you refuse it, when it is ready for press,
and when the author is pledged to its publication at a specific
period, the very best in the whole year for publication.
Now, my dear Sir, what more can be said, or what more can
you wish? If the negotiation is now broken off, surely you
will allow that it is not the fault either of the author or of
myself; and if, after this distinct explanation and assurance,
you continue in the mind which you stated on Saturday, I
can only say it will give us both deep and sincere concern.—
Believe me to be, and I trust I do not say so for the last
time, your sincere friend and faithful servant,
This letter was supplemented later in the day by
another bearing the same date, 5th August: —
In addition to what I stated in my letter to you of this
morning, I beg to say, that rather than have recourse to other
publishers than yourself and Mr Murray, the author of the
Work of Fiction authorises me to agree to the terms of credit
which you originally stipulated for — to wit, 12 instead of 6
months [bills].
If it were merely a pecuniary matter that was at stake,
I assure you I should feel no solicitude whatever in this
business; for, should your decision render it necessary, I
should be ready in as short a period as could reasonably be
expected to deliver up your bills. But however conscious
both the author and myself are of our perfect good faith in
this transaction, it is painful beyond measure that it should
be suspected; and it is to convince you of this, or at least
to afford you the strongest reason for being convinced, that
our anxiety arises for completing the bargain. Certainly, also,
it would to me be extremely painful to lose a friend through
the very measures by which I had hoped to confirm him.
I beg leave to conclude with asserting upon my solemn word
not only that the author has not, nor ever had, "any views elsewhere,"
but that the existence of the work in question is at this
moment unknown to every human creature except yourself, Mr
Murray, myself, and my brother. As I understand that you
are now at Dalhousie Castle, I think this communication of
sufficient importance to send it after you. I ought to add that
I have this moment received a considerable portion of the MS.
of the work; and that I distinctly pledge the author's word
that the whole will be ready in the month of November.
These anxious excuses and arguments went on for
some days — there being also a secondary question to
discuss in respect to some portion of John Ballantyne's
stock which was not according to the bargain,
and for which a hundred pounds was subtracted accordingly
— until at length James Ballantyne wrote
to announce that about two-thirds of the first volume
were to be sent to-morrow evening, — the date is 21st
August: so it is evident that no time had been lost.
Blackwood had requested, with some urgency, that he
might have permission to send the manuscript on to
I have myself [says Ballantyne] read it with the greatest
admiration and delight. The remainder, I think, will be ready
for your inspection about the beginning of next week. I read
your letter about the transmission of the first volume to London
to the author, thinking that the best mode of signifying your
wish, and the causes on which it was founded. The author's
refusal is couched in these words: "Nothing shall induce me
to allow the book to go out of your hands. To send it to London
would hazard things, which I cannot think of risking. Mr
Blackwood's taste is as competent as that of any man to enable
him to come to a just conclusion, and I will not subject the
book to the refusal of another."
Any further application would be needless, I am sure. But I
trust your own judgment will decide you. Few men have a
Blackwood replies to this on the same day. We
quote from the scroll or brouillon of his letter, which
is a thing frequently found among his papers, and
often even more characteristic in the passages struck
out than in those which are allowed to stand. He
writes on this occasion: —
W. Blackwood to J. Ballantyne.
To thank you for the welcome intelligence, and to congratulate
with you upon our now being fully in sight of land, with
every prospect, from what you say, of coming to a right anchor.
You will give me all that you have ready as early as you can
to-morrow, as I need not tell you how great my impatience is
to devour it. Be so good as to let me know in the morning at
what hour I may expect it. The author and you are kind
enough to soften the refusal of my request as to Mr Murray
["about its being sent to London" struck out] by saying very
much too flattering things with regard to my judgment (which
I would have been as well pleased to have dispensed with). I
should have been much more pleased to have been praised less
and listened to more. But this cannot be helped, and I anxiously
hope the Book will speak for itself to all and every one, and so
that my responsibility will be trifling.
Next day another anxious note heralds the all-important
proof: —
J. Ballantyne to W. Blackwood.
22nd August 1816.
You shall have all that is thrown off, and what is composed,
before dinner. The remainder of the volume will be ready, I
think, early next week. Tastes are as different as faces; and
you may not like what I think altogether exquisite. But I have
strong hopes of our coming to an immediate and mutually agreeable
conclusion to this business.
P.S. — By waiting till seven this evening I find I shall be able
to send you 8 sheets; only, as the two last are perhaps the
finest of the whole, I am averse to your not getting them.
Don't worry! for you shall have them at tea-time.
One can imagine the excitement, the eager anxiety,
the watch kept at the door for the messenger from
the printing-office — no printer's devil in this case, but
a messenger of the gods. Alas! at this point there is
a gap in the correspondence. The excited publisher
was too warmly inspired to write any scroll of his
reply. We find another version of it, however, in the
correspondence of Mr Murray, dashed off on the same
eventful evening, without stopping to take breath: —
W. Blackwood to John Murray.
August 23, 1816 — Midnight.
MY DEAR MURRAY, — I have this moment finished the reading
of 192 pages of our book — for ours it must be — and I cannot
go to bed without telling you what is the strong and most
favourable impression it has made upon me. If the remainder
be at all equal, which it cannot fail to be from the genius displayed
in what is now before me, we have been most fortunate
indeed. The title is 'The Tales of my Landlord; collected and
reported by Jedediah Cleishbotham, Parish Clerk and Schoolmaster
of Gandercleugh.' There cannot be a doubt as to the
splendid merit of the work. It would never have done to have
Niggled and protested about seeing more volumes. I have now
neither doubts nor fears, and I anxiously hope you will have as
little. I am so happy at the fortunate termination of all my
pains and anxieties, that I cannot be in bad humour with you
for not writing me two lines in answer to my two last letters.
It is clear that the reply to Ballantyne was not less
enthusiastic than this, for the next letter, we find, is
from that able negotiant, and is full of the triumphant
composure of a victor, one who has been conscious
from the beginning of inevitable glory: —
J. Ballantyne to W. Blackwood.
23rd August.
I need not say that your letter has given me great pleasure.
I never in my life had anything more at heart than to show
you by substantial proof that I felt as I ought to do towards
you: and my vexation was proportioned to the disappointment
which at one period had overset all my hopes. Nothing kept
me up but the consciousness that I had done my possible.
Your approbation is just as it ought to be. Had it been calm,
it would have been unworthy both the work and yourself.
Yes; it is a work of tremendous splendour, and may it turn
out — it must turn out — as we both expect. Your letter to
Murray, which I enclose, is a most excellent précis. Keep the
sheets as long as you like, but I beg you to return them. I
have most especial reasons for this.
We might now suppose that everybody was as
much satisfied and wholly triumphant as it was possible
to be; but there were still further troubles in
the way of the Work of Fiction, as it had been hitherto
comically and formally entitled between these correspondents.
The story was told by Lockhart in the
'Life of Sir Walter Scott' in a way which — probably
without intention, yet perhaps, who can tell? in the
character of the Scorpion who delighteth to sting the
faces of men — left a disagreeable impression as to the
part taken by Mr Blackwood, and seemed to account
for the fact that the 'Black Dwarf' was the only one
of Scott's works published by him. I will quote this
from Lockhart's narrative, premising that, by his own
account, before it was written, both Blackwood and
Ballantyne were dead. Mr Murray, not caring, I
presume, to open up the records of a story which
came to an inglorious end, furnished little information;
and, except the sons of the Edinburgh publisher,
there was nobody to be wounded by the story: —
I know not how much of the tale of the 'Black Dwarf' had
been seen by Blackwood, in St John Street, before he concluded
this bargain for himself and his friend Murray; but when the
closing sheets of that novel reached him, he considered them
as by no means sustaining the delightful promise of the opening
ones. He was a man of strong talents, and though without
anything that could be called learning, of very respectable information
— greatly superior to what has, in this age, been common
in his profession; acute, earnest, eminently zealous in
whatever he put his hand to; upright, honest, sincere, and courageous.
But as Constable owed his first introduction to the
upper world of literature and of society in general to his
'Edinburgh Review,' so did Blackwood his to his 'Magazine,'
which has now made his name familiar to the world — and at
the period of which I write, that miscellany was unknown:
he was known only as a diligent antiquarian bookseller and
the Scotch agent of the great London publisher, Murray. The
abilities, in short, which he lived to develop were as yet unsuspected
— unless, perhaps, among a small circle; and the knowledge
of the world, which so few men gather from anything
but painful collision with various conflicting orders of their
fellow-men, was not his. He was to the last plain and blunt:
at this time I can easily believe him to have been so to a degree
which Scott might look upon as "ungracious" — I take
the epithet from one of his letters to James Ballantyne. Mr
Blackwood, therefore, upon reading what seemed to him the
loose and impotent conclusion of a well-begun story, did not
search about for any glossy periphrase, but at once wrote to
beg that James Ballantyne would inform the unknown author
that such was his opinion. This might possibly have been
endured; but Blackwood, feeling, I have no doubt, a genuine
enthusiasm for the author's fame, as well as a just anxiety as
to his own adventure, proceeded to suggest the outline of what
would, in his judgment, be a better upwinding of the plot of the
'Black Dwarf,' and concluded his epistle, which he desired to
be forwarded to the unknown novelist, with announcing his
willingness, in case the proposed alterations were agreed to,
that the whole expense of cancelling and reprinting a certain
number of sheets should be charged to his own personal account
with James Ballantyne & Co. His letter seems to have
further indicated that he had taken counsel with some literary
person, on whose taste he placed great reliance, and who, if he
had not originated, had at least approved of the proposed process
of recasting. Had Scott never possessed any such system
of interagency as the Ballantynes supplied, he would, among
other and perhaps greater inconveniences, have escaped that of
the want of personal familiarity with several persons, with whose
confidence — and why should I not add? with the innocent
gratification of whose little vanities — his own pecuniary interests
were often deeply connected. A very little personal contact
would have introduced such a character as Blackwood's
to the respect — nay, to the affectionate respect — of Scott, who,
above all others, was ready to sympathise cordially with honest
and able men, in whatever condition of life he discovered them.
He did both know and appreciate Blackwood better in after-times;
but in 1816, when this plain-spoken communication
reached him, the name was little more than a name, and his
answer to the most solemn of go-betweens was in these terms,
which I sincerely wish I could tell how Signor Aldiborontophoscophornio
translated into any dialect submissible to Black-wood's
apprehension: —
Walter Scott to James Ballantyne.
"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 ever was made. — W. S."
This story is exactly the kind of skilful compound of
truth and imagination which has ruined the character
of many a man. The fact evidently is that Blackwood
did write such a piece of criticism and made such a proposal
(which makes the historian hold his breath); but
the house of Blackwood never have been complaisant
publishers, and have always loved to say their say, sometimes
very wisely. But this is all the truth there is
in it, as the reader will see by the following letters.
For one thing, Scott knew Blackwood very well, and
had shown him every sign of respect and friendly
appreciation. But this was a sharp provocation, and
no doubt the above very hasty and very profane note
was dashed off in the first moment of exasperation, as
I daresay all of us would have been well enough inclined
to do. I recollect, for my own part, to have
received letters from Mr John Blackwood which would
have made the use of strong language very consolatory;
though after a little consideration they were
generally found to be worthy of much more serious
thought. But there was more in it than this. We
resume the correspondence at the point where we
broke off. On the 1st September James Ballantyne
wrote from Kelso, during a temporary absence: —
J. Ballantyne to W. Blackwood.
Our friend Jedediah highly approves of your management in
respect to the 'Tales,' and thinks your setting up a rival author
an excellent thought. He leaves you at perfect liberty to present
a copy of vol. i. to Mr Murray as a matter of course, and
to Lord Dalhousie according to your own discretion: not doubting,
however, that they will be managed with a due regard to
inviolable secrecy. I have, therefore, written to Edinburgh
ordering two copies to be sent to you immediately.
These copies were of course of the printed sheets,
the book being not yet ready for publication. It is at
this point in the correspondence that Mr Blackwood's
startling criticism and suggestion should come in: but
no copy seems to have been preserved of it, and we
are, therefore, unable to tell except from Lockhart's
description what it was. There is no reason to suppose
this was not true enough. One of Blackwood's
principles, always clearly acknowledged, was his habit
of "taking an interest in the literary department of
my business" — so there can be little doubt that he
would say his say with vigour and precision. To the
letter containing these suggestions James Ballantyne
replies on the 4th October 1816 with a different version
of Scott's angry note: —
J. Ballantyne to W. Blackwood.
Our application to the author of 'Tales of my Landlord' has
been anything but successful, and in order to explain to you the
reason why I must decline to address him in this way in future,
I shall copy his reply verbatim: —
"My respects to our friends the Booksellers. I belong to the
Death-head Hussars of Literature, who neither take nor give
criticism. I am extremely sorry they showed my work to
Gifford, nor would I cancel a leaf to please all the critics of
Edinburgh and London; and so let that be as it is. They are
mistaken if they think I don't know when I am writing ill, as
well as Gifford can tell me. I beg there may be no more communications
with critics."
Observe — that I shall at all times be ready to convey anything
from you to the author in a written form, but I do not
feel warranted to interfere further.
The reader may believe that this was how Signor
Aldiborontophoscophornio "translated" Scott's note
"into a dialect" that could be submitted to Blackwood;
but I think for my own part that there is more
in it — that it was probably an amalgam of two notes,
and that the reference to Gifford was genuine, and not
the invention of the smooth-tongued James. The
intrusion of the London critic no doubt changed the
whole face of the matter, and that this was believed to
be the special sting is proved by Mr Blackwood's reply,
written on the following morning, 5th October: —
W. Blackwood to James Ballantyne.
I am not a little vexed at having ventured to suggest anything
to the author of 'Tales of my Landlord,' since I find he
considers it in the light of Ne sutor ultra crepidam. I never
had for one moment the vanity to think that from any poor
remark of mine, or indeed of any human being, he would be
induced to blot one line, or alter a single incident, unless the
same idea occurred to his own powerful mind. On stating to
you what struck me, and finding that your opinion coincided
with mine, I was induced to request of you to state it to the
author, in order that he might be aware that the expense of
cancelling the sheets was no object to me. I was the more
anxious to do this, in case the author should have given you the
MS. of this portion of the work sooner than he intended, in
order to satisfy the clamouring for it which I teased you
with. I trust the author will do me the justice to believe that
it is quite impossible for any one to have a higher admiration
of his most extraordinary talents: and speaking merely as a
bookseller, it would be quite unnecessary to be at the expense
of altering one line, although the author himself (who alone
can be the proper judge) should wish it, as the success of the
work should be rapid, great, and certain.
With regard to the first volume being shown to Mr Gifford,
I must state, in justification of Mr Murray, that Mr G. is the
only friend whom he consults on all occasions, and to whom his
most secret transactions are laid open. He gave him the book,
not for the purpose of criticism, but that as a friend he should
partake of the enjoyment he had in such an extraordinary performance.
No language could be stronger than Mr Gifford's, as
I mentioned to you; and as the same thing had occurred to Mr
G. as to you and me, I thought there could be no harm in stating
this to the author. I have only again to express my regret
at what has taken place, and to beg you will communicate this
to the author in any way you may think proper.
If our conjecture is true, it must be concluded that
the thing most strongly and justly resented by Scott
was the interposition of Gifford. Nothing could be
more natural than that he should fling forth fire and
flame at the thought that the chief critic of one of the
literary coteries of the time had thus secretly sat upon
him, in a private committee behind his back, and had
it in his power to shake his head in solemn doubt as
to the prowess and success of the author of 'Waverley.'
It was a thought full of exasperation to a man
little used to criticism in any form. But whether
Lockhart was mistaken as to the note he quotes, or
whether that first sharp volley of expletives was but
a first explosion on the moment, followed by the other,
we have no means of knowing. No one but Murray
could have known the exact facts, and even by him
they would seem to have been forgotten or imperfectly
apprehended. "I remember nothing but that
one of the proudest days of my life was that on
which I published the first 'Tales of my Landlord,'
and a vague notion that I owed the dropping of my
connection with the great novelist to some trashy
disputes between Blackwood and the Ballantynes,"
is the only explanation given by Mr Murray as reported
by Lockhart, which was scarcely a correct
statement. "If he had been at all consulted
about it (which I much doubt)," says Lockhart.
But it could scarcely be forgotten that the little
incident about Mr Gifford was one of the causes,
at least, of Scott's resentment. The latter part of
the story is set forth very distinctly in the letters
now discovered; and it is interesting to trace this
episode to its end.
The success of the 'Tales of my Landlord' left
nothing to be desired. The 'Black Dwarf' was finally
published on the 1st December 1816, and on
December 13 Murray wrote to Blackwood recommending
him "to go on printing as many and as
fast as you can; for we certainly need not stop until
we come to the end of our unfortunately limited 6000.
My copies," he adds, "are more than gone, and if
you have any to spare pray send them up instantly."
Before, however, the actual moment of publication,
Blackwood thus emits his note of subdued exaltation.
It is dated the 22d November 1816: —
W. Blackwood to J. Ballantyne.
I send you two copies of our glorious book for the author,
one of which I have no doubt he will present Mr Ballantyne
with, else I should have done myself that pleasure. I need
not tell you that any copies he wishes to present will be at all
times at his command. I hope he will pardon me for having
sent the very first copy I had done to Mr Scott. The next I
will send to the author of 'Julia de Roubigné.'
Written on the back of this is the following "note
to Mr Scott." The transparent mystery of the authorship
of 'Waverley' could not be more amusingly
shown than by the copies under cover mysteriously
sent to the mysterious author on one side, and the
fine candid "first copy to Mr Scott" on the other.
It is with no small satisfaction [writes the publisher to
the latter personage] that I send you the first perfect copy
I have got of the 'Tales of my Landlord.' If Jedediah interests
the public at all in the way he has interested (you will excuse
me for saying) his fortunate publisher, he will be the most
successful editor who has almost ever appeared.
It is characteristic of Blackwood's modesty and
self-restraint that these are the only direct congratulations
we find on his part. Mr Murray wrote in
a much more effusive tone to Scott, and his letter
has found a place both in Lockhart's 'Life' and
in the 'Book of Murray.' It is — besides being, no
doubt, a very genuine expression of his own delight
and triumph — a clever attempt to "draw" the author,
who, however, was too old a bird to be beguiled. The
London publisher begins by thanking Mr Scott —"although
I dare not address you as the author of
certain Tales (which, however, must be written either
by Walter Scott or the devil") for at least his influence
with the author, to which "I am indebted for
the essential honour of being one of their publishers";
and offers him "most hearty thanks — not divided,
but doubled — alike for my worldly gain therein, and
for the great acquisition of professional reputation
which their publication has already procured me":
J. Murray to Walter Scott.
As to delight, I believe I could, under any oath that could
be proposed, swear that I never had experienced such great
and unmixed pleasure in my life as the reading of this exquisite
work has afforded me; and if you witnessed the wet
eyes and quivering cheeks with which, as the author's chamberlain,
I receive the unanimous and vehement praise of them
from every one who has read them, or heard the curses of
those whose needs my scanty supply would not satisfy, you
might judge of the sincerity with which I now entreat you
to assure the author of the most complete success. After this
I could throw all the other books I have in the press into the
Thames, for no one will either read them or buy. Lord Holland
said, when I asked his opinion, "Opinion! we did not one of us
go to bed all night, and nothing slept but my gout."
There is, though perhaps only suggested by Mr
Murray's after-forgetfulness, a whimsical suggestion
that "Codlin's the friend" in this enthusiastic epistle.
Scott was by this time accustomed to much flattery on
all sides, and to hear that men, to whom all the usual
experiences of life had come, had never known "such
great and unmixed pleasure in all their life" as in the
reading of his last book; at which we can well understand
how that most natural of men smiled, and turning
to the quite other side of the question, bid John
Ballantyne mind his ways, with the carol of an old
ballad —
"Consider weel, gudeman,
We hae but borrowed gear;
The horse that I ride on
It is John Murray's mear."
Murray's letter would seem to have suggested to
Scott the delightful jest of reviewing his own works in
the ensuing number of the 'Quarterly,' for which periodical
it was so essential always to secure his support.
But it would not appear that the London publisher
was always so convinced of the real authorship
of these works as he professes to be: for in one of
the letters in which he informs his partner in Edinburgh
of the rapid sale of their book he begins by
confirming — "in the greatest confidence" — a suggestion
already made by Blackwood: "I have discovered
the author of all those novels to be Thomas Scott,
Walter Scott's brother. I make no doubt that Mr
Walter Scott did a great deal to the first 'Waverley,'
from his anxiety to serve his brother, but you may
rely upon the certainty of what I have told you."
Murray then adds: —
"The whole country is starving for want of a Compleat
Supply of 'Tales of my Landlord,' respecting
the interest and merit of which there continues to be
but one sentiment. I make no doubt that you are
urging on the printing of new editions, which may
not stop, I calculate, until it arrives at about the
Eighth. As I told you in my last, I have never had
any copies left a day on my hands, and all that you
have been so good as to get for me have been bespoken."

"Notwithstanding this rapid success," Lockhart
adds, "circumstances ere long occurred which carried
the publication into the hands of Constable." These
circumstances are made sufficiently plain by the correspondence
between Blackwood and Ballantyne which
winds up this transaction. It is evident enough from
the beginning that as long as the author of 'Waverley'
did not choose to disclose the secret of his identity
to any other publisher, it was much easier and better
on the whole to fall back upon Constable, who knew,
than to continue to negotiate painfully through James
Ballantyne, in whom the more serious business men of
"the Trade" had little confidence, and who was not a
satisfactory medium on either side. The conclusion
was inevitable, however much to be regretted. The
method, however, of the severance was as follows.
The discussion which brought it about began with
the following letter, dated 20th January 1817: —
J. Ballantyne to W. Blackwood.
As the last edition of the 'Tales' to which our bargain was
extended is now nearly finished, and a new one — I hope many
new ones — will probably soon be wanted, I hasten to say that
it will be delivered to you as soon as it can be got ready, on the
single condition that you take the £200 additional from the
stock of John Ballantyne & Co., which the error of their clerk
prevented you from taking when the bills were granted in terms
of the original bargain. To this I feel assured that you will
not object, as it is a very light rider indeed upon a transaction
which hitherto has proved so remarkably advantageous; and I
will thank you to inform me upon the subject when you have
consulted Mr Murray."
It is to be supposed that this extension of the
bargain was accepted, notwithstanding the curious
"rider," which was exacted in all these bargains,
for the dispersion of John Ballantyne's unfortunate
stock, the relics of his still more unfortunate arrested
business as a bookseller, — stock which Scott jocularly
writes to him must now be
"Wearin' awa, John,
Like snaw-wreaths when it's thaw, John" —
and which certainly seems to have possessed some
features of the widow's cruse. In the meantime,
however, the sale of the 'Black Dwarf' appears
to have slackened before the third edition was exhausted;
and on perceiving this the publishers prudently
determined to postpone the printing of the
fourth. But their intimation to this effect does not
seem to have been well received.
J. Ballantyne to TV. Blackwood.
The 4th edition of the 'Tales' was completed, except the
working off of a very few sheets, before the receipt of your
letter desiring it might be stopped. It is now therefore on
the eve of being ready for delivery. I have forwarded your
letter to the author, and shall of course be regulated by his
instructions as to what is now to be done.
To this startling intimation Mr Blackwood replied
on the same day, 7th April 1817: —
I am rather surprised at your thinking it necessary to send
my letter to the author of the 'Tales.' Mr Murray and I
expected it [the edition] would have been called for ere now,
but have been mistaken, and I told you several weeks ago not
to hurry. We had the strongest interest, and surely must be
the best judges when a new edition is necessary. We hope
this will very soon be the case; but while we have 600 or 700
in hand it is not to be thought of. The only inconvenience
that can arise is as to the paper for a few weeks, and our
friends Messrs Cowan are always leisurely in this respect.
Again on the same day Ballantyne replies: —
I confess I do not see why you should be surprised at my
sending an extract of your letter respecting the 'Tales' to the
author. His interest is most naturally concerned in knowing
when editions are wanted, and at the time you ordered the 4th
to go to press I informed him that you had done so. When
you told me not to be in a hurry, I also acquainted him with
this; and when you desired me to suspend the printing till
further orders, I communicated that also. Surely this was all
very natural and proper.
What I now have it in commission from the author to say
is this: and I beg you to observe that I have no discretionary
power in the matter. When you desired me not to be in a
hurry with the 4th edition, I was obliged of course to use my
own discretion as to the latitude conveyed by your instructions.
The 3d edition having been printed in little more than five
weeks, I believed that I should comply with the spirit of your
letter if I got the 4th done in nine — which was taking the work
easily, neither hurrying nor retarding it. The author, who had
an interest in knowing these matters, was, of course, informed
by me, upon his inquiring about it, that the edition would be
ready on the 12th or 15th of the present month, and as a very
considerable sum is exigible [sic] by him upon the edition, lie
made his pecuniary arrangements depend upon that sum being
paid him at the period I told him the edition would be ready.
You will thus see that the disappointment would have a more
extensive influence than with regard to the paper only. You
will recollect that, previously to the ordering of this edition, I
wrote to you that the author had stipulated that the bills for
his profits should be granted at 6 instead of 12 months, renewable
at your expense for 6 months longer. Now he is willing
to agree to take bills at 9 in place of 6 months, in order to give
full time for the sale of the remaining books in hand. This you
will observe has the same effect as if I had taken five months
to print the work, which assuredly would not have been hurrying
it. As the author's instructions are full and precise to the
above effect, I shall hope to have the pleasure of hearing from
you as soon as possible upon the subject.
Mr Blackwood replied: —
I shall communicate to Mr Murray the contents of your letter
of yesterday, which I have just received, and as soon as I hear
from him will let you know the result of our deliberation. I
would also beg the favour of you to assure the author that
nothing would give me more pain (and I may say the same of
Mr Murray) than putting him to any inconvenience. You have
never had an hour to wait for a settlement hitherto, and I hope
he will do me the justice to believe that he will not have any
reason for complaint in our further transactions.
To this Ballantyne answers, acknowledging fully
that he has never had to wait an hour for a settlement;
and there abruptly the discussion ends for the
time. Whether the sale quickened again so as to
make the postponement unnecessary, or the publishers
preferred to risk a possible loss rather than endanger
their connection with "the author," we are not informed.
But, at all events, the fourth edition, though
considered by Messrs Blackwood and Murray as unduly
hurried, was eventually published by them, and
things went on quietly until more than a year later,
when I find the sequel and conclusion of the transaction
in a correspondence between Murray and
Blackwood, containing a packet of letters which had
passed between the latter and James Ballantyne. A
sudden thunderbolt had fallen into the peaceful air,
in the shape of an advertisement of a fifth edition
as about to be issued by Constable, without warning
given to the original publishers or any preparation
for such an announcement: —
W. Blackwood to James Ballantyne.
6th May 1817.
I was so completely surprised, and I must say indignant,
yesterday, when I saw in your paper an advertisement announcing
the publication of a new edition of the first 'Tales of my
Landlord,' that had I written at the moment I might have given
way to feelings that would not have been pleasant to either of
us. My opinion of the matter is not now one whit altered, but
I trust I shall be able to state it more calmly.
In the first place, then, I beg to say that as I have upwards
of 1200 copies here, and as I believe Mr Murray has also some
hundreds of the fourth edition on hand, a new edition was quite
uncalled for and unnecessary; and you, besides, were not entitled
to put a new edition to the press without having first
consulted us, and ascertained that our stock was nearly
In the next place, I beg to say that, even had another edition
been required, Mr Murray and I were both by courtesy and
right entitled to the first offer of it. I was surely entitled to
expect this from the repeated assurances you gave me that the
author was perfectly willing, after our stipulated number was
exhausted, that the future editions should go on with us, exactly
on the same terms. . . . As another edition, however, is unfortunately
not yet required, it is unnecessary for us to discuss
this last point at present, and I therefore return to the first
point — the state of the fourth edition. From this you must
see the necessity of instantly repairing the injury which has
been done Mr Murray and me by allowing the advertisement
to appear, or any copies of a fifth edition to be sold while we
have such a heavy stock on hand, even waiving any claim we
may have upon a fifth edition when it is wanted.
To this the printer, always so full of resource in the
way of excuses, answers with the following quite inconsequent
and unsatisfactory reply. After repeating
Mr Blackwood's argument that the fifth edition ought
not to have been put to press till the fourth was exhausted,
he exculpates himself in the following exasperating
Ballantyne to W. Blackwood.
To this I answer that I did not put this edition to press —
that is, in the sense in which you use these words: as a printer
I obeyed the orders of the bookseller to whom the edition had
been sold, and was not called upon to consult anybody.
You next state that had another edition been required, Mr
Murray and you were, both by courtesy and right, entitled to
the first offer of it.
The answer to this is most easy on my part, and can hardly,
I should think, be regarded even by yourself as anything else
than entirely conclusive. I am not called upon to discuss how
far Mr Murray and you were entitled to have the first offer of
any new edition, because I had no power to make this offer
either to you or to anybody else. As agent for the author, I
transacted with you for the edition prior to that which is now
advertised; but the author has long since changed his agent,
and I assert in the most unqualified terms that the bargain for
the present edition had been concluded for many weeks before
I had even heard that it was in contemplation. How, then, can
I be made responsible for a transaction over which I had not
only no manner of control, but of which I did not hear until it
was concluded? I appeal to your candour.
This very irritating mode of begging the question
is, however, followed by an admission of the real principle
of the case, which shows that Mr Blackwood
was right in his surmise that the intention of the
premature advertisement was to buy out the interest
which he and Mr Murray held in this much-discussed
publication. Ballantyne adds: —
I beg to reply that any injury that may have arisen from
this transaction to Mr Murray or you is not imputable to me,
but that it appears common justice and common sense that this
last edition should not come into the market until the stock in
hand shall be sold off or otherwise settled, so that you may be
no loser. As I am the only person with whom you can transact
in this matter, I shall lose not a moment in transmitting either
your present letter or a more formal claim on your part (as you
think best) to the author. Nothing will give me more pleasure,
nor is there anything which I can consider as more a duty, than
that I should give you every aid in my power to arrange this
matter, so as to prevent your being losers by the edition which
you purchased.
Mr Blackwood's reply was naturally an angry one.
As a matter of course, he repudiates Ballantyne's
somewhat impudent argument as to not being any
longer the agent of the mysterious author: —
W. Blackwood to J. Ballantyne.
I admit most freely that if you stood in the capacity of a
mere printer, it was your business to execute the order without
consulting B. or any other letter of the alphabet. The present
case, however, is very different. We entered into a transaction,
relying upon each other as men of business and character who
would honourably and fairly fulfil our mutual engagements.
The author might change as often as he pleased, but he had
no right to do the smallest act which might interfere with any
arrangement which you had contracted in his name, and with
his authority. I need hardly repeat what you seem to be
sensible of, that the publication of this fifth edition (at all
events in present circumstances) is in direct violation of our
bargain. Therefore, as you are the only person I have to look
to for reparation, the author will (no doubt) instantly do you
justice by extricating you from the very awkward situation in
which he has placed you.
However much deference I might have shown to any request
or any arrangement which the author might have proposed to
me in a proper manner, yet you will not wonder that now I
will not give up any claims or compensation I may think
myself entitled to, nor will I allow myself or my rights, even
by Him, to be trampled upon, as I conceive has been attempted
to be done by this unwarrantable publication. I have
no formal proposal to make: it is for the author to do so
through you.
The smart encounter between the very spirited
publisher and his plausible friend of the printing-office
here pauses; and in Blackwood's report to his
partner in London there occur a series of dramatic
scenes between publisher and lawyers, the latter
advancing and retiring with true legal skill. At
first they agree entirely and astutely with the indignant
complainant, suggesting that it is clearly
a case for an Injunction to prevent the publication
of the uncalled-for edition, and for damages.
W. Blackwood to John Murray.
14th May 1817.
They are quite decided and clear as to our grounds for
applying for heavy damages on account of the copies we have
on hand, and that it is not enough to tell us that the copies
would all be taken off our hands, because, independent of the
profit we expected to make by their sale, we are entitled to say
it is for the advantage to our business derived from the credit
of publishing such a work that we paid the sums of money we
did. They are not, however, so clear with regard to our legal
right of publishing future editions, and they are to consider this
point also. They are, however, quite clear as to our right in
equity and honour.
Subsequent consultations, however, show a gradual
drawing in from the original boldness of this advice.
Two days after the lawyers consider the Injunction
unnecessary, but still think an action for damages
the proper mode of procedure. It is seldom that we
can follow this moderating process so clearly. On
the 19th May the summons was prepared to commence
the action, and a copy enclosed to Mr Murray;
but the lawyers (wise men, who knew this to be impossible!)
thought it better first to "make a demand
for the name of the author from Mr Ballantyne." On
the same day Ballantyne transmits the answer of
the author, who acknowledges no "right whatever"
in the claim upon further editions of the'Tales,'
but has "no hesitation in admitting that your copies
must be taken off your hands; and I am authorised
to say that they will all be repurchased from you
upon reasonable terms." This offer, however, does
not please either publishers, or apparently lawyers,
for the time. Murray would seem still to have inclined
towards an Injunction; but Blackwood wavered,
with still a sense of offence obscuring his sound judgment
— though he is the first to suggest that subscription
price for the copies in hand would be the fairest
settlement." My first idea was the same as yours,
to put a complete stop to the selling of the piracy,
and finish the transaction in this way," he says in his
letter to Murray; but further thought modified the
conviction. For a short time both partners, however,
held by the idea of damages as a punishment for the
apparent breach of contract; but again the lawyers
came in, and more peaceful counsels prevailed. The
final argument, which quieted the wounded spirit at
least on Mr Blackwood's part, was this: —
W. Blackwood to John Murray.
Had it gone on it would have made a complete breach with
Mr Scott, which would have been more hurtful than the loss of
the difference of our claim. Both from what I have heard from
his friends, and from what has occurred lately to myself, I saw
that he did not wish any difference should take place.
To Ballantyne, accordingly, he wrote on the 3d
July, announcing his desire "to close amicably this
unfortunate business" by accepting subscription price
for the stock of books, which the other party had
offered. "In this I have been regulated by the
strong feeling I have with regard to 'the Author,'"
he says. Even to the disappointed and outraged
publisher, who had been, it must be allowed, rather
scurvily treated, the spell of Scott's name was too
strong to permit his sacred shield to be touched.
With Constable and Ballantyne, let us also be sure,
the blame lay.
In this way "the fortunate publishers," who had
so rejoiced and triumphed over their mysterious
author, and exchanged all the surmises of the times
as to his real personality, with unconcealed delight
in their connection with him, were for ever severed
from his great and troubled career. This, one cannot
but feel, was one of those tragically insignificant
circumstances which so often shape life apart from any
consciousness of ours. Probably ruin would never have
overtaken Sir Walter had he been in the steady and
careful hands of Murray and Blackwood, for it is unlikely
that even the glamour of the great Magician
would have turned heads so reasonable and sober.
We can only remind ourselves in consolation that Scott
in that case would probably not have been the man
we know. He might have died serenely, the fortunate
and safe Baronet of Abbotsford, with no
shadow of tragedy upon him. But, on the other
hand, that sublime and wonderful struggle — and the
Journal, unparalleled record of the noblest and saddest
ordeal — would never have been. Would we
have saved him this if we could, to our own infinite
loss? I know not. It would have been a
great self-denial had the world had any say in the
matter, for it would have been a distinct impoverishment
to us all.
Other smarts besides those which came from the
author's side were involved in the transaction.
Murray, who in reality was slow in agreeing to the
amicable settlement of the matter, and who had been
responsible in a great degree by his unpunctuality in
correspondence for the delay of the second edition,
had blamed Blackwood for putting it to press on
his own responsibility; while Blackwood had been
wounded by his unusual conduct in sending information
concerning the progress of the book in London
to James Ballantyne, while remaining silent to his
partner in the venture. The following remonstrance
is temperate, but shows the wound: —
W. Blackwood to John Murray.
Mr Ballantyne read me the interesting account contained in
your letter to him. The only remark I shall make upon your
writing so fully to him and so briefly to me is that I think,
placed in your circumstances, I should have felt myself bound
in honour to have addressed this information in the first place
to my partner in the Book, who had obtained for me a share
in it, and who I knew would instantly communicate every
syllable to the persons interested in it. Men differ, however,
in their views of these matters. I hope we will be able to
get up an article for the Review which will redeem the former
ones. Mr Scott also told me about the very satisfactory letters
he had from you.
I need not tell you how cordially I agree with you in thinking
that this work is one of the most extraordinary that has
appeared in our times. I reckon it one of the proudest things
in my life to have attained it. I laboured for many years
through many difficulties and many discouragements to accomplish
something of this kind. I had always your interest
in it as much at heart as my own, though I never received
assistance from you of any kind to forward my views, only
that my connection with you may be considered to have been
of general use to me. At last I did obtain the prize I had
been so long striving for; and now when it has turned out so
much greater than my most sanguine expectations, and when I
might have flattered myself with having some credit as well as
favour with you for what I had done, and I may add suffered
in the cause, I have short querulous letters. But this is a
most unpleasing as well as ungrateful subject. I hope in God
we shall be done with it either in one way or another. I have
not time for long letters, and I cannot afford the time and
thought that these disagreeable dissensions cause. If I
answered your letter at all, I felt I could not do justice to
myself or you without entering into this long detail. I have
kept a straightforward course, and can lay my hand on my
heart and say that to the best of my judgment I have always
made your concerns my own, and have thought no work too
much, or any exertion too great, that could be of the smallest
use to them. It is no small satisfaction to my own mind that
whatever disagreeable things have occurred in the course of
our connection I have never at any time slackened my exertions
as your agent, whatever credit I may have had from
From the first, however, and even when Blackwood
had realised his hope of "getting a book or two to
throw in one's way," it will be seen that the great
London publisher sometimes treated his partner de
haut en bas, in a manner not agreeable to a man of
Blackwood's high spirit. Murray either wrapt himself
in silence, not answering the frequent questions
to be asked or mutual interests to be discussed, which
are necessary in every business arrangement — or made
brief communications by the hand of a clerk, or replied
in a few hurried and offhand words to the long
epistles and elaborate explanations of the other. At
other times he was touchy and ready to take offence,
especially when, by reason of delay on his part, matters
had to be settled without him. A number of bickerings,
to which we can scarcely give a more dignified
name, went on in the background, even while there
was the closest union of interests. But no purpose
can be served in raking up these old quarrels. They
went on with a sort of friendly hostility at bottom,
breaking out now and then into fire and flame, sometimes
giving rise to affecting reconciliations, sometimes
to periods of estrangement, as so many connections,
business and otherwise, unfortunately do.
As for Scott, for whose spotless reputation everybody
is concerned, my own opinion is that his venture
with these two new publishers was tentative, and it
was quite on the cards that they might have secured
him, but for this irritating check: while on the other
hand it was also quite natural that he should have
found the burden of James Ballantyne's mediatorship
unbearable, and felt that, without an additional
disclosure of his secret, which, whether wisely or
foolishly, he was determined not to make, his simplest
method was to return to the man who did
already know, and with whom he could arrange at
first hand, without any interference of a fussy
though bland go-between. Neither Murray nor
Blackwood throw any individual blame upon him,
and he was, strictly speaking, within his rights in
transferring the book, as he had expressly limited
the arrangement to certain editions. The offensive
announcement of a fifth edition before the fourth
was exhausted was no doubt due to Constable, who
thus celebrated his triumph over his rivals.
It was thus that this tantalising episode came to
an end.
BLACKWOOD had now arrived at a point in his life
when impatience of a monotonous career, and that
desire to "make a spoon or spoil a horn" which is
so strong among those predestined to fortune, had
risen to fever-point within him. He was impatient
of bookselling and of the moderate risks and rewards
of a humdrum publishing business, especially after his
disappointment in respect to the 'Waverley' series;
and all his faculties were on the watch for an opportunity
to step forth from the usual routine, and make
a distinct place for himself. The method in which it
was easy and natural to do this is indicated in a curious
letter addressed to him by Murray, whose relations
with the Edinburgh publisher were so varied and often
full of friendly feeling, though broken by occasional
misunderstandings and makings-up. Murray seems
to have assumed an attitude of superiority, as of a
man of much greater experience and knowledge of the
world, which, though probably quite justifiable from
his point of view, must often have been exasperating
to one so independent and high-spirited as William
Blackwood, fully conscious of being as good a judge in
his own case and perhaps a better man of business
than his irregular and dilatory correspondent. In
one of the many recapitulations of the services rendered
by each to the other, in which both Blackwood
and Murray were wont to indulge, each with an
aggrieved tone and sense more or less of ingratitude
on the part of the other, there occurs the following
statement of what the great man of Albemarle Street
considered it expedient for his colleague and opponent
to do, and also of the manner in which it ought to be
done (which was a different matter), in strict alliance
with and submission to ME: —
John Murray to W. Blackwood.
My advice has, I believe, mainly assisted in determining you
to change your late situation of business. In your present
establishment you may improve to a most valuable extent the
foundations already laid of a solid retail business, which in a
few years may be consigned to the care of attentive clerks,
while you will be gradually from this time rising into the
higher duties of cultivating the young men of Genius of the
day, whom your present situation and literary attractions and
attentions of all kinds will indisputably draw around you. If
you are confidential and liberal in your communications with
me upon the subject of the works which may present themselves
in this way, you may rest assured that it may lead to
more incalculable advantages to you. But I will venture to
tell you what you must not do. You must not, as in a recent
instance, calculate upon gaining £10 more or less by keeping
the whole of one little volume to yourself, but estimate to what
an extent of publication you may proceed by dividing your
risque and the very increased profits which may arise thereby
by commanding the whole range of the English market. Constable
is so fully aware of the importance of creating a powerful
interest in a bookseller here, that he has not in any instance
engaged in one book of which he has not offered a share to a
London publisher. With regard to the 'White Cottage,' your
proposal to me should have been something like this: "It is
the work of a very ingenious man who does not desire his name
to be known, and therefore I mention it to you in the most
honourable confidence. The work itself is very respectable,
and it promises more from the same person, who will, I think,
prove a valuable connexion. I have it upon such and such
terms, and if you like to join with me I shall be very happy
thus to increase your exertions." It is not the little profits of
this little volume, if it sell, that should be thought of, but what
must be gained on a large scale by the additional capital,
divided risque, and moral certainty of extensive success.
The volume thus unjustly withheld from Mr Murray
was a little tale by one Arthur Mower, who is jocularly
alluded to in the Chaldee Manuscript. It evidently
did not take the world by storm or set the Firth of
Forth on fire. There is a certain tone in the complaint,
at once aggrieved and dictatorial, which is more
amusing than probably the 'White Cottage' was;
and the occupation recommended of cultivating young
men of genius was one which Blackwood proceeded to
carry out in a way which afterwards produced many
shocks and great alarm in the bosom of his adviser.
The early years of the century, which now had
reached the seventeenth summer of its youth, had
introduced, amid its many other developments, the
new form of the periodical to the world. The flying
sheet of the 'Tatler,' followed by Spectators
and a lessening tribe, had taught the lively subjests
of Queen Anne to look forward to a delightful
stimulant of news and criticism along with their
chocolate of a morning on certain happy days; but
it was only in the nineteenth century that the serious
Review had begun its being. Everybody knows,
as one of the most romantic episodes of literary history,
the reckless, youthful, light-hearted enterprise
got up among a few clever young men, much desiring
both money and fame, but a little fun and excitement
above all, and delighted by the idea of
setting up an irresponsible tribunal, and judging
those who by nature had the gift of judging and
condemning them. That a great organ of opinion,
both political and literary, and an important commercial
speculation, bringing large practical recompense,
should have grown out of the merry meeting
round Jeffrey's dinner-table, would probably have
surprised the originators of the 'Edinburgh Review'
as much as it did the world which it took by storm.
But success came so quickly at their call that they
set the fashion, and became a kind of model for other
undertakings opposed to them in every point except
the talent, the youth, and the rashness, — the last
quality particularly taking the mind of the time,
like the dash of one of the famous regiments of the
great, just concluded war, which were the more popular
with the country in proportion to the impetuous
impulse with which they rode down everything before
The Whig Review had been in a great measure a
revolt against the unbroken rule of the Tory in literature
and life. But in the revolution which soon after
occurred, and in which the Whigs came to the top and
absorbed everything, it became intolerable on the Tory
side that such an organ should hold the field in literary
matters; and the necessity of a periodical to support
other interests, and assert the right of the constitutional
party to an equal hearing, was very clearly seen.
It is true that the 'Quarterly Review' was formerly
the rival and chief opponent of the great organ of the
Liberals; but it was perhaps, as we have indicated,
too ponderous from the beginning, too sober, dignified,
and middle-aged, lacking the dash and the
fiery energy of the other, coming too gently into
the world to strike any exhilarating note upon the
public ear. It made its mark, but not as its opponent,
without any of the sensation and stir which
the 'Edinburgh Review' had called forth. The true
champion and challenger of Jeffrey and his men — as
dauntless and inconsiderate of all secondary motives
as their beginning had been, as rash, spontaneous, and
brilliant — was yet to seek.
That this should come in the shape of an Edinburgh
Magazine, — something not so ponderous, more nimble,
more frequent, more familiar, was a thought that had
been for some time vaguely forming in Blackwood's
brain. And perhaps the startling consciousness of a
fall, which the energetic young publisher had received
after the failure of all his hopes in respect to Scott,
pricked him to another effort which would make him
forgive himself for his want of success, and carry conviction
to every looker-on that he was not a man to
be foiled. Constable, his rival, who had just gained
what could scarcely help seeming to both a victory
over him in respect to the 'Tales of my Landlord,'
possessed not only the 'Edinburgh Review' itself,
"the horn" in which lay his strength, but also a
feeble little 'Scots Magazine,' of which there was
little to be said in one way or another. No doubt,
however, the existence of that small periodical, and the
hope of cutting the ground from under its publisher's
feet, had something to do with the eagerness with
which Blackwood at last began to carry out his
slumbering design.
There is not much information as to the manner in
which he was brought into contact with Messrs Pringle
and Cleghorn, the two gentlemen who became the joint
editors of the 'Edinburgh Monthly Magazine.' By
some it is said to have been with them that the idea
originated; while Hogg, then very much en evidence
about Edinburgh, having actually a hand in most
things that were going on, and supposing himself to
have much more, was of opinion that the original conception
was his own. It is most probable that it was
he who introduced the two pseudo-literary men to the
publisher. Pringle was from Hogg's own country, a
rustic genius like himself, though of superior education;
and Cleghorn was known as the editor of a
Farmer's Magazine, probably therefore a countryman
too. Of the two it was Pringle, the younger and
gentler, who was the favourite, and he alone had any
pretensions to literature; but it is evident that he
was dominated by the stronger spirit of the other, and
swept away by his influence. On the face of it, the
expedient of a joint-editorship does not seem a happy
idea, and the business arrangements were apparently
of a most peculiar kind. The publisher and the two
editors would appear to have entered into a sort of
copartnership, they undertaking to find the necessary
literary provision for the periodical, while he took the
risk and expense of the printing and publishing. The
profits were then to be divided between them. Who
was to pay the contributors, or if they were content
to remain without remuneration, we are not told. In
those days it was considered right at all events to say,
and if possible to believe, that literature was superior
to payment, and that to imagine a man of genius as
capable of being stirred up to composition by any
thought of pecuniary reward was an insulting and
degrading suggestion — an idea in which a fanciful
spectator would fain take refuge once more, in face of
a generation which weighs out its thousand words
across the counter, with the affectation of finding in
sale and barter its only motive. It is stated in one of
the letters that the expectation of the editors was to
receive jointly a sum of about £50 monthly when the
sale of the Magazine reached 2000 copies, — matters
being much simplified, as the reader will perceive,
by this high generosity on the part of the contributors;
but the demand for the Magazine does
not seem ever to have risen above 2500 copies, a
sale which would hardly content any publisher nowadays.

The Magazine, however, did not last long enough
to have time for development. The editors already
had begun to complain piteously of the publisher's
interference in the second number. He who had
incurred the loss of the greatest of literary labourers
by his habit of stating his opinion, — who had freely
criticised Scott, besides braving the anger of two such
important authorities in Edinburgh as Henry Mackenzie
and Charles Kirkpatrick Sharpe, — was not likely
to allow his fine fancy of a Magazine, as powerful and
as vivacious as the 'Edinburgh Review,' and in everything
strongly opposed to that great Liberal organ,
to sink into insignificance, or to put up with the
meek and mild miscellany of which he now found
himself the publisher. By the month of July he
had discovered that he had enough of Mr Pringle and
Mr Cleghorn, or at least of the latter, and when the
third number was ready he gave the three months'
notice which was necessary, according to the agreement,
for breaking the partnership. For this there
were many very evident reasons. In the first place,
Blackwood was and always remained a high Tory,
holding the 'Edinburgh Review' and all its works in
abhorrence; whereas the publication issued under the
cover of his name found nothing more expedient than
to fill its first number with a panegyric on Francis
Horner, one of Jeffrey's most pragmatical lieutenants,
and to applaud the wisdom and skill of that periodical;
and, secondly, the publication altogether was
a weak and washy production, little likely to do
either publisher or writers much credit. There was
no doubt another reason, not apparent, which was
quite as effectual as either of these.
Like the other publishers of the age, it had been
Blackwood's desire from the beginning to make his
place of business a centre of literary society, a sort
of literary club where men of letters might find a
meeting-place. Murray in London employed the
drawing-rooms of his house, which was in those
days over the shop — an honest word, which nobody
shirked — for this purpose. But Blackwood's house
was at some distance, and the large rooms at Princes
Street were well adapted for their many and much-mingled
guests. There accordingly many men of note
assembled, and among them certain young heroes,
advocates and others, not yet of much note, to turn
over the books and hear the news and tell each other
all manner of stories. One of them, afterwards to
bear an important part in this history, has given a
very vivid description of the scene 'Peter's Letters.'
Among the frequenters of this lively company were
two young men who would have been remarkable
anywhere, if only for their appearance and talk, had
nothing more remarkable ever been developed in them,
— one a young man of grand form and mien, with the
thews and sinews of an athlete, and a front like Jove,
to threaten and command. Jove is not often portrayed
with waving yellow locks and ruddy countenance,
yet no smaller semblance would be a fit image
for the northern demigod with those brilliant blue
eyes which are almost more effective in penetrating
keenness than the dark ones with which that quality
is more frequently associated. He was a genial giant,
but not a mild one. Genius and fun and wit were
no less a part of his nature than wrath and vehemence,
and a power of swift and sudden slaughter,
corrected in its turn by a large radiance of gaiety
and good humour — sudden in all things, ready to fell
an intruder to the earth or to welcome him as a
brother, swift to slay, yet instant to relent.
The other, who divided with him the honours of
this witty meeting, was John Wilson's opposite in
everything. He was slim and straight and self-contained,
a man of elegance and refinement — words
dear to the time — in mind as in person, dark of hair
and fine of feature, more like a Spaniard than a
Saxon, a perfect contrast to the Berserker hero by
his side. They were both of that class which we
flatter ourselves in Scotland produces many of the
finest flowers of humanity, the mingled product of
the double nation — pure Scot by birth and early
training, with the additional polish and breadth of
the highest English education: Glasgow College, as
it was then usual to call that abode of learning, with
Oxford University to complete and elaborate the
strain. Wilson was of Magdalen, Lockhart of Balliol,
a Snell scholar, the best that Scotland could send to
England. The career of both had been perhaps more
brilliant than studious; but both had left Oxford in
all the glories of success, first-class men, the pride of
dons and tutors.
They had both come to Edinburgh a year or two
before — Lockhart in the fulfilment of his natural
career, Wilson in consequence of the loss of his
fortune. Wilson was considerably the elder of the
two, and had enjoyed a few careless happy years at his
house of Elleray on Windermere, a young married man,
writing poetry, and with no anxiety about his career,
before he lost his money and was obliged to turn to
work as a source of income. They were both newly
fledged advocates, members of the numberless and
jocular band who trod the courts of the Parliament-House,
waiting for the briefs which there, as elsewhere,
are so slow to come. Little reeked these young and
laughing philosophers of the absence of fees and
steady work. They were young enough to prefer
their freedom and boundless opportunity of making
fun of everybody to all that was serious and useful.
Lockhart was a caricaturist of no small powers.
Both of them were only too keen to see the ludicrous
aspect of everything, and the age gave them an
extraordinary licence in expressing it — a licence incomprehensible
to us nowadays, and which is nowhere
so tempting, as it is nowhere so dangerous, as in a
small community where everybody knows everybody,
and personal allusions are instantly taken up and
understood. This pair of friends met almost daily
in Mr Blackwood's saloon in Princes Street, or came
together arm-in-arm from the Parliament-House, in
their high collars and resplendent shirt - frills and
Hessian boots. The boots form a splendid feature in
the caricature-sketches, in which Lockhart represents
himself stiff and straight, with the little tassels
bobbing at his knees. Such was the costume of the
day, and such were the heroes of Edinburgh youth,
men of endless faculty and inextinguishable mirth,
men neither ungenial nor ungenerous, yet unable to
deny themselves a jest, and tempted to find in the
outcries of their victims rather a relish the more to
their sometimes cruel fun than an argument to give
it up.
With two such young men under his hand, ready
for anything — as astonishing in their bursts of energy
as in their boundless capacity for idling, and eager to
carry out any freak which promised sport — Blackwood
had naturally the strongest light by which to see the
shortcomings of his dull editors, who moulded painfully
under his vexed and impatient observation the
dullest of inconsequent Magazines, instead of the
brilliant organ he had dreamed of. To think of these
mild men as leading a rival band to that of Jeffrey
was absurd. They had neither spirit nor energy for
the position; and soon, according to the tale, they
lost even the care and industry which might have
made it possible for the sober periodical to go on. So
early as the second number Mr Blackwood's patience
gave way, and his propensity to interfere, to take,
as he himself explained it, "an interest in the literary
part of his business," irritated the editors, who made
an attempt to keep the publisher "in his place," which
was not very successful. He whom even the spell of
'Waverley' could not silence, was not likely to respect
the autocracy of a couple of incapable editors; and
when the third number came out he could bear it
no longer. He gave notice accordingly, which was
strictly in order, by the terms of the agreement, that
with the sixth number the existing arrangements
must come to an end. He describes the situation in
the following letter to Messrs Baldwin, Cradock,
Co., in London, who were among the number of his
agents there: —
EDINBURGH, 23d July 1817.
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 materials, for which and their editorial
labours 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. Besides the labour and anxiety it cost me, it has completely
interfered with my other business. I therefore entered
into a negotiation with Mr Pringle, the editor, whom I wished
to retain, both on account of personal friendship, and that I
expected he would soon become much more useful when he had
more experience, and when the editorial duty devolved upon
himself alone. I had every reason to expect we should have
made a comforable arrangement by which we should have
secured a certain number of regular contributors, whom we
would have paid at once. With this view 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 had professed, lie joined
Cleghorn, and, without giving any explanation, they concluded
a bargain with Constable & Co., by which I understand they
take charge of their [Constable's] 'Scots 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. But it is most
vexatious stopping the Magazine, which was doing so well.
By our agreement neither party can continue it under the
same title. I have, however, made an arrangement with a
gentleman of first-rate talents by which I will begin a new
work of a far 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. It will be announced
in good time, and I have no fears as to its making us ample
amends for our present disappointment. I shall take good
care to have the two numbers we are yet to publish equal, if
not superior, to the preceding ones, and you will continue your
exertions the same as ever. My editors have very dishonestly
made it known to a number of people that we stop at the 6th
number. This will interfere a little with our sale here, but I
hope not with you.
This rapid decision was not accepted, it is scarcely
necessary to say, without a struggle, and a long correspondence
arose on the matter, wordy and on both
sides a little tedious to the distant spectator, but full
of that wonderful flow and eloquence which personal
controversy gives. The editors could have nothing to
say against Mr Blackwood's resolution, for it had been
fully provided for in the original agreement; but they
kept up a lengthened wrangle over the edition to be
published of the last remaining numbers, arguing that
there should be only a sufficient number printed to
supply the subscribers, and suggesting that the publisher
might, if left unfettered, print 20,000 as easily
as 2000, and so swamp their possible profits altogether.
Of these profits, as is unfortunately so often
the case with writers, they had apparently formed
a quite unfounded idea. The Magazine had never
reached the paying point. But this was a thought
which did not easily penetrate the intelligence of a
time in which the one periodical of which everybody
thought as a model paid largely, and the profits of
literature were supposed by the ignorant — demoralised
by the reports of fabulous sums paid to Scott
and Byron, and even Moore — to be immense. John
Murray's pocket-book with the thousand-pound note
in it cast a glamour over the productions of the
humblest author, and why Messrs Cleghorn and
Pringle should not be as worthy of recompense as
Francis Jeffrey and Henry Brougham was a fact hid
from these gentlemen's eyes. I quote the following
letter chiefly as showing the first visible introduction
into Mr Blackwood's arrangements of a figure destined
hereafter to take so much place in them: —
W. Blackwood to Messrs Pringle and Cleghorn.
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 that 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
The last number thus referred to had evidently
been delayed beyond the proper time of publication,
which was a way they had in those days. No exertions
on Murray's part, for instance, could secure
the appearance of the 'Quarterly' at its correct, or
indeed at any regular time, and to postpone the
publication of a Magazine from day to day, or even
from week to week, seems to have been a pleasant
vagary of an age in which literary persons, or, to
use the more flattering conventional term, persons of
genius, were still considered quite above the laws of
punctuality and regularity. Messrs Cleghorn and
Pringle kept the threat of an indefinite delay in respect
to this last number over the publisher's head to
force him into compliance with their demands; but in
this particular they reckoned without their Blackwood
— also, it must be added, without the sensible and
candid arbitrator who finally arranged the matter.
I may quote here a portion of the long letter recapitulating
all the arguments, which Mr Blackwood wrote
to Mr Combe, the agent of the editors, apparently
under the immediate sting of a paper printed by
them, and containing a very unfair account of the
proceedings from the beginning. It is dated 29th
October 1817: —
W. Blackwood to Mr Combe.
You have seen from the correspondence that it was my most
anxious wish to settle with your clients as speedily as the
accounts could be made out; that I furnished the accounts
within a very few days after the sixth number was published,
and in my letter enclosing them, offered to send my clerk to
settle the whole at any time they chose; that in place of their
agreeing to this, your clients still wanted a reference, when
there was in fact nothing to refer; that after plaguing both
themselves and me by insisting I should not name any other
than a bookseller as my referee, they at last empowered you
to send me a scroll on Tuesday last of the submission,1 by
which we were to refer all matters in dispute to the gentlemen
whom I had originally proposed — on my part Mr More,
and on their part Mr Brownlee. Yesterday I called upon
you, and stated what I had proposed all along, — that if your
clients would allow my clerk to call upon them, or if they
would empower you to act for them, I was quite certain
that the whole might be settled in a quarter of an hour.
You received my proposal in the most candid manner,
and after conversing over the matter a little, you agreed
with me in thinking this by far the best mode for both
parties. Accordingly you called upon me in the course of
the forenoon with a proposal from your clients that I should
pay them £300 for their half share of the property and any
claims they might afterwards have upon the Magazine. I
told you at once that this was entirely out of the question, and
I showed you clearly by the statements of sales and expenses
that I was at present nearly £140 out of pocket, so that there
1 A Scotch law-term, meaning the legal statement of details in a case.
was not a farthing to divide, and that even if the whole of
the impression were sold off there would not be £70 of clear
profit, consequently that their half share at some distant period,
if ever, would only be £30 or £35. You were so much convinced
of the justice of what I stated, that you said you would
go to them again and endeavour to show them the propriety
of making some more reasonable proposal. When you returned
you showed me a statement of profits, claims, &c., on the basis
of which they considered themselves warranted in asking from
me £150 in full of all demands. I felt myself so completely
tired of all disputing with your clients, that I had resolved in
my own mind that I would rather sacrifice a hundred pounds
to be rid of them. I therefore told you that though I felt
confident no arbiter would award them anything in the present
state of the concern, yet to get matters settled in an amicable
way I would agree to pay them £100. After some further
conference we concluded the matter by dividing the difference,
which, if your clients agreed to, the matter was settled. You
called on me at the Royal Exchange between four and five, and
pressed me much instantly to write the letter of agreement.
I could not then conjecture any reason for such urgent haste,
and I told you that it was quite impossible for me to do it
at that moment, but that I would be glad to see you at my
shop at 8 o'clock, when we could exchange missives in a regular
way. You called accordingly, and we exchanged the missives,
with mutual assurances of satisfaction at this amicable close of
all matters of dispute.
The haste of the conclusion was, it afterwards appeared,
in order that the bargain should be finally
made before the publication of the "Printed Paper,"
in which these ungenerous opponents went over the
whole question again, charging the publisher with a
series of petty dishonesties, with eluding their claims
for payment, and with keeping them in ignorance of
the state of affairs — all of which are, we fear, the stock
accusations of unfortunate writers who quarrel with
their publishers. It was natural that this very
shabby artifice should have much exasperated a man
who felt himself the loser, not only by more than
two hundred pounds of honest money, but by all the
defeated expectations of the previous six months,
which linked his name with failure, a thing intolerable
to his ardent mind.
The eventual fate of these two incompetent editors
had little to do with literature. Constable's small
magazine, which they managed for a short time, soon
went the way of all dull periodicals; and after the
tremendous commotion caused in Edinburgh by the
Chaldee Manuscript, the names of Pringle and Cleghorn
dropped apart. Pringle emigrated to the Cape
in later years, having first published a volume of
amiable and patriotic poetry, which I remember to
have admired in those facile days of youth when,
everything that rhymed was agreeable to the ear
and to the soul. It is pleasant to add that when,
many years after, we find again the handwriting of
Thomas Pringle in Mr Blackwood's endless correspondence,
there is no trace in it of any unkindly
feeling. Much the contrary: he writes to claim the
support of his old friend for some scheme of a new
church for Capetown, where he had established himself,
and to send the MS. of a friend, which he commends
to the attention of Blackwood and "crusty
Christopher," with the friendly confidence, which he
expresses, that it will be all the better received (as
he flatters himself) because it comes to them from his
hands. This is very little like the utterance of a
wounded spirit. Of Cleghorn we have no such pleasant
note. Mrs Gordon, in her life of Christopher
North, describes him as having done better in business
than in literature; but there is no further information
about him in connection with this episode in his life.
They both come into the famous Chaldee manuscript
with certain personal details which perhaps might
have been better spared; though the curious fact of
the lameness of both is so quaintly and not untenderly
described as "skipping on staves," that it sounds
more affectionate and humorously laughable than
We feel, with the disappearance of these men and
all the paraphernalia of their feebleness from the
scene, as if everybody concerned must have drawn
deep breaths of satisfaction and freedom. The little
Magazine under their charge was the most curious
jumble of the high-flown and the commonplace — much
serious and even fine criticism, as in the papers on
the Greek Drama (believed to be by Lockhart),
mingled with discussion of the early wonders of
Animal Magnetism, and treatises partly archæological
upon the symbolical position of the Salt on
ancient tables; while these again were supplemented
by chronicles of border fairs and markets, records of
village wonders, like the case of the country girl who
slept for six weeks, and even the minutiæ of the Register,
births, deaths, and marriages. Nothing could
be more clear than that it was not in this way that
the ambitious hopes with which the new venture had
been undertaken could be satisfied.
After this curious and clumsy preface, the real
'BLACKWOOD'S MAGAZINE' at last began. It may be
amusing to quote before going further the very characteristic
letter from James Ballantyne with which that
worthy gave in his estimate for the printing. We
begin to understand the half-romantic, half-absurd,
and entirely humorous faithfulness of Scott to his old
comrades and vassals when we turn over these letters
of the always plausible and bland printer. He is so
sure of his own perfect integrity when he is most
conscious of being in the wrong, so amiably skilful in
putting the best face upon things, and making the
worse appear the better cause, that it is impossible
to bear him any malice; and we quite understand how,
offended and disappointed as Blackwood must have
been by the sudden transference of his prize out of
his hands in the very moment of triumph, he should
yet have been found not very long after anxious to
give Ballantyne employment, and consenting to guarantee,
with some others, the doubtful solvency of the
man who had been the instrument of his disappointment,
with a ready kindness which says much for his
goodness of heart and something also for the personal
attraction of the erratic printer. Ballantyne's large
and specious argument to prove the moderation of
his own charges will amuse the reader. He is evidently
aware that objections might be made on this
point, or he would not have thrown out those flying
buttresses to strengthen his position. His letter is
dated 7th January 1817, and clearly concerns the
first beginning of the 'Edinburgh Monthly Magazine':

James Ballantyne to W. Blackwood.
A certain scale of printer's profits has been acted upon in
Edinburgh from time immemorial, and the surest possible proof
that that scale is not too high is furnished by the fact that
printers in general are not rich men. Many, the great majority
of them, are rather poor than otherways; and I do not recollect
one who has become opulent by book-printing and jobs only.
I infer, therefore, that the scale is an honest and fair one, and
that those who do all they can do to lower it by working at
inferior prices commit an act of manifest injustice to their
brethren. With such opinions, it would be preposterously
inconsistent in me to sanction by my own practice what I so
strongly disapprove in others.
There is another reason, however, for making a deduction
from the regular estimate; and this I am quite ready to admit
within decent limits. A work like a Magazine, which may be
calculated upon to last for years, ought, I think, to be able to
afford a discount; and this I am willing to do, as I believe no
honest man in the trade would fairly be entitled to censure me
for doing so. But I find the deduction which you propose to
me to make, altogether beyond moderate limits. I have put
upon the next page what I conceive to be an honest price,
making a proper allowance for the benefit resulting from the
probable endurance of the work. I do assure you that I
cannot charge the prices one sixpence lower. My sense of
obligation to you for desiring to give me a preference upon
equal terms will not be lessened, however you may decide.
The quaintness of the argument that his prices
must be considered to be moderate because few
printers become rich, is delightful. We have heard
it used in a contrary sense in respect to the great
author and publisher question. The publisher often
grows rich, the author very seldom does, therefore —
the conclusion is the simplest and easiest in the world.
But not even this admirable argument, though enforced
by the natural liking for the man who stated. his case
with an astuteness so simple and so transparent, was
sufficient to change the practical necessities of a
bargain. As it turned out, it was Oliver & Boyd,
and not Ballantyne, who were the first printers of the
Magazine, though the work returned into Ballantyne's
hands in after-years.
The decks were now cleared, the men were at their
posts: the real battle was about to begin. One can
imagine the bustle and the commotion in the rooms in
Princes Street, the endless consultations, the wild
suggestions: Lockhart, pensive and serious, almost
melancholy, in the fiery fever of satire and ridicule
that possessed him, launching his javelin with a
certain pleasure in the mischief as well as the most
perfect self-abandonment to the impulse of the
moment; Wilson, with Homeric roars of laughter,
and a recklessness still less under control, not caring
whom he attacked nor with what bitterness, apparently
unconscious of the sting till it was inflicted, when he
collapsed into ineffectual penitence; Hogg bustling
in, all flushed and heated with a new idea, in which
the rustic daffing of the countryside gave a rougher
force to the keen shafts of the gentlemen. That it
must be a strong number, something to startle the
world, a sort of fiery meteor to blaze across the Edinburgh
sky and call every man's attention, was the
first necessity. They were determined upon this,
whatever else might follow: no longer any calm of
respectable mediocrity — something to sting and startle,
and make every reader hold his breath. The position
of the publisher between those uncontrollable, high-spirited,
mirth-loving young men, who had taken
possession of him and his premises and his Magazine,
whose talents roused him into that enthusiasm of
which we have already seen him to be so capable,
and whose gay determination to make a stir in the
world was only as the foam upon the river to his own
indomitable resolution, right or wrong, to win or lose
all, whatever it might cost him — is a most curious
and interesting one. William Blackwood was too
sagacious and too completely a man of his world not
to know exactly what effect the Chaldee Manuscript
would produce. If the fun went to his head, as
to the heads of the others who produced it, it never
did so sufficiently to make him unaware of the risk he
was running — that risk which was his alone, which
would not touch those dashing daring young men any
more than any other excellent joke would do. We
cannot doubt for a moment that he knew what he was
about. He was not a man to be carried off his feet at
such a critical moment — or rather he permitted himself
to be carried off his feet, casting prudence to the
winds, by the inspiration of that other kind of prudence
which sometimes sees it the wisest thing to set
everything on the turn of a balance, and
"put it to the touch,
To gain or lose it all."
There is nothing that has been more commented on
and wondered at than the immense effect produced
by a piece of remote local satire, which could only be
comprehended by those who knew the people, the
scene, and to some degree even the circumstances of
the extraordinary jeu d'esprit with which the new
series began. But it is clear, for one thing, that the
opinion of London and the world — almost convertible
phrases nowadays, and the chief, almost the only, aim
of literature and literary ambition — did not occur at
all to these young men. It was for Edinburgh they
wrote, and of Edinburgh they thought, which is a
most singular thing to think of among all the changes
which time has brought about. No doubt Edinburgh
is quite enough to make a reputation still; but there
is perhaps no one nowadays, certainly no number of
men, who would venture to leave the rest of the
world out of their calculation, nay, to pique and
almost defy the rest of the world by a production
most laughable, most able, tantalising as if written in
a language but half understood, which was patent to
Edinburgh alone. No such thing could be done now:
we hope, but are not sure, that the personalities which
gave it its zest are no longer a temptation even to the
youngest and most daredevil of the literary Sept; but
if this were not so, if it were still the fashion to transfix
your foe where you found him, and search out with
delight every crevice in his armour, there is no literary
skirmisher but would pause to think, with a cold
chill upon his ardour, how many readers would care or
understand what he meant. But the wits of 1817
had no such chill. They knew very well that Edinburgh
would understand what they meant, and they
were disposed to chance the understanding of the rest
of the world — indeed they did not apparently take the
rest of the world into consideration at all.
It seems scarcely necessary to explain what the
Chaldee Manuscript was, for never perhaps was there
a satirical composition, certainly never one which
concerned so small a circle, and was so purely local
in its aim, which has had so much fame in the world,
and become so universally known. Yet we have to
remember that new generations who know not Joseph
are arising every day, and that what everybody knows
begins after the lapse of very nearly a century to become
a very vague and general knowledge. When we
say that it concerned chiefly the quarrel between Mr
Blackwood and the two editors who had wrecked his
little Magazine and disappointed his hopes, and the
larger strife and rivalry which existed between Constable
and himself, one Edinburgh bookseller against
another, along with the background of people, notable,
yet only in one case world-distinguished, who
took part on either side, the young reader may well
be astonished that so much has been written of this
production. Yet it is not too much to say that in
its way it moved the world, and that readers who
had never heard of half the characters in it, and to
whom the personal peculiarities of the various men in
Edinburgh who appeared in its scenes were altogether
unknown, laughed and stormed, and disapproved, and
grew solemn in reproof and denunciation, and laughed
again — till the original little brown-covered brochure
of the new periodical was torn in pieces by eager
buyers and clamorous critics, and 'Blackwood's Magazine'
leaped all at once into the knowledge, the curiosity,
and the attention of the book-loving world. It
was, perhaps, not the firmest of foundations, but it was
a most effectual one. Edinburgh rose to it like one
man, delighted, amused, offended, furious. Whatever
after-criticism might be expended upon it — and that
came pouring in on every side — this one thing was
assured from the first day: that it had done what it
was meant to do, and that whatever was to be said of
the new 'Blackwood's Magazine,' which had risen with
such a shout out of the ashes of the old, this at least
could be said no longer, that it was dull or inoffensive
— which is of all criticism the most dreadful.
The suggestion, it is said, and a part, but no one
knows how much, of the composition, came from
Hogg, who, whatever other failures there might be
in his education otherwise, was no doubt steeped, like
almost every other shepherd on the Scotch hills, in
Biblical language, and also a little touched with that
profane familiarity with sacred phraseology which is
the reverse of the medal, and has given the opponents
of the Bible in schools their strongest argument.
Amid all the talk and consideration how to give a
point not to be overlooked to the new issue, he rushed
in among the young and dauntless band, eager to
combine their immediate business with the greatest
possible amount of fun and amusement to themselves,
with his idea, and such scraps of it as he had already
expressed in words. The suggestion filled them with
delight. There is a legend that they were all three
invited that night with others of their allies to dinner
at a certain hospitable house, 53 Queen Street, where
after dinner, and when they had got rid of the ladies,
this delightful joke was propounded, and the whole
company set to work it out, one after another adding
a verse. They were a mixed party, not idle
young advocates alone, but philosophers, lawyers,
and men of business, all keen for the jest. Sir
William Hamilton was the contributor of one verse,
as the story goes, and was so overcome with delight
and amusement at his own cleverness that
he rolled off his chair in fits of laughter. The
sound of the fun as it waxed fast and furious, coining
in gusts from the dining-room, tantalised and
bewildered the ladies above, who could not imagine
what was going on; but we are not told that they were
taken into the confidence of the rioters. This is a
legend which is not perhaps much more to be relied
on than if it were a legend of the saints. We have
the fact on Lockhart's authority that he and Wilson
sitting up half the night, with Mr Blackwood filling
the part of the admiring audience, and cheering them
on as verse was added to verse — were the real authors.
And this story no doubt is the true one.
It is only fair that the reader should judge for himself
of this production. He has just heard the story
of Pringle and Cleghorn, and their failure. He will
therefore be as able as any one to comprehend the
amusing version which I quote from an old yellow
proof, with the dust of nearly seventy years upon its
crumpled page. It was not yet revised, and it is
different a little from the final publication. He
will, however, be very well able to decide whether
there was any venom in the tale. It is prefaced by a
grave paragraph, giving the exact place of the manuscript
in "the great Library of Paris." The writer is
set down suddenly "in the midst of a great city that
looketh toward the north and toward the east, and
ruleth over every nation and kindred and tongue that
handle the pen of the writer."
I looked, and behold a man clothed in plain apparel stood in
the door of his house: and I saw his name, and the number of
his name; and his name was as it had been the colour of ebony,
and his number was as the number of a maiden, when the days
of the years of her virginity have expired.
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.
The one beast was like a lamb, and the other like a bear;
and they had wings on their heads: their faces also were like
the faces of men, the joints of their legs like the polished cedars
of Lebanon, and their feet like the feet of horses preparing to go
to battle: and they arose and they came onward over the face
of the earth, and they touched not the ground as they went.
And they came unto the man who was clothed in plain
apparel, and stood in the door of his house.
And they said unto him, Give us of thy wealth, that we may
eat and live, and thou shalt enjoy the fruits of our labours for a
time, times, or half a time.
And he answered and said unto them, What will you do for
me whereunto I may employ you?
And the one said, I will teach the people of that land to till
and to sow; to reap the harvest and gather the sheaves into
the barn; to feed their flocks and enrich themselves with the
And the other said, I will teach the children of thy people
to know and discern between right and wrong, good and evil,
and in all things that relate to learning and knowledge and
And they proffered him a Book; and they said unto him,
Take thou this and give us a sum of money, that we may eat
and drink and our souls may live.
And we will put words into the Book that will astonish the
children of thy people; and it shall be a light unto thy feet and
a lamp unto thy path; it shall also bring bread unto thy household
and a portion to thy maidens.
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; and I heard a great noise as if it
had been the noise of many chariots and of horsemen upon
their horses.
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.
Unless it might happen to be the mere title of the
"beasts," which was shared by Biackwood's future
supporters as well as those who deceived him, we are
unable to see the least bitterness in this. It is excellent
fooling, and occasionally the turns of phrase,
though exceedingly profane, are extremely funny;
but there is no bitterness in it, nor cause of complaint,
that we can see. The only "personality"
lies in the curious fact that both Pringle and Cleghorn
were so lame as to use crutches when they
walked: whence "the great noise as if it had been
the noise of many chariots" which attended their
coming and going.
The picture of the rival power, Constable, long
before this time known as "the Crafty" among these
wild young Tories, forms an admirable pendant to that
of the two beasts: —
And in those days and at that time there lived also a man
that was crafty in counsel and cunning in all manner of working;
and the man was an upright and a just man, one who
feared God and eschewed evil; and he never was accused
before any judge of fraud, or of perjury, or of deceit: for the
man was honourable among the sons of men.
And I beheld the man, and he was comely and well-favoured,
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 even to the Prince of the
host, and it cast down the truth to the ground, and it practised
and prospered.
And when this man saw the Book, and beheld the things
that were in the Book, he was troubled in spirit and much cast
And he said unto himself, "Why stand I idle here, and why
do I not bestir myself? — lo! this Book shall become a devouring
sword in the hand of mine adversary, and with it will
he root up or loosen the horn that is in my forehead, and the
hope of my gains shall perish from the face of the earth."
Even Scott himself was not spared; and the manner
in which he took the joke was like himself. Lockhart
tells us, on the authority of Sir David Wilkie, who
was present, that Scott, when he read it, "was almost
choked with laughter; and he afterwards confessed
that the Chaldean author had given a sufficiently
accurate account of what really passed on the
But when the spirits were gone he [the Crafty] said unto
himself, I will arise and go unto a Magician which is of my
friends: of a surety he will devise some remedy, and free me
out of my distresses.
So he arose and came unto that great Magician which hath
his dwelling in the old fastness hard by the river Jordan, which
is by the Border.
And the Magician opened his mouth, and said, Lo! my heart
wisheth thy good, and let the thing prosper which is in thy
hands to do it:
But thou seest that my hands are full of working, and my
labour is great. For, lo, I have to feed all the people of my
land, and none knoweth whence his food cometh; but each man
openeth his mouth, and my hand fills it with pleasant things.
Moreover, thine adversary also is of my familiars.
The land is before thee: draw up thine hosts for the battle
nil the mount of Proclamation, and defy boldly thine enemy,
which hath his camp in the place of Princes; quit ye as men,
and let favour be shown unto him which is most valiant.
Yet be thou silent: peradventure will I help thee some
An address exactly the same is made by the
Magician to the other applicant for his favour; which
is as a matter of fact what did occur. But in all this
mockery there was no sting. Scott received it "almost
choked with laughter." The young rogues had
divined him, and knew that he had no mind to commit
himself to the Crafty, any more than to pledge
himself to his lively neighbours. It was thus in pure
fun that the joke was carried on. In the description
of the second set of beasts who came forth for the
service of the man clothed in plain apparel, the
writers did not spare themselves.
The first that came was the beautiful leopard from the valley
of the palm-trees, whose going forth was comely as the greyhound,
and his eyes like the lightning of fiery flame.
And he called from a far country the scorpion, which delighteth
to sting the faces of men, that he might sting sorely
the countenance of the man that is crafty, and of the two
And he brought down the great wild boar from the forest of
Lebanon, and he roused up his spirits, and I saw him whetting
his dreadful tusks for the battle.
Perhaps of all these mocking designations the two
which were affixed by the hands of the brethren to
themselves have stuck most firmly — especially that of
the scorpion, which is not flattering. No doubt his
comrades must have recognised the appropriateness of
the signalment, and seen in it the most apt resemblance
to the swift and sudden dart which was launched
in a moment, without change of the pensive countenance,
by the deftest hand among them. In all this
we do not believe that the reader of to-day will see
either malice or bitterness. Without doubt there
were sharper stings by the way at chance personages
who had not much to do with the main question —
such as the injured baronet, Sir J. G. Dalyell (not a
baronet, however, at that moment), to whose piteous
complaint, as we shall afterwards see, the Lords of
Session were called upon to listen, and whose recapitulation,
in the terms of the law, of the missile
aimed at him is even more grotesquely comic than the
libel itself.
This assault upon all and sundry gave the delighted
conspirators an amount of pleasure in the concocting
which ought to have fully indemnified them for any
trouble afterwards. They awaited with impatience the
clearing out of their predecessors, and the coming of
that jovial October that should launch them upon the
world which they meant to take by storm. In something
of the same mind they compiled a list as long
as a man's arm of articles on every subject under the
sun, which were preparing, as they promised, and
which it would have taxed an army of trained men of
letters to produce. But they were confident in their
power to do anything, and perhaps the dashing bravado,
after all, was more genuine than appeared. "Wilson,"
says Mr R. P. Gillies — himself a contributor — in his
'Recollections of a Literary Veteran,' "instead of
desiring good Mr Pringle's stores of reserved copy,
very decisively maintained that any man in a state
of tolerable health, and disposed for literary amusement,
might write an entire number in the course of
two days! He had then a rapidity of executive power
in composition such as I have never seen equalled
before nor since. But as he would do nothing but
when he liked and how he liked, his productions,
whether serious or comic, might all be regarded as
mere jeux d'esprit and matters of amusement. Mr
Lockhart, I suppose, was more systematic in his pursuits,
though his rapidity of pen was almost marvellous.
I remember he considered thirty-two columns, a whole
printed sheet, as an ordinary day's work, which might
be accomplished without the slightest fatigue or
stress." This rapidity accounts for much of the
tumult and rush of their proceedings. They were
carried away by the flow of easy and delightful
power. There was no talk in these days of overwork,
no fear of shattered nerves or brain exhaustion.
