“Periodical Performance”: The Figure of the Editor in Nineteenth-Century Literary Magazines
University of Ottawa
When John Scott and William Christie, representatives of the London Magazine and Blackwood’s Edinburgh Magazine, met in their fatal 1821 duel, the conflict was between more than two men with sullied reputations: it was a between the editor figures of two competing publications. This essay examines those editorial personae, the distinctive editorial voices crafted by individual journals, and how they played a crucial role in establishing a publication in the changing periodical market while simultaneously obscuring that process. Explicating the content and purpose of a publication, the editor figure established a journal’s unique identity in the marketplace, but it also established a point of contact between a periodical and its readers, an invitation that encouraged readers to feel included in the world of the publication. This affective connection socialized readers, incorporating them into the culture of the periodical as participants rather than just consumers, but it also created a brand for a publication, a unique voice that distinguished it (and its readers) from competing publications. While that combination of personal connection and commercial aspiration would appear to be mutually exclusive, I argue that the figure of the editor attempts to reconcile that contradiction, uniting the overt commercial ambition of a publication with a familiar, even friendly, presence. Just as crucially, however, it also reveals how periodicals of that time were caught in a period of transition, when the need to survive in an increasingly competitive print market clashed with older modes of literary consumption.
It is utterly impossible to persuade an Editor that he is nobody.
– William Hazlitt, “On Editors” (1827)
On a foggy February evening in 1821, John Scott, the editor of the London Magazine, and James Christie, a London attorney, engaged in a duel on Chalk Farm just outside of London. Scott had not wanted to duel Christie. Having written and published a series of scathing criticisms of Blackwood’s Edinburgh Magazine in his own magazine, Scott had been trading letters and public statements with John Gibson Lockhart, whom Scott had accused of being the editor responsible for the “adopted system of calumny” and false representation with which he charged the Scottish magazine (“Blackwood’s Magazine” 513). Lockhart, preserving the mystery surrounding the identity of Christopher North, the fictional editor of Blackwood’s, denied the charge. Weeks of wrangling over the finer points of honour and which one of the men was required to “call” upon the other settled nothing. It was only after Christie, an acquaintance of Lockhart, published a pamphlet which Scott found too offensive to ignore that the duel was arranged and the two men met on that foggy evening. What followed was a tragic succession of errors: a first round of shots was exchanged, with Christie firing wide in order to avoid wounding Scott, but because of poor communication between the two seconds, another round of shots followed. Fearing for his safety, Christie aimed for Scott and fatally wounded him. The London’s editor died 11 days later.
Events as dramatic and as tragic as these naturally draw attention, and a number of scholars have used the duel and the motives of its participants as a lens for examining the periodical press of the time. Among the most compelling of these interpretations are two recent studies, one by Peter Murphy, who argues that the duel was rooted in Scott’s adherence to conservative systems of representation that were undermined by Blackwood’s repeated use of pseudonyms, and the other by Mark Parker, who suggests the duel reveals both the struggle of the participants for gentility and the literary aspirations of their magazines. While the two theories differ markedly in what they consider to be the stakes of the Christie-Scott duel, both do locate the participants and their publications in a web of tense, often contrary, forces. The magazines, according to Murphy, represented very different methods of literary production, with Scott and his rather old-fashioned rhetoric of “style and social responsibility” opposed by the more contemporary Blackwood’s and its “language experiments” (643-4). For Parker, the attempts of those same magazines to become “literature” reveal the desires of their middle-class audience, a group that keenly feels the “pull of aspirations,” even as it is restrained by its inability to posses the aristocratic signs that it desires (27). Caught up in the uncertainty surrounding the print market at the time, the magazines register a tension between older models of culture and production, such as the influence of eighteenth-century periodical practice on Scott or the traditional assessment of magazines as literature for the middling classes, and the promise of new social, aesthetic, and commercial opportunities in the Nineteenth Century. It is that conflict that is, in part, revealed by the duel.
