1863 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Thomas Pringle

Mary Wilson Gordon, in Christopher North (1862; 1894) 161-62.



In the month of December 1816, Mr. William Blackwood, who had by uncommon tact and energy, established his character in the course of a few years as an enterprising publisher in Edinburgh, was applied to by two literary men to become the publisher of a new monthly magazine, which they had projected. These gentlemen were James Cleghorn, who had acquired some literary position as editor of a Farmer's Magazine, and Thomas Pringle, a pleasant writer and poet, who afterwards emigrated to South Africa. The idea was good, and the time fitting for the "felt want," which is now pleaded about once a week as the ground for establishing some new journal, was then a serious reality; the only periodical in Edinburgh of any mark besides the Review being the Scots Magazine, published by Constable, once a highly respectable, but at that time a vapid and almost "doited" publication. Messrs. Cleghorn and Pringle had secured the co-operation of several clever writers — among others, Mr. R. P. Gillies and James Hogg — and Mr. Blackwood's sagacious eye at once discerned the elements of success in the project. The arrangements were accordingly proceeded with, on the footing that the publisher and the editors were to be joint proprietors, and share the profits, if any. The first number appeared in April 1817, under the title of The Edinburgh Monthly Magazine. The contents were varied and agreeable, but no way remarkable; and a prefatory note to the next number, in which the editors spoke of "Our humble Miscellany," indicates a certain mediocrity of aim which must have been distasteful to the aspiring energy of the publisher, who had very different views of what the Magazine ought to be made. There was no definite arrangement for the payment of contributors. In fact it seems to have been taken for granted that contributions were to be supplied on the most moderate terms, if not altogether gratuitously. I find Mr. Blackwood stating in his subsequent vindication of himself, in reply to the charge of having supplied no money to the editors, that during the six months of their connection, he "had paid them different sums, amounting to 50. He adds, "They will tell you I am utterly ignorant of any contributors to whom they either have or were called upon to pay money, excepting some very trifling sums to two individuals." Perhaps this fact may have something to do with the crisis that soon occurred in the management of the Magazine; at all events, it had not gone beyond two numbers, when editors and publisher found they could not work together. Mr. Pringle was a very amiable man, but his brother editor was a less agreeable person, and with an estimate of his own literary powers considerably higher than that entertained by his sagacious publisher. On the 19th of May the co-editors formally wrote to Mr. Blackwood, letting him know that his interference with their editorial functions could no longer be endured. Mr. Blackwood was probably nothing loath to receive such an intimation, and in the exercise of his rights as partner and publisher, advertised in the June number of the Magazine that its publication would be discontinued at the end of three months from that date. The editors, thrown adrift by this coup, immediately offered their services to Messrs. Constable and Co., as editors of a new series of the Scots Magazine, to appear under the title of The Edinburgh Magazine; while Mr. Blackwood, after some contention and correspondence, agreed to abandon its old title, and give it a name combining the double advantage that it would not be confounded with any other, and would at the same time help to spread the reputation of the publisher.