It was fortunately the fashion to be robust in
mind as well as in body. They needed no artificial
hush about them. Perhaps it may be allowed they
would have done better for themselves and their after
fame if they had been a little more bound by these
restraints. As for their audience, it was the sweep
and fulness, the very torrent of young strength,
impetuosity, and daring, which moved it to a kind
of rapture.
The position of the sober man of business, who was
like themselves in swiftness of mind and readiness
of spirit, and whose keen eye saw the advantage
to be reaped from the very disadvantages, the reckless
imprudence and dash, which are instruments in a cool
and steady hand as good as any — is at this moment
very curious. He withheld and subdued, when it was
necessary, with great unconscious skill, with the
constant steadiness and sense which always have their
influence — and which were strengthened even by his
faculty of being carried away and moved to enthusiasm
by the flow of wit and genius, the only things that
ever went to his head. He would have been more
than mortal if he had not been delighted with the
demolishing of the Crafty, that equally strong and
more cunning opponent who had managed to seize
from him in a moment the prize which he had almost
made his own. But that he had dark moments,
and that he could not always moderate those fiery
spirits as much as he wished, there could be little
No thought of this, however, was in his mind when
the October number had been seen through the press,
with endless laughter and the highest anticipations of
triumph. The chorus of young performers disappear
into their homes, into their other frolics — perhaps to
some solemn Edinburgh dinner-party where an irrestrainable
laugh, a word or look thrown at each other
behind backs, would be all by which they would dare
to express their excitement over this new adventure
and mystery, or the sensation, the explosion which
they awaited on the morrow — till they could escape
to the joyous relief of some favourite tavern, for clubs
were not as yet, to let out the laughter and the agitation.
In the meantime the man in plain apparel for a
moment had the scene all to himself. He received the
new number, fresh and fragrant from the press — it is
but an old and shabby number now, the brown covers
faded, the columns less smooth and regular than in
later days with his heart beating in his ears. Did
it mean fortune and success? or did it mean something
very different? But he did not allow himself
to dwell upon that darker chance. Before he left
Princes Street he copied with his own hand into a new
quarto volume the letter he had just sent to the
captain of his forces, he "whose going forth was
comely as the greyhound, and his eyes like the
lightning of fiery flame." The name is put in in a
corner ruled off with careful lines, in the very formality
of which the nervous excitement shows; thus —
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 favour 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.
There is a thrill of emotion and feeling in this
formal little epistle which shows in every exact and
carefully written line. And then he walked home in
the keen evening air — with perhaps that touch of
coming frost in it which is considered seasonable, and
which was exhilarating as generous wine to the vigorous
and healthful man at the height of his manhood
and strength — with the precious little packet under
his arm. He went into his house, where all the children
— by this time a nursery full — rushed out with
clamour 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 in to 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, with a shake of
her head and a doubt. He was always sanguine; but
she had no bees in her bonnet. Sometimes he called
her a wet blanket when she thus damped his ardour,
— but not, I think, that night.
And next day all Edinburgh was ringing with the
wild, witty, flagrant attack upon all the notabilities.
And the authors were the only men who did not
venture to laugh too much over this joke which convulsed
their world.
THE effect of the new number was instantaneous and
extraordinary. There is next to nobody living now
who remembers personally the commotion and tumult
in Edinburgh over the Chaldee Manuscript, but many
still remember to have heard of it from their elders,
with such remains of the old excitement, amusement,
triumph, or wrath, which, fifty years later, it needed
only a word to recall, and which were almost inconceivable
in their warmth after so long an interval.
My mother was a fervent Liberal, and therefore completely
opposed to 'Blackwood's Magazine'; also a
woman much out of the world, living in the country,
and but slenderly acquainted; I imagine, with the
subjects of the satire; yet her laugh over it, and her
remembrance of it, made it familiar to me long before
I saw a word of it in print. It was one of the old
brilliant things "such as you never hear of nowadays"
of her youth; and I am afraid the trials for libel, the
tremendous wounds thus lightly inflicted, the outcries
and complaints, were to the temper of her generation
only a charm the more. Edinburgh woke up next
morning with a roar of laughter, with a shout of
delight, with convulsions of rage and offence. There
seems to have been nothing particularly noted in the
Magazine — though the number was full of good and
bad things — but this. It ran through every group
of men and into every company like wildfire. The
dinner-parties on that evening would no doubt be
most successful parties — no want of subjects for conversation,
whether it was in fury, whether in fun,
sometimes the two combined.
Blackwood's first number was immediately bought up [says
Mr R. P. Gillies in his 'Recollections of a Literary Veteran],
and a new edition issued, from which, however, the firebrand
Chaldee was prudently excluded. But by this concession to
the prevalent taste our amiable public was put to the test.
Every purchaser expected to have his copy of the far-famed
satire, and every one growled at its absence. Copies of the
original number were handed about, with manuscript notes
identifying the principal characters, and high prices were
offered for a copy which the fortunate possessor had read and
could dispense with. It was truly a most laughable jeu d' esprit,
while the portraits were nevertheless so grotesque and shadowy,
and the whole so evidently intended for a harmless joke, that
the worthies indicated, had they been wise, might either have
joined in the laugh or treated the matter with silent contempt.
But, on the contrary, all without exception took offence, and
some commenced actions in the Court of Session, and got
judgments in their favour for injuries done to their reputation.
One of the first of these ill-advised persons was a
certain advocate, John Graham Dalyell, Esq. (afterwards
Sir John), who on the 10th of November 1817,
not a fortnight after the publication of the Magazine,
summoned-the publisher on the following plea: —
That the false, malevolent, or wanton mockery of personal
infirmities, and holding them up as a subject for public scorn
and derision, is arraigning the wise dispensations of Providence,
bringing the afflicted into contempt, and a cruel outrage of Ins
feelings. That falsely and malevolently devising, uttering, or
publishing contumelious descriptions, reproachful words, calumnious
charges, and insinuations tending to disturb the peace
of any individual, to depreciate his character in public or
private esteem, or to impair the means of his subsistence and
comfort, are all or either of them grievous injuries, which found
him in an action for damages and reparation against the
aggressor. That the said John Graham Dalyell is a member
of the Faculty of Advocates practising before the Supreme
Courts of Scotland, and is also the author of literary compositions,
written either on his own account or at the desire of the
proprietors and editors of literary works from whom he receives
remuneration. That in these employments his means of subsistence
consist. That while the said John Graham Dalyell
was reposing in the bosom of his family, following his lawful
avocations and literary pursuits, and at peace and amity with
all mankind, WILLIAM BLACKWOOD, bookseller in Princes Street,
Edinburgh (the publisher of a literary work, book, or pamphlet
bearing the title of 'Blackwood's Edinburgh Magazine' and
purporting to be printed by Oliver & Boyd for the said William
Blackwood), actuated by deliberate malignity and without any
provocation whatever on the part of the said John Graham
Dalyell, did insert and publish a wicked, false, and scandalous
libel, grossly calumniating the person of the said John Graham
Dalyell, in an indecent, irreverent, and blasphemous application
of Scriptural language, which libel is contained in a number or
volume of the said work.
The words which inflicted this injury were certainly
unpleasing enough. They follow closely in the Chaldee
Manuscript the comparatively harmless description
of the two beasts. "The man who was crafty"
found that another beast had joined the first two in
his momentary absence: —
Now the other beast was a beast that he loved not: a beast
of burden which he had in his courts to hew wood and to draw
water and to do all manner of unclean things. His face was
like unto the face of an ape, and he chattered continually, and
his nether parts were uncomely. Nevertheless his thighs were
hairy, and the hair was as the shining of a satin raiment, and
he skipped with the branch of a tree in his hand, and he chewed
a snail between his teeth. . . . If thou lookest upon him and
observest his ways, behold he was born of his mother before the
months were fulfilled, and the substance of a living thing is
not in him, and his horns are like the potsherd which is broken
against any tree.
We may allow that this is not the kind of thing
which it would be tolerable to have said of one, and
admire the courage of the man who applied it to
himself. It is to be presumed that the contemptuous
description was so true to the life that no one could
mistake it. We may allow even that it was, as he
said, "a cruel, malicious, and wanton injury," and
that "holding up in a style of mockery and derision
the personal infirmities under which the said pursuer
labours, impiously scoffing at what is the visitation
of Heaven alone, and no fault of him the sufferer,"
was as cruel and unseemly in point of morals as it
was bad taste and impossible in literature. Whether
the poor man's feelings could be salved and his honour
vindicated by the award of damages was of course for
him to judge.
The Chaldee Manuscript, however, we are sorry to
say, was the least of the sins of which the new number
was guilty. It began with a virulent and uncalled-for
attack upon Coleridge and his 'Biographia Literaria,'
which was of tenfold deeper guilt than the Chaldean
vision, holding up the poet, both in his works and his
person, to contempt. I am not aware that Coleridge
retaliated directly at all, though he was not himself
sparing in abuse while treating others, in the similar
channel of a review; but his treatment of Blackwood
was magnanimous, as will be apparent hereafter.
Another shorter, still more virulent, and most unpardonable
assault upon what the writer dubbed "The
Cockney School of Poetry," signed with the initial Z,
was the most offensive of all; and we are obliged to
allow that it was an attack for which there is no word
to be said, and which can only arouse our astonishment
and dismay that the hand of a gentleman could
have produced it, not to speak of a critic. Beside
these two productions, the Chaldee Manuscript was
innocence and good manners combined — though,
strangely enough, the other papers do not seem to
have offended the public, which was still raging over
the Lake School and the Byron controversy, and
hotly taking sides for and against these different
literary parties, with a fervour and venom of vituperation
happily unknown to this day.
The other sufferers, however, were not silent. Leigh
Hunt — who on his part was as evil-tongued a critic as
could be found, so that there is little cause for pity,
except that such a man as Lockhart should ever have
been tempted to indulge in abuse so unworthy of himself
— was the special subject of attack in the "Cockney
School," and lost no time in making his complaint.
The summons of Mr Dalyell was ringing in the publisher's
ears when his attention was called to the still
more serious threat from London of an action on the
part of Hunt. Lockhart himself did not hesitate to
allow that the attack was actionable, and it evidently
assumed a much more grave aspect than the other,
with many anxious questions whether the case would
be tried in London or in Edinburgh, — a libel in the
former place being tried before a jury, and therefore
with a result more likely to be detrimental. The first
news of this came in an alarmed and troubled letter
from the respectable firm of Messrs Baldwin, Cradock, &
Co., in London, honest booksellers, with no more to do
with the compounding of the literary wares they dealt
in than a grocer has to do with the growing of his
tea. One cannot but sympathise with the feelings of
these good people when there arrived by the peaceable
post a red-hot cartel, not unlike a summons to deadly
combat, demanding that they should instantly give
up the name of a writer in 'Blackwood's Edinburgh
Magazine,' signing himself Z, who had given vent "to
the most false, malignant, and altogether infamous
aspersion on the character of Mr Leigh Hunt, editor
of the 'Examiner.'" These excellent booksellers had
their name as Mr Blackwood's correspondents upon
his Magazine, without the faintest idea that they
were thus placing themselves on the nest of a cockatrice.
The discomfort, confusion, and disapproval of
their letter is almost amusing: —
Messrs Baldwin, Cradock, & Co. to W. Blackwood.
LONDON, NOV. 3, 1817.
We were much surprised and hurt this morning at receiving
a visit from Mr John Hunt, complaining on behalf of his brother
of an article in your new Magazine signed Z. Not having had
time since the arrival of the copies to read the number, we were
entirely ignorant of the nature of the article of which he complained;
but, on examining it, we certainly think that it contains
expressions which ought not to have been used. Being a
convicted libeller himself, Mr Leigh Hunt has little right to
complain of such attacks; but, as it is utterly contrary to our
principles and conduct to publish them, we cannot but seriously
regret that our names should be affixed to the Magazine containing
the one in question. It appears that Mr John Hunt's
object in calling was to demand that we should endeavour to
procure for him the name of the writer of the article. We told
him that we thought it very unlikely that we should be successful
in such an attempt; but that if he would state his demand
in writing, we would send it to you. He immediately, in our
house, wrote the annexed, which we hasten to transmit.
Whatever answer you may think proper to send in satisfaction
to Mr Hunt, we expect that you will make it clear that we have
no knowledge of the writer, and that we had none of the article
itself till it was printed: for, whatever our opinion may be of
Mr Hunt, we surely cannot sanction the publication of such an
article under our name. On the present occasion we shall
merely add, that our continuing the agency in London of your
Magazine must entirely depend upon its being free from personalities
on the moral character of any individual.
Mr Blackwood's reply was, we fear, not exactly in
accordance with fact; but there are recognised fictions
in such cases which a man is almost compelled to
accept whether he wishes to do so or not. He hastens
to clear the character of his respectable correspondents
from every shadow of blame: —
W. Blackwood to Messrs Baldwin, Cradock, & Co.
It is quite unnecessary for me to say anything with regard
to your utter ignorance of the article in question till after you
had received the Magazine; and, as I never wrote you one
syllable as to the contents of this number, you were equally
ignorant both of the tendency of any of the articles or by
whom they were written.
Mr Blackwood then, like an astute publisher, piously
professes his own want of "control over the measures
of my Editor," and completes the circle of virtuous
irresponsibility by certain details of the accidental
insertion of the article in question as sent from
London by a writer of great ability, whose support
the said Editor was afraid he had lost. "He was so
glad to find that a person of such powerful talents
was to support the Magazine, that he gave the
communication a very hasty glance and sent it immediately
to press." So that, really when you came
to examine into all the details, nobody was to blame.
Everything, however, he engages, is to be done that
can be done to mend the matter. "My Editor,"
severe in moral authority, "has written to the author
to say, that he cannot avail himself of his future
communications unless they are free from this defect."
He (the aforesaid Editor) had also offered
decidedly to express his sentiments on the subject in a note
in the number which will be published on Nov. 20th, in which
he will also insert an able letter in vindication of Mr Hunt,
which he has received by this post from an eminent young
While he thus disclaims the slightest intention of countenancing
any aspersions on the character of Mr Leigh Hunt as
an individual, I may mention to you that his opinions with
regard to the spirit of that gentleman's poetry coincides pretty
nearly with that of Z. But Mr H. must be aware that the
pages of my Magazine are open to anything that his friends
or admirers may write in its defence.
The next person who intervenes in the correspondence
is a judicious Mr John Richardson, himself a
contributor to the erring Magazine, who, hearing
that nothing will satisfy the victim or induce him
to refrain from a prosecution but a disclosure of the
writer's name, calls upon the Hunts to see what he
can do. This gentleman does not think that in any
case there need be much feared in the way of damages.
But he does not any more than the others justify the
attack. Mr Richardson's discussion of the question
is curious. He says that Mr Leigh Hunt can, he
believes, without difficulty, "prove himself individually
to be almost, if not altogether, as pure and
correct a man as walks the streets of London," but
that no doubt the power of a jury to discriminate
between abuse of a school and tendency in poetry,
and abuse of a man, is doubtful. "it seems to me,"
he says, "that the publication of anything mischievous
by a man of good character is infinitely more dangerous
than a similar publication by a man of bad
character. . . . Thus, if the poem is impure, would
a pure man choose an impure subject? Would
his individual purity justify his sending impurity
abroad?" These reasonings would be much out of
place in our day, when this is exactly what happens,
and not only men but women, themselves of perfectly
good character and no naughty impulses, write all
manner of immodest stories and suggestions, on principle.
And it is truly astounding to discover that all
this question of purity and impurity and Mr Leigh
Hunt's morals, and his critic's abuse which shocked
the world, was about that rhymed novel or novelette
the 'Story of Rimini,' which very few people in
our day have ever read, and which is merely a weak
and lengthy paraphrase of the immortal dozen lines of
Dante in which Francesca and Paolo were first revealed
to the world. To make it all the more wonderful,
Murray was the publisher of the poem, in which
Blackwood either had a share, or, as the agent of
Murray, pushed and sold, much exhorted so to do by
his friends in London.
Finally, we believe Mr Leigh Hunt's injured feelings
were calmed down, and that, with various answering
bursts of abuse in his paper, the 'Examiner,' the
quarrel went on in an appropriate and legitimate way;
but it made a breach between Blackwood and the firm
of Baldwin & Cradock, whose pious horror at being
concerned in such a row, and anxiety that the world
should be made aware how very little they had to do
with it, are edifying beyond expression. Their name
disappears from the November (1817) number of the
Magazine; but the articles on the Cockney School of
poetry went on bravely, and the name stuck, if nothing
else. Z's articles, however, in the succeeding
numbers are in better, or at least in less bad taste,
and consequently much more effective than that in the
first, which, while exceedingly abusive, was not brilliant,
though every supporter of the Magazine was
ready to go to the stake for its talent at least, if
nothing else. It is most curious to find the light
rhymes and trivial strains of the'Story of Rimini'
solemnly treated, as if it might upset the morals of
the world, with accusations which are not less than
horrible attached to its insignificant details. But the
eyesight of contemporaries is so curiously out of focus
that it is impossible to overestimate its strange tendency
to confuse all perspective. In one portion of
these strictures, coming from so capable a critic, who
ought certainly to have known better, he threatens to
attack in turn "the younger and less important members"
of his so-called Cockney School, "the Shelleys,
the Keatses, and the Webbes." That Leigh Hunt
should be supposed by any one to be more important
than Shelley and Keats seems inconceivable: or
that these should be associated with the trumpery
pretensions of Cornelius Webbe. The critic of the
present day, who is still more cock-sure than our
young lions of the Magazine, and rarely so effective,
should take warning from such an extraordinary slip
as this.
However, these young lions took the matter lightly
enough, after the fashion of their age: though they
were without doubt a little frightened by the idea of
actions at law. They seem to have left Edinburgh
while the first blast of the storm was raging, finally
arriving, after various delays, in the Lake Country,
where Wilson had his well-known house Elleray, on
Windermere — leaving their publisher to bear the
brunt: who stood like a rock, writing letters to all
concerned, replying at once to indignant publishers,
injured authors, and severe lawyers, with a civility
and steadiness that never varied — and covering the
real culprits with his ample shield. We doubt that
he had probably some trouble too at home, and that
the wife of his bosom would not hesitate to point out
to him roundly the vexation into which his fine new
Magazine, over which he had been so elated, had
brought him, and what broken reeds were those
writers, for whom all her life Mrs Blackwood retained
an aggrieved contempt. The Magazine, however,
was selling, which was a great consolation; and Mr
Graham Dalyell (in whose name some one of those incorrigible
jokers wrote to Leigh Hunt, giving himself
up as the anonymous Z, a laughable but unpardonable
outrage), with his lawsuit, was an advertisement not
perhaps too dearly purchased.
The alarm in the minds of the writers at the beginning
of the Dalyell business lest they should be
themselves betrayed, seems to have risen to a considerable
height, though they bore the trouble of
their publisher with great equanimity. The following
correspondence shows the fluctuations of their
feelings. The letters are as usual without date, but
highly characteristic of the disposition and policy of
the moment: —
John Wilson to W. Blackwood.
All you have to do is to keep up your mind in good fighting
condition. In all you say or do commit neither yourself nor
others, even to the best and most friendly. Infringe this rule,
and you are no longer safe.
If Scott is secured — and I think there is little doubt of that
— all is and must be well. Jeffrey is too knowing a man to
care a straw about the matter. At the same time, be not too
much concerned by anything you hear, nor elated. Let everything
take its course, and, above all, let us speak and act for
ourselves without any word or deed of yours. You should
consult Cranstoun or some other first-rate man about Hunt.
No doubt that is actionable. Whomsoever you consult retain
in case of an action, and retain nobody but a first-rate man, and
if possible a Whig. Cranstoun, being a Liberal himself, is the
best person. Retain one only; and trust to chance for a junior
counsel. A retaining fee is, I suppose, a trifle. Hunt will not,
I think, bring an action, but he could. Speak or write to
Cranstoun before Hunt can apply. Jeffrey, of course, would
not advocate your cause against Hunt. Cockburn might, or
Moncreiff: all those three are unexceptionable. All this may
be a bugbear, but "it has the face of a bear."
With whatever Scott says, agree; but commit yourself to no
man. Do not apply to J. M. C. or L. A. till you hear or see
something of us. Meanwhile, if you could get Scott's name —
and when you tell him of your tribulations, perhaps you may —
that alone would be victorious. Get all other names; think of
admitting nothing dull or ordinary. Get Mackenzie ("Man of
Feeling") if possible on your side. This number is of paramount
importance. We have yet done nothing, but we are sure
cards. Tell the brethren to write.
Another letter in a different tone is launched about
the same time at the head of the sober charioteer
who had that wild young plunging team in hand. It
is a joint production from Lockhart and Wilson, the
us emphatically underscored as in the above, and is
written in alarm and fear that he has allowed himself
to be thrown off his guard by the lawyers in
the Dalyell process: —
Lockhart and Wilson to W. Blackwood.
If anything was understood when you left Glasgow [Lockhart
begins], it was this, that to all questions, speeches, hints, innuendoes
about the Vision, its authors, its objects, its consequences,
you should be dumb. The only exceptions we made
were in favour of Mr C. and his brother, John More and
Cranstoun. Now, how after all this, and after all the letters
which have passed, you could have allowed yourself to hold any
conversation whatever on this subject with Hotchkis [the agent
of Dalyell], far more how you could ever have dreamed for a
moment of allowing to him the possibility of D. being satirised
there, or the possibility of your having any occasion to "appease
the feelings" of anybody under the sun — is to me, I confess,
wholly incomprehensible. Cranstoun when you went to him
knew perfectly well all about the matter, and his apparent
incapacity to understand the allusions was meant to teach you
to profess and assume equal incapacity. I fear, I greatly fear,
you have now virtually acknowledged a libel. That we should
get rid of all suspicions we never expected; and now, in addition
to the original sin, we are to be lugged into the charge
of pusillanimity, and of being bamboozled by Dalyell and his
friends. I trust you have not proceeded any length in the
matter. If you have, God grant your game may not be up.
If you have committed us in the way we fear, whatever our
feelings are, and always must be towards you, it will become
a subject of serious consideration what further part we are to
take in the concerns of the Magazine.
This, in its clear small incisive handwriting, but
underlined like a (proverbial) lady's letter, in nervous
anger and alarm, is supplemented in the larger scrawly
careless hand of Wilson, with a sort of bigger but
softer echo of the tone of the other. Lockhart's voice
is rarely without a certain sharpness.
DEAR SIR [writes Wilson], (this letter is most friendly but
absolute). I am dining out, and have no time to say much.
All the above I approve. Have nothing to do with D. or anybody
else till we see you. We are your staunch friends. Be
true to yourself and us, and fear nothing. The Vision is not
actionable. Be that as it may, if you follow your own opinions
or those of any other man after your solemn engagements with
us to the contrary, how can you expect anything but confusion
and disgrace? Any kind of submission or parley with him is
All this apparently concerns the action of Mr
Dalyell. There is a sort of schoolboy vehemence
in the tremendous assertion of the "solemn engagements"
and the underscoring of every emphatic word.
Blackwood was but moderately moved by these adjurations.
He wrote no laments nor outcries of alarm,
but stood fast in his steady way, keeping their youthful
secrets (which they themselves betrayed freely),
and paying up when necessary, — not, we presume,
without an occasional wry face. But though it was
very serious, and sometimes the possibilities of that
ugly thing, ruin, came unpleasantly near, yet he was
not without the more astute wisdom of the man of the
world, and knew in the bottom of his heart that — as
Mr Murray stated that great article of faith — everything
could be made to pay in one way or another,
damages and other evil things included.
One of those days, the evening of the one probably
in which the above philippic was written, a few lines
"are sent in addition over our oysters" — from the
same twin brethren, with a wild demand for material
for the "Office of Constable," to be wrought up into
"an antiquarian article in next number." "Send
therefore to the'Scorpion' as soon as possible all
the facts of the Crafty's life from youth upwards.
The other materials we have: all disagreeable topics
to be avoided, and the laughter innocent and amiable."
Then follows, in Lockhart's neat hand, "This I think
bids fair to beat Riddell's 'On the office of Marechall'
all to nothing. Let your account of the Crafty be as
full and precise as your leisure will permit, and trust
everything for Tournaments, Coats of Arms, &c., &c.,
to the well-known author of the celebrated article
Heraldry' in your Encyclopædia.'" So the young
men would have stormed along, caring not much for
anything but fun and fighting. It is to be supposed,
however, that here the graver will stood fast, for we
do not think the proposed essay on "The Office of
Constable" was ever written.
Lockhart, in his turn, echoed Wilson's advice to
secure the help, or at least the countenance, of Scott
as the one necessity of salvation. "Get Scott, and
you get everything," he wrote from amid the Westmoreland
hills, whence the two authors of the mischief
watched the explosion from afar; but he urges caution
as before — and his view altogether of the circumstances
is more serious than that of his companion.
He adjures his correspondent: —
Be extremely cautious in giving even to him names or power
unnecessary. But secure him: 1st, To write a paper in No. 2.
2nd, To speak against the exclusion of your Magazine — should
such an inquisitorial and absurd measure be talked of — in a
Faculty1 meeting. 3rd, Not to say any ill of you, your Magazine,
or virtually of the Chaldee MS. itself. Upon him everything
depends, for in any Faculty meeting, where literature is
concerned, who can stand against Maugraby? Besides, should
it be necessary, the Advocate also must speak, and Wilson will.
Till we hear what Dalyell says, we cannot be easy; but we
think that if he does anything violent, it will be against his
nature, and only in consequence of the baiting of the adversary,
willing to avenge himself at the expense of the 3rd beast. See
Swift's letter, and Lord Molesworth's story of the Jew of
Madrid: "The boys were afraid they should lose their sport, so
they clapped the poor Jew on the back all the way to the stake,
saying, Sta ferme, Möyse." For myself I have no fear, provided
you procure when necessary, but not till necessary, the avowed
countenance of Scott. Wilson occupies higher ground than I
do, and has less to fear. We are both firm and steadfast. Of
course you will write daily.
P.S. — If you are really publishing or advertising a 2nd edition
of the Oct. number, add this motto: "Rara temporum felicitas
ubi sentire quæ velis, ut quæ sentias dicere licet." This must
be, and stand. Put this into your very first advertisement at
all events. It is of Wilson's suggestion, and is most excellent.
Mr Blackwood, however, had a more effectual
1 Meaning, we presume, from the Library of the Faculty of Advocates.
method of approaching and attaching Scott than any
his correspondents suggested, and happily it was one
which had been put in operation before the necessity
arose. It was well known, and indeed too seriously
proved in the case of the Ballantynes, that for his
friends, and especially those who could in any way
be called his dependants, Scott's generosity was boundless,
and that there was no trouble which he was not
ready to take to promote their interests. On the
occasion of beginning the new series of the Magazine,
Blackwood had at once resorted to the greatest of
living authorities on literature for his help.
Anything from you, whether in prose or verse [he wrote
to Scott], would be perfectly invaluable to me at present. I
hope you may have something lying past you which you may
not be intending to use otherwise, and which you may perhaps
honour me with. There is no sum I could offer that would be
proportionate to the value to me of any communication from
you, however short; but should you do me this singular favour,
I hope you will permit me to present you with something as
an expression of my sense of the obligation.
These were the days, as I have hinted before, in
which remuneration was suggested with delicacy, as
beneath the exquisite feelings and purpose of a writer,
notwithstanding the large sums which were paid to
the great authors of the day. In a later letter the
astute bookseller puts his bait upon the hook: —
W. Blackwood to Walter Scott.
I have heard my friend, Mr Hogg, frequently speaking in
very high terms of a Mr Laidlaw, in whom, he told me, you
took an interest. I do not know his address, else I would
write to him with regard to communications on rural affairs,
with which I understand he is well acquainted. This was to
have been, as announced in my Prospectus, one of the branches
of the 'Edinburgh Monthly Magazine,' but Mr Cleghorn, from
his connection in another quarter, carefully excluded everything
of the kind. From the nature of the work, there cannot
be much space allowed for articles connected with agriculture;
still, if Mr Laidlaw would undertake them, he could always
have something every month.
That the big fish swallowed this fine bait as sweetly
as could be desired is clear. The following reply from
Scott I have found after some difficulty, with the date
of Abbotsford, 21st September, and evidently in direct
answer to that above quoted: —
Walter Scott to W. Blackwood.
I would have written to you long since had anything occurred
worth plaguing you about. But from an idle man — and such I
have been, from the necessity of taking much hard exercise to
keep the cramps at [arm's-length] — there is but little to be looked
for, always excepting the gratitude due for the Stirling Heads,1
which are most beautiful. I think of getting some of them
done for the ornament above the compartments of my library
here, which they will accord with very happily.
On the subject of the Magazine, I am too much a veteran of
literature to be surprised at the unexpected shoals on which
the fairest undertakings sometimes are wrecked, or at the unforeseen
causes of difference which occur between publishers
and authors. Mr Pringle wrote me a few lines on the subject,
to which I answered, expressing the interest I feel for Scottish
literature and its supporters in general, and my intention to be
completely neutral, reserving the privilege of contributing any
trifling assistance to either or to both publications. Indeed,
understanding that the principal conduct of yours is committed
to the charge of a gentleman whose talents are of the highest
order, and whose good opinions and goodwill have been expressed
to me in more ways than one, it is naturally to be
supposed I should be desirous of aiding a work he is interested
1 A book of engravings published by Blackwood.
in, so far as I have it in my power. As to any pecuniary
recompense, I cannot in conscience stipulate or accept of any;
for as it can be only broken hints, detached fragments, and so
forth, that I can offer, and that but occasionally, I would be
very unreasonable to exact any emolument for such trifles, nor
have I any thoughts of doing so.
It is, however, in your power to interest me more deeply in
the success of your attempt, in the event of your securing, as
you propose, the assistance of my friend, Mr William Laidlaw,
on the footing of a regular contributor. He is one of my oldest
and best friends in this country — a man of a singularly original
and powerful mind, acquainted with science, well skilled in
literature, and an excellent agriculturist. Having lately given
up an over-rented farm, he is at present inhabiting a farmhouse
of mine called Kaeside, about half a mile from me, and I am
heartily desirous, both for his sake and my own, to secure myself
the benefit of his neighbourhood, as he is amicus omnium,
bonorum, my confidential adviser on rural economy, and my
companion in field sports. If, therefore, you should think it
advisable to trust to Mr Laidlaw for supplying a certain portion
of your Magazine with agricultural or literary articles, I
have not the least doubt they will be executed to your satisfaction,
and will consider myself as completely responsible for
what he may supply. He shall have my best advice and frequent
assistance; and as a very special friend of mine answered
Dr Lawson of Selkirk, when in the course of the Carritch they
came to the question, "What is Effectual Calling?" "I have
little doubt we will make it out between us." But, my good
sir, if I am to give this sort of pledge, the emolument derived
to Mr Laidlaw's family must be such as will answer my selfish
purpose of keeping him in my neighbourhood, and that will
cost you such a rate of copy money as shall enable him to make
at least £120 per annum. Mr Laidlaw is a good antiquary,
and both he and I would have pleasure in contributing to that
branch. He has by him an excellent essay on converting high
and over-ploughed lands into grass, written for the benefit
of your humble servant in a manner likely to be generally
interesting. I have a curious letter of the well-known
Chevalier Ramsay to Mr Bayers on the state, political and
economical, of France about sixty years since, and I daresay
can find some other quodlibets for your starting number if you
think my plan likely to answer.
I am glad there is a chance of our seeing Mr Moore, and
sincerely happy that Mr Irving liked Abbotsford as much as its
inhabitants liked him.
Laidlaw — the well-beloved Willie Laidlaw of Scott's
Life — also answered with expedition, but evident
trepidation, as follows: —
W. Laidlaw to W. Blackwood.
Mr Scott has made me acquainted with a correspondence
between you and himself respecting my co-operation in the
new series of your Magazine. It is, as you say, somewhat
like a new work, and really I must say that your proposal
of a tryst for six months appears to me reasonable in
several views. For, notwithstanding whatever Mr Scott's
partiality may lead him to think, my experience in literary
labour has assuredly not been much. I am apt to judge
that a monthly report of rural affairs cannot be made very
interesting, and rarely useful, especially during the summer
months: perhaps a short notice of the weather and its
probable effects would be enough, and I would do my best
to put together a respectable quarterly report. I have one or
two articles in view that might be rendered not uninteresting,
particularly one addressed some time ago to Mr Scott, and
which he has often honoured by his approbation. It is upon
the best way of laying down his higher grounds in improved
and permanent pasture. As whatever I send will have the
honour of passing through Mr Scott's hands, I beg to throw
myself on his judgment likewise for what emolument I ought
to have for the six months.
Some short time later we have another cheerful and
lively letter from Scott, giving his opinion of the first
of some articles on the authentic history of Rob Roy,
which had a special interest at the moment from the
fact that Scott's novel of that name had just been
announced for speedy publication. He then adds: —
Scott to W. Blackwood.
Mr Laidlaw projects a series of letters under the signature
of Maugraby. I shall certainly revise and correct them,
and if I should write any at length you will understand
that I reserve the right of printing such myself, should I
ever think it proper, which is highly improbable. Respecting
my name in this matter, you will understand that I
merely assist Mr Laidlaw, and you are quite at liberty to say
that I do so. But as to my fathering any particular portion
of the correspondence, you must hold me excused if I leave
that matter to your own sagacity of detection and that of the
public. In fact, were I obliged to take pains — and this I must
if I were to make myself responsible for what I write — my
contributions would be very few indeed. Besides I may, for
aught I know, give something or other to Mr Pringle, who
would expect me to favour them also; so I should be like the
poor fellow who was obliged to fly the country in consequence
of having rather too numerous an irregular progeny.
The link thus established between Blackwood and
the one effectual friend whom he was so much urged
to secure no doubt gave him courage; but yet there
was a tremor in his tone when on the fateful 20th of
October he forwarded the first number of the revived
Magazine to Abbotsford, with copious and enthusiastic
thanks for "the sanction and support" given to his
undertaking, "and that I now have it in my power
to say that the work is one that has your good
wishes even in the way of the slightest assistance to
Mr Laidlaw." "I hope," he adds, "that you will be
pleased with this number on the whole, and I think
that it is likely to make some noise. I anxiously
hope you will not be displeased by the Chaldee MS.
There were various opinions as to the propriety of
publishing this. The Editor 1 took his own way,
and I cannot interfere with him. When you have
leisure I hope you will do me the honour to tell me
how you like any of the articles."
Not having apparently any immediate reply from
Scott, whose support was so important, Blackwood
wrote again shortly after to Laidlaw, hoping thus to
have an expression of his patron's views. Laidlaw
himself would seem to have praised the number, in
which his own contributions filled a humble place.
W. Blackwood to W. Laidlaw.
29th October 1817.
I am truly happy you are so much pleased with this number.
I intended to have had the pleasure of seeing you either
yesterday or to-day, and therefore thought it needless to write.
I have, however, been much occupied by disagreeable discussions,
in consequence of the hue and cry attempted to be
raised by Constable and his adherents against me on account
of the article entitled Chaldee MSS. No one can regret more
than I do that this article appeared. After I saw it in proof,
I did everything I could to prevent it, and at last succeeded in
getting the Editor to leave it out. In the course of a clay,
however, he changed his mind, and determined that it should
be in. I was therefore placed in a terrible dilemma; and as I
must have stopped the Magazine if I did not allow the Editor
to have his own way, I was obliged to submit. I was in hopes
it would have been laughed over as a cruel joke enough, but
that it would soon have been forgot, there is so much excellent
1 This title is often but vaguely given to some undiscoverable person in
the early days of the Magazine, the convenient partner who was al ways
responsible and ever regrettably inclined to take his own way. As a
matter of fact the Magazine was, as might be said officially, in commission,
with a governing body of three, no individual of which was supreme,
though the publisher lamented the self-will of the Editor, and the Editor
vituperated with much force the obstinacy of the publisher.
matter in the Magazine to redeem it. The enemy, however,
has been so active in stirring up individuals that several are
highly irritated who would only have laughed at it. He is
trying to form a party against me, if it were possible, to put
down both me and the Magazine. My friends, however, are
not inactive; and the storm is beginning, I hope, to subside.
Little as we yet know of each other, I trust to your friendship
in supporting me on the present occasion. I anxiously
hope that Mr Scott will continue his most important countenance.
To me at this moment it is of the last consequence, and
would set my mind quite at ease. I have no fears as to his
taking amiss the sportive way in which he is introduced in the
MS., as I know it is not possible for a human being to have a
higher admiration and respect for Mr Scott than the author
has and uniformly expresses. It is most painful for me to
think that any part of this unfortunate production may be
unpleasant to Mr Scott, or might have the smallest tendency
to weaken the lively interest he has taken in the Magazine.
I trust to his candour to feel for me in the unpleasant situation
in which I have been placed, and I hope, if there should
be occasion for it, that you will exert your best efforts in my
behalf. You will of course mention this to Mr Scott in any
way you think best.
The answer of Scott himself was not long delayed,
though it is, like so many of these letters, without
date. His comments, though disapproving, were not
such as to alarm the anxious publisher with fears for
the discontinuance of his support: —
Walter Scott to W. Blackwood.
I have been for several days at Bowhill, and afterwards
engaged with visitors here, which has prevented my writing.
Mr Laidlaw showed me a letter this morning about the Chaldean
article in your last Magazine, which I hasten to reply to in
person. The article (which, from not being acquainted with
names and references, I was long of comprehending) possesses
a great deal of satirical humour, but the prudence of publishing
it may be seriously questioned. Edinburgh is rather too narrow
for satire so markedly personal, and there are certainly several
individuals who, from their character and situation, have reason
to resent having been so roughly treated. And I must add
that, disapproving of the whole in point of prudence, I am not
greatly pleased with the mode in which one or two of my
particular friends have been mentioned, as, for example, Play-fair,
Charles Sharpe, and Robert Jamieson. You will readily
hold me acquitted of the childishness of resenting the good-humoured
pleasantry exercised towards myself, with which I
was really entertained, and thought the humour very well
sustained. Connected as I am with Mr Laidlaw, and regarding
the continuance of the work as a matter of consequence to him,
I have no idea of suffering my disapprobation of a particular
article, on the grounds I have expressed, to interfere with my
promised assistance to him. I do not know any of my friends
(meaning such as may have a right to complain of aggression
in the present case) who would wish me to resent their quarrel
at the risque of disturbing an arrangement made with the
views which influenced me in entering into the present. This
you will of course understand to be very different from either
approving the insertion of the article or subscribing to the
justice of the satire. And unquestionably did I conceive it
likely that the Magazine could continue to be a receptacle for
articles, however able, composed in the same tone, I could not,
consistently with my feelings of what is due to the literary
society of Edinburgh, continue my permanent assistance. The
field for fair pleasantry is wide enough without enlarging it at
the expense of exciting, and not unjustly, feelings of personal
and private resentment.
My time for leaving this place now approaches so nearly that
it would perhaps be giving you trouble and expense to little
purpose to invite you out here. If, however, you should think
it of consequence to see Mr Laidlaw and me together, I will
be happy to receive you any day next week.
The piece of "good-humoured pleasantry" which
Scott took so kindly might have been construed less
favourably by a less genial nature, and certainly suggested
the idea of a facing-both-ways, which was not
unlike his real position between the opponents, with
neither of whom he had any intention of quarrelling.
How perfectly just and far-seeing had been that
satire is apparent from his letters: for he had indeed
taken precisely the position given him by the wits,
holding the rivals with a calmly impartial hand, and
conscious that, "for all I know, I may give something
or other to Mr Pringle too." "Your adversary is also
among my familiars," the Chaldee MS. had made
him say to both, repeating the same words. What
he thought, in his private mind, of the more thin-skinned
individuals who made the outcry, is evident
from the following letter to Laidlaw: —
I saw Blackwood yesterday, and Hogg the day before, and I
understand from them that you think of resigning the Chronicle
part of the Magazine. Blackwood told me that if you did not
like that part of the duty he would consider himself accountable
for the same sum he had specified to you for any other
articles you might communicate from time to time. If you
really do not like the Chronicle, there can be no harm in your
giving it up. What strikes me is that there is something certain
in having such a department to conduct, whereas you may
sometimes find yourself at a loss when you have to cast about
for a subject every month. Blackwood is rather in a bad
pickle just now, — sent to Coventry by the Trade, as the booksellers
name 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 book! If B. had good books to sell, he
might set them all at defiance. His Magazine does well, and
beats Constable.
The occasion of this communication to Laidlaw was
an apparent fright taken by him that Blackwood
might find him "a dead-weight, only made endurable
by the assistance of Mr Scott's powerful pen," which
was a true suggestion enough. "I learnt," Laidlaw
says, "in course of our conversation that the high
literary tone and character your Magazine had acquired,
and which it was necessary to keep up, had
got rather above agricultural subjects, and this appeared
to me with greater force from knowing that
Hogg's spirited paper on a very interesting process in
the management of sheep had been found inconsistent
with it." A further conversation with Wilson, who
said "he took no hand in editing the work," showed
Laidlaw that the register of public events both foreign
and abroad, which had been put into his charge, was
considered unnecessary by that very influential person.
What was the good man to do? — to be a dead-weight
was terrible to his pride: but it would be a slight to
Mr Scott to throw up an engagement which he had
formed. He could only appeal to the publisher to
tell him frankly what was the true state of affairs.
We do not find any conclusion to this little episode.
The Chronicle or Register, however, which at first
even went so far as to contain births, marriages, and
deaths, was continued for a considerable time. And
Scott not only judiciously advised Laidlaw not to
throw away his bread and butter, but went on helping
him without intermission.
I enclose [he writes to Blackwood] the Chronicle and an
article which we must see in proof, as clubbing our information
we had but just time to have it copied over. I am sorry I
have no loose poetry, but I never keep copies of anything not
written for the Press; so all my trifles are either selected and
printed or lost. I never write poetry nowadays. If I find I
am essentially assisting my friend Mr L., I have little doubt of
occasionally assisting the Magazine, as much as any curious stray
information, anecdotes, &c., may be gathered in this country.
It was Lockhart whom Sir Walter recognised as
the head; many others selected Wilson; these two,
best informed of all, though they sometimes rebelled,
generally submitted, though with a very bad grace,
as shall be seen hereafter, to the strong resolution of
the "man in plain apparel," whose silent strength
was behind them, and upon whose comparatively
innocent head all the bolts fell.
Another letter from Scott conveys the idea that he
was occasionally consulted as a critic by Blackwood,
and consented to help him in that way. "I return
you," he says on one occasion, "the MS. Voyage."
The latter part of it is interesting; in the first there is too
much description of well-known places; and through the whole
there is a little ambition of fine writing, which spoils the effect
of a plain narration. Also the manuscript poem, which is of
the kind endured neither by gods, men, nor columns. . . . I
return also Wat Tyler, which is an ill-natured book. But it
may be a warning to men of genius not to enunciate all their
first ideas too strongly on political subjects.
A letter of Laidlaw, received in February of the
next year (1818), while the fight was yet at its
hottest, gives Blackwood still more distinctly the
assurance that he had "secured Scott." His agricultural
contributor was Scott's right-hand man in
all his diggings and plantings, though but a very
simple henchman in literature: —
W. Laidlaw to W. Blackwood.
Mr Scott left us this morning. He has been riding and
walking about from morning to night, and all our talk was of
rural affairs; but I see that he has decidedly taken part with
you, so far as the Magazine goes, at least. I was sorry I had
nothing in such a finished state as to give him, but I will try
and send him something before next No.
The connection with Laidlaw thus continued, in
spite of what he himself calls "the imperfect Scotch"
of his foreign intelligence: and the fact that Hogg's
"spirited paper on the management of sheep" was
not received, while Laidlaw's agricultural notes were
always palatable, was very clearly due to the desire
to retain Scott's help and friendship by benefiting his
retainer — a motive reasonable enough even without
the help, the "clubbing of information," the revisal
and correction of honest Laidlaw's manuscript, to
which the great man pledged himself. The contract
was quite open on both sides. Laidlaw got his
steady remuneration — not fluctuating, as Scott reminds
him, but to be calculated upon; and Blackwood
got the invaluable name, and not a few effective lines
and paragraphs quickly divined by the public. "A
little touch from him tells far," says Laidlaw in one
of his letters. Turning over one of those faded
Magazines — the most excellent reading, and indeed
vibrating still with life and energy — we suddenly
came on an account of a wonderful feat on the part
of a sheep-dog, in which the hand of Scott is
plainly visible. The picture is as beautiful and the
story as thrilling as if it had involved the loftiest
passion or the most complex thoughts.
It may amuse the reader if we remind him that
Scott was lending this kind and friendly aid just
a year after the author of 'Waverley' had d—d
Blackwood for a criticism to which he was all
unaccustomed. Had he avenged that offence, or
done more than blow off the hasty exasperation in
a word, he might have seriously injured, perhaps
ruined, at that very important crisis of his career,
the sturdy and independent bookseller. But he was
no such man, and lent his honest friendly hand to
his honest critic with all the magnanimity of his
nature. "Whatever record leaps to light, he never
shall be shamed."
A letter from Lockhart, which I have found quite
accidentally fastened up with the letter from Scott
on page 146, and evidently written at the same time,
gives so clear a picture of the general agitation and
excitement that I may include it here before passing
on to other features of the fray: —
J. G. Lockhart to W. Blackwood.
I write chiefly because I imagine it will be agreeable for you
to hear from one of us each day, so long as the battle is unfinished.
The correspondence, if preserved, may afford us all
much diversion at some distant day. Surely you were allowing
too much vanity to mingle with your usual discernment when
you suppose that C. and Jeffrey went to the fastness [Abbotsford]
merely to annoy the man in plain apparel and his book.
However, being there, they may do you harm, and the letter to
Laidlaw is the likeliest counterplot you could have invented.
I send this along with the Leven MSS. Set up in type forthwith
Lee's review of Madam de Staël. These will both, we
think, be good in this number. And omit anything against
Sharpe in the conclusion. Should he take violent ground
against us in the adversary's book, woe be to him hereafter!
In the meantime he merits a sugar-plum. Wilson is anxious
to see Hamilton before going to Edinburgh, but seems now to
think he will certainly be with you by Saturday evening. I
shall not be later than Tuesday, nor can I possibly be sooner,
or I would. I wish you would write me out literatim some of
the sarcasms at present going against us both. We have as yet
heard only far-off hints.
This cursed row has so unhinged us both that we have done
nothing. I think, however, you may depend on a eulogy of
Chalmers and the Office of Constable from me. Should any
want of materials occur, I will retouch an essay (by me) on the
Religious Orders of Knighthood, originally designed for your
vile Encyclopædia. But what fear have you when once the
mighty creatures are within your gates, and I daresay Hogg
has been doing something. Wilson will, I hope, write some
accounts of an awful scene we witnessed to-day, the execution
of three men: keep him to that idea. To-morrow I trust we
shall have some minutes of conversation with Cranstoun or
Moncrieff. If N. does not take care I will introduce him as
the High Constable's fool at some tournament. Dalyell must
be the dwarf. Do not allow a day to pass without writing, and
to me, for the Leopard's goings forth are irregular as well as
comely. If he stays here much longer the whole family will be
as much in love with him as you and I.
Tony Smith hints, I suspect from authority, something about
a d—d attack on you (and probably some besides you) in
next number of 'Maggie Reekie.' Make use of some means to
ascertain the real intentions of the 3rd beast.
This letter is signed "The Scorpion"; the fumes of
the explosion to which they had set light being evidently
still in all their senses.'Maggie Reekie' was
the magazine of Constable.
The war went on, however, with intervals for a
long time, raging about the devoted head of the only
responsible person in the matter. Pamphlets were
written, actions brought, abuse of all descriptions
poured upon Mr Blackwood. No doubt many arrows
were also sent in the dark against the unseen contributors;
but they kept silent, except occasionally
by a new sting in the Magazine, which redoubled the
fury of their enemies and wore out the patience of
their friends. Mr Murray had accepted, from its
second beginning, a share in the responsibility, and
his name had appeared upon the title-page of the
Magazine. He had been an anxious and indeed
tremulous spectator of the great commotion caused by
No. 1 of the New Series; but even the first threatenings
of actions for libel were not sufficient to detach
him from an enterprise in which his acute and
experienced faculties showed him possibilities of both
money and influence. The correspondence between
Blackwood and his London coadjutor became thus
more frequent, though it was always a little irregular
and stormy. Mr Murray longed to interfere,
to shape the Magazine after his own mind.
"I don't care a farthing for talent," he says, quoting
a London critic.
The prominent feature of the Magazine should be literary and
scientific news, and most of all the latter, for which your editors
appear to have little estimation, and they seem not to be the
least aware that this is ten times more interesting to the public
than any other class of literature at present. . . . You have
unfortunately too much of the Lake School, for which no interest
is felt here. Give us foreign literature, particularly German,
and let them create news in all departments.
It would almost seem a humorous adoption of this
advice, in a very different meaning from that intended,
which made Lockhart create not only news but the
reporters of the said news, in the persons of Baron
von Lauerwinkel, Professor Sauerteig, and others
(predecessors and probably progenitors of the immortal
Teufelsdröckh), whose serio-comic communications
bewildered the reader in many succeeding numbers.
Murray, however, not quite so easily frightened as
Messrs Baldwin & Cradock, held on for some time,
despite all these vagaries, though they irritated and
vexed him; but his irritation, as well as that of the
victims, was chiefly directed against Blackwood, of
whom he heard many jealous murmurs on the part
of "the Trade," and whom he reproaches on one occasion
as being trusted by none of his brother booksellers.
To this letter Blackwood made a spirited
reply. "You have been misinformed on some points,
and perhaps unjust on others," he says. The letter
is dated 28th April 1818: —
W. Blackwood to John Murray.
In the first place, I must tell you that you labour under a
grievous mistake in supposing that I have excited the hostility
of my brethren. The quarter you must have got such intelligence
from might have led you to suspect its truth. Had you
ever given me the smallest hint on the subject, I could have
told you that on the contrary the real men of business and those
worth caring for are as well disposed towards me as ever, and
indeed well pleased to see me a counterpoise to Constable. You
know well enough his implacable hatred of me, and his rage at
seeing your review and all your books flourishing so much, and
of course so many of them sold by me for you. It is not, therefore,
to be wondered at that my Magazine was a new source of
vexation to him. Unfortunately for me, at the time, the Chaldee
MS. gave him and his partisans something on which to ground
their attacks. They, however, carried them so far that in a very
short time the public saw through the selfish object; and I gained
much more than I lost by it, as my friends rallied round me, and
many came forward who were formerly unknown to me. As a
specimen of the way they attacked me personally and some of
my friends, I send you some of the scurrilous pamphlets. These
tracts, though not published by Constable, were printed at his
expense, and industriously circulated. I never thought of taking
any notice of them, nor did I ever complain of their conduct.
It is not my province to vindicate everything that has been
published in the Magazine; but this I will be bold to say, that
there was nothing in it which is discreditable, while there may
be things which I might have wished otherwise, but over which
I had no control. For the general impression with regard to
the Magazine I refer you to Mr Scott, who has been my steady
friend and supporter in the whole conflict or battle of the beasts.
In a letter I had from him two days ago, he says, with regard
to one person who is angry, "This is just as it ought to be, for
jades do not wince but when they are galled."
I have found it necessary to be thus minute with regard to
the Magazine, as I cannot conceive any other circumstances
upon which my enemies can have ventured to misrepresent my
conduct to you.
Of the pamphlets above referred to we have ample
specimens at hand, but perhaps it is unnecessary to
enter into recriminations which, not having even the
guise of story, nor any wings of humour and fun like
those of the Chaldee MS., but only downright abuse
and accusation, would not be either entertaining or
important to any man nowadays. The Chaldee MS.
has kept a footing in literary history because of its
skill and literary excellence, not because of its abuse,
which few understand and no one cares for. Constable
and Blackwood now are both judged on their merits,
of which they had many. When our own age passes
into history we may doubt whether it will have it in
its power to show many men of the same class, so
individual and characteristic, so interesting in their
personality and picturesque in their position. The
rival houses in England produced nobody likely to
compete with them in this respect in the qualities
that make an interesting record. Their strife has
blown away like smoke, and unless we are very
strait-laced indeed, it amuses us to hear of it, though
not half so much as it amused and excited them to
carry it on. But the dust may be allowed to lie
without being swept up in our faces. Dust, like all
other things, has its good as well as its bad qualities;
it softens the outlines and takes off the sharpness of
many a hard corner. The bad sculptures in Westminster
and other places, for instance, would be worse
but for this softening-down. It is so in the inner
as well as in the outer world.
Murray, however, though he would seem to have
continued uneasy about the polemics, and to have felt
his personal repose endangered, was still sufficiently
encouraged by the success of the Magazine, and what
nowadays would be called the excellent advertisement
procured by all its conflicts and tumults, to
enter formally into partnership with Mr Blackwood
in the undertaking, paying a thousand pounds for a
half share — which proceeding naturally made him
more critical than ever. His advice was excellent,
if not very palatable. We are unaware what victory
is referred to — probably the withdrawal of threatened
actions on the part of Hunt or Hazlitt, the much
assaulted members of the Cockney School: —
John Murray to W. Blackwood.
I cannot congratulate you on your victory; another such,
says Pyrrhus, and we are ruined. Do as you would be done
by. I will venture my existence that you are injuring your
character in the opinion of every one whose good opinion is
worth having. I cannot perceive your object in literally
running amuck at every one; and I would not undergo your
feelings for any worldly advantage. I am sure you are wrong;
but I have not time to write moral [lectures], even if there
were any chance of their provoking or meriting alteration.
But, above all, take my advice and pray to God that you may
live in peace with your neighbours, and believe that this
freedom arises from the best wishes for your prosperity.
A temporary and comparative calm would seem
to have followed the first explosion. The young
lions, perhaps a little alarmed at the immediate consequences
of their rashness, roared more gently; and
though there was no drawing back, there was not
either any new aggression. But as the year went on
the old spirit of mischief began again to get the upperhand,
and several articles appeared which drew from
Mr Murray a very strong remonstrance, made all the
stronger by his expressions of regret that he should
be compromised by being the publisher of such productions.
The following letter, which I find in the
'Memoirs of John Murray,' is probably the one addressed
to Mr Blackwood on this occasion. It is dated
September 28, 1818: —
John Murray to W. Blackwood.
I have delayed writing for no other reason than that I was
desirous of gathering from all quarters the opinion respecting
our Magazine, and you will believe how great my own regret is
at finding the clamour against its personality almost universal.
You must naturally be aware that all eyes are turned towards
me, who am so accessible from situation and the open house I
keep, when compared to the Row, where no one goes except on
positive business. I feel seriously and sensibly the operation
of opinions at which I only guessed before. I have undergone
most severe remonstrances from my best and most important
friends, who press upon me my character with the public, in
which they are naturally interested and in some degree implicated;
that even if I were right, it is not what I think but
what the public will think of me for stepping out of a line of
conduct which hitherto has gained assent from all parties.
Now what applies to me in this respect, from the accident of
my being rather more in the public eye than either you or your
friends have been as yet, applies also, as I think you will admit,
no less to yourselves; and you must be aware that what would
depreciate opinion respecting me must naturally operate in a
similar degree upon you. My hands are withered by it. I
cannot offer the work without the dread of reproachful refusal,
and as to obtaining contributions from men of character, I might
as soon ask them to let me stab them in their back.
This letter, perhaps, was not exactly of a kind to
please Blackwood, who was not disposed to transfer
his personal responsibility to any man, and to whom
the assumption of Mr Murray as the principal person
in the transaction, the man to whom all eyes were
turned, could scarcely be very palatable. He wrote,
however, with much temper and calmness, and an
evident desire to keep the peace, assuring his friend
that in future everything would go well, and that the
passion of the beginning was now to be restrained.
It is needless [he says] for you to distress yourself about what
is past; for really when you examine the matter again coolly
and calmly, there is no such ground for alarm as you fear and
your friends have conjured up. And as for the future I now
feel perfectly at ease. Your letter has pleased and satisfied our
friends. Mr Wilson has called just now, and I have the happiness
of enclosing a most admirable letter which they have
written this morning, and which in fact leaves me almost
nothing to say.
The letter enclosed is as follows: —
Lockhart and Wilson to John Murray.
Mr Wilson and I have read your letter to Mr Blackwood
with much regret, for we are well aware how much it must be
against your feelings and interests as well as our own that the
Magazine should expose those concerned in it to such troubles
as you have now described. We are willing to take your opinion
on the matter as decisive, and admit that something out of the
common order has been done, and that something of an outcry
does exist, and that, therefore, independently of all argument,
it is the duty of all that some change should take place.
The next thing to be considered is whether this outcry has
not been somewhat exaggerated to you by your own imagination
— to ascertain, in short, to what extent it is truth. This
may probably be best accomplished by tracing the outcry to its
elements, by discovering what the combustibles have been that
can have raised the fire. We know of nothing but the Chaldee
MS., the verses on the Booksellers, the attacks on the Cockneys,
and those on the 'Edinburgh Review.' Let it be granted, then,
that in each and all of these indiscretion and violence have been
used. But is this enough to have given a general bad name to
a book wherein all these things taken together form a very,
very small item of contents — where they are outbalanced by
such a preponderance of good calm feeling and principle? Our
own opinion is that, notwithstanding all the outcry you have
heard, and which has distressed abundantly us as well as you,
were the voice of the whole town and country taken, the odium
excited is neither so general nor so terrific as you apprehend.
It is the nature of whatever is new to astonish. People must
have time given them to come to their wits. In different parts
of the country where we have been, we have found that among
two great classes of our own countrymen, the religious and the
ministerial people, the sensation excited by the Magazine has
been decidedly a very encouraging one, although these people,
and those from whom they most differ, have indeed found faults
and blamed them. This applies of course to a limited circle
and experience; but perhaps your town circle and experience
may also be in their way limited — i.e., you may have conversed
too exclusively with literary men, who have fears, hopes, and
opinions peculiar to themselves, not partaken except reflexly
and weakly by the main body of English readers, in whose
minds we have no doubt the general good feeling and principle
of the Magazine, were that work once fairly put into their
hands, must infinitely outweigh all the defects with which we
admit it to be deformed. Look at the last two numbers alone
and examine what it is you are afraid of. In August, with the
exception of "Hazlitt Cross-questioned" (of which anon), there
is not one word to be ashamed of. In September we can perceive
nothing that can give rational offence. The article on
M'Vey is confined entirely to his literary pretensions; and that
on Playfair is, we conceive, not only merited and unanswerable,
but so written as no gentleman need be ashamed to have signed
it. That both of these will give offence to some friends of the
parties who doubts? and what severe articles, either in your
Review or Jeffrey's, do not give offence in the same manner?
Must not you have exaggerated things when you talk of wishing
not to have published numbers containing these articles of
offence alone. Take them, read them over, and say if, with the
exception of Hazlitt, there is one page that might not have appeared
in any work — in so far at least as the spirit is concerned?
I have pressed this on you, not that I think you are giving unfounded
statements, but that I think you have overcharged a
true outline.
With respect to Hazlitt there is no doubt that your observations
are just. There is a seeming ferocity in the tone that
must disgust many, and on reflection disgusts us. With those
to whom Hazlitt is an utter stranger such an article must have
seemed execrable. To those who know the truth of the worst
things that can be said of him, the principal fault of the article
will appear to be confined to its manner and expressions. We
quite agree with you that the same thing might have been said
in a different, in a very much better way; and rest assured that
of this execrable style no further specimen shall appear. However,
doubt not that the frenzy and wrath of Hunt, Hazlitt, &c.,
are the true keys to all these fierce paragraphs in the papers,
and much of what has distressed you in conversation.
On this part of the subject allow me to remark that, with
the exception of this last article on Hazlitt, the articles on the
Cockney School are little if at all more severe than those in
the 'Quarterly Review,' and that they gave more offence to the
objects of their severity only on account of their superior keenness
— above all, that happy name which you and all the reviews
are now borrowing, the Cockney School. Hazlitt and
Hunt conceived that they could crush an infant work, and
knew that they were powerless against the 'Quarterly.' Therefore
against us did they pour their hottest phials. Give yourself
no uneasiness about this, however, as if the action is
brought at all, it will be brought here. But do not condescend
for a moment to think of giving Hazlitt either answer or satisfaction
of any kind. Let him fret on; in the end he will do
nothing. And ultimately, at the very worst, without doubt
your innocence can be established, were it possible that it
should be called in question. Be satisfied that if you were to
show any sign of condescension or apprehension you would be
taking the most effectual means for encouraging him.
Henceforward nothing reprehensible shall appear. We must
take care that nothing dull appears, for that were still more
hurtful. We both are much obliged to you for the full manner
in which you have written: at all times continue to act in the
same way.
The name of the Magazine was chosen without our advice,
and we always disliked it. Whether the advantages or the
disadvantages of alteration would predominate it is your [the
publishers'] province to determine. We cannot help thinking
that the outcry would gather strength from the confession such
a measure would seem to imply; and Mr Blackwood, we suspect,
would feel great repugnance to seeing his own name sacrificed,
as it were, as a peace-offering. Settle this, however,
among yourselves, and do nothing rashly. Let not any uncomfortable
feelings, which are probably of a momentary
nature, be allowed to do permanent injury to your work. Mr
Wilson and I stand entirely neuter. If you think seriously of
alteration, consult your most judicious friends (Scott for instance);
at all events you must not throw away the number in
existence, which we fear would be the case should you start a
third time as No. I. At all issues consult Scott, and let him
communicate with Blackwood, and to save yourself any further
trouble let his decision be final.
Whether Mr Murray perceived the faint suspended
sting of the Scorpion through those arguments, and
the reassuring statement that in any case his own
"innocence" could be fully established, we cannot
tell; but at all events he seems to have recovered his
composure, and to have made no more remonstrances
for the moment. We hold our breath to hear that
there was ever a question of the Magazine losing the
familiar name which has been a household word for
so many years: but this is the only mention of such
an idea that is to be found. We cannot imagine
the possibility of Blackwood, who had stood like a
rock against all assaults, and to whom perhaps Mr
Murray's support was not so essential as was supposed
in London, consenting to such a step: and Scott, we
may be sure, would never have advised such an invasion
of any man's rights. Murray, however, seems
to have been satisfied. He was delighted with the
Magazine for October 1818, the beginning of the
second year, and there is a little bustle of activity in
his next letter in respect to some contributors whom
he believed he might be able to secure. Frere is
mentioned, and Sir James Mackintosh, whom, however,
he cannot ask at the moment on account of the
attacks on the 'Edinburgh Review.' We imagine
that his correspondents were not particularly anxious
for his help in this way. They knew their own affairs
and trusted their own men.
There is rather a comical incident here in the story,
which shows that our two young persons, though perfectly
capable of throwing dust in the eyes of the
great London publisher, were only after all very
young men still (for Wilson though over thirty was
always a boy at heart), and not without a little characteristic
silliness of their own. Amid the storm of
literary missiles which flew about, a pamphlet of
unusual virulence, called "Hypocrisy Unveiled and
Calumny Detected in a review of 'Blackwood's Edinburgh
Magazine,'" was published, in which Murray
was brought in as well as the rest. It appears that
both he and Blackwood took this with equanimity,
and resolved to take no notice of it; but Lockhart
and Wilson both sent challenges to the anonymous
writer through the publishers. This was not so foolish
or impossible a proceeding then as it would be
now, and it was not, unfortunately, Lockhart's only
experience of this kind; but it was sufficiently absurd
even in those days, and especially from men who had
themselves dealt blows about them on every side,
besides being a complete and rash withdrawal of the
veil of mystery of which both before and after they
made so great a point. The matter is referred to in
a letter addressed to Mr Murray by Lockhart, who
begins by expressing the great pleasure given him by
a letter just shown to him by Blackwood, in which
Murray's satisfaction with the number for October
1818 is fully expressed. "Depend upon it, the succeeding
ones will have more of what you like and less of
what you dislike in it," he says. And he adds: —
Lockhart to John Murray.
I speak as if nothing had happened; and, after all, I myself
consider this vile pamphlet as nothing. Wilson has been a
good deal distressed about it, however; and we have, both
by writing to the Anonyme and by every other way in our
power, done our best to discover the writer. We trust in God
he may be déterré. My own suspicions rest on Graham (a
poor creature you can know nothing about), but Master Constable
must have furnished the information, and Master Pringle
has played the scoundrel to Wilson. . . . The foolish abuse
of your personal behaviour, in this pamphlet, cannot of course
at all trouble you for more than a single moment.
The young men forgot how eagerly Messrs Hunt
and Hazlitt had endeavoured to déterrer themselves,
which was foolish: but they were young, and not
examples of wisdom. There is a long letter from
Mr Murray, published in his memoir, on this subject,
part of which I may quote. He evidently writes in
much impatience and annoyance; but his advice is
scarcely so virtuous in its character as usual: —
John Murray to W. Blackwood.
I really can recollect no parallel to the palpable absurdity
of your two friends. They have actually given up themselves
as the authors of the offences charged upon them, by implication
only, in the pamphlet. How they could possibly conceive
that the writer of the pamphlet would be such an idiot
as to quit his stronghold of concealment and allow his head
to be chopped off by exposure, I am at a loss to conceive.
Their only course was to have affected, and indeed to have
felt, the most perfect indifference, and to have laughed at the
rage which dictated so much scurrility; slyly watching to
discover the author, whom, without appearing to know as such,
they could have annoyed in every possible way.
We think, on the whole, we prefer the way of
Lockhart and Wilson, even though it was silly, to
Mr Murray's method; but he was much irritated, as
was natural, and, after an indignant protest, expressed
in the strongest terms, of injury on his own account,
he adds, "I declare to God, that had I known what
I had so incautiously engaged in, I would not have
undertaken what I have done, or have suffered what
I have in my feelings and character, which no man
had hitherto the slightest cause for assailing: I
would not have done so for any sum." But he
ends off amicably enough with excellent advice as
to the future. Both parties, indeed, console the
other under the offence, which both resent hotly
for themselves. "Of course it cannot trouble you
for more than a single moment," say the young
But [adds Mr Murray, with a valorous impulse], being in, I
am determined to go through with you; and, if our friends will
only act with redoubled discretion, we may get the better of
this check and yet gain a victory. They should by a masterly
effort pluck the thing out of their minds. The only course to
be taken now, is to redouble every effort for the improvement
of the Magazine. Let us take public estimation by assault: by
the irresistible effect of talent employed on subjects that are
interesting: and, above all, I say to collect information on
passing events. Our editors are totally mistaken in thinking
that this consists in laborious essays. These are very good as
accessories, but the flesh and blood and bones is information.
That will make the public eager to get us at the end of every
It is a curious instance of the injustice which is
never more apparent than in the sweep of popular
opinion, that the "laborious essays," of which Mr
Murray was so contemptuous, included among others
the fine criticisms and noble defence by which, more
than anything else except his own merits, the fame
of Wordsworth was secured. Jeffrey has been twitted
to the most tedious extent with his "This will never
do"; but Wilson has got but little credit for the first
worthy appreciation of the Poet of the mountains.
It is a little difficult to know what was the "information"
for which the public was supposed to be so
eager. Fortunately in this respect it was the men
of letters who were in the right, and not the anxious
man of business, who probably knew his own affairs
better than he did theirs, which is a thing that even
the wisest are slow to perceive.
After this, however, the union was not too cordial
between Edinburgh and London. A good deal of
troubled correspondence went on, Mr Murray a little
fretful and anxious for his own spotless reputation,
while Mr Blackwood and his merry men, who were
always more or less unruly, apologised or sometimes
laughed a little in their sleeve, satisfied with the
sweep of their own going, and not to be controlled.
In January 1819, however, matters came to a crisis.
Murray's name disappeared from the Magazine, and
the bond was broken.
I find a curious letter in the course of the same
year from Mr Murray to Mr Thomas Blackwood,
who would seem to have sent him a note for £1000,
apparently in reply to some complaints as to the
delay of business settlements, that being the exact
sum which he had invested in the Magazine. Murray
returned the note, with a declaration that he wanted
no payment or security for payment which was not
in the usual way of business, but adding a somewhat
querulous list of complaints against his former
J. Murray to Thomas Blackwood.
When your brother was in London on the occasion of my
secession from his Magazine, we agreed that this circumstance
was to make no alteration in the understanding on which our
other transactions had been hitherto conducted. Since which
he has not performed his part of a written agreement respecting
the Magazine: he refused to SELL one 1 of the works which I
sent to him; he has not sent his publications, or made the offer
1 Don Juan: humorous explanation of the same afterwards given, p. 380.
of them to me as heretofore, although he has received every
work that I have published, in the true spirit of the understanding
in which we parted. In fact, it is he who has withdrawn
his business and agency from me.
I am fully sensible of the fairness of your judgment and of
the correctness of your feelings; and to these I can in safety
appeal, if you will abstract yourself from other considerations
and will ask this broad question, Whether that man can be
wholly in the wrong, or can have entertained any bad feeling
towards your brother, who has for more than ten years poured
into his business all the credit and advantages of a series of the
most respectable and fortunate publications that have appeared?
What these advantages must have been, you may form some
estimate of when I say that the agency of such a book as
Marriage' produces £50 in the course of a year; and such, I
think, no man of business can deny to be an object of attention.
In fact, we have never had any dispute before the appearance
of a Magazine which has involved every one connected with it
in alternate anxiety, disgrace, and misery.
From this point the fateful periodical which was to
make Blackwood's name and his fortune was subject,
even in the smallest share, to no stranger's control.
Henceforward, anxious but indomitable, holding in
his Pegasus as well as he could, sometimes permitting
himself to be run away with, sometimes pulling up hard
with a great effort, but always steady as a rock to his
engagements, his opinions, and his friends, William
Blackwood stood alone to take all the risks and fight
all the battles. And that his life was full of agitation,
and the struggle a hard one, there can be no doubt.
To show what he had to undergo we take up with
a thrill of sympathy, which nowadays cannot but be
mixed with amusement, three letters, all by the hands
most renowned in Edinburgh, and representing the
élite of the literary world, the last of the former generation,
more lordly, more formal, than the present,
which had once held the northern capital in fee. Mr
Henry Mackenzie, the Man of Feeling, the author of
'Julia de Roubigné,' a work which our grandfathers
believed to be equal to Rousseau, the most perfect
Man of Letters perhaps left in the land, hitherto a
friend and patron of Blackwood, and consulted by
him on many literary subjects, is the author of the
first of these letters: —
Henry Mackenzie to W Blackwood.
HERIOT Row, Tuesday, 31st March 1818.
It is with regret that Mr Mackenzie finds himself obliged to
return the enclosed Magazine, which contains several good
articles, but mixed with some things so offensive that he would
not wish it to be found lying on his table. In taking leave of
its publisher and editor he cannot avoid warning them (and he
is sure "with a friendly voice") to abstain from personal detraction,
which may perhaps gratify or amuse a small proportion
of frivolous or ill-natured readers, but will certainly disgust
that more respectable class from whose good opinion only solid
and lasting reputation can be acquired.
The second is from Mr Patrick Fraser-Tytler, the
historian, another great local potentate, and is still
more tremendous in disapproval, and splendid in pomp
of virtue: —
Patrick Fraser-Tytler to W. Blackwood.
PRINCES STREET, 24th March 1818.
When I lately saw you I had only glanced over your last
number. I have since had leisure to read some part of it, more
especially your prefatory poetical Address to Correspondents, and
I must say I have done so both with pain and disappointment.
When you first commenced your literary journal you consulted
me on the subject, and I told you that I thought there
was an excellent opening for a periodical work of that nature,
provided it was well conducted. Under these ideas I was by
no means unwilling now and then to send you any literary
trifle that was lying by me, and altho' I never intended to
become either to yours or to any other periodical a regular
contributor, yet I should have been really happy to have seen
your new attempt go on well. It seems, however, that to
gratify the public taste, for I cannot think that these severities
can be personally gratifying either to yourself or to your Editor,
you are compelled to fill your pages with personal attacks, and
by these means, relying upon the ill-nature of the world, to
promote the sale of your journal. . . . What object you
propose to yourself in giving unnecessary pain, and exposing to
undeserved ridicule any set of respectable men, such as I conceive
your fellow-booksellers to be, or to what purpose you
have attacked the quiet and inoffensive authors who have no
desire to contaminate the public morals, and no ability to
vitiate the public taste, but who find an innocent amusement
in writing poor works, and are already unhappy because nobody
reads them, I cannot possibly understand. It may be this does
increase your sale; yet I must look upon that gain as loss
which is purchased by such mercenary criticism. . . . It is
on this account and for these reasons that I must request you
never to apply to me for any further article in your journal;
for however unable it might be to stand beside many I have
read there in point of ability, I should be ashamed to give any
countenance, how trifling soever, to such gross and personal
attacks as you have not scrupled to publish. You will have
the goodness also to direct your clerk not to send any future
number to me.
Poor Mr Blackwood! Probably he did not see
anything at all funny in this solemn denunciation
of the "mercenary criticism," which cost him a good
deal of honest money out of his pocket, and so many
dignified scoldings and advices. But no doubt the
young men laughed to all the echoes, and were delighted
with the pompous disapproval of the elders,
who, when they oped their mouths, felt that no dog
should bark. The cause of all this indignation was
simple enough. It was a rhymed example of those
Notices to Correspondents which we read now, occasionally
with amusement, in so many papers, and
which had been, from the 'Spectator's' day, a handy
medium for a little poke of fun or satire. It is not
much more than doggerel, though clever doggerel,
and did not even form part of the Magazine, being
prefixed something in the fashion of an advertisement.
To take it seriously seems the most amusing circumstance
of all. But we cannot think it was amusing
to Blackwood, whatever the young lions might think.
Still more hard upon him was the following, the first
of these great cannonadings, and from his own particular
creation as a successful author, Dr M'Crie. It
is dated January 5, 1818: —
Dr Thomas M'Crie to W. Blackwood.
I find it necessary to explain myself to you on a subject to
which you have repeatedly adverted of late in conversation, my
continuing to contribute to your Magazine. This I would have
done sooner, but I wished to deliberate before deciding; and
even after coming to a resolution I felt unpleasant in communicating
it. You will readily anticipate from this what I
am about to say, that I do not feel myself at liberty to be
considered as a contributor to the work. My determination
does not turn upon the Chaldee Manuscript, which has made
so much noise. You know that I disapproved it, and are in
possession of my reasons. But I looked, and still look, upon
it as a single fault, which there was no reason to fear should
be repeated. . . . My objections rest on the papers relating to
religion which have made their appearance of late. It is
evident to me from these that it is the design of the conductors
to make religion a subject of discussion; and the
sentiments brought forward and the feelings recommended are
so utterly repugnant to mine, that I choose neither to implicate
myself in a tacit approbation of them by contributing to the
work in which they hold so prominent a place, nor to involve
myself in a dispute by contradicting them in the manner in
which otherwise I would think it my duty to do.
This was almost the unkindest cut of all; for the
opinions of the Magazine were always strictly orthodox,
and Wilson and Lockhart were both of the mind
to make up for a little profanity in secular affairs by
the profoundest reverence in things sacred. Indeed,
the lawsuit which presently brought a little more
excitement into the affairs of the Magazine (which
never had been wanting in animation) was founded on
an assault upon Professor John Leslie, Professor of
Natural History in the University of Edinburgh, for
various offences against religious teaching, and chiefly
for his description of the language in which the Bible
was written as "the poorest and rudest in the world."
This certainly "did not in Cæsar seem" irreligious;
but it would appear that Dr M'Crie objected to any
discussions of religion, even from the safer side, in the
pages of a Magazine. This combination of missiles
rushing through the air at Blackwood's head from
quarters so different gives a very clear idea of what
our excellent founder had to suffer. It was a little
hard to be hectored on the subject with the severe
questions, "What do you propose to yourself?" and
that chiefly for the sins of others. But he stood
fast, with a steady firmness, and never flinched,
always able to defend himself, yet saying no more
than was necessary, paying his money heroically, and
biding his time.
While thus quoting the assailants, let us add a
quite unexpected and flattering note of applause from
a very different quarter. It has the stamp of the
Institut de France, Académie royale des Sciences,
with the head of Pallas in full splendour: —
PARIS, le cinq février 1818.
Le Secrétaire perpétuel de l'Académie.
MONSIEUR, — L'Acadéie royale des Sciences a reçu les
cahiers d'Octobre et de Novembre de votre 'Blackwood's
Magazine' que vous avez eu la bonté de lui envoyer et qui
lui ont été remis de votre part, par M. Biot à son retour
Votre nom était déjà bien connu de l'Institut, par l'Encyclopédie
de M. Brewster qui a enriché sa Bibliothèque. Le
succès mérité, de votre journal des articles curieux et piquans
dont il est composé sont faits pour intéresser les littérateurs de
toutes les nations qui ne seront pas arrêtés par la nécessité de se
familiariser avec un idiome moins généralement répandu: cette
difficulté même sera un attrait de plus qui doit vous assurer un
grand nombre de lecteurs par l'occasion qu'elle les fournise de
se livrés à une étude, à laquelle ils n'auraient peut-être songé
Recevez donc, monsieur, les remerciemens que l'Académie me
charge de vous faire en son nom, et en celui de tout l'Institut
de France. — J'ai l'honneur d'être, avec la plus haute considération,
monsieur, votre très humble et obéissant serviteur,
Let us hope that Mr Blackwood found balm from the
blows of his friends in this foreign testimonial. Was
the "idiome moins généralement répandu" the Scots
accent — the Doric, as it was fondly called, which all
those Scots writers half-proudly, half-shamefacedly,
pled guilty to?
The Leslie trial was not till the year 1822, and
was the last of those events. It was so much more
innocent than the Dalyell business that the article
on which it was founded contained no personal
mockery like that poured on the head of the latter
unfortunate person. "Going out of his path to
recommend an impious work," casting "an ignorant
sarcasm on the language of the Bible," being "an
object of suspicion to those who hold the Scriptures in
honour," — these were the libels upon which the action
was brought. Also that the sufferer had been called
an Enfant perdu (triumphantly proved from the French
dictionary to mean only Skirmisher). The injured
person claimed £5000 damages for his wounded reputation.
The jury gave him £100. Such a case could
not, we imagine, stand for a moment nowadays, or
else Biblical critics must have lost many a chance
of salving their injured feelings. But small as the
damages were, the defence in such a case is never
uncostly; and this substantial loss was added to the
many other troubles of the Magazine during the
first stormy ten years of its life. This is now the
mythic period, the heroic age of its history. The
rights and the wrongs, once so fiercely contending,
have died away into silence. Youth plays the
same or very similar pranks around us at the present
time in many papers and magazines; but we miss
the boyish laughter, the redeeming element of fun,
which was in so much of it. The young critics of
'Blackwood,' in the exuberance of their mischievous
fancy, had not the portentous gravity which is so
general now.
AMONG the younger men who gathered about Mr
Blackwood — first on the South Bridge, and afterwards
in his more aristocratic quarters in Princes
Street — there was none more remarkable than John
Gibson Lockhart, of whom and of whose doings the
reader already knows so much. There are many of
his letters in the Blackwood collection, but amid all
the packets of them which are before me scarcely one
has a date. They are written on "Friday morning,"
or on the 20th, say, of some month, sometimes named
"October," "January," sometimes not; the year never.
The subjects of them are almost invariably articles in
the Magazine, but even these indicated with such a
flying hand, things already half talked over by word
of mouth, that it would require the minutest research
to identify exactly what they are about. This produces
a wealth, yet at the same time a poverty — or
rather, a sense of wealth in the midst of actual poverty
— which is exceedingly tantalising to the biographer.
He seems to be told so much, yet knows so little;
learning a great deal of the man, but very little about
him; a glimpse at his inner self, but nothing at all of
the outside. We shall do our best to put before the
reader this very active member of the brotherhood —
the one whose exertions had the greatest influence
upon the new Magazine, the most romantic and picturesque
figure among them, notwithstanding the
Jove-like presence of Wilson, who was not by any
means so unusual a type, in his big, magnificent fairness
and size, as the darker, slimmer figure standing
by him — all energy and darting wit on one side, all
kindness and tender domestic feeling on the other;
fastidious, keen, refined, yet quite capable of picking
up the coarsest missile, and flinging it with a sudden
impulse hotter and swifter than anything the ruddy
Berserker was capable of. Men like Wilson are to be
found everywhere in Scotland, if seldom with his endowment
of genius. Men like Lockhart are very rare
He was born in 1794, and was consequently just
twenty-three when 'Blackwood's Magazine' began its
career, — the most irresponsible age, not yet free of the
traditions of boyhood, yet formally endued with the
1 Though some advantage has been taken in revision, this sketch was
written before the author had an opportunity of seeing the much longer
and more elaborate work upon Lockhart of Mr Andrew Lang: whose
book, so far as its subject himself goes, is admirable, though its tone in respect
to the Magazine is naturally to us very objectionable.
independence of the man. He was, we may premise,
ten years younger than Wilson, whom we class with
him as if they were of the same age: but Wilson was
always a boy, which was not Lockhart's case. He
was the son of a much-respected Scotch minister holding
at that time a charge in Glasgow. His father was
of the class called squarson in England — half laird,
half minister — though he did not succeed to the lairdship
till the end of his life, — a class not so much represented
in the Church of Scotland nowadays as at that
time: and the son was thus a Lockhart of a well-known
family, "come of kept folk," — an advantage always of
the greatest importance both to a man's character and
his fortune. He was educated at Glasgow University,
and went thereafter, as so many of the best scholars
of Glasgow do, by means of the Snell Scholarship, to
Balliol, Oxford, which was not then, perhaps, so distinguished
a college as it is now. But the Snell
scholar has almost always been distinguished, and
every generation of them has produced notable members,
to the embellishment of their second home of
learning, and the great honour and glory of the first.
