When critics whipped authors into shape

WRITERS have always had their critics – but today's authors must be glad that some critical methods of old are no longer with us.

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John Wilson (1785–1854) was an advocate, author and university professor, who, under the pseudonym of Christopher North, achieved fame at Blackwood's Edinburgh Magazine. Wilson left his native Paisley at the age of 12 to attend Glasgow University.

He would later recall how, one day, a man named Mr Douglas, of Glasgow, took exception to a certain piece in the magazine.

Such was the offence Mr Douglas took, in fact, that he boarded a horse-drawn coach to Edinburgh and, once there, located Mr Wilson and struck him a single blow with his horsewhip.

Mr Wilson, however, was made of sterner stuff.

Picking up a second whip, he pursued Mr Douglas to the departing coach – and beat him severely until the coach sped away.

In the 18th Century, the Literary and Commercial Society – a distinguished part of the 18th-Century Enlightenment in Glasgow – met at the Black Bull, a hostelry on Argyle Street.

The society had many well-known members, including Adam Smith, the father of modern economics, eminent philosopher David Hume, and Robert and Andrew Foulis, the academic printers.

The Black Bull, which was also frequented by the Gaelic Club and by a certain Robert Burns, was said to be one of the few places where 'gentlemen' of the time could drink, dine and relax without annoyance from riff-raff.

Today a plaque commemorates the occasions when Burns lodged at the inn. Speaking of plaques, there's one at 71-79 Renfield Street, in the city centre, commemorating the fact that Thomas de Quincey (1785–1859), best-known for his work Confessions of an English-Opium Eater, once lived here.

If you crane your neck a little, you should be able to spot it.

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