Art. VIII. – BEGINNINGS OF THE SCOTTISH NEWSPAPER PRESS.,Vol. 21, Apr., 1893, pp.399-419.

HAVING shown how Scotland came to possess a newspaper press, which dared scarce venture beyond a slavish reproduction of English originals,1 I have now to describe with what slow and hesitating steps a native journalism emerged. It is a day of small things – of feeble aspirations and endeavours meeting with almost instant overthrow – but that is a characteristic of the times in many more matters than the one now under consideration. Between 1660 and 1700, forty years, there were exactly three attempts made to found a Scottish newspaper, in only one of which can it be said that the attempt was justified by its results; yet we cease to feel surprised when we learn from the Records of the Convention of Royal Burghs,2 so admirably edited by Sir James Marwick, that in 1792 the total tonnage of the port of Leith was about equal to that of one medium-sized, modern screw-steamer! 

While the Kingdom’s Intelligencer, of southern origin, was still being printed in Edinburgh, there appeared the Mercurius Caledonius, which has been termed ‘the first original newspaper attempted in Scotland.’ In a previous article I pointed out that in some respects precedence should be given to the Faithful Intelligencer of 1659. The latter, however, must be regarded as the spasmodic effort of a Roundhead officer, eager to dissipate the ‘sad and infamous scandals’ which had assailed his party, while Caledonius represented an attempt to establish a permanent Scottish newspaper in Scotland. Its author was Thomas St. Serfe, Sydeserf, or Sydserf, a son of a bishop who successively occupied the sees of Brechin, Galloway and Orkney. Described by Keith as ‘a learned and worthy prelate,’ he is said to have been excommunicated by the General Assembly in 1638, and in 1662, after surviving all the turmoils of internecine strife – the  only Scottish bishop to do so – to have received reward for consistant loyalty to Episcopacy and the Stuarts in a translation of the ultima Thule of Orkney. Thomas also had a chequered life his secular habit affording him the opportunity of playing in more varied if not more distinguished parts than his reverend father could aspire to. History or tradition has given us but few traces of his shuttle-cock career, but they are unanimous in bodying him forth as a miniature Zimri:- 

‘Everything by starts and nothing long.’

As a soldier he appears bearing arms under Montrose, and his vicissitudes, while serving his Majesty in the north, afterwards extorted from him ‘great thankfulness’ for ‘the many reliefs, shelters and protections’ he had received from the family of George, Marquis of Huntly. We next find him in London in 1658, engaged as a literary hack, and making a translation from the French entitled ‘Entertainments from the Cours, or Academicall Conversations.’ Three years later he turns up in Edinburgh, spouting Latin quotation and Royalist nonsense in the narrow columns of Mercurius Caledonius. Then, in 1668, he is again in London, where he prints what he calls his ‘comical trifle,’ or ‘a new toot on an old horn,’ a comedy named ‘Tarugo’s Wiles, or the Coffee-House.’ Finally, in 1669, he is once more in Edinburgh, supervising the production of his play and trailing before the High Court of Justiciary one Mungo Murray, who had dramatically interrupted a rehearsal in the Canongate theatre by rushing on Sydserf with a drawn sword, and threatening there and then to end the topsy-turveydom of his life. Murray is bound over to keep the peace and, so far as posterity is concerned, this is the last scene in the ‘trifle’ of a biography which Sydserf’s contemporaries have bequeathed. Of the man’s character, more perhaps is revealed in his scribblings than in these incidents of his restless versatility. Principal Bailie has a casual allusion to him as ‘a very rascal,’ and ‘a profane, atheistical papist.’ Hard-hitting was the privilege of the period, and we must take these expressions cum grano salis. If Sydserf were a rascal, he could never, judging him by what is known, have been a great one, and Presbyterians have now outgrown the illogical bitterness which confounded papists with atheists and bracketted them in a common doom. In truth, the cessation of hostilities seems to have reduced our ‘diurnaller’ to the necessity of living by his wits, and he chose a literary by-path, with all the humiliations it entailed, of begging a few crumbs of favour at the doors of greatness. Thus his dedication of the Entertainments to the young Marquis of Montrose is a reminder of his former services to ‘King and country,’ under the unfortunate wearer of the title; while in inscribing Tarugo’s Wiles to the Marquis of Huntly, he proves that the crutch on which often before he has leant, is not yet broken by long use. It must be admitted that Sydserf was well endowed with those subservient qualities which make the admirable parasite. His suppleness of knee is extraordinary. When in Caledonius he sings the praises of royalty, it is with disgusting effusiveness, and when, with cap in hand, he craves the forbearance of the crowd in the Duke of York’s theatre, one is almost as much offended by the deprecating humility of his tone. Thus in the prologue to Tarugo’s Wiles he says:- 

‘’Tis a stranger that presents the play,

Stranger to our language, learning and rhyme;

and in the epilogue:- 

   ‘All the clap he expects from you is not to be hist and say with an indifferent grimasse, ’tis well enough for a novice. 

If this prevail not he hopes he’s safe from danger,

For Wit and Malice ought not to reach a stranger.’

