The Magazine

The Magazine Game

When Scotland's team excelled.

Sep 7, 2009, Vol. 14, No. 47 • By SARA LODGE
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Ironically, of course, it was that very mechanization that enabled Carlyle and other periodical writers to reach a wide audience and, Swaim argues, to conceive of a new "public sphere" in which individuals of different ranks, independent of church or crown, could debate public issues through rational argument.

Scottish Men of Letters is clearly based on a doctoral thesis, and the casual reader may be deflected by the detail of the bones Swaim picks, which can distract from the larger skeleton he
excavates. That skeleton--the vast body of Scottish journalism during 1800-1830--has lain too long neglected, however, and Barton Swaim's thoughtful analysis draws welcome attention to its power and influence.

In the last 20 years we have experienced our own communications revolution: Texts and emails, Facebook and Twitter, have created a world in which to type is to talk. Everyone speaks to everyone else in print. This has produced a new global intimacy, but also new masks and bluffs, as Joe Public realizes his potential to write as Joe Pesci or Joe Conrad.

It has also opened new pathways for participative democracy. It is good to be reminded that early 19th-century Britain experienced a similar phenomenon: The growth of print journalism created a new national conversation in which unprecedented numbers of people could participate, but also a contest over authority and style and debate about how a newly expanded audience might relate to the newly expanded media.

If our era produces commentators of the caliber of Jeffrey, Wilson, Lockhart, and Carlyle, we will have no cause for concern.

Sara Lodge, lecturer in English at the University of St Andrews, is the author of Thomas Hood and Nineteenth-Century Poetry and Jane Eyre: A Reader's Guide to Essential Criticism.