This paper is my contribution to the tradition of using the Scott-Christie duel as a window into the world of early nineteenth-century periodicals, and like Parker and Murphy, I want to consider the tension between the past and the future that is apparent in literary magazines of that time. Where they both see that conflict reaching its apotheosis in the duel between real, living editors (or their seconds), however, I would suggest that the contrast between familiar notions of how literary magazines were produced and consumed and the inevitable change heralded by the expanding market for print, is expressed and, to a degree, controlled, by the figure of the editor within the publications themselves. I say “figure” because I am less concerned with the actual editors, the Lockharts and the Scotts, of literary magazines, than I am with their print representations, the discursive figures that are created within particular periodicals. After all, the Scott-Christie duel may have ended up as a contest between two very real individuals, but beyond the suggestions of class aspirations or the integrity of literature, the duel itself was in fact ultima ratio; the actual conflict, both between publications and differing models of literary culture, was primarily carried out in the pages of the magazines themselves. There, amid the earnest essays of John Scott and the witty games of Blackwood’s, a transition was occurring, one from an older model of literary consumption that prized the contact between individuals and the discourse of the public sphere, to a new and unfamiliar commercial world, where large, potentially lucrative, audiences could be formed and enjoyed. The discursive editor figures of Christopher North, the fictional editor of Blackwood’s, and the editor of The London, who Scott styled as a “conductor” of his readers, were attempting to navigate this change by rebuilding the intimacy that, they argued, had been enjoyed by periodicals and their readers in the Eighteenth Century, but that was now threatened by the expanding reading public (“Editorial Notice” 368). At the same time, their different methods of initiating and maintaining this intimacy, and of parlaying it into a distinctive brand and a secure spot in the market, brought them into competition, and that conflict was in no small way responsible for the Scott-Christie duel. Thus, the duel was not simply pursued for the good of literature or to create and preserve the “aspirations and idealized selves” of themselves and their publications (Parker 26). Rather, it was first expressed in print by editor figures who sought to attract and socialize the forgotten participant in the print market: the audience.
In 1826, following years of sliding sales and a change in ownership, the venerable Monthly Magazine initiated a new direction with the third volume of its “New Series.” A conscious shift away from the literary and scientific topics that had characterized The Monthly following its debut in 1796, the magazine’s new emphasis on material that was more political or humorous was intended to give it the energy and wit of new periodicals like Blackwood’s Edinburgh Magazine and the London Magazine. The change was not undertaken lightly; as the Monthly’s editor admits in the preface to the volume, this change was “not commenced without risk” and may well have “given offence to some…who were our constant and esteemed subscribers” (“Preface to the Third Series” 2). In light of this possibility, he appeals to such readers “to look at us again,” promising that those who do will find “more, a great deal, in the Magazine than they even used to find before” (4). Should those readers be determined to leave the Monthly, however, the editor assures them that they will be sorely missed, not just as paying customers and faceless members of a vast audience, but as “good friends,” individuals and close acquaintances who share a relationship with the magazine that is personal rather than commercial.
The Monthly editor’s rhetoric of personal connection, characteristic of much Romantic-era magazine writing, highlights an important dilemma: satisfying the demands of the market while maintaining a personal connection with readers. It is a problem as old as the print market itself, but it acquired an added significance during the Romantic era, when the frequently discussed explosion of print led, as William St. Clair has observed, led to an “astonishingly rapid growth of periodical publications, journals and newspapers” (14). By the time the Monthly Magazine shifted its focus in 1826, periodicals occupied an established spot in the British print market: critical quarterlies such as the Edinburgh Review and the Quarterly Review enjoyed sales of roughly 12,000 or 13,000 at the height of their powers, while moderately successful monthlies like Blackwood’s Edinburgh Magazine and TheNew Monthly Magazine had monthly circulations that fell between 4,000 to 8,000. While these numbers are only slightly higher than those of their eighteenth-century counterparts – Addison’s Spectator, for instance, had a circulation of 3,000, and the Gentleman’sMagazine had mid-century sales of 10,000 – the number of readers tells only a portion of the tale (The Reading Nation (572)). Fueled by a rapidly growing population and increasing literacy rates, the expanding “reading public” clamored for new publications to read, and public reading rooms and coffee-houses ensured that those members of the rapidly expanding “reading public” who could not afford the expensive periodicals were still able to rent and read them in relative comfort for a reasonable price. A single publication could therefore reach an audience much larger than its sales would suggest, and its success could depend on its ability to attract and retain this large body of potential readers as a consistent audience.  More readers therefore meant larger audiences and the opportunity for greater sales, but it also brought increased competition and an increasingly crowded market. As a result, magazines needed to establish distinctive brands in order to succeed. The plea of the Monthly’s editor is thus more than an affectation; failure to retain old readers and attract new ones would have left the Monthly in dire straits with minimal sales and little hope, destined to fail or be sold.