There is a curious story told in this beginning of his
career, which is highly characteristic of him and of his
after-ways. On some occasion, unidentified, he sent
in to his tutor an exercise, apparently in Hebrew, to
the confusion but great admiration of the tutor, who
carried this learned production to the Master, who
presumably possessed some knowledge of that language.
After some examination, and no doubt much
puzzling, this recondite study turned out to be a piece
of satire aimed at the unsuspecting tutor himself, in
good English, written in Hebrew characters — Hebrew
forming part of the ordinary studies in Glasgow of
theological students, from whom this daring young
joker had no doubt picked up a knowledge of the
characters. Dons are not good people generally to
joke with, but it would seem that no particular harm
came of this mystification. On leaving Oxford, which
he did at a very early age, he came to Edinburgh to
study law, and was duly called to the bar in 1816,
and began with other young men those fruitless perambulations
of the Parliament House which have
wearied out so many aspirants, and sent them off
into the paths of literature and others as precarious.
Here, with the instinctive forgathering of like to
like, he made close friends with John Wilson, a young
man only like him in the fine fantastic distinction of
genius, which naturally nobody knew of in these days,
and in the external circumstances of life. Wilson
was of the nouveaux riches, not such a phalanx then
as now. He had gone long before Lockhart's time
as a gentleman-commoner to Magdalen, the most expensive
thing to be done, of which the Snell Scholar
would no doubt be scornful. But the instincts of
youth ignore such distinctions, and Wilson's university
record was also brilliant. They became inseparable,
the one stirring up the other to all kinds of glorious
designs. Wilson was already a poet, author of the
"Isle of Palms" and various other copies of verses, of
which his companion probably thought nothing, and
he himself not much. It is curious, however, that by
right of this production Wilson continued for many
years to be named at the tail of the so-called Lake
poets as one of their school.
These two young men soon acquired a daily habit
of dropping into Blackwood's establishment in Princes
Street, of which one of them a few years later gave
a delightful description in 'Peter's Letters to his
Kinsfolk': —
You have an oval saloon lighted from the roof, where various
groups of loungers and dilettanti are engaged in looking at or
criticising among themselves the publications just arrived by
that day's post from town. In such critical colloquies the
voice of the bookseller may ever and anon be heard mingling
the broad and unadulterated tones of its Auld Reekie music;
for unless occupied in the recesses of his premises with some
other business, it is here that he has his usual station. 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 could be more intelligent, keen,
and sagacious than the expression of his whole physiognomy;
above all the grey eyes and eyebrows, as full of locomotion as
those of Catalani.
The young man who, when he had become a literary
personage by the agency of the Magazine, wrote the
above, had the best of reasons for appreciating the generous
publisher who began to influence his life from
his very first appearance in Edinburgh. Lockhart
was a linguist, an elegant accomplishment rather
than a necessity of education in his day; and knew
German, then only beginning to come into favour as
a storehouse of literature: and it was his eager desire
to go to Germany to complete his knowledge, and
with the view of translating something by way of
paying his expenses. Mr Blackwood evidently from
the first had believed in the youth, and it was he who
furnished the funds for the journey. He lent, or it
would be more true to say gave, a sum which, we
believe, was at least "£300 or perhaps more," to the
young literary adventurer, for which he received a
translation of Schlegel's Lectures on the History of
Literature. The book seems to have done well
enough, and many years later, when its author was
well known, came to a second edition; but this act of
liberality and confidence must have been a powerful
retaining fee.
Wilson had no such bond to the publisher's service;
but he was eager for work, and ready for any
They both began to help a little in the original
series of the 'Edinburgh Monthly Magazine,' as
edited by Pringle and Cleghorn; and no doubt it
was partly their brilliant talk and literary ambition,
and eager desire to find a fit medium of expression
for the opinions and ideas with which their minds
were overflowing, and especially for that "criticism of
life" which, whether in poetry or in prose, it is the
first mission and yearning of the young writer to get
into print, that sustained and inspired Mr Blackwood
in his determination to take the periodical, of which
he, still more than the young men, saw the possibilities,
out of the incapable hands which were conducting
it into pure mediocrity.
The question whether there was or was not an
Editor, or rather a couple of Editors, to the new
series, in succession to the old, is one that has been
very much disputed. I do not think that the reader,
after the glimpses into the Blackwood correspondence
which I have been able to give, can have much doubt
that the Magazine was, as I have before said, in commission,
the committee of three occupying intermittently
the supreme chair — one number sometimes in
one man's charge, sometimes in another's, now one
judgment uppermost and now another, but the veto
always in Blackwood's hands, even in the few months
when the influence of Murray made itself felt, and
bound down a very independent and high-spirited
group of men to an unwilling and rare compliance with
rule and formula which was quite against their nature.
A few letters from Lockhart addressed to a "Welsh
clergyman of the name of Williams," who was, I am
told, the brother of Archdeacon Williams, afterwards
for a number of years headmaster of the Edinburgh
Academy, were printed in several numbers of the
'London Scotsman' — an extinct paper — in May 1868,
and throw a great deal of light upon the situation.
The first is in the usual tone employed by all the
members of the triumvirate to possible contributors,
frank and even eager acceptance of proposed articles
from everybody supposed to possess talent or learning
(especially the latter, on which the two Oxford men
were strong, evidently troubled by the absence of
scholarship which they found in Edinburgh on their
return thither) — which enthusiasm of welcome, however,
did not hinder, or even modify, the relentless rejection
of such articles when not approved. Lockhart
informs his Welsh friend that the articles he proposes
are "exactly of the kind most wanted by
Blackwood: for we can get enough of jokes and
criticisms — to be sure far from the best in their way
sometimes: but in this country-town of ours, which
you are pleased to call by a fairer name than it
deserves, by far the greatest rarities are information
worthy of being so called and learning of any kind."
There is a frankness about the following description
of the Magazine in question, No. I. of the new series
— the number for October 1817 — which is quite
unlike anything else which we have heard on the
subject: —
J G. _Lockhart to Rev. Mr Williams.
February 21, 1818.
The two papers you mention as having particularly pleased
you are the work of two very different persons, the first, "Dandy
Dinmont," being mine, and the "Depravity of Animals" —
certainly one of the best pieces of grave burlesque since Swift
— Walter Scott's. W. Scott is much interested in Blackwood
and his Magazine, and has communicated something to each of
the last five numbers. So has old Mackenzie, the "Man of
Feeling," but I must say his day has gone by; so have Dr G.
D. Clarke, Thomson the chemist, Jameson the mineralogist,
D. Brewster, J. Wilson Croker (bad), so that you have at least
some good names to support you, though I confess that, chiefly
owing to the insertion of a rash jeu d'esprit in the number you
have seen, the chief burden since October has fallen on Wilson
and myself. Wilson must have been your contemporary at
Oxford: you are no stranger to his genius.
I know you are a Whig, but you are not a Democratical one,
therefore all good Britons must in main points agree with you.
Christianity is a subject which you know none but boys and
fools will make light of in print, therefore I am sure that
anything John could write would of course do. But, I confess,
if you like to write on politics, I hope you will write something
off the line of the 'Edinburgh Review'; for admirable as it is,
I think it is now a little stale — still more off the line of the
blundering and bigoted pedantry of the 'Quarterly' and its
crew. I am sure you loathe Croker and Southey's politics as
much as myself.
The truth is that no subject can come wrong to you, but I
really know not what particular bent your studies have taken.
If you have plunged deep into the higher philosophy, and could
write on these subjects, you would supply our greatest vacuum.
If you have, as I suspect, studied British history more, and
more deeply than most men, surely there could be no field
more glorious than this. A little liberal classical criticism
comes to us like a delightful stranger from a more happy land,
and I know you can command this pleasure for us without any
trouble to yourself. In the notice prefixed to No. 7 of the
Magazine occur names of various articles. Such of them as
have not since appeared do not exist, and may be called into
being by you as well as by any other. After all we have had
about Burns, a letter from you would still be most acceptable.
An account of the plans for a seminary of education in Wales
would be equally so, as some talk has lately been going on both
here and in Liverpool in regard to educational schemes. Did I
not formerly mention a paper on the probable reception Prince
Charles would have met with in Wales? N.B. — A little
memoir of Colonel Johnes, with some account of his library,
an account of the state of religion in your country, &c., &c. A
little theology would be capital. The Scots divines are very
ignorant. I hope, then, that "Cambria" will not be the only
thing of yours in the next number. Blackwood publishes on
the 20th here, but your parcel may be in good time if you send
it off immediately on receipt of this. If you have any curiosity,
I will send you an index of authors to the different numbers of
the Magazine since October.
We begin to hope that Hunt won't prosecute.
This, perhaps, is the only letter of Lockhart's extant
that can be called boyish. His eagerness to confide
all the secrets of the Magazine to his Welsh friend,
though so strongly against the principles of the
brotherhood, his still greater eagerness to intrust
him with any subject under heaven, looks more like
the delight of sudden and precocious power, and a
rapturous sense of his own position as the very opener
of the gates of Fame and Fortune, than anything else
that ever appears — at least in the aspect of him which
we are accustomed to. It is sad to think that the
man to whom he offered so many openings — from
Burns to the Welsh Seminary, which it is interesting
to hear was thought of so long ago — from philosophy,
classics, and the state of religion, down to an account
of Colonel Johnes' library — does not make any continuous
appearance in the records of Blackwood:
neither he nor "John," who was the future Archdeacon
himself, responding as appears to this large and liberal
call. The second letter of the series proves that his
correspondent did something in this earlier period of
'Maga's' career: —
J. G. Lockhart to Mr Williams.
July 8, 1818.
Your letter and the packet to Mr Blackwood arrived to-day.
How long they have been on their travels God only knows, for
you have affixed no date to either of them. Although the
history of the Minstrel of Bruges is very amusing, I think your
Triads are more so, and look better at the beginning of a series;
so they appear this month under the title of "Horæ Cambricæ,"
No. 1. Next month follows the life of your hero as No. 2, and
I hope there is no fear of the series being a short one. I regret
extremely that Ebony's vile sloth has caused the delay of the
Magazine, but I trust it will reach you as soon as this letter,
and henceforth every letter shall pass regularly to you by a few
days after the 1st of each month. May none arrive to which
you can say, Τε μοι καὶ σοι
I had some days ago a very good and pretty long letter from
John, in which he favoured me with a narrative of the row in
Winchester College, and with some bitter epithets against the
propriety of attacking such a character as Mr Examiner Hunt.
Even my high opinion of my friend's sagacity is insufficient to
make me enter into or sympathise with any feelings of respect
for such a conceited, coxcombical incendiary. But — dangerous
Should you visit the North in the summer, I fear you would
not find much to amuse you in the way of society here; but in
the winter I imagine few places can be more abundant in good
society — the best I have ever seen, because it is so thoroughly
mingled — i.e., there are not enough of different sorts of people
to make different circles as in London, and they all move together
very amicably and agreeably — Peers, Lairds, Advocates,
Reviewers, Poets, &c. It is very amusing certainly, and worth
coming to taste, at all events for once. With the high men of
letters here I have very slight acquaintance; indeed I do not
admire any of them much except Scott, and he is an exception
to what I have said, for he has been very kind to me often, and
I spend many hours every week in his house. I shall mention
to you what I do not to any one here: that he has asked me
to write for him the history of the 'Edinburgh Annual Register,'
the allowance for which is £500 per annum, and I have
accepted his offer. This is done sub rosa, the booksellers knowing
nothing of it. I fancy his novels occupy him so much that
he really could not proceed with it any longer. The years '16
and '17 are both to be done, so I have work enough on hand;
but I mean to finish both within a year, which will be £1000
in my pocket, and afterwards I think the business may be
managed without very much labour.
Blackwood, I rejoice to say, flourishes mightily; his sale
increases vastly every month, and he is praised everywhere.
The third of these letters, in some respects the
most interesting of the three, throws a curious new
light upon the circumstances, and discloses the short-lived
arrangement which existed through a few numbers
only: —
J. G. Lockhart to .Mr Williams.
If you have seen No. 7 of 'Blackwood's Magazine' you
will have perceived that he has now got a partner in the concern
who, it is supposed, may have it in his power vastly to
improve it. Murray had a scheme, you recollect, of setting up
a Magazine of his own some time ago. He printed 12,000 of
the first number, but lost heart and never published. Barrow
of the Admiralty was to be the editor, but he is sadly deficient
in the Literæ Humaniores, and has never read anything but
geography. Murray and Blackwood, however, may now do
much in unison.
The two bibliopoles have offered John Wilson and myself
£500 a-year between us to conduct their Magazine, and to pay
its and our friends at the handsomest rate they can afford per
sheet for what we write. This agreement we have made for
one year, at the end of which we expect the work will be
established, so as to afford better things. They at present
print 6000, and expect soon to sell that number regularly.
Our only object is to make the book a good one: to this you
can much contribute, and I trust you will do so, and you shall
be paid for your trouble. Of the last Welsh pieces you have
sent, I am afraid most are too strictly antiquarian, and locally
so, for the Magazine readers in their present uninitiated state.
Do give us some things more in the fashion of the Tale of Ivan,
more intelligible to all to begin with. Mr Merivale, author of
'Orlando in Roncesvalles,' who was a friend of Mr Johnes, and
may therefore be known to you, has agreed to write a good deal,
and I think his knowledge of old French and Italian books may
render him a most valuable hand. . . . It strikes me that
a most amusing series of papers might be given on the Fathers,
translating and commenting on those rare views of society and
manners, and also those specimens of eloquence which are lost
to the world in that mass of unread folios. Would you undertake
this? I suppose you have, or could easily procure, copies
of the most important, and I really conceive you might furnish
us with a most valuable body of entertaining as well as instructive
matter. Think of this: you will perceive very soon a
change, I hope much for the better, in the contents of the
Magazine. Whatever you can do in the way of curious information,
above all things, will be paid for handsomely and
instantly, in case these should be matters of any moment in
your eyes: for the longer one lives the more visible becomes
the ubiquity of the reign of Diva Pecunia.
The statement in this letter of the absolute engagement
of Lockhart and Wilson to edit the Magazine is
the sole trace existing, so far as I am aware, of any
arrangement of the kind: and my instinctive idea on
reading it was that it must have been a temporary
plan of Murray's, who loved to do things formally and
in order, and to whose ideas an editor would be as
necessary for a Magazine as a handle to a door. I
have ascertained since that this was precisely the
fact. Murray's partnership with Blackwood lasted,
however, as the reader has seen, for six months
only, and this engagement produced nothing but the
already quoted letter inserted in our last chapter from
these two responsible (though so completely irresponsible)
persons, whom Blackwood calls "our friends,"
and who ran wilder riot than ever, as far as they
could, while in their temporary authority. They
never got the money, I am told, thus promised —
(at all events both denied strenuously in after life
having ever received a penny for editorial work) —
and I do not think that even for these six months
they were ever free from the silent authority behind
backs, who indeed permitted a great deal to their
audacity, but not all.
Lockhart's proposal that his correspondent should
make amusing papers on the Fathers, and their rare
views of society and manners, is a wonderful suggestion;
and the idea of the Welsh divine searching
for fun and frolic in the pages of the 'Acta Sanctorum,'
of which he could easily procure copies, is
more amusing and original than we fear the papers
would have been. Our young man is never elsewhere
so young, so elated, or so important as in
this curious scrap of correspondence. I am sorry
there is no more of it.
They were idle young men, and, according to all
the usual estimates, it was a rash thing to depend
upon them and their flighty exertions for the success
of a grave undertaking; but Blackwood had a keen
eye for character, and divined his men more justly
than their fellows: besides, he had the very exceptional
gift of influencing and guiding the unruly
Pegasus, which probably would not have gone soberly
in harness for any other man. They treated him
sometimes a little cavalierly, from that de haut en
bas of education and conscious genius on which the
Oxford scholar, freshly issued from the mint of intellectual
superiority, is apt to feel himself elevated,
looking down upon the general world; but they
acknowledged his power with more or less cordiality,
laughing at it sometimes and taking it as a good joke,
at other times straining against the curb, but on the
whole recognising the guidance with sufficiently good
grace, notwithstanding their self-will and the impetuosity
of their natures. It would scarcely seem to
have been suspected by others that such coadjutors
were really and seriously to be trusted for steady
work. "They were so constantly employed," says
Mr R. P. Gillies — himself afterwards a member of the
Blackwood band—in his 'Recollections of a Literary
Veteran,' "in giggling and making giggle, like Cowper
and Thurlow in another generation, that they seemed
to have no time for work." Lockhart, besides being
the greatest wit, was the caricaturist of the gay
party: no one was safe from him, specially not himself,
of whom he made prim sketches, in all the
stiffness of correct demeanour which veiled his wild
and headlong fancy. All the Edinburgh notabilities
came under the very sharp pen of the reckless artist
— the judge on the bench and the preacher in the
pulpit. I find, however, a pen-and-ink sketch of a
head, which I suppose to be that of Mr Blackwood,
among these dusty papers, not satirical at all, as
like as possible to the literary portrait which has
just been quoted. Lockhart was himself a handsome
young fellow, dark and brilliant, a little reserved
in manner, very shy! with a winning air of half-melancholy,
unobtrusive, well-mannered in society.
There is something curious in the contrast between
the external description thus given of him, and the
reputation which he soon acquired of reckless indifference
to the feelings of others, and a bitterness
of wit which was tempered by no regard for his
neighbour. "The Scorpion which delighteth to sting
the faces of men" was no undeserved nickname, but
seems to describe his peculiar character with considerable
insight. Was it his own? We are disposed
to suspect it was.
He was not a swashbuckler like Wilson, making
his sword whistle round his head, and cutting men
down on every side. His satire was mischievous,
virulent, not so much from hate as from nature. It
was as if he had a physical necessity for discharging
that point of venom, which he emitted suddenly without
warning, without passion or excitement, proceeding
on his way gaily with perfect unconcern when the
dart was flung. It is impossible to imagine anything
more unlike the roaring choruses of conviviality which
were supposed to distinguish Ambrose's than this
reticent, sensitive, attractive, yet dangerous youth,
by whose charm such a giant as Scott was immediately
subjugated, and who slew his victims mostly by
the midnight oil, not by any blaze of gaiety, or in the
accumulative fervour of social sarcasm. From him
came the most of those sharp things which the victims
could not forget. Wilson hacked about him, distributing
blows right and left, delivered sometimes for fun,
though sometimes with the most extraordinary impulse
of perversity, in the impetus of his career. Lockhart
put in his sting in a moment, inveterate, instantaneous,
with the effect of a barbed dart — yet almost, as it
seemed, with the mere intention of giving point to his
sentences, and no particular feeling at all.
He was, like the others — like most of the notable
young men in Edinburgh in their several generations
— a briefless barrister, an advocate without clients. It
is said that, though he could write with such force,
he was incapable of public speaking, and therefore
could not have succeeded as a pleader before law
courts, under any circumstances. He was, as we
have noted, a linguist — an accomplishment much more
rare then than now, though even now it is not too
common. He was capable of incursions into that
dark German sphere, of which in those days the world
in general knew so little, had encountered and been
noticed by Goethe, and was sufficiently familiar with
local colour and phraseology to report the opinions
of apocryphal German professors, giving perhaps a
suggestion to Thomas Carlyle, whose Teufelsdröckh
was indeed of a very different order from Lockhart's
Dr Ulrich Sternstare or Baron von Lauerwinkel, but
who might have caught the idea from his predecessor.
Lockhart was also one of the first modern translators
and expositors of Spanish literature, which was a
more elegant language, and one more romantic and
gentlemanlike, according to the fancy of the time.
He was indeed a very Proteus of literary capacity,
and could disport himself within the covers of one
Magazine under half-a-dozen different characters.
His wonderful powers of work have already been
remarked. He idled or seemed to idle through the
day, absorbed in the cheerful nothings of a young
man's life in town, and probably went home late like
the rest of his kind, but all the same had his sheet
ready for the Magazine next morning. Nerves were
happily unknown in those days. Men feared overwork
as little as they feared writer's cramp, an exquisite
malady which was almost epidemic a short
while ago, but now seems happily to have died out
of fashion again.
After the commotion of the immediate beginning,
the new periodical went on with great vigour, asserting
by all its mouths, for the satisfaction of Mr Murray
and other fastidious persons, that the "personalities"
had come to an end, and that henceforward its progress
was to be virtuous beyond all the usual requirements
of virtue. Murray dropped off, as we have
seen, perhaps with but a limited confidence in those
promises, perhaps for other reasons; but we can
scarcely pretend that the personalities did cease. The
Cockney School continued to be the object of unsparing
attack, and other opponents arose, natural
foes of the Tory band, natural rivals for the public
approval. There was a raid against the 'Scotsman,'
the well-known Edinburgh paper, which then
was laying the foundations of its great popularity,
and which being as Whig as Blackwood was Tory,
had violently attacked the Magazine. This, however,
raised no great grievance or complaint, for in the
unusual instances when "hawks" do "pike out hawks'
een," the spectators are generally too thankful to see
their arms turned against each other to interfere, and
the newspaper was baited by the Magazine under the
form of a mad bull, with lively illustrations and to
the general delight. The Cockney School also replied
at intervals, with much splutter of returning musketry
from the 'Examiner' and other papers devoted to
that school in London, and there were renewed threats
of actions from Hunt and Hazlitt, from time to time,
but no further harm done. I do not know by whom
the idea of a series of papers, in which the affairs of
the world, the characteristics of the party, and things
in general, should be treated in the imaginary talk of
a number of half-fictitious persons, was first conceived.
It was, however, begun some time before the day of
the 'Noctes,' whether tentatively or accidentally, by
the record of a sort of literary picnic and expedition
to the Kirk of Shotts, and by a further and more prolonged
excursion, in which the members of the brotherhood,
after their rambles or their sport, met in a Tent,
and discussed over their toddy every subject in earth
and heaven. The same idea, with a difference, had
already been used in a series of letters, professedly
by Timothy Tickler, which was the pseudonym of one
of the older men of the brotherhood, Mr Robert
Sym, the uncle of John Wilson, who afterwards became
one of the most notable figures in the 'Noctes.'
I do not imagine, however, that either the letters of
Timothy or his after-utterances in the 'Noctes' were
actually from his hand, though he had a small share
now and then, among the many who took part in the
production of these amusing monologues or dialogues.
Such light summer divertisements ended in the institution
of the Evenings at Ambrose's, where, independent
of wind or weather, the beauties of nature or
the attractions of sport, a certain merry circle were
supposed to assemble, and carry on the same discussions,
with a continuity which made of the 'Noctes'
one of the most admirable mediums for the "criticism
of life" that was ever known — as well as, perhaps, the
most popular and living series of periodical literary
sketches ever given to the world.
There are few ideas in literature more attractive
than that of the 'Noctes' — especially in that periodical
literature which is never so powerful as when it
can manage to prolong the interest of the reader from
publication to publication, giving him as it were himself
a part to play in the discussions which are there
carried on. This continual commentary, putting public
events and books, and all the undertakings of the
period, to the test of reason or of imagination, discussing
the people and the things of common life for us
and with us, in the freedom of literary irresponsibility
yet authority: or with the light and rapid survey of
a still easier tribunal, at which the ludicrous side of
life is the favourite aspect — has a never-failing charm.
It is delightful for the writer and the reader alike,
and when well done is the most effectual criticism
that can be of the varied drama of existence which
goes on around us, and is our chief interest. The
writers of 'Blackwood's Magazine' added a new attraction
to this lively review of life by producing
themselves in their own differing individualities in
the foreground, a gay and reckless yet powerful band,
wielding the flying pen in caricature of each other,
in light-hearted personal sallies and attacks, in which
each man had the power of instant retaliation upon
his neighbour, and all went merry as marriage-bells.
It was true that it was generally a Barmecide's feast
at which these imaginary sittings were held, and the
draughts of the giants therein recorded were the completest
fiction; but as the lively manuscript passed
from hand to hand, or two of the laughing critics
laid their heads together over it, each man's sayings
were probably more like him and true to nature than
if the mirth of Ambrose's had been as noisy as they
pretended it to be.
The letters of Lockhart which are to be found in
the overflowing repositories of Blackwood are considerable
in number, but they are extremely fragmentary
and hasty in character. They give us a flying glimpse
of the man in his overflowing energy and haste of
youth, dashing off advice, direction, suggestion, as
fast as his fingers can move over the paper, and with
all the sharpness and decision of his age and character
— without, however, penetrating into the inmost soul
of him, or revealing much of his profounder nature.
I have not, indeed, seen any of Lockhart's letters
which do this. He was not introspective, according
to the favourite jargon of our time. His age had
scarcely begun to indulge in such terms, or to unrobe
itself before the public. His letters to Blackwood
are chiefly a series of illustrations of the work of the
Magazine. They are the rapid billets interchanged
by men who saw each other every day, or most days,
and who spoke to each other as much by allusions
understood by both as by formal statements. They
show better, however, than anything else could do the
position of the curious little company, writers and
publisher, and the very peculiar place held by Mr
Blackwood among those hot-headed and high-spirited
young men, who were occasionally rebellious, sometimes
impertinent, now and then overbearing; but
who one and all had an almost childlike confidence in
his perfect friendship and well-meaning towards them,
along with an almost invariable, though often unwilling
and impatient, submission to his judgment.
"The man clothed in plain apparel," plain too in all
his pretensions, and even in the style, not literary or
aiming at effect, but always forcible, sensible, and
vigorous in expression, with which he replied — kept
his place among them, steadily holding to his own
view in face of all petulance and resistance, though
always an enthusiast for literary excellence, and lavish
in appreciation and praise.
These letters, as has been already said, are bewildering
to the unfortunate historian, for they are
absolutely without date; and as they were, it is to be
supposed, generally delivered by hand, or sent in a
parcel of books by the coach, there is not even the
aid of a postmark to help us. It is very likely that
their sequence as here given is not quite accurate.
But the subject is continuous, and exact chronology
is of the less importance that the 'Noctes' of which
they treat began in 1822, and Lockhart's regular contributions
ceased in 1829, thus identifying the period.
They show the singular union and interchange between
the chief contributors, every man's hand in
every other man's dish — not generally a very safe
principle of procedure, but apparently answering perfectly
well in the case of this sworn brotherhood,
who, so far as is visible, had no serious quarrels
among themselves, not any at least that came to
the notice of the world, though they went on cutting
up and adding to each other's manuscripts, as
the following notes will show. They plunge us into
the midst of the Noctes' without introduction or explanatory
pause, laying the machinery of these most
popular and attractive papers before us in a way
which may be a surprise, and possibly a disappointment,
to some readers who have been brought up in
the traditions of fun and jollity which have always
hung about the imaginary table at Ambrose's. It
would not seem that these Symposia were under any
regular system at first or subjected to any editorship.
When they began it was frequently Lockhart who
was the author, sometimes Maginn (after the advent
of that still more unruly contributor): occasionally
Hogg had, or was allowed to suppose that he had, a
large share in them. Finally they fell into the hands
of Wilson, and it is chiefly his portion of these admirable
exchanges of literary criticism and comment which
have been preserved and collected. To produce them
required many gifts beyond these of the moralist or
critic. A certain amount of creative skill and dramatic
instinct, in addition to the flow of wit and power
of analysis and analogy, was necessary to one who
had to keep up a keen argument single-handed, like a
Japanese juggler with his balls, especially when every
man who was supposed to speak was a notable man,
whose thoughts and diction could both be easily
identified; or to carry out all the quips of a prolonged
jest, in which the tempers of some of the interlocutors
were naturally roused, and free speaking was the
rule: while, on the other hand, the number of subjects
which had to be touched upon in a monthly commentary
upon the doings of the world was very great.
We are made to leap over a considerable number of
early and agitated years, which, however, have already
found a brief place in the record in following this interesting
portion of the early productions of 'Maga.'
The special series entitled 'Noctes,' after two or
three preliminary series, as above indicated, began
in 1822.
I give the following illustrations of the system, if
system it can be called, in extracts from many letters,
all short, and written with a flying pen. They are
addressed to Mr Blackwood, sometimes with books, as
we have said, and by the "Blucher," the coach from
Melrose to Edinburgh, sometimes by the familiar hand
of the printer's devil, sometimes scrawled in "the
shop." The following scrap may possibly refer to the
beginning of these famous papers, and would seem
to prove that it was from Blackwood's brain that the
conception came: —
Your idea of the 'Noctes' is most capital; but the thing
must be done at leisure, and I rather think when Wilson and
I are together. Meantime trust it to the Doctor, and let me
have his hints. This would be the far best vehicle for discussing
the Periodical Press. Never having seen Gifford, I could
not do him very well. I think I could do "John Bull" and
Jeffrey. Get hold of Theodore's old farces, that I may steal
his own puns. Hogg told me he had been writing a 'Noctes.'
Let me see it when it is in type, that I may put in a few cuts
at himself. This lad Carne, who is he? I can't understand
who or what he is. You should make him write a little book
or articles on Green. He is going to Westmoreland, and I
have given him a note to Wilson, whom he will amuse.
The "lad Carne" had been introduced by Hogg,
who brought him to Abbotsford, and also to Chiefswood,
which was then Lockhart's home, with the freedom
of the Shepherd's usual dealings with his friends.
Lockhart complains that he had not been able to write
at any length, being interrupted by these visitors.
He writes on a "Sunday night," when he was something
of an invalid, complaining of having been "confined
one whole day, and part of another, to bed with
this influenza": —
I enclose what I have been able to do. I have all but
omitted Hogg, according to the Professor's request, leaving him
to fill up that character as he pleases. I have said nothing
that I should not like to see stand, nothing which he or you
may not strike out if you please; but don't dele merely because
a thing appears unintelligible or meaningless, for I know what
I am doing, and am pretty sure of my hits. Hogg's song is
very good, and if Cheape sends anything, Wilson will easily
interweave that also.
It will cost you considerable trouble to see that this Tickler
of shreds and patches appears properly. I have numbered the
pages in red, and I have marked out with red marks the bits to
be taken in from Maginn's MS. I cannot very well judge, but
I think the two hands will scarcely be detected. You must
send down the Review to the printers again.
I can't do anything to speak of in the 'Noctes' this month.
I think Wilson's article on King Leigh quite magnifique! quite
inimitable. He will feel the fun more than a ton of bitterness
from the Doctor or me. My notion is that it should be a part
of the 'Noctes' after Maginn's part in the little bit I have sent;
then this lecture of the Professor's; then the other little bit of
mine, and the song with which 'Maga' concludes. But if you
don't like this, anyway you like. Don't mind about sending
the slips of the Chancery article. You can correct them yourself
quite well. I shall therefore expect to have 'Maga' in my
next parcel. . . .
The above was written with the intention of being sent on
Monday, but I changed my mind, in the hope of hearing more
from Maginn. However, I think it very likely the article on
the 'Edinburgh' may be thought too long as it is. The article
on Hayley will do quite as well next month if you haven't
room now. It is very good, however, and if you have room, by
keeping out indifferent things, tant mieux.
I have corrected a word or two in Maginn's 'Noctes,' but
not the article throughout. Don't think of sending me any
more proofs. Correct the song yourself.
Here follows a bit of gossip so entirely in the style
of Miss Carolina Wilhelmina Skeggs that we are
tempted to quote it, if for nothing else than to show
how universal that taste is, and how little the ablest
are really above the weaknesses which they pounce
upon in others with the highest relish of mockery.
Lord P. and Major F. are inscrutable: —
The closing story is veritable, and I particularly wish it to
appear, in order that Lord P. and Major F. may be obliged to
tell in print, what for months past they have been talking. In
fact, I heard the story from Lord P. myself, and have only
altered a few circumstances for obvious reasons. The Archdeacon
he called for was not our Butterfly but another; but I
know you would like to gratify F. R. S.
This enigmatical note is printed, not for the sake of
the little social'mystery dead and gone, from which
all sense has evaporated, but as a little fossilised froth,
if that might be — the sort of thing which, alas I many
of the cleverest of us love, like so many chambermaids.
It is rare, however, to find in the 'Noctes' anything
of this description.
I have run over the Doctor, and added a few pages, as you
see, which will make it do very well for a continuation of
Timothy — not a P.S. I really have not read the poem, but
dipping here and there, it seems worthy of all that Maginn
says. Send it back, if you please, by your next parcel. 'Maga'
this time will be worthy of herself.
If you have spare room, I am by no means sure that you
should not clap in the 'Noctes,' short as they are. The topics
will lose something in another month. I would not, however,
give motto, &c., but just "Noctes, No. VII.; a fragment."
I return the two beastly books of Col. Brown and Dr Poole.
The Review in the former consists, I opine, of some hints of
old Mackenzie, dressed up by the chief Blockhead, who evidently
works in a muzzle. Old M. had been disgusted with
your not inserting his affair on 'Lights and Shadows,' and your
mutilations of his review of Miss Lyndsay.1
I am delighted with Cobbett, so much so that I wish you
would order some of his books by your steam parcel — viz.,
'English Grammar,' 3s.; 'Year's Residence in America,' 5s.;
Cobbett's Sermons, 3s 6d., to be got at 183 Fleet Street. I
really would like to see these, and think the sermons in particular
would be famous materials for the article I propose to
give you on his late writings next month. You will of course
send the 'Edinburgh Review' quam primum, and anything that
occurs; a stray paper or the like will always be exceedingly
welcome. Leigh Hunt's new Indicator is just the old trash
over again, and will die in two months, or rather will not live
at all. Oh Lord! if it were worth while to touch Dr Poole
but on the whole I am decidedly of opinion that you would do
him more good than harm. Jemmy Simpson's review of the
Flood of Thessaly is just yours, done into Poolism and Prose.
Not one idea but what is palpably and boldly stolen. What
P.S. — Don't send these reviews to the Professor — they will
only annoy him if he be in a nervous state; but judge for
1 Both works by Professor Wilson. The articles in question will be
found fully discussed in the next chapter.
The Professor can patch this concern as he likes. No traces
of the lost packet yet? and I have had sad bother by the
accident, for the same parcel contained a lot of Burns's life —
which, by the bye, the Professor can puff in a page of dialogue
anywhere, if he does not think it worth more. I have made
a tailpiece for Cay's article which I now enclose. I have also
corrected the slips of the review of Irving. I partly agree
with you as to most of your suggestions, but I think there will
be a better opportunity of introducing them in the 'Noctes.'
As for the Laureate, I am inexorable at present.
You may depend on having Timothy on the 'Edinburgh Review'
and 'Liberal' soon: therefore if Maginn or Wilson send
anything on that subject let me have it. You should get Galt
.to write a few paragraphs about Gill's 'Green.' . . . I suppose
you will now begin to print your No. Let me know what you
have and what you want. I shall certainly do the Cobbett and
Faux on America.
We do not know in what Lockhart had been severe
to Southey; but it is well to see that his inexorable
attitude did not last. Another letter tells the excellent
effect of the publisher's opinion on this subject.
"Since you take it so much to heart," he says, "pray
draw your pen through all the concluding part of the
article about Southey: end it with the serious bit."
The temper of the Magazine got generally smoother
as time went on, and other writers came in and the
brotherhood became larger. But the 'Noctes' always
remained (sometimes disastrously) a safety-valve for
the heat of jest or satire or almost irrestrainable impulse
of slaughter (not altogether, as witness the
regretful giving up of Dr Poole: at the first outset
Dr Poole would have been slain and laid out upon the
table for demonstration without consideration of his
insignificance); and in this lucky medium they had
always each other to spend a stray jibe upon, all in
love and without malice. No one could be more
ready to applaud, and with the fullest and most
cordial praise, than the former Scorpion, though he
was still quite willing and pleased by times to use his
sting. The reference in the following is to the double
number of Sept. 1829, or rather two issued together, a
romantic and unusual expedient to use up superfluous
material, and also (not less perhaps) to startle and
dazzle the world: —
Your two numbers are quite surprising. The Professor is
very great indeed. So is Colonna, and so is the Essay on
Wordsworth by I can't guess whom. Altogether they must
make a grand sensation surely. I send a small notice, as much
as in conscience I can offer you, of the St Albans Romance.
Dibdin's book has just reached me. I have forgot it, and will
look into it, but do get some person who would do the thing
more con amore, for example Doubleday. I don't like Dr
Dibdin — a little glutton; and would like much better to cast
about for something of my own devising. Let me know whether
you hear again from the Professor, and pray don't send me any
more newspapers except the 'Herald.'
I received your packet yesterday evening, and now send you
a review of Shelley's poem, which I expect will conclude the
Magazine to your satisfaction. It is really a most capital
number. Blair's pieces of prose are quite exquisite, and nothing
can be better than the Irish articles. The Oehlenschlaeger kept
me laughing for several hours. How that demon has entered
into the very core of Ambrose's! I would have it by all means,
and call it perhaps "Horæ Scandicæ, No. II.," not to interfere
with any series of seriousness! By the way, who wrote "Microsophus"?
and what is Tom Hamilton doing with himself?
I am tolerably busy just now, but must and will give you a
lift. Indeed both the London Magas are so good this month
that even your own superexcellent number will be no more
than what was needful. These people can't rival your best
things, but they have many more hands and more steady ones.
I don't think Croly is used to give himself much trouble or
time. He is able to do far better than he commonly does for
'Maga.' I think I may venture to promise you one way or
other two sheets, but I shall not begin till I know what Maginn
is likely to be at. 'Don Juan' — these cantos are far better than
the last three. Shall I say so?
I could give you a few pages on the "Northern Tales,"
"Heraldic Anomalies," "Clarke's Travels," "Faux and Cobbett
in America," — any or all of them; but still I desiderate a new
and a true and a grasping theme. Help me to that if you can.
1. By all means if you put in the Suicide put him in entire.
2. Poke Tom Hamilton.
3. Could this Courtenay or somebody else not help you to
something about the new Law Commission?
I write because you ask me to do so, but I can say nothing
but that the number gives me the utmost pleasure, and that I
heartily congratulate you on it. It appears to me that it contains
all any such thing should contain: liberal and eloquent
criticism, sound sensible discussions, and most boyant (sic) fun
and rich humour. If people are not amused with these Noctes,'
for instance, Man must have ceased to be the "laughing animal."
Altogether admirable is the Irish article: a series of the sort
Maginn points at would be of the most important service not to
you only, but really to the public.
The greatest beauty of a good number is that it always
creates others by the stimulus it gives. I hope Maginn will
attack Ireland seriously, now he has begun. By the middle of
next month, I think you will be ripe for a real article on Spain;
so be collecting all the pamphlets on that subject, and also on
Don't send me any money just now, as I have enough to
bring me to town. But do send me by Tuesday's Blucher,
'Wallenstein': and do try to get the 'Devil's Elixir' out of
Gillies's hands. Try whether he would not submit to sit down
composedly and translate six or seven of the best scenes of
Schiller's 'Wilhelm Tell,' 'Carlos,' or 'Bride of Messina.' If lie
will, I answer for the prose.
The best puff "John Bull " could give you is to extract something
excellently good said on a popular subject. I would leave
it to Hook. Upon the whole, I think such a Magazine stands
rather above a puff of his. Nothing delighted me more than to
see the way in which Hogg is treated — and next 'Noctes' will
perhaps lift him yet higher by being partly his own.
P.S. — I open my letter because, on reading Alaric's packet, I
see it must be sent back to you without delay. The Fonthill
affair will be quite cold by the 1st of December: so you should
not meddle with Alaric's views, which, however, are exceedingly
laughable, and would have been very good had they come
sooner. I am not sure, however, whether either the Professor
or I would have liked to see you dishing poor Frisby. Jerdan
won't dare to print them. As for the letter of the Goth, 'tis
excellent, and will be of use in the 'Noctes' of next number.
The Suicide is really a man of talents. You should request
him to write you letters on the Alaric plan as material for
We quote these only half-comprehensible allusions
to show how the "materials for 'Noctes'" came in
from every side. Alaric was, of course, Alaric Watts,
whom we now know only as a gentle minor poet, but
who was then a bustling and ever-active newspaperman,
pulling the strings of a multitude of journals, as
will be apparent hereafter: there has never been any
other man of literature with so alarming a name; and
thus the tribute of both Goth and Vandal was taken
in by the lively commentators. Nothing was amiss
that came to their net. There are some individual
articles, too, long forgotten, to which the critic returns
again and again with an enthusiasm of pleasure.
Oehlenschlaeger had kept him "laughing for hours."
"On no account omit Oehlenschlaeger; but it will need
a little pruning," says another letter. In a third
report the circle of its admirers is enlarged. "Sir
Walter Scott, Sir Humphry Davy (query, a Whig
or not?), and Mr Stewart Rose all sat bursting their
sides over Oehlenschlaeger. Tell the author this,"
Lockhart says. The author was Maginn, and the
article an imaginary review of a play very much in
King Cambyses' vein, with copious extracts, which
apparently it was supposed even by these admirable
authorities a good joke to mark with the Danish
dramatist's name, and which called forth a great deal
of absurd and witty discussion from various imaginary
German critics, principally by Lockhart's hand. Professor
Aytoun did the same thing afterwards in
'Firmilian' with great effect, but his supposed author
was as fictitious as the tragedy, which proves a certain
amelioration in literary morals. Maginn had not
joined the band till the year 1821, but plunged at
once into the very heart of all its devices, as will
hereafter be seen.
That Mr Blackwood, however, did not invariably
receive these triumphant 'Noctes' without criticism
is apparent from the following letter: —
W. Blackwood to J. G. Lockhart.
12th August 1824.
. . . Inclosed you have the slips of the 'Noctes,' which
are most lively and amusing. There is one part, however,
which I hope you will consider again, the introduction of Crafty
and me. Anything, whether praise or ridicule of me as an
individual in my own Magazine, will always appear out of
place, and though I care, as you know, as little for these things
as any one, yet it has always been very unpleasant to me to
have myself individually brought forward. On the other hand,
I can see no good effect it would have for my Magazine to be
the channel through which the praises of the Crafty should be
poured in such copious streams. It is not that this worthy and
the Whig gang at his back tried for years to blast and ruin me,
and every one they supposed connected with me, that I object
to the butter you have given him, but it is because I hate all
appearance of hunting liberality and praising of opponents,
which is so much the cant of the day. There is not a man
who knows anything at all about these matters, who would not
laugh and sneer at such a piece of gratuitous blarney. Crafty
himself would most likely consider it a sort of quiz, or if he
did take it as serious, his vanity is so monstrous that he would
not think it came within 100 miles of his splendid merits. It
might perhaps please Sir Walter and James Ballantyne, who
must feel such a deep interest in C.'s concerns, but James would
think that he too ought to have had a mite. I fear you will
not be pleased at the view I have taken of this matter, but I
am sure if you will consider this matter coolly you will not
blame me. Your friend Mr Cay read it, and it struck him
exactly as it did me.
He seems, however, to have taken with perfect
good-humour a broad sketch of himself, asking a
contribution from every new interlocutor, in a subsequent
number. One of Lockhart's most persistent
jests was the creation of an absurd but amusing
individual, under the name of the Odontist, in the
very accurately depicted person of a well-known
dentist in Glasgow, Mr James Scott, whose rotund
figure lent itself to ridicule. Into his mouth some
of the merriest sets of verses, songs sung by the
imaginary travellers in the Tent, and best jokes were
put. To judge from what Mrs Gordon says in her
life of her father, Professor Wilson, the Odontist
took his reputation in very good part, and was not
disinclined to pose as one of the contributors to
'Blackwood,' and to accept the dinners and fame
thrust upon him in this understanding. I have,
however, found a couple of letters from this ill-used
individual, in which his feelings are expressed less
amiably. Except for the quite unpardonable use
made of his name and personal characteristics, it
does not seem that there was much to find fault
with in the part he was made to play. The letters
are scarcely those of an educated man, and certainly
do not give poor Mr Scott any claim to the amusing
qualities so forcibly thrust upon him in the pages of
'Blackwood': —
James Scott to W. Blackwood.
23rd August 1822.
I have returned the book you sent me. I looked over it, and
I am quite astonished at you for allowing so much freedom
with my person — especially one who has wished you well. It
shall be at your peril if you publish any more low vulgar stuff
concerning me and my name, either directly or indirectly.
Every person is disgusted. How would you like it if I were
to sit down and write a deal of stuff about you, Mr Galt, or Mr
Your immediately suppressing these objectionable articles
where I am alluded to, and indemnifying me for the damages
done to me by holding me up to ridicule in a false and uncalled-for
manner, must immediately take place. Otherways I shall
take other steps to stop such malignant proceedings without
Two days later we find a letter to Mr Galt, who
evidently was supposed by Mr Scott to be the author
of the outrage: —
James Scott to John Galt.
25th August 1822.
If you had seen the impropriety of holding any one up to
ridicule — under whatsoever denomination it may be ranked—
Jockular, Ironical, or Quizzical, over the table, when well timed,
great latitude may be given. But to vend Jocks for money
must certainly appear more against the person, so presumptious,
and whatever one may carelessly think, the Public will view it
in no other light. Certainly a man must be callous indeed to
put up with such freedoms, to say no more of it, for this cannot
be allowed. I earnestly beg you not to delay a serious survey
of the consequences to yourself, as well as to me and my friends
who are exceedingly hurt. Surely strangers think me a poor
silly chap, and I am afraid others think so likewise, otherways
this trouble might have been spared.
Ungrateful Odontist! Lockhart had just put his
own delightful "Lament for Captain Paton" into his
mouth, and filled him with merry talk. He was like
the Shepherd, who never forgave (yet was always forgiving)
the brotherhood for attributing all their most
poetical ideas to him. But as we hear no more of
Scott's remonstrances, perhaps he was finally persuaded,
as Mrs Gordon says, to accept all the fine
things put into his mouth.
This personage was the supposed author of the
merry and vigorous verses in which fifty rhymes are
found for the cheerful name of Blackwood which concludes
every stanza. "Our celebrated Jurist long
ago," says this poet, "coined twenty rhymes in praise
of Mr Packwood," but he pledges himself to a worthier
name, and a more "sounding stanza."
Long ruled a Tyrant Fiend the Northern
sky,Impious and cruel, whom no hand attack would;
Till pitying heaven a stern Avenger, high
And bold, upreared in thee, illustrious Blackwood!
No cautious war thy hand would deign to wage,
At once thy spunck the fortress storm and sack would,
With sheer close thrust the tyrant to engage,
Alone might suit the energy of Blackwood.
At first high-seated in his old pavilion,
Fain scorn the unwonted foe the fiendish quack would,
And pass for pride before the subject Million,
The fear that made him shun the wrath of Blackwood.
But soon, I knew, thou'dst strip the thin disguise;
I knew — not long so crouse the Tyrant crack would,
Exposed in batter'd plight to vassal eyes,
All bleeding from the vulture beak of Blackwood.
The coxcombries of their blaspheming cant,
Full soon I knew to earth he hew and hack would,
And on the ruins of the unrighteous plant
The godly trophies of the march of Blackwood.
I knew thy thumps to quell the vauntings priggish,
Of pert and impious upstarts find the knack would,
And paleness mantle every visage whiggish,
At the bare echo of the name of Blackwood.
I knew the weight of thy o'ermastering digs,
Soon teach the pompous swells to shout alack! would,
I knew they soon, (these infidels and Whigs),
Not blue and yellow look, but blue and black would.
I knew thou wouldst run Leslie such a rig,
That he no more, like some fierce Don Cossack, would
Against the tongue of Moses shake his wig,
Cow'd into reverence by the rod of Blackwood.
I knew thou'dst find a whip for such a pig,
I knew full soon he stop his impious clack would,
And be constrained to dye his whitening wig,
By chemic tricks disguising dread of Blackwood.
There are some utter idiots, and I know it,
These most the merest balderdash attract would;
These, Burns of Paisley prize above the Poet,
And Baldwin's JOHN above the JAMES of Blackwood.
There is no arguing with folks like these;
Even from a martyr's patience it subtract would,
To think within our gracious King's four seas
Men can exist blind to the worth of Blackwood.
When wits revile him — 'tis mere fudge — no less:
Even Jeffrey, were he fairly on the rack, would
Make a clean breast, I doubt not, and confess
He has in private a penchant for Blackwood.
A man like him, (who doubts?) it hugely tickle,
To hear the slang of his own low Whig pack would,
He knows that he himself has been a Pickle,
And must excuse the Random Shots of Blackwood.
I think of manhood if he had a particle
He instantly his nonsense all retract would,
And set about a clever leading article,
To be inserted (if approved) by Blackwood.
Envy they say's a rotten tooth — that tooth
From Jeffrey's jaw, with joy, myself extract would,
Then like the Eagle he'd renew his youth,
Breathing the "Ellangowan air" of Blackwood.
Yet if he did so, one cannot deny
That Leslie grunt like some demoniac would;
That's probably the reason Frank's so shy
To quit the old Review and write for Blackwood.
In the meantime Lockhart's own youthful life had
come to rapid development while all these "Jocks"
and labours were going on. In May 1818, while the
air was still full of the dust and commotion roused by
the establishment of the Magazine, our young man
met Scott at an Edinburgh dinner-party, and was
presented to him. "He received me," as we are told
in the 'Life of Scott,' "with a cordiality which I had
not been prepared to expect from one filling a station
so exalted. This, however," he adds, "is the same
story that every individual who ever met him under
similar circumstances has to tell." The young man
had the good luck, when the ladies retired, to find
himself next to Scott, and the still greater good fortune
to find a subject which interested him — i.e., a
recent visit paid to Goethe at Weimar, to his account
of which Scott listened with great interest, asking
many questions about the man whom he said he had
considered as his Master in his youth. He ended by
inviting the happy youth to Abbotsford, which was
about the finest thing that could happen to a young
man of letters in those days. It is well known to
what further developments that visit led, and advantages
which were mutual: for Scott secured for himself
the most admirable son, champion, and companion
when he admitted Lockhart into his family. He was
married to Sophia Scott in 1820, and from that date
his name was never dissociated from that of her father.
No more fortunate and happy relationship was ever
formed. Scott's own sons have left but little record
behind them. They fell back into the common crowd,
as we believe it is usual for a race to do after it has
come to a climax by producing one of the greatest of
men: and, what also seems usual — obeying a law more
subtle still than the fondly cherished theory of development
— perished in the direct line, leaving no children
to carry on his name. But Lockhart was the son of
his heart, his confidant and faithfullest friend through
all the troubles that followed, and his children were
the only heirs of Abbotsford and their great forebear's
glory. Lockhart's letters are seldom without an allusion
to Scott after they became thus closely connected.
Here is one of a later date which shows the position
in which he stood to the great Magician of the age,
when his "crowned estate began to pine in that
reverse of doom." Blackwood had recently attained
civic honours, whence the title: —
MY DEAR BAILLIE, — You have indeed much reason to be
cockahoop, for your present number is a glorious one throughout,
and contains one passage (that on the Bloody hand row)
worth alone twenty volumes of ordinary wit. It is the very
finest thing I think he 1 ever wrote. I propose being in Edinburgh
for two or three days next week, but can't exactly fix a
day, as I should not like to leave Sir W. S. on one of those
dull days that now chequer his existence. On the whole, however,
he is mending, and I hope to see him pretty well restored
before the summer is over.
From the same place he writes in 1825 of a visit
of Constable, the (supposed) deathless enemy of the
brotherhood. "Here is Constable and his hopeful,
both as smooth as silk," he says. "I suppose the
bargain is being ratified touching the next novel.
The Crafty says there is a favourable review of
Hogg's Jacobite songs in the forthcoming number of
the 'Blue and Yellow.'" It may seem a curious fate
1 Professor Wilson in 'Maga,' June 1831.
that thus brought "the Scorpion" and "the Crafty"
together under one roof, and that so imposing a roof
as that of Abbotsford, where all quarrels were bound
to be forgotten: but it is still more curious that
Lockhart should be now working for that rival
publisher in the intervals of the 'Noctes' and other
Blackwood productions, and had even, as has been
seen, essayed to give the Crafty a large meed of praise
in the very pages in which he had been insulted.
Here is a touch of experience and wisdom which
showed how happiness and the society of Scott had
mellowed the mind and softened the tongue of the
Scorpion: —
I have to acknowledge your kindness in sending the 'Quarterly
Review' and Magazine,1 both of which are in their kinds
most excellent. Maginn is easily detected, and is as brilliant
as ever. . . . Mrs Ogle is exquisite, but I am sorry to say I
think altogether unfair. You may have a right to quiz Jeffrey
(but his own name were better than a vulgar edition of it), but
nobody has a right to meddle with the private amusements of a
private lady. How would Mr Galt like to have an account in
a Magazine of a little frolic played off in her family by a female
of his acquaintance? I have had time and opportunity to reflect
on such things, and out of friendship for you and regard for him
I would suggest a hint on this subject. After all, the story is
inferior to that with W. C. Being introduced to him at a tea-party,
she took him all to herself, discussed all her family
affairs, and concluded by prevailing on the cynical bitter fellow
to avow that he would not think the change of name an insuperable
difficulty to his marrying her sole daughter and
heiress, the lass with the bit land.
You have also some capital political articles, one of them
as good as possible. Coleridge is evidently mad and unintelligible,
but I venture to say you will never repent giving him
sixteen pages a-month. There will always be thoughts and
1 February 1821.
expressions of the most inimitable beauty — quite enough to
interest all men of letters.
Sir W. S. is in very high feather. I have read two volumes
of the 'Pirate,' which is quite charming — as fresh and lively as
The first independent publication (after the translation
of Schlegel) by which Lockhart made himself
known — though always under the shelter of the
Anonymous, a veil which of course was easily penetrable
by those whose opinion was of any importance
— was the lively piece of contemporary history known
as 'Peter's Letters to his Kinsfolk.' We find the first
sketch of it in the following communication: —
I saw James Ballantyne yesterday, and sounded him a little
about Dr Morris. He seems to say he would stake all his credit
on the Doctor's success. Scott also writes in great terms touching
the Doctor. On the whole, I do think that the writing of
the book might be soon accomplished, and would be singularly
pleasant in the doing. 3 volumes 12mo, size of 'Waverley.'
1st vol., Edinburgh town described. [Here follows a detailed
account of contents, including sketches of the most notable
persons in Edinburgh, Scotch Education, Scotch Church, &c.,
the 2nd volume taking Glasgow for its subject.] Vol. 3rd to
be written chiefly by Wilson, and to contain accounts of the
Doctor's tours into the Highlands, Tweeddale, and along the
All this to be done immediately, currente calamo, on smooth
paper. What do you think on't? I think it would do much
in every way, and reflect much credit if successful on your
Magazine. Let me, therefore, hear what you say.
There could be little doubt what Mr Blackwood
would say. His eager mind leapt at every feasible
literary project, and no doubt he spurred on the
writer with all the force of sympathy and encouragement.
It was a book entirely concerned with what
we have already called the criticism of life (with
apologies to the representatives of Mr Matthew
Arnold), which was a kind of thing highly popular at
the time, as it is now in a different fashion. It was
probably in 1817 that the idea was formed; but it
was not till two years later that the work was published,
though the bewildering network of advertisements
woven about it, and the other frolic circumstances
of its origin, go far to make even a proved
date doubtful to the bewildered reader. A review
professedly of a first edition appeared in the Magazine
in the numbers for February and March 1819,
which it was part of the mystification to represent
as being from no less a hand than that of Scott; but
in fact there was no first edition at all, the first
actual publication being called the 2nd edition. The
reason for this, unless it were, like so many other
things, "for fun," we are completely unable to divine.
There are a few indications, however, that it did not
pass through the press without various skirmishes
between author and publisher, in which the former
did not always come out victorious. The following
scrap is dated, with concise but not very instructive
brevity, "5 o'clock," which implies a running
controversy over the items of the publication hour
by hour, as the printer's boy ran to and fro: —
I have altered all you alluded to except the little bit about
Ballantyne, who, you must see, has taken more trouble than
usual with me, and well deserves a compliment. He has really
served the book by many of his suggestions. I think the
vignette will be a glorious finis indeed.
And here is a characteristic little outburst: —
I give you permission to alter as you please all about yourself;
but I tell you honestly you have utterly sickened me
with your eternal expostulations. Change, but don't speak to
me again. If any other person mentioned had been allowed
only one 50th of your remarks, the book would have been at
the 2nd volume at Doomsday!
After this "Peter" begins to be a familiar figure,
entering into the midst of the continual talk about
the Magazine and the manner of its concoction: —
I enclose the rest of the 'Noctes.' The Professor may add
what he likes. We have of late had so much of Hogg's talk
that I have made him say little this time; but if Wilson
pleases he can stuff out the porker with some of his own puddings.
You must take Cay into your counsels (or somebody)
anent the musical concerns. The airs I have given to Peter
are what I heard to be popular at the time, and if you choose to
give the music, with some of his Italian rhapsodies, you can
find it in any shop. And if you have any thorough Italian
scholar to go over the proofs of Peter's lingo and improve it, so
much the better.
I find that the fool who abuses us in the 'Athenæum' is
Charles Knight alias "Crito." The attack was begun, tho', by
one Forbes, whom you wot of. I leave these folk scatheless
for the present.
It need not be added after these curious statistics
that 'Peter' was a very successful publication, though
its revelations of Edinburgh are not without traces of
the mischievous inclination by which Lockhart was
distinguished. Murray for one found offence in it, and
made its indiscretion recoil on the Magazine, which
was scarcely just; but in the meantime Blackwood and
his band had become names to conjure by withal, as
will be seen from the following letter of Lockhart's: —
I am, of course, highly gratified with all your accounts both
of 'Peter' and of 'Maga.' As for the poor Tories here, their
views are of course entirely selfish. Sym had a visit from
Crawford Tait t'other day,1 who evidently came in the view of
sounding Timotheus, placed on high amid the sounding choir,
touching the possibility of procuring the effectual aid of your
friends to a weekly anti-'Scotsman' paper. The Sage scorned
the idea in the shape it came in, justly thinking that any proposal
(even a more feasible one than this) should have been
brought forward through some very different sort of channel.
Sym had his gun and bayonet standing in the corner of the
room, and every way kept up the character of the Tickler.
I have seen a great deal of Mr Ellis, the Irish barrister, and
been much pleased. He went with me to Roslyn yesterday,
and left Edinburgh this morning per smack. He seems to
have been delighted with everything here, and threatens another
visit by Xmas, which I hope he will perform. Much ought to
be done and thought in regard to Ireland.
This familiar sentiment has been perennial, as
everybody knows, in England and Scotland for a
multitude of years: at the moment indicated the
agitation for Catholic emancipation was going on —
a question very different, however, from those that
move us now.
Lockhart wrote, I think, all his novels in this period
of his life. They were much above the average as
novels, and full of talent, but not of genius; and
they made little difference in his reputation or in his
career. The first was 'Valerius,' the scene of which
was laid in the first century. It was followed by
'Adam Blair' and later by 'Matthew Wald,' both
studies, and very sombre ones, of Scotland in his own
day: between which came a novel full of university
experiences, called 'Reginald Dalton, a Story of Oxford
Life.' We hear, however, very little of them
in these letters; and though moderately successful,
1 Robert Sym, already referred to, called in the Magazine Timothy
they cannot be said to have given their author any
distinct standing-ground as a writer of fiction. Galt,
with much less power, was infinitely more popular.
Lockhart's chief Scottish story, 'Adam Blair,' was not
of the kailyard by any means, but a strange and
terrible study of passion. There is a curious reference
in one of his notes to his own timidity in respect
to original composition, and want of confidence in his
genius, which are scarcely sentiments we should have
expected from Lockhart.
"I am so subject to being disheartened, that I
suspect I shall never do anything without the Famulus
Typographicus to help me on. I have therefore
some thoughts of sending you a little bit of the novel
immediately, to try that way. But the truth is, I
scarcely have the courage." Some time later he continues:
"I send you the manuscript of the commencement.
Have it copied and set up in common
novel style by James Ballantyne, and if I like it
sufficiently when I see it printed, I will go on speedily
— at present I want courage."
A correspondence between an author and publisher,
even when so fragmentary as this, would scarcely be
complete without a discussion about money, and accordingly
it is no surprise to find some letters in which
this subject is taken up with all the warmth and
baffled helplessness of a man fighting in the dark —
a mood perhaps characteristic of an author's frame of
mind in every, such discussion. There is something,
I cannot tell why, which is exasperating beyond
measure in the constantly recurring contrast between
literary applause and substantial success. A man
finds himself praised on all sides, even perhaps with a
kind of enthusiasm by the lips of his publisher himself:
he is told (but this not generally by the lips of
the publisher) that his book is read everywhere, and
that the opinion of the general public coincides with
that of his literary friends. To be a little elated, to
hold his head in the air, and to expect wealth and
distinction to follow, are very natural things; but it
must be allowed that in a great many instances they
do not follow to any great extent, and the author
stands bewildered, hearing perhaps (as happens in
some cases) that the publisher has even lost by this
successful publication of his. What does it mean?
It was in this puzzled and wrathful attitude of mind
that Lockhart wrote as follows: —
J. G. Lockhart to W. Blackwood.
I have to acknowledge the receipt of £40 for my contributions
to the May and June numbers of the Magazine. I have also,
since you have thought fit so minutely to allude to other matters,
looked over the whole of the last six numbers, and find that
you are quite correct in regard to the number of pages my pen
has furnished. I find also that all my articles during these
months amount to sixteen 1 in number, and that of these exactly
eight contain, and eight do not contain, extracts. Now, I have
no hesitation in telling you most distinctly two separate and
distinct things: my first, that I think I have been during the
last year by far the most efficient of your contributors, and
that I consider the reviews of new books furnished by me in
that time quite equal, taken altogether, to any equal number
of articles you have had, they being equally interesting, and
there being fewer people who could furnish the like. (Indeed
1 The articles in the earlier Magazines were generally short, or at least
many were short, with one of greater importance now and then. Later
practice changed this, and for a long time there were no more than seven
or eight articles altogether in one number, all more or less of importance,
and the rate of payment was doubled or more than doubled.
you have not had a good reviewer of literary works but myself
and Wilson, in our separate styles, for the Doctor has scarcely
tried.) Secondly, I do think that a person who does so much
for your book ought to make more by doing so; and that,
having entire confidence in your general liberality and the
most perfect reliance on your kindly feelings to me personally,
I am therefore under the necessity of considering 'Maga' as by
no means in a flourishing condition.
What I can in justice to myself do for 'Maga' shall be done,
because I am your fast friend and hers; but I cannot go so far
as to think it probable, with this Shakespeare on my hands,
that I shall be able to do so much for some time to come as I
have recently been in the custom of doing. I earnestly hope,
therefore, since the Professor appears to be in such an indolent
if not indifferent key, you will be enabled to get Maginn to do
more — a great deal more — for you this summer than hitherto
he has done. Do persuade him to give you more of his mind,
and his beautiful scholarship.
I shall perhaps say something more as to all this soon.
These were the happy days when Magazine writers
were not as plentiful as blackberries, and when a
writer could address his publisher in this way without
receiving a polite answer next morning in the
words of King Henry when he heard of the slaughter
of Percy at Chevy Chase —
"I have a hundred captains in England
As good as ever was he."
No man is indispensable, the proverb says: and certainly
nowadays no man is so indispensable to a periodical
as Lockhart believed himself to be, and to some
extent was. He followed up this letter, presumably,
for still we have no dates to guide us, with the following,
which evidently refers to some very special
and carefully written article: —
I think you will not accuse me of any impropriety when I
say that the enclosed Essay 1 has cost me a great deal of time
and thought, and that if it be printed in the Magazine I shall
consider myself entitled to be paid for it upon quite a different
footing than from usual articles.
I am of opinion that such a view of such a subject would at
this particular time attract great notice even in the highest
quarters; and really that important practical results might
follow. It is possible that all this is sanguine nonsense in
me; but, however, I beg you to read my paper and state your
Mr Blackwood's reply was full of enthusiastic
praise of the article; but his letter does not seem to
have been at all satisfactory to his correspondent.
Lockhart replied briefly, explaining that he had not
originally designed the article in question for the
Magazine, and requesting its return: a communication
which called forth the following reply: —
W. Blackwood to J. G. Lockhart.
13th June 1825.
I am quite aware that the article you were so good as to send
me was the result of knowledge and experience which few possessed,
and that therefore anything I could offer in the shape
of money was not adequate to its intrinsic worth. I felt proud
in receiving the article, as a mark of friendship to myself as
well as of the deep interest you continued to take in my
Magazine, and I trusted that by means of it and others the
work would receive such an impulse that I should very soon
have it in my power to show you substantially that I was not
insensible of what you had done for me. I certainly did look
forward with some confidence to being able to pay all your
articles in future at a higher rate than it had hitherto been in
my power to do. To pay you, as I have already said, I could
not; but I flattered myself that, independent of the interest
you take in my Magazine, its very success would prompt you
to write articles when you did not feel inclined to do anything
1 Probably an Essay on Universities.
else, and on the other hand I could have the satisfaction of
offering you more and more liberal remuneration. This has
all along been my first and most earnest wish, and if my means
have not yet equalled my wishes, I am sure you will give me
credit for its not being my fault. I hope you will excuse me
for saying so much in explanation of the views and feelings
under which I acted. Had I known, however, that you had
sat down to this article with other views than sending it to me
for the Magazine, I would have begged of you to tell me what
these views were, and to the very utmost of my powers I would
have endeavoured to promote them. And had I likewise known
that it had been the labour of some weeks, but that you thought
the Magazine the fit channel for giving your sentiments to the
public (and I still flatter myself it is the best), I should have
requested the favour, instead of naming any sum myself, that
you would frankly tell me what I could send you for it, taking
all circumstances into consideration. This is my earnest desire
now, and I hope you will do me this favour.
My most ardent desire is that you should continue to give
your powerful aid to my Magazine, but I never dreamt that
you were to devote any portion even of your leisure time to
it, without being paid liberally. It would give me the deepest
pain if you did not feel satisfied on this head. In future therefore,
if agreeable to you, I would wish very much that you
would send me a note from time to time for £20, £30, or £50,
just as you yourself thought right; or if you preferred it, that
you would say a quarterly or annual sum you would draw,
leaving it entirely to yourself to send such contributions as
your leisure or inclinations prompted you to write: then at the
end of the year you would also notify to me any additional
sums, if you found you had done more than you had laid your
account with.
I have written this letter with great pain in one sense. I
dislike so much any dissensions when mere money is concerned.
I have written it, however, with the deepest anxiety that you
may be satisfied as to my feelings and conduct. I cannot say
a fiftieth part of what I feel on this matter, so deeply interesting
to me. All I shall further say is, that if I did not feel
from the bottom of my heart that I had acted all along in a
way deserving of your friendship, I should feel myself most
unworthy of it.
If we did not know to the contrary, we could
almost imagine there was a certain irony in the tone
of this extraordinarily liberal letter, and in the sudden
granting thus at a word of any or every claim the
startled author might bring forth. Perhaps it was
this sentiment which made Lockhart answer it in a
way more consistent with such a hypothesis than with
the real effusion with which it was written: —
It is not necessary that you and I should at this time of day
write long letters on the subject of your Magazine. I perfectly
appreciate your warm feelings to me personally, and I am sure
you will never have any good reason to suspect me of not
desiring to see you and all your concerns prosper.
As to bargaining with you or with anybody about money in
this style, it is out of the question. I put a paper in your
hands, and asked what you would think it worth for your
Magazine. We, it appears, thought differently as to that matter.
I can see nothing here but what happens every day in the world.
You will return me the paper, and the whole affair is as if it
had never been. I told you plainly I was not thinking of the
thing as an ordinary contribution to the Magazine. It was a
solitary effort, and, as hinted, my original intention was something
in the nature of a volume on Universities in general, an
intention to which, when leisure serves, I may recur.
I think the enclosed paper very admirable indeed, and that
it will have a powerful effect.
P.S. — Allow me to beg that this may be the last of a correspondence
which, knowing you as I do, I am sure must be
equally painful to us both. Think anything you please, except
that there is or has been the least touch of unkindness in my
feelings. Nothing is more remote from my thoughts. Indeed,
the tone of your letter is only a great deal too generous towards
me personally.
Blackwood answered on the 16th June as follows: —
Since you desire it, I lose not a moment in returning your
MS. I do hope, however, it is only for the present. You know
better than I can tell you that this article is of the highest importance
to me. Mortified as I certainly would be were it not
to appear in the Magazine, I do not wish to press upon you to
send me this article unless you yourself are perfectly satisfied
with regard to doing so. I have no wish to recur to anything
that has already passed; but while I know you hate bargaining
about the price of this or anything else, I hope you know me
sufficiently to believe that it is not the consideration of any sum
whatever which would tempt me to act in the smallest way
differently from what you would expect from me. Saying this,
I leave the matter entirely to your own good feelings.
I am unable to say what was the precise occasion of
the letter which follows: probably it was after the unhappy
affair of the duel in which Mr John Scott, the
editor of the 'London Magazine,' met his death. The
great shock of this fatal event, and the depression into
which Lockhart fell, would seem to have given him the
greatest distaste for his previous work, and everything
connected with it: from whence no doubt arose the
report that he was about to withdraw from the
Magazine altogether.
W. Blackwood to J. G. Lockhart.
Setting my own wishes and interests entirely out of the
question, I regret, on your own account, that you should feel
such a disinclination to do anything for the Magazine. Either
by yourself or your friends it has been given out that you had
dropped all connection with it. These reports I never listened
to, and I could not bear to notice them to you; for, if you did
not see the matter in the same point of view as I did, anything
I had to say would be apt to appear to you as merely proceeding
from selfish views of my own. My lips therefore have been
sealed, and whatever I have felt or suffered I have kept to
myself. Now, however, that you have introduced the subject
yourself, I cannot help saying a few words with regard to it.
You will, I am sure, do me the justice to believe that, had
it been in my power to prevent it, never should you have had
one uneasy or unpleasant feeling from anything connected with
the Magazine. Whatever could tend to your honour or advantage
has always been my first and most anxious wish, and to
attain this I never have, and never could have, considered any
sacrifice as too great. Had I for one moment believed that
it would be either for your honour or advantage to cut all
connection with the Magazine, you may rest assured I would
have been the very first person to tell you so. My strong and
decided conviction, on the contrary, has been that you owed
it to yourself to stand forward in a manly way, so as to show
that the attacks of the miscreants who slandered you so foully
and so falsely were of no avail, and only recoiled on themselves.
Their sole object was to induce you and others to abandon the
Magazine, and any quailing was giving them a triumph. From
the disagreeable occurrence which has been so annoying to you
personally, it is not to be wondered at that you should have
felt sore and unhappy. For months, therefore, I have said
little, but left the matter entirely to your own feelings. If,
however, you had given me your wonted confidence, I would
have told you what my impressions were, and that they were
no friends of yours who circulated reports of your having
abandoned the Magazine: for were this true it would be an
acknowledgment that the personal attacks upon you were well
founded, and you were therefore forced to give way to public
opinion. The Magazine supported with talent and spirit, I
have always believed, would do honour to all acquainted with
it, and put to shame all those who attempted to run it down.
As to any claims of my own upon you, these I have never
mentioned and never will. Only this I will say, that if you
knew a thousand part of the miseries I have endured — and
much of them on your account — you would have felt more
for me than you appeared to do for many months past, when
I seemed to be left in a state of desertion by those from whom
I expected different things.
It is most painful and distressing to me even to allude to
any of these things, but I try to assure you that if I did not
think it would be highly creditable to you to give your aid
to the Magazine, and receive a most liberal remuneration for
your contributions, I should be the last person in the world
to have expected one line from you.
The last letter on this subject is the following.
The matter had evidently grown more and more
serious as it went on: —
J. G. Lockhart to W. Blackwood.
I do not think any good end is likely to be served by a
correspondence on these subjects — concerning points of which it
is evident enough our opinions are very widely different. There
are also some expressions in your letter which give me pain, and
I should be sorry to have disagreeable feeling increased by any
repetition of the like. I am not aware of having been at all
the reverse of open in regard to the Magazine. On the contrary,
I think at least eighteen months ago I told you very distinctly
that I was resolved periodical literature should never
occupy any serious part of my attention. The longer I live I
am the more steadily impressed with the utter worthlessness of
that sort of thing. I have already had too much share in it;
but I see neither the necessity nor the propriety of my having
more connection with the periodical press than any given individual
— unless I please. There are always enough of young
people to write for Magazines, if they be paid. At the same
time, I never have made or expressed any resolution not to
write in your Magazine. I intend to send you from time to
time anything that occurs to me, and I shall be happy if what
I send proves acceptable. I have shown Mr Wilson your letter
and this answer, and I am happy to say he approves of the
light in which I have viewed the subject. — Believe me, very
sincerely yours, J. G. LOCKHART.
Was this note, so solemnly signed (the others only
bear initials), intended for the moment to be the last?
This is what we do not know; but if so, the intention
was speedily abandoned. The "disagreeable occurrence"
referred to in Mr Blackwood's letter was without
doubt, as we have indicated, the bitter and painful
controversy with Mr John Scott,1 the editor of the
'London Magazine,' which, after many discussions,
sending of embassages on both sides, and publication
of opposing "Statements," was suddenly turned into
unexpected tragedy. The ridicule with which public
sentiment had already begun to treat the practice of
duelling, and the particular jest supposed to be involved
in a projected duel between two men whose
weapon was the pen and not the sword, were abruptly
changed into horror and dismay by the death of Scott,
not even by the hand of the man he had assailed, but
by that of Lockhart's friend and intended second, Mr
Christie, who had been forced into the field after the
first challenge had been insultingly refused. It is impossible
to treat a matter lightly which ends in this
way, otherwise the exaggerated abuse of Scott, and
mock heroics of both parties, would be both ludicrous
and offensive. To call a man a professional scandal-monger,
a mercenary dealer in calumny and falsehood,
because of even the worst of the attacks upon
the Cockney School, was of course excessive and absurd.
Whereas, on the other side, Lockhart's resentment of
attacks upon himself, who had made so many lighthearted
attacks upon others, and never hesitated to
give forth a scathing word, was equally ridiculous.
The elaborate accounts given by both parties of the
discussions that preceded the duel might have afforded
an admirable subject for Lockhart's own power of
stinging banter. He would have held both sides up
1 The reader will find this miserable story much more fully treated in
Mr Andrew Lang's 'Life of Lockhart,' along with other incidents of his
to the laughter of the world had the case not been his
own — which was a very weak point with the wits of
the period. They loved to goad and sting their neighbours,
often into outbursts of fury; but they could
not bear any touch upon themselves.
Nothing could be more ludicrous than to describe
the gay band of young authors as "miscreants whose
outrages in print have for the last four years desolated
private society in Edinburgh, interrupted the course
of friendship, and ruined the harmony of social intercourse,"
unless it was the solemn but out-of-date stateliness
of the warlike response, the medieval formality
of the counter-check quarrelsome, and all the rest.
But the laughter is hushed when this antiquated farce
ends in the sacrifice of a man's life, especially when
an entirely innocent person is brought in to take the
vicarious weight of such a quarrel upon him. The
whole matter was looked upon with distress and pain,
but also at first with something of that fictitious
admiration of an "affair of honour" which still lingered
in men's minds, in the circle in Edinburgh.
The reader is in a position to know how true to fact
(if also at the same time a little untrue in sentiment)
was the denial finally extracted from Lockhart of
being editor or part editor of 'Blackwood's Magazine.'
It was perfectly true, in so far that he was in no point
of view the last authority, and that he never was a
salaried editor deriving payment for his work as such,
except for the very brief period of Murray's influence
(if then), when his position was little more than nominal;
but that he was one of the mystic Three who
presided over everything in the Magazine cannot be
doubted. Mr Blackwood preserved his Veto and his
opinion, and was perfectly dans son droit in saying
that he had no editor. The Veiled Tribunal was
much more interesting than that institution of a
responsible editor and a mere business publisher,
which was more common; but we may allow that it
was difficult for the ordinary public to understand
how the system worked.
I have thought that the record of this long and close
connection would not be complete without some notice
of the storms which now and then would pass across
the skies, terrible, but luckily temporary. In August
of the same year in which that alarming hurricane
occurred, we find all tribulations blown away, and the
usual atmosphere of confidential friendship and cooperation
completely restored: —
J. G. Lockhart to W. Blackwood.
DUBLIN, 14 August 1825.
I daresay you think I have been wrong in not writing sooner.
The fact is, I have been kept eternally on the move, and have
never had a pen in my hand except to do a sort of journal in
the shape of letters to my wife — which you shall if you please
have a reading of when the series is complete. I have seen
and heard much worthy of remembrance; but am now thoroughly
homesick, and happy to say that the day after to-morrow
we sleep on Welsh ground if we escape the dangers of the steam
I have found almost every person in society here pro-Catholic,
and yet have been in company with but two Catholic gentlemen
so far as I know — and the result of my whole observation is,
that Dr Maginn speaks the exact truth as to this matter in his
Literary Sketch, which, by the way, I never got hold of till yesterday,
when, on returning from a fortnight's ramble about
Killarney, I stumbled unexpectedly on an old acquaintance in
the shape of Mr Curry, and from him got No. 103 of 'Maga' —
and an excellent number I think it is.
I assure you the High Church here swear by you, but of these
we have, accidentally I suppose, met but few. The provost of
the College here and Dr Brinkley the Astronomer both told me
your articles on the Catholic question were the only things
worthy of being perused. 'Maga' I have never yet met with,
in consequence of many unfortunate accidents.
This expedition was taken, as the reader will recollect,
in attendance upon Scott, when Sir Walter
received the unanimous homage of his admirers in
Ireland. The party returned by Wales, and on their
way north visited various hospitable houses in the
Lake country, and among others Wilson's at Elleray.
There are some notes connected with that last visit
which I reserve to elucidate an incident in the Professor's
In the autumn of 1825, soon after his return from
the Irish expedition, a curious embassy from London
and the great house of Murray arrived at Chiefswood,
where Lockhart was then staying, in the striking
person of young Benjamin Disraeli, with various great
projects and proposals in his hands. His chief object
was to induce Lockhart to accept the editorship of a
new daily paper which Murray had set his heart on
establishing, and, in default of that, the 'Quarterly
Review,' then wavering in uncertain hands after the
death of Gifford. Lockhart's account of the matter
to Blackwood would seem to have been in answer to
some question addressed to him. There is no date
upon the note in which he allows that it is "most
true that Murray is about to have a daily paper, and
that, I think, under most triumphant auspices, and it
is also true that I was asked to be the conductor.
But I declined this at once, and it was on that that
the offer of the Review was made and accepted. Of
course as to contributing to his paper I shall most
likely do so, as I believe all his adherents mean to do,
but anything more or even much of this would be
quite out of the question." There is no note of any
feeling on the part of Blackwood of disappointment
and dismay in the loss of so important a contributor,
though it can scarcely be supposed that it was agreeable
news to him. The only comment we find on the
event is in the graceful and cordial note of farewell
which the publisher addressed to Lockhart on his
final departure: —
W. Blackwood to J. G. Lockhart.
4th November 1825.
Deeply as I must ever regret your leaving Edinburgh, and
seriously as I must ever feel your loss, yet I cannot but rejoice
that you have now a field for exertion worthy of yourself. It
is impossible for me to express how much I despise and feel a
contempt for the poor pluckless animals here, whose business
it was to hold out objects to you that would have made it
worth while for you to remain among all the friends who will
feel your loss so much. But all's for the best, and it is needless
to regret what cannot be helped.
Though it is thus very clearly evident that there
was no breach of the old bonds, there is no doubt that
Lockhart had been since his marriage drawn much
into the circle of Scott, and withdrawn from the constant
communications of former days. His removal
to London would seem, however, to have warmed his
heart both to his old familiar companions and to the
frolicsome labours of his youth. The great catastrophe
which gave so melancholy a close to the noble life of
Scott took place shortly after, indeed was threatening
before Lockhart's removal, and the first letter from
London is full of the thrill and agitation of that great
event, augmented perhaps by a sense of the less warm
atmosphere of understanding and sympathy which
was around him in his new sphere: —
J. G. Lockhart to W. Blackwood.
25 PALL MALL, 8th February 1826.
I called on Cadell when the alarm was at its height, and was
rejoiced to be set at ease as to you. Thank God you have
escaped being dragged into the whirlpool with your Leviathan
I have lost much money by him and others, and have been
wounded to the very soul with the far greater distresses of Sir
Walter Scott. I am sure you will excuse long letters at such
a time from your always most truly, J. G. LOCKHART.
