chapter  2
23 Pages

Let Scotland Flourish by the Printing of the Word

Commerce, Civic Enlightenment and National Improvement in the Glasgow Advertiser, 1783–1800
WithAlex Benchimol

Alex Benchimol’s chapter explores the interlocking civic, regional, national and international imperatives animating the Glasgow Advertiser, founded in 1783. It examines in particular how the newspaper attempted to re-imagine Glasgow’s status as an industrial metropolitan centre in late eighteenth-century Scotland. Strategic readings of the Advertiser’s commercial notices, civic reporting and editorial objectives show how its first editor/publisher, the transplanted Edinburgh printer John Mennons, recalibrated Scotland’s cultural identity via Glasgow’s emerging position as a trading and manufacturing metropolis. Benchimol demonstrates how the aims of the newspaper overlapped with the objectives and activities of the Glasgow Chamber of Commerce (founded the same month and year in January 1783). This was a civic-print partnership that, as Mennons’s first Advertiser editorial makes clear, sought to make the emerging western metropolis a new kind of national capital as ‘the foremost commercial city in Scotland’. In this periodical narrative, the city’s thriving commercial culture is presented as an alternative expression of national Enlightenment rooted in civic initiative, expanding networks of commerce and pragmatic aims for material, cultural and social improvement. The chapter concludes with a discussion of an 1800 issue of the newspaper featuring a front-page extract from the newly published Works of Robert Burns relating the poet’s youthful efforts at self-improvement. This unique extended literary extract provided Advertiser readers with ‘a compelling human embodiment for the region’s economic, material and cultural transformation’ at a crisis point in the process, and demonstrates how key developmental themes from the Scottish Enlightenment inform the principal works of Scottish Romanticism.