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Francis Jeffrey


Francis Jeffrey JEFFREY, FRANCIS.—This eminent barrister, and still more distinguished critic, was born in Edinburgh, on the 28d of October, 1773. His father was George Jeffrey, one of the depute-clerks of the Court of Session; his mother was Henrietta Louden, daughter of Mr. John Louden, farmer, in the neighbourhood of Lanark. Francis, the subject of our memoir, was the eldest son of a family of five children; and it will be seen, from the foregoing particulars, that the success of his future career, be it what it might, could derive little aid from paternal wealth or interest. After having learned to read and write, he was sent, at the age of eight, to the high school of Edinburgh, and there he continued six years, employed almost entirely in the dry study of Latin—for in those days the high school curriculum had not expanded beyond its ancient limits. The first four years of this long course were spent under Mr. Fraser, one of the teachers, who had the distinguished honour of being preceptor successively to Walter Scott, Francis Jeffrey, and Henry Brougham; the last two years he was taught by Dr. Adam, rector of the institution, and author of the "Roman Antiquities," under whose able tuition he matured his knowledge of Latin. One day, towards the close of this course, an incident occurred which seldom fails to influence a young aspiring mind at its outset: he saw one of the truly great, whom the world is proud to worship. One day, on the High Street, his notice was arrested by a plain country-looking man, in whose appearance there was nothing remarkable but a pair of large dark eyes, which, when animated, were wont to glow from their deep recesses like lighted charcoal. The young critic even already seemed to have discovered that no ordinary merit was thus passing before his view, so that he continued to gaze after the stranger, until a person standing at a shop door tapped him on the shoulder, and said, "Ay, laddie, ye may weel look at that man! That’s Robert Burns!" After this Jeffrey might say, "tantum Virgilium vidi," for although he afterwards enjoyed the intercourse of Campbell, Scott, and Byron, he never saw Burns again.

Having finished his preparatory education at the High School, Jeffrey, now in his fourteenth year, was sent to the university of Glasgow. His first year was devoted to the study of Greek under Professsor John Young, one of the most finished Grecians and elegant scholars of his day; the second to Logic, under Professor Jardine, a teacher in whom the faculty of calling forth the latent capacities of his pupils, and turning them to good account, seemed to be a kind of instinct. He was thus singularly fortunate, in having two such preceptors as an educational institution seldom possesses at the same time; and to the benefits which he derived from their instructions he bore a most honourable and enthusiastic testimony many years after, in his inaugural address to the college on being elected its Lord Rector. Of Jardine he said, "It is to him, and his most judicious instructions, that I owe my taste for letters, and any little literary distinction I may since have been enabled to attain." Such was his declaration when he had attained the very highest literary distinction; and there are some who can still remember how the tears rolled down the cheeks of the good old professor, when he found himself thus gratefully and unexpectedly requited. During his third season at college, Jeffrey attended the course of Moral Philosophy under Professor Arthur, the successor of Reid, a man whose promise of high distinction was closed by an early death. Thus fortunate in his opportunities of superior instruction, the young student devoted himself with earnestness to his successive tasks, and appears, even then, to have indicated not only his future bent, but the eminence he would attain in it. His note-books at the different classes were not merely memoranda, but regular digests of the lectures; he was already a keen critic both of sentiment and composition; and in the debating society of the students, of which he was a member, he was soon distinguished as one of its most ready speakers. These aptitudes, however, were still more distinctly exhibited in his private studies from May 1789, when he left the college of Glasgow, till September 1791, when he went to Oxford. This interval of a home life, which so many youths of seventeen regard as a season of rest, or spend they know not how, was with Jeffrey anything but a period of repose or frivolity, as his piles of manuscript written between these dates sufficiently attested. Seated by the light of his "dear, retired, adored little window," as he called it, of the garret of his father’s house in the Lawnmarket, he handled his already indefatigable pen upon subjects of poetry, history, criticism, theology, metaphysics; and the result of his diligence is attested by twelve letters in the manner of the "Spectator," and thirty-one essays, the latter being written within the compass of six months, while his criticisms alone comprise fifty authors, chiefly French and English. Even then, too, the voice of prophecy was not wanting to predict his future renown. One night, while taking his "walk of meditation," he found James Boswell, the biographer of Johnson, utterly prostrated upon the pavement by intoxication. It was a fresh case of that Quare adhoesit pavimento, for which Boswell, on awakening from one of his bivouacs in the street, found in his right hand a brief and retainer. Jeffrey, aided by some lads, carried the fallen worshipper of Paoli and Johnson to his home, and put him into bed. On the following morning Boswell, on learning who had been his benefactor, clapped young Jeffrey’s head, and among other compliments said, "If you go on as you have begun, you may live to be a Bozzy yourself yet."

At the close of the last century a conviction or prejudice was prevalent in Scotland, that the education of an English university was necessary to complete that of a Scottish one. It was deemed essential, therefore, that Francis Jeffrey, after having ended his curriculum at Glasgow, should amplify and confirm it at Queen’s College, Oxford; and thither, accordingly, he repaired at the close of September, 1791. But there he found neither the happiness nor improvement he had expected. His hopes, perhaps, had been raised too high to be fulfilled; and to this disappointment was superadded such a pining consumption of homesickness as would have been enough for either Swiss or Highlander. It is no wonder, therefore, if, among his letters of this period, we find such a lugubrious sentence as the following: —"I feel I shall never be a great man, unless it be as a poet." In the following month he writes: "Whence arises my affection for the moon? I do not believe there is a being, of whatever denomination, upon whom she lifts the light of her countenance, who is so glad to see her as I am!" A poet, it is evident, he was in danger of becoming, instead of a censor and scourge of poets; and this melancholy and moon-staring was but the commencement of a hopeful apprenticeship. With the same morbid feelings he contemplated the society around him, and characterized them all as drunkards, pedants, or coxcombs. Few men depended more upon locality for happiness than Jeffrey, and Scotland was not only his native country, but his native element. To this, therefore, and not to any inherent defects in the education or students of Oxford, we may trace his querulous murmurs; so that the whole world was changed when he looked at it from Arthurs Seat or the Pentlands.

