Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Blackwood, John

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BLACKWOOD, JOHN (1818–1879), publisher, editor of 'Blackwood's Magazine,' sixth surviving son of its founder [see Blackwood, William], was born at Edinburgh on 7 Dec. 1818. Educated at the high school and university of Edinburgh, he early displayed literary tastes, which procured for him the nickname of 'the little editor.' At the close of his college career he spent three years in continental travel. Soon after his return, his father having meanwhile died and been succeeded by two of his elder brothers, he entered, in 1839, to learn business, the house of a then eminent London publishing firm, In 1840 he was entrusted with the superintendence of the branch which his brother's Edinburgh house was establishing in London. He occupied this position for six years, during which his office in Pall Mall became a literary rendezvous, among his visitors being Lockhart of the 'Quarterly Review,' Delane of the 'Times,' and Thackeray, with the last two of whom he formed an intimate friendship. One of his functions was to procure recruits for 'Blackwood's Magazine,' then edited by his eldest brother, and to him was due the connection formed with it by the first Lord Lytton, who began in 1842 to contribute to it his translation of the poems and ballads of Schiller. In 1845 he returned to Edinburgh on the death of his eldest brother, whom he succeeded in the editorship of 'Blackwood's Magazine.' In 1852, by the death of another elder brother, he became virtual head of the publishing business also, and he retained both positions until his death. As an editor he was critical and suggestive, as well as appreciative. As a publisher he preferred quality to the production of quantity; in both capacities he displayed hereditary acumen and liberality. He quickly discerned the genius of George Eliot, forthwith accepting and publishing in his magazine the first instalment of her earliest fiction the 'Scenes of Clerical Life,' which had been sent to him without the name of the author, for whom thus early he predicted a great career as a novelist. This commencement of a business connection was soon followed by a personal acquaintance between author and publisher, which ripened into intimacy. In her husband's biography of George Eliot there are many indications of her readiness to accept Blackwood's friendly criticisms and suggestions, and of her grateful regard for him. On hearing of the probably fatal termination of his last illness she wrote: 'He will be a heavy loss to me. He has been bound up with what I most cared for in my life for more than twenty years, and his good qualities have made many things easy to me that without him would often have been difficult.' All her books, after the 'Scenes of Clerical Life,' were, with one exception, first published by his firm. Although Blackwood was a staunch conservative and the conductor of the chief monthly organ of conservatism, he always welcomed, whether as editor or publisher, what he considered to be literary ability, without regard to the political or religious opinions of its possessors. A genial and convivial host and companion, he delighted to dispense, at his house in Edinburgh, and his country house, Strathtyrum, near St. Andrews, a liberal hospitality to authors with whom he had formed a business connection. To his magazine he contributed directly only occasional obituary notices of prominent contributors. A fragmentary paper of his, entitled 'Sutherlandia,' described as 'racy,' was published in Mr. Clark's work on 'Golf,' a game to which he was devoted. He died at Strathtyrum on 29 Oct. 1879.

[A selection from the Obituary Notices late John Blackwood, editor of Blackwood's Magazine, printed for private circulation, Edinburgh, 1880; George Eliot's Life, as related in her Letters and Journals, arranged and edited by her husband, J. W. Cross, 1885.]

F. E.