- Literature and Medicine in the Nineteenth-Century Periodical Press: Blackwood's Edinburgh Magazine, 1817–1858 by Megan Coyer
While Megan Coyer's title suggests a wide overview, the subtitle more accurately reflects the scope of her book: a detailed case study of one periodical in a tightly defined period. In the first half of the nineteenth century, Edinburgh was Britain's leading centre of medical education and research. It was also the centre of a thriving, politically contested periodical culture, where the ideas of the Scottish Enlightenment, Romanticism, liberalism, political economy, utilitarianism, piety, scepticism, and science jostled and competed to shape the thinking of an intelligent and informed rising middle class.
Blackwood's Edinburgh Magazine (originally and briefly called Edinburgh Monthly Magazine) was founded in April 1817. Its leanings were Tory, and with its mixture of reviews, satire, poetry, and fiction, it was envisaged as a combative rival to the Whiggish Quarterly Review. Although its underlying ideology was a compound of Romanticism and high Toryism and its style was controversial and combative, it promoted the values of human feeling and imagination. As Coyer writes, Blackwood's "avowed mission [was] to reunite intellect and feeling in all arenas of social and intellectual life" (126).
With plentiful source material in the published volumes and the extensive archive at the National Library of Scotland, Blackwood's Magazine has already been well studied, most notably by David Finkelstein in The House of Blackwood: Author-Publisher Relations in the Victorian Era (2002) and Print Culture and the Blackwood Tradition, 1805–1930 (2006). Previous studies have been mostly concerned with the origins and business affairs of the periodical and its role in the literary development of such noted contributors as Thomas De Quincey, George Eliot, Margaret Oliphant, and Joseph Conrad. Coyer's study, the first to focus on Blackwood's medical content, was long in the making. She attributes the book's genesis to "one of several ideas scribbled in a note-book towards the end of my doctoral studies" (vii). She is currently a lecturer in English literature at the University of Glasgow, with a background in Scottish literature and medical humanities, but her first degree was in neuroscience. Drawing on this dual expertise, she examines the relationship between medical culture and the periodical press by drilling down into the writings, ideas, and careers of Blackwood's medical contributors between 1817, when the journal was established, to 1858, when the Medical Act created the General Medical [End Page 746] Council and consolidated the growing professionalism, status, and regulation of medicine in England and Scotland. Medical themes and representations can be found throughout Blackwood's pages.
Coyer makes the case that Blackwood's, in this seminal period, enabled the development of new forms of popular medical writing that remained influential through two succeeding centuries. It also helped construct an idealised figure of a gentlemanly, humane, and literary medical man at a time when the medical establishment was tarnished in the popular mind by association with Burke, Hare, corpse-snatching, and the smells and sights of the dissecting room.
Blackwood's was not the first periodical to engage with medical matters, and Coyer's first chapter looks in some detail at the Edinburgh context and its key medical men, especially those associated with the Edinburgh Review, published regularly from 1802. This periodical was noted for its literary criticism and standards of judgement and evaluation in the public domain. It was also popular with medical lecturers, who found that contributing to periodicals gave them increased visibility and a decided advantage in competing for students.
Chapter two explores "The Tale of Terror and the 'Medico-Popular.'" Gothic tales of terror were a key genre for a periodical that saw itself as a champion of the invisible world against reductive utilitarian and materialist philosophies. Blackwood's favoured stories of intoxication (Confessions of an English Opium-Eater was originally intended for publication in Blackwood's), sleep, dreaming, phrenology, and deathbeds, often presented...