'Laws were made to be broken'
In this display we celebrated 200 years of 'Blackwood's Magazine', Edinburgh's influential periodical which published the works of many great writers.
Ran 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.