Check all the Clans that have DNA Projects. If your Clan is not in the list there's a way for it to be listed. Electric Scotland's Classified Directory An amazing collection of unique holiday cottages, castles and apartments, all over Scotland in truly amazing locations.

Click here to get a Printer Friendly Page

Kay's Edinburgh Portraits
Lord Jeffrey, of the Court of Session


This distinguished individual, son of Mr. George Jeffrey, a Depute-Clerk of Session, was born in "Windmill Street, or Charles Street, near George Square. His early years were marked by vivacity and quickness of apprehension; and his progress at the High School was rapid and decided. After studying for several years, from 1788, at the University of Glasgow, he repaired to Queen's College, Oxford, and there passed the greater portion of 1792-8. Towards the close of the latter year, he returned to Scotland, and attended, for a short time, the University of his native city. Here he became a member of the Speculative Society; and, entering keenly and warmly into the spirit of the association, acquired that facility in debate for which he was subsequently remarkable.

Mr. Jeffrey was admitted a member of the faculty of advocates in 1794, but for several years his practice was limited. Talent, alone is not always the certain or most rapid pass to success at the Scottish bar; and he found ample leisure for the indulgence of his taste for literature. Along with the Rev. Sydney Smith, the late Professor Thomas Brown, Francis Horner, and Henry (now Lord) Brougham, he was one of the original projectors of the Edinburgh Review, begun in 1802, and was for many years the editor, as well as a chief contributor, to that celebrated work.

While thus wielding the editorial wand of criticism with a felicity and power that astonished and subdued, Mr. Jeffrey daily rose in eminence at the bar. Brief poured in on brief; and amid so much business, of a description requiring the exercise of all the faculties, it was matter of astonishment how he found convenience for the prosecution of his literary pursuits. The following lively sketch of the Scottish advocate, in the hey-day of his career, is from Peter's Letters to his Kinsfolk:

"When not pleading in one or other of the Courts, or before the Ordinary, he may commonly be seen standing in some corner, entertaining or entertained by such wit as suits the atmosphere of the place; but it is seldom that his occupations permit him to remain long in any such position. Ever and anon his lively conversation is interrupted by some undertaker-faced solicitor, or perhaps by some hot, bustling, exquisite clerk, who comes to announce the opening of some new debate, at which the presence of Mr. Jeffrey is necessary; and away he darts, like lightning, to the indicated region, clearing his way through the surrounding crowd with irresistible alacrity—the more clumsy, or more grave doer, that had set him in motion, vainly puffing and elbowing to keep close in his wake. A few seconds have scarcely elapsed, till you hear the sharp, shrill, but deep-toned trumpet of his voice, lifting itself in some far-off corner, high over the discordant Babel that intervenes —period following period in one unbroken chain of sound, as if its links had no beginning, and were to have no end.

"It is impossible to conceive the existence of a more fertile, teeming intellect. The flood of his illustration seems to be at all times rioting up to the very brim; yet he commands and restrains with equal strength and skill; or if it does boil over for a moment, it spreads such a richness around, that it is impossible to find fault with its extravagance. Surely never was such a luxuriant ' copia fundi' united with so much terseness of thought and brilliancy of imagination, and managed with so much unconscious, almost instinctive ease. If he be not the most delightful, he is by far the most wonderful of speakers."

In 1821, Mr. Jeffrey was elected Lord Rector of the University of Glasgow, an honour the more gratifying that it was obtained in opposition to powerful political interest. In 1829, he was unanimously chosen Dean of the Faculty of Advocates, on which occasion, we understand, he gave up all charge of the Edinburgh Revieiv.