On returning to Edinburgh, at the age of nineteen, Jeffrey appeared little changed by his sojourn in England. He was the same vivacious, slim, short stripling as before, with the same wide range of thought and fluency of language that had so often charmed or nonplussed his companions. In one respect, however, a material change had occurred: he had abandoned his native Doric dialect for that sharp, affected, ultra-English mode of pronunciation, that afterwards abode with him more or less through life, and which was in such bad taste, that Lord Holland declared, "though he had lost the broad Scotch at Oxford, he had only gained the narrow English." It was now full time to make choice of a profession in good earnest, and prepare for it, as hitherto his law studies at Oxford had been little more than nominal. He might, if he pleased, be a merchant under his paternal uncle, who was settled at Boston, in America; but he felt no vocation for mercantile labour and adventure. Literature he would have chosen in preference to anything, and, of all literary occupations, that of poetry; but authorship as a trade was too precarious, and the fame of a poet too unsubstantial. Then, there was the English bar, which gave full scope to the utmost ambition; but Jeffrey knew withal that the great expense of preparation, followed by that of waiting for practice, was more than his resources could encounter. Nothing remained for him but the profession of a Scottish advocate, for which his father’s legal acquaintanceships could secure him as much practice as would suffice for a commencement. Here, then, his choice rested, and he became a student of the classes of Scotch Law in the university of Edinburgh. But besides these he had, in the Speculative Society, of which he became a member at the end of 1792, a still more effectual spur to progress, as well as better training both for law and criticism. This society had been established in the college of Edinburgh, in 1764, for the purposes of reading literary and scientific essays, and holding forensic debates upon the subjects of these essays; it had already produced, during the forty-eight years of its existence, some of the most distinguished characters of the day; and when Jeffrey enrolled he found himself a fellow-debater of those who afterwards obtained the foremost name in their respective walks of life. Of these it is sufficient to name Sir Walter Scott, Lord Brougham, Lord Moncrieff, Francis Horner, and William Scarlett, at that time young men, but with whom it was impossible for the most talented to contend without being braced by such formidable exercise. It was no wonder, therefore, that by such weekly meetings Jeffrey soon perfected himself in the practice of composition, and became a ready and eloquent debater. Three years was the usual period of attendance; but after this term he continued for four years a voluntary visitor, and took part in its proceedings with unabated interest. In 1834, when he had reached the full summit of his reputation as sovereign of the empire of criticism and champion of the Scottish bar, he presided at a dinner, to celebrate the seventieth anniversary of the institution, and gloried in acknowledging the benefits he had derived from it.

Jeffrey had now reached his twentieth year, and was busy in preparation for passing as a Scottish advocate, while he thus characterized himself: "I have lived on this earth very nearly one score of years, and am about to pass some professional trials in a few months, who have no fortune but my education, and who would not bind myself to adhere exclusively to the law for the rest of my life for the bribery of all the emoluments it has to bestow." He had so learned to love literature for its own sake that, be his occupation what it might, his favourite recreations would still be found in criticism and the belles-lettres. This he afterwards more distinctly intimated in a letter to his brother, where he writes: "I shall study on to the end of my days. Not law, however, I believe, though that is yet in a manner to begin; but something or other I shall—I am determined." But what was that something? as critic or poet—reviewer or reviewed? It will scarcely be believed that while studying law he had also been equally diligent in verse-making, so that a poetical translation of the "Argonauticon" of Appollonius Rhodius, two dramatic productions, and a large bundle of descriptive and sentimental poems, were the fruits of this dangerous pursuit. Happily, however, a healthier spirit was rising within him; and it was manifested by keeping his poetry not merely from the press, but the perusal of his friends. At length, the full cure of this intermittent disease was effected on the 16th of December, 1794, for on that day he was admitted to practise as an advocate at the Scottish bar—an occupation from which there is no retreat except to politics or agriculture, and a place at which, of all others, the Muses have least dared to intrude.

The position which the northern barristers at that period occupied, could only be peculiar to such a country as Scotland. In England, indeed, the occupation could raise a talented practitioner to greater wealth and higher political rank; but the English bar was only a part of the great whole, and had but a single voice in the complicated administration of the common weal; and to whatever height it might lead its best and ablest, there was still a summit above them which they could not reach, and under which they were overshadowed. But in Scotland the case was different. The Union, that had annihilated every national distinction, had left our tribunal untouched. Here, then, was the place around which the whole nationality of the country could rally, and through which the ingenium perfervidum could find utterance; and therefore, the Parliament House, besides being a court of law, was palace, council, and senate of the now abrogated kingdom of Scotland. Such were the attractions which the Scottish bar possessed, and hitherto they had sufficed, not only for the highest talent, but the best aristocracy of the country. But here, also, the old feudalism of Scotland had made its last rallying effort, so that the divine right of kings, the unquestionable right of lairds, and the superiority of everything that was ancient, were the favourite axioms of the Edinburgh Court of Session. All this, indeed, would soon have died out, had it not been for the French Revolution, which ministered new fuel to an already decaying flame, and made it burst forth with greater vigour than ever. While every nation took the alarm, and began to draw the old bands of order more tightly around its institutions, this process was judged especially necessary for Scotland, which had neither king nor parliament of its own, and was therefore deemed the more likely to join the prevalent misrule. Modern Toryism was therefore ingrafted upon the ancient Scottish feudalism, and unqualified submission became the order of the day. Even the distance from the seat of government only made our northern politics the more sensitive to every indication of independent thought or action; and thus, what was nothing more than Whiggery within the precincts of Westminster, was sheer rebellion and high treason in the Parliament Square of Edinburgh.

