Chambers’ Edinburgh Journal

Chamber’s Edinburgh Journal

In the study of Scottish Women Poets it is interesting to examine the Chambers’ Edinburgh Journal as it was a popular periodical in Scotland. Indeed its popularity is significant in the development of Scottish women’s poetry and poets.

Chambers’ Edinburgh Journal was published in Edinburgh, Scotland, for the first time on 4th February,1832 , and the last issue was published in 1956. It was founded first by the Scottish publisher Robert Chambers, who was joined by his brother William Chambers, his brother (Waterloo).

From 1832 to 1854 Chamber’s was a weekly, published every Saturday, becoming in 1854 a monthly journal. However, if we analyze carefully the date of publication of all the collections of the Chambers’ Edinburgh Journal, sometimes it was published monthly and sometimes weekly. By 1941 it reverted to being a monthly (Waterloo).

The Journal was composed of between 4 and 16 pages. The first page was always the same: the title with the logo and the subtitle “conducted by William Chambers, author of the book of Scotland, gazetteer of Scotland…” — but this one tended to change throughout the years according to William Chambers’ works –, the date of publication, the number of the issue, and then the different material in columns. All the pages look more or less the same. What is striking is that it resembles other periodicals such as “The London Journal” (1845 to 1928).

Until 1897 Chambers’ carried no illustration exceopt wood engravings because, they refused to publish them (Scholnick).

Wood Engravings.Chambers, Robert, and William Chambers. “Chambers’s information for the people”. Chambers’ Edinburgh Journal. No. 35.

Chambers’ was sold for a price between 1,5 pennies and 6 pennies depending on the issues. It was the first cheap periodical of the nineteenth century. The editors wanted the Chamebers’ to be very inexpensive so that everyone would be able to buy and read a respectable paper (Scholnik, 327).

In 1854 the name changed to “Chambers’ Journal of Popular Literature, Science and Arts”, reverting back in 1897 to its original name (Waterloo).

The Chambers’ Edinburgh Journal was first published in Edinburgh , and then in 1833 in Dublin, Glasgow and London. It was probably the first newspaper published in these 3 capitals. It was produced in Edinburgh until the 1850’s, after which it moved to London.

The Journal was edited by Charles ES Chambers, Robert Chambers, Robert Junior Chambers, William Chambers, James Payn, Leitch Ritchie, Thomas Smibert and William Harry Willis. William Chambers was the first one to develop this kind of publication (Waterloo).

What is quite interesting is that even if it was written for a certain class of people there was no orientation in this journal, that is to say that they had no political opinions, no political debate, no religious controversies and that it was written for both men and women. Indeed they wanted this journal to gather people who had nothing in common, for example religiously. Also, because the editors wanted to avoid religious controversies, the paper became secular. However in 1832 they implicitly gave their point of view and their support to the political revolution that happened because of the Reform Bill (Scholnick, 325).

The Chambers’ Edinburgh Journal became the most popular periodical in Britain. Indeed it sold 24 000 copies in 1832 to 90 000 in 1840 (the most popular issue). Also it was so famous that it was an inspiration for Dickens’ “Household Words” and “All the Year Round” (Waterloo).

For the most part, people who read the journal came from the middle class. It was also read by many people of the poor class, especially in Scotland, but not as many as they would like.

For example In February, the 6th of 1847, 80 000 copies were sold and 50 000 are supposed to be bought by the upper class. Thus for the publishers it was a kind of failure because their first goal was to publish it for the working class, includind issues and questions affecting this class and also,  because their main purpose was to educate working class people (Waterloo).

Here is an extract from the journal’s first issue, where in the “Editor’s address to the reader”  we can see that, right from the beginning, William Chambers knew exactly what he wanted for his journal and what its audience should be:

‘The grand leading principle by which I have been actuated is to take advantage of the universal appetite for instruction which at present exists….Every Saturday, when the poorest labourer in the country draws his humble earnings, he shall have it in his power to purchase, with an insignificant portion of even that humble sum, a meal of healthful, useful, and agreeable mental instruction: nay, every school boy shall be able to purchase with his pocket money, something permanently useful — something calculated to influence his fate through life — instead of the trash upon which the grown children of the present day are wont to spend it.’ (Waterloo)

On the other hand it is also true to say that the editors have reached their goal because the working classes treated the Chambers’ Edinburgh Journal with more respect than some other journals at the time such as the Saturday Magazine and the Penny Magazine (Waterloo).