Whether or not this dull and dirty and utterly incomprehensible production (of which a copy may be found in the Advocates’ Library), was awarded the ‘indifferent grimasse’ its author begged has never been made known; it is certainly too contemptible a performance to have either inspired wit or provoked malice to slay it with an epigram. Such was the man who undertook to bring out ‘Mercurius Caledonius comprising the Affairs now in Agitation in Scotland with a Survey of Foreign Intelligence.’ The first number, printed on the ordinary small quarto page, is dated from Monday, December 31, 1660, to Tuesday, January 8, 1661, and at the outset we get a full-flavoured specimen of the author’s sentiments:- ‘Our clouds are dissipate, the rayes of Royalty, dart from the breasts of Scots-men, not being in the power of the most skilful Artificers of Treason to stave off our Allegiance, which was bravely manifested in the reception of His Majestie’s High Commissioner, the Earl of Middleton,’ etc. So begins a description of the opening of Parliament in uncouth phrase, which has not even the merit of being grammatical, and in similar fashion the account closes: ‘And therefore the Blasphemers, Rumpers and other Antimonarchicall Vermin in England must cast about somewhere else then for companions in Scotland.’ These are samples sufficiently descriptive of Sydserf’s style, and one cannot wonder that douce Scotchmen with more than a hankering after what he clumsily derides as the original guilt of both Coooovænants,’ should have withheld their countenance from the hysterical ravings with which news taken bodily from the Kingdom’s Intelligencer was introduced to them. Unsuccessful appeals for advertisements were made, and then, after about a dozen appearances the Society of Stationers who had begun the publication ceased to issue it. 

