The publication of the first edition of the Scots Magazine occurred on the 9th of February, 1739.
'The Scots Magazine' is probably the world's most widely-read Scottish interest publication. It is better for you than any fizzy continental lager and contains far more readable material than a bottle label. The magazine has a multi-national readership of over 190,000 and, reputedly, at over 275 years, it is the oldest magazine in the world still in publication. Today, the magazine features stories and information about Scotland, its people and their culture, covering its traditions and history, including the natural history. Its stand-first, which sums up its content very well, is 'SCOTLAND – PAST, PRESENT AND FUTURE'. According to the website of its present manifestation, 'The Scots Magazine' “has evolved into a colourful, authoritative, thought-provoking monthly periodical with many thousands of readers worldwide.” The very first issue, published in Edinburgh on Monday, the 9th of February, 1739, was less colourful, but no less thought provoking.
In the 21st Century, it should come as no surprise to find that 'The Scots Magazine' is on Facebook, whatever thoughts that might provoke. Today, apart from on the Internet, you may find the A5-sized 'The Scots Magazine' in the waiting rooms of sundry doctors, dentists, lawyers, solicitors, accountants and estate agents, the length and breadth of Scotland. It had a similar distribution in the 18th Century, although the typical reader paid his 'tanner' for it, rather than read a second hand copy for nothing, except to while away the time in somebody else's ante-room. 'The Scots Magazine' is widely read among Scots overseas and wider still than the Scottish diaspora, it is also read by aficionados of Scotland and the Scots. That latter category of folks may not be Scots themselves, but they have, unsurprisingly, fallen in love with the place. Many foreign visitors to Scotland seem to find that the magazine appeals to them and they become subscribers. There's something for everyone in the magazine, not least some magnificent photos taken in all parts of Scotland.
The published in February, January retrospective of volume one was a forty-eight page pamphlet. Edited and printed in Edinburgh, the early issues of 'The Scots Magazine', were priced at sixpence (6d.) monthly. The magazine was originally intended to be a current affairs journal and prided itself on its foreign and domestic news service. Indeed, it seems to have been highly regarded for its coverage of world affairs. The magazine was probably the first source of news for many genteel Scots, in Edinburgh and beyond; wherever else it managed to find its way, rolled up and carried in a jacket pocket or stuffed down the side of a horse-carriage seat. In terms of newsworthy events, for instance, the May issue of 1746 contained an account of the defeat of the Jacobites at the Battle of Culloden. Hardly a story that could've been missed, you might say, but it wasn't a very balanced account as the magazine at the time, like most folks outside of the Highlands, was deeply Hanoverian in its sympathies.
The summary of its history published on its website tells also that it printed long parliamentary reports, perhaps in their entirety. However, the names of the speakers were given fictitiously, which was “a deliberate device to circumvent the ban on the reporting of parliamentary proceedings.” A pretty inventive lot, those Edinburghers of the late 1700s. Those reports were presented as the 'JOURNAL of the Proceedings and Debates in the POLITICAL CLUB'. You can get a flavour from an extract introduced in this manner: “In the debate begun in our December Magazine and continued in our Appendix, M. Agrippa ftood up next, and fpoke as follows.”
M. Agrippa was, as we know from the reference published at the back of the volume under the heading 'A List of the Noblemen and Gentlemen whose Characters the Speakers in the Political Club have assumed', Lord Carteret. And here is part of what was recorded as his opening paragraph: “My Lords, It fignifies nothing to make declamations against corruption unless we do something againft it. ...The people without doors will but little regard what we fay againft corruption; but the example of this houfe will have a great effect. Let us convince them by what we do, that no Lord of this houfe is guilty of being corrupted, which I am convinced is the cafe, and the crime will fink by the weight of its own infamy.” Lord Carteret was undoubtedly an optimist. One wonders what he'd make of Parliament today.
'The Scots Magazine' ceased publication in 1826, primarily due to declining sales figures, which were impacted by fresh competition from the likes of 'Blackwood's Magazine', with its revolutionary editorial policy. 'The Scots Magazine' disappeared entirely until 1888, when it got a new lease of life, for a while, when it was published by S. Cowan of Perth, until 1893. It re-emerged in April, 1924, under the auspices of the St Andrew Society, and since 1927, it's been published monthly without fail by the world famous D. C. Thomson & Co., Ltd., of Dundee.
You can find a copy of Volume 3, published in December, 1741, in Google Books. The volume is entitled: 'THE SCOTS MAGAZINE. CONTAINING, A GENERAL VIEW OF THE Religion, Politicks, Entertainment, &c. IN GREAT BRITAIN: And a fuccinct Account of PUBLICK AFFAIRS FOREIGN and DOMESTICK For the Year MDCCXLI.'
The information presented in those early, 18th Century issues of the magazine was quite varied, ranging from news of the war with Spain and commentary upon “the cruelty and injustice of the enemy,” designed to give its readers “a just View of the Interests of our country,” to the aforementioned 'Proceedings of a learned Political Club'. It also contained “Entertaining Essays” and poetry, and furnished “Gentlemen a means of communicating to the publick any discoveries they make in arts or sciences or whatever may contribute either to the utility or entertainment of mankind.” Unsurprisingly, it also contained a list of 'Marriages Births Deaths and Preferments' that gave its readers “an opportunity of observing what alterations happen in families of a middle as well as of a high station.”
These days, as in 1741, 'The Scots Magazine' won't strike you as a publication for readers the likes of whom prefer those 'red-top' newspapers, that's for sure.