William Tait, the recipient of James Browne’s letter in 1835, founded Tait’s Edinburgh Magazine in 1832, claiming that “there is a demand at this time for a magazine of liberal principles, of independent spirit… bringing out the sympathies of mankind” . A strong supporter of the Whig party and a member of the Edinburgh Citizens’ Society that provided hospitality to prominent Radical figures such as Daniel O’Connell, Tait was deeply sympathetic towards the push for reform; that his magazine was founded in the same year that saw the passing of the landmark 1832 Great Reform Act was no coincidence.

The attached essay to Browne’s letter, entitled ‘the Spirit of the Time’ which “traces a fitful, tempestuous half-century of political liberalization from American Independence to the present Reform crisis” , was first published within the April edition of Tait’s 1832 series, and the original article was more extensive that Browne’s extract (likely because Browne’s excerpt was crammed onto one side of parchment!). Browne copied up to the penultimate line of the fourth page of the article (“perfidy, too, did its part”), therefore covering the American War of Independence, the French Revolution and Europe’s reaction to it, and Napoleon’s rise to power and his subsequent fall from grace. The article continues past Browne’s extract by stating that although “rivers of blood had apparently been poured out in vain” over the Napoleonic Wars, these sacrifices were not fruitless but rather saw that the monarchy could never be “re-constituted on its ancient principles; aristocracy received a blow from which it could never recover… and the abominably iniquitous principle of primogeniture… [was] forever abrogated” . This new order asserted its legacy, since “the generation which grew up in the course of its progress became unconsciously the inheritors of its principles… persons who are… resolute to maintain and defend all the great interests its created” . The piece also comments on the suicide of Viscount Castlereagh, announcing that although through his work the “old Bourbon incubus” was restored in France, his death saw the demise of “the system of Pitt… [and the] Holy Alliance” , before finally subsequently turning to the July Revolution of 1830. The Revolution established the July Monarchy of Louis Philippe I, who promised to follow a characteristically centrist juste milieu (‘happy medium’) form of rule. This is something that Tait’s clearly supported within the early 1830s, expressing “confidence in our present rulers” , especially since the House of Lords was characteristically hostile to the passing of the 1832 Reform Act, in opposition to what the article deemed to be the “united wishes of the King, the Commons, and the people” .

Tait’s was conceived as a “Radical riposte” to Blackwood’s Magazine, a Tory-supporting publication which itself was borne out of a need to counter the Whiggish Edinburgh Review. This appears to be best illustrated through articles such as that which focuses on Manchester, a place which, the piece professes, “the public are very imperfectly acquainted” . Within this case study, the author charts the anti-Radical sentiment of the city in the late 18th century, with the people “all staunch Church-and-King men, who took great delight in hunting through the streets, hooting and abusing any poor reformer of that day” , as well as the tussles that occurred within the early 19th century between the Conservative and Radicals (or, as the article somewhat sarcastically labels them, the “respectables” and the “disaffected”). The piece also covers the Peterloo Massacre of August 1819 and the public reformist meetings that were arranged upon the success of the 1830 July Revolution in France .