Such was the condition of that honoured and influential class into which Jeffrey was now admitted. It will at once be seen that the difficulties of his new position were of no trivial amount. Even at the outset his undistinguished birth was against him; and those who belonged to the "lordly line of high Saint Clair," could scarcely be expected to admit the son of a clerk-depute into full fraternity. He undoubtedly possessed a superiority of talent that might more than counterpoise such inferiority; but here, instead of holding the field without a rival, he had many who were fully his match—competitors as well equipped for the encounter, and who attained as high professional rank and reputation as himself. Still, however, one remedy remained. The tide of Toryism was at the height, and by throwing himself implicitly upon it, he would be borne onward to fortune. And this, too, he might do not only without degradation, but with universal approval; for loyalty was the order of the day, and every step was commended that went against the anarchy with which throne and altar were menaced. But Jeffrey was a Whig. From an early period he had revolved the questions of civil and political liberty, and instead of discarding them as the mere Brutus and Cassius dreams of college boyhood, he had clung to them with all the greater tenacity as years went onward; and, now that he was about to enter into active life, he boldly avowed them as the conclusions of his matured judgment, and the principles of his future political conduct. And what chance had he, then, of success in a profession where his opinions of popular rights were not only condemned as mischievous, but despised as vulgar and mobbish? There were men, indeed, not only in Edinburgh, but even the Court of Session, who in political principles were like-minded with himself; but they were for the most part so independent either by family, or fortune, or position, that they could better afford to oppose the prevailing current than a young man to whom the pathway of life was just opened, with nothing but his own energies to bear him forward. Taking all these circumstances into account, there is none, be his principles in politics what they may, who can refuse to Jeffrey the award of unswerving integrity and high heroic consistency. And, truly, he reaped the reward he merited, not only in his own advancement, but the final ascendency of those obnoxious political doctrines which he so bravely advocated and consistently maintained through good and through evil report.

On commencing practice at the bar, Jeffrey laboured under a difficulty upon which, perhaps, he had not calculated. This was the unlucky half-English mode of speaking which he had learned or assumed at Oxford, but which he had not the good taste to discard at Edinburgh; and such was the strength of popular prejudice at this period, that there were few who would not have scrupled to intrust the management of a law case to an "Englified" pleader. With this mode of speech, which was thought to savour of affectation, he combined an oppressive sharpness of tone, volubility of words, and keenness of sarcasm, calculated to wound the self-love of those who could not parry and return the thrust of such an agile fencer. His business, therefore, as an advocate went on very slowly, and his fees were proportionably scanty. Most of the cases, indeed, which passed through his hands, were obtained by the influence of his father. The necessity of having some other dependence than the bar became so strong, that in 1798 he conceived the idea of commencing authorship in London as his future profession; and for this purpose he repaired thither, furnished with introductions to the editors of some of the principal reviews and newspapers, and buoyed up with the expectation that he would quadruple the scanty revenue that he could ever hope to enjoy from his profession in Edinburgh. But London was not destined to be his sphere, and notwithstanding his introductions, he got so little encouragement, that he was soon glad to return. He resumed his very limited practice as an advocate, although with a thousand plans of emancipation, that ended as such dreams generally do, but still improving his knowledge, as well as increasing the circle of his literary acquaintances. At length, as if to place the cope-stone upon his desperate fortunes, he adventured upon marriage, and in 1801, became the husband of Catherine Wilson, daughter of the Rev. Dr. Wilson, professor of Church History at St. Andrews, a second cousin of his own. Jeffrey’s income at this time averaged nothing more than 100 per annum, while his wife had no fortune, except the inestimable one of an amiable affectionate disposition and pleasing manners, that shed a gentle charm over her whole household economy. The happy pair established their domicile in a third story of Buccleugh Place, which they furnished upon the most cautious scale of economy. But it was in the study of this dwelling, and around the plain table and few chairs of which the study could boast, that a plan was formed by which not only the literature of Scotland, but of Europe itself was to be revolutionized, and upon which Jeffrey himself was thenceforth to depend for the high literary reputation and prosperous career that accompanied him to the end.

