Scotch Reviewers: The Edinburgh Review, 1802-1815

Scotch Reviewers: The Edinburgh Review, 1802-1815

Scotch Reviewers: The Edinburgh Review, 1802-1815

Scotch Reviewers: The Edinburgh Review, 1802-1815

Excerpt

John Stuart Mill recalls in his Autobiography that before his father launched his formidable attack on the Whig party and its chief literary organ, the Edinburgh Review, to appear in the first number of its Benthamite rival, the Westminster, he made his son, then seventeen years old, 'read through all the volumes of the Review, or as much of each as seemed of any importance . . . and make notes for him of the articles which I thought he would wish to examine, either on account of their good or their bad qualities'. Writing almost half a century later, Mill adds that in 1823 this was 'not so arduous a task . . . as it would be now'. The author of the present work on the early years of the Edinburgh Review (1802-1815) cannot help feeling somewhat sheepish in thus submitting the results of a task so lacking in arduousness; and can only comfort himself with the thought that, unlike his illustrious predecessor, he did not begin the study of Greek at the age of three.

The hazards of writing about periodical literature are many. One tends to take the articles too seriously, forgetting that they were often dashed off in great haste by authors more interested in supplying a manuscript on time than in standing its test. Nothing is simpler than to construct consistent systems of thought and seemingly harmonious lines of development out of the mass of available material. On the other hand, nothing is more dangerous. For almost every assertion a contradiction may be found, if the search be diligent enough. And there is not a great deal to be gained in confronting a quarterly publication with its own contradictions.

Another temptation, difficult to avoid, is that of merely presenting a summary of a few significant articles. Perhaps the best . . .

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