Expanding a magazine’s audience, however, was not simply a matter of targeting a stable, well-defined group of readers or attracting new ones. The expansion of the reading public and the “Enlightenment dream of improvement” (as Paul Keen puts it) was complicated by conflicting pressures, its efforts to extend the benefits of reading and the public sphere to those who had never previously enjoyed them opposed by the desire to maintain the cohesiveness and prestige of the republic of letters (137). Readers (particularly new entrants into the culture of literacy) actively sought the sense of intimacy and inclusion offered by an ideal public sphere, and periodicals, typically considered the literary representative of the public sphere (a coffee-house in print, if you will), promised inclusion in that dialogue. This meant it was commercially in the best interest of periodicals to appeal to those consumers, but many publications and writers expressed concern over what Lucy Newlyn has called their new “dependency on unknown readers, whose numerical power and anonymity were felt to be threatening” (8). Inclined, in the words of Blackwood's, to “devour [every publication] good, bad, and indifferent, which came in their way,” these readers represented a thoughtless, unrestrained model of literary consumption that threatened to overwhelm the values of the public sphere (“The Progress of Social Disorganization” 229). Furthermore, much of the appeal of the ideal public sphere lay in its exclusivity, and any magazine that sought to represent the republic of letters had to avoid openly courting popularity and increased sales lest such a stance destroy its brand and undermine the very prestige and intimacy that it sought to offer. Publishing a periodical was therefore a tricky discursive task that required navigating a path between popularity and exclusivity, between appeasing existing audiences and forming new ones. That challenge increasingly came to define the thorny responsibility of an editor figure in the first half of the Nineteenth Century.
Why did that challenge fall to the editors of periodicals? Simply put, periodical editors in the Nineteenth Century played an integral, but often overlooked, role in shaping periodicals, particularly literary magazines. Their editorial “office tasks” of selecting and ordering the contents of a publication were, as Robert L. Patten and David Finkelstein have noted, crucial to “the way in which editors set out to shape their periodicals for the marketplace,” but they were equally important to establishing the ideals of their publication (152). Andrew Piper has suggested that romantic editors were active in “teasing out the relations of different communications media to literary production…much like early media theorists,” and while he is not specifically discussing periodical editors, the point is still valid (86). When John Scott, for example, published his initial attack on Blackwood’s, he claims that his concern is not with the organization of documents in the Edinburgh publication, but in the role of its editors and their disregard for both literature and the market. If Blackwood’s represented “the most foul and livid spot, indicative of an accursed taint in the literature of the day,” he argues, it was only because its editors allowed it to do so (“Blackwood’s Magazine” 510). An editor, according to Scott, “does not hold himself responsible for the soundness of all the opinions that may appear in the work under his management, if it be of so open and miscellaneous a nature as a magazine,” but his publication nonetheless must “be cemented by coincidence of sentiment on all higher public questions, directly affecting personal reputation and principle” (512-3). As a miscellaneous form, a magazine allowed for diversity of local views, but the periodical nonetheless was “cemented” by its editor when it came to larger “questions” that represented the publication as a whole. He was its guide, but he was also its conscience, celebrated in its triumphs and, as Scott’s death tragically proves, answerable for its transgressions.
Editors, however, are not easy to define, not least because actual editors were often obscured behind editorial personae. This was a venerable tradition, going back to the eighteenth century with Isaac Bickerstaff and similar figures, but it makes determining what any periodical editor actually did difficult. Instead, what we do find in periodicals is editorial self-representation, and I would suggest this discursive construct is just as important to a periodical’s presence on the market as the actual editor. Like Michel Foucault’s “author-function,” the editor figure is a textual set of signs that serves to structure the reading experience and brand a publication, giving it a distinctive character through the editorial apparatus of prefaces, prospectuses, and other paratextual elements. When Sylvanus Urban, for instance, the fictional editor of the Gentleman’s Magazine, defined his publication in 1741 as a “medium, thro’ which men of learning and genius correspond with each other,” he implied that he knew his audience was comprised of the sort of readers who would enjoy frequenting coffee-houses and clubs, and that he himself understood what translating that culture into print would require (“Preface to Vol. XXIII”). Urban, however, is also displaying his implied readership for other readers to see. His representation was as much an expression of who should be reading his publication as of his actual readership, an encouragement to those who wished to associate with “men of learning and genius.”