We allude to the establishment of the "Edinburgh Review." Hitherto, in the Critical department of literature in England, a review had been little more than a peg upon which to hang a book for advertisement; and the individual merits of each work were more attended to than the great general questions of science, literature, or politics, which it more or less involved. In Scotland the department of criticism was at a still lower ebb; for the country had no regular review, the only one which it possessed, called the "Edinburgh Review," having expired in 1756, after a short twelvemonth of existence. But the world was ripe for change, and the whole framework of intellectual and political society was already loosening, for the purpose of being resolved into new forms and combinations. It was evident, therefore, that either in London or in Edinburgh some standard periodical should be established, to meet, and, if possible, to direct and control the coming change—and this, it was evident, could only be done by a more ample system of reviewing than had hitherto been attempted. Such was the impression that for some time had been floating through the minds of the more observant in Edinburgh; but to embody that impression, and reduce it to action, was still the difficulty. This, however, was soon obviated. A meeting of Jeffrey’s literary friends was assembled at his dwelling in Buccleugh Place, and there the idea of such a review was started, and the plan of its management deliberated. The proposal was due to the Rev. Sydney Smith, who is entitled "The original projector of the Edinburgh Review;" an eager discussion followed; and as the night without was very tempestuous, the coterie made themselves merry with the thought of the still greater storm they were devising within. The plan, after several such meetings, was settled, and it was resolved to bring out the first number of the work in June, 1802, but, from several causes, the publication was delayed till the 10th of October. Its descent upon the literary world was followed by a burst of astonishment—it exhibited such a form and character of criticism as the British public had never yet thought of—and that such should have been produced in a remote nook like Edinburgh, greatly heightened the general wonderment. The contributions of Jeffrey on this occasion were five in number, and his critique upon "Mourier on the Influence of the French Revolution," was the first in the work. His importance in the future character and success of the "Review" was even thus early predicted by Horner, also one of the contributors, who made the following entry in his private journal:—"Jeffrey is the person who will derive most honour from this publication, as his articles in this number are generally known, and are incomparably the best. I have received the greater pleasure from this circumstance, because the genius of that little man has remained almost unknown to all but his most intimate acquaintances. His manner is not at first pleasing; what is worse, it is of that cast which almost irresistibly impresses upon strangers the idea of levity and superficial talents. Yet there is not any man whose real character is so much the reverse. He has, indeed, a very sportive and playful fancy, but it is accompanied with an extensive and varied information, with a readiness of apprehension almost intuitive, with judicious and calm discernment, with a profound and penetrating understanding." It was no small praise that Jeffrey should already have acquired so high a character in a talented community such as we might now look for in vain in Edinburgh. The chief of these, besides Horner himself and Sydney Smith, were Lord Brougham; Brown the professor of Moral Philosophy; Lord Webb Seymour; Mr. Hamilton, afterwards professor of Sanscrit at Haleybury College; Dr. John Thomson, who became professor of Pathology in the University of Edinburgh; Mr. Reddie, afterwards town-clerk of Glasgow; Mr. Thomas Thomson, the eminent Scottish antiquary; and Lord Murray, now judge of the Court of Session. All these were young men full of talent and ambition, to whom the "Edinburgh Review," at its commencement, was a vent for feelings and theories that had been accumulating for years. Above all, it enabled them to give full utterance to those political principles that were so obnoxious to the rulers of the day, and so doubly proscribed in Scotland. Each individual no longer stood alone, but was part of a collected and well-disciplined phalanx; and instead of being obliged to express his opinions in bated breath, and amidst an overwhelming uproar of contradiction, he could now announce them in full and fearless confidence, through a journal which was sure of being heard and feared, at least, if not loved and respected.

As the "Edinburgh Review" was a new experiment in literary adventure, its outset was accompanied with many difficulties, arising from want of expellence among its chief conductors; and therefore it was obliged, in the first two or three years of its existence, to grope its way, step by step, as it best could. It was launched even without a pilot, for Sydney Smith edited no more than the first number. The meetings of the contributors were held with all the dread and mystery of a state conspiracy, in a little room off Willison’s printing-office in Craig’s Close, to which each member was requested to steal singly, by whatever by-way would be least suspected; and there they examined and criticised each other’s productions, and corrected the proof-sheets as they were thrown off. These contributions, also, for the first three numbers at least, were given gratuitously. No journal, it was soon felt, could long make head against such deficiencies; and the first important advance in improvement was, to appoint Jeffrey sole and responsible editor. The dismal and ludicrous secret meetings in the back room of the printing-office quickly disappeared—for what author, however in love with the anonymous, could long continue to be ashamed of being a writer in the "Edinburgh Review?" The rapid sale of the work, and the large profits it realized, made the payment of articles a necessary consequence, and therefore the first remuneration was fixed at ten guineas a sheet, which rose to sixteen as the minimum price, while the editor was salaried at 300 per annum. By these changes, a coalition of talented writers were bound together, and pledged to the furtherance of the work. But the life and soul of that coalition was Jeffrey, and nothing could have been more appropriate than his appointment to the editorship. Unconsciously, he had made his whole life a training for the office, not only by the multifariousness of his studies, but his early practice of analyzing the authors he read, as well as his own miscellaneous compositions, so that the practice as well as the talents of a critic were ready for instant action. On the appointment being offered to him, he had some dubitation on the subject, which he thus expresses at full to his excellent friend and adviser, Francis Horner:—"There are pros and cons in the case, no doubt. What the pros are I need not tell you. 300 a-year is a monstrous bribe to a man in my situation. The cons are—vexation and trouble, interference with professional employment and character, and risk of general degradation. The first I have had some little experience of, and am not afraid for. The second, upon a fair consideration, I am persuaded I ought to risk. It will be long before I make 300 more than I now do by my profession, and by far the greater part of the employment I have will remain with me, I know, in spite of anything of this sort. The character and success of the work, and the liberality of the allowance, are not to be disregarded. But what influences me the most is, that I engaged in it at first gratuitously, along with a set of men whose character and situation in life must command the respect of the multitude, and that I hope to go on with it as a matter of emolument along with the same associates. All the men here will take their ten guineas I find, and, under the sanction of that example, I think I may take my editor’s salary also, without being supposed to have suffered any degradation. It would be easy to say a great deal on this subject, but the sum of it, I believe, is here, and you will understand me as well as if I had been more eloquent, I would undoubtedly prefer making the same sum by my profession; but I really want the money, and think that I may take it this way, without compromising either my honour or my future interest."