In December, 1830, Mr. Jeffrey was appointed Lord Advocate for Scotland, and returned to Parliament, in January following, for the Forfar district of burghs. In the course of his canvass he was well received, especially by the inhabitants of Dundee, four hundred uf whom sat down to a public dinner given to the Lord Advocate and his friends, Sir James Gibson-Craig, Mr. Murray of Henderland, etc. ; but at Forfar, where his opponent, Captain Ogilvy of Airley, was a favourite, he was so roughly handled by the mob as to have been in danger of his life. At the general election in 1831, he stood candidate for the city of Edinburgh, in opposition to Robert Adam Dundas, Esq. Great excitement prevailed on this occasion. Besides memorials from most of the Trades' Incorporations, a petition, to which were appended seventeen thousand signatures, was presented to the Town Council in favour of Mr. Jeffrey; and so nearly balanced were the parties that the latter lost the election by only three votes, there being seventeen for the one, and fourteen for the other. The result was by no means satisfactory to the immense crowds who thronged the streets. The carriage of the Lord Advocate, from which the horses were unyoked, was drawn by the populace to his own house, with every demonstration of respect; but it required a strong military force to prevent the most serious consequences to his opponents. Disappointed in the metropolis, Mr. Jeffrey was again elected by his former constituents. In 1833, the right of electing having been transferred from the Town Council to the citizens of Edinburgh, by the passing of the Reform Bill, he had the satisfaction, along with Mr. Abercromby (late Speaker in the House of Commons, now Lord Dunfermline), of being triumphantly returned for his native city.

From the known talents and popularity of the Lord Advocate, great expectations were entertained of his appearance in the House of Commons; but in this the public felt somewhat disappointed. He spoke seldom, and, save on one or two occasions, apparently without any effort to distinguish himself. He was constant in his attendance, however; and had the honour, in his official capacity, of framing and carrying through two important measures, the Parliamentary and Burgh Reform Bills for Scotland. It is rare that men of purely legal or literary reputation gain by entering the arena of active political life. Erskine and Horn Tooke are signal instances. In the case of Jeffrey, besides advanced years, various causes may have contributed to render him careless of Parliamentary popularity. He was no doubt identified as a leading advocate of Reform, and the Edinburgh Review had long been considered the organ of the Whigs; but there was a third party to be satisfied, with whose ultra views he had probably little synapathj', and still less inclination to become their champion. In the estimation of this class of politicians, the Lord Advocate failed to realise the expectations that had been formed of him ; and some of the journals of the period indulged with considerable freedom of remark on his political sins, at least those of omission, for they were after all, on their own showing, chiefly of a negative description.

The short Parliamentary career of Mr. Jeffrey terminated on his elevation to the Scottish bench in 183-4. On quitting his political position, even the ultra portion of the press was constrained to acknowledge that he returned "to his native city with perfectly clean hands, for his upright and honourable nature scorned jobbing on his own account;" yet a more direct and truly gratifying approval of his public conduct awaited him. Before leaving London, he had the singular honour of being invited to a public dinner, given him by a majority of the members for Scotland.

But it is not in reference to politics alone, however great may have been the influence of his political writings, that the character of Lord Jeffrey is to be estimated. Even apart from the eminence he attained as a barrister, his connection with the Edinburgh Review, and the literature of the last forty years, must carry his name down to posterity in honourable association with the most distinguished of his time. As a Reviewer he maintained the reputation of an impartial and unbiassed guardian of public opinion. "He is a Scotsman," says a Cockney writer, "without one particle of hypocrisy, of cant, or servility, or selfishness in his composition [!!]. He has not been spoiled by fortune —has not been tempted by power—is firm without violence, friendly without weakness—a critic and even-tempered—a casuist and an honest man ; and, amidst the toils of his profession, and the distractions of the world, retains the gaiety, the unpretending carelessness and simplicity of youth."

The strictures of the Review, however, were in many instances too severe, or too honest and candid, to be palatable. Moore was provoked to demand the "satisfaction of a gentleman" and Byron, smarting under the castigation inflicted on his "Hours of Idleness," produced the well-known tirade entitled "English Bards and Scotch Beviewers ;" while, among the many pasquinades by offended authors of less degree, the following epigrammatic description of the Editor has no little merit :—

''Witty as Horatius Flaccus;
As great a democrat as Gracchus;
As short, but not so fat as Bacchus—
Here rides Jeffrey oil his jack-ass!"

