LORD  BYRON  and  his  TIMES
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Blackwood’s Magazine, the London Magazine, and the Scott-Christie Duel.
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While periodical quarrels could be vicious it was not often that they terminated in a homicide. Such was the outcome when John Scott, editor of the London Magazine, died of wounds received in the February 1821 duel at Chalk Farm.  While Scott is understandably remembered as the victim in the affair it was he who initiated the literary quarrel with Blackwood’s and he who issued the challenge that resulted in his death.  Because he recorded each step in the conflict it is possible from the documents to reconstruct in detail the sad history of the affair.

Scott was born in Aberdeen in 1784; Byron was for a time his schoolmate before Scott (four years his senior) went on to study at Marischal College. He emigrated to London where edited the Champion newspaper from 1814, though it was with the London Magazine, founded in 1820, that he made his reputation.  Scott was a skillful editor who enlisted Charles Lamb and William Hazlitt among his contributors.  His critical writings in both the Champion and the London Magazine berate what he regarded as decadence in contemporary poetry and are marked by a strong tone of moral self-righteousness.  This sense of righteousness seems to have provoked both the attack on Blackwood’s and the fatal challenge.

The first number of the London appeared in January 1820 and was immediately noticed by Blackwood’s, which commented that the new periodical in appearance and content seemed modeled on its northern rival (as was indeed the case).  Scott (writing anonymously as editors did) acknowledged as much in his March prefatory comment, but insisted that while he might emulate Blackwood’s in some things he would have nothing to do with its bad manners—the “personality” that so many readers (especially Whigs like Scott) found objectionable.  He returned to this theme in his “Town Conversations” column in May, taking aim at John Gibson Lockhart’s “Cockney Poetry” series, objecting to “the shabby spite of Z. ”whose dirty bait, held out to the popular greediness for slander, the publisher has perhaps found useful, though Scottish anglers are accustomed to pursue nobler sport in a cleaner manner.”

The ensuing conflict was perhaps inevitable.  Blackwood’s attacks on the “Cockneys,” while politically motivated, were also intended to represent the English metropolis as a kind of self-absorbed cultural backwater in comparison to enlightened Edinburgh.  Scott, whose article defending Cockneys (January 1821) indicates that he did not understand the point of this, was both offended by the attacks on London literati and the attempt to appropriate the Enlightenment mantle by a group of Edinburgh Tories.  Matters had plainly gone too far when John Wilson, one of the chief Blackwood’s wits, was appointed to the chair of Moral Philosophy at Edinburgh University.

He responded with the “Blackwood’s Magazine” article that appeared in the London for November 1820.  No longer were Blackwood’s personal attacks on Scottish Whigs and Cockney writers to be dismissed as poor taste and bad manners:  they are criminal assaults on decent people and an affront to literature itself.  The effect of the Blackwood’s “system” was to threaten all of periodical journalism by corrupting a scandal-loving public.  Among its most egregious crimes was Blackwood’s habit of attaching person’s names to articles they did not write, and alternately savaging and commending the objects of their criticism.  The angry tone of Scott’s article drew a rebuke from William Jerdan in the Literary Gazette.

To Jerdan, Scott  insultingly replied in December:  “If some one does not interfere to arrest the progress of this gang, who will be safe? Every created being cannot retreat into its own littleness, like the individuals of the animalcule tribe.”  While other editors cowered in fear of the bullies, he, and he alone, would and could turn the public against the mockers of the North.  For the most part Blackwood’s held fire, though William Maginn (writing as “Olinthus Petre”) responded in a letter to Christopher North:  “You are quite above the range of such paper-shot as this. He must be blind indeed, who does not see, that the virtuous indignation of the writer against the sins, negligences, and offences of your Magazine, would have slept in peace, had they not been committed by a rival, as it is probable the unfortunate scribblers about Baldwin’s have the vanity to consider you to be” (November 1820).

By then, Blackwood’s had become for John Scott a kind of Tar-baby: he could not let it alone and the more he pursued the attack the more he became enmeshed in the very “system” he had set out to destroy.  The results may be seen in his published remarks.  If he was able to expose some of Blackwood’s deceptive practices he was tripped up by others, assuming, for instance, the the Edinburgh publication was under the control of an editor like himself, and misreading the pseudonyms.  Still worse, he fell into the very practices he was condemning, puffing his own writings under an assumed identity, indulging in “personality,” and issuing threats of reprisals.  Worst of all perhaps were his attacks on Sir Walter Scott, whom he mistakenly assumed was writing for Blackwood’s.

John Scott’s criticism of Blackwood’s culminated in two substantial articles, “The Mohock Magazine” and “The Mohocks” (December 1820; January 1821) containing further specifics gleaned from Thomas Pringle, one of the original editors of Blackwood’s, and Edinburgh Whigs.  In the “Lion’s Head” column for January he declares victory in his cause—prematurely, but not without reason.  William Blackwood was continuing to pay damages to persons his contributors had slandered, and John Murray had been shamed into dropping his connection with Blackwood’s.  Professor John Leslie of Edinburgh had brought suit over the “Olinthus Petre” article, one immediate result of which was that John Gibson Lockhart’s name had been revealed in public documents.  Sir Walter Scott was known to be counseling his new son-in-law to stop the attacks in Blackwood’s, and John Scott implies that should that fail, he had dirt on Sir Walter that he was willing to publish.  Should the Author of Waverley be laid low, the Whigs would triumph indeed.