I expect to have in my first No. a review of Mr Bell's book
on Italy, and also of the 'Subaltern.' Pray forward me early
copies of anything you have, and remember me most affectionately
to all the Divan. God bless you!
Lockhart's heart was full, with the chill of novelty
and separation from his friends just when he wanted
sympathy most, and this burst of home-sickness and
unusual utterance touches the reader all the more
from so self-contained a man. Did he miss, one
wonders, the periodical hazards of the Magazine, the
exciting reign of the irregular, the panics as to
whether the Professor would be ready, prolonged almost
to the eve of the publishing day? One cannot
but feel that the respectable business-like level of the
'Quarterly' must have palled upon him now and then,
and that he felt the sudden cutting off of the fun and
frolic, even if, to a man sobered by early experience,
those too had previously begun to pall. Notwithstanding
all the sins of which these companions had
been guilty, and all their devious ways, we are conscious
of a sympathetic enlivenment when we find the
correct editor of the stately 'Quarterly' stealing off
with delight to "make a 'Noctes.'" It suggests
a weariness with the new circumstances, in which
there is an almost tragic touch: —
J. G. Lockhart to W. Blackwood.
BRIGHTON, Augt. 8,'26.
Dr Maginn paid me a visit here about four weeks ago, and
promised to come back soon for the purpose principally of
making a 'Noctes.' But since then I have neither seen nor
heard anything of him, nor indeed do I know where he is or
what he is doing at this moment, though I think I can still
trace his pen occasionally in 'The New Times and Rip,' and
thence conclude he has made some partnership with Mudford.
I am writing him to-day, and as soon as we can meet depend
upon a packet. His account of the Westmoreland election is
most rich, and I am on many accounts sorry the Professor was
not there to help in and enjoy the triumph. Lord Lowther is
rather displeased about his non-appearance, which, no doubt
through some blunder, he thought he was to depend upon. I
hope Lord L. tipped the Doctor decently; but he said nothing
to me on that delicate topic, except, indeed, that there had been
a discovery of some seventy years' old Rum, of which lie (the
Doctor) had been invited to take away some dozens for London
consumption. Wordsworth and Maginn (!) wrote, verse about,
a song of Betty Martin, &c., which I thought no great shakes for
all the illustrious copartnery. I wish some of you would tell me
what old Crafty is doing. When one sees the firm on title-pages,
just as of yore, one begins to doubt the fact of a failure after all.
My little boy improves so much here that we shall scarcely
leave the place while he can bathe in the sea. To us it has no
other recommendation, as we know nobody here except poor
William Rose, who is in a very invalid and unconversable
condition. The Tiger, as you have perhaps heard, is going
shortly to Canada to hunt bears and other fellow-creatures.
This will be a relief to the Professor's imagination, though to
me, I assure you, it is a sorrow.
What a contrast this melancholy seclusion at the
so-called gay watering-place to the happy company
and communion of Chiefswood, with Edinburgh and
all the brethren so close at hand! The Tiger was a
certain Dr Dunlop,1 a great hunter and traveller, whose
literary manners and morals the society of Maginn
and his wild band did not improve.
During the autumn Mr Blackwood was able to send
to the exile news of his beloved home and friends: —
W. Blackwood to J. G. Lockhart.
EDIN., 23 Augt. 1826.
About three weeks ago I spent a few days at Chiefswood
with our excellent friend Capt. Hamilton. It is a delightful
spot, and I wonder how you could leave it. I was a good deal
with Sir Walter, who is really in excellent health and spirits.
That old tiresome pedant Dr J. had been staying some days
with Sir Walter, to the great annoyance of poor Terry, and
every one who happened to be there. When you see Terry he
will give you some droll sketches of the Doctor. At last, to
the relief of every one, he took his departure in Sir Walter's
carriage, and when stepping in he made a great many fawning
speeches as to his regret if he took away the carriage when Sir
Walter might be wanting it, to which the Baronet replied in
his good-humoured way that "his horses could not be better
employed than in carrying Dr J. on his journey." This Peter
Poundtext swallowed of course as a great compliment, while
Terry and the ladies could with the greatest difficulty contain
The following letters will show how difficult Lockhart
found it to cut himself free from his old habits
of work and his first love: —
J. G. Lockhart to W. Blackwood.
28 March '26, 25 PALL MALL.
Having a private hand [this was in the days of heavy
1 Dr Dunlop was a surgeon in the East India Company's service, and
was of great renown as a shooter of what is now called big game.
postage] I make up a small packet of notes for members of
your Divan. I was delighted with "Cottages" and the "Naval
Sketch-Book." They show that our friend is in his best spirits
as well as power; and if that be so, all is right.
You will perhaps say I am infected with the chill air of the
Metropolis. But I wish, in spite of that, to say a single word
on a very delicate subject.
Attack Political Economy as much as you like, but don't
permit this Robertson to go on attacking so savagely the
motives of Canning, &c. Why should you and Wilson suffer —
in yourselves, perhaps — very probably (in his case extremely
probably) in your families, for the sake of allowing a person
of this kind to insult such a man as Canning? Depend on it,
my dear Professor, this is worth a thought for you. If you
make the Magazine by such papers as the "Cottages," you will
be blamed or lauded for its politics, as the case may be. What
I wish to see particularly avoided is any allusion to Canning
personally; and I know he feels that personally, and avenges it
so also. You will at least take this in good part.
The next reflects Lockhart's own circumstances,
projects, and surroundings in a very interesting
J. G. Lockhart to W. Blackwood.
25 PALL MALL, Nov. 16, 1826.
I lose no time in expressing the delight with which I have
read the demolition of MacCulloch. Need I say how anxious
I shall be to know what effect is produced on Jeffrey? Sir W.
Scott is quite in raptures with it; so is Croker, to whom I
talked yesterday morning anent it; and so must be every one.
I have already had the satisfaction of showing it to one or two
Whigs, and, that they all might see it, I have left my copy on
the table of the Atheneum, "with Mr Blackwood's compliments."
I hope this was right.
We are going to live on Wimbledon Common for this winter.
Johnny will not do in London. This is inconvenient in some
respects; but it will add to my leisure, which already has
begun to hang heavy on my hands. I do not think it is quite
right or fair in me to assist in the Magazine while I have the
Review on my hands, and I have a feeling on the subject that
I can't well express; but I do not understand Murray having
any suspicion that I was not doing whatever I did in the
periodical line for the 'Quarterly.' Besides, your political
tone must not be mine. I think it is wrong in all points of
view, and particularly in the personal style in which Canning
has been attacked in a work to which Wilson is an avowed
contributor of the first importance. Others may point the
dart; so it is. But who gives the shaft its wings? But for
Wilson's wit, how few would read R.'s declamations, however
But now to my business. The same feeling which withholds
me from publishing essays in 'Maga,' or a kindred one, prevents
my wishing to have anything whatever to do with
Murray out of his Review. We could not meet on fair terms.
Old friends who had perfect confidence in each other, as I
hope is the case with us, might no doubt do so; but verbum
sat. to you. I have enough to manage without quarrels
I have in short a couple of post 8vos (peut-être 3) to dispose
of — i.e., shall have by the end of the year. The plan is this:
I make an English lord (something like Dudley and Ward)
take a place like Mar Lodge for the autumn. He brings down
in his train the usual appendages of these great establishments
— a character not unlike Coleridge for one, a sort of
Croker for another, a Rogers for a third, perhaps a little of
Hook, &c. I bring these Southerners into close communication
with a set of your Northern lights — disguises of Scott,
Jeffrey, and so forth; make them discuss the differences between
England and Scotland in various points of manners,
feelings, education, &c., &c., and illustrate their respective
views with tales, all of them founded on fact, some comic,
some tragic. I think to call the book 'Diversions of — say
Glenmar,' a little romance of conversation.
Tell me frankly what you think of all this. I have certainly
no ambition to make one of Colburn's authors, but I am well
aware that you may be far from anxious to publish much at
present, and may have your hands full. I expect that you will
sacredly keep what I have said to yourself in the meantime. I
do not even except the Professor for this once.
We have been, as you guess, in a horrible hubbub. Sir Walter
will be in Edinburgh in about ten days. We dined at Croker's
yesterday — party to meet the Unknown, the Speaker and
Theodore Hook. These three sweet lads are always together.
The Doctor, poor fellow, has of late done one very good
paper for me, but what he spends his time in God only knows.
I never saw a man grow more inferior to himself in a short
time than he has the O'Doherty of former days. Newspaper
scribbling has totally destroyed a style that was always too light
and hasty. There is now little whalebone indeed remaining.
J. G. Lockhart to W. Blackwood
Sept. 4, '28.
The Professor on ,Sir Humphry was capitally good, but I
think (I am no angler) unjustifiably severe, particularly considering
the circumstances of the book being written by a great
man after two strokes of palsy in miserable dejection of spirits
and in health hopelessly shattered; but all this Wilson knew
not, and I take it he hates Sir H. Davy for some private reason
or no reason, as I daresay I should have done, had I not happened
to see a good deal of him. . . . However, Sir Walter is
to review Sir H. in the 'Quarterly,' so the Baronet will have it
with.the hair as well as against it.
'Tis now said the Speaker goes to the Admiralty with a peerage;
but no one is in town, and indeed I seldom go on the
Stones, even when I am here. Next week I am going to
Chelsea to see Gleig for two or three days. He has some
sermons, some novels, and some histories all at press in London
at this moment, how much more in Edinburgh you can tell.
Colburn has given £750 for his novel, 3 vols., 'Chelsea Pensioners,'
at least the Sub says so.
I beg my love to Wilson, Cay, &c., &c., if any such people be
now about the old haunts. I fear I shall not even get down
this autumn; but as Johnny has rallied, we are really and
seriously planning to be at Chiefswood all next summer, which
I think must stop my hair getting grey so fast as it at present
seems to be doing."
The Doctor and I have dined again at the Salopian, and made
out the plan, which shall be filled up fitly and sent off by mail
on Thursday next. I hope this will do. We are to give you
our "Mr Theodore" as an interlocutor and improvisatore.
But wait until Southey's new book has been properly puffed
in the 'Quarterly,' and then for a grand 'Noctes' indeed. I
mean to call up the shade of George Buchanan and introduce
him to Hogg, who (Hogg) shall enlighten George, after the
fashion of the Laureate enlightening Sir Thomas More, as to
the history of the last two or three centuries, and the present
state of politics and literature. I think Hogg explaining the
steam-engine to Buchanan will answer.
I expect at your hands efficient support of the Family
Library, which if it turn out well may be a valuable property
to me. I think I told you I have the third of it. We have
now put the Napoleon to press again, having sold all the 6500
printed originally of the first vol. and all but 200 of the second.
"You have, indeed, gloriously performed your
promise," says Mr Blackwood in reply, "and the
'Noctes' has even gone beyond what I expected.
I am so glad, too, that the Doctor has again made
an exertion, and done what is worthy of himself.
The whole will make no little sensation." In this
case it seems also that the labourers were satisfied
with their reward.
J. G. Lockhart to W. Blackwood.
June 5, 1829.
Pardon for not answering sooner and acknowledging your
enclosure, which the Doctor and I halved, and swore was
munificent. Your No. is a good one. Do you want another
'Noctes'? If so, speak, and we shall have another dinner at
the Salopian — that's all.
Here is Galt, as large as life and as pompous as ever, full
of title-pages and unwritten books, the 'Tyger,' the 'Squaws,'
and, I am sorry to add, his own personal troubles, which are
neither few nor trivial.
From these last it would appear that the editor of
the 'Quarterly' did not consider such compositions
as those which he prepared in escapades at the
Salopian along with Maginn to be any real infringement
of his rule against publishing "Essays in the
Magazine." No doubt the delightful rush and impulse
"to make a ''Noctes,'" recalling so much of the
joys of youth, and the wild and flying inspiration
of the past, was an exception, as it evidently was a
delight to him amid the studied decorum and stateliness
of Pall Mall. And that his youthful spirit was
still but little modified (while always exaggerated by
his coadjutor) will appear from the following letter, so
sympathetic and regretful, yet resolute, with which
the presiding genius in Edinburgh received one of
these dashing effusions. It was written in the year
1827, though I am not able to give the precise date.
It ought, therefore, to precede some of the above
letters, but will, I think, be better understood by
coming here. Lockhart continued to send 'Noctes,'
or contributions to the 'Noctes,' for many years.
W. Blackwood to J. G. Lockhart.
I have not been so happy for a long while as I was last
Sunday when Cay called at my house and gave me the article
you had been so good as to send me for 'Maga.' The moment
he left me I sat down and literally devoured it. I cannot tell
you how much I enjoyed the admirable way in which you show
up the Cockney historical romance — the satire is so keen, and
the sketches are so graphic. Forthwith, though it was Sunday
evening, Alexander and I began to copy it, and before we went
to bed we got nearly half through our task.
Next day, however, when I considered the whole more closely
than it was possible for me to do under my first excitement, I
began to think with agony whether or not others would see
the thing in the same point of view as I did. The fools and
the malicious are so much more common in this world than
their opposites, that there appeared to me not a little risk of the
paper being either mistaken or misrepresented. It struck me
that the stupid would take some of the sketches literatim, and
consider it an unwarrantable liberty to represent Lord Melville
in a kilt; but this mattered not much, as they would be soon
enlightened, and, as your friend the Secretary has it, stirred
up with a long pole. What weighed with me was the use a
certain gang might make of the article, and the annoyance it
might be to Sir Walter Scott. And if you will consider the
matter calmly, I think you will see I had some ground for my
fears on this head.
The object of your satire is clearly to ridicule the Cockney
jumble of Brambletye Hall, and in this you are most successful.
But when one reflects that this creature is a mere imitator of
Sir Walter, and that any travestie is so much more applicable
to an original than to a mere copy, for all readers are much
more familiar with the Waverley romances than with this
Brambletye trash, surely there is some reason to fear that
such satire would be applied and caught up with delight by the
whole press gang as appearing in my Magazine. Among other
delectable quizzes that might have been quoted and commented
on with this view, nothing could have been more apposite than
your most droll sketch of the Duke of Wellington's Address
to Napoleon's stucco figure as an inimitable counterpart to
Cromwell before the picture of Charles I. This and some other
things I am pretty sure Sir Walter would not have liked, and
as I never could have revealed to him or to any one who was
the quizzer, he would have thought it odd of me to allow such
a thing to appear in 'Maga.'
It was with a very heavy heart, therefore, that I at last resolved
to give the MS. back to Mr Cay. In this I have acted
solely on my own judgment, for there is no one that I could
venture to consult on such a matter. You will probably think
I have decided wrong, and that it is from mere timorousness
that I have not ventured to insert the article. I can only say
that I have stated exactly what influenced me, and that the
loss of such an article I feel to be a very severe one.
The correspondence, however, now seems to be
interrupted by many such differences of opinion, but
we add such extracts from it as may serve to show
Lockhart's continuous feelings to his old home and
friends among the changed circumstances of his
career: —
J. G. Lockhart to W. Blackwood.
30th January 1830.
These double numbers are capital. The Professor, since he
is thus alive and kicking, ought to be ashamed of himself for
not attending to my letter denouncing him about Sotheby's MS.
The old man is a gentleman, and is entitled either to receive his
manuscript back instantly (it is the only copy) or a promise
that it is to be printed in the next number of 'Maga' — for
which purpose I understand Wilson to have solicited it. Some
attention to the common laws of politeness would do no harm.
Nothing more on this subject from me.
By the bye, Murray has had a grand affair. The Master of
the Mint, Harris, told the Duke yesterday that the last article
in the 'Quarterly,' just published, had produced a panic among
the Jews, and sunk Stocks 2 per cent. The Dictator sent for
Croker and Barrow to the Cabinet Council and rowed them.
They sent for Murray and rowed him, and then up came the
Emperor to row me. I took it all very coot: he had been consulted
quite at leisure beforehand. God knows how this may
end — I care not.
J. G. Lockhart to W. Blackwood.
December 28, 1830.
I was asked to deliver a message to you, and I agreed to do
so — not doubting in the least what your answer would be, and
never having dropped a hint that I doubted it. You and I
have seen too much of the outs in the character of ins to be
easily seduced by such persons. I have for the 'Q. R.' resisted
giving the smallest pledge to any Minister (except indeed to
the Duke of Wellington on his first coming in), and nothing
shall ever induce me to put faith in any Minister's professions
again. We are fighting the same battle, though in somewhat
different methods, perhaps: and if, as I think it likely, the Grey
Reform Bill will ere long compel us both to be apparently
acting in concert with Peel and the Duke of W., I am sure we
shall both think the alliance is likely to be one of brief endurance.
The great Radical blunder of the Currency, &c., will
From all I can gather, there is a very angry feud going on
between the Grey section of the Cabinet and the Althorp one.
Sir H. Parnell arid his set mean to declare themselves forthwith
in opposition in consequence of the Irish jobs, and this Deanery
given so disgracefully to the Premier's brother. Lord Althorp
is a fat outspoken grazier, and can't help babbling everything.
He has let out that they mean to give no compensation to the
lords of the English rotten boroughs (all of which are to be
disfranchised by the bill), or the existing country voters in
Scotland, who are to enjoy the franchise henceforth, it seems,
in common with any owner of £10 annual rent in land or house.
These propositions will unite all the Scotch gentry and most of
the English boroughmongers against the Government, and we
shall see the issue.
Thus we are brought to the brink of a crisis by the act of the
ultra Tories in turning out the Duke. Of this there can be no
doubt: he feels it, and they, I believe, repent it almost to a man.
They did not foresee the terrible risks of this reform as a Cabinet
proposition. They gratified their just resentment at the deep
hazard of everything. Such is my view of the case, such is
Southey's, such is Sadler's, such is Lord Chandos's. We are
among the breakers; let us see how much we can save.
It is well sometimes to see the dismal prognostications
with which even wise men of that period regard
the changes under which even the oldest among us
have grown up, in complete unconsciousness of any
shipwreck. We too in our turn are often tempted
to indulge in the vaticinations of alarm and woe,
which it is an encouragement to the general mind to
believe may turn out quite as excessive.
Lockhart was again busy with a 'Noctes' as late
as Sept. 2, 1831. He seems to have learned in
London the important art of dating his letters, and
writes at that date from Chiefswood, where he was
partly enjoying his holiday and partly waiting upon
the darkened days of his illustrious neighbour and
father-in-law — not well himself and full of apprehensions:

J. G. Lockhart to W. Blackwood.
Sir W. S. seems to have fixed on quitting Scotland for Naples
about the first of October, and I suppose we shall be taking wing
for London about the same time. The six or eight months during
which we shall be absent from the glen here — what may
they not bring forth? Who can guess or dream? I give all
anticipation to the winds.
Let me know if the 'Noctes' is liked. By-and-by you shall
have another, but not till I have seen London again, I think.
In his next letter there is much banter of Hogg,
from some of whose verses Lockhart with the editorial
impulse docks eight lines, in which some
unpleasant reference had evidently been made to a
local potentate: —
Hogg is mad to insult such a family, so near, and who have
been on occasions kind to him, and in case of need would be
ready to uphold him. You didn't know who was meant,1 I
am sure. The poem has much of good and much of abominable,
like most of the pig's. I have never heard of Wilson
except once in a letter from Hamilton. It is capital to hear
Wordsworth on him — only inferior to the Poet on himself,
though in rather a different vein.
Don't let Hogg dream I would have anything to do with his
edition of Novels. Even if there were nothing else, I have not
time for such a thing. It is quite impossible. "None but
himself could be his editor."
1 The Scotts of Harden were the family referred to.
"Perhaps my last of Chiefswood," he adds sadly at
the end of this letter, which is dated 22nd September
1831. It is at least the last of the Blackwood letters
dated from that spot so full of memories, the joyful
little house which "the Sheriff" had been wont to
rouse from its morning quiet by the happy barks and
gambols of his careering dogs, and his own kind shout
of good morrow. Now the light was darkened, and
the cheerful visitor came no more.
And here is the brief and dignified record of what
might have been a bitter quarrel. Something had
been said in the 'Quarterly' concerning Hogg which
had seemed to Wilson and Blackwood a censure upon
the Professor and the Magazine; while Wilson on his
side had given utterance, in the casual incidental way
in which he often delivered the most savage blows,
to some unpardonable strictures upon Scott, specially
ungracious at the moment. Lockhart makes his own
apology and explanation very generously, while indicating
the much harsher offence on the other side: —
I can't let your letter go without expressing my concern that
what was said in the 'Q. R.' should have given either you or
the Professor any real uneasiness. I was working at the time
for Hogg with the wigs of the Royal Society of Literature, and
finding the dramatic 1 character in my way at every turn, wrote
that sentence simply, and merely in reference to his interests,
and without the least wish to escape from any share of the
blame. I described Hogg as I saw him a few days before I
left Scotland in October, at Altrive, wet, weary, and melancholy.
Before the review appeared he, to be sure, had contrived to
1 No doubt the introduction of the Shepherd in the 'Noctes,' where
so many things were put into his mouth which, as he bitterly complains,
he never said, though at the same time it covered him with robes of poetic
glory to which he had as little right.
make my statement look absurd enough by the reprint of his
songs. After that I am dumb.
As to Sir W. S., I shall just tell you one fact. Aristophanes
Mitchell, one of 'Maga's' staunchest admirers, wrote to me that
he had given up taking her in, and would never again look at
her, solely in consequence of what appeared in one of the
'Noctes' about Sir Walter, whom he never saw. If a stranger
feels like this, what must friends have done. There is no need
to tell me that my friend meant no harm. I know him too
well even to have dreamt of that. But rashness may, and
sometimes does, produce serious mischief between friends, and
I dreaded the effect in the present broken condition of Sir
W.'s health and spirits. And now let there be no angry recollection
between us. I am sure nothing of the kind will ever
be done again in 'Maga'; and I tried, in as far as she was
concerned, to make up for my little skit by a compliment to
the 'Noctes' in the next number of the 'Quarterly.'
Here, however, is a bit of denunciation in the old
slashing tone, aimed at a perfectly legitimate opponent
and leader of the opposite side; against whom — since
the days when it was little more than a youthful
bicker, and every long-armed lad threw the most
stinging ball he could carry from the Blackwood side
to all others — it had been the most natural thing in
the world to volley every projectile that came to hand.
But Lord Brougham was, throughout his career, one
of the men whom nobody loved, and every harsh thing
seemed natural when said of him — a painful but probably
never quite undeserved fate. The occasion was
the introduction of the Reform Bill: —
J. G. Lockhart to W Blackwood.
Oct. 8, 1831.
Brougham's speech was four hours long: the greater part
dull, cold, heavy, and tautologous to a wonder: insolent to
intolerability in the placarding of characters on all persons he
had or found occasion to mention, false to his party, and basely
crawling to the Duke of Wellington — the whole a piece of
treason under a splash of bravado. The impostor knelt at
the end. Lord Wynford's speech was very excellent, the most
logical on the whole. Lord Lyndhurst was worse used by
the Whigs than any speaker ever was by any party in my
presence. The effort of the Archbishop was grand, and indeed
the whole scene was most noble and satisfactory. Not a soul
in the streets; and, to-day, everything as dull as possible.
The Ministerialists, in the Commons, will move on Monday
or Tuesday an address to the King, on the part of Lord Grey.
At the same moment Lord Harrowby will be opening his views
of what a reform should be in the Lords. This last is good
We will conclude these quotations by a very interesting
letter in respect to the immediate arrangements,
and commotion of the public mind after the
death of Sir Walter Scott. It is by no means the
end of the correspondence, though we find little
more preserved of the portion addressed to William
Blackwood, except some affecting letters written
very shortly before his death, which shall be quoted
in their time. The friendship was continued with
the sons, and lasted as long as Lockhart lived. It
was his hand that prepared the two pages of stately
and sorrowful record which were devoted to its
founder in the pages of 'Maga,' and he remained
always the faithful friend and helper, when aid
was necessary, of the name which had so greatly
influenced his youth.
J. G. Lockhart to W. Blackwood.
LONDON, 3rd November 1832.
I have been and continue to be daily and hourly occupied
with the affairs of the late Sir W. Scott, and can hardly
command time even for a short note at this moment. My
Magazine has arrived safe, which I fear all have not done,
and the No. is very good — especially Charlemagne — the Rabbins
— the working of the bill in Scotland, and the abuse of
Colman, which refreshed me. I am afraid you must give me
another month's law — I promise a 'Noctes' for Xmas — let
Wilson keep up the ball till then.
I know not what is to be the upshot of all these subscriptions.
The folk here say it is a joke to be rearing monuments in various
places, while, if the Major should die to-morrow, Charles would
inherit Abbotsford at the best without a shilling to keep it up.
They are for getting Walter to sell them his liferent, and take
the whole back as a gift, with the obligation and entail, house,
land, and library, in terms of his father's designation — and but
for the fear of interfering with our dealings with the creditors
they would ere now have done something publicly. They meet
next Friday, at Bridgewater House, the Marquis of Stafford in
the chair, in the hope of having by that time exact information
as to the extent of the claims of those creditors who object to
the Executors' proposal — and I share the hopes that such information
may then be at their command. Sir Coutts Trotter,
Croker, &c., &c., are sanguine enough, and believe that £50,000,
a fair price for Abbotsford, will be easily raised. I think they
are wild in these views; but as my brother-in-law has no objection
to their proceedings (which he considers as moved entirely
by the wish to make Abbotsford a lasting monument of his
father's name and taste), and as, however the result may fall
short of their hopes, it must pro tanto relieve him — I have
nothing to do but to wait in patience. If the Edinburgh
people did well, they would put a statue where Castle Street
cuts Princes Street, with the Castle-rock for a background;
or they would make a huge Homeric Cairn on Arthur's Seat
— a land and sea mark — and throw the rest, if anything, of
their funds into the hands of the Bridgewater House Committee.
But whether it is possible for them to do this now,
I don't know. I consider it as disgusting to be putting Scott
on a par with Dugald Stewart, Playfair, and so forth in the
temple line. Meantime this is private to you and the Professor,
until affairs have progressed a little further. As the literary
property is tied up until, inter alia, the encumbrances of
£10,000 on the estate of Abbotsford, £5000 on the Library, are
paid off, to release the Major of these would of course be advancing
the time when the other children may expect to profit
at all by the sale of the works.
Sir W.'s will has an article expressly leaving the direction of
publication to Cadell!
Many letters passed, and there was much and constant
communication between the younger Blackwoods
and their father's old friend in after-years, which will
be referred to from time to time. But we may take
from these after-days a little note addressed to John
Blackwood, which rounds off this story with an affecting
touch of old kindness. It was written at the very
end of Lockhart's life in the year 1853: —
DEAR B., — If you think the enclosed worth a page any time,
they are at the service of 'Maga,' from her very old servant,
now released from all service, J. G. L.
That gay and careless yet powerful service had
lasted, with intermissions, for more than thirty-five
years, the length of a generation. The Blackwood of
old was dead, and most of the cheerful companions:
the lively, brilliant, restless spirit was broken with
sorrow and trouble. Not very many months after he
was indeed to be wholly relieved from all service. It
is with a tender remembrance of Lockhart that we
thus close the record, by his last affectionate expression
of feeling to the old 'Maga' of the days that
were no more.
IT is doubtful which of the two young men, whose
eager co-operation and delighted seizure upon an instrument
as new as it was effective with which to
move the world gave Blackwood's project immediate
force and energy, was the more important to that
great undertaking and to himself. It is evident,
however, that at the first start it was Lockhart who
was more immediately prominent, though Wilson soon
became the chief influence and more constant worker,
— at once the prop and the plague, as will be seen, of
Magazine and publisher. Though he was the very
impersonation of irregularity, careless prodigality of
strength, and want of system, he had the great
advantage of remaining on the spot and continuing
in the same circle of adherents and friends, and was
thus a more prevailing presence than his more exact
and less accidental comrade and coadjutor. They
were both, when they began the work of life, as
little systematic, as careless of all rule, as can be
conceived. It was the joy and glory of youth in
those days to win its honours and attain its effects
with almost an affectation of idleness and indifference
to any serious motive. I do not know whether there
was so much more force of impulse and energy in the
generation that this was the expression of a natural
tendency or the sign of their special stage of development.
I am free to confess that to account for it
in this way seems to me the mere jargon of science
applied to matters with which it has little to do.
And we may admit that there is still a prejudice in
the youthful mind in favour of prizes lightly won, and
of the young hero who never seems to work, yet gaily
gains the reward of work by some dazzling impossibility
which delights his companions. Alas! I fear
that it is now his stupid companions, the comrades
of his pleasures, who are delighted; and that virtuous
youth, to which the labour is the great thing, and the
reward more or less professedly indifferent if not given
as the recompense of struggle and effort, is of quite
another way of thinking.
But in those days there was no perpetual and ever-repeated
ordeal of examinations, and perhaps there
was a certain advantage in the fact that brilliant
natural faculties sometimes won the day over that
perseverance and steadfast plodding which is our reformed
ideal nowadays. Wilson was one of the most
marked examples of that beginning-of-the-century
method. Everybody saw him at play. He was the
most vigorous athlete, the most reckless wanderer,
ever ready for frolic or fight — and rarely or never was
he seen at work: nevertheless he was publicly complimented
when he left Oxford, and perhaps during the
course of his literary life there was no one more
brilliant or more appreciated or more productive,
though those who knew him best were continually
provoked by what appeared his carelessness and indolence,
and were convinced, even at the height of
labours which were never believed in, because it was
his whim to undervalue them, that any excuse was
sufficient to induce him to shirk work and cast duty
aside. In everything he had to do, he did more than
other men. When his companions took a decorous
ramble by coach or carriage, he tramped with his
knapsack, burying himself in Border valleys or among
the Highland glens. He sought adventure everywhere
by flood or field. He idled, talked, jested, wasted his
time, did everything but work; yet somehow seldom,
in his early life at least, failed in the great demands
made upon him, and produced a whole literature of
that criticism of life which we have remarked as the
grand characteristic of his compositions and those of
his friend — not a literature, perhaps, which has lasted,
or is likely to last except in brilliant fragments, but
one which inspired and delighted his age, and made
his generation acquainted with a larger view and
widened conception of things intellectual and moral,
a scorn of the poor and paltry, a generous appreciation
of the neglected. the 'Noctes' of Blackwood, which
finally fell into his hands after the joint manipulation
of several others, was a storeroom of wisdom and of
wit, of sport and earnest, of the gravest discussions
and the gayest commentaries, and had a large,
unacknowledged, perhaps uncomprehended, share in
the mental training of our fathers. It is a little
humbling to reflect that these fathers, whom we
inevitably feel less wise than ourselves, often knew a
great deal more than we do, and had read more — just
as we are conscious that we have a better acquaintance
with the literature of our own country than the latest
generation, which prides itself on reading nothing.
We do not hesitate to say that the nation's power of
expressing itself, its faculty of judging between the
bad and good, or the not-so-bad and good-enough,
were considerably affected by the lively dialogue, the
fine criticism, and beautiful descriptions, of that famous
literary commentary on contemporary life.
John Wilson was born in 1785, the son of a wealthy
manufacturer in Paisley, though not without gentle
blood on his mother's side. We are told by his
daughter, Mrs Gordon, that the blood of the gallant
and noble Montrose was in his veins, — a potent element,
delightful to contemplate, though he never made
any boast of it so far as we are aware — a singular,
nay, almost an unkindly omission, for such an ancestor
as Montrose was a thing which it was a duty to
brag of. He was a son of wealth, trained in luxury,
one of the ostentatiously superior class of gentleman-commoners,
no longer existing — at Magdalen College,
Oxford, and set out in life as the possessor of a comfortable
fortune. But the favourites of heaven generally
manage early to shake off by hook or by crook
that unnecessary appendage. He lost his money in
1815, and on that event gave up his idle and enjoyable
life of love, poetry, and athletic amusement in
the Lake Country, and came to Edinburgh, already a
married man, with young children to provide for, to
work for his living, not very well knowing how. He
was called to the Scottish bar, but there was so little
meaning in that ceremonial in his case that he is said,
when he found by chance a brief on his table, to have
contemplated it with whimsical alarm, wondering
what the devil he was to do with it! He soon found
something, however, to do with his leisure, or rather
with that mysterious and inappreciable portion of his
time in which he did his work. It must be added
that there never seems to have been anything like
poverty, or the usual struggle for life common to
ruined men, in his experience at this early period.
He came to Edinburgh, not to any restricted existence,
but to his mother's ample and comfortable
house; and was evidently able to wait without any
great strain until occupation and income came. In
1817, as has been already told, he and Lockhart — by
that time his inseparable friend and companion, much
younger in years but always more mature in soul —
flung themselves into the creation of 'Blackwood's
Magazine,' in which both found the most congenial
work, and the opportunity for which both were unconsciously
waiting. Its first effect was certainly
anything but a conciliatory one upon the temper of
the town or its authorities, and it is with a sense of
courage almost as reckless as if the bailies of Edinburgh
had been so many Oxford bargees (extinct as
adversaries, and known no more to the less muscular
undergraduate nowadays), that we find Wilson, only
three years after he had set the Forth aflame, presenting
himself for the suffrages of these said bailies
as a candidate for the Professorship of Moral Philosophy
in the University — the appointment to which, as
to most of the other chairs, by some curious arrangement
descending from the days when Edinburgh burgesses
were a very important part of every movement,
the civic authorities held in their hands. This fact
made every such selection more or less a matter of
politics, the Whigs carrying their candidate when
Whiggery was in the ascendant, the Tories theirs
when their day came round.
There could not, however, be a more triumphant
answer to the complaints and remonstrances of Mr
Murray of Albemarle Street and others, as to the
personalities which were to ruin the Magazine, than
the success of Wilson on this occasion. Perhaps the
Southern wit will say that it required a joke as wild
and riotous as that of the Chaldee Manuscript to
penetrate the Scottish understanding: at all events,
it is clear that it was taken in no such ill part as the
outer world imagined. No doubt there was much
opposition to Wilson's candidature, but that was
chiefly on personal, and, indeed, on religious, grounds,
— many accusations of profanity quite unproved, and
some of reckless living, having been brought against
him. Scott himself took an active part in the
canvass, writing to the Lord Provost in defence of
Wilson's character, and sparing no pains to bring
the contest to a successful issue. But it did come to
a successful issue; and at the very moment when,
according to the London journalist, the "outrages"
of the "miscreants" of Blackwood had "desolated
society in Edinburgh," one of them was elected to a
chair in "The College," that time-honoured institution
which holds so important a part in the life of
the metropolis of Scotland.
No doubt it will be said that every influence except
the most legitimate one of fitness for the post was
brought to bear on the election, and that it was
chiefly a Tory triumph. But, at the same time,
Wilson's testimonials were unanswerable. They were
lyrical, a series of effusions, in which high-flying
Oxford sang the praises of a kind of being unknown
to it in any other specimen, — a Norse-god of heroic
genius as well as person, with coruscations of northern
lights about him which dazzled all sober eyes. And
Scott upheld his standard with a vigorous and
thoroughgoing support, pledging himself for the
young man's character, powers, religious opinions,
domestic amiability, with a force which left no man
a word to say. Wilson's religious opinions were,
like those of all his class — especially, perhaps, on the
Tory side — chiefly distinguished by a reverential
respect for doctrines, observances, and, within certain
limits, of clergymen, which very often involved a
desire to hear no more about them than was necessary,
but which held doubt or criticism on such subjects
ungentlemanly and in the worst taste, and infidelity
as a greater offence against all the principles of society
than even vice. It is difficult in the present day to
understand the junction of this profound and constantly
expressed reverence with a profane wit which
stuck at nothing: as it is also difficult to understand
the ease and simplicity of the admission to his wife
of "I fear I did not go to bed sober," with the facts
of a life of great domestic regularity and propriety;
but it was not so difficult in those days, when men's
peccadilloes were regarded with an indulgent eye so
long as their principles were sound and their demeanour
what it ought to be. We remember that, among
the grave objections made to Wilson during the contest,
the singing of a certain song in the lingering and
diminished party which carried on its revels into the
small hours after some public dinner, from which the
sober seniors had gone home hours before, was discussed
before the respectable bailies, making their hair
stand on end. It is needless to add that the immense
potations of Ambrose's were at all times fictitious: this
will be already apparent from the fact, which the
reader has seen, that the famous 'Noctes' came from
the study at Chiefswood, in the supreme silence of
the country, as often, at least at first, as from any
jovial centre where they might have been otherwise
We labour under the same difficulty in respect to
Wilson's correspondence with Mr Blackwood as we have
already experienced in that of Lockhart — a complete
absence of dates, reducing us in many cases to the
difficult process of putting together a number of scraps,
not so much for any importance in themselves, as to
illustrate — which is our chief object — the nature of
the intercourse between him and Blackwood. There
are, however, at the beginning of the correspondence a
few letters which we can place in their proper position,
and which show how early the connection was formed,
with what enthusiasm on one side and eager response
on the other. The first I find was written in the dark
days of Pringle and Cleghorn, before the real 'Maga'
had begun. It is addressed to Wilson at a Highland
address, while he was absent on one of his many
sporting expeditions, and is dated —
EDINBURGH, 2nd August 1817.
W. Blackwood to J. Wilson.
Allow me to offer you my warmest thanks and congratulations
for your most interesting packet. I got it safe by this
day's coach. Mr and Mrs Robert [Wilson?] called just as I
opened it. They are equally with me in raptures with your
articles and the beautiful little poems. How striking you have
made the Highland Glen! and what a delightful and new turn
you give to the hackneyed wish which all express on being
pleased with a particular spot! The widowed mother is most
affecting; but what delights me most in your poetry is the heartfelt
glow of religious and moral feeling with which you enrich
it. The Sonnet is uncommonly good, but does not affect me
like the other two. I hope you will pardon me for indulging
so much ultra crepidam.
I have only had time to read the two Reviews very hurriedly.
They are capital, and, so far as I can judge from a hasty glance,
to the full as interesting as your former ones. I can give them
no higher praise. I hope you have by this time received the
letter I wrote on Saturday last, and the parcel which I forwarded
to you by same post, addressed to you at Captain Harden's.
The parcel contained Lord Byron's 'Lament of Tasso'; Frere's
'Prospectus,' &c.; Coleridge's 'Leaves' and his 'Biographia
After what I have now received from you, you must think me
a very importunate person to be asking more. I hope, however,
you will have occasional moments of leisure which you will
gratify all your friends by filling up as you have done already.
To speak more selfishly, as it may be considered, it will be of
the last importance to me that you go on to assist me, as without
your help I do not expect to make No. 6 good for anything,
and this would be perfectly ruinous to me. I have now positively
determined to go on with a Magazine, were it on no
other account than that these fellows, the Crafty and his new
and most honourable allies, are triumphing over my sinking
before them. But laying this wholly out of the question, I
am now urged to go on by all my friends, and promised every
kind of support. I would give anything almost to have you
here just now to consult with, and to tell you a number of
things which I have casually learnt lately with regard to the
manner in which P. and Cleghorn have behaved in the business.
. . . I have no doubt they will be besieging you for
your assistance. I need not say how much I would regret
your going over to the enemy's camp. I will not attempt to
urge you to favour me with your support. All I shall say
is, that I feel indebted to you for what you have already done
more than I can express, and that I flatter myself you will
find my publication to the full as respectable as the other.
I hope, when you come to know, you will be fully satisfied
of this.
This letter found Wilson about the trout-streams
in his holiday, tramping in the wet over moss and
heather, carrying at one time, apparently in his knapsack,
on his Herculean shoulders, "about a dozen
heavy books." This was in preparation for the first
number of the new issue. It gives a curious glimpse
into the manner in which articles could be composed
in these robust days: —
John Wilson, to W. Blackwood.
I received the packet addressed to me at Captain Harden's
on my arrival at Braemar, and found much amusement therefrom
on two rainy days which I was obliged to pass there. It
contained Coleridge's Life and poems, Frere's poem, and the
'Lament of Tasso.' I carried them and my other books with
me to Grantown on the Spey, where a calamity, if I may use
such a word, befell me. I had written an account of Coleridge's
Life and a review of the 'Lament,' which I crammed into my
pocket; and during my ascent to the top of Cairngorm they
must have fallen out, for on returning to Grantown at night
they were gone and irretrievably lost. This was certainly provoking,
especially as it will be out of my power to do anything
till I return to Edinburgh. I found my luggage insupportably
heavy, and therefore packed up all my books, amounting to more
than a dozen heavy volumes, and sent them off to Edinburgh.
I am now able to walk with some comfort, which before was
not the case. I expect to be in Edinburgh by the 4th or 5th
of September. What it may be in my power to do for your
sixth number shall be done, and if I have three or four days
in Edinburgh I can do something. But tumbled about as I
am now, I have no heart to do anything — especially after
losing the two best articles I had written, and which I can
never rewrite. I will, notwithstanding, try to say a few words
on the 'Lament,' and, if possible, make a leading article of
Coleridge: only you will see how difficult it is for me to promise.
Frere's verses are most facetious and entertaining, but of their
meaning I have no comprehension. I know not whether they
are politically, theologically, or poetically critical: if you have
a key tell me. For your next number get Thomas Gray's Life
by Graham, which is really very good. No doubt Senex will
give you something. My brother James should bestir himself,
so that, with the addition of some little scientific matter from
Brewster or his friends, something odd from Riddell, &c., &c.,
why may not a tolerable number be made out? I will, if
possible, give you "Coleridge," "Defence of Wordsworth,"
"Account of Marlow's Edward II.," "Lament of Tasso,"
another short review of "Mrs Spence," and "Supposed Contents
of M'Cormick."
I think you are right in going on with a Magazine. With
respect to myself, you know that I am not to be depended
upon. But if you do go on, I shall now and then, when the
spirit compels, lend a hand. You should have in No. 6 an
account of Kemble's leaving the stage, some critique on him,
which J. Ballantyne could do, and Campbell's verses.
With such calm did the young man contemplate the
work which was to bring him the chief successes of
his life. But the Chaldee Manuscript had not as yet
been thought of and it was that wild onslaught which
excited the brotherhood and woke them to full exercise
of their powers. We should have been glad not
to have the assurance thus conveyed that the article
on Coleridge — a very much greater offence against
public morality and humanity — was Wilson's doing.
Perhaps the lost article, which dropped out of his
careless pocket on the slopes of Cairngorm, was written
in a better spirit, and the loss of it lent bitterness to
the after-writing. Anyhow, the offence of the Chaldee
Manuscript was as nothing in comparison to this review,
with which, we are sad to say, 'Blackwood's
Edinburgh Magazine' began.
In the years immediately following there is little
correspondence, presumably because of the close personal
intercourse between author and publisher. The
following letter was evidently written in the interest
of one of the feebler members of that Lake School
which Wilson alternately assailed and caressed. The
reader will probably feel that it carries sympathy for
one friend too courageously to the debit of another: —
John Wilson to W. Blackwood.
I enclose for your perusal a letter from Mr Lloyd. I feel so
extremely for him, knowing his character and all the circumstances
of his life, that I would not for any consideration give
him pain, which might produce fatal effects upon him.
When I first wrote to him about his Tragedy I stated positively
that it would be inserted at ten guineas per sheet, as I
did not doubt it would be worth it. You see what his feeling
about it is. With respect to the Tragedy or Drama I have not
read it; but it cannot, heavy as it may be, but be exceedingly
clever in many respects — that is certain. And therefore it may
not, on the whole, injure the Magazine, indeed it may benefit
it, although few read it. I feel myself, therefore, as you will
see, obliged, by the strongest motives, to request that it may
be published in the Magazine. I have no doubt that otherwise
Mr L. would be affected mentally and miserably.
Of course it cannot go into this number; but part of it next,
and so on till it is finished. It will take four numbers of about
eight pages each, as I conceive. I wish, therefore, that you
would send Mr L. an order for twenty guineas, being one-half,
and permission to draw upon you for the rest at six months:
or perhaps the twenty guineas will do at present without the
other. I shall write to him by this day's post, and if you agree
with me on the necessity of this, I can enclose the order for
£21 in my letter. I see no way of avoiding this. I cannot
lend him money without inserting the Tragedy. That would
make him worse than anything.
This would seem a curious argument nowadays for
inserting so solemn a matter as a tragedy in a periodical;
but men's hearts were softer, and their ways
less rigid, perhaps less conventional, in the beginning
of the century. The Lloyd referred to was, no doubt,
Charles Lloyd, one of the brotherhood of the Lakes,
an unlucky mortal astray among the band of the
Immortals, and paying dearly for that privilege. Mr
Blackwood's reply to this, addressed to the unfortunate
author, is decisive enough. "The gentleman who at
present conducts this department" is a very transparent
mystery, seeing that what influence Wilson
had was chiefly in the region of poetry.
W. Blackwood to C. Lloyd, London.
EDIN.,10 Oct. 1820.
He [Mr Wilson] has requested me as a favour done to himself
to send you twenty guineas for your Tragedy, which it
seems to me, if inserted in the Magazine, will occupy about two
sheets. Mr Wilson has informed me that he had ventured to
tell you that such was the rate at which communications to the
work were paid. The gentleman, however, who at present
conducts this department of the Magazine follows his own
ideas and his own selection of articles, and not even a request
of Mr Wilson's, much as we are beholden to him, will induce
him to swerve from his arrangement. I may mention, however,
that your Drama seems to him not to be well adapted for
a periodical work, and that its interest is more for the metaphysical
than general reader, and that even that interest is
likely to be impaired by the necessary publication of the Drama
To show you, however, how much I am disposed to act liberally
towards any literary man, and more particularly towards
any friend of Mr Wilson's, I now send you an order on Cadell &
Davies for twenty guineas, and should the Tragedy be ultimately
deemed, with all its merits, not adapted to the peculiar nature
of the Magazine, the MS. will be returned to you, and I hope
you will favour us at some other time with such communications
as may supply its place.
The poem was eventually returned to the author
"in a coach parcel."
It is seldom, however, that the boundless faith
which the writers had in their publisher is checked
in this summary way. He was very ready in general
to receive their recommendations, and though the
rate of remuneration at this period cannot be said to
be high, invariably eager to secure a new contributor
with ready cheques and cordial welcome.
The perfect intimacy of persons in close and daily
communication with each other, and the fact that in
most cases the Magazine and its articles are the prevailing
subject of these flying scraps of letters, detract
considerably from the interest of the correspondence;
but we cannot better show how warm and constant
the intercourse was, and what were the vicissitudes to
which it was subject, than by quoting the following
broken fragment, without beginning or end, in which
there is a moan of injured affection not at all of the
kind which has been supposed to be possible between
author and publisher. Grub Street never knew any
such relationship as this of which Mr Blackwood
sadly records the momentary breach, but which it is
evident was only the rent of a moment, immediately
brought together again: —
W. Blackwood, to Professor Wilson.
May 14, 1821.
I had just come from my solitary meal at Ambrose's, when
the pleasure of your short letter — short as it is — raised my
spirits. It is not the not receiving articles that has depressed
me, but it has been the feeling of being, as it were, left to
myself, and no one caring for me.
21st May.
I had written the above this day se'nnight, and intended to
have said something more, but I felt it too much for me, and
put it into my pocket, where it has lain ever since. How to
account for your conduct I know not, and you mistake my
feelings if you suppose that it is the not receiving your and
Mr Lockhart's promised support to the Magazine that has
vexed me. What I feel hurt at is, that after devoting my
every thought and energy to whatever I conceived would be
gratifying or useful to you, and never for a moment thinking
of myself, you should act with this kind of indifference, so
completely foreign to your usual warm-heartedness. My confidence
in your friendship is the only thing that has borne
me up in many difficulties, and feeling strongly that I have
ever deserved it, I need not say how painful it is to me.
This letter balances, with its note of sentiment, the
many wails of wounded friendship which came from
Wilson's capacious bosom in after-days.
In 1822 there was published Wilson's first work
in prose, 'The Lights and Shadows of Scottish Life,'
a work exceedingly popular at the time, though perhaps
giving too sentimental and superlative a view
of peasant life in Scotland or anywhere else. There
are several highly amusing letters upon this publication
and the criticisms it called forth, which we
may quote as highly characteristic of the man. No
tyro could have been more anxious, more excited,
than he who had dealt death and wounds round him
with so much gaieté du cœur. He expected a review
from Lockhart, which he writes from the country to
say he did not wish to see before it was published.
"I wish to swallow it in one lump. You have no
idea how sweet flattery is in the country. My appetite
for it even in a town is steady, if not voracious:
here, I verily believe I could bolt anything." It does
not seem, however, that his hopes of flattery were
satisfied. The book was given for review to Henry
Mackenzie, the now very old head and patron of
literature in Edinburgh, the Man of Feeling, long
since reconciled to the Magazine, and whose approval
was supposed to be the highest gratification to which
any writer could aspire. Mr Blackwood thanks the
old gentleman effusively for his review of Galt; but
Wilson evidently was very far from being of this
opinion, and his reply to Mackenzie's criticism is so
tremendous in its wrath, and it is so seldom that an
author's remonstrance is made visible to the public,
that though the letter is somewhat long, we venture
to give it entire. It is dated "Kelso, Friday." The
date was probably sometime in May 1822, and begins
by an announcement that he has "read over the
sheets of 'Maga' with the greatest pleasure,"and
that the number will he" most lively and amusing."
John Wilson to W. Blackwood.
I consider old M. to be the greatest nuisance that ever infested
any Magazine. His review of Galt's 'Annals' was poor
and worthless: that of 'Adam Blair' still worse: and this of
'Lights and Shadows' the most despicable and foolish of all.
His remarks on 'Adam Blair' did the book no good, but much
harm with dull stupid people, and this wretched article cannot
fail to do the same to a greater degree. I cannot express my
disgust with it. He damns the book at once by comparing it
with Gessner: for he draws a most degrading character (falsely,
I presume) of that writer, and then says that my book is "a
close imitation of it." Gessner's 'Idylls' are syrupy, it seems,
and only fit for young sentimentalists who have never looked
into the mirror of nature; and of him I am said to be a close
imitator. The Colonel himself could not have told a baser lie,
although from baser motives — those of the old dotard being
simply self-conceit and sheer incapacity. Whatever he may
bring himself to say afterwards, this is his idea of the book
published to the world, that it is on the whole a syrupy dish for
young sentimentalists, — the very thing which might be said by
some malignant Idiot. Of Gessner I never read one syllable —
nor indeed ever saw a volume of his even lying on the table.
But from what I have heard of him I believe, first, that he has
great merit; secondly, that he is unlike in all points to me, J. W.
What he says about 'Idylls' shows ignorance; and his non-acquaintance
with the origin of the term blue-stocking is altogether
incomprehensible. In short, all this is a dull, vile
falsehood, and one that cannot fail of being got by heart by
thousands, and of injuring the book. The next paragraph is on
the whole worse. "Rural images are always pleasing" is a
clever way of talking of the scenery in the volume — shepherds
are "Arcadian," the Lights and Shadows are not Scottish, it
seems. And then his own attempts at description in this paragraph,
what miserable drivelling! In the third paragraph it is
said that the morality is pure, it seems, but still something
wrong with it. What he says of the minister's widow is most
execrable, — "never indulges it beyond civility and attention to
her friends"!!!! Oh Moses! The Covenanter's marriage-day
nearly happened; that is, a young man betrothed to a young
woman was dragged out of his concealment in her father's house
and shot by soldiers. It is not German, but intensely Scottish.
The circumstances of the soldiers are misstated by Mackenzie.
In sixth paragraph he says the scenery, though professedly
Scots, is not always true to this profession of its locality. I
say it is. Where is it not? It seems "some passages" are
an exception to this condemnation. That is lucky. In paragraph
seventh he indulges in a lie, and it is a lie that
ought to be pointed out to the old critic. He says, "We
are sorry that the concluding stroke of the author's pencil should
have spoiled this solemn picture." That is the picture of a
wild, furious, snow-stormy night. And then he quotes a
passage about diamonds and dew-drops. Now, would you
believe it, the said passage of the milliner is not there at all.
It occurs at the top of page 116, and is the finishing stroke
to a description of youth, beauty, and happiness. Indeed had
it been otherwise I must have lost my senses. I request you
to read the passages 115 and 116 in the snow-storm, and you
will see that the old captious body has been playing a trick
to make a criticism. The passage as I have written it is
beyond the literary power of any milliner's girl, and the old
dotard should be told that he has grossly and falsely misquoted
it, for a despicable purpose. He then says that this passage
of the milliner is copied and spoiled from Thomson; for he
cannot swear that the snow-storm in general is. Now, I lay
my ears nothing like it can be in Thomson. Nor is there,
except the snow, and even that is very different, one single
point of resemblance, but all points of utter dissimilitude,
between my child saved from death and his farmer family
wrapt up in a greatcoat. This is foolish and false and disgusting.
Lastly, my abhorrence of "lace and embroideries" is
as great and far greater than ever his was. In short, the
whole article is loathsome, and gives me and Mrs W. the
utmost disgust. It is sickening to see it in the Magazine,
and utterly destroys the pleasure which Mr L.'s article would
otherwise give me. It is not, as you well know, that I can
possibly be such an ass as to dislike criticism. But this is
mere drivelling falsehood and misrepresentation — calculated
to injure the book, I declare, even in my own eyes, and to do
it the greatest injury with the public. It is the most sickening
dose of mawkish misrepresentation I ever read.
The article which filled Wilson (and Mrs W.) with
such disgust and resentment never appeared in the
Magazine — probably it was only in proof that he read
it: and this angry remonstrance caused its being replaced
by a laudatory review in June 1822. It is
edifying, however, to perceive how little the critic
liked the methods which he himself used so freely.
The murmurs of the passing storm echo still, though
much softened and mingled with the usual business
of the Magazine, in the following letter. Old M.
is forgotten; the usual circle comes into sight again;
and the matter discussed is a critical letter 1 on Mr
Black-wood's books in general, attributed to that
great authority Mr Croker, with interpolations from
the ubiquitous Maginn, by this time mixed up with
everything that was going on: —
John Wilson to W. Blackwood.
KELSO, Wednesday.
You must have observed that I am excessively sore and silly
on the subject of 'Lights and Shadows.' I do not wish it cut
up or greatly sneered at in your Magazine. Probably I shall
have quite enough of that in good time elsewhere. I do not
object, however, to a nice little eulogistic touch of censure now
and then, but I must always do these with my own hand. As
to the Doctor's addition, I object to it, first, that it is most
brutal; secondly, stupidish; and thirdly, quite unlike in style
and sentiment to Croker's letter. These are three good reasons,
1 In 'Maga,' July 1822.
and let the Doctor know them. Croker praises the 'Lights
and Shadows,' it is true; but it is because he likes the book
rather: he abuses 'Pen Owen,' partly because he thinks it
deserves abuse, and partly for other reasons which you know:
and he abuses Galt because he hates and also despises him.
Mr L. has no business to get a calumniator to abuse my works,
and tell him so from me, let the consequences be what they
will. Firstly, Croker's letter ought for the joke's sake to be
printed just as it is, and I do not think seriously he would like
to see it interpolated. It certainly is his.
I do not know whether my letter to Philomag is at all good.
The Doctor or Mr L. may improve it by sharp and ingenious
touches if they will. But let them not meddle with 'Lights
and Shadows' at their peril. The propriety of damning all
your own books is, I think, questionable. Were I in Galt's
situation I should be extremely sulky. But he is 400 miles off,
and his books sell, therefore you may abuse his books with
impunity to him or yourself. I am only 40 miles off, and my
books don't sell. That makes the difference.
I have done but a short article on Green. But more in
another number. Observe how it is printed. The note is
almost as long as the article, and it is to run along in line on
each page. I will send a page or two on Henry White, and
with extracts four or five on Bowles. My articles are in
general far too long. You have Doubleday, and may use it or
not as you think proper. I will probably send something else.
Lady Blessington's book is very, very poor stuff indeed — quite
inferior to the other, which was bad enough. . . . Dr Maginn
is one of the cleverest men now living: but he writes best
when most original. I do not so well like his imitations of
others in 'Maga.' His "Hexameters," his "Chevy Chase" (in
Latin verse), his "Irish Melodies," &c., are better than can
be. His "Tête-à-tête," &c., were not so happy. Tell him so
from me.
I hope everything good about the trial. Hope will manage
the case with power and propriety. Dr Maginn and Mr L., if
assistance can be given, are equal to anything required. Most
anxious shall I be to hear from you about it.
This number must on no account be a middling one, and
remember to do with my articles anything you choose except
abuse the writer of them, who is excessively thin-skinned.
All the Magazines of last month except your own
are worthless.
I could write a page or two rather funny on Hogg's Romance,
but will not, if Mr L. is doing it or to do it. Though
averse to being cut up myself, I like to abuse my friends. But
this I would do with good-humour.
In the course of the year 1823 a new danger of an
action for libel seems to have threatened the Magazine
on the part of Leigh Hunt, whose former menace of
the same kind seems to have come to nothing. The
assaults upon the Cockney School had been going on
briskly from time to time, both sides being warmly
engaged. The special exasperation which occasioned
this renewed threat it is scarcely worth while to
record, for indeed it is difficult for an uninstructed
person to draw the line between the abuse which is
actionable and that which keeps outside the range of
law. Hunt's intention had been communicated as
before by the London agent — in this case Messrs
Cadell & Davies, who, like their predecessors, were
much troubled by the idea of being made parties in
a libel case.
John Wilson to W. Blackwood.
If this business of Hunt's annoys you, I am exceedingly
sorry, especially as it is an article of mine. Mr Cadell has long
wished, I think, to get quit of the Magazine, but that you know
best. Hunt's insolence is intolerable. The accursed scoundrel
has a thousand times called you a Blackguard by name [in the
'Liberal' newspaper], and myself and Mr L. the same by implication,
as all who write in your Magazine. I wish not to get
into contact with such a scoundrel, for it might possibly lead to
the loss of my chair; but damn the Cockney if he shall crow
over me! I do not know what answer you wrote about the
author's name; but if, on consulting only two or three of my
most judicious friends, Mr L. and you think I should give
my name without being in any predicament, do so by all
means. I saw the passage in the 'Liberal.' But independently
of that I am entitled to call him blackguard at all times, and
I never shall conceal being the writer if my friends think
it would not be exposing myself to a degrading squabble.
As it is, I leave it to Mr L. and yourself. If anybody asks me
my answer, Yes, to be sure. . . . In my opinion he has no
action and will fail. Why does he not bring one against you?
He dare not; and that will be obvious to a jury if he bring one.
I shall expect to hear progress. Meanwhile let not my name be
withheld, if by giving it you and your best friends think good
can be done.
A second letter follows to a similar effect: —
John Wilson to W. Blackwood.
It appears to me that I might write a letter to Mr Cadell
telling him I was ready to give my name on being asked it by
Hunt himself or on being informed that he wanted my name
for his own satisfaction. But that I dislike libel actions, either
as Prosecutor or Defender, I have no sort of objection (an
action excepted) to give my name, — quite the reverse, I
assure you, and neither Cockney nor any one else shall ever
intimidate me either by a blow (!!!!!) or a bluster. If
the knave really asks my name, he shall have it without an
hour's delay.
I am most happy in the thought of seeing you at Elleray,
and on the whole it is better to take no step till you
come up, when either I shall write to Mr Cadell or you be
empowered to let Hunt know that the NAME is at his service.
Perhaps that is the best way, as I wish to write no unnecessary
letters. Consult with Mr L. before you leave Edinburgh, and
ask him from me (with thanks for his letters) to write such a
letter from me to Cadell as you think judicious, which bring
with you here. The publicity alone of any affair with this
miscreant annoys me, for I value him at a single kick. Would
the Tiger 1 be at my service if wanted?
I am most happy to hear good accounts of 'Dalton,' and do
not fear that it will succeed as it deserves, and that the author
will be ere long a Rival — to any man.
Mr Blackwood did go to Elleray on his way to
London, and his impression of the place and of his
visit are contained in a letter to his wife, dated, alas
only Thursday morning, six o'clock, in which the half-apologetic
tone of a man conscious of idling away
valuable time is amusingly apparent: —
W. Blackwood to Mrs Blackwood.
When you see where this is dated from, you will, I fear, be
saying I have been too long here; but I think if you were here
with me you would say, What a pity it is we could not stay
longer at such a delightful place, and with such delightful
friends! I anxiously hope you have been continuing to
improve, and have been able to be in the garden to enjoy the
fine weather. I also trust that the children have been all well,
and doing everything you could wish — particularly Alec and
Robert, upon whom I depend so much for making you happy
during my absence.
You laugh, I know, when I write you that such and such a
one was happy to see me. Well, I have just the same to say
with regard to Mr and Mrs Wilson: they were kind as friends
could be. I never saw the Professor looking better: he was
clean shaved, which he had not been for some days, and quite
in spirits at seeing me. Elleray is one of the most delightful
places ever I saw. It commands a view of the whole Lake of
Windermere, which is about thirteen miles long. It stands
upon the face of a hill, and the grounds are very fine and well
laid out. After dinner we walked about, admiring the whole
of the very striking situation and surrounding scenery. I had
1 As a second, we presume. See p. 239.
resolved upon coming back to Kendal yesterday morning, so as
to catch the mail, but the Professor and Mrs W. insisted so
much upon my staying another day, that I was at last obliged
to yield: you will say I would not require much pressing, but I
do assure you I wanted above all things to get on, I am so
anxious to be in London and then to get back to you all
After breakfast yesterday morning the Professor and I
walked to Bowness, about a mile and a half, where his boat
The Endeavour, lies. You never saw such a boat — it is beautiful.
We got on board before twelve, and sailed about on the
lake till near four o'clock. It was quite delightful. The Professor
would have been sadly mortified if I had gone away
without sailing in his boat, which is quite the boast of all the
Tell Alex. to tell Mr Lockhart that the Professor is in great
spirits about the Magazine and everything else: he is to write
to him to-day or to-morrow. I have just breakfasted at Kendal,
and the coach is waiting.
The alarm of Hunt's action, which the Professor
was prepared to meet so manfully, seems to have
passed over without result; but now another shadow
appeared on his path, a much more serious incident of a
similar kind, and one which overwhelmed Wilson with
horror and dismay: the utmost weight of poetic justice
seemed about to overtake and almost crush the reckless
performer of so many hasty and unconsidered acts.
the 'Noctes' was perhaps the most dangerous medium
which could have been invented for men of impulses
so rash and utterances so free. And in one of these
lively dialogues it so happened that reference was
made to two persons in the usual slashing way. One
of these was a certain hot-headed Irish squire called
Martin, who had made himself remarkable by some
eccentric appearances at the London police courts.
The other was Wordsworth. Martin was called a
jackass, which probably he was; but Wordsworth —
Why and for what reason the poet was assailed nobody
could tell. He was, or had been, Wilson's friend,
though there had recently been some unexplained
coolness between them; but this was how, apparently
in cold blood, or excited by nothing stronger than the
rush of imaginary conversation, North, always pleased
to startle and stir up, awoke the echoes with this
much-discussed name: —
North. Wordsworth often writes like an idiot: and never
more so than when he wrote of Milton, "My soul was like a
star, and dwelt apart." For it dwelt in tumult and mischief
and rebellion. Wordsworth is in all things the reverse of
Milton: a good man and a bad poet.
Tickler. What! That Wordsworth whom 'Maga' cries up as
the Prince of Poets.
North. Be it so: I must humour the fancies of some of my
friends. But had that man been a great poet he would have
produced a deep and lasting impression on the mind of England;
whereas his verses are becoming less and less known
every day, and he is in good truth already one of the illustrious
Tickler. I never thought him more than a very ordinary man
— with some imagination certainly, but with no grasp of understanding,
and apparently little acquainted with the history of
his kind. My God! to compare such a writer with Scott and
North. And yet with his creed what might not a great poet
have done. . . . What, pray, has he made out of this true and
philosophical creed? A few ballads, pretty at the best, two or
three moral fables, some natural description of scenery, and
half-a-dozen variations of common distress or happiness. Not
one single character has he created, not one incident — not one
tragical catastrophe. He has thrown no light on man's estate
here below; and Crabbe with all his defects stands immeasurably
above Wordsworth as the Poet of the Poor.
Tickler. Good. And yet the youngsters in that absurd
Magazine of yours set him up to the stars as their idol, and
kiss his very feet as if the toes were of gold.
North. Well, well; let them have their own way a while. I
confess that the 'Excursion' is the worst poem of any character
in the English language. . . . And then how ludicrously he
overrates his own powers. This we all do; but Wordsworth's
pride is like that of a straw-crowned king of Bedlam. For
example, he indited some silly lines to a hedge-sparrow's nest
with five eggs, and years after in a fit of exultation told the
world in another poem equally childish that the Address to the
Sparrow was "one strain that will not die." 1
One of the amazing things in this most extraordinary
and unprovoked assault was, that Wilson
himself was the first of the "youngsters" who had
"set up to the stars" the poet whom he thus fell
upon with so much apparent rancour: and that no
comprehensible reason had ever been suggested for
the sudden change of sentiment. "Scott's poetry
puzzles me," he says in the same astounding chapter;
"it is often very bad. Except when his martial soul
is up, he is but a tame and feeble writer." One cannot
but surmise that his capacious yet wayward brain was
temporarily "possessed," and that he did not know
what he was saying. The moment, too, was a most
extraordinary one for such an utterance. Immediately
before he concocted this article we have a glimpse of
him in one of Lockhart's notes describing the return
journey from Ireland in attendance upon Scott. They
landed in Wales, and afterwards proceeded to the
1 'Maga,' September 1825.
Lake Country, where their proceedings are reported
as follows: —
J. G. Lockhart to W. Blackwood.
CHIEFSWOOD, August 26, 1825.
I came home last night in safety after a long and certainly a
very pleasing journey. The last week we spent at the Lakes,
when Sir W. Scott and I were two nights with the Professor
at Elleray, and afterwards at Storrs, where Mr Canning is, at
Wordsworth's, Southey's, and lastly Lowther Castle. The Professor
was in his glory, with champagne, regattas, carronades,
&c., at discretion. I am happy to tell you he went with us to
Rydal Mount, and as if to make up for the absence or abstinence
of seven years, ate up at our breakfast a whole jar of
Miramichi herrings, two of which were at first produced as a
great bonne bouche by the Stamp-master.
It would seem by this that his onslaught upon
Wordsworth was immediately preceded by a visit of
reconciliation and renewed friendship.
All this, however, might have passed under the
shield of 'Maga,' and might have been set down to
some other of the wild brotherhood, who exchanged
names and individualities so often, had not, sur ces
ertrefaites, a terrible event occurred. Mr Martin,
called a jackass in the same article, resented that
description, as was not unnatural, and threatened an
action, demanding with much clamour the name of
the writer. The reader will not be surprised that
when this demand reached Wilson in his leisure at
Elleray, it should have come upon him like a thunderclap.
Mr Blackwood, as usual, had to bear the brunt,
and stands out in the long correspondence that follows,
arguing, soothing, apologising in letter after
letter, evading, Martin's demand, yet holding out what
hopes he could that it might be granted, while the true
criminal writhed and moaned out of sight behind. The
following letter shows Wilson's state of mind: —
John Wilson to W. Blackwood.
This is the third prosecution threatened against articles of
mine within three summers; and it is really time, both on my
own account and yours, that the little I write for the Magazine
should be less. Of the distress of mind such things cause
me, it would be vain to speak. But let that be a topic for
another day. An Irish Jackass he is assuredly, and an action
will prove him one. I really do not know what advice to give.
To give my name in this case is impossible.
Had not my feelings been necessarily, owing to other things
in the 'Noctes,' of the most agonising kind, I should have
come forward instantly, as I did before in Hunt's case; but
as it was, death to my honour and happiness would have been
the instant consequence, owing to several circumstances which
I will communicate when I see you.
One distressing thing after another occurs to me. About a
week ago a shocking accident happened on the lake. A boat
was upset, and a fine youth, a friend of ours, drowned; and my
boys' tutor got ashore with difficulty. He had violated my
orders in being there at all, and it was twenty to one that he
had taken John and Blair with him This event has caused
great misery to many here, and Mrs Wilson has been for two
days almost distracted.
Here the pathetic mixture of troubles within and
without, remorse of mind and illness of body, and the
incident of the half-drowned tutor, adding another distraction
with exasperating perversity, bring in a half-comic
element: but the next is tragedy indeed, and
shows an almost despairing collapse of every faculty: —
John Wilson to W. Blackwood.
I would fain write you a long letter; but long or short, of
this be assured, that it is most kind, as every word uttered by
me to you has ever been and ever will be. For I am your
friend, as you are mine. That is sufficient; nor will it ever be
otherwise. When I last wrote I was in a state of great anguish
and misery of mind, and have been ever since, though called
upon to be present in the company of many strangers and
acquaintances. To-day only I got your packet, it having lain
at a farmhouse at some distance for at least two days. On
reading your enclosures I was seized with a trembling and
shivering fit, and was deadly sick for some hours. I am somewhat
better, but in my bed, whence I now write. All this may
be needless, but it is the case, and I am absolutely an object
of any true friend's commiseration. To own that article is for
a thousand reasons impossible. It would involve me in lies abhorrent
to my nature. I would rather die this evening. Remember
how with Hunt I was most willing to come forward; here it
is death to do so. I am absolutely not in my right mind to-night.
I wish well to all mankind, and am incapable of dishonour.
This avowal would be fatal to my character, my peace, to existence.
Say nothing to me that could add to my present misery.
All you have done seems on the whole right. With Mr
Lockhart within a day's journey, how could it be otherwise, and
your own excellent sense?
Write to me instantly, and tell me what I can do in this
business — as to writing another 'Noctes' about it, or anything
else. Were I to go to London it would be to throw myself into
the Thames. All this may, but will not, I hope, be unintelligible
to you. Lying or dishonour are to me death. I am
wholly incapable just now of giving advice, but I am able to
do what you wish in the affair, on which some light will probably
be thrown from London by this time.
In itself it is contemptible as to Martin, but in other points
shocking to me. If I must avow myself, I will not survive it.
Act in it with that proviso, as you and Mr L. and others
choose, and you cannot go wrong far or at all. I would come to
Edinburgh, but am unable from distraction of mind. I shall be
there on the 25th of October. Meanwhile will instantly answer
your letter, and do whatever you wish as to any article about it.
There is, no doubt, something of the exaggeration
of an excitable mind in this, but Wilson's horror and
anguish were not without just foundation. To be
obliged to acknowledge himself as the harsh and unkindly
critic not only of Wordsworth, whose bread he
had recently eaten, but of Scott, his tried and trusty
friend, whose support had been of such importance to
him in more than one crisis of his life, was indeed a
prospect which the boldest might find it difficult to
face. And one can scarcely wonder that Wilson, so
little bold morally, should be in despair — helpless
and without resource in an emergency of this kind,
though ready and delighted to face any physical
danger, and withal a really affectionate and loving
human creature, genuinely remorseful for the evil,
though unfortunately not perceiving it till after its
committal. In the endless correspondence that followed,
we have many illustrations of what would have
been the whimsical, if it had not been the very disagreeable,
position of Blackwood — something like that
of a mother standing in front of and shielding a very
naughty child, endeavouring with every argument to
prove that he did not mean it, that it was only his
fun, &c., &c., while all the friends gathered round,
making a circle to shield the culprit. Maginn, who
had been hastily appealed to, to calm his countryman,
did all but take the guilt upon himself in the impulsive
generosity which redeemed many qualities
less praiseworthy; and Lockhart came instantly forward,
with indignant disapproval indeed, but every
desire to help, as the following letter will show:—
J. G. Lockhart to W. Blackwood.
I can't but write to say how truly I am grieved to find you
again annoyed with this disgusting sort of business, which, as
you say, I thought had all been well over. One thing I must
say: when, after seeing Wordsworth and Wilson together in
such a friendly style, I came down here and found on my table
that 'Noctes,' I could not understand Wilson's having been
able to act as I had just been seeing him do. However, this is
nothing to the matter, altho' I confess it gives me more pain
than any merely pecuniary punishment he ever can undergo
for the squib about Martin. I suspected that blockhead would
be up, from what he said the other day about Black and the
'Morning Chronicle.' Bold man is he to dare both the Whig
and the Tory press, if he persists.
His action, if brought in London, would not be worth thinking
of comparatively; but the Jury Court is another business. I
trust the Professor will write some good-humoured thing
sufficient to settle the madman's vanity. If he does not, I will
try what I can do upon again hearing from you, and seeing
what he says. Meantime by all means have Maginn's opinion.
If the worst come to the worst, I think the man who neglects
one of the largest and most dreary estates of miserable Ireland,
where scarcely a man has clothes to cover his nakedness, and
keeps up a roar about cruelty to Horses and Bullocks in the
London Police Courts, will not be likely to come very well off
if properly buckled to, even before a jury of Adamites. It is a
great thing for you that the 'Morning Chronicle' is in the same
I am sadly afraid from what appeared in yesterday's 'New
Times' that you are to have more trouble about Martin. If I
can do anything, I am at your command; but really the Professor
ought to attend to his own business. Maginn's behaviour
is most generous. Sorry indeed should I be to see him placing
me under such an obligation, and I trust Wilson will take a
proper view of the case. I myself would not, coûte que coûte
allow this; and besides, it will be of no use. One thing is
obvious, that no disgrace can come to you or the Magazine from
the business — the idiocy of Martin being so notorious. Wilson
cannot suffer you to have any loss in your purse. Therefore
don't, after doing your best, permit this thing to worry or annoy
your mind. He would never get heavy damages most certainly.
I shall be very anxious to hear the result of your letter, which
has been skilfully done — much improved in your hands. The
Mag. is a very good number. 'Mansie ' and the 'Noctes' highly
diverting, and the political articles of real excellence, and a
cursed deal too much of poetry such as every human being
can write and nobody ever will read, — of that you may be
September 18, 1825.
The Professor really seems to act on such occasions as if he
were mad. I am sure you must have remonstrated against
that 'Noctes,' and it is too bad to fly out thus, altho' forewarned
in so many ways. But we understand these failures of one of
the best-hearted men ever God put breath into.
The end of this story, so far as I can make out, was
the publication in the next number of the Magazine
of a letter called "Midsummer Madness and Mr
Martin," in which the hand of Lockhart seems discernible.
"'Why, this is very midsummer madness,'
says the Lady Olivia," he begins:—
Letter of Phillipus — Blackwood's Mag., Oct. 1825.
The midsummer moon, Mr North, seems to have poured her
brightest beams upon Ambrose's Athens during the last of your
'Noctes Cœnæque' — cannot on this particular occasion add
'Deum.' Now that the air has been chastened with a few night-frosts,
and the leaves begin to assume the sober livery of autumn,
I am in hopes that you will not cast your eye over the pages in
which that "colloquy divine" is embalmed without some feeling
of regret — I had almost said of shame. If I were in your place
I know full surely what my own sensations would be. At all
events, permit me to expect that at the fag-end of September
you will listen quietly to what a staunch friend of 'Maga' and
of the Good Cause thinks it incumbent on him to say. . . .
That the opinions expressed in the last of the 'Noctes Ambrosianæ'
in regard to Mr Wordsworth are really the opinions
of Mr North, I cannot for a moment believe — in the face of the
long and triumphant battle which 'Maga' has fought in defence
of that gentleman's character and genius. As little, I would
fain take upon me to decide, does the sober intellect of the sage
Christopher sanction the wild and cruel rhapsody of which my
worthy friend the member for Galway is made the subject by
those jovial interlocutors. The jocular depreciation of Wordsworth
will, I daresay, be understood well enough by those who,
from long experience, know that the Poet of the Lakes has no
admirer in the world half so efficient as yourself: they will
perceive at once that you were all in your tunes when such
things were said, or supposed to be said. But I do not remember
that Mr Martin's name was ever before introduced in
your pages, and am the more concerned that it should have
been introduced for the first time in this manner; because, sir,
it happens to be the fact that at this moment the character of
that most humane and generous individual is rendered systematically
and seriously the butt of the malevolent wit, if wit it
can be called, of a portion of the periodical press with which in
general no one seems to hold less in common than the person
I have the honour of addressing. The nonsense which you
have permitted yourself to set forth for mere nonsense sake is
cherished and applauded, as solemnly thought and deliberately
said, by creatures who for once enjoy the satisfaction of finding
a name that really does carry weight and authority with it on
their side, their own paltry side.
An account and panegyric of Martin follows. He
was the first man to introduce into Parliament a
bill for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals: and
he did not confine his philanthropical exertions to
carrying this measure, but himself stayed in London,
through all the trying progress of the autumn, scorning
the delights of grouse and other sport in order to
watch over the execution of its regulations, bringing
unfortunate drovers to justice, and then with delightful
Irish inconsistency begging them off again, and
pledging himself that they would never do it again —
from whence his constant appearance at the police
courts, and consequent exposure to all the jibes of the
Press. Never was a more complete amende made in
words, and Christopher was not spared by his stern
apologist. Wilson himself put the best face upon it,
and added a note.
Our friend [he said] has evidently taken a very serious view
of what was not, nor was ever meant to be, anything but a joke.
We take it, not very many of our readers are so far behindhand
as to be in any danger of misunderstanding matters of this
kind. Above all, we are very sure the kind and merry spirit
of Mr Martin is far above being moved, in the way our correspondent
seems to suspect, by anything in the shape of a
joke, even if it were a bad one.
It is somewhat difficult to understand the nature
of such a joke. And how Wilson, even at the very
height of reckless utterance, could have indulged in
jesting of the kind, nobody has ever been able to explain.
We can but give him the advantage of Lock-hart's
generous description, "one of the best-hearted
men ever God put breath into," and forgive him for its
sake. What better testimonial could a friend give?
And it is without suspicion, as said to a third party,
and mingled with both blame and regret.
There was, however, a great deal of trouble even
after this, and I have no doubt the publisher's pocket
again suffered; but it is to be hoped that in the end
the "kind and merry spirit of Mr Martin" was
satisfied. The eulogy which he had received in the
pages of 'Maga' was certainly much more extensive
and important than the offence.
In returning to the ordinary course of affairs after
this exciting episode, we may place here a proof that,
after all, notwithstanding the periodical risks to which
he exposed both publisher and publication, Wilson
was indeed the mainspring of the Magazine, and the
chief upholder of all that was most precious to the
ambition, and important in the career, of the friend
whose fidelity to him was never shaken, whatever
might occur, and who never lost an occasion of celebrating
his good deeds. The following letter has all
the greater weight as coming immediately after the
Martin episode: and it reveals in a most engaging
manner the close connection between the two men,
and the deep and warm feeling in Mr Blackwood's
heart, ready to forget the peccadilloes which he had
so often to pardon and condone: —
W. Blackwood to J. Wilson.
EDINBURGH, 17th Dec. 1825.
I have sent Mrs Wilson the Magazine, and I trust she will
be as much delighted with it as I am, and that is saying a
great deal.
How deeply I am indebted to you, it is quite impossible for
me to express. Anxious and restless as I always am at all
times, I was more especially so just now; but I felt it cruel, as
you were so unwell, even to wish you to make an exertion:
still I could not help my wishes, and nobly and most effectively
have you gone beyond them. Great as the advantages must be
to me at such a moment to publish such a number, it is not on
this account that I feel so happy; but it is from the delight I
always have had, and always will have, in seeing you doing what
no one else can attempt but yourself. So much is this feeling,
as it were, a part of my- nature, that by a sort of momentary
mental delusion I think of your articles as if I had been capable
of producing them myself: sure I am I could not feel more
proud of them if I had been capable of producing them. You
will excuse all this, which I could not help saying to you in the
fulness of my heart.
And you will also, I hope, pardon me for saying that the
Magazine is now going on so well I trust I will every day have
it more in my power to make it worth your while to give your
powerful aid to it, and that it will be every day more and more
creditable to every one connected with it. The last of the disagreeables
(and I trust it will be the last) that concerned Martin's
business is now settled, as you will see by the enclosed
letter from Cadell. This I take upon myself, and I hope you
will consider our Magazine accounts for 1825 as closed. I hope
and flatter myself that I shall have the pleasure of sending you
some good round scores early in 1826.
On the other hand, to counterbalance the warm
sentiment of the publisher, Wilson, though constantly
disappointing and wearying out his almost boundless
patience, now and then had fine impulses of work,
and placed himself within the safeguard of rules and
promises, most heartily undertaken, though doomed
to be broken. These alternations of extreme virtue
and a devotion almost too complete, with breakings
down nearly as notable, occur in amusing succession
all through the record — by no means, however, so
amusing to Blackwood as to us.
J. Wilson to W. Blackwood.
See if the printers have anything ready. I want an impulse
much to get on. But I intend to write for the Mag. every day
till dinner — and then my other affairs — till Tuesday, which will,
I hope, bring a long article to a close. It has not yet assumed
much shape. If the number contains any Critique, pray let me
see it.
I send now the last of the leading article. I must stop till I
know how long it is; perhaps it is long enough. . . . Had I
attempted to put in all the matter I have, the whole would have
been ruined. Tell me this evening how many pages remain for
me after Croly and Mr Hay's poem of three pages, which being
lively should go in by itself — I think after Croly, if my article
will not be much shortened thereby.