One particularly interesting additional inclusion within the article, however, is that it despite it clearly carrying pro-reformist messages the piece explicitly condemns Radicalism as a movement. For instance, when discussing the political parties of Manchester, they deem the Radicals to be “led by imprudent and violent individuals, and have done much to being political public meetings into disrepute” . I find this especially significant because of the nature of Tait’s as a Radical publication; it seems odd that a magazine that endorses Radical politics would permit the inclusion of an article that so evidently criticises the makeup of the movement and their impact. This decision may have been made for several reasons. Firstly, although the article does not favour Radicalism in terms of its composition, it is clearly sympathetic to the reformist agenda and thus correlates largely with the aims of Radicalism as a movement; Tait may have overlooked this short passage in favour of the wider message. Secondly, Tait may have actively distinguished between working-class Radicals and their representatives in Parliament. Radical MPs could not have been credibly labelled as “imprudent or violent individuals”, and so the editorial position of the magazine could have been to support Radicalism as a political ideology advocated within Parliament by elected officials, but to distance themselves from its working-class body. I find this interpretation not to be particularly convincing though, not least because the distinction between Radical MPs and their working-class constituents/supporters was not always tidy; Scottish Radical MP Joseph Hume, (who, with the support of Tait, established the Calton Martyrs Monument beginning in 1837) was a proponent of militant Radicalism through his early support of the London Working Men’s Association, alongside his formation of the Radical Constitutional newspaper in 1836 . Thirdly, it is possible that Tait allowed its inclusion for tactical benefit on two fronts, both of which pertain to Tait’s readership; although he was an “independent radical” , Tait was also explicit in his desire for his magazine not to express allegiance to any one political party. Tait may have seen the article’s slander on the Manchester Radicals as motivation to prove wrong their assumptions on those with Radical beliefs and consequently inspire, rather than diminish, the Radical cause (this may have been left to the individual in terms of what their reaction consisted of – namely, either to reject the labels of imprudence and violence and pursue their Radical beliefs through a more moderate methodology, or to proudly adopt such branding and wield it within their struggle). In tandem, although the piece lambasts Radicalism, it is much more glowing in its assessment of Liberalism. Since the readership of Tait’s also consisted of a large number of Whig and Liberal Party supporters, the decision to retain this passage of the article could have been made in a bid to reconcile the makeup of the various pro-reformist parties together and unite them in a common front against the Tories. This is especially pertinent since the Lichfield House Compact, which had been passed in the same year, was an agreement made by the Radicals and the Irish Repeal Party to act as one political body against Tory opposition. Tait may have been trying to employ a similar tactic through his retention of this article.

Notable contributors to the magazine included John Stuart-Mill, Thomas Caryle, Sir Edwin Chadwick and Sir William Molesworth . But although the magazine clearly encouraged writers both Scottish and otherwise to contribute, Odile Boucher Rivalain in article ‘Reviewing Radical Poetry in Tait’s Edinburgh Magazine and The Westminster Review in the 1830s and 1840s’ observes that Tait’s could not deny its inherent Scottishness. This may have “irritated” the young Radicals who had associated themselves with the early Westminster Review but became disillusioned with it after it fell into financial difficulties in 1828 and was eventually sold to another interested party. This in turn prompted the formation of the London Review, which was financially backed by Molesworth . As Rivalain’s piece explicates, the establishment of the London Review enabled reviews of ‘Radical Poetry’ to come to the forefront, which had been previously ignored by its predecessor . Through the publication of seminal articles, Tait’s “had already drawn the focus of the public to this type of poetry” . But although Tait’s was the “champion” of Radical Poetry within the 1830s, the London Review also made a distinct effort to prioritise literature that “[awakened] man’s moral conscience… and [motivated] him to adopt a responsible attitude and play an active part in society” .

Tait’s combined with Johnstone's Edinburgh Magazine in 1834, a publication initiated by John and Christian Isobel Johnstone which itself was founded in 1832, in light of the developments surrounding the Great Reform Act. James Bertram, in his Some Memories of Books, Authors, and Events, labels Mrs Johnstone as the “working genius” of the magazine, who “passed judgement on the articles offered and… [contributed] both in fiction and criticism” . Johnstone, in keeping with the progressive stance of Tait’s, was also an early feminist, and it was rumoured that although her husband had agreed with William Blackwood (the owner of the politically conservative Blackwood’s Magazine) to engage in a joint venture to buy the copyright of the Edinburgh Weekly Chronicle, the agreement was eventually called off because of their contrasting political opinions . Other corollaries that occurred as a result of the merger of Johnstone’s and Tait’s were a reduction in price to the magazine, as keeping with the wishes of the Johnstones that it could be available to as wide a sect of the public as possible, alongside the significant fact that Mrs Johnstone became “the first woman to serve as paid editor of a major Victorian periodical” .

Lastly, it is worth mentioning that in the same year that Johnstone became editor of the magazine, Tait’s was also intimately involved with accusations made by Peter MacKenzie to Alexander Richmond. As discussed in my post on Richmond, MacKenzie attacked Richmond on various charges, such as but not limited to the claims that Richmond fabricated the entire plot and that he specifically acted as an agent provocateur. Tait’s published the last of MacKenzie’s books – namely The Exposure of the Spy System - outlining these accusations; Richmond in return “raised an action against Tait’s London booksellers, Simpson and Marshall” , but Richmond was nonsuited in the trial, and hence the defence was successful .