Francis Jeffrey Jeffrey.

Selections from the essays of Francis Jeffrey online

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think we should be tempted to envy Miss Edgeworth ; —
not, however, so much for her matchless powers of
probable invention — her never-failing good sense and ^
cheerfulness — nor her fine discrimination of characters
— as for the delightful consciousness of having done
more good than any other writer, male or female, of her
generation. Other arts and sciences have their use, no
doubt ; and. Heaven knows, they have their reward and lo
their fame. But the great art is the art of living ; and
the chief science the science of being happy. Where
there is an absolute deficiency of good sense, these
cannot indeed be taught ; and, with an extraordinary
share of it, they may be acquired without an instructor : 15
but the most common case is, to be capable of learning,
and yet to require teaching ; and a far greater part of
the misery which exists in society arises from ignorance,
than either from vice or from incapacity.

Miss Edgeworth is the great modern mistress in this 20
school of true philosophy ; and has eclipsed, we think,
the fame of all her predecessors. By her many excellent
tracts on education, she has conferred a benefit on the
whole mass of the population ; and discharged, with
exemplary patience as well as extraordinary judgment, a 25
task which superficial spirits may perhaps mistake for an


humble and easy one. By her Popular Tales, she has
rendered an invaluable service to the middling and lower
orders of the people ; and by her Novels, and by the
volumes before us, has made a great and meritorious
5 effort to promote the happiness and respectability of the
higher classes. On a former occasion we believe we
hinted to her, that these would probably be the least
successful of all her labours ; and that it was doubtful
whether she could be justified for bestowing so much of

lo her time on the case of a few persons, who scarcely
deserved to be cured, and were scarcely capable of being
corrected. The foolish and unhappy part of the fashion-
able world, for the most part, " is not fit to hear itself
convinced." It is too vain, too busy, and too dissipated

15 to listen to, or remember any thing that is said to it.
Every thing serious it repels, by " its dear wit and gay
rhetoric"; and against every thing poignant, it seeks
shelter in the impenetrable armour of its conjunct au-

20 " Laugh'd at, it laughs again ; — and, stricken hard,

Turns to the stroke its adamantine scales,
That fear no discipline of human hands."

A book, on the other hand, and especially a witty and
popular book, is still a thing of consequence, to such -of

25 the middling classes of society as are in the habit of
reading. They dispute about it, and think of it ; and as
they occasionally make themselves ridiculous by copying
the manners it displays, so they are apt to be impressed
with the great lessons it may be calculated to teach ;

30 and, on the whole, receive it into considerable authority
among the regulators of their lives and opinions. — But a
fashionable person has scarcely any leisure to read ; and
none to think of what he has been reading. It would be
a derogation from his dignity to speak of a book in any


terms but those of frivolous derision ; and a strange
desertion of his own superiority, to allow himself to
receive, from its perusal, any impressions which could at
all affect his conduct or opinions.

But though, for these reasons, we continue to think 5
that Miss Edgeworth's fashionable patients will do less
credit to her prescriptions than the more numerous
classes to whom they might have been directed, we admit
that her plan of treatment is in the highest degree
judicious, and her conception of the disorder most 10
luminous and precise.

There are two great sources of unhappiness to those
whom fortune and nature seem to have placed above the
reach of ordinary miseries. The one is eimui — that
stagnation of life and feeling which results from the 15
absence of all motives to exertion ; and by which the
justice of providence has so fully compensated the
partiality of fortune, that it may be fairly doubted
whether, upon the whole, the race of beggars is not
happier than the race of lords ; and whether those vulgar 20
wants that are sometimes so importunate, are not, in this
world, the chief ministers of enjoyment. This is a plague
that infects all indolent persons who can live on in the
rank in which they were born, without the necessity of
working : but, in a free country, it rarely occurs in any 25
great degree of virulence, except among those who are
already at the summit of human felicity. Below this,
there is room for ambition, and envy, and emulation,
and all the feverish movements of aspiring vanity and
unresting selfishness, which act as prophylactics against 3°
this more dark and deadly distemper. It is the canker
which corrodes the full-blown flower of human felicity —
the pestilence which smites at the bright hour of


The other curse of the happy, has a range more wide
and indiscriminate. It, too, tortures only the compara-
tively rich and fortunate ; but is most active among the
least distinguished ; and abates in malignity as we ascend
5 to the lofty regions of pure ennui. This is the desire of
being fashionable ; — the restless and insatiable passion
to pass for creatures a little more distinguished than we
really are — with the mortification of frequent failure,
and the humiliating consciousness of being perpetually

10 exposed to it. Among those who are secure of " meat,
clothes, and fire," and are thus above the chief physical
evils of existence, we do believe that this is a more
prolific source of unhappiness, than guilt, disease, or
wounded affection ; and that more positive misery is

15 created, and more true enjoyment excluded, by the
eternal fretting and straining of this pitiful ambition, than
by all the ravages of passion, the desolations of war, or
the accidents of mortality. This may appear a strong
statement ; but we make it deliberately, and are deeply

20 convinced of its truth. The wretchedness which it pro-
duces may not be so intense ; but it is of much longer
duration, and spreads over a far wider circle. It is quite
dreadful, indeed, to think what a sweep this pest has
taken among the comforts of our prosperous population.

