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Johnstone, Christian Isobel (DNB00)


JOHNSTONE, CHRISTIAN ISOBEL (1781–1857), novelist, was born in Fifeshire in 1781. Early in life she married a Mr. M'Leish, from whom she obtained a divorce. About 1812 she married John Johnstone, then schoolmaster at Dunfermline. They removed to Inverness, where Johnstone purchased the ‘Inverness Courier,’ of which he became editor. His wife aided materially in giving to the ‘Courier’ a more literary tone than was customarily attained by a provincial newspaper. Johnstone eventually sold the paper, went to Edinburgh, and opened a printing office in James Square. With Blackwood he purchased the copyright of the ‘Edinburgh Weekly Chronicle,’ and he and his wife edited the paper, but their principles were too liberal for their co-proprietor, and the connection did not long continue. Johnstone ultimately sold his share. Johnstone, at his wife's suggestion, thereupon undertook a series of cheap publications, the earliest published in Scotland. Another venture, ‘The Schoolmaster and Edinburgh Weekly Magazine,’ a 1½d. journal, conducted and almost wholly written by Mrs. Johnstone, appeared from 4 Aug. 1832 until 29 June 1833, when it was converted into ‘Johnstone's Edinburgh Magazine,’ published monthly at 8d., and for the most part non-political. ‘Tait's Edinburgh Magazine,’ then a 2s. 6d. monthly, was at the time printed by Johnstone at his office in James Square. In 1834 the price of ‘Tait's’ was reduced to 1s., and ‘Johnstone's Magazine,’ then in its ninth number, was incorporated with it. Of this amalgamation Mrs. Johnstone became the editress, and Tait gave her in addition to a salary one half of the property in the magazine. On the sale of ‘Tait's Magazine’ in 1846 Mrs. Johnstone ceased to write. She died at Edinburgh on 26 Aug. 1857, aged 76, and her husband on 3 Nov. following, aged 78. They were buried in the Grange cemetery, where an obelisk was erected to their memory. They had no children.

Mrs. Johnstone is described as extremely retiring, amiable, and accomplished, and ever ready to befriend young authors. She was the first to recognise the genius of Robert Nicoll (1814–1837) [q. v.], and he died in her house. De Quincey cites her, along with Joanna Baillie, Miss Mitford, and ‘other women of admirable genius,’ as an example of a woman ‘cultivating the profession of authorship with absolutely no sacrifice or loss of feminine dignity.’

The most popular of her works was ‘The Cook and Housewife's Manual … by Mistress Margaret Dods of the Cleikum Inn, St. Ronans,’ 12mo, Edinburgh, 1826. This book was originally written at Inverness, chiefly to keep the ‘Inverness Courier’ press going. It always yielded her a considerable and steady income, and reached a tenth edition in 1854. Her stories, which were chiefly founded upon Scottish manners and scenery, also acquired great popularity. Like her other writings, they were generally published either anonymously or under the pseudonym of Margaret Dods. ‘The Edinburgh Tales’ edited by her consisted principally of her stories in the ‘Schoolmaster,’ ‘Johnstone's Magazine,’ and ‘Tait's Magazine,’ with contributions by other writers. The collection was issued in weekly numbers at 1½d., in monthly parts, and collectively in 3 vols. 8vo, 1845–6 and 1850. Her other tales are: 1. ‘Clan Albin, a National Tale’ [anon.], 4 vols. 12mo, London, 1815; another edit. 1853. This was described by Professor Wilson as a novel of great merit, full of incident and character, and presenting many fine and bold pictures of external nature (Noctes Ambrosianæ, ed. Mackenzie, ii. 288). 2. ‘Elizabeth De Bruce’ [anon.], 3 vols. 12mo, Edinburgh, 1827. 3. ‘Nights of the Round Table, or Stories of Aunt Jane and her Friends,’ 2 series, 12mo, Edinburgh, 1832 and 1849, considered by herself the most attractive of her works of fiction.

Her other writings are: 1. ‘The Diversions of Hollycot, or Art of Thinking’ [anon.], 12mo, Edinburgh, 1828; also 1876. 2. ‘Lives and Voyages of Drake, Cavendish, and Dampier, including a History of the Buccaneers,’ 12mo, Edinburgh, 1831; No. 5 of the ‘Edinburgh Cabinet Library.’ 3. ‘True Tales of the Irish Peasantry, as related by themselves; selected from the Report of the Poor-Law Commissioners,’ 2nd edit., 8vo, Edinburgh, 1836.

[Anderson's Scottish Nation, iii. 713–15; Conolly's Biog. Dict. of Eminent Men of Fife; Tait's Edinburgh Mag. 2nd ser. xxiv. 573–5; Allibone's Dict. of Eng. Lit.]

G. G.