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The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
Volume XIV. The Victorian Age, Part Two.

V. University Journalism

§ 7. Scottish and Irish University Journals

The conditions of academic life in Scotland differ considerably from those prevailing in Oxford and Cambridge, and the resultant journalism does not make so general an appeal as the best of the English writing of the sort. The Scots tongue, in spite of its unqualified successes with most English readers, is not known or liked by all, and the same may be said of Scots humour, which is apt to be grim, and of Scots metaphysics. Apart from these differences of language, the Scots student has not the full advantage of the corporate life from which it is difficult for the Oxford or Cambridge undergraduate to differentiate himself. The first magazine proper of Aberdeen, The King’s College Miscellany (1846), printed mathematical and physical problems with solutions, and translations from Greek and Latin authors. Alma Mater, also of Aberdeen, is the oldest of the existing Scots university periodicals, starting in 1883. It is thus six years senior to The St. Andrews College Echoes, and The Glasgow University Magazine of 1889, and four to the Edinburgh Student. During the first half of the century, Aberdeen was a desert so far as literature is concerned, and it was the vivid interest of Minto that suggested to his students the idea of Alma Mater. It has done much to bring together the diverse elements of the university, and, from time to time, has had excellent plates. It has also done much in the way of academic history and reminiscence, which, previously, had been less cultivated here than in England. St. Andrews claims a light poet and parodist of distinction in A. W. Murray, the author of The Scarlet Gown (1891). Andrew Lang, indeed, might have been one of the glories of St. Andrews journalism; but the weekly magazine which he helped to found never reached the dignity of print.

The University Maga is the happiest of early efforts in Edinburgh academic journalism. It ran for twenty-four weekly numbers in 1835 and 1837–8. Edward Forbes was mainly responsible for it, and contributed some good verses and a number of excellent caricatures and sketches. It was altogether a lively production, and reflects the spirit of the times better than its fellows. It was not until 1887 that it was possible to establish a university journal with a reasonable chance of permanence, and this can be easily understood in an intensely independent and individualistic society with no common meeting-place and practically no sport. The students’ representative council improved matters, and The Student was started in 1887 as a private venture with the idea that the council would, in time, assume the responsibility of financing it. This happened in 1889, and, since then, The Student has appeared weekly, and become a recognised university institution.

The university of Edinburgh includes among its academic writers R. L. Stevenson. The essay entitled “A College Magazine” in Memories and Portraits describes the brief fortunes of The Edinburgh University Magazine (the fourth of the name), which, with three collaborators, he edited, and which perished after four numbers.

  • The magazine appeared, in a yellow cover which was the best part of it, for at least it was unassuming; it ran four months in undisturbed obscurity, and died without a gasp. The first number was edited by all four of us with prodigious bustle; the second fell principally into the hands of Ferrier and me; the third I edited alone; and it has long been a solemn question who it was that edited the fourth.
  • As a matter of fact, the literary standard of the magazine was high, and lord Neaves made some excellent contributions to it.

    The paper by Stevenson reprinted in Memories and Portraits, “An Old Scotch Gardener,” even after allowance for mature correction, must be regarded as an excellent character-study. But the people of Edinburgh, academic or unacademic, could hardly be credited with sufficient self-detachment to see special points in a type of character long familiar in Scots life. And character-studies are mature work, needing a mature audience, not the faulty judgment of the young college man who worships only success and brains. Stevenson speaks, in the former essay, of “young gentlemen from the universities” who “are encouraged, at so much a line, to garble facts, insult foreign nations and calumniate private individuals.” It is a great merit of academic journalism that these things are not done in the universities themselves. To calumniate is dangerous in view of the law of libel; but the increasing zeal for personal gossip, trivial when it is not unpleasant, has taken little hold on university journalism. The free use of slang, preferably of American origin, and excessive attention to public entertainers are, further, not characteristic of such periodicals, and, in this respect, universities may do well in being behind the general movement of the press.

    Irishmen have a way of being brilliant, and Trinity college, Dublin, has had a galaxy of talent for its academic ventures in journalism. The Dublin University Review, which started in 1885, was really good during its short career. Collectors now give high prices for single copies of this Magazine of Literature, Art and University Intelligence. The magazine had a wider scope than English periodicals of the sort, finding room for the strongly divergent views of Irish politicians. It was a pioneer, too, in including poetry in the original Irish (probably the first specimens of Irish type seen in a modern review).

    The oddly named Kottabos is, however, perhaps the cream of Irish academic wit and scholarship. It appeared three times a year and was started by R. Y. Tyrrell in 1868, running for thirteen years. Its fortunes and revival after an interval from 1888 to 1895 are recorded in Echoes from Kottabos (1906). Tyrrell was a brilliant classical scholar with an extraordinary memory and an incisive wit, and his magazine excelled in light verse, translations and imitations (reverent and burlesque) of poets ancient and modern, from Aeschylus to Kipling. The contributors included Edward Dowden, John Todhunter, Oscar Wilde and Standish O’Grady. Kottabos is more definitely classical than most magazines of the sort, and some of its exercises passed into Dublin Translations into Greek and Latin Verse, a form of journalism, perhaps, too learned to gain general recognition. Still, it may be remembered that, without distinction in Latin verse translation, Addison might never have had the chance to establish the periodical essay, or Prior the school of light verse which is the chief distinction of university writing.