Such was the train of reasoning by which Jeffrey committed himself to the "Review." It was that important step in life which a man can take but once, and by which the whole tenor of his after-course is determined. In Jeffrey’s case it was both wise and prosperous, notwithstanding the manifold feuds of authorship in which it necessarily involved him. It was not merely from the small fry of writers, who writhed under his critical inflictions, that these quarrels arose, but also from men of the highest mark, whom he tried by a standard proportioned to their merits, and therefore occasionally found wanting. In this way he offended such distinguished authors as Scott, Byron, Southey, Wordsworth, and Coleridge; but in most instances the resentment he kindled was transient, and followed by a cordial reconciliation. Even Byron, the most indignant and most formidable of the whole, recanted his vilifications of Jeffrey in a much higher strain of poetry than that which characterized his "English Bards and Scotch Reviewers." But of all these quarrels, that with Thomas Moore threatened to be the most serious. In 1806 the young poet of Erin published a volume, which will ever remain a blot upon his fair fame. It was entitled "Epistles, Odes, and other Poems;" and notwithstanding its undoubted merits, which no one was more ready to acknowledge than Jeffrey, he opened his critique with such a burst of indignation as the offence of the poet merited. After acknowledging the high talents of Moore in a few sentences, the reviewer thus continues: "He is indebted, we fear, for the celebrity he actually enjoys to accomplishments of a different description; and may boast, if the boast can please him, of being the most licentious of modern versifiers, and the most poetical of those who, in our times, have devoted their talents to the propagation of immorality. We regard his book, indeed, as a public nuisance, and would willingly trample it down by one short movement of contempt and indignation., had we not reason to apprehend that it was abetted by patrons, who are entitled to a more respectful remonstrance, and by admirers, who may require a more extended exposition of their dangers." The article throughout was judged to be so personal, that the poet resolved to redress himself in another way than by writing a rejoinder, either in prose or verse. In short, he resolved to call the critic out, a purpose which he was enabled to effect in consequence of a visit that Jeffrey made to London a short time after the article was published. The hostile parties met in a field near London, and Jeffrey was attended on this occasion by his friend Horner. The police, however, had got intelligence of their purpose, and arrested the combatants when the duel was about to commence. On reaching the police-office the pistols were examined, when it was found that Jeffrey’s contained no bullet, as it had probably dropped out when the weapon was snatched from him; while that of the poet was furnished with the usual complement of lead, and ready for execution. A foolish affair in itself, the meeting was rendered more ridiculous still by the reports that were founded upon the harmless pistol, both weapons being represented as in the same condition, and fit to produce nothing more than a little noise. The offending parties, being bound over to keep the peace, resolved to adjourn the combat to the neutral ground of Hamburg. But better thoughts occurred, and an explanation followed, in which Jeffrey declared that it was the morality of the book, and not of the man, which he had judged and condemned; while Moore professed himself satisfied with the explanation. Nothing was more natural than that two such fiery spirits should pass from the extreme of dislike to that of friendship; and such was the case with Moore and Jeffrey, whose affection for each other continued till the close of life.

We have already seen the misgivings of Jeffrey as to the effect which his literary censorship would produce upon his progress at the bar. In this respect his fears were happily disappointed; for, although his progress was not rapid, it was steadily growing from year to year, accelerated on the whole, rather than retarded, by his office of reviewer. The literary society of Edinburgh, also, was constantly increasing, and among these he was enabled to take an important stand, as the highest and most influential of British critics. Even the death of his amiable wife, which occurred in 1805, and which he felt more deeply than any calamity that ever befell him either before or after, only drove him more keenly into the duties of active life. And these were neither few nor trivial; for, besides his practice, both in the civil and criminal courts, he took an important share in the legal business of the General Assembly, in which he continued a pleader for twenty years. Saving this mournful domestic bereavement, all things went prosperously onward, so that by the commencement of 1807 he thus writes to his brother: "I work at the ‘Review’ still, and might make it a source of considerable emolument if I set any value on money. But I am as rich as I want to be, and should be distressed with more, at least if I were to work more for it." Of the journal itself, also, Sir W. Scott, who disliked its political principles with a full measure of feudal and Tory dislike, thus testifies to its popularity: "Of this work 9000 copies are printed quarterly, and no genteel family can pretend to be without it; because, independently of its politics, it gives the only valuable literary criticism which can be met with." This unprecedented success not only alarmed the enemies of political innovation, but excited their literary ambition. Could not a coterie be assembled in London as learned and talented as that of Edinburgh, and an antagonist journal be started as formidable as this critical Goliah? At length the decision was precipitated by an article in the "Edinburgh Review" for October, 1808, on "Don Pedro Cevallos on the French Usurpation of Spain." This talented paper, written by Jeffrey himself, which ventured to run counter to the political enthusiasm of the day upon the subject of Spanish patriotism, excited the Tory resentment to the highest pitch; and the feeling was expressed in every form, from the magnificent disdain of the Earl of Buchan—who kicked the offensive number through his lobby, and into the street, believing that thereby he had sealed for ever the fate of the "Edinburgh Review"—to the calm but stern disapproval of Sir Walter Scott, who thus wrote to its publisher: "The ‘Edinburgh Review’ had become such as to render it impossible for me to continue a contributor to it; now it is such as I can no longer continue to receive or read it."