I have read over the article twice with great attention. I
hope you will leave out everything I have scored. Two or
three things not unobjectionable I have allowed to remain, for
they cannot be struck out without hurting something that remains.
The article will read well as it now stands. But I
would on no account call it No. V., for that looks like poverty.
The Doctor ought to follow; he is a better writer than Croly.
We are thus brought once again to the machinery
of the Magazine after Wilson had become the chief
adviser, and the first excitement of the beginning was
over: though, indeed, as the reader has seen, there
was no one so good as he in keeping that excitement
alive. The scraps of criticism are few, for these were
no doubt sent flying from one to another round the
table in the saloon, where all the brotherhood, soon
thinned by removal and change, still met continually,
and were thus exhausted and never got into print:
but here and there comes a word of interest mingled
with all the discussions of articles done, or doing, or,
alas! at the last moment found not capable of being
Here, for example, is a curious scrap. Galt's books,
'The Provost' and 'Sir Andrew Wylie,' were, as will
be seen hereafter, specially revised and superintended
by Mr Blackwood himself, and therefore extremely
interesting to him: —
I hear 'The Provost' is doing excellently. 'Nigel' has amused
me much. It is beyond all his works, lively, spirited, dramatic,
new — and after all not a Work. 'Sir Andrew Wylie,' I have
heard, assisted the author in the character of King James.
This will probably cause the reader to look with
more respect on the history of 'Sir Andrew Wylie,'
which has lately been reprinted by the Messrs Blackwood
in a very attractive new edition, and is, in many
respects, a most amusing book. There are, in fact,
certain analogies between its shrewd simplicity and
astuteness and the wonderful picture of gentle King
Jamie, which a little later came from the greater
artist's hand. One can imagine Scott's laugh and
cordial statement of the suggestion he had found in
the cunning and the fun of the humble hero — a suggestion
no doubt overstated in his large and generous
The few words which head the following letter are
liberal for the time and place in which they were
written. Silvio Pellico has been tamed down into a
book for the schoolroom, a first lesson in lucid Italian,
without the difficulties either of the archaic or the too
modern; but in those days he was a rebel, a revolutionary
— such a being as a High Tory, under whatever
difference of foreign circumstances he might
exist, could scarcely forgive: —
I like Pellico: he is a Liberal: but an Italian need not be
a slave to the aristocracies. The book is a very interesting one.
I should like to see no politics in the December number, if
possible. I have not done anything, nor has it been possible. I
have not even an introductory lecture for Tuesday; but I wish
to arrange for next week, and then I shall begin to arrange the
Spenser. The Anthology will end the Magazine. I have most
of the materials for it ready; and if it is of any consequence,
can send to the printers eight or ten or twelve pages to be
putting into type on Monday. I shall also do a Morning
Monologue, what I wrote of the other day being useless. These
are my three articles: Byron, Pellico (?), Barrington, will make
six — all good and light and amusing; and three or four more as
good or better, and also light and amusing, would make a lively
number. But I am prosing needlessly. Spenser cannot be
less than thirty pages — ten of extracts,1 and twenty of my own
writing. The printers have a Spenser, and thus no delay will
occur when they get my manuscript. Till Tuesday morning I
shall occupy myself with my class; after that I shall work
for 'Maga.'
Six articles seem a liberal allowance from one hand,
hut we wonder whether they all came to port in peace;
for if they did, there must have been halcyon times in
Princes Street, where so often the publisher's office
was occupied by troubled men, emissaries from the
printer added to the already excited staff, gnashing
their teeth, probably using improper language, worn
to the last thread of their patience before the lagging
manuscript came. The poor little printer's devil, who
had to cool his heels for hours in the hall in Wilson's
house at Ann Street, came in sometimes, it appears,
for blame, as will be seen in the solemnity of the
following appeal. "I shall be up at three," says the
culpable Professor —
but have done nothing. I remember to-morrow. I hope to
be able to begin fairly this evening. I have tried, but fallen
through everything.
I request you to call John, the bearer of this, and your boy
into the back-shop. John denies keeping him above five
minutes; and he himself declared to me in John's presence
that it certainly was not a quarter of an hour. I told him you
had yourself told me that he said he was detained three-quarters
of an hour, and he declared he had not said so, and must
have been misunderstood. I wish you, then, to ascertain from
the parties how this was — that the boy may never again have
1 There seems to have been a rule that extracts, which often were long,
should not count for remuneration — at least, at the same rate. Wilson
was unmerciful in this respect, and occasionally sent articles which were
made up of quotations.
to wait one minute. My belief is, from his own avowal, that
he was not kept ten minutes, or rather not five.
One does not hear, unfortunately, what the result
was of the examination in the back-shop; but without
further evidence, and without any blame to John, we
feel inclined to give our vote in favour of the boy.
The following must have been written in a gayer
mood: —
Do your orders to all the devils on no account to call at any
time on me without giving me an opportunity of confabulating
with their demonships. The system of giving in parcels and
flying off without an answer has again begun, and is too
much by far for my temper. The imp whom I caught last
night in the act of evanishment promised to haunt me this
morning at seven, but I smell no brimstone. Nevertheless "by
the pricking of my thumbs" I feel his approach, and here
he is.
Set up the accompanying MSS. immediately.
The Professor's proceedings evolved in the minds of
the Blackwood family in general a distrust of literary
punctuality which has scarcely died out in the third
generation. The now much diminished band who
fought under the banner of John Blackwood will
remember the twinkle in his eye with which, quite
irrespective of fact, he would suggest to his contributors
to "remember that this was a short month,"
while at the same time prepared to meet any delay
with a laugh and a ready excuse for the guilty writer,
which must also have been a development from the
much-tried patience of his father. I myself remember
in the sixties to have been in the condition of Wilson,
having "done nothing," on the 20th of the month, to
the next number of a story then running in the
Magazine: the said Magazine being due in London by
the 1st of the next month. But these were still heroic
days. The correspondence of Wilson continues always
in the same tone, explaining with the plausible amplitude
of a habitual sinner the reason of his delays, or
with the simplicity of a defaulter at school forestalling
the expected reproof, or with almost a whimper, like a
woman wounded, in fond or indignant woe, declaring
that he cannot bear the changed look or disapproving
word. Our excellent founder had to support all these
varieties of treatment as he might, sometimes pacing
his office in the fret and fume of wrathful impatience,
almost au bout, fearing for a breakdown altogether of
the all-important Magazine; sometimes meeting with
all his sober strength the petulant protest of the man
who would not endure reproach; sometimes melting in
answer to an agonised complaint of changed looks or
tones which the tender culprit could not bear. It
was amusing to hear in the many descriptions and
anecdotes of that lifelong connection, which I have
heard from Miss Isabella Blackwood, the thrill still
existing of the tone of family wrath, resentment, affection,
and enthusiasm for that intolerable and beloved
Professor, who kept the father of the house in continual
commotion, sometimes all delight and admiration,
sometimes half wild with indignation and
impatience. The publisher's daughter could not, to
her last days, laugh at the amusing, exasperating,
continued struggle, though her listeners did so at
the whimsical record. The reader will be able to
form an idea of it from the following letters. The
reference in the first is to an article which he had
been asked to revise and improve: —
The lad had better call as late to-night as possible — say
eleven — as I have done nothing to Abion — after flinging aside
as much as would make a good many pages, written on various
points, all inapplicable, I fear, and useless.
It is true that I willingly enough agreed to add what I could
to the Abion article, and it is true that in saying so I said a
very foolish thing: for I knew that I was saying what is rarely
possible to be done — at least by me. I do not believe you
yourself know what is wanted to his article, but merely have a
vague idea that it might be much better. No doubt it will or
may be a disappointment that I have not done that, whatever it
may be; but there is no blame on my part, for the simple
truth is that I cannot, and there is an end of it.
Perhaps it would be better to leave me 24 pages at the
beginning, and make Abion to follow. I shall also say here,
mildly but firmly, that in future, in case of any disappointment
arising to you from any delay on my part, you must not speak
in the manner you sometimes choose to assume towards me, as
for instance on Friday. You may mean a thing, nay, you may
think it, all right; but I do not, and as my manner is always
courteous to all men, I cannot at all like yours on such occasions:
and whether I am reasonable or unreasonable, I repeat,
in the most friendly temper of mind, that you must consider
what I now write, and not suffer me to leave your shop with
the feeling that you have become basely cruel. There is no use
in your saying a single word to me on the subject. I do not
believe you will take any blame to yourself for your manner,
but that you will think me in the wrong. Be it so: but I am
getting older every day, and such things are offensive to me in
a degree, perhaps more than should be. We have neither of
us any reason to doubt the other's esteem; but as I know that
I am entitled always to politeness, I wish you to consider what
I now say, for whether I am right or wrong I feel as I say, and
I have made up my mind to stay away at all times when I feel
your manners to be unpleasant.
Finally this particular business seems to have ended
well enough, for we hear in another note that the
"corrected slips" of the Abion have been gone over
and sent to Mr St Barbe, presumably the author of
the same. But the feeling of injury continues: —
No man is more unwilling to give or take offence from trifles
than I am; and no man more disposed to allow to a friend the
same privilege of finding fault with me as I with him in trifles.
But it either is a merit or demerit in me, to dislike any symptom
of displeasure shown towards me unnecessarily, or at a time
when it can do no good, and when I am endeavouring to do
what I can. I lose many more hours and days in trying to fix
on what to write, and to bring my mind into capacity to write,
than in writing. All this is painfully known to myself, but
cannot be so well known to you. For three days have I sat
like an idiot with slips before me, and scribbling childish nonsense
without success or hope of reward, and ended in disappointing
you not unjustly. It may be unreasonable to do so
and yet expect you to be not displeased, for it certainly must
be annoying; but it adds to my own annoyance to have added
to my consciousness of imbecility your expression of annoyance
also. You cannot imagine the hundredth part of the lets and
hindrances that besiege my mind about articles; and they often
assail me at the very juncture when their operation is worst
for all parties. That is a fact; but so far from any good being
done by your letting me see your annoyance, the evil is magnified
thereby a hundredfold. It amounts, in short, to utter
extinction of all form whatever, as you must frequently have
seen. So no more about it.
I shall begin to-day if possible with —. If not, with whatever
else I can do, that we may get on.
P.S. — I think, on the whole, that you had better let the
number be finished without saying a word about my letters;
and after that I shall certainly, as I ought, read kindly whatever
you may say, or, what will be better, show by a good
article or two that there is no need of anything being said.
Be indeed a good boy and never do it again. Such
are the curious remonstrances, complaints, and excuses,
with tears in the big blue eyes, and a tremulous commotion
in the big Hercules frame, when his publisher
was angry with him! There are so many of these
emotional protests and confessions that it is difficult
to choose from among them. Here is another of a
more practical tone. It is dated from Elleray, the
cottage on Windermere, to which Wilson still escaped
when he could, in that delightful recess of the entire
summer which makes a chair in a Scottish university
the most heavenly of official situations: —
I had wished and intended to write you a very long letter,
but shall not. Suffice it to say that it was more for my own
interest than yours that I should have written many articles
during the summer. When a man is not able to attend to his own
interests he is not able to attend to those of another. I would
not have come here had I not intended to write a good deal.
This being the case, no blame attaches to me, for mind and
body, the former through the latter, incapacitated me from
doing almost anything. I wish therefore not a word to be said
further between us on any account on this matter. I am at this
moment scarcely able from nervousness to write these few lines.
I shall arrive at your house by coach or mail on Tuesday first,
if there is a place; if not, on Wednesday. I hope that change
of scene and the journey may do me good. I have material
ready, and next day I will set to work on anything I can do, so
as to ensure a good number. I suppose that four or five days
will be at my service, and if I can get into good spirits, I will
work stoutly for these days. I will return with 'Maga' in my
No doubt he was the soul of the family circle while
he was there, and filled the house with jest and laughter.
The following note, without any name, refers to
some such visit: —
Professor W. came to town on Monday last week, and stayed
at Newington till the Thursday, when he went back again to
Innerleithen, where he and his family had been for the last four
weeks. While in our house he began and finished the concluding
article in this No. of 'Maga,' the review of Moore's
'Epicurean.' He had disappointed me sadly in not sending me
articles he had promised, and I had also been disappointed by
Mr Robinson, so that I was in a most miserable state with regard
to this number till the Prof. came to town. I had a
terrible hurry and skurry to get ready in time. The whole
number was printed and published in eight or ten days.
Our next view of the Professor is after some important
correspondence as to ways and means, in the
shape of a triumphantly reformed character, anticipating
nothing in the future but duty and glory, perfect trust
and co-operation, and boundless and successful work: —
I am extremely glad that I explained myself at some length
in my letter, because it has been the cause of your most friendly
and flattering letter. I am extremely glad that I alluded to a
belief in my mind that you had often overpaid me a guinea
page. If I know anything of myself, it is that I am not too
money-fond. Better for me it had been, if long ago I had been
more so. But your answer has prevented the possibility of my
fearing that you could ever think so. My contributions to
'Maga' shall be regular and vigorous. I see, as you say, that
I may make 600 guineas a-year, and I will do so. You shall
always, if I am in health at all, have as much of mine as you wish
— and never a single page more. With fourteen numbers in the
year perhaps I may earn considerably more than 600! but not
one line of mine shall ever go into 'Maga' that you do not
prefer for her interests to any other contributor. Mutual benefit
is the spirit of our understanding.
Meanwhile think of things to be done during the winter. I
have thought of a good many — and if a bad number appears
during the next year, Deo volente, I shall wonder at my own
I send a 'Noctes' and a [name illegible]. Both seem very
long; but let both be put up immediately. The first I can
easily if necessary cut down into two with some additions, and
the other likewise has some passages which, if too long, will
go into some other literary article. A good literary article shall
be in every number. For the love of God no chill slow 'Noctes';
for few, if anybody, liked them, and many hated them. That
was my fault, or rather my misfortune.
It would be vain to hope that such a beatific state
of affairs could last. Wilson, it is evident, retired to
the country, as many have done, with a certainty that
in the leisure and quiet he could do wonderful things;
but the open air, and the summer, and the hundred
inducements to idle and to wander, were too many for
him, and winter and the long evenings seemed then the
only hope. But by times everything failed, and indolence,
or dilatoriness, or "nervousness," not then as
now so tremendous an agency in men's lives, got the
better of him once more. Things came now and then
to such a dreadful pitch that a Magazine appeared
without him — that is, without anything from his
hand. He writes in startled admiration and wonder
of this strange fact, not without a faint tone of injury,
though quite aware it is his own fault. "Let the
Doctor [Maginn] do all kinds of clever things for
'Maga' this time," he says; "there should be a new,
striking, delightful, and conclusive preface, which M.
and L. can do very well without W."
Another cry of compunction follows: —
John, Wilson to W. Blackwood.
I have passed several very unhappy days in the thought of
acting badly towards you and the Magazine. I declare it to be
utterly impossible for me to write either on Dalton or a 'Noctes.'
Here have I sat for two hours in vain, unable to write a syllable.
If it were otherwise, you know that I would strain every
nerve to do it. It seems silly and unaccountable, but it is
absolutely true; I do not believe I could do it to save my life.
I have lost as many hours in not doing anything as I might
have done the articles in. I feel it impossible — out of my
power — and I have done all I could to do them. I therefore
shall go home. For misery it is to sit here impotent.
You must just put Wrest in place of the 'Noctes,' — and
either Beddoes or anything else that is tolerable in place of
There is no use in saying more: absolute incapacity prevents
me, and for five hundred pounds I could not do what I wished
to do most earnestly and truly.
Here follows an exchange of compliments in respect
to money, that fruitful source of misunderstandings,
in which all is amiable, honourable, and magnanimous.
The letter is endorsed by Mr Blackwood, "Received
14th December 1826, in answer to my note telling
him I had been disappointed of Robinson's [a political
writer] article, begging of him to do something, and
enclosing him a draft on the Royal Bank for £50."
John Wilson to W. Blackwood.
I return the order, for although to all men with families,
&c., money is most desirable, yet under present circumstances
I cannot accept this order. It is returned, however, merely
from a feeling; and no thought of your being wrong in sending
it. Sending money to me can never be wrong — it must
always be extremely right and pleasant, but just now I cannot
but return it.
I am distressed, too, about Robinson; and yet, perhaps,
although such articles are necessary at times, and frequently,
they are not necessary always. All last night was I forced to
lose in an idiotic Inquest, with that accident on Windermere
— and am this moment up, having been wearied to death. I
must evidently do something at this pinch, and perhaps four or
five pleasant articles without much pretence may do. I dine
out at six, but shall begin to something in a quarter of an
The courteous publisher replied in the same strain
of high politeness and lofty feeling: —
W. Blackwood to J. Wilson.
Saturday, Dec. 1826.
Since you think it best (and your wishes will always be my
rule) to return me the draft, I hope you will with the same
frankness draw on me from time to time. My anxious wish is
that the Magazine should really be an object worth your attending
to, both as respects remuneration, respectability, and general
It is no doubt annoying that Robinson has not been able to
do his article at this particular moment, but if you can find
leisure to do what you intend, the number will be much more
popular, and the cessation from politics for one month will
have no bad effect. Perhaps, however, you may land upon
something political connected with literature. I cannot help
still thinking that if Croly's critique upon Sheridan's Dramas
were altered and shortened, and a spirited view given of Moore's
life in your own admirable way, it would be a most delightful
article. But I do not wish to suggest anything except what
wholly strikes yourself.
Another time, however, the Professor was less coy.
"I keep the twenty guineas," he says, "as it is foolish
to return money. But it would be a little Jewish or
so to consider my articles worth forty guineas, and,
therefore, I will give you a good sheet or two for
your next, if required, gratis. Money is an excellent
stimulant to all virtuous actions."
Robinson appears from time to time, sometimes
applauded, sometimes much the reverse. Here is an
instance of the difficulties which all contributors had
to pass through: —
The beginning of R— is beastly. He is quite mad on one
Idea. But possibly what he says about the Poor Laws may be
good: and if so and not long, I would perhaps clip off the
beginning and insert it. He must submit, as I and others are
willing to do occasionally, to reason, and your and the Magazine's
interests. As soon as I get the whole of the 'Noctes' I
will finish it off. I have got all except what was sent last night
and this morning. I think it will be good, but it must be
interspersed with touches here and there. It will be thirty-two
The following is interesting, as bearing upon the
vexed question, so often discussed since, of the editorship.
Wilson gives no uncertain sound on this
subject; and the faint grudge as to the profit of the
post, which Blackwood did not choose to depute to
any one, gives point to the disclaimer. It was an
opportunity of giving the publisher a friendly prick
in passing.
John Wilson to W. Blackwood.
Last night I received a letter from Dr Philpotts, of the
kindest nature, but saying that he had been told yesterday that
I was the editor of "that invaluable Magazine." I must
answer his letter this evening, and in alluding to that part
of it do not wish to say anything that may seem to contradict
anything in your letter to him if you have written to him, and
if from any expression in your letter he uses that expression
to me.
I am not editor of that invaluable Magazine either in
responsibility or in annual income, which ought to be to the
editor — namely, Mr Blackwood — at the rate of other periodicals,
from £500 to £1500 per annum. But I am always most
willing to assist and give my advice to the said editor, and to
write articles, and good ones occasionally when I can, at the
rate of sixteen guineas per sheet — good payment to a first-rate
contributor. I am always ready, too, to avow publicly or
privately my connection with 'Maga,' or to say to Dr Philpotts
or any other man that I am in your confidence and you in
mine on the subject of 'Maga.' If I were to say to the doctor,
"I am not editor, and you are misinformed," I should be saying
the truth, but might seem, perhaps, to him to contradict your
letter, if it be from that he speaks. If I were to say "I am
editor," or acquiesce virtually in his remark, I would be taking
credit to myself for what I do not deserve, and defrauding you
of the merit of capacity and spirit in the conduct thereof.
If, therefore, you have not written to the doctor at all, I
shall, without disavowing anything, tell him I am not editor
but a friend of yours, always ready to give advice and an
opinion when requested, and a chief writer in 'Maga.' If
you have written to him anything from which he draws the
conclusion aforesaid, it would be well I should know its import,
that you and I should not to such a man appear to be saying
two different things.
This matter, however, which seems to be taken up
in so amiable a manner, must, it would appear, have
given rise to one more of the frequently recurring
and tragical breaches between Wilson and the much-enduring
head of affairs in Princes Street. There are
several voluminous letters on the subject, in which our
child of genius goes further even than before in his
wounded feelings, and complains, for many pages, of
a manner, an air, a look of distance and indifference,
which he could not bear: —
I beg leave to say there was something by no means agreeable
to me in the style of your manner yesterday in respect to
Mr Philpotts and his pamphlet. Notwithstanding that, however,
I overlooked it, and to-day sent a few lines for you to
send to him, which I read to you. You did not thank me for
these, either by word or manner, but merely said rather drily
that you had intended to say the same yourself. Now, I prefer
writing this to saying it. I have to-day shown you all kindness
and disposition to kindness, in spite of the displeasure I felt.
But if ever again you assume any shade of the same manner,
however slight, you may depend on this, as surely as that you
and I are alive, that I will confine myself henceforth solely
and exclusively to the occasional writing of articles, and leave
everything else entirely to yourself.
Neither am I going to argue on this subject, or to say that
you are wrong in assuming such a manner. But I merely say
that I will not endure any of it, even the very least; and it is
to me most offensive.
With respect to not sending as usual a copy of the Magazine
down to me, which, from your manner, seemed connected with
the same cause or some cause to me unknown, it is purely
laughable and absurd, and to me, of course, who have seen the
sheets till I may well be tired of them, a matter of utter indifference.
Why this occurred to you now and not before, I do
not know; but the caution or reserve, or whatever else it may
be, is utterly ludicrous.
An answer, expressing surprise at so sudden an
onslaught on such visionary cause, seems to have
been sent, and this is the reply: —
Perhaps it is unnecessary to say anything more on this subject,
especially as of all men I most dislike and have the least
turn for letter-writing that can seem to be of a querulous
character; yet to prevent any present or future misconception
I shall say a few words.
I do not see why you should have been so utterly confounded
by my letter, for my displeasure — I will say anger — on
Friday was obvious enough, and, therefore, that I should afterwards
say so to you seems to be nothing unexpected or extraordinary.
I did not conceal my displeasure, which was reasonable
and just; and I am sure you did not conceal yours, and
therefore my letter need not have at all surprised you, whether
you agreed or disagreed with its contents.
I say my anger was perfectly reasonable and just, for I could
not comprehend then, nor do I now, what you meant or wished
to be done in the matter of Philpotts. You offended me by
insisting on the word promise; and when I denied all promise,
told me I must have forgotten: which was not the case,
memory having nothing to do with it. There neither has nor
could have been any promise. I offered to review the pamphlet,
but not surely in the face of sense or reason, and I gave you the
day before, Thursday, my impressions on one point of difficulty,
in which you perfectly agreed with me. I told you if
that difficulty could be removed or got over in any way, the
article should be written, and yet in the midst of all this, which
you felt as much to be a difficulty as I did, and acquiesced in
all I said about it, you kept looking dissatisfied, and saying
something or other which was to me unintelligible. There was
nothing further for me to say or do. I explained clearly a
certain difficulty which you clearly saw, and for you to write
to Philpotts telling him that I thought so or felt so at present,
but would write to him by-and-by, was said by me from the
very beginning. In such a case to call by the name of promise,
and to seem to think that promise violated or rejected by me,
what was merely a proposal to do that which might be useful
to the Magazine, but which had turned out to be the reverse
(till the difficulty was removed), did annoy me very much and
justly; for allow me to say there was something exceedingly
disagreeable in your whole manner, and what I will not on any
future occasion endure. . . .
It is true that I curbed but did not conceal my displeasure.
I spoke to you about the Magazine, and I wrote the paragraph
to Philpotts. There was no reason why I should not. But I
take credit rather than otherwise for that; because, having
determined to tell you my mind, I felt no inclination to be
unkind or indifferent about the Magazine or any other matter.
That you consciously or positively intended any slight or insult
to me in the matter of the latter I did not and do not say; but
I did and do say that your manner was not only ungracious
but uncivil, and I question if any man was ever called back
ten times unceremoniously from the street and given a letter to
read, and then allowed to depart, with such perfect nonchalance
and indifference.
As for the stoppage of the Magazine, I said in my letter to
you that the occurrence of that measure at present, and in
connection with what had occurred, seemed to arise possibly
from that cause; whether it did or not is best known to yourself.
I believe it did not exactly, as you withheld it from Mr
Cay; but from a certain feeling of dissatisfaction. . . . From
whatever cause proceeding, the circumstance of not sending
the Magazine to me as you used to do, both with alacrity and
pleasure, continues to appear to me in a ludicrous light, for
I do not understand it. When you mentioned your intention
there was the same dryness and distance in your manner to
which you have alluded: in short, there was nothing but a
slight sneer of contempt, so slight, it would appear, that it
had escaped your notice, so that you interpreted literally
words, the true meaning of which I did not think could be
mistaken. That I could approve of any such absurd or unnecessary
measure was not possible. Some reason or other
there must be for the alteration; and I must conjecture that
it is merely that there may be in the world one General Oracle
without any exception.
To be done once and for ever, I repeat that I was offended
because not treated in the only way I ought to be, and offended
the more because I never did once in the whole of my life treat
you with the slightest approach to annoyance, and because in
an intercourse which is not merely one of business but of
voluntary acts of kindness, also of advice, always cheerfully
offered when wanted, I cannot, I will not, I ought not to
stomach anything of the sort, whether intentional or unintentional.
I was not treated in the way I like, that is the short
and the long of the matter, and there must be no repetition
of it.
As to anything vexing you, if it be anything serious, I can
only say that I am truly sorry for it, and hope that it is gone
by. Let there be no further mention or allusion to this subject
if you please, nor shall you ever perceive the slightest effect
on my behaviour or feelings towards you from what is in
one sense a mere nothing, but in another a something to be
Perhaps this letter was rather too long to quote;
but it affords a curious view of the emotional and
childlike character of the man, so big, so strong, so
almost riotous in his personality, — the jovial if sometimes
crusty Christopher, the hero of Ambrose's in
fun and frolic and poetry; in real life an athlete who
carried everything before him, as in literature he was
one of the most daring of Free-Lances, — yet here
wellnigh weeping over the dry tone, the distant air,
the unkind manner of his publisher, proclaiming to
heaven and earth — or at least to the saloon and the
back-shop — the wrongs of his wounded soul; but
writing himself into good-humour again, and a quite
inconsequent prayer that nothing more might be said
nor any allusion made to the subject. That all the
floods of sentiment and indignation poured at intervals
— if that unfortunate man of many toils and cares
happened to look preoccupied, or the new number of
the Magazine was not sent out hot from the press —
upon his devoted head, should have driven Blackwood
almost off his sober balance occasionally, would only
have been natural. But probably because of these
tragic and comic fluctuations, and the wonderful
charm yet exasperation which lies in never knowing
what the object of your thoughts will do next, the
relationship of the publisher to his most potent and
really indefatigable contributor was always as attractive
as it was faithful and true. It was said that
nobody but Mr Blackwood could manage the Professor;
but the office was not a sinecure. It was one
that required constant attention, watchfulness, and a
great patience. I regret that the letters written in
answer to these are not to be found; but perhaps it is
really more expressive of Blackwood's attitude that
he should here say nothing in reply to such objurgations
and complaints. The accuser has it all his own
way; but in his flurry gives a great advantage to the
silent partner, whose steadiness of character and manful
composure seem to be emphasised by the silence.
And it is no small testimony to both to say that,
though these whimsical outbursts were repeated a
hundred times, and though even Blackwood's temper —
not a meek one — did sometimes when "much enforced
give forth a hasty spark," yet that the steady affection
and esteem with which they each regarded the other
sustained no damage. The following letter is an expression
of Mr Blackwood's sincerest feelings on this
subject: —
All I shall say is that you have been the Genius and the
Living Spirit which has animated the work, and whatever
success it has had I owe most unquestionably to you in the
first and chief place. I can most conscientiously declare that,
wholly independent of the success of the work (to which your
articles were always sure to contribute), I have felt a happiness
in receiving your communications which to me was far beyond
any considerations of personal advantage, and I had always
more pleasure in paying you 100 gus. than any one else 50.
The times are fertile in subjects, and your feeling and fancy
are inexhaustible. I have much to say but I refrain. All I
shall add is that there is nothing in this life I am so proud of
as your friendship, and I hope and pray to God that it may
continue while life lasts and with our children's children.
Professor Wilson lived to see three of Blackwood's
sons in rotation assume the reins. He continued to
kick sometimes now and then against the sway of the
younger spirits; but he stood by them loyally through
every change. And he was himself a sort of tutelary
deity to the Blackwood house. His bust and portrait
still stand leonine, with flowing mane, presiding over
everything that goes on, as he did in his fine and careless
person both in youth and age.
I may add here two letters of advice, both on poetical
subjects; the first treating of the poetry of Mrs
Hemans, then in her youth, and applauded to all the
echoes in public, though not so enthusiastically in the
freedom of private life: —
Professor Wilson to W. Blackwood.
I really do not know how I can advise you respecting Mrs
H. It seems a case on which you alone can decide — to wit,
whether her contributions are or are not worth the money.
My opinion, on the whole, is as follows: She is the best of our
female writers of what is called Poetry. Her verses are often
beautiful, always melodious, but — I think they should either be
all accepted or all declined. For none of them that I have read
are unworthy of a place in that department of a Magazine, as
verses go — and she is a popular enough writer, entitled, I
think, to that right. It would be offensive to her to have them
returned; and I scarcely think any of them should be rejected.
Are they then worth the money? Confound me if I know!
To me they are not. But, I believe, to many readers they give
much pleasure. They make an agreeable break, and they are
generally pleasant reading. Besides, she was, I presume, flattered
by their reception, and perhaps might feel hurt by being
cut off, as well as injured by the loss of the coin. I am rather
disposed to think you should go on with her; but I will converse
with you about it, as it certainly is a point rather perplexing.
It is surprising that she is not run out entirely, and
dry as a whistle. Poetry is certainly a drug — but hers don't
seem to disgust. I conclude my unsatisfactory epistle.
The second of these letters concerns a poem of Mr
Aird, of whom Wilson thought more highly than of
Mrs Hemans, though we doubt whether his high
opinion has been confirmed. It is somewhat startling
to think of the publication of a long and serious poem
as a serial, much as that method of publication has
developed since then.
John Wilson to W. Blackwood.
27 Oct. 1831.
To prevent any misunderstanding about Mr Aird's poem,
I will mention what passed between him and me about it and
the Magazine.
I said to him that in my opinion a Magazine was little
the better or the worse for short copies of verses good or bad,
and that a new feature in a magazine and a good feature would
be the occasional introduction of a long poem, three or four
times a-year. I think it would. Some months ago I read
his poem and thought it possessed great power, as all his poems
do: also much beauty.
A few days ago Mr Aird reminded me of what I said about
long poems for the Magazine, and told me he had shown it
to you, with a view of its being inserted if you liked it. I
told him he had done right. With regard to prose contributions
I told Mr Aird that I generally agreed with your
judgment, so much so that I never thought of giving an opinion
about them, except when asked to do so in a doubtful case;
but that in poetry it was different: for that I held that no
one could judge perfectly well of poetry but those who could
write it: this is my opinion. I told him, therefore, that in
cases of poetry, I considered myself to be a better judge than
you, and that I had no objection to advise poetry to be inserted
in the Magazine, even if it should not appear to you so good
as it appeared to me, which I would not do in the case of
I said this to him. I told him so in the belief that you
might object to his poem on account of its peculiarities or
other causes, more than I should do, although I did not doubt
that you would appreciate its merits.
This is the cast and substance of our conversation, and I
added that I would on the first opportunity speak to you about
the poem. With regard to that poem or any other which
Mr Aird will write, it will have strongly marked upon it
certain peculiarities, and the question will be simply this,
whether they are such as to exclude it or not from insertion
in the Magazine.
In my opinion the merits are far greater than the defects:
and that a twenty-page poem, if showing power and genius,
would be better in the Magazine than many a prose paper
even of average ability or interest. That is to say, now and
To get long poems faultless, or free from great and many
faults, is not easy. "The Jewess of the Cave" is not of the
number. Still Mr Aird's poem may have in your eyes, looking
at it with a view to all I have said, greater faults than in
mine, and such faults as may make you decide, however reluctantly,
against its admission. And if so, then I think you
will be justified in not inserting it, notwithstanding my vote
on the other side. Probably you may be of the opinion that
long poems would not benefit the Magazine, however talented,
unless such as would on the whole defy criticism, and be universally
or very generally popular. To me it appears that such
long poems would be seldom if ever got, and that, therefore,
the idea of inserting long poems in the Magazine (as a new
feature — now and then) will have to be relinquished, unless
such are inserted whose merits overbalance their defects, however
numerous and strong these may be.
This is a long story; but I have troubled you with it, that
you may exactly understand my views in general. Consider
these, and then judge from a careful perusal for yourself
whether or not Mr Aird's poem fulfils the provisions of the
new Act.
P.S. — This letter reminds me of De Quincey.
The letter does very much resemble De Quincey:
much more than it resembles Wilson, in its elaborate
balance of arguments and complete inconclusiveness.
It is a curious question, and we can imagine
Blackwood, who never had written any poetry, to
have been somewhat confused by it, though probably
he settled such matters summarily on the simpler
issue, whether he liked a poem or not.
The negotiation about the publication of Wilson's
own collected poems, though of considerably earlier
date, may be added. These poems have faded very
much out of the popular memory, yet they had
some reputation in their day.
J. Wilson to W. Blackwood.
26th April 1824.
With respect to my poems, I prefer writing a few lines to
you, as I dislike conversations about money, although very fond
of money itself.
My wishes are as follows, and my reasons for my wish are as
follows: —
I wish you to take the copyright for two hundred and fifty
guineas. You spoke of two hundred guineas, and in case of
another edition a hundred more. It does not seem, therefore,
that what I ask is anything much beyond your proposal.
The reason why I wish to sell you the copyright just now
is neither more nor less than that I want money. For I ought
to have had four hundred guineas from you had I done my
duty in writing 'The Foresters' or any other volume — over
this, a proposal for a new book, there would be no difficulty
in settling at once; but really as to my poems I know not
what may be their value to you, or whether what I now ask
may be at all advisable for you to give. But the value of a
thing is what it will bring the proprietor, and I could have
considerably more than the two hundred and fifty guineas for
the said copyright if I chose to be a Dealer, but that, of course,
is not likely to happen. I wish the poems to be published
by you, and to belong to you, and I have mentioned the
The same day, this letter having evidently been
answered at once, the Professor explains what seems
the enigmatical character of a part of what had
been said in it: —
Your acceptance of the terms proposed is prompt and friendly,
and shall be considered such. The offer I allude to was as
follows: I was carelessly speaking of the worthlessness in the
market of poetry such as mine, half in jest, half in earnest, and
next morning a gentleman, who had been of the company,
offered me four hundred guineas for the copyright of all my
poems. I never thought of taking it, as I felt at the time it
was meant as a handsome inducement for me to give that
gentleman something else; neither did I then mention it to
you, for, if I had, I thought it might either put you under the
necessity of offering the same, which would have been unjust,
or at least my speaking of having rejected an offer on your
account, which would also not have been agreeable.
Things for me are much better as they are, and I hope, too,
that neither will you suffer in any respect by your ready
acquiescence in my proposal.
We have already remarked upon the extraordinary
irregularities and delays that made the intercourse
between the publisher and writer all through their
long connection a constant succession of risks and
alarms. There are sheaves of notes like the following
in the correspondence: —
However painful to myself, and I fear also to you, I am
obliged to give up the attempt to do a 'Noctes.' I have
tried as earnestly as I could, and I cannot. If I could I
would, on all accounts, my own as well as yours. I have sat
up three nights till 3 o'clock and done nothing but utter heavy
nonsense, which I have thrown into the fire; a bad 'Noctes'
would do more harm than any one thing else. My mind has
been incapable of doing what it was my most anxious wish to
do; and that being the case truly, it must be put up with, and
nothing said on the subject, except a hope that it will be otherwise
next month, and any heaviness of this number redeemed
then. It will pain me to see you annoyed at this. I will do
what I can: nobody can do more.
For more than two months I have not had more than two
entire days of anything like peace of mind. I cannot write
more on a subject so distressing. But till a fortnight or rather
more, one hour's rest of mind or body has been rare to me. Mrs
W.'s life was long in imminent danger, and her health is yet
precarious. As for my own, I have suffered a great deal more
than any one knows. But for the present no more. Two weeks
ago I was beginning to get easy again, and began to do something;
but John, my boy, was suddenly taken dangerously ill,
and fainted so often that the medical men did not know what
to make of it. If this, and more than this by far, does not
excuse a man for being incapacitated for writing, what in God's
name does?
As to my friendship, you have it as before; but I have not
read a book or written a word, except lately three or four
letters, since I came here. God only knows all I have suffered,
and if you have been angry your anger has been misplaced.
Many of these notes are marked, being without
date, with that of their reception by the publisher,
written with an exasperated pencil, in all the eloquence
of a protest and appeal to heaven and earth,
like the following: "Received at 10 o'clock at night,
Dec. 9." The day of publication was the 20th in
those days, and the Professor had not yet put pen to
paper: —
Tell Robert to call on me to-morrow on his way to the shop,
and let me see exactly how things are.
Everything has conspired to make me useless; but I think
things have been as bad before, and I shall furnish the articles
manfully yet. The Homer (when done) may go in anywhere,
and thus no time be lost.
This very night am I obliged to go out, else my daughter
Margaret must stay at home from a party: I forgot it. Curse
me if I do not get them done right, in spite of all the demons
in Dulness' halls.
We fear that Blackwood, though very soft-hearted
towards the maidens and their merry-makings, having
two of his own, would not be very indulgent towards
Miss Margaret and her party, on that occasion at
These scraps of hasty letters take us behind the
scenes, and let us see how hard it was to keep all
in working order: and how doubly hard to drive a
winged steed in the vehicle which is to carry your
eggs to market, over all the rough roads and harsh
macadam of the half-made ways. It is much steadier
driving nowadays, when the teams are so much tamer,
and the roads crushed smooth by endless merchandise.
And yet perhaps it was a different rate of
going, with all its risks and continual danger of
upsetting, in the old heroic days.
It is not necessary here to enter into the details of
Wilson's private history, which have already formed
the subject of a biography — well and modestly done, so
far as he was concerned, though with many mistakes
in regard to other people — by his daughter; nor of his
legend — the myth and tradition of Christopher North
— his crutch, his convivialities, the symposia in which
he was the chief figure, which originated in the earliest
days of the Magazine, and continued so long. He
lived to be an old man — one of the landmarks of
the faithful city which has a knack of turning its
favourites into demigods. A Norse demigod, not a
Greek, was Wilson, with his yellow locks hanging
about his great shoulders. It is one of the recollections
of my early days to have been taken to see
him — a young writer, much abashed with so novel a
character — when he was near the end of his life.
My companion and patron was Dr Moir, the gentle
"Delta" of Blackwood, the well-beloved physician,
whom everybody delighted to honour. Professor
Wilson came to us, large, and loosely clad, with
noiseless large footsteps such as some big men have
the gift of: his hair thin, which had been so abundant,
and dimmed out of its fine colour, but still
picturesquely falling about his ears, making a background
for his still ruddy countenance. My friend
said something, perhaps a little conventionally, about
my modest achievement in literature, and that I must
be warned against overwork. "No need of that," said
Christopher; "so long as she is young and happy
work will do her no harm." I have great difficulty in
realising that the little person who gazed reverentially
upon that majestic old figure, as upon one of the forefathers,
judges, and lawgivers among men, had any
connection with myself; but the picture remains very
clear upon the mind, as though of yesterday — the two
men, both transfigured in a pair of young eyes, the
large old poet like a tower, and opposite to him the
keen Scots professional man, clean shaved and closely
shorn, genial and kind, with the glimmer of gentle
poetry in him, which all the kind brethren swore
by, though it was but a modest taper. Wilson by
that time had almost ceased to work, yet not long
before had published a belated series called 'Christopher
under Canvas,' in which there were many fine
pieces of poetical criticism, like diamonds among the
rinsings of the mine: but the world had outgrown
him by that time.
IT would be impossible in any record of 'Blackwood'
to leave out the Shepherd, who, whatever he might
be in himself, was one of the most characteristic
figures in the group which brought it into being —
as he also takes a very definite place, in his often
rude and rustic individuality, in that which surrounds
Scott. This is immortality enough, one would think,
for such a man, and extreme and extraordinary promotion;
but the Shepherd would not have thought so,
who held his head as high as any, and thought himself
badly treated, and was apt to babble about envy and
injury, when the first place was not open to him. In
his mature age Wilson (and indeed Lockhart too, and
the other hands which worked at first on the 'Noctes')
gave him a fictitious importance in that brilliant record,
putting the most beautiful speeches into his
mouth, though sometimes, it must be added, holding
him up on the keen spear of ridicule for the amusement
of the world. But he gained much more than
he lost, and the Shepherd is perhaps the personage
who best survives through the mists which have
closed over that laughing company, half fictitious,
half genuine, a truly characteristic and individual
figure, with his head often among the stars, though
his feet are the devious heavy feet of a son of the soil.
His appearances amid the mass of papers which have
been collected respecting the origin and early history
of the Magazine are manifold: in letters innumerable,
but rendered of little use from the fact that they are
very often about money, and the shifts and scrapes of
his not very fortunate career; in songs, all, I presume,
published at the time, but sunk into deepest oblivion
now; in scraps of proofs, of manuscripts, — a chiffonier's
heap of rubbish, in which survive a few relics which
retain a likeness of the man. There is no want of information
respecting James Hogg, for he himself published
an Autobiography, the quite naïve and simple
vanity of which is more remarkable than the facts
narrated. "I must apprise you," he says in a prefatory
note addressed to Scott, "that whenever I have occasion
to speak of myself and my performances, I find it
impossible to divest myself of an inherent vanity."
The confession is made very complacently, as from one
who knows and feels that he has occasion to be vain,
and it is fully carried out in the pages that follow.
He had scarcely begun to rhyme when "I told my
friend, the Rev. James Nichol, that I had an inward
consciousness that I should yet live to be compared
with Burns; and though I might never equal him in
some things, I thought I might excel him in others."
The friend "reprobated the idea"; but yet, when
Hogg's first poem was made known to the world, the
assumption did not perhaps seem so audacious, for
there are passages in 'The Queen's Wake' which
are of a delicate and visionary beauty, such as Burns
never attempted. The poem of "Bonnie Kilmeny,"
for instance, in my own case one of the objects of a
child's adoration, has still to my ear an exquisite
sweetness and purity, a feeling which I think most
readers must share.
Mr Blackwood's first connection with the Shepherd
was, as we have seen, on the occasion of the failure
of the publisher, an Edinburgh man, unknown
except locally, who published 'The Queen's Wake.'
Blackwood had acted as trustee in the bankruptcy of
Goldie, and did his best to secure the amount of his
just remuneration to Hogg, who seems even at that
period to have already been an acquaintance at least,
and who was also known to Constable, to whom he took
his first volume. He himself reports a conversation
of his with Constable on the subject, which shows
something of the mingled familiarity and rudeness for
which the Shepherd was afterwards distinguished.
Constable very naturally asked to see the manuscript
which he was requested to publish. "What skill
have you about the merits of a book?" asked Hogg.
"It may be so, Hogg," said he; "but I know as well
how to sell a book as any man, which should be some
concern of yours; and I know how to buy one, too!"
Hogg, on the whole, made not a bad thing of 'The
Queen's Wake.' The particulars I have unfortunately
mislaid: but so far as my recollection serves me, the
sum realised was £240: which, indeed, as the profits
on a small book of poetry, — well known as a generally
unsaleable article, and which was his first introduction
to the world, — was comparatively a large sum,
and would, we think, dazzle a provincial poet now;
but the age was one which, in the flush of a poetic revival,
read much poetry, and, what is perhaps of more
importance, bought it. Even at this beginning of his
career Hogg was not a young man. "I was forty," he
says, "before I wrote 'The Queen's Wake';" and he
had already had sharp experience of life, having been
a farm-servant, a shepherd, and a small farmer, one
after the other. At the time his first poem was
written he was a resident in Edinburgh; but soon
after he was presented by the Duke of Buccleuch, in
memory of the Duchess, who had died a short time
before, with "the small farm of Altrive Lake, in the
wilds of Yarrow." The Duchess had wished to give
the poet a house, and this was the manner in which
her husband carried out her wish. "In the letter he
said, 'The rent shall be nominal'; but it has not even
been nominal, for such a thing as rent has never once
been mentioned." There was never a more pretty
mode of patronage, nor a more touching way of paying
regard to the wishes of the dead.
This gift enabled the Shepherd to resume the mode
of life that was natural to him, and one of the first
letters we find gives a very pleasant picture of the
household and habits of the farmer-poet, to whom his
poetry was not only a crown but a solid foundation,
meaning at this period of life prosperity and honour,
as well as admission to a class of society quite inaccessible
to any other man of his degree. "I was a frequent
guest at his Grace's table," he says, "and as he
placed me always next him on his right hand, I enjoyed
a great deal of his conversation." Hogg's position
at the Duke's right hand may perhaps require
authentication; but he had unquestionably a still
higher advancement, being received familiarly and
kindly into his most intimate circle by Scott; and in
the young group of the Blackwood men he was at first
an important figure. The following letter is dated
from his little farmhouse among the hills, August 12,
1816, before as yet the great enterprise of the Magazine
had been taken up: —
James Hogg to W. Blackwood.
You may think me ungrateful in not writing to you as I
promised, especially when you have been so mindful of me; but
once you see how barren my letter is, you will think different.
There is not an article here that can have any interest to a
citizen; for though there are a number of blackcocks, muirfowl,
&c., on our hills, there are such a crew of idle fellows (mostly
from Edinburgh, I daresay) broke loose on them to-day, that it
seems to a peaceful listener at a distance like me as if the
French were arrived at the Forest. Yet all this, and everything
I have it in my power to mention, you know must take place of
course. In fact, the people of Edinburgh should always write to
their friends in the country, and never expect any answer. For
my part, I know that all the letters I ever received from the
country while I was there were most insipid, nor can it otherwise
be. We converse only with the elements, and our concerns
are of the most trivial and simple nature. For my part, I feel
myself so much at home here, and so much in the plain rustic
state in which I spent my early years, that I have even forgot
to think or muse at all, and my thoughts seem as vacant as the
wilderness around me. I even wonder at some of my own past
ideas. I have neither written nor corrected a line since I left
Edinburgh, and as I never intend returning to it for any length
of time, I think I may safely predict without the spirit of
prophecy that you have seen the best, and most likely all, of my
productions that you ever will see. They have gained me but
little fame and far less profit; and certainly the most graceful
way of giving up the contest is to retire indignant into my
native glens, and consort with the rustic friends of my early
youth. This is no rhodomontade, my dear sir, but the genuine
sentiments of my heart at this time. Do not, however, neglect
to favour me still with a reading of all new works in my own
way. I will return the 'Melodies,' but I will keep this and the
future Nos. of the 'Review,' and you or Murray may debit me
with it as cheap as you like. The 'Melodies' bear a few striking
touches of a master's hand, but there are some of them feeble,
and I think they must be Lady B.'s. She is not equal to Moore
for Melodies. I am still harassed with visitors, most of them
what you Edinburgh people would call great skemps; but there
have been a few here whom I was truly glad to see, among
whom I may mention Wilson, and Ballantyne 1 in Kelso, whom
you know I very much admire: but though the weather was
delightful, and though he testified the highest delight with the
scenery of our lakes, he was not at all in his usual spirits.
Pray let me hear from you on every emergency, if it were but
two or three lines; the oftener the better. We have no post
nor any carrier from this, and I neither know how nor when I
am to get this letter carried. Query, Am I to get any new
editions betwixt this and the New Year? Is 'The Thistle and
the Rose' abandoned for ever?
The works that followed were scarcely so successful
as 'The Queen's Wake,' and Hogg's letters are chiefly
occupied by the announcement of ineffective volumes
and negotiations for their publication. He was introduced
to Mr Murray by Blackwood, and apparently
raised an interest in the mind of that gentleman —
who took a share with Mr Blackwood in several of his
1 The Ballantynes began business in Kelso.
books, and was kind to the Shepherd, sending him
books ('Emma,' for instance, which Murray considered
likely to be a pleasing and profitable present to the
Shepherd), and showing him much of the indulgent
and good-humoured patronage which Hogg met with
everywhere. Hogg himself was familiar and easy
in his communication with all; and even the great
Murray did not daunt the outspoken poet. But
Blackwood was his chief dependence and closest
friend. Here is a proposal, however, of a kind which
we may be sure the publisher, who took so conscientious
a view of his own responsibility, did not
accept: —
My 'Cottage Winter Nights' is ready for the press: if you
are for them, tell me. The conditions, of course, shall be of
your own making for the first edition; but, as I want money
particularly, I will give you the copyright for £63, 7s. per
volume of 300 pages. The work consists of the Rural and
Traditional Tales of Scotland. They are simple, carelessly and
badly written, but said to be very interesting. "The Bridal of
Balwood," which you read, is the longest tale; not the best, but
a fair specimen. I tell you the honest truth, which you may
depend on; but, to prevent you from plaguing me with alterations,
you shall not see them till printed. Write me minutely
about all these things. It is a great pity but that my poetry
should have been published in three small neat volumes before
this review had appeared. What the devil can be the risk in
publishing 100 copies of the first vol., and 500 of each of the
other two?
It would seem from the following letters, which
were written in the summer of 1817, that at the
period already described, when Blackwood was in the
utmost trouble about the early series of the Magazine,
and the two unsuccessful editors, Pringle and Cleghorn,
Hogg was one of those to whom he appealed
for help and sympathy, though, in the light of after-events,
he seems an unlikely adviser. But at that
period the Shepherd — the author of 'The Queen's
Wake,' who had not yet committed himself to any
of the futilities of his after-life, but was considered
to have a fine career before him had perhaps more
weight than at any after-period. The freedom and
boldness of his opinions are amusing: he had at least
no doubt in his own mind as to his qualifications as a
literary adviser: —
ALTRIVE LAKE, August 12, 1817.
My hay-harvest is but just commenced, and is this year large
in proportion to the hands I have to work it. Next month the
Highland cattle come, so that I cannot get to Edinburgh at
present without incurring a loss, for which my literary labours,
if they are as usual, would but ill remunerate me. I am greatly
concerned about your Magazine; but I have some dependence
on your spirit not to let it drop or relax till your literary
friends gather again about you. Wilson's papers, though not
perfect, have a masterly cast about them: a little custom would
make him the best periodical writer of the age, — keep hold of
him. I regret much that you have told me so little of your
plan: if the name is to change, who is to be the editor, &c.
For myself, I am doing nothing save working at hay, fishing,
&c. Save two or three Hebrew Melodies, I have not written a
line since I left Edinburgh. I cannot leave the country just
now. Crafty always affirms that, of all classes ever he had to
do with, the literary men are the worst and most ungrateful. I
am very sorry to see this so often verified.
The next, which gives a lively picture of his own
wellbeing, must have been written not very long after,
though it is without date: —
I take the half of my last sheet of paper to write you a few
lines, and implore of you not to insist on my coming to town
just yet. Believe me, you do not know what you ask. It is
cruel in the extreme. Can I leave my fine house, my greyhounds,
my curling-stones, my silver punch-bowl and mug, my
country friends, my sister, and my sweetheart, to come and
plunge into general dissipation? And, worst of all, can I leave
Home, a house made by my own hand, and the most snug and
comfortable that ever perhaps was made, to be a lodger in the
house of another, my own ingle-cheek, dish, and night-gown,
with my parents [waiting] assiduously on me — only to be a
pest to others or to [pay] horridly for lodgings and keep the
same establishment at home. I know it is all kindness and
affection in you; but they are misdirected, for every one who
wishes me to spend my life happily would wish me to spend it
at home. Besides, I cannot take any hand in managing the
publication, or pushing the sale of my own works. If delicacy
even permitted it, I am the worst hand in the world to do such
a thing. Further than the proofs, I can do nothing. You are
right. The Magazine is a most excellent one. I never was so
much diverted with anything as with the expedition to the
Kirk of Shotts.
The next letter shows the very different régime
which was now in operation, to which Hogg's advice
was quite unnecessary, and himself sometimes treated
with but scant courtesy, which, however, in the early
days of the Magazine, and beginning of the wild pranks
of the 'Noctes,' he had the discretion to take in very
good part. It begins with an apology for not writing
before a visit of Mr Blackwood's to London: —
James Hogg to W. Blackwood.
ALTRIVE, October 29, 1819.
I had nothing to write about that you did not know before.
I knew you would make such arrangements with Murray about
the Works, and Jacobite Relics, as you judged best for me; for
though I am of late beginning to have some inward feelings of
your remissness as a publisher, I have never had one of your
truth and affection as a friend. I wrote a long letter to Wilson
on the subject of "The Tent"; though not a communication,
it might be called a letter of localities, which he might have
availed himself of. To my great regret that letter was lost.
But really I had been so much mortified by the refusal of all
my pieces that I cannot bear to think of writing for the Magazine
now. And though I always praise it above all other
periodical works, and wish it with all my heart every success,
yet would I rather sit down and write for the shabbiest work
in the kingdom, where everything I write is received. Indeed,
I have always felt that to whatever I gave my desired adhesion,
I might have disgraced myself, but my name now
should not be a disgrace to any literary work.
I think that all my friends, without exception, think that the
editors have dealt cavalierly with me in "The Tent" verses,
and that their versification is meant to injure my literary
character throughout. I have judged as impartially of the
thing as I can, and I do not see it. I think it is excellent sport,
and very good-natured sport besides. I might pretend to be
angry — I could easily do that — but the truth is I am not. I do
not see that the contrast between such an ignorant, blundering,
good-natured fellow and his poetry can have anything but a
good effect. I only wish the quiz on my worthy friend Dr
Russell had been left out, as I am universally blamed for it
here, and it is likely to cherish a good deal of ill-will among
friends that were formerly so happy together.
The Shepherd did not always continue so good-natured.
He complains somewhere, and one must feel
with very good reason, of having ballads and verses of
all kinds which he had never seen put into his mouth;
and this indeed was hard, even if the verses — as
possibly was the case — were better than his own.
One little criticism creeps in even into the above
good-natured letter: "With all their cleverness and
carelessness of composition (which has generally, I
think, a good grace), I cannot help feeling that the
two last numbers are too egoistical, which never has a
good grace." This is very well said, though perhaps
Hogg himself, the most egoistical of writers, was not
the man to say it.
The following letter, addressed to Mr Blackwood,
but the beginning of which has been changed from
"Dear Sir" into "Dear Christopher," as if intended
for publication, though it has no appearance of having
gone through any printer's hands, may be quoted as a
good specimen of Hogg in prose, in one of the rustic
stories of which he afterwards printed so many, and
which are now absolutely forgotten. It will show
what was the realism of that early day in comparison
with the present much-prevailing Literature of the
Kailyard, as it has been aptly called. Hogg has
nothing ornamental or sentimental in his unvarnished tale: —
I enclose you a very curious letter from a cousin-german of
my own to his son, who still remains in this country. . . . The
writer [Laidlaw] was a highly respected shepherd, and as successful
as most men in the same degree of life; but for a
number of years bygone he talked and read about America till
he grew perfectly unhappy; and at last, when approaching his
sixtieth year, actually set off to seek a temporary home and a
grave in the New World: but some of his sons had formed
attachments at home, and refused to accompany him.
He was always a singular and highly amusing character,
cherishing every antiquated and exploded idea in science,
religion, and politics. He never was at any school, and what
scraps of education he had obtained had been picked up by
himself. Nothing excited his indignation more than the theory
of the earth whirling round on its axis and journeying round
the sun: he had many strong logical arguments against it, and
nailed them all with Scripture. When he first began to hear
tell of North America, about twenty years ago, he would not
believe that Fife was not it! and thought he saw it from the
Castlehill of Edinburgh. I remember, and always will, a night
that I had with him about nineteen years ago. He and one
Walter Bryden, better known by the appellation of Cow Wat,
along with James Hogg, the celebrated Ettrick tailor, and myself,
were together in a little change-house one evening. After
the whisky had begun to operate, Laidlaw and Cow Wat went
to loggerheads about [free] will, on which their tenets of belief
totally differed. The dispute was carried on with such acrimony
on both sides that Wat had several times heaved his great
cudgel, and threatened to knock his opponent down. Laidlaw,
perceiving that the tailor and I were convulsed with laughter,
joined us for some time with all his heart; but all at once he
began to look grave, and the tear stood in his eye. "Ay, ye
may laugh," said he; "great gommerals! it's weel kent ye are
just twae that laugh at everything that's good. You have mair
need to pray for the puir auld heretick than laugh at him, when
you see he's on the braid way that leads to destruction. I'm
really sorry for the puir auld scoondrel, and troth I think we
sude join and pray for him. For my part I sal lend my mite."
With that he laid off his old slouched hat, and kneeled down
on the floor, leaning forward on a chair, where he prayed a long
prayer for Cow Wat, as he familiarly termed him, when representing
his forlorn case to his Maker. I do not know what I
would give now to have a copy of that prayer. It was so cutting
that before the end Wat rose up, foaming with rage, heaved
his stick, and cried, "I tell ye, gie ower, Jamie Laidlaw; I
winna be prayed for that gate." If there were different places
and degrees of punishment, he said, as the auld hoary reprobate
maintained — that was to say, three or four hells — then he
prayed that poor Cow Wat might be preferred to the easiest
ane. We couldna expect nae better a place for sic a man, and
indeed we would be ashamed to ask it. But, on the ither hand,
continued he, if it be true that the object of our petitions cheated
James Cunningham and Sandy o' Bowershope out of from twa
to three hunder pounds o' lamb-siller, why we can hardly ask
such a situation for him; and if it be further true that he left
his ain wife, Nanny Stothart, and took up with another (whom
he named, name and surname), really we have not the face to
ask any mitigation for him at a'.
The tailor and I, and another — I forget who it was, but I
think it was probably Adie o' Aberloch — were obliged to hold
Wat by main force upon his chair till the prayer was finished.
Whether this letter and the other which it enclosed
shared the fate of all the "pieces" which were so
remorselessly refused by the authorities of the Magazine,
we cannot tell; but we find presently that Hogg
had been transferring his works to another publisher
without Mr Blackwood's knowledge, a practice which
seems not to have been unusual with him. It would
seem that Blackwood had remonstrated, and the
Shepherd replies as follows. The manner in which,
in defending himself against that just wrath, he suddenly
introduces a hot blast of his own grievances, is
clumsily skilful in its use of a well-known artifice: —
James Hogg to W. Blackwood.
I do not know how to answer your letter it has put me in
my ill-humour. I see no right you nor the nearest friend has
to interfere with my bargains with other men. It is a maxim
with the trade to monopolise every author whom they once
publish a book for, and that no other man may take a share on
any conditions. If you do not remember the transaction of
refusing to take 'The Mountain Bard' into the proposals for
the small edition of my works, I do, which is quite sufficient
for my purpose. I pressed the works on Boyd, so that he is
blameless, and intend to give him, or rather the Company, more,
as soon as I have them at command. I never doubted either
your honour or your friendship, but friendship will not sell my
editions. Oliver & Boyd have sold 1500 copies of my tales in
five months, and have already given me a letter for the price of
the next edition. One cannot help making comparisons in their
own mind. If you are really my friend, will you not allow me
this, that if Oliver & Boyd sell more of 'The Mountain Bard'
in one year than you and your London friends do of 'The
Queen's Wake' in seven, will you not allow that I do right in
letting them have such editions as suit their sale?
I am almost rueing the day that I ever saw you. I have
had letters, newspapers, and magazines poured in upon me
from every part of the country. No one has any right to
publish aught in my name without consulting me. I cannot
be embroiled with the public in this way, and far less right
have others to intermeddle thus publicly with what liberties
I think proper to allow my friends. It is confoundedly hard
that I should be made a tennis-ball between contending parties.
If you can find out by the write or otherwise who the shabby
scoundrel is that writes the enclosed, pray return it to him in
a blank cover.
Remember, never more mention to me my bargain with any
others. I will bargain with whom I please and when I please,
and for you to tell me your mind on such a subject was anything
but friendly, especially a work which you never had any
connection with, and never wished any.
But, alas! the Shepherd's high-handed loftiness of
tone soon breaks down in an urgent plea in respect
to a fifty pounds which, whether it is due to him or
not, as an advance upon future work, or on account
of profits reckoned upon with much more confidence
by author than by publisher, is at least very much
wanted. Blackwood was on the eve of a journey to
London, and "if you go away I may be left in the
lurch, having no other certain resource." It would
appear to have been Murray who ought to have paid
this fifty pounds, and there is repeated discussion
whether Mr Scott should be asked to write to him,
or Mr Blackwood to speak to him, which the latter
declines to do. "I dare not let you away without
making sure of the cash," says Hogg. This fifty
pounds, or another, is always cropping up to pull
the Shepherd's spirits down, or to make him feel
with greater bitterness the want of confidence shown
in his gifts and in his power to please the public.
For he was no thrifty Scot, unfortunately for himself,
any more than Burns was, or, on a larger argument,
Scott himself, the leader and head of his generation.
It is curious, indeed, how little this supposed national
characteristic appears in the greatest of Scotsmen,
though we should not attempt to place Hogg in that
category. The Shepherd was always in sore need of
that fifty pounds.
Here, however, is a sketch in the first year of the
Magazine, in a letter dated from Abbotsford, of a
happier record. At that moment he was no neglected
contributor, but, to his own consciousness, putting a
powerful shoulder to the wheel, in cheerful confidence
of being no insignificant member of the team. We
think he had some hand in the suggestion of Will
Laidlaw as one of the regular staff. And the glimpse
he affords us of that homely workman, and of the
kind master's hand which trimmed up and put in
order the monthly Chronicle supplied by Laidlaw, is
attractive and delightful: —
Along with Scott's and Laidlaw's contributions to your
miscellany, I also enclose my mite, a little Hebrew melody,
which was written for a London work, but not yet published.
Perhaps I may get my tale finished likewise before I leave
this, which I will forward; but now when I see so much good
original matter here I am not anxious. I actually pop'd in
on Mr Scott on Saturday in the very act of toiling for you,
uncompanionable being that you are, taking up all the poets
and men of genius in the country peddling at your small hardwares!
I have spoken to Laidlaw and Scott, both separately
and together, about the detail business of the Magazine. The
former is perfectly willing to do either way, but thinks that
with a little attention on your part in forwarding papers, fixed
instructions, &c., he might do it well enough, and he appears
to me to be taking a good deal of pains to that. If the
Register is defective, I will scarcely think it his blame. Scott
spoke with so much impatience of it that I did not think
meet to dwell on the subject. My own opinion is, since an
arrangement between you is understood to exist, it should
stand as it is for a season or a volume: at least it looks so
unstable to propose alterations by the time things are well
begun. If Scott sees the least symptom of your neglect of
Laidlaw, I find he is off at a tangent at once; and it is not
only that the want of his support would injure your work, but
what his name would effect in your opponent's: policy is
requisite even with the greatest heroes. Now that Laidlaw
has furnished one anecdote of the shepherd's dog, mine will
follow better next month. Go on with my Tales, so that I
may not say you will not publish anything. If any sheets
require to be sent to me, send them under cover to the Duke
of Buccleuch.
The reader will see by reference to a previous
chapter how little need there was for Hogg's supposed
ménagement, and how simply Scott himself treated
the difficulty of Laidlaw as to the monthly Register.
The anecdote of the shepherd's dog referred to, and
which has been already noted in these pages, is a
piece of admirable composition, bearing very clear
marks of the master's hand. In a postscript to this
letter Hogg adds: —
I spoke to Scott of our plan of an octavo edition of the
works. He is decided on the plan, and thinks it should be
put about immediately. He wishes for one copy of his prospectus
before he writes the new advertisement, which please
forward to him by next coach, reminding him shortly of the
purpose for which it is sent, or he may forget it among so many
This refers to a subscription edition of Hogg's
works, which had been projected some time before.
It had been originally intended to be printed in two
volumes, but Murray strongly advised one as more
saleable. The printed prospectus for the original
scheme had therefore to be changed on this suggestion,
and I have the amended prospectus, half
printed, supplemented with a further advertisement
in Scott's handwriting, pressing the Shepherd's claims.
Thus, writing an article for one humble friend, drawing
out the prospectus of another, cordial with both
as a brother, we see Scott's benign shadow behind
these two rustic writers, backing up both. Both of
them liked to surround him with a halo of the unapproachable:
Hogg finding him impatient, ready
to start off at a tangent; Laidlaw professing himself
afraid to bring some point of detail under his notice
— while he, unconscious, and much the most ready
to understand of all, gently brushes these cobwebs
away. Scott appears constantly as the adviser and
helper of the Shepherd, sometimes giving him advice
that is not palatable, sometimes backing him up with
the most friendly steadfastness. There is mention in
another letter of a book, "a romance," which Hogg
desires to publish anonymously: —
James Hogg to W. Blackwood.
And if you did not really consider it an object to you, I
would rather have it in some respectable company's hands
in London. I not only think that you make your general
publishing a very subordinate consideration, but I do not
like to have all my ventures, however small, in one hand.
I was down on a long visit at Fleurs, Kelso, Abbotsford, &c.,
and saw a good deal of Scott. I told him of my work and
of my plan, but he did not approve of it. He asked if you
had dealt honourably by me? I said always like a brother;
but I feared that you were so much engaged with your miscellany
that you were careless as a publisher. This he would
not admit of. A man's own interest, he said, would improve
that: and finally said, if my work was an object to you, as
my friend you should have it; if not, he would assist me in
making any bargain. I do not suspect you, my dear friend,
in that sense. I know that 'The Brownie' should have gone
through more editions than either two or three. I have been
assured of it again and again by gentlemen that had no interested
motive in saying so, and who know better than either
you or me. One gentleman told me that from the interest
with which it was first read in London he considered it would
have sold as well as any novel ever published; but that the
work appeared to all men to have been suppressed, and was
never yet to be had in a shop in England. I beg you will
not mention this work to any one living, as I mean to send
it to press in a different handwriting, and positively to deny
it. But as I never met with anything but candour and truth
from you, I am resolved not to do anything underhand.
I wish you would publish the Jacobite Songs, and really let
folk hear a little of the works you are going to publish and
have published, if it were only on the cover of a Magazine. It
will not do merely to get them printed and make Lesley bring
them up in large bales to the shop. Mine are carefully kept
out of all your lists. But enough of reflection: a dull author,
I am aware, always blames his publisher. I have looked over
the Magazine, which is a very commonplace one.
A second letter on the same subject shows still more
fully the confidence of Hogg in the good-nature of the
publisher whom he wishes to deprive of the advantage
of producing his book, but who magnanimously takes
in hand to procure another bookseller for him: —
As the carrier has missed a week, I have time to add a few
words more to those enclosed. There is really scarce a practicability
of correspondence with any part of the world from this
place, and to me it has no other fault whatever.
I really would like better that my book were published in
London, because my bookseller and stile are so well known
that I may as well put my name to it as publish it with you.
I do not know about the transaction. I myself will never try
to do it, and I take it very kind in you offering your experienced
hand, though it is only of a piece with all your doings
formerly. It is, however, somewhat ticklish. Should I trust
it solely to Mr Scott, it would be conducted through the
medium of Ballantyne, and would likely fall into hands I
should not like, most probably Hurst & Robinson. I might
as well give up all previous connections and publish it at
home. With Murray and Cadell or Davies I should be in
the same scrape as with yourself. I really think, then, that
you should try your hand with Longman & Co., and if you
cannot arrange matters, we shall try what can be done some
other way. Be sure you keep them in the dark: I would not
even tell them the name, but merely that it is a Romance or
Tale of Chivalry, in two volumes, descriptive of the characters
of the English and Scots Borderers in ancient times. I remember
of having a letter once from Longman & Co., wherein
they stated one-sixth to be their proportion of the author's
profits, but that, indeed, was on a small edition. However, I
leave this entirely to yourself. If you think proper to do this,
the sooner you begin the correspondence the better, as I would
like to have everything ready for throwing it off in the spring
when I am in town.
This perhaps is a unique instance of the employment
of one publisher to arrange terms with another
for the publication of a book. The book in question
was probably one called 'The Three Perils of Man,'
published by Messrs Longman, apparently in 1822.
"Lord preserve us! what a medley I made of it!
for I never in my life rewrote a page of prose," says
Hogg in his Autobiography; "and being impatient
to get hold of some of Messrs Longman's money or
their bills, which were the same, I dashed on, and
mixed up with what might have been one of the best
historical tales our country ever produced such a mass
of diablerie as retarded the main story, and rendered
the whole perfectly ludicrous." Blackwood, it is clear,
was well out of the undertaking, but it was not wholly
unprofitable to the Shepherd, who received "one hundred
and fifty pounds for the edition of one thousand
copies as soon as it was put to the press." Another
work, entitled 'The Three Perils of Woman,' seems to
have had a similar measure of success.
All this press and eagerness of publication was
intended to install Hogg in the new and larger farm
of Mount Benger, which eventually ruined him, so
far as a man in his position, with so little need for
keeping up appearances, and so buoyant a spirit,
could be ruined. He had the same object in his
volume of Jacobite Relics, which was undertaken by
Messrs Blackwood and Murray, and about which he
writes a great many letters. Here is another characteristic
grumble. It is evidently written on the
occasion of one of Mr Murray's visits to Scotland,
when he was at Abbotsford, and engaged with a
greater than Hogg. The Shepherd never was able
to see any reason why he himself and his concerns
should not be always interesting: —
James Hogg to W. Blackwood.
I was vexed that I got so little cracking with Murray. Scott
and he had so many people to crack about, whom nobody knows
ought about but themselves, that they monopolised the whole
conversation. Tell me seriously, is the sale of my Tales really
sticked, that neither of you will mention them, either by writing
or word of mouth? There is surely no impropriety in my
making this inquiry.
Poor Hogg by this time, however, had grown into a
general sense of injury with all the world. The free
use made of his name in all the jests of the Magazine
was quite enough to inflame a man of his temper,
feeling himself at a disadvantage, even through the
tough armour of his self-conceit. He threw forth
freely complaints, criticisms, and threats. On one
occasion he desires that various articles he had sent
should be returned to him: —
I have been quizzed too much by your chaps already; I will
not so easily take again. I am writing for another Magazine,
with all my birr, and intend having most excellent sport with
it, as the editors will not understand what one sentence of my
celebrated allegories mean till they bring the whole terror of
Edinburgh aristocracy upon them. For the soul that is in your
body mention this to no man living. You have quite forgot to
send me a newspaper. I care not though they lie two or three
days in the shop. A Saturday paper is soon enough to me by
Wednesday's post, or a Wednesday paper by the Saturday one.
There are some very able papers in the last Magazine, but I do
not think the selection likely to add much to its popularity.
On another occasion: —
This last number is not near so interesting as the former:
there is too much of pompous fine writing in it, at least attempts
at it. Such papers as that declamatory one on the
state of parties are not the kind of political papers that will
stand the test. But enough of that which is not agreeable: no
wonder that I begin to feel a cold side to a work which holds
such an avowed one to me.
An amusing little quarrel seems to have taken place
about Hogg in the summer of 1821, which, as it shows
something of the publisher's attitude, and is in itself
a curious little passage of arms, may be given here.
Hogg's Autobiography, a work very offensive to many
persons, and open to the severest criticism, had been
commented on very freely, and certainly with no delicacy
of treatment, in the Magazine. James Ballantyne
was at the time the printer employed by Blackwood.
And here is his protest against the coarse and unlovely
fun of the article. We imagine it would
startle the publishers of to-day, almost as much as
Balaam was startled by an unlooked-for remonstrance,
did there proceed from any printing-office charged
with their work an indignant appeal like this: —
James Ballantyne to W. Blackwood.
Do you really mean to insert that most clever but most
indecently scurrilous attack upon Hogg? For my own part, I
do not stand up for Hogg's conduct; but such language as is
applied to him appears to me absolutely unwarrantable, and in
your Magazine peculiarly and shockingly offensive.
You will do as you think best certainly; but I must at once
say that if it goes in I must withdraw, in all subsequent
numbers, from the concern. How much I shall regret this on
many accounts I need not say; but I cannot allow such an
article to appear with even my implied approbation attached to
it. It is hard, you may think, that an editor should be fettered
by his printer; but I cannot help this. The printer must not
be made to encounter what he considers to be disgrace.
Mr Blackwood immediately replied as follows: —
W Blackwood to James Ballantyne.
The article on Hogg is to be very much altered indeed, else
you may depend upon it that I could not allow it to appear.
But really of this you must permit me to be judge, for, disagreeable
and unpleasant as it would be for us to part, I cannot
submit to be told what I must not insert in the Magazine. My
character and interest are at stake, and you may depend upon
it that nothing will appear in the Magazine but what it will be
both for my credit and interest to publish, and, of course, for
you to print.
While I feel myself obliged to say this, I beg to assure you
that nothing will give me greater pleasure than to receive any
remarks from you at all times. As a friend, I will value them,
as you know that no man is more open to reason than I am;
but as your favourite Bard says, "Not upon compulsion, Hal."
All I shall add is, that I hope we shall never have two words
of difference upon this or any other subject that will be unpleasant
to either of us.
But Signor Aldiborontiphoscophornio could not let
well alone: —
James Ballantyne to W. Blackwood.
Surely, my dear sir, I never could say or hint that you were
not the sole and irresponsible judge of what is to be inserted in
your own Magazine? Certain it is, at least, that I had no intention
to convey any such absurd meaning, and I hereby disclaim
it as strongly as possible. All that I meant to say was —
and surely the earlier and the more explicitly it was said the
better — that I regarded the article on Hogg, as it at present
stands, as of such a nature that if it were published in its
present shape I could not continue to be the printer. This, you
are aware, is only exerting in my own case that power of judging
and deciding which every man of independence must exert in
order to secure the continuance of his independence.
I assure you, my dear sir, I am far too well aware of the
value of your employment and confidence hastily or rashly to
forfeit it; and I think nothing is more likely than that in most
cases that regard the feelings of honourable minds we shall
agree; and I truly rejoice that great alterations are to be made
in the article. You will allow that it needs them.
This ill-judged attempt to have the last word, and
show his superiority, brought down the following
thunderbolt upon Ballantyne's head. It is dashed off
in a hurry, the brouillon, according to Blackwoodian
custom, hot and strong, being written upon the back
of the culprit's letter: —
W. Blackwood to J. Ballantyne.
All that I have to say in answer to your note, which I have
this moment read, is that if your former letter meant anything,
it certainly meant that you were to be the judge of what it was
fitting for you to print. And while I think it is right and
proper for every man to reject or retain any employment that
may be offered to him, it quite revolts against all my feelings
to be placed in such an alternative as you so positively announce
to me in your letter. What I would have reckoned both kind
and proper of you at any time was to tell me when any article
struck you as objectionable, both on your account and my own;
and if you then found me unreasonable, or thought at any rate
I was so, and that you would be injured even by printing such
a thing, though no way responsible as publisher, you could then
act as you thought best. But really, in the first instance, to
tell me plump that you must decline, &c., does not appear to me
like what I should have expected from you.
However, nothing more need be said.
Ballantyne seems to have conquered any desire he
may have had to reply, and everything went on as
before: but the little exhibition of character on both
sides — the one, conscious of being no common printer,
a little showy and explanatory, bent on flourishing his
flag, the other decisive in cutting it down — affords an
amusing episode. It is referred to in a letter from
Blackwood to Hogg further on. The article in
question was published, with a note appended from
Christopher North, to the effect that it was all a joke,
and possibly written by the Shepherd himself — which,
we presume, was intended to be conciliatory. But
fortunately it is not at all necessary to enter into so
unattractive a subject. It adds, however, a fine
variety to the too common situation to see behind the
wild wits in the foreground and the clown of genius
red and resentful in his clumsy exasperation — the
plain man behind holding the reins, not without a
strain and effort, and rather glad upon occasion to let
loose his own provoked feelings upon any chance
objector who came in his way.
We have said there was always a £50 which on
some account or other Hogg was convinced that either
Mr Blackwood or Mr Murray owed him, and which he
was bent on extracting from the former, either directly
or by a letter to be written by him to Murray. The
transaction had been repeated so often, now on one
ground, now on another, that the reader by degrees
comes to think of it as a sort of floating property upon
which the Shepherd could always calculate, which he
called in from time to time, yet could always go back
upon, finding it perennially available. We have little
doubt that this had grown to be Hogg's own view.
And he was always in want of £50. He was so constantly
in want of it, and so many chances had
occurred, softenings on the part of Blackwood, impulses
of careless generosity on the part of Murray, to
procure it for him, that he went on asking for it with
a degree of innocency that obliterated the real facts of
the case altogether. But a publisher's temper and
nerves were not invulnerable any more than those of
other men; and whether it was that the claim was
less warranted than usual, or that Blackwood was
completely tired out by its repetition, it is evident
that he was moved to make a stand against it from
time to time. Hogg's letters are the most curious
medley of entreaty, remonstrance, and abuse, the
latter predominating even when he had a favour to
ask. We need not go more closely into the correspondence,
which on this particular subject is voluminous:
discussing in detail the ground upon which
the claim is founded, the desirability, if not of paying
it forthwith, at least of writing to somebody who
must pay it: along with that perennial grievance of
the author who cannot understand how it is that his
books do not pay, and is convinced that some wickedness
of the publisher, false accounts, or indolence in
pushing, or a small edition instead of a larger one,
or utter indifference to the success of a given book
altogether, is the cause of it. Mr Blackwood's replies
to a great many of these troublesome demands become
at last very decided though still friendly. Hogg, it
will be seen, was very critical concerning other publications
which were more fortunate than his own: —
W. Blackwood to James Hogg.
15th May 1821.
It is very odd, indeed, that Mr Murray has paid no attention
to your letters. I would be very happy if it were in my power,
but I regret that at present it is not, for as to interfering in
any way with Mr Murray, it is a thing that I could not think of
doing. It would also be very indelicate in me to apply to Sir
Walter Scott, who, if he were to do you the favour to make any
advance on Mr Murray's account, would most certainly expect
you to apply to him direct yourself and not through another.
At the same time, you cannot say that Mr Murray is due you
more than the £50 on account of 'The Queen's Wake,' for
it depends upon the copies sold what may be due for 'The
Brownie.' . . . If Sir Walter would write to him, I am sure he
would not refuse to settle. I think you might draw a bill upon
Mr Murray for 'The Queen's Wake,' and send it through a banker,
writing him at the same time that you have done so. This
he would surely honour, and it would not trouble Sir Walter — a
thing concerning which there can be no dispute or objection.
It is with regard to 'The Brownie' that you require Sir Walter's
As to giving you any assistance myself I am very sorry I
cannot, for just now I have fully as much to do as I can well
manage. You know I never in my life before refused you any
money you ever asked from me, and therefore I hope you will
excuse me for once.
I am surprised at your having such a very humble opinion
of the 'Parish Annals,' but I am happy to tell you that it is
very differently estimated by Mr Henry Mackenzie, Sir Walter
Scott, Professor Wilson, Mr Lockhart, and fifty others, who are
all loud in its praises. I am also happy to say that you are
mistaken as to its sale, for in three or four days there were
nearly 500 copies sold in London, and I have already sold here
nearly 400 copies. In short, I have seldom published a more
popular or valuable book.
I do not understand what you allude to when you say I let
men of real genius slip through my fingers. I should be much
obliged to you if you would tell me what you mean.
Mrs B. desires me to say that she thinks you are improvident
in giving the young Christian two names, for you may perhaps,
like us, run out of laddies' names. She begs to be remembered
kindly to Mrs Hogg.
This note, uneasily severe, redeemed by the amusing
touch of family kindness at the end, shows the
struggle with very natural resentment which was
going on in Blackwood's breast. In the next his
sentiments are more distinct and precise: —
W. Blackwood to James Hogg.
June 6, 1821.
Yesterday I received yours of the 2nd. As you say you had
mislaid my letter, I conclude that you have forgotten its contents,
else you would not have said that I wrote "snapping at
you." I wrote to you simply and fairly that I consider it would
be most indelicate of me to apply to Sir Walter, who, if he were
inclined to do you a favour, would naturally expect you should
apply for it yourself. I think so still, and so will any one who
knows anything of the world or of common -sense. As to
interfering with Mr Murray, I have told you all along it is a
thing which I cannot do. . . . You should write to Sir Walter
Scott, and if he would have the goodness to apply to Mr
Murray for you, I have no doubt that he would get the accounts
of 'The Brownie' closed with me, and whatever balance was
due to you would be immediately paid.