Just as importantly, such depictions of a mutual taste across the reading audience also suggest an intimate connection between an individual reader, the larger audience and the publication itself, a sense of shared experience that unites all parties into what Benedict Anderson (speaking of nations) calls an “imagined community.” Indeed, as David G. Stewart notes, it is striking that periodical writers “suggested an increasing intimacy with their readers at precisely the historical moment when they could no longer be certain who those readers were,” and that connection was an important part of what periodicals offered (98). Depicting who exactly shared this community, however, became increasingly problematic as the number of potential readers increased. Correctly or not, the coherence of readerly communities was more readily assumed in the eighteenth century, when the body of potential readers was smaller and seemed more homogeneous. Sylvanus Urban, confident in the identity of his audience, does not appear to have felt it necessary to distinguish his readers from others, choosing to address himself to his select group of gentlemen readers. This is not to say that in doing so, he was not distinguishing his periodical and his audience from others, only that he chose to do so along the relatively simple lines of political party or class. As a result, his portrayal of the Gentleman’s audience was untroubled by the spectre of a body of unknown readers and its readers could, perhaps mistakenly, consider themselves to be participants in a select, but still unified, audience.
While it is unlikely that such an ideal readership actually existed at any time, by the end of the Eighteenth Century, any pretense of a united, discriminating public had begun to unravel, and the republic of letters was portrayed as showing signs of disintegration. In 1783, the London Magazine, which only twelve years earlier had praised the intelligence of the public, now railed against it, announcing that “the taste of the Public...[is] more caprice than...Judgment, and…the reputation of men is seldom of long duration” (“To the Public” 1). Rather than claiming to address a united audience, the London portrays itself as being faced with two groups of readers: one group was comprised of educated “friends of literature,” which supported the magazine; another group was perceived as mercurial and easily distracted, a precursor to the larger and potentially untrustworthy audience of the Romantic period. Similarly, when The Bee, an Edinburgh weekly published in the early part of the 1790s, announced its intention to “open a ready intercourse” between its readers, it directed itself at a new audience, one that it conceived as being larger and more varied than Urban’s collection of gentlemen. “[The editor] has…observed,” the prospectus announces, “that among those who are engaged in the arts, agriculture, manufactures and commerce, there are many individuals of great ingenuity and conspicuous talents….but that these men [are] in a great measure excluded from the circle of literary intelligence” (“Prospectus” vii). Like the London, the Bee considers this public to no longer be something that it can take for granted. The tastes and members of the audience were mysterious, ebbing and flowing according to unknown whims and desires, leaving editors to address those readers with much less confidence and security than before.
Where these two periodicals and their respective editor figures differ, however, is in their approach to this “new” audience. For the editor of the London, the division of the public lay with his magazine: it had somehow managed to divide readers with its weak content, driving readers into separate groups. Despite this, a united public could still be rescued; if the London could prove itself “worthy of public attention” once again, the breach could be healed (2). The editor of The Bee makes no such apologies; instead, he pursues an affective connection, something that would unite readers on a more personal level. In order to do this, he attempts to create a connection between what he imagines to be a disparate body of readers by invoking the public sphere and promoting the Bee as a social setting, a forum for discussion where an individual could, through the medium of print, “communicate his thoughts to the public” (“To the Editor of the Bee” 166). A holdover from earlier periodicals, this portrayal of readers as contributors was part of what James Anderson, the editor of the Bee, called “periodical performance,” the activity of creating a public through the distinctive characteristics of the periodical form. Like its namesake insect, whose activities benefit all members of the hive, the Bee argued that it busily promoted the spread of intelligence and experience amongst its own hive: its reading public. Its vision was familiar and domestic: “A man, after the fatigues of the day are over, may thus sit down in his elbow chair, and, together with his wife and family, may be introduced, as it were, into a spacious coffee-house, which is frequented by men of all nations....the dead are even called back to their friends, and mix once more in social converse with those who have regretted their departure” (“On the Advantages” 14). The “performance” of the periodical, therefore, was not in its format nor in the roles of its participants but in the publication itself. The Bee performed the sociability and shared knowledge that evoked the public sphere, but its intimacy was generated by the editor, whose discourse welcomed readers, situating them within the publication’s audience and specific culture.
