Scottish Authors And Publishers William And Robert Chambers, born at Peebles, William in 1800, and Robert in 1802; the latter died March 17, 1871. Thrown in boyhood, after receiving the education which the schools of Peebles afforded, upon his own resources, William was apprenticed to a printer in Edinburgh, whither the family had moved, and afterward opened a book stall; while Robert, failing to obtain the collegiate education which he desired with a view to the university, at the ago of 16 also opened a book stall. Until 1832 the brothers conducted separate establishments. William eked out the profits of his small trade by working at case and press, and in 1830 published his "Book of Scotland," an elaborate and comprehensive account of the usages and institutions, the schools, social system, and civil and religious organization of that country. Meantime Robert, sharing in the enthusiasm which was then introducing the national element so largely into Scottish literature, had published in 1823 "Illustrations of the Author of Waverley," a pleasant anecdotical volume, which at once attracted for the young author the notice of the leading literary men of Edinburgh. In 1824 appeared his "Traditions of Edinburgh," an authentic, detailed, and amusing account of the old memories and associations in which the various localities of that capital are so rich.
It was dedicated to Sir Walter Scott, who had communicated to him valuable materials for it. This was rapidly followed by his "Popular Rhymes of Scotland" (1826), "Picture of Scotland" (1827), "History of the Rebellion of 1745-'6," "Life of James I.," and three volumes of "Scottish Songs and Ballads" (1829). In 1829 the brothers united their efforts in preparing the "Gazetteer of Scotland," which was completed and published in 1832. having been written for the most part by them in the intervals of business. In February, 1832, appeared the first number of the "Edinburgh Journal," designed "to supply intellectual food of the best kind, and in such a form and at such a price as must suit the convenience of every man in the British dominions." It immediately attained a circulation of 50,000, whereupon the brothers united their places of business into one establishment. This journal has remained till the present time one of the most widely circulated of British periodicals. In 1834 they began the publication of a series of scientific and historical treatises, written in a popular style, under the title of "Information for the People," the average sale of the numbers of which was above 100,000 copies.
They were followed by the "Biographical Dictionary of Eminent Scotchmen" (1835); "Cyclopaedia of English Literature" (1844), at once historical and biographical, with well chosen extracts from the works of the principal British authors of every age; the "People's Edition of Standard English Works," "Papers for the People," "Miscellany," "Repository of Instructive and Entertaining Tracts," and other collections, all of which were in a cheap form and widely read. "Chambers's Educational Course," which has been completed by degrees, includes works in almost every branch of knowledge, and covers the entire ground from first lessons to accomplished scholarship. Robert Chambers devoted much time and attention to literary and scientific pursuits, while William was the business man of the firm. Among Robert's later productions are "Ancient Sea Margins" (1848); the "Life and Works of Burns" (4 vols., 1851-'2), the profits of which he generously gave to the poet's surviving sister; "Essays from the Journal" (4 vols.); "The Domestic Annals of Scotland" (1858); "The Book of Days" (1864); "Essays"(1866); and with his brother "Chambers's Encvelopaodia" (10 vols. 8vo, 1860-'68; new ed., 1871-2). He was also, without doubt, the author of the "Vestiges of the Natural History of Creation," a work remarkable for the force with which it advocates the so-called development theory.
Satisfactory evidence of Robert Chambers having written this work is contained in letters to his life-long friend and correspondent William Wilson of Pough-keepsie, N. Y. He received the degree of LL. D. from the university of St. Andrews, whither he retired from active business, and spent the last three years of his life. William Chambers has contributed numerous essays to the "Journal;" has given his impressions of the United States in works entitled "Things as they are in America," and "Slavery and Color in America" (1854); and is the author of "Peebles and its Neighborhood." "About Railways," "Wintering at Mentone," "Youth's Companion and Counsellor," and "Improved Dwelling Houses for the Humble and other Classes in Cities," suggested by his experience in improving the dwellings of his tenantry on his estate of Glcnomiester near Peebles, the cultivation and improvement of which forms a pleasant relaxation for his well earned leisure, He has presented to his native town, at a cost of £30,000, a substantial building and an excellent library known as the "Chambers Institution," and has served two terms as lord provost of Edinburgh. In 1872 he published "Memoirs of Robert Chambers, with Autobiographical Reminiscences." - The publishing house of W. and R. Chambers is the largest in Scotland, employing more than 300 persons.
The style of the firm remains unchanged, Robert Chambers's place being occupied by his eldest son Robert. They have also a publishing establishment in London, which was conducted until his death by David, a- younger brother of William and Robert, who was admitted into the firm.