The Edinburgh Monthly Magazine was first published on the 1st of April, 1817.
If you've heard of Blackwood's Magazine or 'Maga' as it came to be called, you may not know that it began its literary life as the Edinburgh Monthly Magazine. It did, indeed. The Edinburgh Monthly Magazine was published by Scottish publisher and editor, William Blackwood, but, within a year, it took the name of its eponymous publisher.
On the 1st of April, 1817, the very first number of the Edinburgh Monthly Magazine appeared. The editors of the first six issues were James Cleghorn and Thomas Pringle, however, those two lasted a mere six months before Blackwood chucked 'em out. Blackwood brought in a chappie called John Wilson (who wrote under the pseudonym of Christopher North), and John Gibson Lockhart and in October 1817, re-launched under the title Blackwood's Edinburgh Magazine.
The first issue under the new title included the infamous ‘Chaldee Manuscript’, which purported to be a translation from a newly discovered biblical text. It was, rather, a thinly veiled account of the magazine's re-launch and a satire on the Edinburgh literary scene. That controversial new direction was a big gamble, however, it paid off magnificently and 's earned its place alongside the 'Review' and the 'Review' as a periodical whose writing mattered. Blackwood's mixture of satire, reviews and criticism, which was often barbed, but insightful, became extremely popular and the magazine's circulation quickly grew.
Wilson and Lockhart were joined as contributors by major writers such as Thomas de Quincey and Walter Scott (who, incidentally, reviewed Mary Shelley's in 's). 's magazine was soon read all over the English speaking world. The Brontës were enthusiasts, and William Wordsworth's sister-in-law, wrote that, “as Wm. will not suffer ['s] to come into the house we must smuggle it.” Seemingly, William didn't feel 'Maga' was worth a word; well, maybe the odd expletive.
Blackwood started the magazine as a Tory rival to the Edinburgh Review, which supported the Whigs. The ‘Tories’ were politicians who favoured royal authority, the established church, and sought to preserve the traditional political structure, opposing parliamentary reform – in other words, the privileged, patronising riche. The term ‘Whig’ was used to describe those opposed to the religious policies of Charles II, however, the unfortunate aristocratic connotations surrounding the name caused some politicians to refer to themselves as ‘Liberals’. In the 19th Century, the political parties of the Tories and Whigs became the Conservatives and the Liberals, respectively. Labour didn't surface as any kind of political party until the late 19th Century.
Although decidedly a Scottish Tory periodical, ‘Maga’ was one of the pre-eminent literary magazines of the nineteenth century. Blackwood’s lambasted what it called “the Cockney School” of Keats and others, and its politically motivated articles were intended to represent London as a navel-gazing, cultural backwater, compared to its own Edinburgh of the Enlightenment. For some reason, it it took a dislike to Coleridge, but gave P. B. Shelley a bysshel of support and occasionally championed Wordsworth, perhaps due to his sister's patronage.
Then there was Burns, whom Blackwood's represented as more of a sentimental, rather than a politically radical, poet. You might say, the editors couldn't have read too many of Robbie's poems, but there you go, 'Maga' was performing a service to its Tory readers. Blackwood's has been described as “Often rumbustious, frequently libellous and staunchly committed to the values of Toryism.” Undoubtedly, it influenced the literary culture of its day – there's no question, Blackwood's was THE literary blogger of its day.
An infamous incident in Blackwood's history occurred in 1821, when the self-righteous John Scott, editor of the 'London Magazine', accused Blackwood's, amongst other things, of “bad manners” and “shabby spite” in references to its 'attacks' on the 'Cockneys'. Scott's main target was Lockhart, whom he branded a liar and a coward in unequivocal terms, sufficient for Lockhart to travel to London in search of satisfaction. Scott refused to oblige, however, but after his rival returned to Edinburgh, bizarrely, Scott then challenged Lockhart’s second, Jonathan Henry Christie, to a duel.
They met on the 16th of February, 1821, at Chalk Farm. At the signal, Christie deliberately fired wide, while Scott, the villain of the affair in many ways, missed his intended shot. The seconds organised another attempt and that time, Christie, not taking a further chance, shot and mortally wounded Scott, who died eleven days later. Christie was brought to trial, but he was acquitted by the jury.
William Blackwood was born in Edinburgh, in November, 1776. At the age of fourteen, he was apprenticed to a firm of booksellers in Edinburgh. After working in both Glasgow and London, Blackwood returned to Edinburgh in 1804, where he opened a shop in South Bridge Street, for the sale of old, rare and curious books. Blackwood was also the Scottish agent for several London publishers, which led to him being drawn into the field of publishing, when he moved to Princes Street, in 1816, the year before he launched his magazine.
William Blackwood & Sons remained entirely in the hands of the family for successive generations until it ceased publication in 1980. Tragically, during the Battle of Britain, Blackwood's offices in Paternoster Row, in the City of London, were set ablaze as a result of German bombs. That fire meant millions of books were lost and the saddening destruction marked the beginning of the firm's decline.