I must tell you frankly you need not have made such a
supposition as that I had resolved to withdraw from you my
confidence and friendship. I have never made any professions
to you, either in words or by writing, but what you have had
the most substantial evidence of their truth and sincerity. You
never in your life asked anything from me but what I instantly
granted, if in my power. You thought others could be of more
use to you; and though I might have expected a little consideration
for my feelings, if not for what I had done for you, yet
you know this made no alteration in my conduct towards you;
and I settled all our transactions as if nothing of the kind had
occurred, and in a way which you were satisfied was highly
liberal. It is most painful to me to allude to any of these
things, and I never wish to think of them; but you force me
to do so, by your seeming to expect that I should again make
you advances of money. This I really cannot afford to do, and
I hope you will be satisfied that in present circumstances you
should not expect it.
According to your desire I called last night at Mr Grieve's,
but found, most unfortunately, that he had gone to the country.
I was very sorry for this, as I have never heard a syllable from
him with regard to the bond of credit. I am as willing as ever
to be security for the sum you proposed, provided, as I told
you, that Mr Grieve approves of it, and sees that it is really to
be useful to you.
The bond of credit referred, as the Scottish reader
will perceive, to the standing credit with his banker,
which, when guaranteed by solvent persons, it is the
system of the Scottish banks to give. It is also the
traditionary means by which in many a story, and
alas! in many incidents in real life, the unfortunate
surety is ruined; but it still ranks in Scotland, we
believe, as a service which a man can reasonably ask
of his friends. Blackwood was surety to the Bank
for James Ballantyne, and also for Hogg, and probably
many more.
The quarrel went on in a way which is almost de
rigueur between author and publisher — Hogg asserting
that 'The Brownie' ('Brownie of Bodsbeck,' a
collection of tales published by Blackwood and Murray
which had not been successful — but this the author
was naturally unwilling to believe) was to appear in
an edition of 2000; Blackwood calmly proving by
enclosure of the printer's account that it was nothing
of the kind: Hogg insisting that by means of this
mistake he had written imperatively to Mr Murray,
and been "too precipitate"; Blackwood replying that
the mistake was entirely his own.
It is a great misfortune to you [adds the publisher] that
you allow your imagination to run away with your memory,
and then, after allowing your mind to dwell on your own
fancies, you positively assert them as truths. I am glad I
have it in my power to put you right in a way you cannot
dispute; but it is the first time I have been under the necessity
of bringing forward a printer's account to substantiate
any of my statements, either with authors or with any of my
The correspondence after this becomes involved
with other persons — a banker in Galashiels, who was
to have retained in his hands a bill which was to be
applied in payment of another bill, — an involved
negotiation, of which it is as difficult as wholly unnecessary
to follow through the weary evolution, — and
who advised Hogg that Mr Blackwood was "making
a great deal of unnecessary fuss," an intimation which
Mr Blackwood naturally resented. Hogg's utter confusion
of mind, as he endeavours to thread his way
through the convolutions of a series of transactions
quite beyond his capacity, is half pathetic and half
laughable: —
James Hogg to W. Blackwood.
I said I knew nothing about the routine of such business as
how far an agent was entitled to give up any security he had
received; but I begged that at all events he would satisfy you
in the meantime until I could see you. Mr Craig, though a
most honourable and disinterested man, is noted for a sort of
stubborn perverseness when in the least crossed; and what may
make him more cautious, perhaps, he has advanced me money
for the other two-thirds of the bill on his own acceptances. I
had lifted all my money and paid it away for stock (so we term
live stock), so that I could not relieve your bill, else I should
have done it this day; for after you had given me your name
so frankly to let me get the immediate use of that which was
my own, you may guess how grieved I was at all this anger and
jealousy, which was perfectly preposterous, for what effect has a
letter on a bill?
Poor Shepherd! what, indeed, had any of his explanations
or complaints to do with that remorseless
course of affairs which ordains that a man who has
promised to pay should do so, whatever arguments,
even of the most convincing character, he should be
able to produce against it. This piteous letter, however,
did have the effect on the bill which was so
improbable; for Mr Blackwood, in a very long and
impatient letter, in which he announces that "it is
from your total ignorance of business that you think
I have made any fuss about this bill," ends by giving
it up in despair. "I hope," he says, "from this explanation
that you will see the thing in its proper
point of view. All I have to add on this matter is
that you need give yourself no further trouble about
this bill in the meantime. I hope the money will be
of use to you."
One more letter follows. It begins sternly: —
W. Blackwood to James Hogg.
SIR, — You are so utterly ignorant of business that it is quite
unnecessary for me to attempt to show you how completely you
have misunderstood everything. . . . As to the very ludicrous
affair of a prosecution I say nothing. The very idea of such a
thing certainly does "astonish" me, as it will every one who
may happen to hear of it.
Thus the connection which had been so long and so
kind would seem to have come to an end. So at
first sight of these letters the writer believed: and
so it did — for half a year, — at the end of which time
Hogg appears again unconquerable, with something
which he thinks "either of two friends whom you
know" could make "glorious sport" out of; and
which he sends to his dear Ebony, some one else
whose name is undecipherable having "positively
refused to take it on the score of sheer terror."
Mr Blackwood's letter in reply, we are glad to say,
goes back to "Dear Hogg," and the old terms of
friendship, though he is not tempted by the "glorious
sport "
W. Blackwood to James Hogg.
24th May 1822.
On coming home four days ago I was glad to see your letter
and article. I regret that we cannot make use of it, from its
having been previously offered to your friend. Besides, we
have had quite enough of Jeffrey and the 'Edinburgh Review'
lately. Your idea is an excellent one, and many parts of the
article are very happily executed. Had it been put into certain
hands some months ago, nothing could have answered better.
Along with 'Maga' I send Mrs Hogg 'Lights and Shadows,'
'The Provost,' and 'Gillespie's Sermons.'
The literary connection, however, was not quite so
easy to renew as the kindnesses. Hogg had not outgrown
the age of glorious sport, when to bait an
unfortunate victim and pursue him about the world
for the laughter of the reader was the inspiration of
the moment; but the Magazine, not any longer a
dashing and reckless adventurer, but a very important
undertaking, meaning both fame and fortune, had outgrown
it. The Shepherd desired to return to the days
of the Chaldee Manuscript; but these days were as
completely over as if a hundred years had elapsed.
His appearance with his new satire, and his softened
tone, both of criticism and of friendship, make the
following letter interesting: —
ALTRIVE LAKE, June 14, 1822.
I have revised and rewritten " John Paterson's Mare," which
I send you for publication in the M., as No. I. of an allegorical
history of our miscellaneous literature. I cannot conceive, even
with its previous faults, why your editors rejected it, for I am
sure that a more harmless good-natured allegory was never
written. It is, besides, quite unintelligible without a key,
which should never be given. I think it will be next to the
Chaldee in popularity, as it is fully as injurious. You are at
liberty to alter any of the names you do not like: your own,
for instance, I took merely because oak was a black wood, which
may be construed differently.
I think very highly of both the books you have sent me, but
far most highly of 'Lights and Shadows,' in which there is a
great deal of very powerful effect, purity, and sentiment, and
fine writing, but with very little of real nature as it exists in
the walks of Scottish life. The feelings and language of the
author are those of romance: still it is a fine and beautiful
work. I send you the accompanying article merely as a token
that I have forgiven all that is past, and that I wish all bygones
to be bygones between us for ever. I cannot bear to live on
terms of utter estrangement with a man from whom I experienced
so many repeated kindnesses and obligations. There
is no man so apt to err in judgment as I am, but I trust none
of my friends shall find my heart wrong.
Mr Blackwood's reply pointed out very decidedly
the particular points of difference to which we have
referred — the advancement of the Magazine in seriousness
and sobriety, and the stationary character of the
belated contributor, to whom there was no triumph
higher than that of the Chaldee Manuscript. The
publisher writes, with mingled consideration and
superiority: —
W. Blackwood to James Hogg.
EDINBURGH, 18th June 1822.
I have read "John Paterson's Mare," and I have laughed
very heartily at many parts of it. I feel much obliged to you
for sending it. I should be happy if you found it agreeable to
you to give your aid to 'Maga,' as I am sure it would be both
pleasant and advantageous to you. I am sorry, however, that
"John Paterson's Mare" cannot be accepted of. On this you
will probably fall into a great passion; but I cannot help it, as
I am convinced such an article could do neither yourself nor
me any credit. In the first place, the whole affair about
Pringle and Cleghorn is entirely forgotten, and it would be
like slaughtering the long ago dead and buried. In the next
place, Constable has long been away from business and in bad
health: and being your publisher, it would neither be good
taste nor good feeling in you to attack him or any of his concerns.
Your worst enemy could not desire a fitter occasion for
running you down than your publishing what would be cried
out upon as a vile personal attack, &c., &c. For as to no key
being given, that is sheer nonsense, as there are plenty of
people who could at once give a key and proclaim you to be the
author. Could anybody mistake Cobby, as you call him?
I have thus given you my opinion very frankly, and I hope
when you consider the matter coolly you will agree with me.
But if not, I cannot help it, for the Magazine is now too serious
a concern to be trifled with. It has got quite above attacks
and malignities, and I shall take good care never again to give
them any handle for saying that they were entitled to speak of
it as they once did.
The distinction between the man who profits by
experience, and him who does not, could not be better
shown. Hogg seems to have been sufficiently well
advised not again to lose his temper, notwithstanding
the plainness of speech with which he is addressed.
During the years that follow his letters continue
dropping in from time to time, often bearing signs of
the persistent failure which accompanied all his
efforts — sometimes confident as of old. There is a
"Shepherd's Calendar" of which he sends number
after number.1 "I suppose it will meet the same
fate as all my late attempts to serve you," says the
unfortunate author; "but if it should, I shall not
regard it at all. These trifles may come to be of
value some time, with a little brushing up. I am
sorry I have done so little to liquidate the debt, which
I believe falls due next month. I will, however, come
1 The series began in 'Maga' of April 1827.
in and talk about it in some shape." One's heart
aches, and yet one can barely resist a smile at the
unconscious revelation. The debt is there, a very real
fact; but the poor debtor is capable of nothing but to
"come in and talk about it." The dusty annals of
a publisher's office, the waste heap of yellow manuscripts,
letters, memoranda of the many times in
which a despairing writer — to whom yet it was so
easy to persuade himself that the talk would be effectual,
or the next contribution redeem everything —
came in to discuss his own circumstances with that
arbiter of fate, are full of such memorials. And
Hogg is always Hogg, whatever happens. "I have
been much to blame in writing so little," he says,
though, alas! in fact the little was too much; "but
I am the most easily discouraged being alive — whereas
blowing me up 1 will make me do anything."
If you but knew the confusion I have been in since I saw
you [he says in another letter], you would pity me rather than
be angry with me. The making up a dear rent from nothing:
the confusion of two flittings (that of my parents-in-law from
the distance of sixty miles to this), their distress since then, the
changing of servants, wedding, washings, and sheep-shearings,
cattle-shows, fairs, sales, funerals, with all the [cares] of an
extensive arable and sheep farm at this season, so that the
truth is, if the loss of all my friends had depended on my composing
or even correcting three pages, I could not have retained
them, — not that I could not have found time for such a trifle,
but I could not have forced my mind into a frame for its
At another time Hogg expresses himself grateful
for some bantering notices of his publications in the
'Noctes': —
1 In the sense of praising him.
James Hogg to W. Blackwood.
I am not only not angry, but highly satisfied and pleased. I
had forgot to mention to you that I was afraid, terrified, for
high praise in 'Maga,' because, our connection considered, it
would have been taken for puffing — a thing of all things that
I detest, and one that, I think, has ought but a good effect. A
good-humoured thing like this was just what I wanted. . . .
I think the article is Wilson's, as indeed I do every clever and
every bitter thing in all the Magas of the kingdom. I have a
strange indefinable sensation with regard to him, made up of
a mixture of terror, admiration, and jealousy — just such a sentiment
as one deil might be supposed to have for another.
At another time our Shepherd is so much himself
again that he anxiously begs Mr Blackwood to give
"a new round of advertisement" to one of his works
(apparently 'Queen Hynde,' which "we must try and
get Sir W. Scott to review in the 'Quarterly'"), prefixing"
a short note from some favourable review."
He adds: —
If you want a splendid characteristic one, I shall give you
one from Dr Burton's new work: "Modern times can furnish
no example of native and exalted genius more truly astonishing
than the Ettrick Shepherd. His pages are like the constellations
of Taurus and Cerberus, which seem to have usurped
beyond their proportion of stars. His beauties are so thickly
strewed almost on every page, it would be difficult to say where
such an amazing collection of highly poetical conceptions can
be found." — Burton's 'Bardiad,' p. 118.
This or any better thing you may know of would not cost
much additional, and would give the works a little stimulus
among a certain class ere the reading season again begins.
To this wonderful recommendation (which Mr
Blackwood, alas! did not accept, acknowledging
restraints of good taste which did not occur to the
Shepherd) Hogg adds a note in respect to the reception
of Mr Rees, one of the Longman firm —
"Longman, Rees, & Co.,
Hurst, Orme, & Brown, our fathers in the Row," —
who apparently was then visiting Edinburgh: —
James Hogg to W. Blackwood.
Although in the throng of my harvests, as well as of the moor
sports, I will be in town again next week if possibly I can, or
the next again at all events. But should I miss Mr Rees [whom
he had previously desired to meet, "though merely to shake
hands with him, and bring him in for a bottle of whisky made
into toddy at Ambrose's"], tell him that I am going to publish
two small works about Martinmas, 7s. 6d. each, 'The Shepherd's
Calendar' and 'Some Passages in the Lives of Eminent Men,'
and he must send the paper for both on the instant you and he
agree about what share you are to have. His house and I never
stand on any conditions, having an understood rule between us,
which we subsequently alter or not as occasion requires.
The reader will remember that a few pages back the
long-suffering Blackwood was employed, and good-humouredly
consented to act, as intermediary between
the Shepherd and the house of Longman, so that this
free-and-easy reference to "his house and I" must
have been an exceedingly good joke to the always
kind and good-humoured man, open to a good joke in
all circumstances, to whom it was addressed. Another
very characteristic piece of reproach, not ill-natured,
but very Shepherdish, follows. We have got by this
time to the year 1826. The farm of Mount Benger,
which never succeeded, was hanging very heavily
upon Hogg, and his ventures in literature were uniformly
unsuccessful: —
James Hogg to W. Blackwood.
MOUNT BENGER, March 19, 1826.
I would send you plenty of things to 'Maga,' provided they
were either inserted or returned, which they never are. Worse
encouragement cannot be than that. I was chagrined that the
Forest dialogue I sent was not inserted in the 'Noctes,' not for
any intrinsic merit that it had, for it had none, but that it gave
a truth, a locality to Ambrose's, which, without such a native
touch, that ideal meeting never can possess. I sent a complete
'Noctes' once, which of course I never saw again — "The Byron
Letters," "The Cameronian in Love," and I know not how many
things that might be of value to me, though not to you. You
will allow that these considerations are sufficient to deter me
from writing, which otherwise I would do every month, for I
well know it never will be otherwise with Mr North. I would
not have forgot the renewing of the promissory note, for I had
a stamp ready, though only for a hundred pounds, which I meant
to send this week; for, God help me! I am far from being in a
condition to be able to do more. I think it is high time you
were beginning some publication of mine to liquidate all or part
of my debt; and I think the whole of my short Scottish Tales
should be published in numbers, one every month, with the
Magazine to be packed with it, and as part of the first No. sent
gratis to some of your principal readers.
We should not refer to these details of debt, and
his own very easy suggestions for getting rid of it, had
not Hogg's affairs been very open to the world, and
often before stated by himself and others; so that
there is no betrayal of his private affairs in the whimsical
arrangements which, now that there is no longer
any sting of pain in them, are both amusing and characteristic,
and will convey a thrill of sympathy and
fellow-feeling to many a bosom. So many in all the
generations know what it is to be thus involved, that
the possibility of seeing a little fun in the matter, and
all the transparent, piteous, laughable ways of getting
rid of it, is a kind of advantage in its way. Not Hogg
alone has been unable to understand why "'Queen
Hynde' should stick still," or any other book in the
same position, or has been disposed to believe that it
is only an inconceivable caprice of the publisher that
makes his receipts for one work so much less than his
receipts for another. "I cannot believe that she does
not deserve notice, and think some expedient should be
fallen on to draw notice to her," says poor Hogg;
neither can he understand why Mr Blackwood should
reject Dr Burton's remark on the poem because it is
too flattering. "I have sought out several others,
but none that pleases me so well," he adds, with delightful
naïveté. We writers have the best of reasons
for being tender with the amazing simplicities of those
who have gone before us.
The following is one of many grumbling letters, in
which a not unnatural fury against his more successful
competitors breaks in: —
James Hogg to W. Blackwood.
MOUNT BENGER, March 28, '28.
At your desire I send you an article for the 'Agricultural
Journal' and a poetical epistle for the Magazine, though I know
as usual it will only be giving the carrier the trouble of bringing
them out again; and as you are the only man who ever does me
this honour, the oftener you do it the better, but I want to
establish this fact to your own conviction that our friendship
shall not fail on my part.
I am exceedingly disgusted with the last beastly 'Noctes,' and
as it is manifest that the old business of mocking and ridicule is
again beginning, I have been earnestly advised by several of my
best and dearest friends to let you hear from me in a way to
which I have a great aversion. But if I do, believe me, it shall
be free of all malice, and merely to clear my character of sentiments
and actions which I detest, and which have proved highly
detrimental to me.
I care nothing about More. Tweedie has not been half so
severe upon him as me. I consider him the most monotonous
and the least original of all poets, bating his harmony of numbers,
which is delightful. As to his great goodness of heart
dispute that: do you remember showing me a letter of his advising
you to have nothing to do with a MS. publication of mine,
for that I was incapable of producing any work that would go
down with the public? Mr A. A. Watts has written to me
thrice respecting a parcel he sent to me to the care of Mr More;
but I despise the fellow so much I would not even inquire what
became of it.
An author so much kept down by unfavourable
criticism as the Shepherd, and so cruelly played with
by all the wits, may perhaps be excused for believing
that no one who considered him incapable of producing
"any work that would go down with the public"
was to be credited with a good heart; but this was
the always kind and friendly Delta, most beloved
perhaps of all the contributors, the excellent Dr Moir
(generally pronounced More in these days).
Hogg's opinion of himself, however, perhaps fortunately
for him, never changed. "I wish," he says
on one occasion, "the writers in 'Maga' would not
borrow my incidents. Desire the author of 'Sir
Frizzle Pumpkin' to look at Bazil Lee in the 'Winter
Evenings.'" "I fear," he says again, "it is needless
for me to attempt anything further for 'Maga' without
giving up the London Magazines, which I would
with great pleasure do could I please you; but one
does not like to lose his little lucubrations altogether."
At another time he praises the "twin Magas," the
double number, which on more than one occasion
Blackwood was bold enough to bring out. "They
are excellent," Hogg says, "with the exception of
'La Petite Madeleine,' which to me is quite despicable.
To slight your old friend for such feminine pribble-prabble
Wilson's poem is most splendid, but I have
never been able to get straight through it, and I don't
think any man ever will." "Scott's agents are only
interested in one author in the world," he says, with
fine contempt for such a mistake. "I have," says
Lockhart on another occasion, "a line from Hogg
saying he has made you drop him out of the Magazine:
that the 'Noctes' will not be tolerable without
his name, and concluding, 'The Baillie had better have
given me £500 a-year'!" Such was his idea to the
end of his life.
One of Mr Blackwood's numerous lesser kindnesses
to the Shepherd was a gun licence, with which he supplied him every year, and which is acknowledged
from time to time by a present of game from Ettrick.
"Tell Miss Steuart," he writes with one of these
tributes, "that the blackcock must first be parboiled,
and then stewed in the broo, to make him a real fine
Hogg's spirits seem to have been revived by the
publication of several short articles after this, and the
reception of several small cheques in consequence,
which made the life of the farmer more cheerful.
But unfortunately in the year 1833 another quarrel
arose, which was violent, and might have been final
but for the intervention of Hogg's faithful friend, Mr
Grieve, who acted as mediator between the justly
angry publisher and the hot-headed and foolish Shepherd,
a man to whom no teaching of experience made
any difference, and who never learned what things
could be done and said, and what could not. "By
the way, why do the young Blackwoods never write
to me or visit me?" he says in his answer to a letter
from Mr Grieve, who had called upon him to sign a
statement contradicting certain calumnious assertions
he had made against the young men's father. "He
is still standing out, as you see," says Mr Grieve,
enclosing the letter to Mr Blackwood, "and has
brought forward some new charges against you. The
touch about your sons is very characteristic," adds
the Shepherd's faithful friend. It is a pleasure, however,
to find that this storm too blew over. In a
letter to Professor Wilson, written in the year of
Mr Blackwood's death, we have the Shepherd's last
utterance in respect to his lifelong friend. The Professor
and other friends had been much occupied in
patching up the breach between Hogg and the
publisher: —
James Hogg to Professor Wilson.
I will [would] be very sorry to object to any arrangement
that so kind a friend has made manifestly for my benefit. It
was what I wished and proposed last year, that all bygones
should be bygones, and never once more mentioned. It is the
far best way of settling a difference when so many alternate
kindnesses have passed between the parties. For though Mr
Blackwood often hurt ray literary pride, I have always confessed,
and will confess to my dying day, that I know no man
who wished me better, or was more interested in my success.
It will be a great relief of mind to Mrs Hogg, whose spirit was
grieved at our break: for though terrified for the 'Noctes,' she
always loved the Blackwoods as well as your family — nay,
loved not only as benefactors, but as sisters and brothers.
These last words give us a curious glimpse of that
pastoral house, full of poverty, full of guests, the life
of the farm fluctuating between penury and occasional
profusion — sometimes porridge and sometimes grouse
forming the staple of the entertainment, the whisky
always flowing freely, fun and wrath, and loud recrimination
and louder jest and laughter going on
continually. While the goodwife watched behind,
"terrified for the 'Noctes,'" not knowing what outbursts
of poetical nonsense might be put into the
mouth of Wilson's whimsical creation, who was a
being of fancy for the rest of the world, but to her
the image of her husband, caricatured, as she thought,
or travestied, — yet heart-stricken by the quarrels, the
failure of their grand and almost only resource of
literature, and the loss of the friendship of the publisher,
who had been so patient and so kind. We
are glad to leave Hogg here, in the wistful reflection
from his wife's eyes, and the comfort of the reconciliation
which was "a great relief of mind" to
the struggling house.
How this tender-hearted woman suffered from other
evidences of the breach between her husband and his
best friend is evident from the following letter: —
Mr Hogg is better, after a severe illness, though not quite
stout. When he was about the worst it fell to my lot
to open your letter, and you may judge how much I was astonished
at the style of it, [so different] from those of yours I
had seen before. I shall make no comments on the article,
which I am sorry to find has bred so serious a quarrel. As to
literary disputes I have nothing to do with them, yet when
anything appears prejudicial to Mr H. I am not altogether
callous. However, after a visit of a few days at Abbotsford,
I am happy to find all animosity completely laid aside. I grieve
for all misunderstandings between old friends, and I am resolved
not to be in Edinburgh without calling upon Mrs Blackwood, to
whom I beg my kindest compliments.
Mrs Blackwood, we may be sure, though she did
not love the poetesses, would be kindness itself to the
poet's wife, who must have been still more sorely
"hadden doun" by the sins of authors than she felt
herself to be.
MR BLACKWOOD, however, was too wise a man to
build his faith solely upon two supporters, even so
loyal and with such almost incredible power of production
as that possessed by Lockhart and Wilson:
indeed the record of these early years of the Magazine
is one continued strain of effort on his part to collect
around him, and to secure for his undertaking, the
assistance of every man of note whom he happened
to come across. It is a fact which a young writer
finds it very difficult to understand, that publishers
and editors, those dreaded dispensers of literary
patronage, door-keepers of the temple of fame, are
often just as anxiously on the outlook for new workmen
as these workmen are for their favour. But Mr
Blackwood left no one in doubt on that subject. It
was one of what we may call the family jests current
in the saloon at Princes Street that the publisher
asked everybody whom he encountered to contribute
to "my Magazine." Not a man who had ever strung
two lines together escaped this genial invitation; and
the delightful faith which made him believe that
'Maga' could not fail to inspire every one devoted
to her service was in itself inspiring, — so much so,
that many a first article enthusiastically received,
appears under a name that may rarely occur again,
the Founder's warm conviction that whatever was
sent him must be good being combined with too much
strong sense to survive the contact with practical
mediocrity. When William Maginn, a man who
began with all the dash and brilliancy which then
were supposed to be almost inalienable from the name
of an Irishman, came across Blackwood's horizon,
the Magazine was firmly established, and had already
become a power in the political world. The new
recruit came with no introduction, and not even a
name. Out of the unknown, out of Cork, a place
more associated with pigs and salted provisions than
with literature, there suddenly stepped this joyous,
reckless figure, full of power, full of spirit and fun,
and a gay and careless readiness for anything which
suited the tone of the Magazine and the liking of its
two literary guides. He must evidently have sent
some contribution which took both publisher and
writers at once by storm, and gained him the warmest
and most immediate of welcomes. Before he had
ceased to be R. T. S., and completely unknown, he
was deep in all their secrets, and taking up their
jests, their allusions, their most local pleasantries, as
one to the manner born. We are by no means proud
of the part Maginn took in the Magazine, nor of himself
or the connection so speedily formed, and to place
him immediately after the Great Twin Brethren who
formed it is too honourable a place. But there was
no one of the contributors who had for a number of
years so much to do with 'Maga,' or who wore her
colours with more apparent devotion: and his history,
never written at any length or deserving to be so, is
full of the tragic contrast — so often, alas! to be found
in the lives of self-ruined men — of brilliant and careless
youth and a maturity miserable and shameful. He
was turned, indeed, into Captain Shandon, a picture
in some respects too good for him, by Thackeray; and
Lockhart for one had a lingering affection for him all
through, and wrote him a tragico-jesting epitaph.
But he has never had any justice, as who of his kind
ever has? He was not a bad man: he was full of
generous and friendly impulses, wit, and sometimes
wisdom: but so spoilt and hampered by other
qualities that every promise ended in the mean and
squalid misery of a nature fallen, fallen, fallen from
its high estate. Such a man cannot have justice from
the world, scarcely even pity. It is almost immoral
to be sorry for him, or to remember that once he was
young and an emblem of all that was joyous, delightful,
and gay.
Among so many flitting figures that come and go,
there was no one who, for at least a few years, was so
much in the foreground, mingling in everything that
was going on, and frankly adopted into the closest
brotherhood of 'Maga's' original leaders, as Maginn,
the rollicking O'Doherty of the Magazine, the writer
of half the articles and most of the verses, the bosom
friend even of so serious a man as Blackwood, who
welcomed him with the utmost cordiality to his house,
and confided to him all its secrets. Maginn brought
much Irish wit, and an extraordinary power of adapting
himself to the requirements of a world so different
from his own: but he also brought what was more
extraordinary still — the humours of his natural sphere
along with him, and performed almost a greater feat
than that by which Wilson and Lockhart managed to
make the local feuds of Edinburgh familiar to the
world, by doing single-handed almost the same thing
for the literary quarrels and struggles of Dublin:
though Ireland had no connection whatever with the
Magazine, and the eccentricities of Trinity College,
Dublin, could be interesting to the smallest possible
class of readers. He had begun life as a schoolmaster
in Cork, and was a man of considerable learning as
well as much wit, ready as his countrymen have
always been in felicitous speech, and full of the
boundless fun and frolic with which they have been
credited, whether justly or not, since light literature
began. He was indeed one of the best specimens of
the typical Irishman, the crystallised Paddy, ready to
jest and sing, to speechify, to fight, to flatter, to make
promises and to break them, with all the unstable
charm of a being beyond rule, guided by his impulses,
and following them to much enjoyment and renown
for a time, but soon into ruin and dismay. He seems
to have dropped into the Blackwood band in 1819 as
accidentally as he did most other things, without, as
we have said, either introduction or guarantee, without
even a name or local habitation, a mere collocation of
initials, dating from a public news-room. The initials
were not even his own, for it was to R. T. S. that Mr
Blackwood wrote the many and long letters which we
find in his letter-books. The correspondence begins
on the 1st February 1820, with a letter signed C.
North: —
C. North to R. T. S., Minerva Rooms, Cork.
It has for a long time been my great ambition to secure an
Irish Correspondent, and though I am under great obligations
to one gentleman for occasional favours, I have never as yet
been able to acquire anything of the kind regularly.
The short things you have had the kindness to send afford
sufficient proof that your talents and accomplishments are
great and varied. Your ways of thinking, too, on all important
subjects, seem to harmonise as well as possible with that, in
the spirit of which the greater part of the Magazine always
has been written. In short, there is no question you can, if
you choose, be of more use to me, and it, than any one with
whom we have casually become acquainted. If you should
wish to establish any regular system of co-operation with us,
you have a thousand fields on which you may enter along with
the friends whose assistance we already enjoy, and one great
field, the condition of your own Ireland, literary and political,
&c., which you have entirely to yourself to do with as you
will: and you need not fear our admitting anything that would
interfere with your views in regard to Ireland, were we honoured
with your aid as to that most interesting subject.
In the meantime, of all the articles you allude to, even the
mathematical on Leslie, there is not one that I shall not be
very proud to receive quam primum. I earnestly hope they
may pave the way for a more close connection with a gentleman
for whose talents, acquirements, and principles I entertain
the highest respect.
A postscript adds that did the unknown feel disposed
to intrust his name to the discretion of his
correspondent, there might be means found of conducting
their communications post free; but that, in
any case, "no matter how large the packet or what
the postage may be," it would always be welcome.
An amusing commentary on this is found in a note
enclosed from Mr J. W. Croker a month or two
later, during which time the new Irish Correspondent
does not seem to have shown the desired faith in
Christopher's discretion. It also throws a side-light
in passing upon the curious system of franking, almost
forgotten in our day, by which persons possessing any
official connections were able to moderate the severity
of the heavy postages of the time.
ADMIRALTY, April 25, 1820.
Mr Croker has received from Edinburgh a packet addressed
R. T. S., Minerva Rooms, Cork. As Mr Croker does not wish
to continue to frank letters of so large a size and addressed in
so extraordinary a way, he requests Mr Blackwood's correspondent
will communicate to Mr B. some name under which
his letters may be forwarded.
Not even this appeal, however, succeeded in calling
Maginn forth from his incognito. Curiously enough
he had begun by calling himself Ralph Tuckett Scott,
for what fantastic reason I know not; then, no doubt
for some further purpose of mystification, by the
initials alone. To satisfy Mr Croker, whose official
position enabled him to frank the packets, a matter
of so much importance in these days, he selected the
name of Mr James Higginson.
The extraordinary felicity and facility with which
Maginn took up the tone, and even the local colour,
of the Magazine is very curious. "You will be surprised
when I tell you that the Tête-à-tête in this
number is by a stranger to Edinburgh and every
one in it except what he has picked up from the
Magazine," Mr Blackwood says to one of his correspondents.
It is difficult to say whether this adoption
of the special interests of his new friends, or his introduction
bodily, and with great applause, of the
still more restricted local interests and gossip of
Dublin, and even of the booksellers' shops and clubs
of Cork, is more surprising. A little of the confusion
of a stranger groping in the unknown to identify
the figures still indistinct to him is in the following.
He had taken fright lest something said in an
article of his might be in any way offensive to Sir
Walter Scott, and begged that it should be struck
out: —
R. T. S. to W. Blackwood.
If I do not mistake, Mr North is connected somewhat more
closely with the Ariosto of the North than he was at the time
I wrote last. If I be right, albeit unknown, I wish him joy
with all my heart. Apropos, we have a son of Sir Walter's
here, a good-looking young Hessian enough. He is a poet,
though not quite in the manner of his father. He publishes
little pieces of poetry occasionally in our newspapers, well
enough for such a vehicle. I shall send you some if you like,
to regale his father.
In answering this letter, Mr Blackwood says: —
The Editor is not surprised at the mistake you have fallen
into by giving his office to Mr Lockhart, who has certainly
been one of our most efficient supporters. He showed your
letter to Mr L., who was as much amused with it as we were.
He had heard of the verses in your Cork papers, which it seems
have annoyed young Walter sadly. They are written by a
corporal in the troop, whose name is William Simpson, and the
initials being the same, the sin of these execrable verses is all
laid to poor Walter's door.
It was riot for some time after that Maginn's name
was known, notwithstanding that he made himself
instantly remarkable as bringing Mr Blackwood
into a libel case while still he had scarcely settled
into his seat as one of the staff of the Magazine, —
the article on Professor Leslie, referred to in the
letter nominally from Christopher North, and one
of the first of any importance contributed by him,
having plunged the Magazine once more into legal
None of the previous threats of this kind had, so
far as I am aware, ever been carried into court, except
that of Mr J. G. Dalyell; and the culprits in
these cases were at all events well-known men, old
friends and powerful supporters. R. T. S. was at the
very outset of his career, and known to nobody; but
he too sheltered behind the steady personality of the
publisher, without even a word of reproach from that
much-tried man. So early an alarm might well have
broken the newly formed bond, but there is nothing
but the warmest cordiality in Mr Blackwood's first
letter on the subject to the veiled prophet of
Cork: —
W. Blackwood to R. T. S.
EDINBURGH, 22nd March 1820.
I look forward with pleasure to the happiness of seeing you
here, and I can only say that you will meet with friends
who appreciate your talents, and will be proud to welcome you
to Auld Reekie.
I was much amused to-day on meeting my old friend Leslie
for the first time since your attack on him appeared. He tried
to look smiling, but it was evidently a strong effort, and he
asked me if we were to have another attack on him next
month. I told him I rather thought not at present, but he
would see the number on Saturday. I am sure he expects
something, and hope you will send us the article on the
Professor's mathematical attainments.
I received the Cork paper, and saw at once to whom we
were indebted for the very elegant and favourable notice of
the Magazine. It has been copied into most of our Edinburgh
and several of the London papers. As a small return to the
Printer of the paper, I would be obliged to you to desire him to
insert the enclosed advertisement twice; but not to do it until
he finds that copies of this number have arrived for sale in Cork.
Before the end of the year 1820, however, the
criticism, so lightly thought of, by which the
Magazine had harked back, though by a new hand,
to the old reckless polemics of her youth, had become
a serious matter, and all the machinery of the
law was set to work by the victim, with the effect,
half alarming, half exciting, to which Princes Street
was not altogether unaccustomed. Mr Blackwood
informs his contributor of the fact in the following
letter. We must remember that the man who had
thus led the Magazine and its stout-hearted Publisher
into renewed trouble was still, whatever guess
might have been formed of his personality, no more
to them than R. T. S. at the Minerva Rooms: —
W. Blackwood to R. T. S.
EDINBURGH, 6 Dec. 1820.
You will not be a little surprised when you open this letter
to find a summons (as it is called here) which was served upon
me on Monday night at the instance of Professor Leslie. I am
not much afraid of it, for my legal advisers think it a most
groundless action, and that the Professor will only render himself
more ridiculous. At the same time, one must be as well
prepared as possible to make out strong and complete defences.
For this purpose I hope you will without delay write me, largely
and fully, everything that occurs to you that will prove or
illustrate what is said in the different articles. You can do
this better than any one, and the sooner you are able to write
the better.
What most annoys me in this vile business is, the worthy
Professor has, as you will observe in the summons, raised his
action also against my friend Mr Lockhart. Nothing can be
more absurd than this, for Mr L. is not, and never was, my
Editor. He has supported the Magazine, like other friends
here; but the Professor might just as well have charged any
other of my contributors with being my Editor. Most fortunately,
too, he has had no part whatever in any of these articles
against Leslie, so that, as for him, whenever the action does
come, it must instantly fall to the ground. In the meantime,
however, as it may be a considerable period before the action
does come on, it is most unpleasant to Mr Lockhart himself and
to me, as well as to all his friends, that his name should be
bandied about by these cursed Whigs in a matter in which he
has no concern. Being a lawyer, too, makes the thing still
more unpleasant and disagreeable. I would wish, therefore,
to do anything which would at once withdraw Mr L.'s name
from the process. I am sure you will feel exactly as I do, and
I trust to your own honourable feelings as to the most advisable
course which ought to be taken in order to show decidedly and
distinctly that Mr L. is not the author of any of these articles.
Another very strong reason I have for getting this at once accomplished
is, that Sir Walter Scott feels very sore at seeing Mr
L's name mentioned in this way, as he thinks it is so hurtful
to a young lawyer. You can hardly conceive the distress that
this thing gives me, for the whole plot and drift of the party
here is to persecute and torment any one whom they suppose
friendly to me; and if they could only by any means whatever
disgust Sir Walter Scott, Mr Lockhart, Professor Wilson, and
others of my friends, so as to make them tired of the Magazine,
then they think they would at once ruin both me and it. To accomplish
this, there is no kind of trick or falsehood they will not
have recourse to. Leslie, in this case, is a mere tool in their
hands. . . . All they want is to annoy me or any of my friends.
For myself I have no fears; but I confess it unnerves me a
little to think even of the possibility of this vile crew, by these
continued attacks, making it unpleasant to any one of my
friends to lend me his aid. I trust in God they never will
obtain such a victory, and I flatter myself that these base attacks
will in the end have the contrary effect, and only rally
my friends more closely around me.
I shall expect most anxiously a letter from you. Indeed, if
you were nearer at hand, and the season favourable, I would
offer you a visit; but at present this is out of the question.
What would not I give to have the pleasure of seeing you here,
for I have so much to say to you!
Dr Maginn's reply has much of the coolness of the
man who, being entirely out of harm's way, and free
from any possibility of even social annoyance, keeps
his head, and perceives all that is excessive in the
agitation of his friend who is in the middle of the
fray: —
R. T. S. to W. Blackwood.
Dec. 12, 1820.
I am truly concerned that you should be engaged in so unpleasant
a business as the action of Prof. Leslie against you;
but I am quite sure that if your Scottish courts of law be regulated
according to the principles that actuate ours in England
and Ireland, you are in no danger whatever. Every point in
the summons is trivial or justifiable, and in this country the
man who would undertake such an action would be the butt of
ridicule from one end of the Island to the other. There are
some legal friends of mine who would expose the unfortunate
Plaintiff worse than if they had him grinning through a pillory.
I have only received your letter of the 6th this moment, so that
I have not time to point out what would seem to me the proper
line of defence, as I am afraid you would be anxious to hear
from me at once; but to-morrow I shall send you ample
Why Mr Lockhart's name has been introduced I know not,
and I am still less able to divine how such a thing can be an
injury to him. His known connection with the Magazine has
of course drawn on him many such suspicions, but they cannot
hurt him. It will be besides very easy for him, I should
imagine, to clear himself from being the author of these letters.
How you do it in Scotland I cannot say, but here we should
laugh at a charge of the kind unless the plaintiff possessed
ample means of proving, not by suspicion but fact, that the
defendant was bonâ fide connected with the alleged libel. That
Sir Walter Scott — for whom, though I never saw him, I have
the highest reverence, and whose feelings I should be as unwilling
to hurt as those of my dearest friend — has felt angry
on the occasion, I confess vexes me. He, however, must know
that his son-in-law is most unwarrantably brought into the
summons; and it does not take much sagacity to see that
if he can get this calumny off his shoulders (as of course he
triumphantly can), it will rather be of use than disadvantage
to him. But Sir W. must be aware that not a sentence I said
about Leslie was untrue. How would he think of Tom Paine
if he brought an action against Watson for his Apology for the
What do you wish me to do? I do not like innuendoes: say
fairly what you think would be fair, and that I shall consider
of, and give you my answer openly without evasion.
As for your fear of your friends deserting you on this occasion,
or of their being scared away by such attacks as these, I
do not think so ill of them. If the articles were bad and
malicious, or if they so thought them, they should not have
continued for a moment in connection with a work so disgraced.
If they think them justifiable (as they are), it would be pitiful
to leave you because angry opponents thought proper to intimidate
you by law, or abuse you through the press. Above all,
fear not that your Magazine is in danger of sinking. If every
known supporter you have were to quit you, you would suffer
the loss of men of great talents, but I trust there are within
the land five hundred as good as they. There is many a man
whom you know not ready to fill your places.
In fine, I believe, there can be no danger if you have a
rational law of libel in Scotland. Everything said about Leslie
is true. I am much mistaken if he does not repent this step
to the day of his death. I hope you have able advisers. Tomorrow
you may expect a letter from me.
P.S. — As to your wishing to see me, believe me that if you
were here I should be very happy to show you that I was glad
to give you an Irish welcome; but I suppose that is an improbable
supposition. I could not do you much service, however,
in the present case.
Maginn does not seem to see that his Irish welcome
was a gratification which would have done
Mr Blackwood little good; but that his true name,
whether, as the newspapers say, for publication or
otherwise, would have given at least a certain consolation.
It is curious that in the face of the
danger, pecuniary and other, which Blackwood was
thus involved in by his act, the active agent of
the mischief remains discreetly behind his shield,
too prudent to sign himself as anything more distinct
than R. T. S. The most reckless even of gay
Irishmen can be reticent when need is.
Mr Blackwood's next letter on this subject informs
Maginn that Lockhart's name has been withdrawn
from the prosecution, Leslie's agent at the same time
calling upon himself "to give up the name of the
author or editor," and so save himself personally from
any consequences of the action." The whole object
of this letter to me," he adds, "is merely that it may
be produced in process to plead from it that my
refusal to give up the name of the writer aggravates
the offence. For," continues the publisher with fine
force, "Leslie knows me too well to believe for one
moment that I would give up the name of any writer
who did not himself wish to come forward."
This delicate shaft, however, did not any more
than the others pierce the defensive armour of
R. T. S., who replied only by a long letter pointing
out the foundation upon which his strictures on Leslie
were grounded. As the trial itself has been already
discussed,1 it is unnecessary to enter into details, and
we may close our account of this vexatious matter
with a letter of eighteen months later, when the
trial was about to take place, and when Maginn had
already revealed himself in person: —
June 9, 1822 (Sunday).
I just this moment have received your letter of the 3rd instant.
As to your complaints of my not writing for 'Maga' —
believe it, it is my necessity, not my will, that hinders me; for
I am pretty busily occupied from six or seven in the morning
until five in the evening, so that I have little leisure, and even
this little is curtailed by a thousand things in which I have intertwisted
myself — in general, very foolishly. Therefore it is
almost impossible for me to give you, or even to think of giving
you, a long or a serious article. . . .
Do you really think I should be of the slightest use to
you on the trial of Leslie v. B.? If so, I shall certainly be
with you. I have a little business to do in Trinity College on
the 1st July, which will be over about three o'clock; so that if
you want me I can be in Edinburgh on the 3rd somewhere about
one or two in the day — i.e., God willing. But I do not think I
should be a pinsworth of service to you; I am sure I could
suggest no point to your lawyers of which they are not already
1 See p. 179.
aware. However, if you are decidedly of opinion that my being
there would be any good, write by return of post to say so.
Why I wish to go to London you know, but do not let that
weigh with you. It would not occasion any alteration in my
arrangements, for I have not made any, and I am as ready to
start for Bengal as for Bandon, and as far as my personal feelings
are concerned, quite indifferent for which; so give me your
opinion candidly, without delay.
But the new contributor not only broke new ground,
as in the onslaught upon Leslie, but took up all the
previous sins of the brotherhood with the heartiest
relish. Their assault upon Keats, to which undue importance
has been given, and their incessant reviling
of the "Cockney School," were seized upon and echoed
with even greater and still less refined vehemence;
though, on this point at least, a certain compunction
is visible when the news of the victim's death, though
not "by an article," struck the satirist, still pen in
hand: —
R. T. S. to W. Blackwood.
April 10, 1821.
I have just this moment heard of poor Keats's death. We
are unlucky in our butts. It would appear very cruel if any
jokes now appeared on the pharmacopolical part of 'Endymion.'
And indeed when I heard that the poor devil was in a consumption,
I was something sorry that I annoyed him at all of late.
If I were able I should write a dirge over him, as a kind of
amende honorable; but my Muse, I am afraid, does not run in
the mournful.
If you print my hymn strike out the hemistich concerning
him, substituting anything you like — such as " Pale is the cheek
of Leigh Hunt, the tea-drinking king of the Cockneys." I hope
I am in time, for it would annoy me if it appeared that we
were attacking any one who had it not in his power to reply —
particularly an old enemy after his death.
Mr Blackwood, as will be seen from the following
letters, did all that was possible to draw his contributor
from dangerous paths, and to turn his special
attention to his own particular sphere, his own country,
then in the throes of one of its hottest battles, that on
the subject of Catholic Emancipation, which made the
true state of feeling in Ireland so full of the greatest
interest to every reader.
W. Blackwood to R. T. S.
EDINBURGH, 24th July 1820.
I still think that you and your friends could give a great
deal which would interest Irishmen, while it would be entirely
new to us on this side of the Channel. What can be better
indeed than your last communication, "Daniel O'Rorke"? The
poem itself is excellent, and you need not for a moment think
that we have enough here of such articles. I hope you will
urge all your friends, and do whatever you can in this poetical
way. The prose is admirable. Now nothing can be better
fitted for the Magazine than spirited letters of this kind, and
I am sure you could throw them off by the dozen. The letters
we have had of the Pringle Family have been much liked. I
am confident you and your friends could do something infinitely
better. I merely throw out this hint, for you are the
best judge yourself, and whatever you choose to do in any
way or at any time, I shall always feel deeply indebted to
you for.
We have had so much on Jeffrey in the Magazine that we
are afraid people would not relish so much your witty article
from Davenant. It is a serious mortification to us not to insert
an article of yours, but we know it would be a greater one to
you, if we did not use the liberty you have so kindly given us.
It is a liberty, however, that we will, I am sure, very seldom
be obliged to take.
On Thursday I sent you a newspaper containing the account
of my friend Mr Wilson's election to the Moral Philosophy
Chair. This was a glorious triumph indeed. Never did the
Whig gang so exert themselves, for this chair has been their
stronghold. There was no kind of falsehood, misrepresentation,
and blackguardism which they had not recourse to. For the
last two months we have been kept in continual fever and
bustle. Thank God, it is now happily over. Mr Wilson has
been a grand and most powerful supporter of the Magazine;
but he will now have so much to do for some months to come
that I cannot look for much of his assistance. My other friends,
however, will not be the less mindful of 'Maga.' . . .
I wish I had it in my power to show you in any way how deeply
I and my friends feel indebted to you. I have no wish you should
give up your incognito unless you find it perfectly agreeable to
do so; but I hope you some day will, or at all events that you
will point out to me how I can make you any return for all
your kindnesses. It is not merely that it would give me satisfaction
were you to allow me to offer you the remuneration we
make to our ordinary contributors; but the hearty goodwill
with which you enter into the very spirit of 'Maga' lays me
under a weight of obligation which I cannot repay you. Have
you wholly given up your intention of paying us a visit? I
still hope you will make a run over.. . .
W. Blackwood to R. T. S.
EDIN., 20 Sep. 1820.
We are sorry the critique on the Irish Peasantry did not
meet your views; but the fact is, we are utterly ignorant here
as to the real state of Ireland. You may rest assured that it
was from no feeling towards the publishers of the pamphlet
that it was so favourably spoken of; indeed this is the very
thing I am always most jealous of, for I would rather see any
publication of mine, or of any of my friends, cut to pieces in the
Magazine than that there should be the slightest appearance
of favour or partiality — for this is perfect destruction to 'Maga,'
and would render her no better than a petty bookselling job.
We are most anxious, therefore, that you should give full vent
to your feelings on any subject of this kind: we care not though
any article you wrote should even injure us with a portion of
your population, for what we want is fair and free discussion,
as we are confident this will be best in the end. Violent partisans
on both sides may fly off, but in the end truth and talent
will prevail.
You will see that our friend Christopher has addressed
Oehlenschlaeger's 1 letter to Mr David Laing. He is a young
bibliopole here who was in Denmark last year with Mr James
Wilson (a brother of the Professor's), and saw a number of
the Copenhagen libraries. And what makes the thing more
complete, there happens to be just now a Mr Feldborg whom
he got very intimate with at Copenhagen: his name, therefore,
is inserted, as he is a very particular friend of Oehlenschlaeger's.
This, however, was not thought of till nearly 1000 copies were
thrown off. However, the joke of it was equally good, as Feldborg
is quite delighted with it. Christopher, you will also see,
has made some alterations of names which, from local circumstances,
were necessary: I hope you will approve of them. The
article is one of the most effective and amusing we have ever
had in the Magazine. Christopher says it is quite astonishing
how you enter so completely into the very spirit and essence
of 'Maga,' just as if you had all along been seated with us at
Ambrose's, where the highest of our fun was concocted.
W. Blackwood to R. T. S.
EDIN., 18th Oct. 1820.
I know Washington Irving well, and when he was here two
or three years ago, he promised to me to contribute regularly.
The last time I saw him in London he repeated his promises;
but he said, when he looked at our "audaciously original Magazine,"
he did not think he could give anything that could appear
to advantage in it. These, of course, were mere phrases; but
I do think he has perhaps been rather overestimated. He is a
man of an amiable elegant mind, and what he does do is well
conceived and finely polished, but I rather think he is not a
person of great originality or strength.
This refers to the elaborate mystification already noted, the imaginary
translation of a play to which the name of the Danish dramatist was
appended in pure wantonness, as it seems, and the equally imaginary correspondence
which followed, — all to be found in the pages of the Magazine,
but unnecessary to record here.
W. Blackwood to R. T. S.
EDIN., 23 Nov. 1820.
I cannot say how much I owe you for your most effectual
assistance. Your contributions have been so numerous and so
valuable, in the truest sense of the word, that I trust you will
allow me to return you some acknowledgment, for I cannot
repay you for the kind and valuable aid you have given us.
If you will not accept money, I trust you will allow me to send
you books, and you would do me a singular favour if you would
send me a list of those that would be acceptable to you. It is
very awkward of me to ask you to do this; but ignorant as I
am of what you possess, or what you would most prize, I would
not like to send you books you did not want, and I must therefore
beg of you to send me a good long list.
EDIN., 26th Feb. 1821.
I am not at all afraid of Tom Campbell and Master Colburn.
Campbell is certainly a man of genius, and besides being a poet
is an elegant prose writer. He is, however, indolent and uncertain.
The two numbers that have appeared do not strike me
as very wonderful: they are respectable certainly, but not overwhelming.
I am much mistaken if some of our poetical critiques,
and articles on the Ancient English Drama, do not show a deeper
feeling of the beauties and the true spirit of poetry than even
Campbell's lectures, upon which the character of 'Colburn's
Magazine' so much depends. Campbell's name will do a
great deal in getting clever men to write for it.
EDIN., 28th Feb. 1821.
From seeing the 'Examiner' to-day, I am glad we did not
insert your article against Hunt in this number. It would
have looked so cruel, appearing just at the time of John Hunt's
trial and conviction — and to give the devil his due, he has really
shown both good sense and good taste in never noticing this
dispute with Scott. In his paper to-day he says: "Duel. — On
Friday week a duel took place at Chalk Farm between Mr
John Scott and Mr Christie, at 9 o'clock at night, by the light
of the moon. The parties fired twice, Mr C. having the first
time fired his pistol in the air according to one account, and not
having aimed at Mr Scott according to all. Mr Scott received
a ball in the lower part of his body, which remained there for
some days and kept him in a dangerous state."
Now this is one of the fairest accounts that has been published,
and as the Cockney has shown so much forbearance in
alluding to the Magazine, surely we owe him something in
return. I understand, too, that the article in Egan's book was
not written by him but by Hazlitt.
I am quite vexed at the idea of such a capital article not
being used, and more particularly just now when we stand so
much in need of something spirited and humorous. Perhaps,
however, you will be able to alter or adapt it in some other way
that it would answer better.
I need not say how very anxious I am that you may have
leisure to send me something or other for next month. It is a
most critical period of the magazine just now, and I am leaving
no stone unturned in order to have our next and some following
numbers strong and powerful.
The confidential terms upon which the publisher
had by this time got with his still unknown contributor
is proved by the very amusing letter I here
quote: —
W. Blackwood to Ralph, Tuckett Scott.
EDIN., 19th June 1821.
As to your blarney of my being able to do this (i.e., write
article for 'Maya' on John Bull's letter to Lord Byron) myself, it
is really too much for me to swallow. I am vain enough of
having suggested from time to time to my friends subject-matter
for prime articles, but truly as to anything else I have no pretensions
to it. Your idea as to how the thing should be done
is admirable, and I wish to God you had time to fill up your
sketch. I do most cordially agree with you that I deserve
quizzing for refusing to sell 'Don Juan,' and should not be
spared in the article. The only apology I have to offer to you
is this, that it proceeded partly from pique and partly from
principle. When the book was published by Murray, I was
just on the point of breaking with him. I had not had a letter
from him for some months. He sent me copies of the book per
mail, without either letter or invoice, so that when I received
them I was not disposed to read it with a favourable eye. I
did read it, and I declare solemnly to you, much as I admired
the talent and genius displayed in it, I never in my life was so
filled with utter disgust. It was not the grossness or blackguardism
which struck me, but it was the vile, heartless, and
cold-blooded way in which this fiend attempted to degrade
every tender and sacred feeling of the human heart. I felt
such a revolting at the whole book after I had finished it, that
I was glad of the excuse I had, from Mr Murray not writing
me, for refusing to sell it. I was terribly laughed at by my
friends here, and I daresay you will laugh as much still at my
prudery and pique.
The following letters show that Mr Blackwood's
advice as to Irish articles was occasionally taken; and
as the details, by dint of being so old, will be new to
many readers, we quote them, at the risk even of
giving too much of Maginn: —
R. T. S. to W. Blackwood.
May 9, 1821.
You may have seen in the last literary Gazette an advertisement
extracted from a Cork paper, announcing a course of
lectures from Carter, the pugilist, who, with Sutton and Reynolds,
is campaigning in Cork. It does not require much tact
to perceive that the whole affair is a quiz, got up for the annoyance
of our Scientific Society, which usually supplies us with
butts. The gentleman who last year supplied you with Dow-den's
speech for the Luctus is writing an opening lecture on
Antemundane pugilism, which I believe eventually goes to you.
But by publishing a letter of mine in which I mentioned a
paper of his on Dowden's madness, which by the way he
actually wrote, you have sadly frightened him, for he is one of
the thin-skinned generation.
I do not like to write anti-Catholic articles for you; but you
are wrong in taking the other side: it obliges none of your
friends, and disobliges us. The question, in fact, ought to be
avoided altogether; for divided as ministerial men are on the
subject, when they begin to dispute they only abuse one another
for the diversion of the common enemy. For instance, was riot
Canning's attack in the House on Ellis of Dublin — one of the
staunchest Government men in the kingdom — very ill judged,
and just exactly what the opposition faction in Ireland desired?
And to descend to ourselves, why need the Reviewer of
'Lafontaine' (Croker) step out of his way to revile a system of
laws upheld by some of the most loyal men in the empire? or
why should I waste my time in answering or exposing the
ignorance of that Reviewer, when I agree with him in the leading
features of policy, while we both have enemies enough, who
hate not merely the system of penal laws, but every system
calculated to give strength to Church and State? This in brief
is my principal objection to your introducing the question at
all. Of this be sure: the Protestants of Ireland are, with the
trifling exceptions of those swayed by faction or interest, decidedly
hostile to any further concession to the Papists. In
Cork, for example, the Protestant population of which is about
17 or 18,000, a Protestant petition in favour of emancipation
was got up; and it received exactly 89 signatures. If you were
in Ireland you would not wonder at our hostility. I never knew
a traveller from the sister island, even were he bitten by the
'Edinburgh Review,' — a work with which I should be sorry to
see you in any point whatever co-operating, — who did not leave
Ireland with the same feeling. However, Protestants and
R. Catholics live here together in the greatest jollity — some of
my most intimate acquaintances being of the latter religion.
An impartial spectator would laugh at the unanimity of disapprobation
with which all parties received the measures proposed
by Mr Plunkett, and the staunch co-operation of the most
violent leaders on both sides, in devising methods of resistance.
Feb. 25, 1822.
We have had a special commission here, at which no less than
32 were sentenced to be hanged: these exhibit to-day at Churchtower
— a place where they burnt four policemen. Our county
magistrates at a meeting of more than 100 voted the Insurrection
out for the entire county, which is a strong measure when
you consider that this county contains more than a third of the
population of all Scotland. It will certainly put down this silly
Jacquerie. Plunkett has been here, but did not display his
usual eloquence, and seemed rather out of place as Attorney-General.
The Marquis of Wellesley is puffed — and detested —
by all parties, and I understand is not a little tired already of
his place. . . .
As for me, you may tell any CORK man anything you like,
true or untrue, about me; for I am known by everybody gentle
and simple in the city, and they are ready to believe anything
good bad about my affairs. So if you think fit, write to
Croker informing him that his guess was right. But to people
un-Corcagian I have no desire to be notorious at all.
It was in the summer of 1821, and no doubt in
answer to Blackwood's desire that he should present
himself in person, that Maginn appeared in Edinburgh,
casting aside all the fictions of anonymity.
Mrs Gordon, in her life of Professor Wilson,
quotes from the 'Dublin University Magazine' an
account said to have been written by D. M. Moir
of the characteristic manner in which Maginn first
appeared in Princes Street, which he did in the
character of an angry Irishman, offended by strictures
in the Magazine, and demanding the name of
the writer. Blackwood, alas! not unaccustomed to
such a demand, replied in his usual way, and finally
declined to give any information on the subject.
"If you don't know him, then," cried the visitor,
"perhaps you know your own handwriting," at the
same time producing a packet of letters. "You need
not deny your correspondence with that gentleman:
I am that gentleman." It was very like Maginn
to make his entrance upon the scene in this way;
and he was received with acclamation into the very
bosom of the lively society which formed the bodyguard
of 'Maga,' and of which he had become
already, though in the mists of distance and anonymity,
so complete a member, entering into all
their jests, and adding both fun and thunder of
his own without scruple or hindrance. Probably
so complete a union never was formed without any
personal knowledge. He outdid them all, which was
saying a great deal, in the recklessness of his jesting
and of the facile pen which ran away with him.
He had, I presume, the charm of Irish frankness,
or apparent frankness, the abandon of manner which
is not always the abandon of the heart; and he
was received with open arms, and without, it would
seem, the most momentary hesitation. He who had
entered into the very atmosphere of this unknown
place, the dashing Irishman, taking up the very
tone of these gay and reckless Scots with a curious
confusion of traditionary national sentiment, became
more and more one with them after personal acquaintance,
— a union which was quite unchecked by
the fact that Blackwood had presently £100 of
damages to pay for one of the first freaks of the
new contributor. With all the differences of age
and temperament, and such a practical hindrance as
this, it is very interesting to see how the Publisher,
who had so much trouble already in holding in these
wild wits, took this new and wildest wit of all into
his heart, and, until the serious stress of years and
the deteriorating influences of an irregular literary
life had broken down all the trust which the most
romantic friendship could have in him, was faithful
to the gay and witty Irishman, to whom he wrote
long letters for several years, and whose correspondence
in return — "your lively and friendly letters"
— he looked for with so much pleasant anticipation.
Were it not that Maginn had already formed the
resolution to throw himself into literary life in London,
we might imagine that this visit determined him to
do so, for never was reception of a new combatant
more hearty and joyous. The household in Salisbury
Road was overflowing with children, some of whom
had already reached the most appreciative age of
youth, and the charm of his Irish gaiety and freedom
seems to have taken instant possession of the family.
His letters afterwards are always rounded by a message
to the young people, — "compliments to Mrs
Blackwood, and love to all the other fellows — male
and female," he says. In one of these early letters,
written some months after leaving Edinburgh, is the
following note, which, remembering the gentle and
genial personage alluded to, the kind "Major" 1 of
later days, most benign of all the brethren, we copy
with pleasure: —
W. Maginn to W. Blackwood.
January, '22.
Will you let me put in a word connected with my profession?
Educate our namesake Will — he is the making of a clever
fellow. I don't mean to disparage your elder sons, but I suppose
you have disposed of them already. But let Will show
his face in a University.
The advice was given too late, for the second William
Blackwood was already devoted to the service
of his country in another way. A kind friend (it was
1 Major William Blackwood, third son of the publisher, who came into
the business in 1849, after many years' service in the Indian army.
the formula of these kinder days) had noted on a visit
"your fine family of boys," and inquired, which was
also a kind formula, what the father meant to do with
them, with friendly impulses of help going through
the mind. In this case it was, I think, Mrs Hughes,
the wife of a Canon of St Paul's, a frequent visitor to
Scotland, a friend of Sir Walter, and finally, as the
height of perfection, the grandmother, I believe, of
our beloved Tom Brown 1 of Rugby and Oxford, Judge
Hughes of the present day — who asked the question;
and probably on hearing that the boy's inclinations
pointed towards the army, this lady, on her return
to London, exerted herself to get a cadetship for
the young Willie. In another chapter we shall see
with what anxious love his father watched over the
early career of this boy. His University was the old
strange world of India, the long monotony of the
career so unlike that of the present day, when a
young man thinks nothing of skipping over land and
sea for a holiday of six weeks with his people. Young
William did not return for more than twenty years,
and never saw his father again.
The following letter was written after Maginn's
return to Cork, and gives a glimpse of the more serious
studies by which he meant to secure a blaze of
reputation for his formal entry upon the world. His
scholarship of the more usual kind was already the
admiration of his Scottish friends: —
Dr Maginn to W. Blackwood.
Nov. 12, 1821.
The accounts of the disturbances in the South of Ireland are
in general much exaggerated, and the comments of the English
1 Still living at the time these words were written.
editors are dictated by a profound ignorance of our affairs.
This county, with the exception of a small district about 30
miles north from the city, which, from its proximity to Limerick,
has been a little disturbed, is perfectly quiet. Limerick
is the main scene of action. The number of rioters does not
appear to be very great; but they, by intimidation, compel the
peaceably inclined peasantry very often to swell their ranks.
Arms are demanded and nothing else; and they are under such
good discipline that plate, money, &c., are quite safe, and, what
is more extraordinary when you consider the habits of our
lower orders, liquor of all kinds is scrupulously abstained from,
even if offered. I know several persons who have come in
contact with them and their leader, Captain Rock, a name as
authentic as that of another leader, Mr North. He is a polite,
well-dressed, and gentleman-like fellow, strange as it may
appear to you. In general, there are no personal injuries
inflicted. Will Purcell of Albamira beat off a party of them
from before his house last week, with the assistance only of
a single man; and this has raised the valour of our gentry.
If they imitate the example, as I am pretty sure they will,
the thing will be over in a month. We blame Mr Grant
for the whole. He has been bitten with the silly mania of
affecting liberality, conciliation, and other Lillabulleros of that
kind; which, of course, is regarded as cowardice or want of
power. Peel, our favourite, kept Ireland quiet from North
to South by a contrary conduct. When I get 'John Bull,' I
shall write you an article on the subject, not blaming Grant
of course; but venting all manner of indignation on the "vile
instruments of faction" and "the base Whigs." . . .
I must again ask you to find out for me what are the latest
and best Syriac, Chaldee, and Samaritan grammars. Now, write
to Cadell and Davies to learn; if they themselves cannot tell,
they will easily learn from Valpy. It would do me incalculable
service if I could compile a work on the subject, for Dr Kyle
would put it into the course of Trinity College; and, it is highly
probable, it would be puffed by some excellent article in that
department. Besides, it would give me a grand air with the
public to make my appearance ringed round with the venerable
forms of the outlandish alphabets of the East.
Maginn did not leave Cork till 1823, and in the
meantime he continued occasionally his expositions
of Irish affairs, as well as a running thread of suggestions,
criticisms, and advices, not always approved,
for the conduct of the Magazine. This lively commentator,
however, was in no way discouraged by
any rebuff, but flowed on as cheerfully as ever, discouraged
by nothing, not even by the occasional
refusal of his articles. "You much mistake if you
think I care about the non-insertion of any article
of mine: such things trouble me but little," he says,
and to all appearance he refused steadily all payment
for his contributions, except in the form of Syriac
grammars, &c., for two or three years after his connection
with 'Maga' began — as long, indeed, as he
remained in Ireland, and had not committed himself
to the precarious life of the press. Many evidences
of the hasty and headlong spirit, and the mind which
it is to be feared considered a literary lie as a good
joke, will be seen through all these. He had written,
for instance, a sarcastic article about Southey's 'Vision
of Judgment,' that most universally abused of all compositions;
but for various reasons changed his mind,
and bids his friend destroy it. "I must say I agree
with 'John Bull' in thinking that the spirit of the
'Quarterly' is barbarous, and that I think some
strong decisive straight-ahead puff should be given
to Southey. The 'Vision of Judgment,' which everybody
abuses, would be a fit thing enough to panegyrise."
"I have promised an article to little Crofty
Croker about his book," he says again, "but have
neglected doing it. Write to me to say that you
have a great press of matter which prevented my
article, for the little man is a very great friend of
yours. It is he who franks my packets," says the
ungrateful and graceless critic. And he is continually
suggesting renewed attacks upon "Little Jeff,"
upon Hazlitt, and others. Of Hazlitt he says, "You
have called him pimpled, affected, ignorant, a Cockney
scribbler, &c., but what is that to what he has
said of the most brilliant men of the age? Hook-nosed
Wellington, vulture-beaked Southey, hanging-browed
Croker, down-looking Jack Murray, and
Mudford fat as fleecy-hosiery." Certainly there was
no grace of elocution lost among these wranglers.
The following about the state of Ireland is interesting,
and throws a light unsuspected on Protestant
grievances: —
Dr Maginn to W. Blackwood.
CORK, 4th Feb. 1823.
As for us, we are on the verge of a civil war. Cork has
always been distinguished for moderation, but Dublin is in a
flame. If the Marquis be continued to misgovern us, I do not
see how things can be at all accommodated. You would be
perfectly amazed at the rabid fury of both parties, — for, accustomed
as I have always been to outrageous contests, I confess
I am a trifle flabbergasted. N'importe. If there be a civil war
I can lose nothing but my head, which is of use to no one but
the owner — and may pick up something in the scramble. Old
habits of authority have made it a fixed persuasion in Ireland
among the Protestants that one Protestant could beat five
Papists, and of course I have no fear for the result. Really,
without jest, we are woefully insulted. I don't mean as to
that buffoonery about the Italians, which you know I disapproved:
but our clergy are reviled and personally abused;
our very private parties spied; our toasts controlled by
authority; our churches polluted; the priests domineering,
swaggering, and libelling our faith, our conduct, and our
principles; and, worst of all, if we dare to say a word in reply
to the most atrocious calumnies or downright insults, we are
denounced as not conciliatory. If you had a drop of the old
wranglesome Antiburgher blood in your veins, it would boil
if you were treated as we are. Look at a playhouse riot construed
into high treason; or a conspiracy of the Protestants
(a body of men as numerous as the population of Jutland) to
murder, with a huge quart bottle, as a Cork newspaper called it,
the representative of our most gracious king. Plunkett is
hunting down those dreadfully oppressed men, whom he has
attacked with the venom of a bloodhound, but he has missed
his quarry. I hope his turn will come some time or other; if
we fight, many a bullet is at his service. In a word, the
question is now narrowed to this — Is the Protestant religion to
be tolerated in Ireland? And the end will be that England
will have to conquer the country again, which consummation I
hope most devoutly to witness. But what is this long mess of
Irish politics to you? Not a pinsworth; but all men's minds
here are so full of the posture of affairs that we can scarce
dream of anything else.
And here is a piece of sage advice which must have
come well from a comparatively new man. It refers
to a supposed quarrel with Galt, in which Maginn
opines with complimentary censure that Blackwood
must be in the wrong — "for you are a man of sense
and he a blockhead, with whom a man of sense should
never quarrel."
It is probable that in a tradesman point of view you will lose
little by not publishing 'Ringan Gilhaize,' for G. is writing too
fast. Even Waverley himself is going it too strong on us, and
he is a leetle better trump than Galt. However, do not let
anything ever so little harsh appear against it in 'Maga.' I
shall review it for you, if you like, praising it and extracting
the greatest trash to be found in it as specimens to bear out my
panegyric. G. will swallow it. In one thing you were decidedly
wrong; you ought not to have allowed him to get so thorough
an insight into the method of managing the Magazine. Henceforward
admit no other partner into the concern. With W.
there is no chance of differing, — and L. is capricious perhaps,
but after all sure. As for me, there being no probability of my
turning author of anything beyond a spelling-book, you may be
sure of my continuing a fashioner of articles such as they are.
Keep your other hands in subordination. Authors will always
have bickerings and jealousies of their own, which renders them
dangerous managers of such an affair as 'Maga.' . . . Cadell's
affair is rather more serious. If he be bullied by that vagabond
Hazlitt, would it be impossible for you to heal the old wounds
between you and Murray? Believe me, it would be worth
trying, and Croker is a fine channel. What I principally write
to you about is this. As you cannot go soon enough to London
yourself to superintend the details of this affair, would it be
possible for you to get Cadell to hold over his determination of
giving up 'Maga' till the end of next month. If so, I offer
myself as your plenipotentiary, for, God willing, I shall be in
London about the 27th of June. I think I should be able to
show the true state of the case to Cadell, and to palaver him out
of sticking to Hazlitt. There are few who know so exactly the
history, &c., of 'Maga' as I do, or who are so thoroughly [instructed]
on the subject of Whig libels. If you think this a
good plan, write to C. that circumstances, &c., prevent you or
any of your intimate friends from immediately having a personal
interview with him, which could alone satisfactorily explain
affairs; but that if he suspends his judgment for five or six
weeks, one will call on him who is up to all the business, and
is moreover a most worthy Christian: give him my name, of
course. I flatter myself I should carry you through swimmingly,
striking dumb the bibliopole of London town. The devil is
in the dice if I should not mystify him famously as to who the
author of the libels, &c., of 'Maga' are, for I'd tell him, after
swearing him not to disclose a word of it, that Galt was the
man principally engaged, then Hogg that W. & L. were the
most innocent people in the world. Write me word what you
think of this idea. I had rather that you would not say anything
at all about it to anybody, even to L. I anticipate some
sport in London, particularly as I would not give the end of a
fig for all its sights and humdrum diversions. I'll take famous
care that you shall be puffed during my stay in all quarters, for
I have got considerable influence in that valuable corps, the
gentlemen of the press — some of whom I have obliged, and others
libelled. Either gives a man a sort of claim to civility. You
may tell L., as he is anxious on this head, that a provincial
paper here — the 'Advertiser ' — for which I write a great deal,
is to come before God and its country for telling the truth of a
priest. There is an immense tumult expected, which I am
happy to think of. I, however, am not the writer of the alleged
libel. The business has created a sensation throughout all
The idea of Maginn's interference, either to heal the
wounds of John Murray or to smooth down Cadell,
does not appear to have been taken advantage of;
but there were occasions when his help was called for,
and most readily given — especially during the terrible
crisis in the life of Wilson which has been already
related, the threatened action of Martin, when our
Professor showed but the heart of a mouse in his big
bosom. It will give the reader a kind thought of the
wild and disorderly Irishman if we here quote the
two letters which bear upon that unpleasant story.
They are more like him, we think, than the picture
of Captain Shandon, who was too refined and gentlemanlike
in his debtor's prison, and at the same
time too cynical, for our unfortunate man of letters.
This little apologue shows how he met another Irishman
like himself, wild for bloodshed and damages
and a trial for libel, and with native instinct, the
profound knowledge of a fellow-countryman, plucked
the sting out of him, and smoothed him down — or
at least for the moment was supposed to have done
so. The account of the transaction is written to Mr
Blackwood, who was, as usual, the person left to
bear the brunt, as he had done for Maginn himself
in the Leslie trial, and generally for his friends in
turn. Maginn begins by a regret that he is the
only Irishman on the spot to tackle his angry
compatriot: —
W. Maginn to W. Blackwood.
LONDON, 20 Sept. 1825..
It is unlucky that this should have happened just now, when
all the Irish are out of town, else I should have found some
Galway acquaintance of Martin's. For myself, I don't care to
have it insinuated as broadly as possible that I am the author,
and shall certainly try to get the thing off Wilson: but his
style is too marked to have it much believed. Dunlop, for
instance, knew it at once, and that's very like a publication.
If you give me carte blanche to act as I think fit, I may pull
you through. If I can get introduced to Martin, we Irish
know how to talk to each other, and we might settle it
amicably. Let me say that the thing was a warm joke, no
doubt; that it was, however, only suited for the warmer
persons who uttered it, and that an apology both serious and
jocular shall be given in the Magazine; that you are personally
very sorry for it, — and I think that may do.
I shall promise that his Society (his greatest failing) shall be
praised to the stars in the Magazine. If you can rely on W.'s
discretion, I should recommend him to come up to London.
M. is a gentleman who could be most safely trusted with a
secret given to him by a gentleman, and I daresay could be
made to laugh at the whole story. If W., however, is not to
be trusted, I shall take it all on my own shoulders.
It will be remembered that Wilson was not at all
to be trusted — so little that he had declared with
anguish that if he was made to go to London it
would be to throw himself into the Thames. He
was indeed quite hysterical, and had altogether lost
his self-control, so that on Maginn's shoulders the
burden had to rest. The manner in which he acted
for his friend is exceedingly amusing. A week later
we find the following letter: —
27 Sept. 1825.
I have, I believe, settled your business for you. The best
way in all these cases is to take the bull by the horns, and
accordingly, although I had no acquaintance with Col. Martin,
yet I called on him in his lodgings on Friday. He was not
at home. He lives at 16 Manchester Buildings. So I went
across to the Admiralty and wrote a hasty note, which I sent
to him. I said I was commissioned by you to call on him to
offer additional explanations to your letter of the 20th inst.,
and as I had not the good luck of meeting him, I concluded by
asking him to dine with me next day. This, of course, I did in
a jocular manner, apologising in a laughing way for the liberty.
I appointed the Somerset as the place of meeting, and accordingly
at six yesterday I found him there waiting for me. I introduced
myself at once, and immediately went to business.
I was under some embarrassment at first, in consequence
of his not having got your letter or Magazine; but by mere
chance I had your letter to me in my pocket, and I read him
the copy you sent me. He was very angry at first, but I outtalked
him. I shall make you laugh, I think, when I see you,
at our conversation; but it would be no good to detail it. He
was anxious that I should tell him the name of the writer;
and I wish W. would let me. It would be quite safe in every
respect with the Colonel; for queer as his manner undoubtedly
is, he is in every way a gentleman. This, of course, is for the
Prof. to consider. He will hear it from some channel; and it
would be handsome, I think, if he had it from us.
He is savage against the 'Chronicle,' and particularly so
against Adolphus. There will be no action against you if he
can do without it, and I got him to agree with me that it was
not requisite to his cause against Clement to prosecute you.
As dinner progressed he got into greater good-humour with me,
and said that on my account he would be quite lenient with
you. On going away he said, as his final determination, that
he would wait till the next Magazine, and if what was said
there was as described in the copy of your letter (which I gave
him), there was an end of his proceedings against you. He
said he understood you were a d—d decent man, but that
you ought to take care of what you got your people to write
(true enough, entre nous). I excused you, inter alia, by saying
that your corporation affairs occupied your attention sadly —
Duke of Brunswick, Marquis of Hastings, &c. "Well," said
he, "like enough. The Scotch never lose an opportunity of
rubbing themselves to quality; but, by God he could not take
a worse way of obliging Hastings than by abusing me." I hope
the article in the forthcoming Mag. will please him. At all
events, I have made him promise that he will not annoy Cadell
at all.
I am to see Martin again in the course of the week. I have
promised to introduce Crowe to him, which will be amusing. I
shall write to Wilson to ask his leave to mention his name sub
rosa, and I hope he will grant it.
I think I did a good job for you. As I cannot offer to give
people champagne at my own expense, I charge you the bill,
which, like Falstaff's, is rather heavier in the drinking than in
the eating. It amounts in all to £3, 7s., with which I debit
The matter did not end there unfortunately, and
we fear that the publisher's pocket was once more
mulcted, though privately. But Maginn's good offices
are worth recording. His outset on life in London
had various amusing incidents connected with it, some
of which we may add here. Colburn was the first
publisher, or among the first, who systematically gave
himself to the production of fashionable novels and
the lightest of light literature. He had not long
before set up the 'New Monthly Magazine' under
the editorship of Campbell the poet, was supposed to
be the inventor of an extraordinary new system of
puffery, and was the butt of all the wits. His reign
lasted a long time as a publisher of novels. He
was, as we have all understood, one of the celebrated
firm of Bacon & Bungay in 'Pendennis.' Maginn's
first meeting with this potentate is described as
follows: —
Dr Maqinn to W. Blackwood.
June 25, '23.
I saw Colburn. He attended on me at his shop — spoke of
the weather — the news — the newspapers — the periodicals — the
'New Monthly' — 'Blackwood's Mag.' — Blackwood himself (very
kindly) — his being in town — at the Somerset: was not I at the
Somerset? I knew Blackwood? — his contributors? his Irish
contributors? — and in the end, after about an hour's conversation,
he took me into his sanctum under pretence of showing
me some old books, and making me a low bow, said he was
happy to see Mr O'Doherty in person. I laughed at him — said
it was fudge — that he was hammed by somebody, &c. But he
stuck to it. Complained of my ill treatment of him, particularly
in accusing him of employing old Dictionary Watkins to
draw up a life of Lord Byron — that he did no such thing, but
bought the book honestly, without knowing anything about it
By Jupiter! this is odd, for it was I who wrote the article, out
of Alaric's notes. I of course denied everything plump. Never
wrote anything for anybody. Would be sorry to abuse so
respectable a person as Mr C., or so valuable a book as the
'New M.' But I was talking to an incredulous auditor. He
asked me to dine with him for to-morrow, which I declined:
he shook hands at parting, quite cordial, and he whispered to
me as I went away, "Thirty guineas a sheet." I laughed at
him, and drove off. I have not time to give you the particulars
more minutely, but I will draw up a minute of everything he
said, for I have picked up some strange information about
Hazlitt, Patmore, B. Cornwall, C. Redding, &c. Observe, however,
that not a word goes into print, for that would be treachery
with a vengeance.
We add various criticisms, &c., from the same unscrupulous
but generally entertaining hand: —
The faults of 'Maga' — I am entitled to speak of them for
various reasons — are, first, too much locality of allusion: I
know a quantum suff: of such things is of great use in spreading
a sale, but there is a limit. Secondly, occasional coarseness,
which annoys the Englishman. Thirdly, the attempts of minor
correspondents to imitate the audacious puffery of the Magazine,
which can be done by W. only. To correct the three faults, let
every number henceforward be written exclusively for London,
forgetting that there is such a city in the world as Edinburgh.
the 'Noctes' will be sufficient for locality.
With respect to Gifford, I never have seen him; but I know
that his conversation, particularly since his health began to
decline, is excessively splenetic. He is a fanatical Ministerialist,
and retains even now his old hatred of the Jacobins, Della
Cruscans, &c. His information on all points is prodigious, and
he pours it forth very freely. I am told he dislikes all his
associates — Croker, J. Murray, &c. — but I do not know how true
that is. He would be a hard card to manage in a dialogue.
I of course heard an immensity of your Mag.; in London you
are blamed for attacking obscure Londoners, most particularly
Hazlitt. He is really too insignificant an animal. Make it a
rule that his name be never mentioned by any of your friends;
I for one will keep it. Croly is quite shocked at Tickler's
attack on the gentlemen of the press, little suspecting that he
was giving me a rap over the knuckles. He evidently has a
vast veneration for the power of that company, and takes great
credit to himself for suppressing the squib of B.'s blackguards.
God help us! I dined with him in company with an insufferable
wretch of the name of —, who knows everything of
'Maga' that Croly knows, and who boasts of enjoying the confidence
of L. I hope this is impossible, for the creature conducts
some unheard-of paper in London, and is one of the press
gang. He told me many other things, that he knew L to be Z.,
for he had it from his own lips. Surely L. could not be such
a spoony. I denied it flatly, saying that I had good reason to
know that the gentleman who wrote Z. is now in Germany.
He knew something about me, picked up among the pressmen,
particularly my rumpus with Conway. The man is a cursed
bore. I put your friends on their guard against him. He
speaks of Scott as if they had been pickpockets together at
Calder Fair.
I gave your correspondent Titus a puff in the last 'Bull,'
because the man deserves encouragement. Puffing any of ourselves
would be praise thrown away. Murray sent me word
that he wished me to review any friend of mine in any way I
liked in the 'Quarterly'; and as he understood I was a man of
classical, &c., knowledge, would feel much obliged if I took up
that line regularly for the 'Quarterly.' This I believe I shall
do, as my name is rather bad in London, and wants to be
bolstered up with larning.
I have received two letters from Croker this week. In a
tête-à-tête conversation which we had, I spoke quite freely of
what he wrote or was supposed to have written, and he answered
me as freely. I told him that I had purchased for L.
thirty odd shillings' worth of little books attributed to him a
couple of years ago, and told him their names, as well as I
could remember them. This appeared to annoy him considerably,
and he pointedly denied the imputation. I got a note
next day, directly asserting that he had in Ireland written
only the familiar epistles, 'The Sketch of Ireland, Past and
Present,' and the 'Intercepted Letter,' and nothing else. He
begged me to communicate this to L. I told him in reply that
I should of course do so, but feared the incredulity of the world
was such that my denying anything to L. would just confirm it.