The first distinctively Scottish news-sheet having thus died a natural death, there was a lapse of well-nigh twenty years before any person had the courage to tackle the difficult enterprise of providing the Scottish capital with a record of its own and the world’s doings. At length, in 1680 – I speak on the authority of George Chalmers, who got his information at second-hand – the heirs of A. Anderson printed an Edinburgh Gazette in the last month of the year. Two numbers were evidently issued, and then we lose trace of this ill-starred venture. Once more we have to pass over two silent decades until we reach a period of revival, though it is scarcely credible that throughout those long intervals there was not even an occasional local broadsheet to supplement the news-sheets of English origin. It is usual to account for the dearth by observing that the Scotch were then too poor to maintain a home ‘organ,’ and quite indifferent whether the sheet they did buy was printed in London or Edinburgh, since, if the latter were the case, the product must be a wholesale ‘crib’ from south country publications, with only here and there an item of news that would be the towns-talk probably long before, in a skeletonized form, it got the length of type and ink. These considerations have a just claim on attention, but without them there is, I think, an adequate cause to be found in the despotic supervision of the Privy Council. It is remarkable that the only Scottish journalism, in those early days, which lived and flourished, originated about the period of the Union with England. After this pregnant event, control of the city press passed to the magistrates, and henceforth, while there are several indications that the bad old spirit has only become less able and not less willing to oppress, we hear no more of ruthless suspensions of the press for offences that dwindle down to mouse-like insignificance alongside the elephantine proportions of the punishment they provoked. In 1699 there was a gentleman living in Edinburgh named James Donaldson, who, during the troubles of 1689, burning with a thirst for military renown, had wasted his substance in raising a company of foot with which to join the Earl of Angus. Seriously wounded at Killiecrankie, and a prisoner in Blair Castle before the campaign ended, he returned to Edinburgh with broken fortune to recommence his mercantile pursuits. A man of such a flighty temperament, and having so many traits in common with his light-headed predecessor, could only by a miracle have succeeded in business, and accordingly he resorted to plan after plan to bring grist to the mill for the support of himself and his ‘numerous family.’ He got the Privy Council to give him a patent for the manufacture of firearms, but there is indubitable evidence that the ill-luck which dogged him throughout discouraged his friends and thwarted his own efforts. It is thoroughly characteristic of this eighteenth century Micawber, that when he applied to the Council in a literary rôle, and solicited their help, he had a double object in view. First of all he asked leave to continue the publication of ‘ane Gazette,’ ‘containing ane abridgement of fforaigne newes, together with the occurrances at home,’ of which, his petition says, he ‘actually hath published one or two to see how it may be liked, and so far as he could understand the project was approven of by very many.’3 Next he requested an act to print burial letters, recommended to their lordships and the lieges by ‘the decency and ornament of a border of skeletons, mortheads, and other emblems of mortality, which the petitioner hath so contrived that it may be added or abstracted at pleasure.’ Both petitions were granted; the former, on condition that the Gazette should be under the censorship of ‘a particular person,’ appointed by the licensers; the second, with the gratifying announcement that for the space of nineteen years Donaldson or his heirs and ‘assigneyes’ should alone benefit by the use of his ghastly contrivance. The Edinburgh Gazette – the title has survived as that of the official organ of the Government in Scotland, and has had the merit of being associated with a post created by the Whigs in 1806 for Dugald Stewart – made its appearance on 2nd March, 1699, and was probably printed twice a week (by James Watson) on Mondays or Tuesdays and Thursdays. I have seen only one copy. It is on a folio sheet, is dated from Thursday, March 23, to Monday, March 27, 1699, and is numbered 8. In addition to a royal proclamation adjourning Parliament to 14th June, it contains several despatches from abroad, and a local communication announcing joyful tidings of the Darien expedition, and telling how for this cause, the ministers in the city and suburbs had returned ‘publick and hearty thanks to Almighty God.’ For some years, except for a brush with the Privy Council, which gave him a short acquaintance with the Tolbooth; the cause being his ‘printing several things in his Gazette which were not truths, and for which he had no warrant;’ Donaldson carried on his paper without molestation; but early in 1705, greatly to his consternation, another Richard entered the field. The new-comer was one Adam Boig, who, in asking liberty to issue the Edinburgh Courant, told the Privy Council that his intention was to give ‘most of the remarkable foreign news from their prints, and also the home news from the ports within this kingdom, when ships comes and goes and from whence, which it is hoped will prove a great advantage to merchants and others within this nation (it being now altogether neglected).’4 The Council may have sympathized with Boig’s parenthetical slap at Donaldson, because they at once allowed him to print the sheet, ‘he always being answerable for the samen and for the news therein specified and set down.’ Forthwith came a succession of groans and lamentations from the ‘Gazetteer,’ who, believing that his license granted him a monopoly in news-mongering, petitioned for the instant suppression of his daring competitor. The petition, however, was dismissed, and we might have heard no more of Donaldson’s presumptuous claims but for an incident which involved both his rival and himself in disaster, and which, from the clear light it throws on the relations subsisting between administrators and the unhappy news-vendor, is worth giving at some length. One day in June, four months after the Courant began to trouble poor Donaldson, its author received the following curt request:- ‘Mr. Boig, insert the above advertisement in this day’s Courant, for your friend, Ev. MacIver.’ Mr. Boig was no doubt exceedingly anxious, like his descendants, to make his paper ‘the greatest advertising medium of the age;’ but unhappily the paragraph in question referred to a pamphlet with the alarming title, ‘Scotland reduced by force of Arms and made a Province of England,’ which just at this moment was disturbing the minds of Privy Councillors. For his criminal neglect, Boig immediately suffered – the Courant was suppressed; yet in order that Donaldson might not vaingloriously exult over having escaped sinning when the very temptation to sin had avoided him, the Gazette was also summarily stopped. Now commenced a round of petitioning and counter-petitioning, of citing and hearing and replying, of delegating to committees and reporting by committees, and of discussing and resolving on the part of Donaldson and Boig, and the Council, about that wicked little advertisement and its momentous results, such as the world never before had witnessed. ‘The ball was opened,’ as the phrase goes, by the unfortunate offender-in-chief, who, bending a suppliant knee, protests his ‘great grief’ at the inadvertence, (later on it swells to the dimensions of ‘a crime’), and begs the removal of what if continued will certainly prove his entire ruin. Boig’s adversity is Donaldson’s opportunity, and he comes forward with a prayer of many clauses, chief of which is that the Courant may take end, cease and determine. His reasons are numerous, the most important being that Boig had undersold him, had unfairly influenced the news-sellers to refuse the Gazette, and had so rashly conducted the Courant as to bring the Gazette too into disrepute with the Privy Council and procure its stoppage. All this is the result of Boig’s ‘premeditat and designed endeavours’; but the ‘oblique consequences’ are still more disastrous. Boig’s success in obtaining license to issue the Courant after Donaldson’s long-continued belief that he alone had the right to print news, had quite shaken the confidence of the public in the virtue of all the latter’s patents. Wherefore, not only had some gentlemen with whom he had been contracting fought shy of the firearm factory scheme, but some Edinburgh printers had audaciously threatened to print his burial letters, with all their ornamental paraphernalia of skeletons and mortheads! Altogether, he says, ‘As your lordships cannot but perceive into what a labyrinth of difficulties, dangers and losses your petitioner is involved that he believes the like has scarcely happened to any man, so he is confident no man ever gave less ground of offence or envy all these methods which he has taken to earn bread, not having an existence when he applied for them, and consequently obtaining of his request wronged no men, and for that reason ought the less to be coveted by any.’ On the whole matter, he modestly asks renewal of his license to print the Gazette, confirmation of his other licenses, and recall of the act in Boig’s favour. Petition follows on petition and grave deliberation ensues, but finally on July 24th the Council grant leave for Donaldson to re-commence his publication. A month later Boig is cited to appear before a Committee to declare who were his partners in the carrying on of the Courant, Donaldson having averred that ‘several persons who bear him no good-will promise to assist Mr. Boig to a year’s expense of the Courant, that he may undersell, out-weary, and quite ruin your petitioner.’ To the Committee Boig, however, ‘declares he has no partners. As for the foreign news, he takes them from the prints. For the home news, he has them from persons concerned in the Custom Offices at the several ports, except Aberdeen, which he has from one Cruckshanks, who keeps a public coffee-house there. As to anything wherein the Government might be concerned, he waited on the clerks, only as to the advertisement concerning Mr. Hodge’s book he acknowledges he was imposed upon, and humbly begs pardon for it, and engages never to do the like for the future, and humbly begs that the lords, Her Majesty’s most honourable Privy Council, ‘will be pleased to take off the stop to publishing the Courant, which is the only means of his livelihood and subsistence.’ It was therefore recommended that the ‘stop’ should be taken off, ‘Adam Boig enacting himself never to publish anything concerning the Government till first it be revised by the Clerks of Council, and that under such penalty as the Lords of Privy Council shall think fit;’ and in terms of this recommendation their Lordships resolved. So once more we follow the humble journalist to the modicum of sunshine and fresh air permitted to him. 

