Provincial Periodicals

On Saturday 30 October 1830, The Edinburgh Literary Journal, or Weekly Register of Criticism and Belles Lettres printed a letter signed ‘Robert Lewers’ of Clackanpluck (now Laurieston village) in Kirkcudbrightshire. This short piece gives an insight into the literary world of southwest Scotland. Lewers, affecting to be ‘a hurkling mechanic’, opens by declaring, ‘I am no much accustomed to write to folk I never saw’, but reveals a burning desire to see his name in print. Reflecting on his secluded village life, he identifies as a regular reader of the Literary Journal, though as he says, ‘before it comes my length, it has gaen through at least a dozen han’s’. And besides the Edinburgh title, Lewers explains, The Dumfries & Galloway Courier and The Castle-Douglas Weekly Visitor are ‘the only periodicals that fin’ their way till this out-o’-the-way quarter’. The latter publication particularly draws his attention, produced as he notes only six miles away from Clackanpluck in the emerging market town of Castle-Douglas.

Castle-Douglas, still being called by its older name, ‘Carlingwork’ (more commonly ‘Carlingwark’) in James Kirkwood’s 1804 map.

Of the Weekly Visitor, Lewers records that the paper ‘has lasted this six or seven years’, though he complains that,

There’s naething worth a snuff in’t noo, except Extracts frae Chamers’s Caledonia, relating to Gallowa’, and noo and then something they ca’ ‘Clishmaclaver’––dialogues, as ye may opine, in distant imitation o’ the Noctes (I canna spell the ither word) o’ Blackwood.

As was typical of provincial periodicals at this period, the Weekly Visitor combined elements of literary miscellany and news. Lewers notes the publication’s strong emphasis on local material. At the same time, it was plugged to an innovative culture of magazines that had been evolving across the 1820s, including in the ‘Clishmaclaver’ series mentioned by Lewers, which reimagined the famous ‘Noctes Ambrosianae’ of Blackwood’s Edinburgh Magazine for the Galloway context.

A front page from the Weekly Visitor.

For all Lewers’ pessimism, The Castle-Douglas Weekly Visitor and indeed The Dumfries & Galloway Courier were part of a rich periodical print culture in Dumfriesshire and Galloway in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. In recent months, I’ve been working on an intensive section of research on this subject, which has received next to no modern scholarly attention. My chief interest is in the complex, often surprising ways in which these newspapers and magazines represented the region, in combinations of local, national and global cultures. This work will eventually form a chapter study in the Regional Romanticism monograph I have recently contracted to Palgrave.

The Weekly Visitor’s ‘Clishmaclaver’ column, and indeed this whole culture of local periodicals, sustained a conversation about what the region meant to its inhabitants, how that was changing, and what the role of literature might be in the process. These texts were often visited by anxieties about parochialism, but they were also profoundly global in their outlook. As I have found in this section of work, these provincial periodicals cultivated perspectives on questions of space and place that were quite different from the metropolitan titles they competed with. Those metropolitan sources – including Blackwood’s – continue to dominate views about the Romantic-era press, but provincial contexts of this kind beg further study.

There is a definite performative air about ‘Lewers’. He accuses the editor of the Weekly Visitor of insular snobbery, in refusing to ‘prent ought, but what he kens comes frae lairds or dominies or sticket ministers, or the like’. And yet it would not be at all surprising if this letter is really an advertisement for the Weekly Visitor itself: one of the defining characteristics of these regional periodicals is the degree to which the limitations of the local become an unstable and playful motif. Whoever he was really, Lewers offers a window onto a neglected culture of periodical publishing, in which a sense of provincial life was helping to generate fascinating approaches to the relationship between text and place.

The Ewart Library in Dumfries, which has a great collection of these local texts.

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