John Klancher has suggested that the Bee’s promotion of an image of the public sphere was a response to the problem of fragmentation, a nostalgic attempt to return to a time when readers were “waiting to be discovered and acculturated,” and there is certainly some truth in that statement (38). Like the early incarnation of The London, which sees a united public as being salvageable, the Bee is clearly invoking a concept that, even if it had ever existed in such an idealized state, was certainly being changed beyond recognition. Conventional and outdated as the language may be, however, the image of the bourgeois public sphere, as Kevin Gilmartin has rightly suggested, retained some power after its demise (1-10). Perhaps just as importantly, its use is a notable step towards forming an audience unified not by class or education, but by its tie to the periodical. This is crucial, because as the separation between readers in the early decades of the nineteenth century was becoming too pronounced to ignore, the illusion of readerly dialogue promoted by the Bee was no longer possible; instead, magazines were miscellanies like the Monthly Magazine, promising entertainment through skirmishes between witty, predominantly professional writers and their competitors. As the perception that readers desired intimacy persisted, the connection had to be redirected, focused on another object: the editor figure. Rather than engaging in a dialogue mediated by the editor, as in the Gentleman’s Magazine or the Bee, readers were encouraged to see themselves as being in dialogue with the editor. Thus when the Monthly’s editor addressed his new readers in the preface to his reformed periodical, for instance, he was quick to acknowledge that the body of his readers contained numerous conflicting tastes. Instead he suggests that they are united by their connection to the periodical and its editor. They were his “good friends” and thus, by extension, friends to every other reader who was also connected to the editor. Outside the text, they were simply readers, anonymous members of the reading public, but through the periodical and the strong, personal rhetoric of the editor figure, they were socialized, becoming familiar acquaintances and valuable participants in a larger community, one that offered the intimacy and connection between individuals that the print market no longer could.
It is that paradox – that only through the power of print could readers overcome the alienating forces of the new market and re-establish intimacy with the publication and each other – that is addressed by the editor figure, and it is done by invoking the audience in a manner similar to the “periodical performance” envisioned by the editor of the Bee at the end of the Eighteenth Century. Now, however, when the editorial persona of an early nineteenth-century periodical depicts his audience, it is more than an appeal to an older mode of literary consumption and public discourse: his representation of himself, his work, and the way in which those duties affect readers all play a role in creating the audience that he describes. Addressing his readers after a typically mean-spirited attack on the Blackwood’s contributor (and regular whipping boy) James Hogg, Christopher North brushes aside any complaints of poor behavior by explaining that but “if thou art, as we believe the generality of our readers are, a person endowed with a gentlemanly portion of common sense, and can relish banter and good humour as well as curry and claret, thou wilt at once discover that the object of this ‘deevilrie,’ to use an expression of the Shepherd’s, is to add to the interest which his life has excited….and put a few cool hundreds in his pocket” (“Familiar Epistles” 52). North is describing both his intention and his readers, not just as individuals, but as a group and a class, and in doing so, is forming an identity for them. They are a witty, gentlemanly group, one that enjoys a good joke and a bit of “curry and claret.” The accuracy of the description is unimportant; what matters is that the readers are, in a sense, created as an audience by his explanation, bonded through his discourse. They are invited to feel connected to North, to Blackwood’s, and to each other, to share in the humour and to “get the joke.” The commercial nature of publication, the expanded reading audience, even the changed format of the publications themselves are all elided (or so the editor figure suggests) by this invitation; rather than being anonymous purchasers of a magazine, they are friends sharing a laugh at the expense of the hapless Hogg.
The commercial dimension of publication, particularly in the competitive early nineteenth-century periodical market, was never really lost, of course; if anything, its importance grew with the number of potential readers, encouraging more and more publications to compete for an audience. The “periodical performance” that gives the audience of a publication shape increasingly came to reflect that, and the relationship between reader and periodical was frequently defined not only by what one read, but by how one read it. That performance certainly appears to have, at least in part, motivated the Scott-Christie duel. Despite all the posturing from the men involved regarding truth, honour and responsible representation, at its heart the duel was about the relationship between an editor and his audience. Describing the “literary system” of Blackwood’s in an article entitled “The Mohock Magazine” in 1820, Scott compared its writers to a gang of criminals, an equally “anti-social” group given to preying upon their readers instead of aiding them (673). Rather than building up relations, Blackwood’s destroyed them, leaving their readers feeling bullied and betrayed:
It would seem as if people in general had been all cherishing a bursting sense of the crying necessity of some such exposure [of Blackwood’s]...This Scotch work had grown to be regarded as a privileged terrae filius, – free to commit the rudest assaults and most savage insults without chastisement; – and when our exposition, of what every body knew before, came out we were congratulated and applauded in a way that has excited our astonishment.