At this point let me briefly allude to a mistake which often led Chalmers and his copyists astray, and caused needless confusion. The error lies in making the printing of a newspaper synonymous with its ownership. Again and again these historians find themselves confronted with a change in the imprint of a sheet, and immediately assume a transference of the property, notwithstanding that the assumption is followed by difficulties which all their ingenuity cannot solve. Thus Chalmers speaks – ‘On the first of February 1710 the Town Council authorised Mr. Daniel Defoe to print this paper in the place of the deceased Adam Boig, and prohibited any other person to print news under the name of the Edinburgh Courant.’ Then the antiquary shakes his head and adds, ‘Yet was this paper certainly printed by John Reid, Junr., in 1709 and in 1710 after the first of February.’ It is possible that in some cases in later days when a journal was for years in succession issued from the same printing-house, possession may have been gradually acquired; but at the time of which I write the author was undoubtedly the proprietor, or why those bitter cries of ‘utter ruin’ from Donaldson and Boig in face of a probable abolition of the rights vested in them? The question raised by the act in favour of Defoe is not so easily answered, seeing that Boig’s heirs might require to be dealt with; yet it is quite probable that the right (which I have indicated as a proprietorial one), was only in the nature of a life tenancy aut vitam aut culpam, with reversion to the governing or supervising body. Whatever might be the character of the ‘author’s’ interest, there is no proof that the printers of Edinburgh in the capacity of proprietors were for years engaged in novel game of ‘transference’; and thus, as printers of newspapers, the Watsons, the Reids, the Andersons and the Moncurs of the period have but a slight place in our survey. Watson may claim notice as a typographer who had an artist’s love for his work, but in the issuing of news-sheets, he and his confrères are only to be mentioned as having provided the mechanical means whereby others produced the leaflets which our great-great-grandfathers read with such an absorbed interest as our own grandly extended daily and evening press cannot evoke. The ‘authors,’ as they were called, are the personalities about whom we are curious – those workers with scissors and paste who when the rare duty presented itself, produced their quaintly worded paragraphs of ‘home news’ with a fearsome glancing toward the ruling powers that would be vastly entertaining in their modern representatives. If they were a dejected race sordid in their views, incapable of heroism, and destitute of education, they were the creatures of an uncongenial environment; and (with due respect to the art that made their occupation possible), it is from them and not from the printers of Edinburgh that Scottish journalism was slowly evolved. The rush-light they falteringly held was a puny, flickering thing, now and then guttering down to extinction. Still, it was a light, and with it stronger and manlier hands kindled a flame that hath searched into the dark places of the earth and turned prophecy into verity – 

‘There is nothing hid that shall not be revealed.’

The first number of the Courant came upon the scene on Monday, February 19, 1705, and afterwards the single folio sheet was regularly published on Mondays and Wednesdays until the issue of that never-to-be-forgotten advertisement in No. 54. This was on 25th June, and on 8th October there was sent out from the printing-office of A. Anderson’s heirs and successors, Courant No. 55, in which Boig, with a conscientiousness inimitable in our own day, gives ‘a short journal of the most considerable news’ since his lamentable deflection from the straight and narrow path of politic righteousness. On the contrast presented by the little sheet – both before its suspension and after its renewal – to a modern newspaper I need not enlarge. Of literary matter, using the phrase in a liberal sense, there is not a shred, not even an attempt at those partisan outbursts which gave a rough relish to the Commonwealth and Restoration prints. Foreign and English affairs occupy the greater part of the paper, and between them and the advertisements, is occasionally sandwiched an item of local interest. The first Courant is an exceedingly favourable specimen, for in it I find the extraordinary number of three such paragraphs – the indictment of Captain Green and the crew of the ship Worcester for piracy, an intimation of the trial of one Robert Pringle, a bank teller, for the theft of £425, and the arrival of a ship at Leith. I traced Captain Green through a succession of slowly progressing events, and learnt that he and two assistant pirates were executed at Leith. The matter is so sententiously stated in the Courant, but it is noticeable that in a day or two a broadsheet appeared, giving the ‘last words’ of the culprits.5 What a singular omission to fulfil the first duty of a faithful intelligencer, and lend piquancy to his dry-as-dust columns, did Boig here display! He succeeded, however, in one respect, in which Sydserf had signally failed; he began to obtain a goodly show of advertisements, and the time soon came when the space of the papers was pretty equally divided between the paragraphs which are the respective representatives of outlay and of income; such a division, indeed, as very few members of the daily press can now show, and still more in Boig’s favour, when we consider how inexpensive his correspondence must have been. One of the very first advertisement here observable awakes our admiration for the commercial instincts of a set of despised practitioners. It is that of a quack doctor. 

