'Laws were made to be broken'
We celebrate 200 years of 'Blackwood's Magazine', Edinburgh's influential periodical which published the works of many great writers. From 30 March to 2 July 2017.
Highlights from the National Library of Scotland's 'Blackwood's Magazine' archive are on display to tell the story of the magazine.
'Blackwood's Magazine at 200' includes a copy of the first ever issue from 200 years ago. The display also features a 1918 edition, which saved the life of a First World War soldier by absorbing the impact of a bullet.
Published in Edinburgh between 1817 and 1980, 'Maga' — as it became known — ran for much longer than most periodicals of its kind, and attracted literary talents across centuries. Its popularity across Britain's colonies ensured it had a global reach.
The early days
Founded by the publisher William Blackwood, 'Edinburgh Monthly Magazine' was launched on 1 April 1817, and featured a title page image of the 16th-century Scottish historian George Buchanan.
The new magazine aimed to challenge the dominance of Archibald Constable's Whig-supporting periodicals such as the 'Edinburgh Review' and 'Scots Magazine'.
With low sales, Blackwood's initial venture was not successful.
Lawsuits and controversies
Re-launched in October 1817 as 'Blackwood's Edinburgh Magazine', the periodical began to scandalise and captivate readers with its critical essays and reviews.
A number of lawsuits were brought against the magazine for its personal attacks on public figures.
In the years after its relaunch, the magazine became a platform for many literary talents, publishing work by writers including:
- James Hogg
- John Galt
- Margaret Oliphant
- George Eliot.
For its 1,000th edition in 1899, 'Blackwood's' serialised Joseph Conrad's 'Heart of darkness'. During the First World War, the magazine published John Buchan's 'The thirty-nine steps' for the first time.
'Blackwood's' and war
During the First World War, 'Blackwood's' published stories that reflected the global conflict.
The magazine also saved lives. In 1841, a copy took the brunt of a sword blow in the Afghan War, turning a fatal strike into a superficial one. In 1918, a copy in the breast pocket of an officer's jacket absorbed the impact of a bullet.
The end of the magazine
'Blackwood's' continued publication through most of the 20th century until it ceased in 1980.
A fall in readership combined with stiff competition from emerging illustrated journals caused the magazine to close.
In 1942, the Library acquired the extensive archive of William Blackwood & Sons — the publishing company begun by William Blackwood in 1804.