The plan of the "Quarterly," which had for some time been contemplated, was soon arranged, and its first number appeared in February, 1809. It is honourable to the "Edinburgh Review" to state, that its system of management was the one adopted by the new rival journal, at the recommendation of Sir Walter Scott. This plan was unfolded by Sir Walter in a letter to Gifford, the newly-appointed editor of the "Quarterly," previous to its commencement. His letter, from which we give the following extract, sufficiently shows how essential Jeffrey had been to the prosperity of the Edinburgh periodical, as well as the sagacious measures which he had adopted for the purpose. Indeed, they may be said to have formed the exemplar of all the numerous magazines of our day:—"The extensive reputation and circulation of the ‘Edinburgh Review’ is chiefly owing to two circumstances: first, that it is entirely uninfluenced by the booksellers, who have contrived to make most of the other reviews merely advertising sheets to puff off their own publications; and, secondly, the very handsome recompense which the editor not only holds forth to his regular assistants, but actually forces upon those whose circumstances and rank make it a matter of total indifference to them. The editor, to my knowledge, makes a point of every contributor receiving this bonus, saying that Czar Peter, when working in the trenches, received pay as a common soldier. But there is still something behind, and that of the last consequence. One great resource to which the Edinburgh editor turns himself, and by which he gives popularity even to the duller articles of his ‘Review,’ is accepting contributions from persons of inferior powers of writing, provided they understand the books to which the criticisms relate; and as such are often of stupifying mediocrity, he renders them palatable by throwing in a handful of spice—namely, any lively paragraph, or entertaining illustration that occurs to him in reading them over. By this sort of veneering, he converts, without loss of time, or hinderance of business, articles which, in their original state, might hang in the market, into such goods as are not likely to disgrace those among which they are placed." In this way Jeffrey plumed many a heavy article, and sent it soaring heaven-ward, which, without such aid, would have been doomed to dabble in the mud. It is evident, however, that this, the most important, was also the most difficult of all editorial labours; and without a very skilful hand, would have converted the process of fine veneering into clumsy patchwork. It must have been amusing in not a few cases, to see a grave contributor to the "Edinburgh Review" reading his article for the first time in print, and wondering at his own wit and vivacity!

Notwithstanding the merited success of the "Quarterly," Jeffrey felt neither envy nor alarm; there was now room enough in the literary world for both journals, and the excellence of the one was a healthy stimulus to the other. His affairs were also so prosperous, that after successive removals to more fashionable mansions in Edinburgh, he was enabled, in 1812, to occupy a country house at Hatton, near Edinburgh, once a seat of the earls of Lauderdale. This antique residence was soon enlivened by an additional tenant. In 1810, Jeffrey had met with Miss Charlotte Wilkes, grand-niece of the celebrated John Wilkes, who was on a visit to Edinburgh with her uncle and aunt, and this acquaintance ripened into an attachment, that was followed by marriage in 1813. As the lady, however, resided in New York, it was necessary that Jeffrey should repair to America for his bride; and thither accordingly he went, notwithstanding his invincible abhorrence of the sea, and impatience of the restraints of navigation. His journal of the voyage, as might be expected, is a wrathful enumeration of cloudy skies, gales, sea-sickness, lumbered decks, soured companions, and squalling children; ending with, "If I get back safe to my own place from this expedition, I shall never willingly go out of sight of land again in my life." It was well that such a consolation awaited his landing, in one who, for thirty-four years, was the comfort of his life and enlivener of his home. At his return to Edinburgh, in the beginning of 1814, he threw himself into the work of the "Review" with fresh ardour, for the disastrous campaign of Napoleon in Russia, and the series of important events that rapidly followed, by which the whole history of the world was changed, gave full scope to his political prelections. In 1815, he removed his country residence from Hatton to Craigcrook, about three miles to the north-west of Edinburgh, and there his summers were spent till the close of his life. The mansion at first consisted of nothing but an old tower; but this and the adjacent grounds he enlarged, improved, and beautified, as he would have done with some article for the "Review" that was too dull to be published in its original state, but too good to be neglected. By successive additions, the building was expanded into a stately baronial residence, while the thirty or forty acres that surrounded it gave full exercise to that taste for the pleasing and the beautiful which hitherto he had expressed only in theory. There, also, he gathered round him such distinguished characters as Atticus himself might have envied. "What can efface these days," exclaims his affectionate biographer, "or indeed any Craigcrook day, from the recollection of those who had the happiness of enjoying them!"

A change in the Scottish tribunal at the beginning of 1816, brought Jeffrey into greater legal practice than ever. This was the introduction of juries for the trial of facts in civil causes; and for such a department he soon showed himself well fitted, by his versatile intellectual powers, the variety of his knowledge, and ready command of every kind of oratory. Here, too, the fact of his connection with the "Review," instead of retarding his progress, only brought him clients in multitudes, for he was now recognized as the champion of popular rights, as well as a most able and accomplished pleader. Yet, with this great addition to his professional duty, neither his diligence nor productiveness as a writer was abated, so that, independently of his wonted labours in the "Review," he wrote the article "Beauty" in the "Encyclopedia Britannica"—a treatise that, notwithstanding the fluctuating nature of every theory upon that subject, will always continue to be admired for the metaphysical depth of its sentiments, and the classic finished elegance of its style. This tide of success, however, was on one occasion interrupted. Strange to tell, Jeffrey stuck a speech! In 1818, John Kemble was about to take leave of the Scottish stage; and as his admirers proposed to give him a public dinner in Edinburgh, Jeffrey was commissioned to present him a snuff-box at the banquet. He rose for the purpose with full confidence in that extemporaneous power which had never failed him; but when the dramatist raised his kingly form at the same instant, and confronted him with magnificent obeisance, the most fluent of speakers was suddenly struck dumb—he sat down, with his speech half-finished and his gift unpresented!