Probably the most prominent event in the history of the Courant of those early days is its connection with that prince of polemical journalists, Daniel Defoe. I have already given the summary of the terms of the appointment in 1710, quoted by Chalmers, and would not again have referred to them were it not that Mr. Lee, Defoe’s most patient biographer, has given the date as 1st February, 1711, on what grounds I cannot ascertain. The municipal o5rdinance has a truthful ring about it:- ‘At Edinburgh, the first day of February, jm vijc, and ten years. The same day the Council authorized Mr. Daniel Defoe to print the Edinburgh Courant, in place of the deceased Adam Boig, discharging hereby any other person to print news under the name of the Edinburgh Courant.’ There is plenty of confirmation of an inferential kind to be found. On No. 685 of the sheet (Jan. 25 to 27, 1710) is written in a contemporary hand below the imprint:- ‘This day the Couranteer dyed,’ and who could the ‘Couranteer’ be but Adam Boig? John Reid, Jr., continues for nearly two months afterwards to print the pages under its old title, but it is remarkable that the heading, ‘Published by Authority,’ has disappeared. On March 22nd, Reid commences the publication of a new organ, the Scots Courant, the author of which, James Muirhead, announces his readiness to treat with gentlemen for advertisements at the Exchange Coffee-House. But two days before this, on March 20th, there is issued, ‘published by authority and printed by John Moncur for the undertakers. No 1 of a new Edinburgh Courant, containing an advertisement – ‘Just now Published, a Complete History of the Union, in folio,’ etc. – which is suspiciously like a contrivance of Defoe to get rid of some of the surplus stock of his work lying at the stationers in the Parliament Close and the Luckenbooths. Lastly, and this should complete the case against Mr. Lee, I have seen no evidence that the Courant was even in existence in 1711,6 and the presumption is that it died in September, 1710, when Defoe began the paper he afterwards carried with him to London – the Examiner. I have said that the career of the Courant gained prominence and distinction by its connection with Defoe. In a moment of thoughtlessness the laborious biographer I have mentioned, speaks of the fact as in itself being of little importance. The comment shows an uncritical spirit. To the historian nothing is unimportant that adds to the completeness of a character or an event in national and individual life; and while he would not pile an Ossa of argument on a Pelion of shadows, he would certainly endeavour to discover if the shadows did not conceal some solid body. Thanks to Mr. Lee everybody is now aware why Defoe paid so many visits to Scotland before 1700 and 1712. He came as a secret emissary of the Government, first in behalf of the Act of Union, and afterwards for purposes which neither he nor his employers ever divulged. But because he was appointed to the authorship of the Courant it has been inferred that it was in discharge of his bargain with the Government – to muzzle the northern press, as he proved himself so capable of emasculating the Tory London Weekly Journal and Mercurius Politicus. This is the surface view, and it is a plausible one; but there is a second which fits better with the known facts of Defoe’s life. ‘There can be no doubt, because he confesses it, that Defoe unwillingly remained in Scotland that he might be out of the reach of five or six implacable creditors, whose pecuniary claims only cloaked their political hostility.’ So says Mr. Lee. Professor Minto, however, has more truly guaged the devices of this arch-trickster, who could better do his masters’ hidden work in the north, as an unfortunate debtor forced to flee a prison, than as a literary Whig of a roving disposition, and with a notable fondness for Scotland and everything Scottish. To have procured for Defoe off-hand the post of official news-writer in Edinburgh, would have led to awkward revelations or dubious suggestions; but when, in the course of nature, Adam Boig dropped out of the race, what was more natural than that the greatest journalist of the age, now represented to be in a dreadfully hard-up condition, should get the offer of the post?  This theory is supported by every known incident in the history of the case. Defoe did not hurry himself to fill his new berth, and for seven or eight weeks the Courant went on as before; but why should he have hurried when he was only acting the farce of ‘The Decamping Debtor?’ When his paper did begin there was not a trace of his masculine hand in it; not a line which could prove to friend or foe that he took the slightest interest in its welfare, or had the faintest intention of rescuing it from the galloping consumption into which, strangely enough, it fell from the moment he became nominally associated with it. If the Government had desired to kill their own organ they could not have hit on a better plan than this is of giving it over to the assumed incapacity of the man who was acting a subtle part. I have already given enough of Scottish newspaper history to indicate how unnecessary Defoe would have been in the role of a political Bowdler. The magistrates were loyal descendants of the Privy Councillors, and did not need to delegate their authority to any single hand. 