But Scott had over-reached.  Not only had he mistaken Blackwood’s comparative forbearance for acquiescence, he had called out Lockhart by name and upon his denial that he was the editor of the periodical had branded him a liar in insulting and unequivocal terms:  “for all the professions of a merry, careless temper, by which it has been attempted to characterize the publication he conducts, have evidently been intended to cover an organized plan of fraud, calumny, and cupidity. The cowardice which denies a perpetrated wrong, is the natural associate of such qualities”  (“The Mohocks”).  A challenge was sent forthwith and Lockhart travelled to London to demand satisfaction.

From this point ensued a series of mishaps leading to the fatal result.  The story is told in the Statements Scott and Lockhart prepared for the press, Scott striving to uphold his unsubstantiated charges while avoiding the consequence of a loss of face.  While it would seem that Scott had invited the challenge (possibly with encouragement from Hazlitt), it also seems that he did not know what to do when it came.  Perhaps he recalled too late that he had a dependent wife and children, perhaps he had a loss of nerve.  He might have handled the situation as Samuel Johnson had on an earlier occasion, by threatening to take the law on his opponent.  Instead he did as Macvey Napier had done when challenged by Lockhart and Wilson in connection with Hypocrisy Unveiled (1818): he published the correspondence.  But Scott’s identity, unlike Napier’s, was known, and rather than mock his opponent Scott attempted to justify his actions and deny Lockhart the status of a gentleman.

In response to Scott’s first Statement, Lockhart printed his own version of events (no copy of which seems to have survived) but due to some confusion Scott was sent a version omitting the unequivocal statement that Lockhart had received no payment for the management of Blackwood’s Magazine. (He had, of course, been well paid for his contributions; the point at issue was whether he was paid as editor.) In his Second Statement Scott took advantage of this to once more deny Lockhart a meeting.  In the meantime, Lockhart returned to Scotland unaware that a deficient copy of his statement had been sent to Scott. Undergoing abuse from the Edinburgh Whigs, he reprinted his account in a pamphlet entitled Statement, taking further notice of Scott’s prevarications.  At this point Scott issued his own challenge, not to Lockhart but to Lockhart’s second, Jonathan Christie.  In the usual course of things, Christie should have been negotiating with Scott’s seconds, but there Scott there had been doubly unfortunate: his first second, Horace Smith, absented himself at a critical moment while his second second, P. G. Patmore, seems not to have understood his business.

Christie proceeded to give Scott the “satisfaction” Scott had denied to Lockhart.  They met at Chalk Farm on 16 February 1821.  At the drop of the handkerchief Christie deliberately fired wide, while Scott missed his shot.  The proceedings should have ended there, but instead the seconds prepared for another round; this time Christie defended himself, mortally wounding Scott, who died eleven days later.  An inquest was held and Christie brought to trial where he was acquitted by the jury.

While the public was shocked and those involved in the duel much chastened, nothing much came of the event, at least in the short term.  Blackwood’s continued to publish “personality” and Lockhart continued to contribute, though more occasionally and with less venom.  The London Magazine passed into the hands of John Taylor and continued to thrive for a time.  The warfare between Whig and Tory periodicals went on unabated, as did the practice of anonymous and pseudonymous authorship.  Byron, in part because he was persuaded that Robert Southey was responsible for reviews that Southey did not write, prepared to return to England for a meeting.  While it might be difficult to discern, all seem to have believed that there was a line that periodical vituperation could not cross without consequences.  If the Blackwood’s-London Magazine documents shed little light on where such a line was drawn, they do illustrate the consequences of crossing it.

David Hill Radcliffe

Anonymous, “Notices to Correspondents,” in Blackwood’s Magazine 6 (January 1820) 464
John Scott, “Editor’s Notice” in The London Magazine 1 (February 1820) 120
John Scott, “Lord Byron; the Magazines,” in The London Magazine 1 (May 1820) 492-97
John Gibson Lockhart, “Prometheus Unbound,” in Blackwood’s Magazine 7 (September 1820) 679-87
John Scott, “Blackwood’s Magazine,” in The London Magazine 2 (November 1820) 509-21
William Maginn, “Letter from Dr. Olinthus Petre” Blackwood’s Magazine 7 (November 1820) 207-09
[William Jerdan], “Mr. Hogg and the Edinburgh Review,” in Literary Gazette (18 November 1820) 746
John Scott, “The Mohock Magazine,” in The London Magazine 2 (December 1820) 666-85
John Scott, “The Lion’s Head,” in The London Magazine 3 (January 1821) 2-3
John Scott, “Cockney Writers,” in The London Magazine 3 (January 1821) 69-71
John Scott, “The Mohocks,” in The London Magazine 3 (January 1821) 76-77
John Scott, Statement, &c. (1821)
John Scott, Second Statement (1821)
Timothie Twaddeltone, Gent., Ane True ande most Dolourous Historie. (1821)
John Gibson Lockhart, Statement. (1821)
Anonymous, “Duel,” in The Examiner (25 February 1821) 125
Anonymous, “The Lion’s Head,” in The London Magazine 3 (March 1821) 243
Anonymous, “Accidents, Offences, &c.,” in The Examiner (4 March 1821) 143
Anonymous, “The Lion’s Head,” in The London Magazine 3 (April 1821) 359
Anonymous, “Old Bailey,” in The Examiner (15 April 1821) 239
Horace Smith, “A Graybeard’s Gossip about his Literary Acquaintance,” in New Monthly Magazine 81 (December 1847) 415-24