"On Monday morning, August 11 [1806], two gentlemen met at Chalk Farm, near London, with an intention to fight a duel, when they were immediately seized by three Bow Street officers, disarmed, and carried before Justice Bead, at the Police Office, who admitted them to bail to keep the peace, themselves in £400 each, and two sureties in £200 each. The parties were Francis Jeffrey, Esq., advocate, of Edinburgh, and Thomas Moore, Esq., known by the appellation of Anaereon Moore.'1''

The cause of this meeting originated in a critique of the "Epistles, Odes, and other Poems," by Thomas Moore; in which the Reviewer commented with much severity on the corrupt tendency of the author's writings. "There is nothing, it will be allowed, more indefensible," says the article, "than a cold-blooded attempt to corrupt the purity of an innocent heart; and we can scarcely conceive any being more truly despicable than he who, without the apology of unruly passion, or tumultuous desires, sits down to ransack the impure place of his memory for inflammatory images and expressions, and commits them laboriously to writing, for the purpose of insinuating pollution into the minds of unknown and unsuspecting readers. It seems to be his (Mr. Moore's) aim to impose corruption upon his readers, by concealing it under the mask of refinement. It is doubly necessary to put the law in force against this delinquent, since he has not only indicated a disposition to do mischief, but seems unfortunately to have found an opportunity.....Such are the demerits of this work, that we wish to see it consigned to universal reprobation." Mr. Moore, greatly offended, sought the author of the article, and Mr. Jeffrey, then in London, came forward boldly, and avowed himself the writer.

Sir Walter Scott was at the outset a contributor to the Review, but he gradually became estranged on account of its politics. In 1809, he was among the first to lend his aid in establishing the London Quarterly, a journal of avowed Conservative principles ; and, though still continuing friendly with Jeffrey, their intimacy was on more than one occasion disturbed by the critical remarks of the latter.

The bitterness of offended authorship may now, in as far as regards Lord Jeffrey, be said to belong to the past. Byron read his recantation ; Moore has been for many years a particular friend; and even Southey and Wordsworth may have outlived the more recent remembrance of the lash.

During the sitting of the Court of Session, Lord Jeffrey attends his duty with much regularity. As a judge his lordship gives general satisfaction; and his decisions, which are elaborate and able, are seldom reversed in the Inner House. His treatment of the barristers who plead before him is uniformly kind and gentlemanly ; and we believe we may aver, without fear of contradiction, that no individual ever sat on the Scottish bench more universally respected by all parties than is the once-dreaded Editor of the Edinburgh Review.

His lordship resides chiefly at Craigcrook, a delightful villa about two miles north-west of Edinburgh. In 1801, he married a daughter of Rev. Dr. Wilson, Hebrew Professor at St. Andrews ; and, secondly, in 1813, a grand-niece of the celebrated John Wilkes, Miss Wilkes of New York, for whom, with true gallantry, he ventured across the Atlantic while war was hotly waged between the two countries. He has one child, a daughter (Charlotte Wilkes), married, on the 27th June, 1838, to Win. Empson, Esq., of Lincoln's Inn.

In concluding this brief and imperfect sketch of one whose name is so widely known, and of whom the Scottish metropolis may justly be proud, we certainly owe an apology for the scanty materials within our reach. Our readers will understand us when we say, that the time i» not yet come for more minute detail, and then the task will be undertaken by more competent biographers. We ought not to omit mentioning, however, the great interest taken by Lord Jeffrey in promoting the fine arts, his taste for which is universally acknowledged. Whether by private or public encouragement, he has always shown himself their ready and willing patron. His lordship is a member of the Bannatyne and Abbotsford Clubs.


Return to Book Index Page

 


This comment system requires you to be logged in through either a Disqus account or an account you already have with Google, Twitter, Facebook or Yahoo. In the event you don't have an account with any of these companies then you can create an account with Disqus. All comments are moderated so they won't display until the moderator has approved your comment.

comments powered by Disqus

Quantcast