The history of the Edinburgh Gazette, after Boig had made peace with his accusers, is one of languishment, and the probability is that it expired towards the close of 1706. Not to be beaten, however, Donaldson came forth in March, 1707, with an indictment of his successful rival’s policy under the title, The Edinburgh Courant Reviewed, wherein, after stating that ‘the Gazette of late has been laid aside as a thing that cannot profitably be carried on,’ he announced his intention to recommence it; remedying admitted defects, but taking ‘a little more liberty and giving stories as they come.’ With this flourish of trumpets the revived Edinburgh Gazette made its début on the 25th of March 1707, and was printed twice a week until perhaps 1708, when the Edinburgh Flying Post came out to assist the Courant in again demolishing Donaldson’s project. That the paper had a short life is certain, because on 27th December 1709, there was ‘published by authority’ a sheet incorporating the old title under which so many efforts were made to woo an unkindly fortune. This was the Scots Postman, or The New Edinburgh Gazette. The author is said to have been David Fearne, an advocate, and his exordium is interesting:- 

   ‘It has been a misfortune to this paper to change its authors and printers several times, and by several stops, hindrances, neglect of printers, and innumerable errors of the press, to be of late very much discouraged, though the accounts have been, especially for the last year, more exact than formerly. These are now to give notice to the public that it is once more set upon a new and we hope a right foot, both as to management and intelligences, by which means we doubt not it shall soon recommend itself to the world and obtain the same reputation, both for certainty of its coming out and authentic news, that the best newspapers in England have obtained. To this purpose Intelligences, both foreign and domestic, will be settled in England and, if the paper meet with encouragement, in foreign parts also, that so this work may not be a mere copy of other people’s papers and Scotland be served with news at third and fourth hands as has formerly been done.’ 

With several vagaries in the title which it is explained were due to a proposed abandonment of certain portions of it in favour of a second party, who failed to fulfil the conditions of contract, the paper ran on until June 1712, and then apparently disappeared. In 1714 there was a resuscitated version called the Edinburgh Gazette or Scots Postman. During a life of about twelve months this journal was printed by no fewer than four different persons, Robert Brown, John Reid, Mar. Reid, and John Moncur. No. 67 is in a most wretched typographical costume, which circumstance the author begs the ‘candid reader’ to excuse, as he was driven to it rather than drop the undertaking. With the transference of the Edinburgh Courant to Defoe, we have already seen there originated a new publication, the Scots Courant, claiming, however, to be so far the lineal descendant of Boig’s organ as to retain the consecutive numbering of the series. It was evidently conducted with some enterprise, for it lasted until at least 1720, though in its contents it has all the unsprightly characteristics of its contemporaries and its successors for many a year to come. The advertising columns are sometimes interesting, as, for example, when they tell of the Anniversary Race to be held at Duddingston, where, besides the event of the day, there was to be seen ‘the violent but comical proceedings against a Cat in a Barrel hanging in the Air. And the tragical Scene of a Goose to be beheaded after a mighty Competition that must infallibly happen among the Executioners thereof; besides other diversions for the Contentment of the Spectators.’ Read the foregoing in conjunction with the appended paragraph from the last number of the Edinburgh Courant, which had the benefit of Boig’s authorship, – ‘Yesterday the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland was Adjourned until the 10 of May 1711; and as they behaved themselves with the greatest of Calmness, and were most unanimous in all their Actings and Determinations, so they parted in great Love and Concord,’ – and you get not only an instructive glimpse of the pastimes and manners of the people but an indication of the high water mark of Scottish journalism in the early part of the eighteenth century. 

Having now reached a period when the newspaper had obtained a firm foothold in Scotland, my task comes to an end. The establishment of the Evening Courant in 1718, and of the Caledonian Mercury in 1720, belongs to the domain of modern newspaper history; but I have thought it advisable to include in this article a chronological list of such papers as I have ascertained were issued throughout the country to the close of the century, with, when necessary and procurable, brief explanatory notes of the authors or proprietors and the circumstances of publication. Those news-sheets which survived well into the present century are mentioned in italics:- 

   1652. – ‘A Diurnal of Some Passages and Affairs.’

   1653 to 1659. – ‘Mercurius Politicus.’ 

   1659. – ‘Mercurius Brittanicus.’

   1659. – ‘The Faithfull Intelligencer.’

   1660. – ‘Mercurius Publicus.’

   1661. – ‘The Kingdom’s Intelligencer.’

The above-mentioned, with the exception of ‘The Faithfull Intelligencer,’ are reprints of English journals. 

   1661. – ‘Mercurius Caledonius.’ Thomas Sydserf.

   1680. – ‘Edinburgh Gazette.’

   1699 to 1706(?). – ‘Edinburgh Gazette.’ James Donaldson. Twice a week. 

   1705 to 1710. – ‘Edinburgh Courant.’ Adam Boig; Daniel Defoe. Twice, and afterwards three times a week. 

   1707 to 1708. – ‘Edinburgh Gazette.’ James Donaldson. Twice a week. 

   1708. – ‘Edinburgh Flying Post.’ Three times weekly.

   1709 to 1712. – ‘Scots Postman,’ or ‘The New Edinburgh Gazette.’ David Fearne. Three times a week. 

   1710. – ‘Northern Tatler.’ Samuel Colvil. Twice weekly.

   1710 to 1720(?). – ‘Scots Courant.’ James Muirhead. Three times weekly. 

   1710. – ‘Examiner.’ Defoe.