I said at the same time that Mahon, of Dublin, had informed
me that he and Sir W. Smyth (a Baron of the Irish Exchequer,
a man of splendid abilities) had conducted a periodical called
the 'Anonymous' together. This produced another note, part
of which I shall copy for your edification in the last page of
this letter. His opinion of 'Maga' is high; but he is absurdly
sore about the abuse of the 'Quarterly' and of Murray. "If
you knew him," said he, "you would not speak of him as you
do." I assured him I had nothing to do with abusing Murray,
but spoke openly about what I thought was the pitiful conduct
of this 'Quarterly' towards 'Maga.' He made no reply whatever.
I asked him why L.'s ballads had not been reviewed,
according to promise to Sir W. S. He said that he never heard
of any such promise, but would speak to Murray about it. In
fact, he added, he did not know anybody who was au fait
enough at Spanish literature to give a suitable review. That,
I told him, could be easily remedied, for I would venture to
do one myself. To this I got no answer. Now, I have not the
knowledge to do a fit review, but do you get me a learned one,
discursive on Spanish literature, antiquities, &c., and I shall
send it in my own handwriting right ahead to C. with a proper
letter. The devil is in the dice if he can get out of that.
Would L have any objection to do it himself? I assure him
on honour I should do it if I had the knowledge, but I have
not — I mean knowledge enough to make a good appearance in
the 'Quarterly.' If he does it, let him show savoir faire enough
to completely overlook the strictures on him in the 'London
Magazine' by Bowring — it would be spoony to pretend to have
seen them. C. was quite amused by Lord Fife's patronage of
Mag.: he said it was quite right — if he was a Thane he would
do the same. The Mag. was "un peu polisson" (these were his
words), but really an original feature in our literature. His
opinion of Edinburgh society is very low — comically so, I assure
you. Hook — will do nothing for you. Why he puffs Jackass
Smyth is more than I can tell, but S. is a good deal about town.
I wish you could get a Balaamitical song from him, for he sings
everywhere his own excrement. Do you know that H. is publishing
a book with Colburn — a book of tales? I take it to be
a great secret, for C. denied it to me, and H. blushed up to the
ears when I mentioned it. If it be a secret, do not you say
anything about it as coming from me. I dined on Tuesday
with H., and had an immensity of talk; but, unfortunately,
we did not dine until eight o'clock, and at ten a Mr Goodsir,
a great friend of H.'s, sloped in. As for 'Bull,' 1 I have carte
blanche to do as I like. But puffs in the inner page must not
exceed a quarter, or at most half, a column. Croker does not
write for 'Bull,' depend on that. Hook, he, and a clergyman
of the name of Cannon, a prime contributor, who has written
many songs, wrote the song of "Hunting the Hare" a couple of
years ago, but nothing else came from him. Canning, they
believe, wrote a famous article about Lambton's reform motion.
Blair wrote the Anticatholic articles, and Sir A. Boswell some
Scotch affairs. Cadell did not ask me to his house, but was
1 The 'John Bull' newspaper.
very civil; so were the Underwoods and Richardson, who
wanted me to go down to Dover with him. Colburn has no
information whatever about your Magazine — is evidently quite
vexed with Campbell's timidity: after all, it may be, he says,
for the best, for it keeps him out of scrapes — the 'N. M.' is at
the top of the tree now, &c., &c. Hazlitt, he says, is a fool,
John Hunt a rogue, L. Hunt a puppy, Patmore a bad young
man (his very words). He hates Croker--and Croker hates
him. Lady Morgan's book that is forthcoming is a Salvator
Rosa: he thinks it will be a good one. "'Italy,'" says he,
"without humbug, sold well."
Now have the honesty to burn this letter after reading it, for
it contains what never was written before, and there is no
knowing what accident may do. It would be a pretty
bonne bouche for Cockaigne. So commit quam, primum to the
July 30.
The rush and helter-skelter of this beginning did
not argue well for future life. Maginn plunged into
London, as he might have done into the great ocean,
with the careless impulse of a sea-side bather, thinking
that light inspiration enough. He was ready to
engage in any and every kind of work to negotiate
between the publishers, to puff the books, to take the
reproach of every unruly movement upon himself if
necessary. "If you want to mystify Cadell about the
Hunts, I don't care a rap if you do it at my expense,"
he says. "W. would most likely not be willing
to come forward with any of the tribe; but I do not
value the vagabond the tenth part of a cabbage stump,
and would just as soon get into a row regular with them
as empty a can of punch. So if you wish for a bullying
match, I shall support the honour of my country in that
important department." "As for puffing," he adds,
"I shall stir the army of the Press. Irish puffing is
not worth a rap."Both in this point, and in the
reverse fault of abuse, to which Maginn was more
addicted, Blackwood did what he could to restrain the
too reckless wit, as the following letter will show: —
W. Blackwood to Dr Maginn.
23 Feb. 1825.
You are disappointed and displeased that your puff direct of
'Sayings and Doings' was not inserted. Had it been received
in time it could have been cut down and made some use of
along with the other articles; but you should know by this
time that such a professed panegyric, coupled with a personal
defence of the author, could do no good to the book itself, and
would most certainly do no good to my Magazine. In writing
these things, however desirable it is to puff a friend, this is not
the effectual way to do it, and you should also think a little how
far it would be of use to the Magazine. The article on the
former series was not what it ought to have been in either
respect, but had it not been cut down, corrected, and improved,
it would have been as miserable a concern as the critique which
appeared in the 'New Monthly.' I need not tell you how sensible
I am of what you have done for my Magazine, and you can
do for it; but what I would beg of you is to consider what will
be of use to it, — things that may be very good jokes among ourselves,
may often be very much the reverse when given to the
public. Indeed the Magazine can only be injured by itself, not
by its enemies, whose attacks serve merely to excite curiosity.
Above all, when you write to me I would entreat of you to do
it not in the poco curante way, but as you know I would do it to
you, seriously and kindly. With regard to Lord John Russell's
book, I hope you will do it as it should be done. Though a
Whig and a prig he is an English gentleman, and should be
treated accordingly.
W. Blackwood to Dr Maginn.
LONDON, Aug. 22, 1825.
Even if I had read this earlier I am not sure if it would have
been either proper or prudent to have printed the charge
against the Marquis of Hastings, however true it may be. It
is rather serious to state so broadly that he furnished Tommy
Moore with libels against the king. Nothing would delight
the Whigs and their worthy ally, the Chief Commissioner, so
much as getting me into the jury court again. This is an
expense I would not be fond of encountering again. I am as
little fearful as most people, but I would really beg of you
to weigh consequences when you are cutting right and left. . . .
The attack upon Roscoe is most just and carefully done;
but for two reasons I would leave it to yourself to say would
it be prudent for me to publish it. In the first place, he is a
very old friend of the Professor's, and he would feel it very
sore if Roscoe were to be attacked, as Mrs Wilson's relations
are very much connected with him: this has saved Roscoe
oftener than once. Now the Professor is getting into better
spirits and is giving me articles, therefore you will see that it is
necessary to avoid any annoyance to him. But in the second
place, such an article would absolutely horrify my poor friend
Cadell, who is at present about to bring out a new edition of
some of Roscoe's books, and had a large interest in his edition
of Pope. Now whatever Roscoe may be, is it worth while to
flay him in this way, when there is a chance of it being hurtful
to me individually? I would always hope you would place
yourself somewhat in my situation, though I would never
expect you for one moment to write merely for my personal
The following note, however, will show how Maginn
was trusted and depended upon, notwithstanding all
his faults, as long as trust was possible: —
W. Blackwood to Dr Maginn.
'Maga' has been much injured by the coarse and reckless vein
in which many things have been written. Anything approaching
to grossness or profane feeling make it a sealed book to
many families, and every little slip is magnified into a mighty
.offence. I am as watchful as I can be in respect to this, and
entreat you to avoid everything of the sort. You and L. are
apt to get into this strain; and then the work is often so much
to my taste, that I do not perceive the wretchedness till it is
too late.
I feel much indebted to you for what you say about the
articles we ought to avoid or leave for 'Maga.' It is in this
way that you can be of the most invaluable service to me.
You are on the spot, and know how the pulse of the public
beats. All depends upon catching the thing at the right
moment. Here I am out of the world almost; and at times I
am sick to death, not knowing which hand to turn to, from disappointments
or botherations as to whether I should print or
reject articles good enough in themselves, but not the kind of
thing they ought to be.
I may add here, though a little out of date, the
special charm which Blackwood and his contributors
found in Maginn's style, which is whimsical enough,
considering that both Wilson and Lockhart were no
inconsiderable masters of language: —
There is one peculiar excellence in this writer which strikes
us Scotsmen, his easy idiomatic English. No Scotsman, however
practised as a writer, is master of the English tongue so
as to be able to write in this way. Sir Walter in his novels
writes the Scotch with the most delightful naïveté. But I am
attempting the small critic myself, which is very foreign to my
"Yours," he says to another anonymous contributor,
"was the only striking article in the last number, and
gave great satisfaction to our Scotch readers, being in
fact written with that elegance and simplicity which
Scotsmen can admire without being able to imitate."
No amount of good counsel, however, had any
effect on Maginn. He went on, after many years'
experience, in the same reckless way, and even led
Lockhart astray, as has been seen, into a return to
the wild fun of the 'Noctes,' after both should have
learned wisdom. Maginn's career in London was
neither happy nor respectable. He wrote for the
'John Bull' and other papers, selling his praise or
his censure as it might be wanted, until both ceased
to be of any value. He became a hurried, irregular,
and harassed journalist, irregular in life as well as in
his profession, carrying the light-hearted satire and
fun of his youth into servility and miserable personal
abuse. He became the great prop of 'Fraser's Magazine'
when established, and there set up an imitated
Noctes' and Symposia of various kinds, written with
ease and ever a more reckless and flying pen, and less
regard (he had never shown much) to decency and
good manners. Maginn was the one among that joyous
band who paid the penalty of the follies which they
all more or less committed. He was the one to whom
these follies were not the wild oats of youth, but the
tares that choked all the good seed. Who can formulate
any moral from such a sad history, or say he was
more to blame than his peers? He had all the gracious
qualities — a man lovable, generous, kind. But
that dismal deterioration, which is a more dreadful
consequence than even the inevitable ruin of life which
attends such a headlong career, at last separated from
him almost all his friends, whose correspondence is full
of regretful notes of the gradually accomplished downfall.
In the letters of the younger Blackwoods during
the forties, he appears as a melancholy ghost coming
and going about the office in Pall Mall, an apparition
filling the young men with speechless horror and pity.
Yet 'Fraser's Magazine' made him for a time the
centre of a new group, and might have given him
another chance; and here he formed an acquaintance
with young Thackeray, who, I find, was munificent
in his generosity and kindness to the unfortunate
writer, and took him, as has been already noted, for
the original of his Captain Shandon in 'Pendennis'
— though I cannot but think the portrait is more
flattering in some points and darker in others than
it might have been. He died in 1842, under fifty,
leaving only a lamentable memory behind him — his
mirth, his wit, his gay heart, his generous impulses
and kind actions all "writ in water" and forgotten.
Yet Lockhart continued as long as he lived to be
serviceable to his wife and children, and found some
careless yet touching verses to say over his grave: —

"Here early to bed. lies kind William Maginn,
Who with genius, wit, learning, life's trophies to win,
Had neither great lord nor rich cit of his kin,
Nor discretion to set himself up as to tin.
So his portion soon spent, like the poor heir of Lynn,
He turned author while yet was no beard on his chin.
And whoever was out or whoever was in,
For your Tories his fine Irish brains he would spin,
Who received rhyme and prose with a promising grin:
'Go ahead, you queer fish, and more power to your fin!
But to save from starvation stirred never a pin.
Light for long was his heart though his breeches were thin;
But at last he was beat, and sought help from the bin
(All the same to the Doctor, from claret to gin),
Which led swiftly to gaol, with consumption within:
It was much, when the bones rattled loose in his skin,
He got leave to die here, out of Babylon's din.
Barring drink and the girls, I ne'er heard of a sin:
Many worse, better few, than bright broken Maginn."
I HAVE no information how it was that Blackwood
made acquaintance with Coleridge, or conceived the
idea of turning him into a prop of the Magazine.
Coleridge, one would have thought, had little reason,
in the review of himself 1 and his works with which
the existence of that periodical had begun, to think
very well of Blackwood; but whether the poet was
so magnanimous as to have forgiven or — which was
1 This article, however, was followed, a few numbers later, by a defence
of Coleridge, in which the principle, professed from the beginning, of
receiving every reply sent by friends of the aggrieved author was most
fully carried out; though no doubt in this case the reply was written by
one of the brotherhood, if not by the original culprit himself.
the more likely way — too dreamy to have remembered
that assault upon him, it is certain that he lent
a not unwilling ear to Blackwood's suggestion that he
had but to call at the office of Messrs Cadell & Davies
any day with a little roll of MS. in order to procure
ten guineas, in whole or part payment, whenever he
pleased and as often as he pleased. That this was
not to be the limit of the offered price was implied,
but it was a sort of retaining fee, and evidence of
good faith. Coleridge was already at Highgate in
the curious retirement in which the rest of his life
was spent when this proposal reached him; but he
was still comparatively a young man, and evidently
felt himself quite able to enter into the arena of
active life. There had also been in the meantime
amende honorable fully made in the Magazine by a
most admiring and genial review.
Mr Blackwood's original letter to the poet I have
unfortunately mislaid; but this is the answer to it,
and the reader will be amused by the elaborate and detailed
plan, to be accompanied by an equally elaborate
theory as to the proper method of conducting a magazine,
thus suddenly presented to the three extremely
spontaneous and strong-willed individuals in whose
hands the Magazine had already become a power, and
who were as little troubled with plans and theories,
and as clearly aware of what they intended to do —
which was, in the first place, to take orders, or even
advice, from no man — as any three in the kingdom.
This was how, in sublime exaltation of theory and
absolute unconsciousness of the complications and
difficulties of combination, and the character and individuality
of other men, the poet wrote from amid
the clouds. The letter, which belongs to the spring of
1819, is without date, except that of "Highgate": —
S. T. Coleridge to W. Blackwood.
Business which I could neither foresee nor evade deprived
me both of the time and the disengaged mind which I had in
intention appropriated to your service. It was, however, of
such a kind as I must have discharged one time or other, and
"all clear behind" is a good signal to march onward upon. On
the receipt of your letter, and of the Magazine (for which accept
my thanks), I waited on Mr Davies, the having been introduced
to whom I regard as an obligation. I do indeed feel myself
much obliged to you for having made me acquainted with a
man of such genuine worth, and so much unostentatious good
sense. Besides, I am always glad to have any one of my prejudices
counteracted or overset, for I look upon them as so
many puny heresies, and every dislike I am converted from, the
better Catholic I am: and I honestly confess that my experience
has tinged my opinions concerning the Trade with a rather
sombre dye. God forbid that I should at any time or under
any provocations have been guilty of so unchristian a thought,
as to doubt that a Bookseller might be a truly good and honourable
man; but still I am ashamed to say my belief was more
strong in the Posse than the .Esse thereof. Perhaps your experience
of authors has been tit-for-tat with mine of your Brotherhood,
and I trust we may both proceed as we have begun in
making converts of each other in relation to our two selves at
least. So leaving this half-earnest chit-chat, I come to the business
of this letter. I informed you, my dear sir, that as to scissors
and scraps, I have none in the first place, and secondly, they
would neither answer my purpose nor yours in the present state
of things. If I enter into any connection with your Magazine, it
must be such a one as will justify me in devoting two-thirds
of my time and — to one at least of my monthly communications
— the utmost of my powers in my most genial moods.
The scheme upon which a Magazine should be conducted
(and if so conducted would, I am convinced, outrun all rivalry)
shall be communicated first to Messrs Cadell & Davies, and
then to you, so that you may have the advantage of their confidential
opinion in addition to your own judgment. For I shall
instruct Mr Davies to communicate his opinion of it to you,
and not to me, in order that he may not be withheld by any
feeling of delicacy from expressing the whole of his mind should
it be unfavourable to the scheme, whether more or less.
Of this scheme part will, of course, be private, for your own
eye, not that of the public: but the far larger portion will be
produced in a sort of Letter or Essay on the Desiderata of a
Magazine, and should you approve of the contents, I propose
that you should annex to it a declaration of your perfect assent
to the sentiments of your correspondent, and a sort of promise
that the proprietors are determind to conduct their Magazine
on the same principle to the best of their power. If either the
scheme be rejected or my co-operation in the realisation of the
same not agreed to, I then rely on your honour that no use shall
be made of the same, but that it shall be sent back to me.
Let us then for a moment suppose the plan to have received
your approbation and concurrence, and that I first supplied you
monthly to the extent of two sheets, one article of which shall
be (so far as my comparative talents and genius make it possible
or probable) equivalent to the leading article in the 'Edinburgh'
or 'Quarterly' Reviews (by leading, I mean that one article
which is expected to be most talked of, as for instance, several of
Mr Southey's in the 'Quarterly'), and that I shall be at all times
ready to give my best advice and opinion with regard to the
other parts of the Magazine, to be, as it were, your London
editor or curator, and to exert my interest among my literary
friends not being professional authors, to procure communications,
to re-enliven for this purpose my correspondence abroad with
several valued friends of mine who are of highest rank among
the foreign Literati — in short, to give to the 'Edinburgh Magazine'
the whole weight of my interest, name, and character,
whatever they may be. What shall you consider as a due remuneration?
Suppose that I shall write the first of June, and
that every three months you are at liberty to reconsider the
terms according as your experience may have been.
You may either attach the whole to the nominal price of
the sheets furnished, or make the remuneration depend part
on the correspondence and part on my editorial labours. I
neither do nor shall propose any terms myself, but will not
suffer you to wait a single day, beyond the time required for
the mutual receipt of the letters, without a decisive answer,
Yes or No.
If, in your opinion, you do not find yourself able to hazard
any deviation of consequence from your common price, it will
be better to let it drop at once, for I use the words in their
literal sense when I say that I could not assist you on such
terms. For I dare not write what I cannot gladly own and
expect an increase of reputation from. Others, with other subjects,
might compose three sheets in the same time and with far
less exertion than I could produce one. I may adopt the words
which Mr Wordsworth once used to Longman: "You pay
others, sir, for what they write; but you must pay me for what
I do not write, for it is this [i.e., the omissions, erasures, &c.]
that costs me both time and toil." You shall receive my plan
as soon after I hear from you as the post can convey it.
One can easily imagine the blank astonishment and
momentary panic of surprise, soon modified by laughter,
which must have fallen upon the committee of
three, which was about as likely to submit to this
solemn sway as were the steeds of the sun to obey the
hand of Phaëthon. Still less was the one responsible
member of that government likely to bind himself
with new rules. Mr Blackwood replied gravely, restating
his previous offers, but little more. He begins
by explaining that his suggestion regarding Scraps did
not imply that it was Scraps alone he wanted, but
only that he would rather have the crumbs that fell
from the Master's table than no bread at all: —
W. Blackwood to S. T. Coleridge.
14 April 1819.
All I meant by your sending scraps was simply this, that if
you had been otherwise occupied, and had not had leisure to
prepare the very interesting and important communications
you were so good as say you would send for the Magazine, we
would be happy to receive anything, however short, that you
might have lying beside you. I anxiously hope I shall have
the pleasure of hearing from you in a post or two, and that you
will as soon as possible favour us with some of those communications
you mentioned to me. With regard to the payment,
you may rest assured it will be liberal. I have it not in
my power to say more than ten guineas per sheet; but as I
mentioned to you, the Editor has it in his power to add to this
allowance according to the value of the articles.
I was surprised to find by Mr Davies' letter that you had
listened to the calumnies and falsehoods of a disappointed
party, who have vainly attempted to run down the Magazine.
That there were some articles in the early numbers which displayed
rather too much of a personal tone I will not pretend to
deny; but these bear a very small proportion to the great mass
of able and clever papers which are free from this fault, and for
many months past there has been nothing of the kind. I was
still more astonished at what you mentioned to Mr Davies with
regard to a sum being subscribed to bear me harmless in
penalties from lawsuits, &c. This is only one of the many
calumnies invented by Constable, Hunt, Hazlitt, & Co.: the
folly of such a thing is only equalled by its utter falsehood.
I hope that I have now said enough, and that you will be
perfectly satisfied that the Magazine is a work which it will be
both creditable and useful for you to lend your aid to.
Lockhart also replied anonymously, in the guise of
the editor of the Magazine, to this letter, with an expression
of much pleasure in the prospect of seeing the
"Method of conducting a Magazine," but cautiously
refraining from any promise to adopt its suggestions,
and with cordial but vague assurances as to the liberality
of the payments. "A selection from Mr Coleridge's
Correspondence" was published in the Magazine
in October 1821, and there in a "Letter to Mr
Blackwood" the great scheme was alluded to, and its
necessity urged; but with a vagueness which could
affect no one, the writer plunging immediately into a
letter to a "Junior Soph at Cambridge," upon many
abstruse subjects, and dropping the Magazine. Coleridge
was easily, it would seem, got down from this
very high horse, and became an occasional contributor
— indeed, for some time a tolerably frequent one.
The reader will remember that both Wilson and
Lockhart urge that his contributions should continue,
notwithstanding that they pronounce him "mad," yet
giving forth such jewels in his madness as no one else
could supply. The few letters that have been preserved
from his hand are scattered over a long period;
but in the belief that the public will gladly hail every
unpublished word from Coleridge, and as the letters
are sublimely superior to all questions of time or the
events of the moment, I feel justified, though there is
more than a dozen years between the probable dates,
to give the whole as they come: —
S. T. Coleridge to W. Blackwood.
June 30, 1819.
I am just returned from a coaching tour in the aguish parts
of Essex, and find your letters and a note from Mr Davies, in
consequence of which I dine with him on Friday. At present
I can only express my thanks for the Editor's letter, and entreat
you to assure him that I find it most candid and satisfactory,
the proposal of the two sheets probationary equally fair and
judicious. Of course I can feel no objection to a compliance
with it. A very slight personal acquaintance with me would
have enabled the Editor to take for granted that I should not
be offended with the droll Christabelliad. None of Mr
O'Doherty's readers will peruse it with less pain, few with
greater pleasure. I should indeed be wanting both to myself
and to common-sense if I did not regard it as a compliment,
and that of no ordinary kind, for, not to mention the names
with which my own stands in juxtaposition, it would be strange
if a man of O'Doherty's undoubted genius should have employed
so much wit, humour, and general power of mind on a
work wholly without worth or character, Let only no poison
of personal moral calumny be inserted, and a good laugh is a
good thing; and I should be sorry, by making a wry face, to
transfer it from my Lady Christabel to myself. From an able
vindication of pernicious principles, I should receive severe pain,
did I not persuade myself that your Magazine is open to every
fair, liberal, and manly answer. Anything is better than suppression
or confuting a man's work by trying to ruin his
fortunes. Besides, it is but too true that the ordinary and
popular arguments in support of our Faith, both moral and
theological, have more show than stuff I never take up a
work entitled Evidences or the like, but I feel half a mind to
write a book to be called Religion defended against its defenders.
I can only say for myself, Let but the poison be stuff of the
mind, not the impudence of Ignorance nor incentives of Passion,
and I dare rely on the Antidote, and shall never consider a
bold permission of the liberty of the Press an objection to any
work which admits both sides, when both are guarded by talent
and decency, and neither if without them.
The following seems to refer to a book to be published
by Blackwood, but the undertaking was apparently
never completed: —
41 SLOANE STREET, Feb. 24, 1826.
Your letter has rather alarmed me by mentioning that you
had not received my packet or letter by Cadell's parcel of
February 8th. I sent one with a note. Certainly the quantity
that was sent was small, not much more than a chapter, but
still the loss would be serious. You promised me to go to press
as soon as the 2nd volume was in your hands. It is and has
been with you. I will send more by the 30th, and the work
will be concluded undoubtedly by the 15th or 16th of March.
Therefore I entreat you not to delay; put it to press anywhere.
Otherwise the season will be lost, and I will be unable to get
ready a consecutive book for next season, on which I count. I
have given time, pains, everything to this; and the importance
I attach to it is evident from the circumstance that though
extremely in want of money, I have not hurried with the book,
nor scribbled it in dull or distracted moments, as I might at
any time, and got through it in three or four days. As to
quitting the country, I shall not do it if I can help it, most
20th October 1829.
DEAR SIR, — This is my birthday. But for the last fifteen or
sixteen years I have (like most other men of the same date, I
suspect) so lost the inclination to count the same from any
Birth but that of our Lord that I am not sure whether it is the
57th or the 58th. This, however, I know, that for many years
back, once or twice or thrice at least in every Twelvemonth, it
has been (as the religious of the olden times were wont to phrase
it) "borne in on my mind" that I ought to write to you and
thank you for your long-continued and very kind attention in
sending me your Magazine. In a small volume on the right
Idea of the Constitution in Church and State, which you will
receive I think within a fortnight, and which but for severe
sickness you would have received many months ago, you will
find how highly I estimate the favour. I never intentionally
flattered, and I am now old enough to measure my words, and
in sober earnest I can say, that the spirit with which it is supported
excites not only my admiration but my wonder. I see
but one rock the Magazine is likely to strike on: the (only
however of late) increasing proportion of space allotted to
party politics, and especially to political economy. I persuade
myself that you will pardon my frankness when I declare my
opinion that the Essays on the subject last-named, though
written with great spirit, like everything else in the Magazine,
are not in point of reasoning or breadth and depth of information
equal to the political articles. By my little volume
you will see that I am as little an admirer or convert of
Ricardo and M'Culloch as your correspondent. But my
opinion of the quality of the literary or economical articles
forms no part of my objection. It is only the quantity, the
relative proportion, and this again only as a subject of apprehension
for the future rather than of complaint for the past.
For Blackwood and Sir Walter's novels have been my comforters
in many a sleepless night when I should but for them
have been comfortless. I assure you that were I a man in
easy circumstances I should need no pecuniary motive to be a
frequent contributor, and the liberal terms you offered me
might well be thought to supply that motive, my circumstances
being what, alas! they are. But the fact is that, from whatever
cause, it is out of my power to write anything for the
press, except with the full effort of my mind, or to send off
anything that is not the best I can make it. The consequence
is that I compose and write three pages for every one that
goes to the Printer, so that I could very well afford to give the
Publisher all that I send, if he would pay me for all that,
though written with the same care and effort, I keep behind.
But before I proceed, let me ask you one question occasioned
by the L'envoy of your last number respecting the plethora of
'Maga.' Are your existing stores so abundant as to supersede
the wish for any contributions at present? Do not, I entreat
you, my dear sir, imagine that I shall be wounded by your
frankly telling me so, if so it be.
I speak now therefore only on the supposition that a certain
number of articles with my name would be, if not serviceable,
at least acceptable. I have at present — first: and this I dare
avow that I should send in confident anticipation of its receiving
the admirable Christopher's suffrage as original, amusing,
and suited to the spirit of the Magazine — a critique expository
and vindicatory of Francis Rabelais' great work. 2. Ditto on
the Don Quixote. The first is divided into three chapters,
each of which, so far as I can calculate, will supply about
a third of one of your sheets. 3. An article entitled, A
Sequel to the Catholic Bill and the Free Trade measure, or
What is to be done now? 4. A Lyrical Tale, 250 lines. 5.
Three or four other poems, altogether about the same number
of lines. If I did not think them creditable to me, or if my
Friends thought otherwise, I would not offer them to you.
Here we come to an abrupt conclusion, and whether
the admirable Christopher gave his suffrage or not,
none of these projects seems to have come to light in
the Magazine.
Some time later Coleridge again appears, this time
in the character of a peace-maker. The person on
whose behalf he interferes was, I imagined, the poet
Proctor, otherwise Barry Cornwall; but it appears
now more probable that it was F. Hardman, who
seems to have been supposed to be guilty of putting
forth as original the English translation of a German
work already known. But the interest of the letter
is in its statements about himself. We ascertain
from the postmark that it was sent from Highgate,
May 15, 1830: —
S. T. Coleridge to W. Blackwood.
Within a few days after the receipt of your letter enclosing
an order for £10 on Messrs Cadell — which I have destroyed,
it being against one of my rules to receive payment for work
not delivered, having learnt from experience that by making
me feel uneasy and bound it would be more likely to prevent
than to expedite the execution, not the less however thanking
you for the kindness intended, — within a few days from this,
I say, the Illness commenced which, in a succession of relapses
so close to each other as to form one chain of distemper, has
conducted me to the very brink of the grave, through sufferings
that removed all horror from the anticipation; and seems (so
my anxious friends hope and wish to believe) to have reached
its height and crisis in an attack during sleep: the sum of
which is, that a noise of some heavy body falling having
alarmed one of the servants then on the stairs, I was found
on the floor pulseless and senseless, and continued thus about
half an hour, when animation was restored, chiefly, I believe,
by means of mustard-plasters applied to the chest and abdomen.
But there was no appearance of convulsion, the expression of
the countenance tranquil, and all my faculties returned entire,
and in the first instance exactly as from ordinary sleep. Indeed,
before I had opened my eyes, I merely found that my
medical friends and Mrs Gilman were flustering over me: my
first words were, "What a mystery we are! What a problem
is presented in the strange contrast between the imperishability
of our thoughts and the perishable fugacious nature of our
consciousness," when I heard the voice of my friend exclaiming,
"Thank God: however, there is nothing of apoplexy in this
seizure." From this time I have been freed from pain, and
my nervous system more tranquil than had been the case
for months and months before. Only, my strength comes back
very, very slowly; and though my mind is as active and vigorous
as in the best times, and I sufficiently disposed to exert it,
I cannot bear the consequences of exertion.
Now, my dear sir! you will scarcely guess my motive for
boring you with the dull sick-bed detail of and all about myself,
so I must tell you. I am aware that the man who volunteers
his advice and, unasked, obtrudes his opinion on another,
runs the risk of being set down for a self-sufficient coxcomb,
or of being suspected of some selfish view: and the risk is the
greater when the advisee happens to be a remarkably prosperous
and influencive man who, like the centurion in the
Gospel, can say Go, and he goeth; Do this, and he doeth it.
And I would fain have you feel how bitter in the existing
condition of my health — and with an insupportable presentiment
haunting me every night as I lay my head on my pillow
that I shall go off in my sleep, as my dear father did, whose
very facsimile I am, both in body and mind, — I can be disposed
to play the officious or impertinent part, or to profess friendly
purposes as a pretext for gratifying a silly vanity or giving vent
to the flatulence of self-opinion. And now for the point.
My respected friend, the author of the 'Colonna,' &c., has
induced me to read with attention the letters that have passed
between you and him respecting the untoward accident of the
'Headsman'; and I seem to feel it will be a more frank and
friendly course to communicate the impression left on my mind
and my mistaken, perhaps, but assuredly most sincere and conscientious
judgment on the disputed point, directly to yourself.
Bear with me, then, when, after the public avowal of my admiration
for your 'Maga,' page 147 of 'Coleridge on the Constitution
according to the Idea' (I hope you have received the copy
of the 2nd edition, which I ordered to be sent to you), you will not
suspect me of any want of zeal for you and yours if I say that:
First, I have looked carefully over the bond, as Shylock
says, and can nowhere find that any approach to omniscience
on the part of your correspondent had been promised or stipulated
for: and, verily, something very like it he must be supposed
to possess, before it can be naturally required of him
that he should be cognizant of every tale and novelette, in
whatever vehicle and under whatever name, published during
the last twenty years, or even the last five, when we have had
such a rank crop of them that have beggared geography to
furnish them with distinct names, in one volume or two, or
three, besides annuals, and monthlies, and weeklies, that even
novelty itself seems fiat, and curiosity turns yellow at the sight
of a Hungarian or a Californian tale, as an alderman under
the horrors of surfeit might be supposed to do at a Scotch
haggis steaming up against him; all short of this impracticable
Bibliography, all that your correspondent could be expected or
had undertaken to do, he assuredly did. His orders to his
foreign correspondent were to send works fresh from the press,
or recently published. Kruse is a popular novelist, to whose
previous publications my friend was no stranger, and from the
title-page of the volume itself a man must be a conjuror to
have conceived any suspicion that there had been an earlier
edition, or that the contents had appeared in another form.
But as this letter about myself was intended for yourself
alone, while the other paper which states in a somewhat less
rambling and unbusiness-like style my sentiments on the point
in question will probably be communicated to you through
your correspondent, I will only add two points which seem
to me worth considering. 1st. That your correspondent has,
to my knowledge, spared neither trouble nor expense to procure
the best information from foreigners of good taste, and
the earliest arrival of the books well spoken of, and that from
his former command, and his existing personal connections
with the Continent, he possesses more than ordinary facilities.
Further, that he is a man of talent and a neat stylist, you
know, and that he is a man of the highest respectability and
purest honour you may believe on my assurance. 2nd. Have you
not overrated the inconvenience of [this piece of] unluck? Why,
bless me! ten well-written [lines describing] the case would
have converted it into an additional interest. In all that forms
the true comparative merit of a Tale of this kind the contributions
to your Magazine have so unmeasurably the advantage.
Oh that I could persuade you how much more likely to be
ultimately injurious is the recent change of the character of
'Maga' by the increasing disproportion of the party politics
articles, with the feelings and passions of which there is no
sympathy in England, and with the subjects themselves only
a languid exhausted interest. I speak without any reference
to their merits or demerits as compositions. Be assured you
have few more zealous advocates and no more sincere well-wisher
than your aged friend, S. T. COLERIDGE.
S. T. Coleridge to W. Blackwood.
May 26, 1832.
I have no means of procuring a frank; and I cannot but
fear that the disproportion between the contents of my last,
and the postage of an Edinburgh letter from London, may
argue a somewhat unconscientious self-appreciation on the
part of the Writer, and the more so that it omitted what yet
was a fact foremost and apparent in my mind; videlicet, the
sense of your kind attentions to me, my cordial thanks for
the 'Odd Book,' and my old friend De Quincey's 'Klosterheim.'
It is now about the second year of my imprisonment to my
Bad (?) Book Attic, and from fever and languor I crawl through
a book as cumbrously as a Fly through a Milk-splash, and the
more the book interests me the slower is my progress. And I
have read nothing since the 'Quentin Durward' which would
compare in interest with 'Klosterheim ': and in purity of style
and idiom, in which the Scholar is ever implied, and the scholarly
never obtrudes itself, it reaches an excellence 1 to which Sir W.
Scott, with all the countless unaffected conversational charms
1 Note of Coleridge. — With a few exceptions, as "knock up," " were
pulled up," the inevitables of that human iscoria from which no writer
in his senses ever hopes to secure an immunity. N.B. — In writing this
and on-carryingness of his Diction, appears never to have
aspired, rather than to have fallen short of. The 'Odd Book'
I hope to commence to-morrow. I refer to it now chiefly as an
excuse for expressing the regrets I felt and feel that Mr K. left
London, and that I had no opportunity of shaking [his hand]
and giving him an old Poet's and Fellow-Christian's blessing.
But what shall I say of what I owe to you for the delight and
comfort and instruction of the Ed. Magazine, and especially for
the whole series of the two years, during which Sickness and
Sorrow have made such a visitor and Bedside Comforter a
Friend indeed, for it has been a Friend in Need. If I were to
express half of what I think and feel concerning the Magazine
I should give the heartless slanderers of the Catilinarian press
a tempting pretext for charging me with flattery. But, nevertheless,
I should accuse myself of cowardice and ingratitude if
I hesitated to avow and assert my conviction that in the
long, never-flagging Height and Sustainedness of irony, in the
continuity, variety, and strength of wing, and in the value, the
worth, the deep importance of the moral and political truths
which it has streamed forth with eloquent wisdom, 'Blackwood's
Magazine' is an unprecedented Phenomenon in the world of
letters, and forms the golden — alas! the only — remaining link
between the Periodical Press and the enduring literature of
Great Britain. If ever I was delighted with what, at the same
moment, I felt as a gross flattery, it was on the Belief entertained
by several of my friends that the 13 articles on Reform,
the French Revolution, &c., had been contributed by me; and if
perfect identity of sentiment, principle, and faith and feeling
could excuse the mistake, it might stand within the conditions
of a Pardon. But at no period of my life could I have produced
such a union of the Popular and the Profound. Your
Magazine is everywhere, and therefore supersedes the necessity
of any further publication. Still I cannot but long to possess
these, and its congeners of the last three years, in a couple of
volumes printed like the 'Klosterheim.'
I had read only to page 230. I have since finished and carefully revised
the volume, and for all that follows from page 23 I have much to say
which De Quincey will suffer me to say to himself should I have strength
to put it down.
Having now given the relief of an Outlet to the "gathering
of the waters," to the feelings and convictions that have so long
been astir within me, do me the justice to believe that it is from
far other impulses than those of authorial vanity and craving
for Praise that I give vent to my Regret that no notice was
taken of my 'Essay on the Constitution; or, Church and State
according to the Idea,' a copy of both the first and the second
edition of which I expressly desired the Publisher to transmit
to you. If I know my own heart, it is the deep sense I have
of the truth, urgency, and importance of the Principles set out
in that work, which alone made me not ambitious of, but anxious
for, its being noticed in your Magazine; and allow me to observe
that Mons. Thiers' speech on the question of hereditary Peerage
was almost a translation from the first part of my Essay.
I will now try to pay virtually half the postage of this letter
by transcribing for you, if worth your acceptance, a pathetic
overflowing Sonnet of your truly obliged
My tiny Tin, my omnium usuum Scout,
My Blackie, fair though black, the wanton fire
Hath long bit off thy pert, one-nostrill'd snout,
Unhinged thy lid, and wrought laxation dire.
When of thy arching arm the handless wrist
Pressed on thy sides mid treacherous coal and grate,
Twice hast thou trembled, and in rebel mist
With smoke and sooty films colleagued in fate
Flown in my face: yet did I not upbraid
Thy crazy cranks, but held thee the more dear,
And morning after morning with thee played
At Rouge et Noir, a game of Hope and Fear.
And must we part? My tears on the hot Hob
Say Iss! Iss! Iss! Hard by the top-bar reeks,
And to each tear makes answer with a sob.
The Cambrian's Broth is none the worse for leeks,
Rents are the landed Noble's pride and glee,
Holes, side and bottom, both to Man and Gun
Are seemly: Would that it were so with thee;
But 'tis not so: and let Time's will be done.
Blackie, adieu! My Blackie, blame not me!
I turn'd not you away. 'Twas you that run.
S. T. C.
This sonnet and a half, so called by the author,
with its elaborate puns, is written without any distinction
of line on the flaps of the portentous sheet of
foolscap which formed Coleridge's letter. The present
generation can only regard with alarm the communications
which our fathers crammed into every corner of
a sheet, at the risk of losing an occasional word, important
to the sense, but swallowed up under the
seal, or torn in opening the letter. The writer,
though old, can but just remember as a child the
eager desire for franks, the seizure of every "private
hand," even the surreptitious introduction into brown
paper parcels of the letters which in those economical
days were so "dear" that it was necessary to justify
them by having really something, and as much as
possible, to say — a good pennyworth in short. That
it was not worth the postage was the contemptuous
verdict on many a letter — a judgment to which all the
greater force was given by the fact that the postage
was generally paid by the recipient, not by the sender,
of the letter, under a convenient idea that a prepaid
letter was less safe.
The transition from Coleridge to De Quincey is
one not difficult to make. There are many points of
resemblance between them, going so far even as to
a certain likeness between their handwriting, though
the tiny scribbled notes of the Opium-Eater, so
often sent by the hand of an abashed son who had
to wait for the reply, are very different from the
elder poet's foolscap. Few readers need to be told
the story of De Quincey, that curious figure in literature,
with his strange adventures, his still stranger
existence, the pseudo-high life of his beginning,
the pitiful and hopeless poverty of his end. We
get to feel, as we pursue the course of the correspondence,
a painful and pitying sense of all the
straits which he details at full length in every particular,
with a kind of curious pleasure in the unfolding
of these poor and dreadful secrets. Poverty
is sometimes a noble and respectable thing, and when
the issues have any sort of greatness there is a kind
of excitement in the alternate downfalls and successes
of the penniless but courageous struggle. But when
the strife is for a few pounds, when the milkman's
bill is the rock in the way, and shillings and pence
the munitions of war, the echo of that dreary
and hopeless fighting in the dark has nothing but
misery in it. De Quincey puts forth his privations,
his wanderings about from one lodging to another,
sometimes waylaid in his bed by a furious creditor,
sometimes suffering torture for want of a box of
seidlitz powders, always with elaborate explanation
of how in the extraordinary combinations of
fate it has come to be so, but can never by any
calculation of human probabilities be so again — to
the publisher who never seems to refuse the necessary
dole, but inevitably is sometimes a little impatient
and provoked by the perpetual messengers and the
dole on the other side of a page or two at a time.
It was through Wilson, who knew De Quincey while
he lived, a worshipper, satellite, and critic of the
band of poets in the Lake Country, that he was
first introduced to Mr Blackwood and the Magazine;
but from the first the relations between this
curious being, so elf-like in all his ways, and the
serious and sensible publisher, whose almost boundless
toleration for shortcomings of another character made
him perhaps the more impatient of this fine-spoken
and helpless apologist, were rather stormy. Mr
Blackwood welcomed him to the Magazine in his
usual courteous way, with that enthusiasm for literary
ability which made him so eager in his reception of
every able and eloquent new contributor: yet had
many disappointments to undergo ere he could be
got into harness.
W. Blackwood to T. De Quincey.
EDINBURGH, August 26, 1820.
It is a remark warranted by reason, not to mention a higher
sanction, that "hope deferred maketh the heart sick." I shall
still, however, hope against hope that you will yet fulfil your
long bygone engagement to the Magazine. I am the more encouraged
to expect this from what you mentioned in a letter to
the Professor the other day. Whatever you choose to send,
whether long or short, will always be acceptable. By desire of
Professor Wilson I send you Dr Brown's work on Cause and
Effect, trusting that I will have the pleasure of hearing from
you ere long.
This agreeable mood continues for some time; and
on December 18 of the same year Mr Blackwood
seems to welcome a contribution with the same
pleasure with which he had anticipated one. De
Quincey by this time had come to Edinburgh, for the
note is addressed to Northumberland Street: —
W. Blackwood to T. De Quincey.
I am so happy to receive anything from you that your two
pages appear like the 24 of any one else, because; now that you
are fairly begun, I feel confident that you will do justice to
yourself. It was the knowing what you could do if you were
once resolved to do which made my repeated disappointments so
very mortifying to me. This is now all happily over, because,
as the French say, the first step is the grand affair.
Mr Blackwood, the reader will perceive, always
insisted upon the point that his contributors should
do justice to themselves. With a fine pride he ignores
the possibility of any ineptitude on their part injuring
the Magazine. That they should do the best for
themselves, and vindicate their own character and
gifts, is what he always implores with emotion in
his voice. The reader will remember his almost
impassioned entreaties of the same kind to both
Lockhart and Wilson. As early as the beginning
of the next year, however, he had begun to see how
slippery the new contributor was, and the following
letter was evidently intended, like the sharp clap of
the bladder in Swift's Laputa, to bring the philosopher
to a sense of the waking necessities of earth: —
W. Blackwood to T. De Quincey.
6 January 1821.
I must tell you frankly at once that your mode of furnishing
articles will neither answer your own purpose nor mine. For
instance, this article which you have not yet finished you positively
promised to have with me complete on Tuesday by two
o'clock. No doubt you may have had many unavoidable causes
for the delay: still, this is nothing to a man of business, who,
as he adheres to his own engagements, expects equal punctuality
in those who engage with him. It is quite unnecessary, as I
have again and again told you, to make any inquiry as to whether
an article will be in time. A good article is always in time.
I hope you will send me, as you again promised, the remainder
of your article this evening, and the more you can do
next week of any others so much the better.
The reply must have been written at once on the
same night: —
T. De Quincey to W. Blackwood.
Saturday night, 6th January.
I will not dispute with you; in this case I am gagged, having
paid away your ten guineas, which I am now heartily sorry
that ever I did.
I now send you four pages more. The remainder (4 pages)
is written, if the printers could read it; but as I fear they
could not, I am copying as fast as possible — and if you will let
me know how late I can send up to-night, I will take care you
shall have it.
"A good article," you say, "is always in time." Well, mine
is a good one — a very good one — and therefore in time. For
he who does not laugh at the whole latter part (especially from
page 8 to 20) is fit for treasons, &c.
You make one mistake, indeed two, but I will notice only
one. I have had, you say, no doubt many unavoidable reasons
for the delay. Now, in fact I have not; scarcely any at all,
excepting my own native stupidity, which I greatly regret, but
cannot remedy. I move slowly whenever I am uncommonly
witty. Nevertheless, if you are more particular about quantity
than quality I am perfectly ready to oblige you by changing
my style. But articles as droll as this I really cannot produce
faster; dull reviews, morality, &c. (and some wit, such as some
I saw in your December No.), as fast as you please. In fact I
have never left my paper, except on Thursday once to see Prof.
Wilson — twice during the week to get some breakfast — dinner
every day, and to write three letters this morning.
De Quincey was sufficiently ill-advised to follow
this letter on the Monday with another, adding what
we may imagine was meant for banter upon the recent
issues of the Magazine, and the necessity there evidently
was for exertion on his own part: but which
was in a tone unfortunately very little adapted to
please his correspondent.
T. De Quincey to W. Blackwood.
Noon, Monday.
As you did not send me word whither and how late I might
send on Saturday night, the MS. lay here all yesterday. For
on Sunday I know not where my man's abode is. This morning
I have only just got up; from what I said on Saturday
night I concluded you would send for it, but as you have not,
here it is — as soon as I have seen the light.
If Wilson and Lockhart do not put themselves forward for
the Magazine, I foresee that the entire weight of supporting it
must rest on my shoulders. I see clearly that I must be its
Atlas. For excepting our friend Gillies's translation (from a
cursed dull thing though), and excepting that spirited political
article at the end, a more dreary collection of dulness and
royal stupidity never did this world see gathered together than
the December number exhibits. Positively it would sink any
work in the world. No, no! I see clearly that I must write it
all myself — except one sheet, which I will leave to Gillies, and
a few pp. to the other man.
And this horrible dulness, which is enough to inflict apoplexy,
happens to coincide with these infernal articles from
London. And to these it seems we are to knock under!
What a craven the fellow must be who advised such a piece
of devilish cowardice. Whoever he be, I hope to God he will
soon meet with a halter — even if it were my dear friend Professor
I am hard at work, being determined to save the Magazine
from the fate which its stupidity merits.
To this there came a swift and sharp reply.
Blackwood was touched in his tenderest point, and
as ready as ever to cut down any blasphemer: —
W. Blackwood to T. De Quincey.
8 January 1821.
I can only excuse your letter, which I received to-day, by
supposing that you were hardly awake when you wrote it.
When I apply to you to be the Atlas of my Magazine it will
be time enough for you to undertake the burthen. And in the
meantime I must beg leave to say that if you cannot send me
anything better than the "English Lakes," it will be quite
unnecessary for you to give yourself any further trouble about
the Magazine.
Next day brought a return in this rapid correspondence.
De Quincey, too, was stung to the heart; but
he was not concise like his opponent, and could not
help reasoning upon the situation: —
T. De Quincey to W. Blackwood.
Tuesday morning, January 9.
You are pleased to doubt whether I was awake when I wrote
my note of yesterday morning. With a good deal more reason
might I doubt whether the person were awake who either read
my note or wrote the answer to it, which I received last night.
I shall not, however, enter into any dispute; and shall as little
as possible in future — whether our connection be long or short
— trouble you with any notes at all, sleeping or waking.
If I expressed my opinions too freely (as it seems) on your
Magazine, I did so in the full belief, first, that you must by
this time be perfectly indifferent to the opinions of any one
or any thousand persons on the whole work even, much more
on any single number.
And, secondly, that the relation in which I stood (or fancied
I stood) to the Magazine as a regular contributor elect, entitled
me to any number of comments or jokes on the work (I myself
being at all times tolerant of jokes, whether good or bad, on
my own compositions). In this I might be wrong; and if I
gave you any pain, I much regret it. On the other hand, it
does not appear to me that if my MS. did not happen to suit
your work, you were therefore entitled to favour me with your
criticism upon it. The Magazine which I criticised was not (I
believe) your own composition; and according to the usage of
the world, if I took any liberty, and some retort seemed to you
necessary, I believe it would have been quite a sufficient one
to throw back upon my hands the labour of a week.
As to my being the Atlas of your Magazine (though I suppose
no person could gather from my note that that was the
object of my serious ambition), you will give me leave to observe
that on the supposition of my being a contributor to that work
— it could not depend on your will or mine whether the readers
of it should regard me in that light.
I have now only to add that I shall complete my 24 pages,
and you will of course exercise your discretion in determining
whether they shall go into your Magazine.
I can find no answer from Mr Blackwood to this
letter; probably none was needed. There is no reason,
however, to suppose that the interchange of musketry
came to any lengthened pause. Indeed a great number
of fleeting little notes, like scraps of paper collected
out of a waste-basket, are in existence, all about and
about the endless manufacture of articles, and the
equally endless small payments, two or three pages,
two or three pounds, with innumerable apologies and
explanations, showing elaborately from one side how
this and that were the sole things possible to be done,
which passed from hand to hand. De Quincey rarely
permitted the ordinary price of a piece of work to
reach him unbroken — nor conveyed that piece of work
entire to the printing house. But it would be needless
and undesirable to thread the twisted labyrinth of
this correspondence. The first letter of any length or
interest which turns up is absolutely without date,
but not perhaps very much later than the one we have
already quoted, as it returns to a similar theme: —
T. De Quincey to W. Blackwood.
I do "keep my word" not "once" merely but always — when I
am aware it is pledged. The best way therefore for us in all cases
will be, after any conversation, to say to each other, Now let us
not part without understanding how far any formal engagement
(and if any, what engagement precisely) has been contracted
between us. In the present case I cannot be in any
doubt as to my views on this point, though it seems that you
took a different view of it. Which of us is right I will not
take upon myself to say; but here is my conscientious belief
about it, up to the moment when I saw Professor Wilson yesterday.
I had always understood that the 10th was the latest day
on which anything could be received with any chance of publication
in the forthcoming number. Under this impression I
took care to be in Edinburgh time enough before that day to
allow of my writing a sheet, and I put myself to some inconvenience,
and an extra expense of 3½ guineas in post-chaises,
that I might be in time. Consequently one of my first questions
was: Am I in time with one sheet for this month's Magazine?
meaning if I was in time to sit down there and then, to
call on no soul till it was finished, scarcely to sleep if that
should be necessary. But this question I found it impossible
to resolve, whether through you or through Wilson. "Never
mind about that," you both said; "the Magazine is always going
on. It cannot come amiss," and so on. Doubtless, thought I,
the article will be printed some time or other if it is approved;
but if I have lost my pains, and needlessly thrown away money
in hastening up now — when a week hence would have been
soon enough (or perhaps even three weeks) — why should I sit
up night and day to produce by a few days earlier what after
all may lie in a drawer for 10 days or a fortnight after it is
sent? Having failed with yourself, I tried Wilson and Gillies
upon this point, but neither could assure me if it was even
possible for me to be inserted this month. Eight pages the
former said dubiously might get in perhaps; he did not exactly
know. "But what signifies that," they said, "if you are paid
immediately?" First, that I should write with more spirit
being sure of an early insertion. Secondly, as to money, it is
clear that I can be allowed to write more in two numbers (that
for this month and that for the next) than for one only. If I
have lost the chance for the forthcoming number, all motive
for instant and increasing exertion and thought is done away.
To this account I have only to add three memoranda: —
1. In spite of my disappointment, here explained, in respect
to the number immediately forthcoming, I have been writing
keenly; and I hope to send you something in the course of the
day, but at latest (and here I am promising) by to-morrow forenoon.

2. I have lost a good deal of labour by having begun upon an
article from Schiller, prefaced by a view of Schiller's character,
&c., which by mere accident Gillies informed me had been
already published in an early number of the Magazine. It was
the story of Christian Wolf.
3. You remember something about Saturday and Monday?
So Gillies tells me. Now, my remembrance is this: De Q.
Pray, Mr Blackwood, am I in time if I send you some sheets
of letter-paper down to Saturday? Mr B. Oh, never mind
about the time. Send them then; or if not then, on Monday
The most punctilious, the most regular, the most
formal of men, always ready to an hour, guilty of no
irregularity, only too rigid in his adherence to every
point of exactitude: this is the conclusion to be drawn
from these epistles. It need scarcely be said that in
every particular De Quincey was the reverse of all
these things.
The next letter we shall quote is of a date much
later than these, and is concerned with a volume of
tales which De Quincey had in preparation, and for
which again he anxiously inquires at what date it
must be put in the publisher's hands. Again he has
been detained, this time by "dreadful illness in my
family, Mrs De Quincey having been at the point of
death from Jaundice, and one of my children from Erysipelas."
He discusses with his usual elaborate detail
the question of date, the possibility of running to two
volumes instead of one, the expediency of printing his
book under his nom de guerre as the English Opiumeater.
This letter is written from Grasmere on March
3, 1830: —
T. De Quincey to W. Blackwood.
I should wish if it were possible to be anonymous for this
first début — that is, anonymous on the title-page; for otherwise
it would be easy to you, with your command of all avenues to
the public ear, to make the authorship effectually known,
though not so formally as by this distinct acknowledgment on
the title. Do not suppose that I am underwriting myself. I
neither ever did, nor do I think I could, underwrite myself on
any subject whatever; for in order to write at all, I find it necessary
to create for myself a real interest in my theme. Neither,
again, have I any nervous tremors connected with the act of
appearing before the public. But simply on politic considerations,
looking forward to the possibility that I might not realise
the whole of what was expected from me, it seems prudent in
a first attempt — first I mean in this department of literature
— to provide the means of retreat by coming forward in a
My 'Canterbury Tales' finished, I have several papers in a
state of forwardness for 'Maga,' which I am inclined to think
will suit you. In particular —
1. One on the flight of the Calmuck Tâtars from Russia to
the frontier of China.
2. One on the celebrated work (if a work so little known,
and of which only two copies are said to survive, can properly
be called so) of Giordano Bruno, called 'Spaccio della Bestia
Triomfante.' A copy which occurred in an auction in Queen
Anne's time, and drew public attention by the price which it
fetched (viz., £50), is noted by Steele (as perhaps you may
remember) in No. 389 of the 'Spectator,' but with great inaccuracy.
I have Dr Farmer's transcript of that copy which
exists in the Library of Trinity College, Cambridge. I am also
rich in other works of Giord. Bruno, bought at the Roxburgh
sale in 1812, and have really read the books, which all the
German Historians of Philosophy (Buhle, Termenon, and
others) are compelled to sigh for as jewels unattainable even
by princes.
3. A miscellaneous paper of remarkable literary notices,
something of the nature of Ana, but more select than Ana
usually are.
Further, I wish much to commence upon the Orators; and
also, a thing I mentioned to Prof. Wilson, I have matter for a
pointed article on the History of Logic, in connection with
Whately's book. But for that purpose I should need two
books — viz., Whately's and Reid's 'Anal. of the Organon of
Aristotle,' furnished originally to Lord Kames — for one part of
his Sketches, and reprinted (as no doubt you remember) by one
of our Fathers in the Row, Mακρόχειρ, I think — i.e., Longimanus,
as Coleridge used to call him. On the whole, you
may rely upon me during next summer as a really active
I hear (but living very much alone all this winter I cannot
say that I know it of my own knowledge) that 'Maga' has of
late been thundering and lightening with more splendour than
ever. Four recent numbers, but not the very latest, I had a
momentary peep into last week. In one of these I saw a very
good review of the Family Library; and much I wish that the
eloquent writer would fulfil his engagement and trace the
melancholy record of that ruinous torpor and inaction which
too justly he charges upon the Tories. One memorable instance
well illustrating his general thesis — that the Tories
never step forward in any career but when forced into it by the
Whigs — he has overlooked: that, I mean, of Bell and Lancaster.
Bell, it was true, was first, and he was even slenderly patronised
(zealously, perhaps, for the degree, but slenderly for the
number); yet when was it taken up as a national affair?
Then, first, when Lancaster had stolen his plan, and the Whigs,
the Malcontents of every class, had adopted Lancaster into
their train of artillery. And but for this hostile movement,
would the Tories ever have looked aside at Bell? I think not.
Your reviewer's illustration from the cases of the 'Edinburgh'
and 'Quarterly' Reviews, from the two London Universities,
and from the cheap bodies of popular literature, all speak the
same melancholy language. I doubt, indeed, whether there has
been one exception, beyond that of your own journal. You unquestionably
had no precedent, though you have since had so
many followers. And everybody must envy you the proud
recollection of having not only established but raised to its
present supremacy, without guide or example, so potent an
engine for working on the national mind, and also of having
achieved this triumph in a region where, of all others in the
empire, your journal had the least possible toleration to expect.
Other journals in other countries have had to fight in a
minority; but in your case, and speaking of Tory principles,
&c., I apprehend that even a minority did not exist in Edinburgh
(that is, not in an avowed shape) until your journal
either half created or half gave it courage to declare itself.
Hence, by the way, the misplaced hauteur of Southey in his
dialogues with Sir T. M., if in the contemptuous terms applied
to magazines, &c., he had any eye to yours. I drew the attention
of Prof. W. to this last 'Quarterly,' and I see that he has
noted it a little since then; but surely not with the requisite
severity. Perhaps he forbore out of consideration for Lockhart,
or perhaps even for Southey himself. Else, to speak in
Jonathan's phrase, surely it is an "almighty" absurdity for a
writer in the 'Quarterly Review' to conceit himself as standing
upon higher ground than one in 'Blackwood's Magazine.' The
one, with every allowance for its talent and knowledge (though
often God He knows, ponderous as nightmare), notoriously
owed much, everything almost, to the name and prestige of the
aristocracy, which from its earliest appearance gave it countenance
and support. It was a pet child of the family. The
other made its way as a foundling or an adventurer would, and
by mere absolute weight of power, not counting upon favour, but
trampling upon opposition. In a question, therefore, of native
strength, and abstracting from it everything adventitious, the
contest is almost absurd, and Mr Southey's conceit most ludicrously
I fear I am prosing: however, I do not prose often in the
epistolary way.
In the following letter we can less excuse De
Quincey for prosing: here he has fallen back into
excuses and explanations, and a setting forth of still
more exquisite and pathetic reasons, not only for
delay, but for despair, which are extremely characteristic
of the man: —
T. De Quincey to W. Blackwood.
Nov. 20, Saturday Morning, 5 o'clock.
I am conscious that I do not stand in any very favourable
position for any request of any kind, as the writer of an article
still unfinished; and I have but little time indeed to state the
case, and lastly, I am not even sure that it will be of any use
to me to succeed under circumstances apparently so hopeless.
But, however, considering that any delay at this moment will
bring two days more of delay (to-morrow being Sunday), and
also having some wish to discharge to the letter a promise that
I made some days ago, though holding out but little benefit to
anybody, I shall explain my situation briefly before I go for a
few hours to bed. Some days ago (and to that circumstance
almost entirely, though in a very small degree to the sudden
derangement of my plan by the resignation of Ministers, you
must ascribe my backwardness in my article) I received a
letter from my wife. . . . Now, if you inquire what there is
distressing in her situation, I answer not much, beyond what
is purely imaginary. The main grievance I suppose to be this:
the person at whose house she and her children have lodgings
— a woman, and apparently coarse-minded and vulgar — has
children of her own. Disputes, such as occasionally arise
among children, have, I suppose, arisen. The mistress of the
house has taken part, as people of that rank, you know, always
do, with her own children — wrong or right. My servants, on
the other hand, have taken part with my children — no doubt
also whether wrong or right. I fear ill-blood; and the woman,
having no other means of expressing her spite, and no doubt
expecting that her arrears cannot be paid on demand (though
in fact not much is due), has grown insolent, and perhaps has
said things that make it painful to continue in her house; and
unfortunately there happens to be no other in that neighbourhood
where lodgings can be obtained. Such, according to my
impression collected from my Wife's letters, is the extent of the
evil. To combat her views and intentions I have for the last
three days — Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday, precisely the
three days on which my political article claimed my most
undivided attention — been obliged to diminish the remaining
time, so precious as it had become, by writing long and elaborate
letters suggesting remedies upon each particular grievance
which she stated, and endeavouring to tranquillise her mind.
By this direct abstraction of time I have been thrown back
greatly in my article, and still more by the anxious and
corroding thoughts and suffering state of mind under which
I have written.
Hence I have still not arrived at the end of my paper. Now,
under a full persuasion that I should have reached that point
by Friday night at latest, I assured her in my letters of Tuesday
and Wednesday that upon Saturday morning I would call
upon you and state so much of the case as would obtain from
you whatever the paper might seem to warrant. Not that any
sum that in any reason you could give for a better paper than
this would meet the demands of the case; but I promised
myself that it would enable her to pause a little until I could
write to my mother, which I resolved to do without delay as
soon as my 'Maga' duty was over. Meanwhile, in my letter of
to-morrow night I shall briefly mention my intention, and my
certainty of receiving as much as she wants from that quarter
within a week; and it would have been very agreeable to me if
I could so far have kept my former promise as to send at the
same time some small sum to meet the most pressing of her
immediate occasions, though I am aware how small a one it is
that an article can really merit which has been written in so
hurried and distracted a way. In this manner I should at least
know that I have omitted nothing in my power.
This letter evidently elicited a favourable reply. It
is curious to touch and smooth out the old-fashioned
cumbrous sheet, black outside with dust, faded in
ink, and full of the passionate perturbation, the
anxieties so long over and done, the trouble and
strain of the gifted mind and delicate nervous hand
formed for better things, which, as one care after
another arose and fell, however he was inspired when
he wrote articles, framed his appeals for aid with such
skilled and accustomed yet quivering and strange
reality. The articles are buried and done with, with
all their fine diction and elaborate exactitude of style.
But still the man's nerves tingle and his bosom swells
in these scraps of worn paper. The fact that we
weary at last of the carefully compiled appeals and
petitions does not lessen the sensation of their absolute
reality, and the throbbing life of which their
pages is so full. De Quincey is as usual confident
that such a state of things can "never recur": —
I have to thank you greatly for the very liberal manner in
which you thought proper to overpay my exertions on this
occasion, and for the allowance you made for the agitated state
of feeling in which I was placed by sudden circumstances —
more especially as you made this allowance at the very moment
when you were suffering from the heavy anxieties and the
pressure of extra expenses which my delay, however involuntary
on my part, had caused. Such a state of things, it is
satisfactory to know, never can recur. . . . And, by the way,
let me add to my account of the tremendous hindrances in
these moments — that over and above.the suspense and agitation
such as I have already described to you, on every night of that
important week I had to write a very long letter equal to
2½ pp. of 'Maga'; so that the mere drain of time, had everything
else been favourable, was simply sufficient to have ruined
my progress. However, this I need not dwell on. Such a case
cannot recur; and against any lighter case of distress I am
amply secured by gratitude.
Alas for poor De Quincey! his systematic promises,
his certainties that after this one crisis is safely tided
over nothing else of the kind can ever recur, his
tremendous agitations and still more tremendous
letter-writing, page after page in his small close
handwriting, always elaborate in style, always conveying
another and another episode of the self-same
story — never ended till his life did. His strange
being, so obscured by wilful mysteries, so swept by
agitations and despairs, fluttered along its devious
course, always falling into the same pitfalls, always
pledging the same vows. It is not for a member of
the same fraternity — than which there is no trade
more tempted to transgress the rules of prudence and
believe in its full force of labour that to-morrow will
be as to-day, if not more abundant — to throw the first
stone at him. In these days there was scarcely an
individual in the literary profession who did not
transgress these rules and presume more or less upon
that power of evolving a living, not to say many things
fairer than mere living and more exhilarating, out of
nothing. We begin to be prudent now, it is said, and
to understand that the fairy gold, like other gold,
must be laid up in garners and put to vulgar interest
if we are to have peace in our minds. But in former
days nobody had as yet put forth that doctrine except
as a theory. Our excellent friend Anthony Trollope
may be said, we think, to be the founder of literature,
or rather of fiction, as a serious profession, followed
so many hours every day, and bringing in, so much
steady income. Before that there was always more
or less of a happy chance in the rewards of authorship,
— Scott himself being so much of the order of the
miraculous, and his pecuniary successes, though so
great, yet small in comparison with his fame, that no
one could count upon him as a precedent: not to say
that the high and lofty presumption in the public
mind concerning the author, that (notwithstanding all
the hungry traditions of Grub Street) he was a being
actuated by much higher motives than money, had
not yet entirely died away. Mr Blackwood himself,
though he must have had many experiences to the
contrary to damp the ardour of his belief, never ceased
to hold this view. The sentiments which he held on
this subject, written I do not remember to what correspondent,
are very strongly expressed: "I never
did, and never will, hold out money in itself as the
inducement for men of talents to write for 'Maga.'
What I have always been anxious for, is that able
men should write on such subjects as they themselves
felt an interest in, and," we must allow he adds at
once, "never to print any article without paying liberally
for it." Without that sequence, the first portion
of the aphorism might perhaps have fallen a little
blank on literary ears: yet surely there was more real
respect for Literature in this manner of treating it,
even when semi-fictitious, than is implied in the
present mode of bargaining for it as a mere commercial
produce to be sold across the counter in little half-ounce
packets of a thousand words each? Why,
indeed, it may be asked, should it be considered a
different kind of commodity from salt or sugar? But,
except in so far as it sweetened or gave zest to life,
nobody thought of Literature in those days as another
species of the Denrées Coloniales or Delicatessen of
the shops; and the price "per thou." of words was
not quotable in any price list, though we don't doubt
it shortly will be now.
De Quincey, however, went on for many years in a
long succession of complaints, explanations, misunderstandings,
and thanksgivings, all mingled and ever
recurring, notwithstanding his conviction every time
that they never could recur. The following will show
that, through all the experience of a dozen years, he
never got any assurance as to what was, as we should
say now, "the last day" on which he could send in
his "copy." That slang was happily little used, if
indeed it was invented, in De Quincey's day.
T. De Quincey to W. Blackwood.
Tuesday morning.
It would be idle to deny that your note gave me great pain:
much from the immediate disappointment; but more by a good
deal from the alarming prospect opened to me in two expressions
— supposing that I understood them rightly. But it is
very possible that I may not do so. And at any rate I am sure
you will be glad, by a word or two of explanation, to prevent
any future misapprehension on points of so much importance
at this moment.
1. From one expression, if I do not take it in a wider meaning
than you designed, I collect — that the payment of articles
is to be contingent (as regards the time) upon the time of publication;
for you say as a reason (if I understand you) for
delaying payment, — that "it has not been in my power to make
use of any portion of it." Now the rule hitherto laid down
(and acted upon) by yourself has been — that this non-use was
not to affect the payment, unless it arose by some neglect of
mine in putting the article into a state for publication. And
formerly, as well in conversations as in letters, both yourself
and Prof. Wilson have been used to complain of my inquiring
about the time of publication — as a matter in which I could
have no personal interest, Am I to understand that this rule
is changed?
2. You speak of yourself as being "not a little pressed for
money." Now of course it is not my purpose to inquire in the
remotest way into your affairs; but do you wish me to understand
that, for the present, other demands upon yourself make
it needless for me to exert myself in writing? And, if so, for
how long a time do you wish me to understand that restriction
as operating?
I need scarcely say to anybody, acquainted in the most
general way with my situation, that any prospects, which are
remote ones, are really quoad me none at all. For about a
period of 3 months, two accidents have occurred to prevent my
pressing much upon you. These were, 1st, that the Cæsars
required so much previous reading (40 pages to ascertain that
there was not anything to notice, for 1 that produced what was)
— that these 3 sheets occupied me at least 7 weeks, and the rest
of my time till lately was pretty fully taken up with correspondence.
. . .
These cases I mention merely to illustrate the nature of the
necessities pressing upon me, and the absolute impossibility of
my evading the demands, or of continuing to write under any
uncertainty about the time of payment; and upon these cases,
as sufficiently explaining the necessity, I found this question —
May I count upon the money for a sheet, or even for ¾ of a
sheet, on Monday, the 30th, if I put a 3rd paper of the Cæsars
into your hands on Sunday? And upon the general case I have
stated I found also a general question, whether, with my
necessities as I have stated them, it will be of any use for me
to stay in Edinburgh? You will very much misunderstand me
if you should suppose that I shall complain if you answer No;
or that I write in any spirit of complaint. I can readily believe
that the demands upon you are enormous and incessant. Nor
shall I feel the least vexation on being told that no more of my
articles are or will be wanted. I shall regret only that I had
not earlier known of this, and in time to have reserved from the
last remittance I had, so much as would suffice to place me in
London. Perhaps, however, you may be willing to receive my
MS. up to a certain quantity. At any rate, in a matter of so
much urgency and peril, I am sure that you, on your part, will
not complain that I seek for certainty; nor if such a result should
happen, that I have then first listened to old and repeated offers
from London — when it became certain that my articles could
not be taken by yourself in the extent required by my debts.
P.S. — Dr Chalmers, fortunately, I have not yet spent much
time or labour of thought upon. And I have heard that the
Westminster' has squeezed that orange. But as to Dr Christison,
misled by Professor W., who assured me positively that you
wanted a paper on that subject, I have investigated the subject
at length—in fact, I had formerly bought 2 or 3 guineas' worth
of foreign books on this matter — and have recently spent a
fortnight in reading and writing on it. However, I have laid
aside my lucubrations since your note arrived. Goethe, unfortunately,
I have not.
From the urgency of the case, I am persuaded you will favour
me with an answer as soon as your convenience will allow.
Meantime I shall be working on the Cæsars, in the hope that it
will avail for the time and purpose mentioned.
I would not detain your messenger, and therefore did not
write an answer. I now send you all of one article except
what I will send in the morning. I know not whether I have
disappointed you: I cannot help daily disappointing myself;
but this I know and can assure you, that in my whole life I
never did work half so hard; that I have allowed myself time
for neither sleep nor eating (at this moment I have not breakfasted);
and that I am worn out beyond all I can describe.
One single half-sheet of the article cost me 14 hours. This I
mention only to account for my delay.
This is a humorous article, and I think the latter part will be
found diverting enough. But the first sheet reads very dull to
me: however, it is too late to mend it now, and besides I have
no power left to judge of anything till I have had some refreshment.

6 o'clock.
I will correct what remains to-night, and finish another article
to-morrow, which suits me better.
The following scraps have more reference to the
literature which he was producing laboriously page
by page, than to the instalments of money by which
its production was brokenly accompanied, a fact which
the publishers so badgered by elaborate questioning
must have been thankful for: —
The necessity of reducing my superabundant matter, which
had crept into 3¼ sheets, has occupied me so much with cancelling
and rewriting — and the verification of many points which
are differently stated by different authors has so much added
to my labour, that although working early and late I have not
yet brought my paper into a complete state, and I fear that
it will not be before Friday (day after to-morrow) that I shall
be able to call upon you with the paper in a state of absolute
completion. This I write to-day for fear that you might suppose
that I had laid aside my intention or postponed it indefinitely.
Next week I propose, Te annuente, to complete my
Paper on Ancient Oratory, upon which I have been so long at
work — that is, I shall recommence next week: but as the specimens
require unusual polish, coming from one expressly condemning
the style of all previous translators, I fear that I shall
not have finished to my own mind before the end of the month.
We were all much obliged to you for the present of the late
numbers of 'Maga.' I and every member of the family read
with concern that Tom Cringle has made his bow to the public.
I have no guess who he is: this much only I think I have perceived
— viz., that he is a Scotsman: but be he who or what he
may, I admire him greatly. In some of his sketches he has
the mingled powers of Salvator Rosa and of Hogarth: so at
least it strikes me.
Last night I returned to you about 10 o'clock the manuscript
of the Gordon article, upon which I wish to make a short explanation.
The first thing I did after receiving back the MS.
was carefully to read over the whole, pen in hand. My purpose
was to have struck out everything which seemed not indispensable
to the narrative. But I assure you that having
totally forgotten the article, and reading it therefore as an entirely
new and unknown tale, I was more deeply interested in
the whole succession of events than ever I was in any war
whatsoever: a fact which I am far from ascribing to any merit
on my part, but simply to the exceedingly romantic and scenical
character of the leading incidents, which could not have been
narrated by anybody in so condensed a form without offering
the interest of a novel. Under these circumstances I could
not devise any material suppressions which would not have
been pro tanto mutilations: as omitting something on the very
same scale of importance as all that was retained. And one
part which I had specially projected to strike out — viz., the
sketch of the Ottoman power in its growth and its decay —
turned out to be too inconsiderable in extent to offer any compensating
benefit for the injury which its removal would do to
the completeness and orbicularity of the proportions: at all
events this seemed the one sole section of the article which
could be cancelled without absolutely dissolving the whole
Paper. Except, therefore, as regards very numerous corrections,
I confined my alterations to such completions and filling in of
lacunæ as the case demanded. It is true that the Paper will
thus extend to 3 distinct articles; but considering that it is a
history of a Revolution now completed, and of a war incapable
of renewal, I should presume that few readers would
complain on that score; whilst the constant references to Mr
Gordon's opinions, and even to his very words, will necessarily
have the effect of keeping him and his book before the public.
I have now to thank you for sending in advance a £5 note,
and to set myself right upon a point in my last letter which
you have misunderstood. I did not at all mean to say that it
could make no difference to you what time you made any particular
pecuniary settlement with me, for I am aware that the
most extensive concerns have their periods of depression and
embarrassments; but that I presumed that an hour later or
earlier might have been a matter of indifference to you, whilst
from the peculiar circumstances I was then stating, even such
a difference might to me happen to be a matter of importance.
De Quincey, always an irregular contributor, ceased
his connection with Blackwood several years before
his death. But some of his finest pieces of composition
appeared in the Magazine, and his genius and
the beauty of his style were never more highly appreciated
than by its conductors and supporters.
It has always been a matter both of pleasure and
pride to preserve his name in the roll of those whose
tradition and legend are the glory of the house.
PERHAPS the next contributor of importance, at least
in the early days of the Magazine, was one whose
great temporary reputation, very real while it lasted,
fell for a long time into oblivion, — but is, we hope,
rising again into a modest revival, to which the pretty
and popular new edition of his works has lent an impulse.
This was John Galt, a man of very different
character from those sons of genius, with all their
irregularities and occasional follies, whom we have
already dealt with. Galt was very much more the
sober type of the professional man of letters than any
one of that light-hearted band who stumbled into
literature as the best way of giving utterance to the
boundless high spirits and superabundant power of
utterance that was in them, without, to begin with,
any serious thought whatever, either of what they
had to say or of the consequences of saying it. Galt,
with his curious, limited, but very remarkable talent,
had always a serious purpose before him, and worked
soberly for such modest fame as might be procurable,
and the more substantial reward which helped him
forward through the mingled course of his career — a
little reputation which often helped him, and money
which was of still greater use. His works were the
first of their kind, and have been the model of all
those successive works — always curiously popular in
England as well as in Scotland, for it is difficult to
tell what reason — which have expounded so often,
and notably in our own day, the life from within of
the Scottish peasant, with its humours and sagacities
and roughnesses. We do not compare any of the
recent exponents of the native farmer, clodhopper, or
shepherd, from his own point of view, with Scott:
but we do compare them with Galt, although with
reservations, seeing that he is their originator and
the chief of their tribe. It was not, however, the
Scottish peasant with whom he was chiefly concerned.
It was with the middle class, the smaller order of
lairds, the rural clergy, the country writers and civic
dignitaries, most of them with certain pretensions to
gentility, but all with those views — original by force
of their extreme limitation, and the quaint incomprehension
which mingled with their native judgment
— with which an intelligence trained in a village looks
out upon the bigger world. The 'Annals of the
Parish,' the 'Ayrshire Legatees,' and the others, were
so true to fact as well as — perhaps more than — to
nature, that even readers least acquainted with the
class were attracted by the evident truth of the
portrait. It was not a refined portrait, nor did it
leave much room for those higher qualities which
the poet finds in every class and under whatsoever
mantle of commonplace his subjects may be disguised;
but as to the outside veracity there could be no doubt
at all: the picture was the thing it represented.
To so enthusiastic a lover of literature as Mr
Blackwood, and one at the same time so patriotic
and full of that love of his native country in all her
manifestations which sometimes leads the Scot astray
and confuses his judgment, Galt was at his beginning
like the springing up of the most refreshing of fountains.
I am disposed to think that our excellent
Founder would at any time have given all his goods
and something to boot could he but have discovered
another Scott among the many literary aspirants that
crowded round him: and that he had all his life
through a secret hope of this, an expectation so eager
that it seemed almost impossible it should not be
gratified. From the bitter moment when he lost
Scott, after the brief enjoyment of that glory of being
the publisher of a Waverley Novel, which turned
every head in "the Trade," — Murray in London,
though already triumphant in the splendour of Byron,
as well as Blackwood in Edinburgh, — I think I can
see through his welcome of every new writer this
glimmer of hope in his eyes. He was too able a
critic not to find out, after a very brief trial, that
his hope was not to be realised — a critic in spite of
himself and in spite of the many sadly disappointed
candidates for favour, who were sometimes elated to
the seventh heaven by his cordial applauses, only,
alas! to find out when the first freshness of their
inspiration was over that the too clear-sighted publisher
had very soon weighed and found them wanting.
I do not think that after the first step of the
'Annals of a Parish' this flattering idea continued
to exist in respect to Galt; and the correspondence
between him and Mr Blackwood was not of the exciting
character of the others we have quoted. Here
one sober man of business on the one side is balanced
by an almost more sober man of business on the other,
a man who makes no flights and is carried away by no
enthusiasms, as Mr Blackwood frequently was, but discusses
his business calmly without any dangerous
amour propre, declaring with every appearance of
sincerity that he was not himself able to discriminate
between his writings as to which was bad or good, or
which was better or best: and accepting the judgment
of his friend with a magnanimity not always to be
found among literary men. Mr Blackwood himself
describes the mutual position of the two friends in
a letter to Mr Croker, in sending him copies of the
'Annals' and the 'Legatees': —
W. Blackwood to J. Wilson Croker.
I feel more than merely a publisher's interest in these books:
for the revisal and correction of them my friend the author has
left entirely to myself. The 'Legatees' he corrected from the
Magazine sheets; but the MS. of the 'Annals' I went entirely
over, and I think that by omissions and a good many little
alterations it is now a much more perfect and simply natural
work than when it was first put into my hands.
Croker, by no means a genial critic, replied graciously
to this recommendation. He had been most uncompromising
in his contempt, whether of this or a similar
publication does not appear, tartly assuring the publisher
that "I cannot understand a word of it, neither
can some Scotch friends to whom I have committed it,
and therefore I judge it to be unintelligible." But a
week later he had quite changed his opinion: —
J. Wilson Croker to W. Blackwood.
They are both very good, and the author, whoever he may be,
has humour, pathos, and a strong feeling of the natural. Of
course he does not expect to be considered another Scott;
but it may be said (without a pun) that he is Scottish. His
characters of public men show that he does not know much of
them. He makes some little blunders as to the state of the
higher society in this town.
This criticism, which appears to us very just, was
probably felt as a very unkind cut by poor Galt, for
he was in London too, and on the verge of official
society, by reason of a position he held in Colonial,
especially Canadian, affairs; and from his experiences
in town he ventured to introduce another of his heroes,
Sir Andrew Wylie, into very fine company indeed, and
made him instrumental in clearing up several imbroglios
of the most delicate character in the highest circles.
'Sir Andrew' was by no means equal to the previous
works; but in its absurdity it was a most cheerful
story, teaching that always popular sentiment that a
good heart and a simple mind are invariably triumphant
both in advancing themselves and doing good to others:
which unhappily is not so easily the case even in fiction
as the cheerful optimist believes — or used to believe.
Indeed, though we are aware that it is not to be compared
with its predecessors, we confess to a great
kindness for Sir Andrew Wylie and the easy success
of every sensible and benevolent project in his hands.
Mr Galt's good people had all a marvellous fund of
good sense and good feeling; and it was an abominable
slander on the part of Mr Croker to say that
the Scotch was unintelligible. It was usually (except
when a peasant of the rudest order was speaking) fine
old-fashioned Scotch, the Scotch of the old ministers
and the old ladies, full of idiom and curious construction,
not dialect at all.