This passage points to the core of Scott’s disgust with Blackwood’s and its methods. Rather than encouraging and supporting readers, it offended and subjected them to its vile behaviour. It is not simply that Scott found the material Blackwood’s published to be shameful or dangerous (although he did), but that he despised it for treating its readers so poorly and with such arrogance. To Scott’s mind, those same readers, burdened by Blackwood’s, would greet his exposure of their oppression with congratulations and applause, finally liberated by a publication that cared for them. The fact that those readers – consumers who, like readers of the London, would understand the Latin reference in Scott’s essay – were also potential customers lurks below the surface of his anger, giving the image of the oppressive, savage Blackwood’s of Christopher North opposed by the honest, open London of John Scott additional resonance. That commercial implication, however, is never made explicit; Scott’s outrage, reflective as it is of popular concerns about the press and its productions, is limited to what he considers the lies, deceit and dangerous morals of Blackwood’s.
Such a careful separation of rival publications and their respective audiences is certainly in keeping with Jon Klancher’s argument that with the increase in potential readers from a variety of classes, late-eighteenth and early-nineteenth century periodicals were forced to create “interpretative and ideological frameworks of audiences” through which they could form audiences of their own (3). Readers were encouraged in the discourse of their own periodical to recognize the presence of competing audiences and groups, and in doing so, to become aware both of their own membership in a particular audience and of its cultural and social position in what Klancher calls “the social text.” By criticizing Blackwood’s as he does, Scott is foregrounding how very different his publication is from its rival. The London, he implies, would never behave in such a fashion, and that distinction separates the two periodicals. That competition is, at its most basic level, an exercise in branding, an explanation of the different nature of the publications that is based on how readers are encouraged to view themselves, their fellow audience members, and the periodical that they read. A unique market presence is founded on such separation, and by presenting it to the readers in such a way, Scott is clearly hoping to gain an edge over his rival.
Simultaneously, however, what the conflict between the London and Blackwood’s also reveals is an understanding of readers that is fundamentally different from that of an eighteenth-century periodical like the Gentleman’s Magazine. No longer passive, waiting to be found and addressed, readers of periodicals (and the audiences they ultimately form) are active, faced with many alternatives, some appealing and some not. They are anonymous and scattered, drawn in different directions (or so the editor figures suggest), and it is the job of periodicals to not only entertain them, but to gather them together, to marshal them against opposing values and publications. It is no coincidence that Christopher North, the fictional editor of Blackwood’s, portrays his contributors and regular readers as a stalwart group of “patriots” who, like the outnumbered army of the Spartan king, Leonidas, at the Battle of Thermopylae, oppose “The Million,” the limitless, barbaric army of the Persian King, Xerxes (“On Vulgar Prejudices” 173). His periodical and its readers are in the vanguard of the battle against poor taste and vulgar reading habits, continuing the struggle of writers Dryden, Swift, and Pope. Similarly, John Scott’s London is gathering those readers who desire civility and (it is implied) accountability from their periodicals. Ironically, there is no shame in boasting about a large readership in these instances; success is simply a sign of a publication’s superiority, not a capitulation to the market. This allows North to crow that Blackwood’s success is positively Brobdingnagian in scale, with scores of fowl killed to make quill pens and ink “floated down to us in a canal cut for the purpose” (“Another Tête-a-Tête” 531). Expanding the readership under these circumstances is not a threat to the intimacy or exclusivity of a publication; new readers are simply more supporters, like-minded individuals drawn to a periodical by the values and contact promised by its editor figure. Rather than being mutually exclusive, the tension between acquiring new readers and satisfying existing ones with the publication is thus normalized, expressed and controlled through the figure of the editor and his attempts to rally the readership.