In 1833 a supplement was published a few weeks after Sir Walter Scott died. It was a 12 pages supplement sold for 3 penies and it contained some information concerning his life: his ancestry, his father, his mother, his birth, his publications … More than 180 000 copies were sold (Waterloo).

It is also important to notice that regularly the main articles of Chambers’ Edinburgh Journal were reprints from different periodicals in New York (Waterloo).

Different subjects were discussed in the Chambers’ Edinburgh Journal like the weather, natural history, serialized novels, poetry, politics, economy, anecdotes, reports on education, tales, the increase of the population and moral essays (Waterloo). But the journal also contained fiction, which was  rare at the time in a periodical (Scholnick, 344).

Because the Journal used a lot of different formats and topics, its most difficult task was to find the right balance between everything. Also it is interesting to see that the editors were very involved in this journal because they only wanted to publish essays that they found “stimulating”, for example (Scholnick, 345). At the beginning of each volume they have chosen to publish some essays about the progress and the achievement of the paper (Scholnick, 350).

A lot of articles were about science and natural technology because of Robert Chambers’ investment in the subject. Thus from 1845 to the 1860’s Chambers remained the only cheap journal in the world that published material on science as well as literature (Waterloo). Robert Chambers directed the newspaper and contributed in it (especially the science essays), whereas William Chambers was more concerned about its business dimension (Scholnick, 327).In fact, Robert Chambers was one of the most important writers of the Chambers’ Edinburgh Journal, writing 117 essays and he has co-written 44 essays of the total of 164 present in the whole publications of the journal (Waterloo). There are also articles of all kinds by Julia Kavanagh, Amelia B. Edwards, James Payn, John Bewrick Hawood, Emily Jolly, Capt Mayne Reid, Joanna Baillie, Caroline Eliza Richardson, Walter Scott, Alexander Smart and Robert Ferguson (Bassett).

Most of the time the works were published anonymously, but it is sometimes possible to guess if the writer was a male or a female according to the subject matter. Although there were many male poets in the Journal, the most famous Scottish women poets of the century were published in the Chambers’ Edinburgh Journal

The first page of the first issue of the journal. Chambers, William. “Chambers’ Edinburgh Journal”. No.1. 1832.

Examples of Scottish Women Poets in Chambers’ Edinburgh Journal

Baillie, Joanna.“ The Kitten ” 29 March 1834 .Volume 3, Number 113, Page 72

Richardson, Caroline Eliza. “The Young Mother to Her First-Born Child”.13 December 1834. Volume 3, Number 150, Page 367

Richardson, Caroline Eliza. “Bird-Nesting, A True Story” .18 March 1837. Volume 6, Number 268, Page 64

Digital Resources

Volume III of the Chambers’ Edinburgh Journal on Google Books

Volume IV of the Chambers’ Edinburgh Journal  

Volume VII and VIII of the Chambers’ Edinburgh Journal 

Issue Number 430 of the Chambers’ Edinburgh Journal 

Wikipedia entry on the Chambers’ Edinburgh Journal

Works cited

Bassett, Troy J. “Chambers’s Edinburgh Journal” At the circulating Library – A Database of Victorian Fiction, 1837-1901. Web. 20 Jan 2013.

Chambers, Roberts, and William Chambers.“Life of Sir Walter Scott. Supplement To Chambers’ Edinburgh Journal”. Chambers’ Edinburgh Journal. W. & R. Chambers. Edinburgh. 1833. Print. 18 Jan 2013.

Chambers, William. “Editor’s address to the reader“. Chambers’ Edinburgh Journal. No.1. W. Chambers. Edinburgh. 1832. Print. 18 Jan 2013.

“Chambers’s Edinburgh Journal”. The Waterloo Directory of English Newspapers and Periodicals: 1800-1900. Web. 20 Jan 2013.

Dickens, Charles. All The Year Round, A Weekly Journal conducted by Charles Dickens. Chapman & Hall. Ed: Charles Dickens. England. 1859-1895. Print.

Dickens, Charles. Household Words, A Weekly Journal conducted by Charles Dickens . Bradbury & Evans. Ed: Charles Dickens. England. 1850-1859. Print.

Scholnick, Robert J. “The Fiery Cross of Knowledge”: Chambers’s Edinburgh Journal, 1832-1844.Victorian Periodicals Review, Vol. 32, No.4, pp 324-358. 1999. Web. 13 Feb 2013.



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