Mrs. (Margaret) Oliphant.

Annals of a publishing house. William Blackwood and his sons, their magazine and friends (Volume v. 1) online

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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 ser-
vice ; 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 pos-
sibilities, out of the incapable hands which were con-
ducting 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 com-
mission, the committee of three occupying intermit-


tently 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, how-
ever, did not hinder, or even modify, the relentless re-
jection of such articles when not approved. Lockhart
informs his Welsh friend that the articles he pro-
poses 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 hindj'

lockhart's report of the magazine. 187

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 Bev. Mr Williams.

25 Maitland Street, Edinbdrgh,
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 Eeview ' ; 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 con-
tinuous 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. Lochhart to Mr Williams.

25 Maitland Street, Edinburgh,
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 " Horae Cambricse,"
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, Te /xoo koX crot.

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 danger-
ous ground.


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 to-
gether very amicably and agreeably — Peers, Lairds, Advocates,
Eeviewers, 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 Eegis-
ter,' the allowance for which is £500 per annum, and I have
accepted his offer. This is done sub rosa, the booksellers know-
ing 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 num-
bers 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 con-
cern 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 Literse 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
us 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 Eoncesvalles,' 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 under-
take 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 instruc-
tive 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 infor-
mation, 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 engage-
ment 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 irrespon-
sible) 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 sug-
gestion ; and the idea of the Welsh divine searching
for fun and frolic in the pages of the ' Acta Sanc-
torum,' 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 else-
where 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 excep-
tional 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
has of education and conscious genius on which the
Oxford scholar, freshly issued from the mint of in-
tellectual 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 impet-
uosity 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 ' BecoUections 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 him-
self, 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 in-
difference 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 con-
siderable insight. Was it his own? We are dis-
posed 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 with-
out warning, without passion or excitement, proceed-
ing 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 immedi-


ately 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, distribut-
ing 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 Teufelsdrockh
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 over-
work as little as they feared writer's cramp, an ex-
quisite 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, assert-
ing 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 pro-
gress was to be virtuous beyond all the usual require-
ments 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 un-
sparing attack, and other opponents arose, natural
foes of the Tory band, natural rivals for the public
approval. There was a raid against the ' Scots-
man,' 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 pro-
longed excursion, in which the members of the brother-
hood, 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 Eobert
Sym, the uncle of John Wilson, who afterwards be-
came 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 in-
stitution of the Evenings at Ambrose's, where, inde-

Online LibraryMrs. (Margaret) OliphantAnnals of a publishing house. William Blackwood and his sons, their magazine and friends (Volume v. 1) → online text (page 15 of 41)