Periodicals were critical to the development of eighteenth-century British print culture. The late Marilyn Butler argued that by the Romantic era, periodicals could even be understood as the medium of culture, central to the ways in which readers engaged with a burgeoning world of print (Butler). Amongst the numerous journals published during these years, the most significant to appear was the Edinburgh Review. Founded in 1802 by Francis Jeffrey, Sydney Smith, Francis Horner and Henry Brougham, the journal drew on Scottish Enlightenment political economy to engage with public debate, an approach that saw the journal achieve an immediate and sustained pre-eminence in British cultural life (Duncan 26; Schoenfield 49-50). In its new approach the Edinburgh Review also broke with the basic structure of eighteenth-century literary periodicals. Rather than feature numerous review articles on a wide range of topics in an effort to account for as much published material as possible, the Review instead featured fewer, in- depth articles concerned with interpreting a select range of texts (Wheatley 2). In doing so, it transformed the periodical into a major conduit for shaping, rather than merely reflecting, public taste and opinion (Schoenfield 1-2). It elaborated a conception of an intellectual culture that could guide national life and which found full expression in the corporate identity of the journal itself.
Given this shift in concern with shaping public opinion, it is notable that the Edinburgh Review appeared in the midst of the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars (1792-1815).