It was now time that honorary distinctions as well as substantial profits should descend upon the successful critic and barrister, so that he should become something more than plain Francis Jeffrey. These were now at hand; and the first that adorned him, appropriately enough came from a seat of learning. His own college of Glasgow had not lost sight of its early alumnus; and after having elected the highest and most talented to the office of Lord Rector of the University, the claims of the prince of critics to fill it ought not to be overlooked. So felt the young students, by whose suffrages the rector is chosen, and in 1820, notwithstanding the hostility of the professors, whose dislike of Jeffrey’s Whiggism could not be overcome, he was invested with the honoured distinction. After this, proposals were made from influential quarters to obtain for him a seat in parliament; but these he declined: it was from the court of law and not the senate that his next honours were to be obtained. Accordingly, in 1829, he was unanimously elected Dean of the Faculty of Advocates, the highest honour which his own profession can bestow, and all the more honourable that the election was by the votes of his brethren. It was no trivial indication of political change, that the editor of the "Edinburgh Review" should have been appointed to such an office, in the very heart of Edinburgh, and by a body of men who had in former times been the keenest and most influential champions of Toryism. It was necessary, however, that his editorship should cease, and he gladly resigned it into younger hands. On his election to the deanship, he thus announced the fact of his resignation, and its reason: "It immediately occurred to me that it was not quite fitting that the official head of a great law corporation should continue to be the conductor of what might be fairly enough represented as in many respects a party journal, and I consequently withdrew at once, and altogether, from the management." It was not an easy sacrifice to relinquish an office so congenial to his tastes and habits, which he had held for twenty-seven years, and which he had raised by the force of his talents to such high distinction in the literary and political world. The list of his contributions during this period is truly astounding, not only for quantity, but variety. They amounted in all to 201 articles, a selection from which was published in eight volumes, under his revision, in 1843. After having been Dean of Faculty for a very short period, Jeffrey, in 1830, was appointed Lord Advocate. This office, although resembling that of the Attorney-General in England, has few recommendations beyond those of mere distinction, to a successful practitioner at the Scottish bar; for, besides affording a salary of only 300 per annum, it has legal and political duties attached to it, sufficient for the utmost energies of the most talented individual. For three years and a half he continued in this laborious office, during which period he was almost exclusively occupied with the important measures of parliamentary and burgh reform, and spent much of his time in attendance upon the House of Commons, which he did as member for the Forfarshire burghs, and finally for the burgh of Malton. His situation in the House of Commons was anything but a sinecure, as the passing of the Reform Bill for Scotland, of which he was the official manager, cost him many speeches and sleepless nights, as well as a vast amount of daily anxiety. After this great work was successfully accomplished, his chief ambition was to represent his native city in the first reformed parliament. Nothing, indeed, could be more legitimate than such ambition after the toils he had undergone in the cause of reform, not merely as Lord Advocate of Scotland, but also as the ablest of political writers in behalf of the measure, when its very idea was reckoned tantamount to high treason. His wish was gratified. He was put in nomination as candidate for the representation of Edinburgh, and returned by a majority of votes on the 19th of December, 1832, after which he resumed his parliamentary duties, and the incessant worry with which the adjustment of the details of the Reform Bill was connected. While thus employed, a vacancy occurred on the bench of the Court of Session, in 1833, and Jeffrey was appointed to this, the highest office which a Scottish lawyer can attain. But what he valued more highly was, that it freed him from the harassing labours of parliament, and those of Lord Advocate, and restored him to the society of his friends, and full enjoyment of his home. It was the natural feeling of one who had already passed threescore years of life, and passed them in toil and intellectual exertion such as had well purchased the boon of repose.

Having ceased from his avocations as lawyer and reviewer, and passed into that peaceful but dignified office to which his merits had so honourably won their way, the rest of the narrative of Jeffrey’s life may be briefly told. On the 7th of June, 1834, he took his seat on the bench, with the title of Lord Jeffrey, instead of assuming a territorial one from the landed property which he possessed. Was this humility, eschewing a pompous designation as savouring too much of aristocracy and feudalism?—or pride, that felt as if his own family name had now been raised to such distinction as to make a lordly change unnecessary? Both feelings may have been so curiously blended in the choice, that it would be better to leave them unquestioned. At all events, the familiar name of Jeffrey was more grateful to the literary ear than Lord Craigcrook, or any other such title could have been. His official duties required his attendance in the court every morning at nine o-clock, and thus, with him, the virtue of early rising was enforced by necessity. During the winter, when the court was sitting, his place of residence was Edinburgh; he then usually repaired in spring to London or its neighbourhood; and in autumn he lived at his residence of Craigcrook, which seemed every year to become more and more endeared to his affections. Having now so much leisure upon his hands, and that; too, it may be added, for the first time in his life, he was often urged by his friends to write some important original work, in which his whole intellectual power would be condensed, and his fame embodied for the esteem of posterity when the "Edinburgh Review" itself would be supplanted by younger and more popular candidates. But to this his answer was, "I have no sense of duty that way, and feel that the only sure, or even probable result of the attempt, would be hours and days of anxiety, and unwholesome toil, and a closing scene of mortification." It was the apology of one who had already written so much that he had become weary of the task—or who had written so well, that he was afraid of risking all he had already won upon such a final and decisive cast. At all events, he rested satisfied with the fame he had already acquired, and in this way it may be that he acted wisely. On the 27th of June, 1838, his daughter, and only child, was married to William Empsen Esq., professor of Law in the East India College, Haileybury; and this union, besides imparting an additional charm to his yearly visits to England, produced to him those solaces for his old age, which, perhaps, a new successful literary undertaking would have failed to impart. These were the little grandchildren, who were soon entwined like rich tendrils around his affectionate heart, and in whose society he renewed all the freshness and buoyancy of his early youth.