Mr Blackwood's opinion of these early works was
expressed with his usual warm and genial enthusiasm,
accompanied by many advices and encouragements
to go on, in working the vein of pure metal which
had thus been struck, for 'Maga's' advantage and
Galt's own: —
W. Blackwood to John Galt.
23 May 1820.
Our friend Christopher desires me to express his great regret
at being obliged to defer your admirable article "The Pringle
Family" 1 till next month. This month was pretty early made
up, and your packet did not reach me, unfortunately, till the
12th, which in ordinary cases would have been early enough;
but the whole of what precedes the "Luctus Donelly" was
printed off, and the "Luctus" extended further than was expected,
which with Wordsworth's new volume (the interest of
which would have been lost by anticipation in other journals)
completely filled the Magazine. Your article was all in type,
ready to have been inserted had there been room for it. I now
send you the slips, which you will be so good as return corrected
by Messrs Cadell & Davies' parcel, which is despatched on the
31st. I hope along with these you will be able to send the
continuation, which I am most anxious to see. It is, I think,
a most happy subject you have taken in hand, and you have
executed it with wonderful spirited interest. The characters
are quite graphic, and you have a glorious field to act upon.
In fact, I hope you will continue the series for such a length
1 Ayrshire Legatees.
of time as will enable you to embrace all the subjects which
would interest such visitors of London, and will of course
interest every one.
W. Blackwood to John Galt.
EDIN., 25 April 1821.
I am glad you are getting on with the other work. I am
quite certain that if you take time, and put your whole strength
upon it, you will make a most amusing and interesting book.
A great matter is to construct a good and striking story with
which to interweave your graphic sketches of actual life and
manners. Perhaps it would attract attention to it if part were
published first in the Magazine. But this we can judge better
of when you are nearly finished and can send me the MSS.
W. Blackwood to John Galt.
EDIN., 20 May 1821.
About ten days ago Mr Cadell wrote me that the 'Annals'
were very popular, and were selling well. You would see the
very favourable critique in the 'Guardian,' and the paragraph
in last 'John Bull' saying it was a work of great genius, and
would be reviewed in the 'Journal of Literature' published
yesterday. I wrote you how much the book was liked here;
and its fame, I assure you, is not decreasing. My friend, the
Professor, says "it is not a book, but a fact." The Man of
Feeling sounds its praises everywhere, and has actually given
me a critique upon it, which appears in this number of the
Magazine. This, however, you must not mention to any one,
as the old gentleman is very chary about his name. . . .
I am quite delighted with the idea of Provost Hoolie. It is
a glorious subject, and I intended to have written you to suggest
the idea of a citizen's chronicle, as the changes, &c., in a town
have been so striking during the last fifty or sixty years. . . .
You may rest assured that I will give you more for this
volume than I did for the 'Annals.' For my sake take time
and put forth your whole strength upon it, and I will make it
worth your while. I am truly happy at the prospect of having
the pleasure of seeing you so soon. At meeting we will arrange
all this, and talk over fifty other things.
I do hope and trust that we will always be completely satisfied
with each other, as nothing can give me so much pleasure
as being able to act liberally towards you. I thought I had
mentioned before that I would make you an additional allowance
for 'Legatees.' If I have not, it has escaped merely from
having always been in my mind as a matter of course.
25 June 1821.
I am not surprised at Bonaparte's agent taking the 'Annals'
for a credible history, for even here some people have viewed
them in the same light. Among the others, my worthy old
mother read the book with great delight, and thought Micah
an honest and upright minister of the Gospel. But, unfortunately,
one of my little boys told her it was a novel, and
thus it lost all its charms, and she was very angry with us
for having deceived her.
Mr Galt, however, does not seem to have stood
very much in need of encouragement: his opinion
of himself was modest but not insufficient.
John Galt to W. Blackwood.
30 Jan. '22.
It is one of my literary misfortunes that I cannot get friends
to read my MSS. Even Mrs G. pronounces them illegible.
I am therefore obliged to read scraps here and there, which
do not serve to convey any proper outline of the general story.
Were I to get sufficient encouragement, I think I could write
a novel on the progress of a Scotchman in London, embracing
all varieties of metropolitan life, that would assuredly take.
For although the 'Legatees' is apparently my first Scottish
work, the fact is that the Pastor was begun many years ago,
and before 'Waverley' appeared I wrote to Constable proposing
to execute a Scottish story. It is also a curious coincidence
that long before the appearance of the 'Lay of the
Last Minstrel,' I, then very young, in sending some trifle to
the 'Scots Magazine,' mentioned my design of executing a
series of historical ballads and dramas from Scottish history.
What a cursed fellow that Walter Scot [sic] has been, to drive
me out of my old original line!
Let us hope that Galt spoke in jest, and did not
imagine that his "original line" would have led him
to such heights as those on which Scott forestalled
him; but he was something of a dull man notwithstanding
his gifts — and there is no telling. His own
report of the opinions he had heard of the 'Entail'
were "very gratifying": —
I had a note on Saturday from Lord Gwydyr telling me
it was much talked of in Brighton, and this morning the
Speaker told me he thought it very amusing. Justice Park,
and he is a judge you will say, thinks it the best of my works:
he speaks, however, only of the characters. Our friend Stevenson,
like you and Hamilton, still prefers the 'Annals,' but
chiefly I think because they are written in the first person.
Thomson considers it far the best thing I have done, and showing
power above anything in my former sketches. Dr Tilloch
also speaks well of it, but I have not seen him; and divers
ladies and booksellers speak very favourably.
Brighton was the favourite resort of the king in
those days: hence Galt's intention of dealing with
Christopher North as that ruthless jester dealt with
his many victims: —
John Galt to W. Blackwood.
BRIGHTON, January 1823.
I shall probably have a letter from Brighton, "Christopher
North at the dinner in the Pavilion to-day." The Ministers
are here, and are to dine there. It will be jocular, and I will
attempt to give their character and manners, with some incidental
account of the splendours of the unacceptable Elysium
of Paperius [?] It will be known in this character as coming
from me, but if you keep the secret it will do some good to
'Maga.' Don't let Wilson or Lockhart know I am here. The
Whigs, you must know, crow not a little at the king's having,
before his illness, paid them so much attention. If I continue
in the humour till I have time to write, it will be my very best
thing. The consternation in perspective is delightful.
I don't think, however, that Galt, or any other
except the privileged writers who made up that fine
personality, were ever allowed to magnify their own
cleverness at the expense of Christopher North. No
one but Maginn, whose adoption of all the habits
of thought and language current among the original
knot of friends was so prompt and so extraordinary,
ever was admitted to disport himself in that characteristic
field. And Galt had a heavy hand, quite
incapable of such light yet dashing warfare. He
could no more, we fear, have set Christopher upon his
canvas than he could have forestalled 'Waverley.'
It was not, however, through the Pringle family
and their fellows that Galt considered himself to
reach his highest level. He plumed himself on his
acquaintance with the "higher society" which Croker
denied him any knowledge of, and into which he led
his hero, Sir Andrew Wylie; and on his intimate acquaintance
with public men and "the best circles."
His articles on these subjects, however, did not always
please the censor of Princes Street, and still less the
two advisers, Wilson and Lockhart, who found the
author of the 'Legatees' prosy and pompous, and
put no faith in his knowledge of the world. It is
curious to find that he was one of several persons
who were to have been chosen to write the Life of
Byron (with whom he had some personal acquaintance),
which was contemplated by the executors and
Mr Murray before the Autobiography was destroyed.
And he had in fact much intercourse with notable
personages, in the position of representative of the
Canada Company, which he held at this period, and
which explains his official address.
John Galt to W. Blackwood.
18 DOWNING STREET, Oct. 25, 1824.
If you like I will send you a review of Medwin's book respecting
Lord Byron, in which I will introduce all I meant to
say in another form; but you must promise to insert it, for I do
feel mortified at finding of latter days so many of my things
rejected. If this subject (I mean the proposed critique) should
be otherwise engaged, I will send the sketch to sonic other
journal. At a meeting to-day the period of my return will be
regulated. In the meantime, for a week or two I shall have
some leisure. Write in course.
Maginn, it would appear, had been already set
upon this piece of work, and he too by this time
had begun to complain of articles rejected or postponed;
so that there was a fine opportunity for
diplomacy and Mr Blackwood's best skill to explain
how in such a case it was indispensable that the
younger man should give way. It is seldom, however,
that Galt grumbles over this sad subject of
articles rejected, though he had a great deal to bear
in that way. The native humbleness with which he
confesses the entire absence of any critical faculty in
himself, and accepts the criticism of his friends, is
pathetic: —
John Galt to W. Blackwood.
Strange as it may seem, and I really wish you would understand
it, I have no knowledge whatever of any difference in the
merit of my productions, so that although I have struggled
against this conviction more than enough, I fairly give in. If
it was not asking you to take too much trouble, I wish you
would draw your pen with red ink through the strikingly
objectionable passages, and return it to me when you can. If
it shall then appear worthy of correction, I will do it; if not, it
will be destroyed. When I say that I have no notion of one
piece being better than another, I mean to say that I have no
idea in what the merit of the articles consist. I only know that
I take no more pains with those that give most satisfaction
than with their brethren who give none; and you will very
much oblige me whenever you say that a piece does not please,
for really that is a point which I never will again undertake to
Notwithstanding this confession as to his own
powers in criticism, he could be critical on occasion,
and does not hesitate to say (sheer blasphemy in
Princes Street), "Upon the whole I do not like the
It is abundantly clever, but it wants substance. Rely upon
it that your sale is not to be extended unless you get articles of
sober knowledge. You have already all the range you can hope
for among the fun and frolic gentry. You must aim to content
another class, whom hitherto you have done little to conciliate.
Mere criticism and learning will not do. You must bring
something home to men's business and bosoms, or you will
stand still if you do not fall back.
It was not, however, from Mr Blackwood alone that
this mild member of a profession not generally held to
be wanting in self-esteem received the trenchant criticism
which he accepted so meekly. While he was
engaged in the composition of another of his works,
the 'Last of the Lairds,' he gives an account of his
own docility and openness to advice, which is certainly
very rare, if not unique, in the confessions of
literary men: —
2nd March '26.
I have been in a state of the greatest excitement and irritation
by the pressure of various public and private affairs. On
Thursday last, before sending you, as I had intended, a portion
of the 'Laird,' I read a part of it to a literary friend, and the
effect on him made me throw the whole into the fire. This is
the second time I have done so. I am now quite persuaded
that a self-told narrative will not give the effect I wish, and
in consequence I am now engaged in drawing up a descriptive
story, in which, though the Laird talks a great deal, the relief
of description and explanation will lighten off and enliven the
absurdity and weakness of his remarks and reflections. By
the parcel of the 8th you will receive a few chapters of the
new attempt.
I had some conversation with Alexander on Sunday about
the proposed two numbers.1 He has probably told you my
opinion, which is not at this time favourable to the notion.
It appears to me that men's minds run at present so on their
private concerns that there is much less of literary taste than
I have ever remarked before, even in the most disengaged
conversations. For myself, I find a reluctance insurmountable
to do anything till I have fairly settled to my own satisfaction
the course of managing the Laird's biography. That once done,
I shall be able to turn my attention to general topics; and as
I have now more of leisure than I have had lately, it may be
soon expected.
A few days later he adds the assurance that he has
at last found a way out of this difficulty, which had
set his mind at rest: —
John Galt to W. Blackwood.
After more cogitation than I ever bestowed on any subject,
I have at last hit upon what I think and hope will have some
novelty in the method of telling such a story as the Laird's.
With this you will receive two chapters which I am desirous
of seeing set up. By writing in my own character I shall be
able to introduce with ten times more effect than I could
possibly do in the Laird's language those incidents of pathos
that of necessity evolve themselves out of the progress of his
1 This heroic expedient for getting rid of a superabundance of matter
seems to have been very pleasant to Mr Blackwood's fancy, and it had
proved successful, but was not perhaps an experiment to be tried too
story. I mean such as rouping 1 out of a family and other
things connected with it, by which the dénouement is to be
brought about. Tell me, however, frankly how you like these.
I am in expectation that the story will be at least as graphic
as anything I have ever done.
Having thus wrought himself up into some satisfaction
with his work, Galt goes on to analyse it
with more complacency than he usually displays.
"I know not how the work may turn out," he
says; "but if success be taking pains, it has cost
me more than anything I have yet written. The
style, however, will be quainter and richer both in
allusions and imagery."
I am not quite sure about your objections to the dead Laird,
though the picture will bear retouching and some amplification.
It is impossible to delineate a character in which there ought to
be coarseness as well as want of feeling without showing instances
of both. If there is any merit in any of my sketches,
it is in the truth of the metaphysical anatomy of the characters,
which though at first felt as faults in the author and thought
coarse, I have seen have in the end been seen in their true
Unfortunately, however, Mr Blackwood did not
like much the results of this remoulding, and Galt
for once rises indignant in defence of the child of
his imagination. It is almost the only point in the
correspondence at which he shows the defensive attitude
which we have hitherto found so common: —
23rd August 1826.
You will excuse me for remarking that I have been somewhat
surprised at your letter. I know that it hath proceeded
from your anxiety and friendship. The plan of the Laird was
1 Selling off by auction.
finished before the writing was commenced. The object and
purpose of the plan were to exhibit the actual manners which
about twenty-five years ago did belong to a class of persons and
their compeers in Scotland — the west of it — who are now extinct.
The Laird himself is but one of the group; and I should
as soon expect to see a painter make a historical picture with
one figure, as an author to tell a story with one character. In
one word, my good friend, I should have thought by this time
that you must have known that nobody can help an author
with the conception of a character nor in the evolutions of a
story; detached passages and special parts may be improved by
friendly suggestions, but criticism touching the vitals of what
is character or plot rarely if ever improves either the one or the
other. The defects of the 'Annals of the Parish' were not mine,
though some of the omissions I acknowledge were judicious.
'Sir Andrew Wylie,' the most original of all I have ever done,
was spoiled by your interference, and the main faults of the
'Entail' were also owing to my being over-persuaded. In one
word, I would much rather throw the whole work a third time
into the fire than begin to cobble any part of it on the suggestions
of others. I do not know how it is, but I cannot
proceed if I am interfered with. I know it is very silly to be
so chary, but I cannot help it. It does not come of arrogance
but of confidence in myself. I shall ever feel obliged by special
suggestions, but any hints that would go to the alteration of
plan or character will only vex me and render the task irksome.
I write to you thus freely, both to obviate future causes of
distaste in myself to anything I may hereafter undertake, and
that you may not suppose I have any stronger feeling in
reserve than I have expressed. . . . Now, don't be offended
with my freedom.
This difference of opinion, however, goes on still
through several letters. It seems to have taken much
to rouse this sober Scottish Defoe, but when roused at
last, he stood to his guns steadily. "I do not advert
to your last letter," he says, referring to the answer to
this communication, "having in point of fact not read
it. When I express a decided opinion it is of no use,
I conceive, to embark in any controversy, and I have
not the least wish to do so. I am quite satisfied you
never intend anything unpleasant; but if a man has
corns, an accidental tread may be as painful as a
malicious stamp" Nevertheless he does not adhere to
the salutary plan of not reading disagreeable letters,
and accordingly here is one fling more: —
John Galt to W. Blackwood.
19th Sept. 1826.
I have read all your letter carefully and studiously. The
only alteration I have made in the plan of the 'Lairds' is in
making the Nabob one of the characters. My original scheme
did not bring him personally forward, and although you have
taken a prejudice against him, I am not the less persuaded that
he is one of my best sketches. During the time I have given
to the 'Lairds' I had nothing to distract me. I never was freer
in all my life, and if I have failed so decidedly as you think, the
fault does not lie at the door of business. My own feeling with
respect to my work is that it is the first of all my writings, and
that the characters are worked out with more individuality than
any of my other works. With this conviction in my own mind,
I cannot but deeply regret the strong terms in which you express
your disappointment, and were I not persuaded so fully
as I am by what I have remarked on former occasions, I should
be afraid that you would not take that interest in promoting
the sale which I am nevertheless satisfied you will do.
It is unfortunate that when an author is moved to
such hot defence of his work, it is in most cases either
a sign of some inward doubt, or at least a foreboding
which justifies the adverse verdict. None of his later
works had, we believe, the popularity of the earlier
ones, yet they remain altogether a singular record of
national character and manners: on a far lower level
than Scott, — the quite different conception of a man
without force of imagination or higher poetic insight,
limited to the facts he saw, yet within his sphere
capable also of making other men see these facts,
and worthy of attention for that inferior but not unimportant
Having delivered his soul, however, in this way,
Galt resumes his friendly tone.
It is with me a rule of life [he continues] never to make a
difference in a matter of business one of personal feeling, and
I have too sincere a regard for you personally not to lament
anything of the character of misunderstanding between us. . . .
I shall omit any passage that you may object to, even after all
that has passed; but the working out of character and the
features of individuality are things which I cannot change. In
fact, the persons come to my imagination as [actual] persons,
and I could no more change their method of thinking than I
could do those of any living individual.
We may add here an illustration of this book from
Mr Blackwood himself: —
EDIN., 7 April 1826.
When I was reading the Laird's account of his school sufferings,
it put me in mind of a story which Bob Miller has of ten
told me of the way in which his High School master, Cruikshanks,
who was a perfect barbarian, used to treat him. When
he had got the school fairly begun to work, he used to cry up
poor Miller, and say, "Come awa', Robie, my man, ye ha'na got
your med'cine yet, and gif ye ha'na earned it yet, ye will very
soon." He then gave poor Robie his usual quantity, a good
round dozen of pawmies.
Some of these letters are sealed with the large official
seal of the Canada Company, and when Galt next wrote
it was from Canada, where he was performing the more
practical duties of a colonist, administrator, and settler
on a sufficiently large scale. His autobiography gives
in much greater detail these large public transactions,
and the sowing of that seed of commerce and foundation
of communities which comes to such rapid results
on the other side of the Atlantic, though scarcely then
with such suddenness of growth as is sometimes the
case now. But the simple record of the day's work
has a great reality and life: —
John Galt to W. Blackwood.
BURLINGTON BEACH, U. C., 20 Nov. 1827.
This will serve to let you know that I am still in the land of
the living. After the most active year of my whole life, I have
at last obtained a little leisure, and perhaps before the winter
is over may send you something; but hitherto I have not had
a clay to spare from the road or the office.
I do not know that I should have written at this time, but a
person of the name of Davidson, a mason, has brought me a
letter from your brother, to whom I intended to say, which I
think you will do for me, that he is to be employed as foreman
on a house I am building for myself. When the house is finished,
it will perhaps be in my power to give him a lift at my
new city, which, by the way, is royally thriving. The population,
Dunlop tells me, is well on to a thousand souls, and two
churches are building.
Besides other journeys, I have been round Lake Huron, and
fixed upon the site of another town; and in the course of
a few days I have the foundations of a third to lay. The first I
called Guelph, the second has been named Goderich, and the
third is, at the request of a friend, to be Meldrum. Three
settlements in one year, you will allow, is pretty well; but
they form only a small part of my labours.
It is now settled that I am not to return, but to remain as
sole superintendent with a salary of sufficient respectability,
inferior only to that of the Governor. With the country I am
much pleased. It opens out far finer than I had expected, and
my avocations suit my disposition. But although I have as yet
had no time for tales, still I look forward to comparative leisure
when I shall have organised the routine of my business, and
perhaps then I may do something. What would you think of a
series to be called 'The Settlers,' or 'Tales of Guelph'? The
idea has come often across my mind, and the materials are both
novel and abundant.
One cannot but think of the reported speech of
George Eliot to a young married lady with a number
of children, who had ventured into the paths of fiction
with a very charming first work in the shape of a
novel. The great novelist fixed a serious gaze upon
the neophyte and asked, "Did you not then find
enough to interest you in your family?" We are
disposed to say, Was not the work of planting towns
and organising a new empire, or at least a great
province, enough to emancipate even a confirmed
story-teller from hankering after that vocation? But
indeed it does not seem to have been enough, for here
we find the planter of new cities returning in his first
moment of leisure to the occupation still more dear to
him. And it was not even the tale of 'The Settlers,'
for which there might have been many encouragements,
but an old and worn-out vein of the utmost
conventionality to which he turned his thoughts.
John Galt to W. Blackwood.
GUELPH, 26th Nov. 1828.
I have been for some time intending to request you to announce
a work which I have nearly finished — not the historical
notes on the Two Canadas, for that I must postpone till I have
some opportunity of revisiting the Colonial Office, but a view of
the world of London, under the title of 'My Landlady and her
Lodgers.' I think it will be quite as good as anything I have
ever done, and be .a little like the 'Annals,' with more variety
of incident and character. I had planned another, 'The
Settlers,' intending to give a picture of the progress of a settlement
in this country; but the topics of the other came suddenly
upon me, and have interested my leisure. The navigation
being shut, I will send the MS., when I have got a fair copy
completed, by the way of New York. In the meantime, you
may announce it as forthcoming early in the spring.
I have now taken up my abode in this "city," in one of the
finest rough log cottages probably ever raised. The portico is
perfectly beautiful, being formed entirely of trunks of trees,
which in effect afford really a pretty specimen of the Ionic
order, thereby very clearly showing that that order is quite as
truly an original one as the Doric, which is generally regarded
as the only original. The house was not built at first for a
private dwelling, but by a little alteration I have made it a
good one; and considering its rough exterior and internal
simplicity, it might almost lay claim to some pretension to
I am not sure that when I last wrote I mentioned the founding
of another CITY — a seaport, Goderich — on the lovely shores
of the Lake Huron. In the course of the summer, under the
directions of the doctor, we began the settlement, and I opened
a road through the forest, upwards of seventy miles in length,
thus rendering it practicable to pass from Lake Ontario to
Goderich, which is at the Red River mouth, in two days.
My business is becoming very extensive and complicated,
and promises to answer the best expectation of those who
founded the Company. But my own situation, though the
allowance is liberal, is far from being comfortable; indeed, so
little so that last year about this time I was within an ace of
throwing it up, and but for an unforeseen occurrence I should
by this time have been on my way to England — not, however,
with the intention of resigning, but to see if I could have
persuaded the Directors that to attempt to manage a concern,
in which men's feelings and characters are as much objects of
consideration as their bargainings, from the distance of St
Helen's Place, would be found impracticable. It vexes me to
see how easily my work may be done, and yet how many
difficulties are created and time lost in correspondence and
He writes a few months later: —
You have heard what has happened in the Canada Company.
The capital is not forthcoming, and the actual shareholders have
intimated the fact to Government. Towards me there has been
for upwards of twelve months the most annoying conduct, all
about which you will in due time hear. About the beginning
of November I intimated my intention of coming home for explanations,
after having tendered my resignation, which unfortunately
was withheld by the Governor of the Company, and
the immediate cause of disgust softened. But the true state of
money matters will show that another cause than my alleged
obstinacy was working to the effect which has now taken place.
My stay in London and on this side of the Atlantic will not
perhaps be longer than three or four months. I should like,
therefore, to go to press at once here with 'My Landlady.' It
will be about the size of the 'Lairds.' As I mentioned, it is
nearly finished; but unfortunately, owing to my winding up
of the Company's concerns during the last four months, I had
not time to get it copied. I have also brought with me a mass
of documents and notes for an account of the Upper Canadas,
chiefly of the statistical kind, calculated to be useful to emigrants,
and of this I intend to make a small cheap volume; but
I apprehend it must be a London publication, as many of the
tables and values will require a very careful revision with the
vouchers in the Canada House.
With respect to the 'Landlady,' I leave the price to yourself;
but under the circumstances in which the Company stands, and
until my accounts are passed, I shall be as much in want of
money as ever.
The next letter, written after his return home, shows
not only the misfortunes that dogged his steps, but a
wistful fear lest the expedient which his necessities
compelled him to resort to might lose him the confidence
of his steady and constant friend. The book
referred to was, I believe, 'Ringan Gilhaize,' one of
his least successful works.
John Galt to W. Blackwood.
LONDON, 26th July 1829.
I am of course much gratified to find 'My Landlady ' likely
to please. I shall have regularly four to five chapters to send
monthly. The other part of the Canada article will be ready
by the 8th.
I told you that I expected soon to have a great deal of leisure,
and I am likely to have it with a vengeance. Among other
specimens of the usage I have had to endure from the Canada
Company was noting my bills for non-acceptance, thereby
implying a doubt of my integrity. This I find has had the
effect of seriously injuring me in Canada; for although all the
bills as they fell due were ordered to be paid, and are now all
paid by the Company, the evil to me still operates. This, with
the impression that I was on the eve of returning immediately
to Canada, brought every person who had any claim, direct,
contingent, or indirect, upon me, so that I have been advised to
take refuge in the Bench till some arrangement can be made.
I do not wish this, however, to be known; but the mischief it
does, to say nothing of the humiliation, is indescribable.
But what I have now to state concerns you a little. Mr
Hallett had paid the premium of an insurance on my life,
and not anticipating I should be put to such straits on the
Company's account when I left Canada, I trusted to getting
money here to pay the premiums and interest on what I owe
Mr H.; but being disappointed, and being pressed for a payment,
I was obliged to go to Colburn to see what he would
give me on account of a novel, and as he agreed to advance
me £300, I closed at once with him. I beg to assure you I
was actuated only by the necessities of my unexpected situation,
and I hope you will see it in that light. I could not wait
until the proceeds of any property I ordered to be sold in
Canada were remitted, and I was nearly persuaded by what
you said that it would not have suited you to have entered
into such an agreement with me. This affair I therefore trust
you will consider as a business transaction, and not affecting
our friendship.
Galt's life was, like that of so many literary men
in these — may we almost say in all? — days, full
of increasing gloom and agitation towards the end.
Says Wordsworth —
"We poets in our youth begin in gladness;
But thereof come in the end despondency and madness."
But to those who are not poets, and have neither
the rapture nor the exaltation, but only so much
of the faculty of utterance as to beguile them in
their beginning with hopes of an inexhaustible
fountain, the penalty of early facility and success
is more sad still, with often a bathos of obstinate
hope in the midst of the facts of downfall and
decadence, which makes us doubtful whether to
laugh or weep. Galt tried many ways of improving
upon himself, but did not succeed, having in
reality but one thing which he could do well, and
that a thing which soon exhausted a fickle public.
And his business plans were sadly unprosperous,
and his health failed. He keeps, even in speaking
of his illness, which seems to have been a kind
of paralysis, a sober unexaggerated tone which is
more pathetic than lamentation. "I have been
very unwell since I wrote to you last, and am
but slowly recovering my power," he writes. "My
complaint is a little peculiar: it is the nerves of
power, not those of sensation, that occasion my
malady; and certainly when it made its first appearance
five-and-twenty years ago I was then
almost as bad as I have been since: but I was
not so old a man, and the vigour of youth was
of more efficacy. This is now the fifth fit."Nevertheless,
though with this dreadful hindrance, he
went on steadily, sending by the very post which
conveys (written in another hand) this sad account
of his condition, an instalment of another piece of
work. It is evident that Mr Blackwood had suggested
to the old friend, who in the meantime
had strayed far into realms unknown, that after
all there was nothing like 'Maga' amid the mirages
of the literary deserts: —
John Galt to W. Blackwood.
I beg you to accept my best thanks for the number of the
Magazine. You conjecture truly when you suppose me to
have a warm side to it. I certainly do feel somehow at greater
ease with it than I have ever done since other engagements
drew me off; for what with these and with Canadian concerns
I have but little leisure, and infirm health makes me sparing
of myself.
Politics I doubt are now over for a time; but I have
often thought that a Deputation to London from a Borough,
treated somewhat like the 'Ayrshire Legatees,' offered a new
and excellent subject. If you think it will do to be carried
through two-three numbers, let me know at your leisure, and I
will send a portion for the next number. Much good satire,
I am persuaded, may be concealed under a very seemingly
sincere manner, and a story may be introduced which shall
embrace a case of private interest with public virtue. Besides,
one can give characters of public men that may be amusing
if people are not disgusted with the subject.
This idea would seem to have been carried out in
the 'Borough,' in which Galt returned with some success
to his original vein, the only one in which success
was possible to him. But many were the projects
less legitimate and reasonable which went through
the busy mind of the man thus toiling on with limbs
that could no longer obey his will, and labouring
thoughts which some domestic amanuensis had to put
on paper for him — but always active, with that melancholy
industry which toils in vain after the triumph
long since departed from its efforts. Here is one
project which looks to us hopeless enough. But the
time was addicted to publications of the kind, expensive
steel engravings, solid sheets of ill-advised art,
conjoined with rivulets of "letterpress," faintly explaining,
illustrating the illustrations, whether of
"Female Beauty," in the persons of real or imaginary
heroines, the Countess of So-and-so, or Gulnare and
Medora, which were a favourite manufacture of the
age; or of scenery — the Rhine, the Danube, and so
forth; or, according to the following programme, of
scenes more recondite still. Martin, the painter of
"Belshazzar " and of the "Last Judgment," has fallen
out of the recollection of to-day, but at that period
his name was still one to conjure with. Galt writes
to inform Mr Blackwood that he had seen Cadell, and
suggested to him that he should be the joint-publisher
with Blackwood (whose acquiescence would seem to
have been taken for granted) "of a joint-publication
projected by me and Mr Martin (Belshazzar)," to
which Cadell had readily agreed: —
John Galt to W. Blackwood.
The work is to be in royal 4to, and to consist of a picture by
Martin and an illustrative tale by me, with an extract from the
original work that has suggested it. It is to be executed in the
very first style that the arts allow here, and to come out in
numbers. We expect it will form an era in the arts, as the
drawing and engraving are to be executed simultaneously, and
the printing to be as elegant as can be procured.
After an answer, evidently somewhat discouraging,
Galt writes deprecating the thought of having wished
Blackwood to undertake "any advance or responsibility
for the work," which, it would appear, judging
by analogy and experience, had been the publisher's
first thought. "I have already anticipated you in
one respect," he writes, "in having matter for four
of the numbers at least nearly ready, and considerably
above a dozen subjects, the chief incidents in
the history of the world, for Mr Martin to choose
from. The work will be curious, as a picture is not
wanted; the drawing and engraving on steel go together.
By this means a step in art will be saved."
How this curious plan ended, I am unable to say.
The idea of "subjects from the history of the world"
which Mr Martin was to choose from, throws a melancholy
gleam of ridicule on this new and great thing
which the worn-out man of letters and the heroic or
mock-heroic painter, whose tremendous efforts were so
much beyond the methods of practicable or poetic art,
thus plotted together. Galt had come to the point,
unhappily attained so often and by so many of us in
the declining days of life, when invention fails as well
as popularity and success, and when he was ready to
turn his hand to any subject, however completely
out of his way, which promised a little occupation
and revenue. He had never been a sublime figure
at his best, but we cannot look at him in his failing
days without a certain reverence and deeply compassionate
respect. He and Hogg are the only members
of the early Blackwood band who came to this too
common conclusion. They both wrote their autobiographies,
but Galt always under a better inspiration
than his less educated and more roughly bred
competitor; though Hogg was indulged and cared for,
with more toleration of his errors, and benevolence
towards his needs, than was ever experienced by
this sober and modest, if somewhat pompous, as Lockhart
calls him, type of the man of literature, whose
fate, when his special vein is exhausted, is often so
A little longer and we find in him the disappointed
contributor, half offended, yet too anxious to recover a
lost position to permit himself to be offended, who has
begun to find his contributions only good to give additional
work to the carrier, as Hogg says in similar
circumstances: —
OLD BROMPTON, 10th Dec. 1833.
I wished to inquire if there was any change in the management
of 'Maga,' because the character of it I think much
altered. This notion, however, may be owing to my being of
late greatly more by myself. I am induced to ask the question
because you have returned so many MSS., some of them in
part published. In fact I am puzzled, because in giving my
name I thought Christopher North would have been absolved
from all responsibility, and it compels me to ask if the name
still is not enough to relieve you from the responsibility? I
ask the question because among my papers I have found a
sketch of the Seven Years' War, tending to show how the
events of it gave rise to the superiority of the revolutionary
doctrines, which I think would suit you: but I cannot send it
at the hazard of rejection, for it would preclude me from offering
it elsewhere. It would make more than a sheet.
One more word of that sympathy which, though so
moderate in expression, was yet, perhaps, more complete
between those two moderate and sober men
than between the younger and more fiery members of
the band and their guide, philosopher, friend, and
publisher — appears in the following letter of inquiry,
written very near the period of Mr Blackwood's death,
and addressed to one of his sons.
John Galt to Alexander Blackwood.
GREENOCK, 20 August 1834.
Your letter of the 16th has not relieved my anxiety about
the state of your father, and I wish some of you, though you
may have nothing else to say, would occasionally write me how
he is. Give my best respects to him, and tell him I can
sympathise truly with him, for although my disease seems to
be descending into the legs, I feel no better, and my time is
often spent in bed. It cannot but be some consolation to him
to think that he has been the means of doing so much for the
literature and, as I think, for the best system of politicks for
the country.
To introduce after this hardworked man of letters
and official hack, whose incessant labours brought so
small a reward, the name of the Right Honourable
J. Wilson Croker, the critic who disposed so summarily
of his pretensions to know anything at all of
that high life which the great man and the small both
sought after so eagerly, seems a failure of respect to
the convenances, and contempt of the prejudices of
life. Croker was not, so far as I know, a contributor
to the 'Magazine' at all, but only a constant critic,
appearing very often in Mr Blackwood's correspondence,
and rarely with any geniality or good-humour,
though he franked letters occasionally, and never was
indisposed to give good advice. We have hitherto
heard, from persons interested in its progress, nothing
but good of the Magazine in the point of view of
brilliancy and intellectual force. Those who complained,
complained of personal attacks, but never of
any want of wit. It is amusing to contrast with
these the following piece of criticism from the sharp
pen of the man who, being himself one of the literary
celebrities of the period, has left almost the least amiable
impression behind him of any writer of his time.
From both sides this very important Personage in his
generation has been done to death, or rather has been
exhibited in all his cleverness and bitterness and
officialism as a man for whom there was no milk of
human kindness to spare. It was natural, perhaps, in
those days when Whigs and Tories were ever at each
other's throats, and even so mild and genial a man as
William Blackwood spoke of his opponents as "the
cursed Whigs," that Macaulay should cut to pieces in
his most incisive way his political antagonist. But
that the same individual should also be assailed in the
house of his friends, and set up as an image of scorn
in that house for the warning and edification of future
generations, was a hard fate. It is, accordingly, with
a sense of pleasure that we place before the reader
the only sour and discontented sentence we have met
with, as from the pen of Croker. He was one of
those to whom Mr Blackwood had sent his cherished
Magazine almost from the beginning, and it had been
a great pleasure to the Edinburgh publisher to make
the acquaintance of so brilliant and rising a man
when he passed through Edinburgh some time before.
There was great amity between them, and an occasional
exchange of good offices, nor is there any sign
that Mr Croker's frankness aroused feelings of resentment,
— though his 'Maga' was to Mr Blackwood
as the apple of his eye, and any reflection upon her
much worse to him than if his own character had been
J. Wilson Croker to W. Blackwood.
ADMIRALTY, December 28, 1821.
You will think me very ungrateful for not having taken any
notice of your monthly presents; but in spite of all my reasonable
excuses for any ordinary silence, I should think myself a
monster of ingratitude if I did not thank you for a duplicate
reduplication of your kindness. I have received your 48th
and 49th numbers, and am surprised at the vigour of pleasantry
which you maintain. I confess your articles on the Characters
of Seamen do not please me, and I hear from those who understand
that delicate subject better than I do that they are rather
twaddlish, and show no deep knowledge of seamen or their
characters; but let that pass. On the other subjects I have
only to repeat my old observation, that witty and wise and
droll and dignified as they are in their several ways, opus est
haruspice nobis, we want an interpreter. The waggery is
obscure to us Southerns, and, like Persius, we cannot understand
some of the best of your satire without a commentary.
You in Princes Street are quite au fait; but I fancy, if the
truth were told, there are those in the Saut Market at Glasgow
who would wish for an annotator as well as we poor dolts of
Charing Cross.
I have also to thank you for your 'David Lyndsay,' which I
however have not read; for Murray happened to call upon me
as I got the volume, and he begged leave to carry it off to compare
his Cain with your Cain. To say the truth, I am a slow
reader of tragedies, and if David Lyndsay be a real bonâ fide
tragedian, I fear I shall not go deep into his book even when I
get it back.
Your American Memoirs do not seem to me to deserve the
praise the Editor gives them. With a few biographical notes
of the persons mentioned it might have been made more interesting;
but in its present state it is almost as obscure as the
Standard-bearer, and much less funny, — indeed I might say not
funny at all, except that here and there the vanity of the poor
Tory Jonathan makes one smile.
I am a little anxious to see 'Sir Andrew Wylie.' The
'Annals of the Parish' and the 'Ayrshire Legatees' were not
only good, but they gave promise of greater things; and I
should not be surprised, if the author will but be a little careful
in what he does, and if he will not expend his vigour in
dragging a Steamboat 1 against the stream, to find him acknowledged
hereafter as second, and only second, to the great Oudées
of Waverley. This I know may look like an extravagant
anticipation; but there are pages in the 'Annals' and spots
in the 'Legatees' which would be shining places in the 'Pirate.'
If he be a young author he may scatter his wild oats about;
but if he be anything like a veteran, he should husband
his resources and make not more than one great effort per
You generally put Mr Hook's Magazine under my cover,
but by this means he never gets it till very late. He seldom
calls, and still less often is willing to carry off a parcel in his
fashionable pockets. He lives five miles off, and the twopenny
post will not accept such voluminous packets as your Magazine.
I would therefore suggest your forwarding the future numbers
to him by your regular channel. His address is No 1 Kentish
Town, or at least was when I last heard of him; but he was
talking of flitting, and I believe he has been for the last three
weeks with his brother at Winchester.
You will see that I have in a true spirit of trade answered
your double present with a double sheet of acknowledgment.
The double sheets are gilt-edged, heavy, and of
thick paper, as if to show the ostentatious freedom of
a man who possessed the power of franking his letter,
over the ordinary mortals who crammed one poor
sheet to the point of suffocation, writing on every
available morsel of space in order to avoid a second
page and a double postage.
Mr Croker repeated the same sort of commentary
on another occasion at less length. He says, in the
very spirit of those good-natured friends who love to
1 The voyage of a Steamboat, with the various characters and conversations
thereon, was one of Galt's series in the Magazine.
let their victim know the worst that is said of him,
and in the true spirit of Disraeli's caricature: —
I think the most friendly thing I can do by you is to tell
you honestly what I think of your 'Magazine.' I think from
the cursory view which I have taken of it that it is not so good
as the last, though it is better than the former. You must
endeavour to make your articles shorter and more various —
more in the style of the 'Gentleman's Magazine.'
This last touch would have been insupportable if
it had not been so absurd. "I shall always be glad
to hear from you when you have any literary news to
communicate," adds Mr Rigby, true to the wonderful
portrait of him which was at that time still in young
Disraeli's brain.
Though these letters are quoted simply as a pleasant
alteration from the usual panegyrics of the Magazine,
I may add here another note in Croker's hand, which
will be interesting to those who know him better as
the victim of Macaulay's review than in his own important
person. It is dated 13th October 1831: —
J. Wilson Croker to W. Blackwood.
If your editor should be disposed to notice the Edinburgh
review of my 'Boswell,' I enclose you some materials. If you
should not think the thing worth the trouble, pray return me
the notes, which you receive under separate covers. I know
the review was concocted at Holland House, and Murray says
by Macaulay and Atheist Allen. Many errors, much too many,
I have myself made, chiefly from the bad habit of trusting
to memory, and when I attain the substance neglecting the
details. But in the more important passages I think the notes
will show you that the Reviewer is not only wrong, but sometimes
grossly wrong. If you print my notes, I think it would
be well to print the review in one column and the answer in
another: that method has an excellent effect when the answers
are complete, as some of ours certainly are.
BESIDES the contributors already referred to, Mr
Blackwood had a surrounding of zealous friends and
correspondents, who appear behind him, a crowd of
eager faces like the background of an old picture, busy
as a throng of bees, productive, filling up every corner.
One of the numerous jokes against him in the laughing
circle that was nearest to him was, that he asked every
man whom he met to contribute to the Magazine;
and certainly this was true enough of all men of
genius or remarkable gifts who came in his way. We
have seen that he received with open arms the young
man who wrote to him from Cork, giving only initials,
and had published his articles for some time before he
had any idea who he was. This kind of mystery was
delightful to the mood of the period, and added to the
pleasure with which a new writer was received. And
Blackwood had a number of agents and retainers about
the world, especially in London, including the aforesaid
anonymous young man from Cork, Dr Maginn,
who were specially intrusted with a roving commission
to find young men of parts who were capable of being
turned into contributors: some of these agents, I have
been told, received a small annual allowance for this,
and were literary crimps, seizing hold of every likely
young fellow who came by. Maginn drew a whole
tribe around him out of Ireland, from the smaller fry
who never came to much, up to Crofton Croker, already
an author and a Member of Parliament; and almost
every important member of the staff brought others
in his train.
The greatest and most faithful of the contributors
in the secondary rank were, without doubt, two clergymen,
— the Rev. Dr Croly, and the Rev. G. R. Gleig,
afterwards Chaplain-General. The contributions of
both of these gentlemen were endless and of extraordinary
variety: they would write on any subject at
a week's or even a few days' notice, review any book,
criticise any political movement, produce a story, or
en dernier ressort furnish a few verses "to fill up a
stray half page." They were not, perhaps, of the
sparkling or brilliant order, like those whose performances
made the reputation and founded the fortunes of
the Magazine, as has been already seen; but they
were most useful and able workmen, doing yeomen's
service, always faithful, always ready, and gaining
much applause and a steady little thread of income,
no doubt ever welcome in addition to the small
revenue of the curacy or vicarage which they held,
neither of them attaining any preferment of importance
during the greater part of their lives. Gleig indeed
received the dignified post of Chaplain-General
at the end of his, but Croly never got anything greater
than a church in the City — St Stephen's, Walbrook —
where his incumbency was passed in a hand-to-hand
fight with churchwardens and vestrymen in the interests
of the public and the poor. He was an Irishman,
as so many of the literary men of the period were, and
still are, with that gift of fluency, often rising to eloquence,
sometimes dropping into mere rhetoric, which
is the special gift of his race. And he was not much
less of an adventurer than his early friend Maginn,
and flung himself, like that dashing and brilliant but
unfortunate son of the Muses, upon the great world of
London, with prospects no more certain and gifts less
dazzling — although in Holy Orders, and not unmindful
of the special topics of his profession. Here he held
a certain place by continued exertion, and an industry
which perhaps is the last thing for which the professor
of literature cares to be distinguished, but which,
in the case of such a literary man-of-all-work as Croly,
is often the utmost that can be said, — his best work,
with its excellent level of talent and its flashes of fine
perception, being buried in the endless stores of the
'Magazine,' gaining indeed their meed of admiration
at the moment, but thereafter indistinguishable from
the general mass, except by the special student. Croly,
like all the rest, was most anxious to remain anonymous.
"You are quite right," he says, "in keeping
the names of your contributors sacred, for in default
of knowing the true writer, any coxcomb fastens on
any one known contributor the errors of all. All that
one gets by disclosure is the miserable honour of
triumph in a paper war." "I take it for granted," he
adds, with fallacious assurance, "that you scrupulously
burn all letters. You are mortal like the rest of us; and
it would not be well that a collector of manuscripts
should lay hold of your porte-feuille for the benefit of
the reading world." Dr Croly's hope, alas! was quite
unjustified: to the confusion, yet advantage, of the
historian, Mr Blackwood carefully kept every letter.
But Croly's epistles, of which there are many, are
defended from the curiosity of the public by an
armour almost as effectual. They are dull — mere
records of articles, records of payments, of cheques at
first treated with the lofty indifference which was one
of the fashions of the time, but afterwards received
with cordial welcome, as that steady source of revenue
became habitual. Literature, in its details, is no more
interesting, perhaps sometimes less so, than the details
of any other profession; such a subject treated in so
many sheets, such a book mauled or applauded, — perhaps,
still more, an attack upon a forgotten measure
just brought into Parliament, — having really less
inherent life in them, after the moment has passed by,
than a record of bales shipped or manufactures carried
on. It had fortunately not become the habit then,
as it is now, to reproduce in a permanent form the
articles compounded for the necessities of the passing
Dr Croly's reputation now chiefly rests upon the
curious and weird romance of 'Salathiel,' a version of
the history of the Wandering Jew, which he describes
at some length as follows: —
Dr Croly to W. Blackwood.
BROMPTON, Nov. 3, 1827.
I have been offered five hundred pounds for the first edition
of any novel or romance that I write. If you think that you
can conveniently give this, I should be gratified by leaving the
present work in your hands, on whose honour and punctuality I
can so perfectly rely. But I by no means wish to urge you to
what may be inconsistent with your purposes.
The work is conceived on the idea of a man, undying: driven
in succession through all ages, all countries, pressed by violent
passions, and encumbered with bitter calamities of successive
kinds. Such a subject would give room for all that the human
pen is capable of. Of course no one should speak of his own
work. But I am satisfied that I have done as well as I could.
And what that measure may be, your experience of my scribbling
can ascertain perhaps better than I can myself.
There would be an obvious inconvenience in sending the MSS.
— or indeed any part of it — to you, from the chance of loss, and
the still greater inconvenience of delay: but the proofs of course
of the first two or three sheets might be sent to acquaint you
with the style. It is to be much [feared] that you have no
London [correspondent] for publications of this kind, by which
Colburn has cleared £20,000 a-year for the last three years.
However, the question is merely this, Will you give five hundred
pounds for a romance by an untried novelist?
The suggestion of sending a few sheets of proof to
show the style does not appear to have satisfied the
publisher, and the manuscript, notwithstanding all
dangers of the post, would seem to have been sent
to Edinburgh; but it evidently did not please Mr
Blackwood, and was not published by him. Lessons
upon the extravagance of literary hopes are not
needed; but it is always sad to see an effort with
which so many hopes were concerned fall so soon into
absolute oblivion. A reader who knew 'Salathiel'
would be more hard to find nowadays than one who
had studied the poets of Persia, or the most ancient
mysteries of human knowledge. It had, however, its
success in its day.
Not uncongenial to this mystic romance was another
work which Croly, without any suggestion that he
should publish it, describes in the unintentionally
amusing note which follows to his friendly publisher
— "the volume on the Apocalypse," of which he begs
his acceptance, and respecting which, as the proper
study of his profession, he had no desire to take shelter
in anonymity: —
Dr Croly to W. Blackwood.
March 31, 1827.
The subject is treated in an entirely new way, and you may
rely upon it that way is the true one: however, of this the
world must make up its mind for itself. It has been published
a few days, and I have received some very civil testimonies
from some of the Bishops of their opinion. None of them, however,
had gone further than a few pages, as indeed their acknowledgments
were so immediate that they had no time to have
read more.
Scotland reads a great deal on this subject, and I should be
glad to have the work introduced into the hands of such a man
as Chalmers, whose deserved reputation would give some degree
of value to anything of which he thought well.
It is curious that so acute an Irish mind should not
have seen through the well-known trick of the much-tried
critics whose acknowledgments are "so immediate"
that it is impossible they can have read more
than a few pages; but humour and perception are
extraordinarily apt to fail us in our own case.
G. R. Gleig was of Scottish birth and parentage, at
first a soldier, who afterwards, at the end of the
Peninsular war, after Waterloo, took orders, with
hopes somewhat better founded than those of his
contemporary. The work, however, by which the
soldier-priest was best known was the military
romance of 'The Subaltern,' which still retains its
popularity, and is read even amid all the exciting
adventure-books of modern days. It was not perhaps
the sort of work which we should look for as the chief
literary distinction of a clergyman; but he retained
the mingled character during his whole life, and ended
appropriately in the chapel of Chelsea Hospital and the
post of Chaplain-General to the Forces, which is a rare
and unusual instance of merit rewarded in the most
legitimate and ideal way. We are told, which is a
very picturesque detail, that the flag which he was
wounded in capturing, at Bladensburg, hung from the
pulpit in the Hospital chapel where he officiated; and
he was always, at all times of his life, deeply interested
in all schemes for the advantage of soldiers.
'The Subaltern' was published in the Magazine in
1826, while William Blackwood was still at the height
of life and prosperity; and sixty years later Gleig was
contributing to 'Maga,' under its present conductor,
William Blackwood, the grandson of the founder.
This long faithfulness and devotion well merits a
memorial here. It has been the fate of 'Blackwood's
Magazine' to secure a genuine attachment from its
contributors more than any other literary organ
has ever had — the same sort of feeling which makes
sailors identify themselves with their ship, rejoicing
in the feats which they attribute somehow to her
own personality, though they know very well what
is their individual share in them, and entertaining
a generous pride in the vessel, which would be but
a paltry feeling were it translated into a mere self-complacence
as to their own achievements. I hope
this is being kept up in the younger generation: it
certainly was very strong in the past.
The letters of Gleig have a warmer individual note
than those of Croly; but there are still too many of
them, and their subjects too much the same, to merit
large quotation. On all subjects, political, religious,
moral, for all kinds of reviews, criticisms, and controversies,
he was to be relied upon, as much at least as
any individual ever was relied on (except Wilson) by
the head of affairs, who had a way of exercising his
own judgment in a manner not always agreeable to the
authors who surrounded him. The following remonstrance
will show that Gleig was no more favoured
than his fellows in this respect. It refers to some
articles upon the Church, which Blackwood had received
with his usual cordiality, but which do not
seem to have pleased on closer examination: —
G. R. Gleig to W. Blackwood.
You are of course the best judge of what will suit the
Magazine, and I have neither the right nor the inclination to
find fault with the results of your judgment. I declare, however,
that I should not have wasted so much time and paper
upon ecclesiastical matters, had you not expressed your wish
that I should do so. You stated explicitly that such subjects
interested "a large and influential class of the public," hoping
that I had other articles like the "Book of Common Prayer."
It was in consequence of these expressions only that I wrote,
contrary to my own feeling, two long articles, neither of which
has been admitted. But I do not blame you. If you see that
they would not be acceptable, it is better both for you and me
that they are suppressed.
I am tired of the sight of "The Smuggler," and feel more than
half disposed to put it in the fire. It was originally written under
a severe fit of indisposition, and every time I see it the blessed
recollection of that fit comes upon me. I return it, having for
the last time still further shortened it, by which it will at least
not suffer.
You wish me to make my stories short. I have no more in
hand except one, and that is full as long as the present. What
is more, too, I cannot shorten it; but if I do any more I shall
attend to your hint.
I had intended to send you a grave article this month, but I
fear that I have lost the art of writing for 'Maga,' and therefore
detain it. I like your number much. "The Cottager" is delightful
— Wilson of course; agriculture good, though somewhat
heavy; and the rest all capital in their way.
You have taken no notice of some verses which I sent you
two months ago. They are not mine; but if you mean to make
no use of them, I should be glad to have them returned.
On looking over your letter I perceive that one of your
objections to the paper returned originates in the idea that it
supports Arminianism. Now, the truth is it pretends to do
no such thing. It speaks in praise of the Confession of the
Armenian Church, not because that Confession is opposed to
Calvinism, but because in that Church no man, even when going
into orders, is called upon to subscribe that Confession. The
Confession consequently stands as a pattern merely, not as a
thing obligatory on the consciences of the clergy; on that
account alone is the Armenian Confession lauded.
This will show, even under the influence of a
temporary pique, the universal character of the work,
which, whatever it was, came "convenient" to the
equally universal purveyor of literary matter, all good
in its way — honest, useful, and often entertaining,
though without any claim to permanence, or to special
inspiration of any kind. Gleig's stories, except 'The
Subaltern,' have, like his reviews and his historical
efforts, dropped out of knowledge in this changed
generation. In those days it was recognised that
such was more or less the character of periodical writing,
and the honest workman was content that his
work should fulfil its temporary use, without any
struggle after continuance, such as that which now
fills contemporary bookshelves with multitudinous
volumes — baskets of fragments in which reviews and
essays, often of a very light description, are preserved
for posterity. Posterity, judging by analogy, will
have an ever-increasing stock of its own of this kind,
and will probably care little more for the collected
essays of to-day than we do for those of yesterday.
The contributors of 'Blackwood' faced this probability
manfully, and rarely or never attempted to reproduce
their scattered work, although by this time the fashion
of longer articles had begun, and instead of the half-dozen
pages which were at first the common allowance
(as in so many cases in the present day), the robust
contributor considered a sheet of sixteen pages almost
the minimum of what was expected from him. "I
cannot pledge myself even to 'Maga' regularly," says
Gleig. "She has my best wishes; but — but — my
dear sir, it requires a great deal of writing to fill one
of her sheets." Nevertheless, the sheets were always
well filled and abundant — so much so that, as has been
seen, the daring expedient of a second number, published
along with the usual one, was tried on at least
two occasions with perfect success, relieving at once
the overflowing stores, and satisfying a public which,
whatever the angry critics might say of personalities,
&c., did not seem ever to have too much of 'Maga.'
There are some interesting references in Mr Gleig's
letters to the Duke of Wellington, of whose life
Blackwood was very anxious that his ecclesiasticomilitary
contributor should write an account. Letters
of the Duke of Wellington, so frequent at that time,
are not so plentiful nowadays as they were when
"Field-Marshal the Duke" presented his compliments
to every one who addressed him, and answered or
declined to answer everybody's questions; and his
martial figure, so trim, so exact, so punctilious, saluting
the outer world as he passed on his way, without
looking at any one, has passed from popular knowledge.
But it was a fine sight to see that erect and
spare figure passing along wherever it might be,
through crowded street or byway, while every passerby
silently uncovered before him, with the instinctive
gesture of reverence which had become habitual, as if
some invisible wave had swept off every hat, no cheer
or outcry but a universal homage. The Duke was
still, however, in the intermediate state, a politician
and the head of Government, still within the sweep of
criticism, and as often reviled as praised, when the
idea of the life to be written by Gleig, then a country
clergyman, with the fame of 'The Subaltern,' an extraordinarily
successful story, hanging somewhat incongruously
about him, occurred to author and publisher.
But how to bring him to the acquaintance of the
Duke, so that some more intimate knowledge of the
life he was about to record might be gained? In this
emergency the publisher bethought him of a famous
method to procure what they wanted. A new edition
of 'The Subaltern' was going through the press, and
the Duke was known to have praised it. To dedicate
the new edition to him was the immediate suggestion,
which the writer embraced eagerly. The response was
as follows: —
G. R. Gleig to W. Blackwood.
ASH, Nov. 10, 1826.
Though I wrote you only the other day, I again put you to
the expense of post for the purpose of forwarding the preceding
dedication to the Duke. I received from him this morning a
letter, the most gratifying that can be imagined. He there
states that he has been obliged to make a rule not to give a
formal sanction to any dedication, and says that it gives him
particular pain to adhere to it on the present occasion. He
pays the highest compliment to the book, and ends with this: —
"If, however, you think proper to dedicate the second edition
to me, you are perfectly at liberty to do so, and you cannot express
in too high terms my approbation and admiration of your
interesting work. I have the honour to be, dear sir, yours most
I have struck the hot iron and opened a correspondence forthwith
touching the life. Of the result of that you shall hear as
soon as may be. In the meanwhile tell me how you mean to
bind his Grace's copy, that I may direct the Duke of Albemarle
Street to put a copy of the 'Campaigns' in a similar jacket.
Let me know your intentions respecting the novel, because
Mr Murray is anxious to have the first offer. The first forsooth!
forgetting how handsome your conduct to me has been,
and how shy his own — of anything which I may write.
A little later (I presume: there is not a hint of
a date) there is again a letter from the great man to
be recorded: —
I have received another letter from the Duke, the result of
which is to determine me not to publish his life till after he is
dead. He enters at length into his reasons for declining to
furnish the materials for any immediate publication of the
kind, and they are unanswerable. This is one of his expressions.
After pointing out that the history of his life would be
the history of political negotiations and campaigns in which he
has taken part, and that the time is yet too recent to state all
these accurately, he says: —
"In respect to military transactions the same objection does
not exist, at least in the same force. I am at liberty to publish
what I please, and no inconvenience to the public could result
from such publication. But if I insist upon publishing the
truth regarding not only individuals but nations (and anything
in the shape of history that was not the truth would be unworthy
of your pen, as it would be very disagreeable to me, and
would besides do no good), I shall for the remainder of my life
be engaged in controversies of a nature the most unpleasant,
as they will be with the wounded vanity of individuals and
What can be said in opposition to this? I have, therefore,
made up my mind, instead of compiling a wretched thing from
second-hand sources, to pay court to the Duke for the purpose
of securing his papers and memoranda: it may be for writing
his life now, but it shall remain in MS. until its subject is
gathered to his fathers. I think you will say this is a wise
scheme. Such a work, if I can manage it, will be invaluable.
The 'Life of the Duke of Wellington' was written,
but only published in 1862, so that Gleig kept his
word. I am unable to say whether the work, when
produced, was as important as he hoped it would be.
It is described in the article devoted to him in the
'Dictionary of National Biography' as "founded upon
Brialmont's biography, with the addition of some
original matter."
Another of the contributors of this period appears
with a very curious label in the museums of biography,
considering that he was a regular and very useful aid
in the composition of a high Tory periodical in days
when political distinctions were so much more urgent
than now, — "Thomas Doubleday, poet, dramatist, biographer,
Radical politician," is the description appended
to his name in the same valuable work which
we have already quoted. How his assiduous work for
the Magazine was consistent with this it is difficult to
understand. His aspect in his letters, which, like
those of the two clergymen, are too voluminous, and
at the same time too little individual, to quote at any
length, throws a good deal of light upon a character
not very uncommon in his day, whatever may be the
case now — that of a really accomplished and highly
educated man of letters in the heart of a great provincial
town, engaged in active business, and yet pursuing,
in the midst of this uncongenial life, the double
occupation of a writer, without apparently either contact
or connection between the one part and the other
of so curiously divided an existence. Such men were
to be found in almost every great centre of commercial
activity, curiously out of place one would imagine in
their surroundings, sometimes writing books, carrying
on a considerable connection with magazines and
newspapers of a superior kind, collecting pictures, yet
not forsaking the native home or the paternal business
in which their external life is passed. We doubt
whether they flourish in an equal degree in the present
time. The occasional notes on the reception of books
by the public around him, which Doubleday gives
incidentally, show that Newcastle, his place of birth
and residence, possessed enough of literary opinion, at
least, to count among the intelligent audience for whom
every author sighs. There are few more pleasant
glimpses into the great landscape, which, when hidden
in the smoke of Trade, and deafened with its clamours,
seems to a cursory glance to afford so few centres of
a better light.
Doubleday speaks of the requirements of "the shipping
season" as delaying his contributions, and of the
attention he is called upon to bestow on the business
of which his father is the head, with the air of a man
actively engaged in these occupations; but the stream
of papers on every subject which flowed forth to Edinburgh
for many years would not have disgraced a writer
whose implement was the pen alone, and who was
bound to no other care. It may be remembered that
Wilson and Lockhart both refer to his productions as
sometimes too aggressive and sometimes too lengthy,
on subjects of political economy and politics, but there
is not a trace of divergence in point of political opinion.
A great many letters are taken up with descriptions
and reports of progress in his poem of 'Diocletian,'
about which he wrote with great confidence to the
publisher, who was (almost) always so much pleased
with his articles — a confidence which came to sad and
sudden downfall when the completed poem came back
to him from these usually so kind and receptive hands,
and the resigned, yet aggrieved, astonishment of the
poet is almost too much for words. The following
short extracts, though of no great importance in his
correspondence, give a glimpse at once of his literary
opinions and unceasing industry. It was still the
Byronic period, when the air was full of the life and
acts as well as the utterances of the noble poet who
was so deeply interesting to his time. In a previous
letter Doubleday had made an assault on Lady Byron,
characterising her as one of Miss Edgeworth's heroines,
too coldly good for sympathy, and fitted only to exasperate
any husband: which was, we think, the general
view of the Magazine, always hot for the rights of
genius, and though extremely chivalrous to women,
confining that sentiment to those who knew their
own place and held the proper helpless and dependent
attitude which was the ideal of the time. Mr Doubleday,
however, was not chivalrous, but stated his opinion
broadly that no man could find anything ideal in a
woman to whom he had been married for a few years.
T. Doubleday to W. Blackwood.
NEWCASTLE, November 26, 1826.
I don't know what you will think of the "Letter to Moore"
which I now send; but this I know, that if I had not been
aware how well used you must be to all manner of queer, out-of-the-way,
eccentric articles, I should hardly have sent it.
Tommy's writing the life, after burning the original, is certainly
something akin to cool impudence. You will see I have mixed
my ill nature with as much fun and queerness as I could, so
that, excepting the last paragraph, the whole seems only half in
earnest. If you think it "too bad" you must just make an
auto-da-fé of it; for if 'Maga' will not venture, it is clear
nobody else will have the courage: mind I mean that for a
I shall next, I think, go on with the dialogues on Music, and
after that with the article on the Analogies. I am going slowly
on with a dramatic poem — for whether the public will read it
or not I will write poetry; and seeing what a laudable prose
man I am, I think I have a right to a hobby-horse of my own
now and then.
In a following letter a paragraph is added to be appended
to "the plain-spoken article" above referred
to, the letter to Moore, which is characteristic as
coming from so libellous an age. The critic found it
very hard to forgive the destruction of Byron's manuscript,
especially for such a cause.
No man, you will tell me, is bound to publish what may be
deemed libellous; but this is a reason for delaying, not destroying.
Libels are things of a lifetime, and like harsh wine grow
mild by keeping: the lapse of a few years takes out their sting.
Even the death-doing gum of the Mexican Indians grows
harmless in a twelvemonth or two. The character of Justice
Shallow, when written, was a bitter libel upon that worthy
knight Sir Thomas Lucy of Charlecote Park, near Stratford-on-Avon,
Warwickshire (whom by the way it has immortalised).
But would that have been a valid reason for burning "Henry
the Fourth" and the "Merry Wives of Windsor"? The author
of the 'Twopenny Postbag' will surely never say that. What!
Burn Shallow and Slender and Bardolph and Pistol, and Dr
Camas and Sir Hugh Evans, and Ford and Page and Poins and
Dame Quickly, and Doll and Prince Hal — burn Falstaff and
"all his company along with him"? No! not for all the Lucies
from Adam downwards.
Time, however, and space would fail were we to
attempt to record the Johnstons and Thomsons and
Richardsons, the group of Irish recruits under the
banner of Maginn, or the few genteeler and more
cultured Englishmen, who contributed each man his
article, his tale, his piece of new political discussion,
his copy of verses, most of them all and every one of
these items, to the always appreciative but by no
means always laudatory 'Maga.' They all consented
to the rejection of their papers, when it happened,
with the most remarkable magnanimity. They all protested
at the beginning, and some even to the end, of
the connection, their complete indifference to remuneration;
though most, I confess, claimed it after a while
with great regularity, and were even capable of fighting
for a little more with a vehemence not unworthy
of Grub Street. I find few women's names among this
large and changing group. Mrs Hemans and Miss
Bowles are the only lasting representatives of the half
of the world, up to that time chiefly silent, though it
has since then made much amends for time lost.
Mrs Hemans became a very frequent contributor to
'Maga,' and we have seen Wilson's opinion of her
value. Mr Blackwood published successive volumes
of her poetry, and worshipped the Muse on her occasional
appearances in Edinburgh with much enthusiasm
— more, indeed, than was altogether approved by
his wife, who, not very tolerant of authors in general,
could not away with the female of the species, and
had a habit of finding a visit to Carfin essential when
one of them was about to appear, leaving her sister,
Miss Steuart, to do the honours. Miss Caroline
Bowles, who afterwards married Southey in the end
of his life, was for a long time, however, a constant
contributor, her 'Chapters on Churchyards' and
other prose compositions, as well as much poetry,
appearing first in the Magazine. Her opinion of the
ladies, her contemporaries, is prettily expressed in the
following letter: —
9th July 1827.
Mrs Hemans's favourable opinion of my little books is worth
that of twenty mobs as far as one's intellectual gratification is
concerned, and I am obliged to you for communicating it to me.
Next to your own unrivalled Joanna Baillie, Mrs H. is surely
entitled to rank first among all our female writers. Many
write with as much feeling, some with taste as refined and as
melodious diction, but no other woman that I know of with
such loftiness and holiness of thought as Mrs Hemans, always
saving and excepting the gifted Joanna.
I may add, to show the view then taken of feminine
contributors, a cheering note in a letter to a lady
who had been unkindly treated by a publisher less
courteous and friendly than Mr Blackwood. "Your
MS.," our kind editor says consolingly, "did not contain
more than the usual grammatical slips which
ought to be expected from a female pen"!
Quite another development of literary life and
energy comes under our observation with another
voluminous correspondent, in whose letters the background
and machinery of the profession, its trade
aspect and commercial interest, are brought very
vividly before us. Curiously enough, the extremely
active and energetic figure which reveals the ways
of the "trade," and all the methods of procuring
literary reputation and success in the Twenties, is
that of one whose name suggests nothing but a
mild kind of poetry, whimsically associated with
the fiercest of cognomens, Alaric A. — generally believed
to be Alaric Attila — Watts. The poetry has
faded, I fear, altogether out of human recollection,
but not the name, which owes its tenacity, probably,
rather to its alarming character than to the gentle
productions of its owner. Alaric, however, had
entered very early into the literary lists, and describes
himself as having charge at twenty of the
'New Monthly Magazine,' one of several periodicals
set on foot by Mr Colburn, the London publisher,
from whose office came forth almost all the array
of fashionable novels — a number which nowadays we
should consider insignificant, but which then seemed
prodigious; and whose methods of calling attention to
the productions issued under his name were the
scandal and admiration of the literary world, denounced
on all sides, yet quickly developed into a
powerful system. The first letter I find of Watts
is very long (16 pages, supplemented by as many
of memoranda, all on post paper — none of your
trumpery note size such as we use in these degenerate
days) and diffusely explanatory. He had been transfixed
by some stray dart of the many javelins always
hurtling through the air from the Edinburgh printing
house, and being a man of pacific tendencies and much
literary ambition, instead of filling the world with
complaints as most of the victims did, he took the
better way of explaining how it was that, with entire
innocence, of course, he had brought himself within
the range of that artillery. He had been, it would
appear, a correspondent of Pringle in the earliest
beginning of the Magazine, which must have been
in his own extreme youth, and after that period
had plunged into all that was going on of periodical
literature in London, not only editing, or partially
editing, the 'New Monthly' for a short time, but
also doing the same for another short-lived undertaking
called 'Baldwin's Magazine.' While floating
thus from one literary undertaking to another, the
young man fell in the way of one of Blackwood's
recruiting agents, above referred to, in this case
Dr Croly. The letter is dated Brompton, 17th
December 1821: —
A. A. Watts to W. Blackwood.
I have accused you in my own mind, and perhaps with justice,
of some want of courtesy to me. On the establishment of
'Baldwin's Magazine,' in consequence of my knowledge of, and
frequent intercourse with, most of the literary men in and
about London, as well as with the principal booksellers, I had
frequent opportunities of becoming acquainted with literary
news, &c., long before there was a likelihood of their reaching
Edinburgh in the regular course. Croly suggested that an
occasional communication, even if it consisted only of the
small talk of the literary coteries, would be very acceptable
to you. Accordingly, on the publication of the first of those
scurrilous papers in 'Baldwin's Magazine,' I enclosed a variety
of literary memoranda, and, among others, a list of all B.'s
contributors, and an account of the infamous tricks resorted
to by a certain set to prejudice the sale of your work. I
mentioned in my letter that I should have much pleasure in
occasionally communicating to you such gossip as I thought
likely to prove either serviceable or interesting. I may here
mention that it was at my pressing instance that one of your
much valued contributors refused any longer to furnish papers
for. the 'London Magazine.' To the communication above
alluded to, which was forwarded through Messrs Cadell & Davies,
I received no reply, not even a word of thanks for my disposition
to make myself serviceable. Since then I have, of course, contented
myself with reading your Magazine, but that I have
ever been its warm wellwisher many of our common friends
can testify. I have never omitted an opportunity, when one
offered, of quoting spirited passages from it in the journals with
which I happened to be connected, or over which I could exercise
any control. I am ashamed of alluding to such trifles: I
only mention them to prove that I have not provoked, at least
willingly, such paragraphs as appeared a short time ago in your
work. It would be idle to pretend that I was not vexed and
hurt at an attempt of the best periodical extant to hold me up
to vulgar ridicule. Croly was not the only one of our mutual
friends to whom the attack was offensive. But I learn that
you will endeavour to prevent the recurrence of similar insults,
and I am satisfied.
The notes that follow have a certain interest even
now, and at the time were no doubt keenly relished
in Edinburgh, as opening up that curious background
of literary life about which in all generations there is
so much more curiosity than it is worth.
The 'Guardian' is conducted by a young man of the name
of Knight, son of the printer of that name at Windsor, and
editor of the 'Etonian.' This man is possessed of much smartness,
but he is intolerably pert and flippant. The 'Guardian'
is in no respect so good as it was when Croly had the management
of it. Its circulation also is very insignificant.
Hope may say what he chooses, but I know that he is not
bonâ fide the author of 'Anastasius.' Much of the raw material
was, however, furnished by him. It is well known who wove
the final web. His book on 'Costume' (I have it from Rees)
was so deficient in the commonest essentials of composition, that
Longman & Co. were obliged to get a person to rewrite it
entirely. The idiotic dedication of 'Anastasius' is certainly
The following epigram on 'Colburn's Magazine' I have somewhere
heard repeated: —
" Colburn, Campbell, & Co. write rather so so,
But puff without dread or discretion;
And each month give us scope for the Pleasures of Hope,
But to end in the Pains of Possession."
Longman & Co. have, as you may be aware, purchased Pinnock's
and Maunder's share in the 'Literary Gazette'; they
now take the entire management, and in some respects editorship,
upon themselves. Colburn has a share, but takes no
trouble beyond that of receiving his dividend. The sale I know
to be upwards of 3000, as I have often for weeks together
superintended its publication. It is without exception the best
advertising medium for books there is. I have no interest
whatever in it, and scarcely now contribute a line to its pages;
but I would hint that it is worth your while to be upon civil
terms with Jerdan, as he has it in his power to render essential
service to your publications. A review in the 'Gazette' is of
use as an advertising medium. The country papers mostly
exchange with him, and consequently quote numerous extracts
from the 'Gazette.' These are copied from one to another, and
thus you have useful paragraphs without expense. I have known
twenty provincials quote anecdotes from the same article.
The 'Monthly Review' is edited by Griffyths. Francis
Hodgson writes a good deal for it. Circulation about 2500.
Archdeacon Nares still continues covertly to edit Remington's
dull mass of orthodoxy, the 'British Critic.' The Monthly'
and 'British Critic' have been nicknamed Mumpsimus and
Sumpsimus. They do not seem to improve a whit.
'The 'Eclectic' is managed by Josiah Conder, late bookseller of
St Paul's Churchyard. He writes all his poetical articles (some
of which are by no means contemptible) himself. Montgomery
usually furnishes one paper monthly for this work: its circulation
is about 3000. There is a great deal of black bigotry and
cant in its pages. But all Dissenting works have many readers.
These notes run on to an interminable length, and it
is impossible to follow them, except in scraps. The
gossip was all precious to the compounders of the
short papers, the essayists on Things in General,
which the Magazine has always loved, and especially
to the framers of the 'Noctes,' after it was established,
when the merest anecdote was enough to set
the wheel of conversation going. "The production of
Lord Byron's," which was "handed about among the
duly initiated Thebans of Holland House," and which
mocked at the king's visit to Ireland in "a blasphemous
parody of the advent of our Saviour"; the
identification of the author of another of these squibs
as "Lady Morgan's gentle Knight, Sir Charles"; the
alarming decrease in the circulation of Colburn's
Magazine, on every number of which he lost largely,
notwithstanding the most heroic puffing; the success
of another periodical because of the little or no expense
of its production, the contributors being all
unpaid, — these were all of the greatest interest to
the eager publisher in Edinburgh. Among these
scraps of information and gossip the ever-recurring
advices about advertisements, and the need of keeping
up relations with the newspapers, came in as a chorus
in all sort of connections. "His advertisements are
exceedingly profitable. I wish you would devote a
portion of your cover to this object, as, besides the immediate
profit, the circulation of a work is materially
assisted by its advertisements." The Magazine had
been very careless of all these aids, being in its beginning
a romantic adventure altogether, and not founded
upon the principles which the smaller fry of trade
literary enterprises in London were laboriously working
out. Here is a curious illustration of popular
taste, which I have no doubt we should find on inquiry
to be still the same in our own day: —
There is at this time, you must know, a bit of a schism between
the Divan [Messrs Longman & Co.] and the Emperor of
the West [Murray] about Dame Rundell and her Cookery
Book. The Chancellor has referred the dispute between the
old woman and M. to the lower courts: meanwhile she is preparing
an improved edition of the book, which Longmans have
agreed to publish. At his late sale Murray offered the old
book to the trade, and was so elated by the preference given
to his edition, that, after the numbers subscribed for were
fixed, he informed the purchasers that they should pay 3s. 6d.
instead of 3s. 10d. By this well-timed piece of generosity
the subscriptions were immediately doubled. Murray's plan
is by far the best as respects his publishing arrangements.
He charges a good price to the public on his commodity, in
order that he may be enabled to afford the TRADE a larger
profit; and it is quite natural that the retail booksellers should
interest themselves most in the sale of those works which
bring them the greatest profit.
You will perhaps smile to learn that with us, next to the
Scotch novels and Byron, the best selling books are Dr
Kitchener's. Another impression of 2000 copies of the Cook's
Oracle is now at press. I often meet the old gentleman: he
is half cracked, yet there is wherewithal to be amused at
in him. He was sorely smitten with your clever notice of
his book, and considers that you have through his sides aimed
a deadly blow at all scientific and legitimate cookery.
Wilson's 'Valerius' [adds the annalist, whose conception
of the group of writers in Edinburgh seems less clear than
his knowledge of their English contemporaries] has not had
fairplay in London: it is an admirable book, but I cannot
describe the malevolent hatred cherished against this gentleman
by the Cockneys, on the supposition that he assists in managing
your Magazine. Nor is Mr Galt much less the object of their
detestation. Every personal allusion or offensive paragraph in
your work is forthwith attributed to him. And if his works
were not generally received here as the productions of Mr
Lockhart, they would perhaps stand a still less chance of
having justice done them than is the case at present.
Mr Watts, however, was not an amiable critic,
and there are many hard sayings scattered through
these curious charts of the obscure London coteries
of the clay.
Charles Lamb [he says, speaking of another Magazine]
delivers himself with infinite pain and labour of a silly piece
of trifling, every month, in this Magazine, under the signature
of Elia. It is the curse of the Cockney School that, with all
their desire to appear exceedingly off-hand and ready with
all they have to say, they are constrained to elaborate every
petty sentence, as though the web were woven from their own
bowels. Charles Lamb says he can make no way in an article
under at least a week.
This prodigious budget would seem to have pleased
Mr Blackwood, whose next communication was so
satisfactory that Alaric begins at once to unfold his
plans for being of service to the publisher and his
Magazine: —
WALHAM GREEN, near LONDON, Janary 29, 1822.
Now that we understand each other, I may venture one or
two points in which I can be of use to you. It is my wish,
as soon as I can manage to effect it, to get our London and
some of our best Provincial Editors (with many of whom I
am on tolerably good terms) into a regular train of quotation
from your Magazine at the beginning of each month. Sometimes
when room could not be found for anything complete, a
smart syllabus of its contents would answer every purpose.
The advantages of having such a work of high talent quoted
from are obvious. Brilliant extracts speak to the intellect of
the newspaper reader if he happens to possess any; and since
the accession of Colburn to the throne of imperial supremacy,
people have begun to decide for themselves, and will no longer
rely upon mere advertisements. Some of the London gentlemen
of the press are most willing to quote clever papers from
your work; but then, they argue, the matter must either be transcribed
or their Magazines spoiled, and even this trifling circumstance
acts as a preventive. A parcel of waste sheets forwarded
to me every month would obviate this weighty difficulty; but
this aid, and the distribution of about a dozen Magazines as I
will suggest, would enable me to organise a plan by which you
can be, I doubt not, very extensively quoted. I will write more
particularly on this subject on the next opportunity.
Again, I propose, if you consider it will be of the slightest
service, to give you a private letter, consisting chiefly of loose
memoranda of whatever is passing in the principal literary
circles in London or even in the Trade, opinions of your work,
&c. Some of your finest strokes of satire have lost their
point with us, from being of too local a nature: it will be but
fair to give us a bit now and then which we Londoners can fully
enter into the spirit of.
Lastly, though I place but slight value on my individual
assistance as a contributor, I have it often in my power to
secure articles from well-known men for your pages, so that I
may become the medium of clever communications when I am
unable to originate them. . . . No ceremony need ever be used
in the rejection of any paper proceeding from me which does
not appear to suit your purposes.
This letter gives an amusing picture of the literary
handy-man, ready for every use, from furnishing
paragraphs for the newspapers to purveying articles
for the Magazine. We do not find much indication
of the latter in the rest of the correspondence; but
the use of provincial papers in spreading the name
of Blackwood by apt quotation is again and again
referred to as the most excellent and profitable means
of advertisement, costing nothing and bringing in
many subscribers. Mr Watts was thus unconsciously
the literary parent of those busy gentlemen who compile
such publications as 'Tit-bits' and the 'Review
of Reviews,' though his motive perhaps was higher,
since he intended not only to supply material costing
nothing for his newspapers, but to render a service
to the original source from which that material was
drawn — an idea not, we fear, much cultivated now.
The following antiquated gossip may still have a
certain interest. Mr Alaric Watts was not very
good-natured in his comments, let us hope chiefly
because a story is generally more telling in a report
of this kind when it is seasoned with a little venom,
and not from any darker motive. But the great
Potentate of Albemarle Street, the Emperor of the
West, had many detractors.
PUTNEY, Jan. 10, 1822.
Some time ago Murray entered into an arrangement by which
he was to give Stewart Rose a thousand guineas for a complete
edition of Ariosto, upon which the literary exquisite is said to
have employed himself for these two years past. The other
day, however (so his friend Lord John Russell told my brother-in-law),
he received a laconic epistle from Murray declaring off
the bargain, and mentioning that he had another quick hand
engaged on it, who would be "ready" directly. Now the said
Stewart Rose taketh this very much to heart, and awful consequences
are likely to ensue.
Abuse of Murray continues to be the subject, at
great length, of Mr Watts's following letters. Here,
however, is a sketch of a literary celebrity of the time
which is a little less diffuse than usual, and not without
vividness as a picture. It comes among the gallery
of portraits of contemporary writers, especially gentlemen
of the press, with which Watts regularly furnished
Blackwood, probably by way of material for the satires
on London life which he requested: —
The author of 'L—' has written a powerful philippic against
avarice. He is one of the greatest misers breathing. His income
net is about £1800 a-year; add to this the profits of his
Rectorship at Kew and Petersham, and another living in Devonshire,
which bring it to about £2500. With these ample means
he lives in a garret in Princes Street at the rate of about 20s.
a-week. To the business of poet and critic he adds that of wine-merchant.
I have dealt with him for many years in this commodity.
He sells good and cheap, but will cheat you if he can.
It is most surprising that such things should be winked at, and
that he should retain his gown about his shoulders. He is one
of the most impudent egotists I have ever known, and yet he is
really possessed of first-rate talents — an anomaly, as I believe
our quacks are usually what they seem. I once called upon
him, and found him at dinner. On a dirty oaken table without
a tablecloth were arranged a few cracked and broken pieces of
crockery. In a few minutes the maid entered with a teal and
a dish of green peas (this was at a time of the year when they
were at least a guinea a quart). I expressed my surprise at his
inconsistency, when he observed, "I care nothing for appearances;
but my stomach fares as well as if I inhabited a palace:
my dinner yesterday cost me £2, 7s., — this is not an unusual
thing with me." I went away thoroughly disgusted. He has
written a capital lampoon on the 'New Monthly' gang, which
I must obtain and send you.
Watts afterwards changed his residence to Leeds,
where, with considerable grumbling to be banished
from town, he continued for some time as editor
or manager of the 'Leeds Intelligencer,' one of the
oldest of contemporary newspapers. Here we find
him stronger than ever in business tactics, and the
need of pushing the Magazine, through the unpaid
advertisement by quotation in the Provincial press,
with which he had a large connection. The following
letter is dated from Leeds, Nov. 8, 1822. This was
at the time of the king's visit to Scotland, when the
country, as is well known, with Sir Walter Scott at
her head, had gone wildly out of her wits with loyalty,
and the First Gentleman in Europe had received such
a reception as would not have been unworthy of the
wisest and best monarch in the world. Blackwood
shared the general passion, and commemorated the
event in his own way with that mingled daring and
calculation which best answers success. He published
another second number almost simultaneously with
the first, which he called the Coronation number,
and in which he embodied the frantic loyalty of the
moment, and in so doing carried off triumphantly an
accumulation of articles which perhaps on their own
merits would not have taken the first place. This
experiment has never been tried in periodical literature
(not newspaper) but by himself. It was on this
subject that Watts addressed him: —
Your king's visit made an extraordinary noise all over the
kingdom, but especially in London, where it was received with
perfect enthusiasm by the 'Times,' and approbation by the
moderate Whigs. The leading article in that number was a
most splendid piece of writing. All I could do was to write off
and get a few extracts into several of the Provincial papers,