   1711. – ‘Tatler.’ ‘By Donald MacStaff of the North.’ Twice weekly. I have seen no copy of this and so cannot say whether it was a bona-fide news-sheet, or, what is more likely, an imitation of Steele’s famous literary venture. The play upon the original pseudonym is suspicious. That it was published is evidenced by an advertisement in the Scots Courant for January 29th, 1711.

   1714. – ‘Edinburgh Gazette,’ or ‘Scots Postman.’ Twice weekly.

   1715. – ‘The Glasgow Courant.’ ‘Printed for R. T., and are to be sold at the Printing-house in the Colledge and at the Post Office.’ The price was three-halfpence, but to regular customers one penny. This was the earliest of Scottish journals outside of Edinburgh, but there is no record of it having gone beyond the second year of publication. Three times a week.

   1718. – Edinburgh Evening Courant. Authority was given by the magistrates to James McEwen, stationer, to issue this sheet which had such a long and honourable association with the metropolis, he being obliged before publication to provide his censors with ‘ane coppie.’ Although in its early form as sterile in home news as any of its predecessors, it gained credit for having been the first to give what had often before been promised, the substance of the ‘foreign post’ as well as of the London journals. Three times weekly.

   1720. – Caledonian Mercury. First established by William Rolland, an Edinburgh lawyer, this paper in 1729 came into the hands of Thomas Ruddiman, the Latin grammarian and publisher. It claimed to be the successor of the early ‘Mercurius Caledonius,’ though perhaps for no better reasons than the express coincidence of title and the partiality to the house of Stuart, which is supposed to have influenced its promoters. Three times a week.

   1728. – ‘Echo.’ In December 1728, the prospectus was issued of a weekly paper to be known as the ‘Echo,’ which, along with news, was to contain ‘literary matter for the instruction and amusement of society.’ It is just possible that it got the length of publication, but I have not learnt of any copy being extant. 

   1729. – Glasgow Journal. This paper was at first published every Friday, and lasted till 1845. I give the early date on the authority of Denholm; the author of Glasgow, Ancient and Modern, says it was commenced in 1744.

   1744. – ‘Edinburgh Weekly Journal.’ Andrews in his British Journalism, says this paper was in existence when he wrote, (1859), and Grant has identified it with the journal which became the property of Sir Walter Scott and James Ballantyne, though he characteristically contradicts Andrews regarding the time of its decease. On the other hand, Anderson says the latter was established in 1806. There were at least three Edinburgh Weekly Journals published before the close of the eighteenth century.

   1745. – ‘Old Courant.’ This was a Glasgow paper printed for Matthew Simeon.

   1748. – Aberdeen Journal or North British Magazine is said to be the first periodical published north of the Forth. It was issued weekly by James Chalmers, the son of a Professor of Divinity in Marischal College. The Aberdeen Journal is one of the two morning journals circulated in and around the northern city.

   1752. – ‘Aberdeen Intelligencer.’ This paper ‘was attempted by Messrs. Douglas and Murray, but did not succeed; and in the year 1770 the late Mr. John Boyle published a paper which continued only for a year or two.’ (History of Aberdeen).

   1756. – ‘Edinburgh Weekly Journal,’ begun November 18, and published every Thursday by Jarvie. The issue of this publication is announced in the Scots Magazine for the above year. It is hardly likely that two Weekly Journals were running concurrently in Edinburgh, and I am inclined to the opinion that the one begun in 1744 had only a short existence. There was a later Weekly Journal, of which mention will afterwards be made.

   1759. – ‘Edinburgh Chronicle or Universal Intelligencer.’ This was a quarto commenced on March 22 by Patrick Neill and John Reid, and was issued on Mondays and Saturdays until and after 15th September, when it came out three times a week.

   1763. – Edinburgh Advertiser was first printed for A. Donaldson, and sold at his shops in Edinburgh and London, and was afterwards the property of a second James Donaldson – a direct descendant of the author of the Gazette – who is best known for his princely bequest endowing the hospital for boys in Edinburgh called by his name. I quote the reference of the Scots Magazine to the new print:- ‘These publishers [A. Donaldson and John Reid] blame the other Edinburgh news-writers for refusing to advertise this paper. For the other parties it is contended, that no law of conscience or good neighbourhood, obliges a man, except in extraordinary cases, to promote the interest of his neighbours to the prejudice of his own.’ The editor accordingly invites correspondents to discuss the knotty point.

   1755. – ‘Ruddiman’s Weekly Mercury’ was the title of a paper published by the proprietor of the Caledonian Mercury, and was practically a weekly supplement to that journal. It was begun either in January 1755 or December 1744, and went on for several years.

   1776. – ‘Scots Spy’ [Edinburgh]. The property of the eccentric Peter Williamson ‘from the other world,’ as he termed himself, who first started a penny post and a directory in Edinburgh. The ‘Scots Spy’ was issued weekly on Fridays, and is now extremely scarce.

   1777. – Dumfries Weekly Journal. This paper was commenced by Provost Jackson upon the cessation of a weekly serial he had issued – ‘signally lacking in topics of local interest’ – entitled the Dumfries Magazine. The news-sheet continued till 1833.