In his capacity of judge, Lord Jeffrey was connected with those decisions of the Court of Session that preceded the disruption of the Church of Scotland; and his award was in favour of that party by whom the Free Church was afterwards constituted. He took an intense interest in the whole controversy from the commencement, and even at an early period foresaw that a disruption was inevitable, while he lamented such a fatal necessity. But still his heart was with the dissentients, for he saw that they could not act otherwise, consistently with their convictions as to the spiritual independency of the church. Thus he felt while their case was discussed in the Court of Session, and afterwards removed by appeal to the House of Lords, and he regarded the final award of the supreme tribunal as short sighted, unjust, and tyrannical. At length, the crisis approached, for the meeting of the General Assembly of 1843 was at hand. His interest about the result in the great coming conflict of the church was thus expressed: "I am anxious to hear what her champions and martyrs are now doing, and what is understood to be their plan of operation at the Assembly. It will be a strange scene any way, and I suppose there will be a separation into two assemblies." He knew too well the elements of the Scottish character, and was too conversant with the history of our national church, to believe, as most of the politicians of the day believed, that the opposition of the evangelical party would break down at the last moment under the argument of manse, glebe, and stipend. But would the secession be on such a scale as to constitute a great national movement? Or when the crisis came, might there not be such a fearful winnowing as would reduce the protesting party to a mere handful? At length the day and the hour of trial arrived. Jeffrey was reading in his study, when tidings were brought to him that the whole body had departed as one man—that four hundred and fifty ministers had fearlessly redeemed their pledge to sacrifice their earthly interests at the command of duty, and had left the Assembly to constitute another elsewhere! He threw the book from him, and exclaimed, in a tone of triumph, "I am proud of my country! no other than Scotland," he added, "would have acted thus."

The remainder of Lord Jeffrey’s life was passed in the enjoyment of a happy old age, his duties of judge, to which he attended to the last, being alternated with social intercourse, domestic enjoyment, and reading—that incessant process of acquiring new ideas, without which it seemed as if he could not have survived for a single hour. Thus his course went on till the close of 1849; but though still exhibiting much of his former activity, as well as enjoying every source of happiness, he knew that this must soon terminate. "I have much," he thus writes to his son-in-law and daughter, "a last lustration of all my walks and haunts, and taken on long farewell of garden, and terrace, and flowers, seas and shores, spiry towers, and autumnal fields. I always bethink me that I may never see them again." He had, indeed, seen the last of his autumns; for on the 22nd of January following, after a brisk afternoon walk round the Calton Hill, he was attacked by bronchitis, a complaint to which he had for several years been more or less subject; but so little did he apprehend the consequences, that he thought that, at the worst, they would only compel him to resign his place on the bench. But death was advancing with a swift though silent stop, and after four days of illness, in which he suffered little, and anticipated a speedy recovery, he breathed his last. This was on the 26th of January, 1850. He, too, felt his ruling passion strong in death; for in his dreams during the three nights previous to his dissolution, the spirit of the Edinburgh reviewer pre-dominated, so that he was examining proof-sheets, reading newspapers, and passing judgment upon arguments or events as they rose before his mind’s eye in the most fantastical variety. During the last year of his life, his walks had carried him to the Dean Cemetery, where, amidst its solemn vistas, enlivened with the song of the blackbird, he had selected the spot which he wished to be his final resting-place; and there, accordingly, his remains were deposited on the 31st of January.

Mrs. Jeffrey outlived her husband only a few months. She died at Haileybury, on the 18th of May, and her remains were interred beside his, in the Dean Cemetery.


Life of Lord Jeffrey
by Lord Cockburn in two volumes

PREFACE

My only apology for the presumption of engaging in this work, is, that it was undertaken at the request of the family, and of several of the friends, of Lord Jeffrey. Besides other objections, there is an age, after which it is seldom safe for one who has never tried to write a hook, to begin the attempt.

There are both advantages and disadvantages in the nearness of a man’s biography to his actual life. One of the disadvantages consists in the difficulty of speaking plainly of persons still living, or recently dead.

"My greatest fault (says Lord Jeffrey of Hardy’s Life of Charlemont) is, that he does not abuse anybody, even where the dignity of history and of virtue calls loudly for such an infliction;” and, no doubt, this is a serious objection. But if the biographer of Charlemont, though dealing with Irish transactions, felt the indelicacy of the censorian duty in a work published eleven years after the death of his subject, how would he have recoiled from it, if engaged, with any other affairs, within less than two? But, indeed, there were few persons whom Jeffrey himself abused; and though there were some public matters connected with his life on which it would not be wrong to speak, even now, in terms of severe condemnation, it would he unworthy of his magnanimous spirit, if, in the very act of describing him, his friends were to remember provocations which he had forgotten.

My thanks are due, and are hereby given, to all those who have assisted me by contributions of letters. These letters will probably be deemed the only valuable part of this work. It must, therefore, be explained, that he was so constant a correspondent, that those now published are but a small portion of what he was always writing; and that his letters were generally so long, and so full of those personal and domestic details, which, however delightful to receive, would be of no interest, and not even intelligible, to strangers, that they very seldom admit of being communicated entire. Nothing is omitted from this publication for any other reason. What have been selected are not given on account of any particular opinions or occurrences which they may record, but solely from their tendency to disclose the personal nature of the man. And I am bound to state, that, out of many hundreds of his letters that I have seen, there are scarcely three lines that might not he read with propriety to any sensitive lady, or to any fastidious clergyman.

Volume 1  |  Volume 2


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