Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Tait, William

TAIT, WILLIAM (1793–1864), publisher, son of James Tait, builder in Edinburgh, was born there on 11 May 1793. After a short attendance at Edinburgh University, he was articled to a writer to the signet, but abandoned law and with his brother Charles Bertram, opened a bookseller’s shop in Edinburgh, and shortly afterwards commenced publishing. His chief publications were Brown’s ‘Philosophy of the Human Mind;’ Carlyle’s ‘German Romance;’ the collected edition of Bentham’s works, and Tytler’s ‘History of Scotland.’ His chief enterprise as a publisher, however, was ‘Tait’s Edinburgh Magazine,’ which appeared in April 1832, and was issued monthly until December 1846. It was a literary and political magazine, its radical politics being its special feature, and giving it a considerable influence in Scotland, where it had for some time a larger circulation than any of its competitors. Its popularity was considerably enhanced when in 1834 it was reduced in price from half a crown to one shilling. At first Tait was editor, but from 1834, when his magazine incorporated ‘Johnstone’s,’ he had the literary co-operation of Mrs. Christian Isobel Johnstone [q. v.], and his list of contributors included De Quincey, Leigh Hunt, Miss Martineau, John Stuart Mill, and the politicians like Cobden and Bright, who agreed with the opinions of the magazine.

Tait took a keen personal interest in both literature and politics, and was well-known figure in the social life of Edinburgh. In 1833 he was elected to the first reformed town council there, and in the same year was sent to gaol for four days (10 Aug.) for refusing to pay church rates, which were then raising stong opposition in radical circles. His shop was a meeting-ground for most of the Edinburgh notables, and Sir Walter Scott and Thomas Carlyle just missed being introduced to each other while there together by chance. According to De Quincey, Tait was ‘a patrician gentleman of potential aspect and distinctively conservative build.’

He retired from business in 1848, and bought the estate of Prior Bank, near Melrose, where he died on 4 Oct. 1864.

[Information supplied by his nephew, Mr. A. W. Black; Bertram’s Some Memories of Books, Authors, and Events; Burgon's Memoir of P. F. Tytler; Masson’s Edinburgh Sketches; Scotsman, 5 Oct. 1864.]

J. R. M.

Dictionary of National Biography, Errata (1904), p.262
N.B.— f.e. stands for from end and l.l. for last line

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300 ii 7 Tait, William: for 1846 read 1864