   1782. – The Advertiser was a Glasgow weekly, which was subsequently issued on Mondays and Fridays. In November 1802 it appeared as The Herald and Advertiser, and in 1805 as The Glasgow Herald, under which title it continues to flourish. Among those who had to do with the literary management of the paper in its early days were John Mennon, (who with his son was printer), Samuel Hunter and Dr. Wm. Dunlop.

   1783. – ‘British Chronicle or Union Gazette.’ This was the title of a short-lived publication, put forth on Fridays weekly by James Palmer, Kelso.

   1790. – In 1797 there was being published an ‘Edinburgh Herald and Chronicle,’ which probably incorporated an earlier paper with a similar designation. A copy for January 2, 1797 is numbered 1066. At the rate of three per week the series would reach back to 1790, but in his list of papers published in Edinburgh in 1793, Chalmers makes no allusion to one with such a title. On March 15, 1790, there was begun an ‘Edinburgh Herald’ which for at any rate two years was issued three time a week. Doubtless this was the paper with which James Sibbald was associated, and presumably after leaving it, it fell into hands that re-organised it, and changed its designation.

   1790 to 1793. – The records for this period are extremely incomplete, but during its course there appear to have been issued the ‘Edinburgh Caledonian Chronicle,’ the ‘Edinburgh Gazetteer,’ and perhaps the ‘Weekly Review’ of ‘Balloon’ Tytler. 

   1791. – The ‘Glasgow Courier’ was until about 1802 conducted by Dr. James McNayr, who afterwards had a brief connection with the ‘Advertiser.’ It was printed three times a week. Some time prior to its commencement there was published a ‘Glasgow Mercury,’ to which I have seen reference only in a footnote in Denholm’s History of Glasgow.

   1793. – Edinburgh Gazette. The official organ of the Government in Scotland is erroneously stated to have originated in 1690. A still more common error connects it with the ‘Gazette’ of 1699, and the subsequent attempts made to carry on a journal under that or a similar designation. In 1772, by the first Statute (12 George III.) for regulating Scotch mercantile sequestrations it was provided that notices and advertisements connected with bankruptcy should be inserted in a newspaper printed in Edinburgh to be appointed by the Court of Session. In 1793, by a renewal of the Act, the ‘Edinburgh Gazette’ was called into official being, and since then it has continued to be regularly issued every Tuesday and Friday.

   1797. – Kelso Mail. This was the successor in the border town of the ‘British Chronicle,’ and was begun by and long continued under the superintendence of James Ballantyne, who has been made famous by his association with Sir Walter Scott. The Mail is now in existence.

   1798. – ‘Edinburgh Weekly Journal’ was advertised to be published in connection with the ‘Herald and Chronicle,’ but I have not discovered a copy of it.

   1799. – ‘Arbroath Magazine.’ This publication seems to have been intended to fulfil the purposes of a newspaper. It lasted only about twelve months.


1  Scottish Review, October, 1891. 
2  Vol. IV., p. 565. 
3  Donaldson afterwards enlisted the good offices of the Convention of Royal Burghs, and obtained from them a subsidy of £30 sterling; Convention Records, Vol. IV., under the date 13th July, 1699. 
4  All the petitions illustrative of the censorship of the press will be found in extenso in the Maitland Club Miscellany, Vol. II., pp. 229; et seq
5  The method of manufacturing such reports is naively revealed in the autobiography of Thomas Gent, printer of York, under date 1733:- ‘I continued working for Mr. Woodfall until the execution of Counsellor Layer, on whose few dying words I formed observations in the nature of a large speech, and had a run of sale for about three days successively, which obliged me to keep in my own apartments, the unruly hawkers being ready to pull my press in pieces for the goods.’ 
6   There is evidence, however, that Defoe himself was in the city in the end of 1710 and early part of 1711. I commend to students of the great pamphleteer the holograph letter of a Mr. Jos. Button, which is bound up with the 1709-15 volume of the Scots Postman, to be seen in the Advocates’ Library. It is also printed in Maidment’s Analecta Scotica. The address – it adds another to the variæ lectiones of his name – is ‘To Daniel Dfoe, Esqr., in Edinburgh,’ and the month of 1710 when it was written is fixed as December, by the author sending Christmas greetings. The most amusing portion of a gossipy sheet is at the close, where Button says, ‘Y’ spectacles have been mended many daies ago and [are] lyeing by me. If you’ll ha’ ‘em sent they shall.’ The most interesting paragraphs to students are one which refers to the sale of certain ‘prophecies,’ and another which runs – ‘When you do Bickerstaff I wou’d not ha’ you fright all people as you say you will, phaps ye Govermt may call us in question for intimidating her majestie’s good subjects.’ Mr. Lee’s list of the productions of his hero’s unceasing industry might be augmented if the writer here means that Defoe, who never hesitated to follow a good example, had entered himself as a rival to Swift, in ridicule of poor Partridge the almanac-maker. Button was a bookseller on the old Tyne bridge at Newcastle. (‘Monthly Chronicle,’ Vol. I., p. 317.) 

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