It is no wonder then, given this jockeying for readers and a position in the market, that the London and Blackwood’s were brought into conflict. Although the events of the Scott-Christie duel were extreme, the efforts of periodicals to address the paradoxical need to offer an intimate periodical experience to the largest possible readership, relied heavily on editor figures distinguishing their publications (and their audiences) from their rivals by turning them against other publications. Competition, always an integral part of any market, was exacerbated by the need not only to provide readers with the content they desired, but also to appeal to them on a more personal, affective level. In a sense, the readers of the London and Blackwood’s were an invisible participant in the entire Scott-Christie duel for that very reason; not only was the duel, as Mark Parker suggests, “played out publically…for a considerable audience,” but it was also caught up in the efforts of publications to attract, identify, and enact their audiences. Had their methods or politics been similar, perhaps the two publications could have existed in relatively friendly competition; after all, not all publications ended up as implacable foes. The centrality of the editors to the dispute, however, implicated not only the ideals of the periodicals involved, but their entire identity and, by extension, that of their audiences. By singling out North for criticism as he did, Scott was attacking the core of the Blackwood’s brand, the figure whose discourse is the focus of the entire publication. Such an attack could not be allowed to go unanswered, and Blackwood’s was bound to respond.
None of this is meant to justify the duel or the results, only to show how the events of that foggy evening had their roots in the shifting print market of the period. While the appearance of intimacy in periodicals would eventually fade, replaced by the mass press of the Victorians, for a time, a clear desire to connect to readers on a more personal level still remained, even as the number of readers, and the competition for their attention, rapidly multiplied. It is that paradox of the intimate and the commercial – and the attempt to reconcile it – that the editor figures represent. They were caught between older conceptions of the periodical press and an expanding market full of voracious readers, and it is that tension that the Scott-Christie duel reveals. Whatever other motives the participants may have had, the duel was, at least in part, initiated by the conflict between the styles and editor figures of the London and Blackwood’s, and those tragic events offer insight into a moment of transition, when readers and editors alike moved towards a dimly understood future, their eyes still firmly locked on the past.
Chris Lendrum is a Part-time Professor at the University of Ottawa, where he recently completed his dissertation, "Periodical Performance": The Editor Figure in Early Nineteenth-Century Literary Magazines.
For more on the events of the duel, see Jones 605-29 and Zeitlin 328-54. Most critics consider the duel to be, at least in part, a dispute over the honour and integrity of literature itself, but others, such as Mark Parker and Gregory Dart, have examined the aspirations – both literary and social – of the participants and their publications. See Parker 20-27 and Dart 151.
See Murphy 630-41 and Parker 20-29.
The editor of the “New Series” remains unknown. Felix Sper has named Dr George Croly as the Monthly's editor until January 1826, with Laman Blanchard serving as subeditor through the 1820s. The Oxford Dictionary of Literary Biography, however, suggests that Croly was actually a contributor to Blackwood's Edinburgh Magazine through the 1820s and possibly even the editor of the New Monthly Magazine, making his involvement with the Monthly Magazine unlikely. Even if Croly had been able to balance so many demanding positions (and their vastly different political agendas), the third volume of the Monthly's New Series would have been published after the period that Sper identifies as that of Croly's editorship. See Sper 29 and Hayden 58.
See Altick 391-96.
Charles Knight, for instance, estimated that while his Penny Magazine had sales of 200,000, its readership was closer to a million, all of whom were “anxiously desirous to obtain knowledge in a condensed, and, in most cases, systematic form” (1). Other, more expensive publications likely saw an even greater ratio of readers to purchasers: as a correspondent in an 1821 article in the Monthly Magazine relates, “magazine societies” of ten or twelve members would each contribute their share of a set of monthly publications (“Facts Relative” 397-8).
The "Mohocks" of the title were a gang (which took its name from the Mohawk Indians) that terrorized London in the early eighteenth century. Scott also alludes to their appearance in one of Addison's Spectator essays, where the Mohocks prey on the innocent and weak; see The Spectator, n. 347.
Altick, Richard D. The English Common Reader: A Social History of the Mass Reading Public 1800-1900. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1957. Print.
Anderson, Benedict. Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism. Revised Edition. London and New York: Verso, 2002. Print.
“Another Tête-a-Tête with the Public.” Blackwood’s Edinburgh Magazine 8 (February 1821): 529-35. Print.
Boyce, George, James Curran and Pauline Wingate, eds. Newspaper History: from the 17th Century to the Present Day. London: Constable, 1978. Print.
Dart, Gregory. “Romantic Cockneyism: Hazlitt and the Periodical Press.” Romanticism 6.2 (2000): 143-162. Print.
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