1897 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Thomas Pringle

Margaret Oliphant, in William Blackwood and his Sons (1897) 1:98-99.



There is not much information as to the manner in which he [William Blackwood] 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.