25 To be thought fashionable — that is, to be thought
more opulent and tasteful, and on a footing of intimacy
with a greater number of distinguished persons than
they really are, is the great and laborious pursuit of
four families out of five, the members of which are

30 exempted from the necessity of daily industry. In this
pursuit, their time, spirits, and talents are wasted ; their
tempers, soured ; their affections palsied ; and their
natural manners and dispositions altogether sophisticated
and lost.


These are the giant curses of fashionable life, and
Miss Edgeworth has accordingly dedicated her two best
tales to the delineation of their symptoms. The history
of "Lord Glenthorn " is a fine picture of ennui — that of
" Almeria " an instructive representation of the miseries 5
of aspirations after fashion. We do not know whether it
was a part of the fair writer's design to represent these
maladies as absolutely incurable, without a change of
condition ; but the fact is, that in spite of the best dis-
positions and capacities, and the most powerful induce- 10
ments to action, the hero of ennui makes no advances
towards amendment, till he is deprived of his title and
estate ! and the victim of fashion is left, at the end of
the tale, pursuing her weary career, with fading hopes
and wasted spirits, but with increased anxiety and per- 15
severance. The moral use of these narratives, therefore,
must consist in warning us against the first approaches of
evils which can never afterwards be resisted.


In three volumes i2mo, pp. 1112. Third edition. Edinbu7-gh, 181^.*

It is wonderful what genius and adherence to nature
will do, in spite of all disadvantages. Here is a thing
obviously very hastily, and, in many places, somewhat
unskilfully written — composed, one half of it, in a
5 dialect unintelligible to four-fifths of the reading popula-
tion of the country — relating to a period too recent to

* I have been a good deal at a loss what to do with these famous
novels of Sir Walter. On the one hand, I could not bring myself
to let this collection go forth, without so7ne notice of works which,
for many years together, had occupied and delighted me more than
anything else that ever came under my critical survey : While, on
the other, I could not but feel that it would be absurd, and in some
sense almost dishonest, to fill these pages with long citations from
books which, for the last twenty-five years, have been in the hands
of at least fifty times as many readers as are ever likely to look into
this publication — and are still as familiar to the generation which
has last come into existence, as to those who can yet remember the
sensation produced by their first appearance. In point of fact I was
informed, but the other day, by Mr. Cadell, that he had actually
sold not less than sixty thousand volumes of these extraordinary
productions, in the course of the preceding year ! and that the
demand for them, instead of slackening — had been for some time
sensibly on the increase. In these circumstances I think I may
safely assume that their contents are still so perfectly known as not
to require any citations to introduce such of the remarks originally
made on them as I may now wish to repeat. And I have therefore
come to the determination of omitting almost all the quotations,
and most of the detailed abstracts which appeared in the original


be romantic, and too far gone by to be familiar — and
published, moreover, in a quarter of the island where
materials and talents for novel-writing have been sup-
posed to be equally wanting : And yet, by the mere force
and truth and vivacity of its colouring, already casting 5
the whole tribe of ordinary novels into the shade, and
taking its place rather with the most popular of our
modern poems, than with the rubbish of provincial

The secret of this success, we take it, is merely that 10
the author is a man of Genius ; and that he has, notwith-
standing, had virtue enough to be true to Nature through-
out ; and to content himself, even in the marvellous parts
of his story, with copying from actual existences, rather
than from the phantasms of his own imagination. The 15
charm which this communicates to all works that deal in

reviews ; and to retain only the general criticism, and character, or
estimate of each performance — together with such incidental obser-
vations as may have been suggested by the tenor or success of these
wonderful productions. By this course, no doubt, a sad shrinking
will be effected in the primitive dimensions of the articles which are
here reproduced ; and may probably give to what is retained some-
thing of a naked and jejune appearance. If it should be so, I can
only say that I do not see how I could have helped it : and after all
it may not be altogether without interest to see, from a contem-
porary record, what were the first impressions produced by the
appearance of this new luminary on our horizon ; while the secret
of the authorship was yet undivulged, and before the rapid accumu-
lation of its glories had forced on the dullest spectator a sense of its
magnitude and power. I may venture perhaps also to add, that
some of the general speculations of which these reviews suggested
the occasion, may probably be found as well worth preservmg as
most of those which have been elsewhere embodied in this experi-
mental, and somewhat hazardous, publication.

Though living in familiar intercourse with Sir Walter, I need
scarcely say that I was not in the secret of his authorship; and in
truth had no assurance of the fact, till the time of its promulgation.


the representation of human actions and character, is
more readily felt than understood ; and operates with
unfailing efficacy even upon those who have no acquaint-
ance with the originals from which the picture has been
5 borrowed. It requires no ordinary talent, indeed, to
choose such realities as may outshine the bright imagina-
tions of the inventive, and so to combine them as to
produce the most advantageous effect ; but when this is
once accomplished, the result is sure to be something

10 more firm, impressive, and engaging, than can ever be
produced by mere fiction.

The object of the work before us, was evidently to
present a faithful and animated picture of the manners
and state of society that prevailed in this northern part

15 of the island, in the earlier part of last century; and the
author has judiciously fixed upon the era of the Rebellion
in 1745, not only as enriching his pages with the interest
inseparably attached to the narration of such occurrences,
but as affording a fair opportunity for bringing out all the

20 contrasted principles and habits which distinguished the
different classes of persons who then divided the country,
and formed among them the basis of almost all that was
peculiar in the national character. That unfortunate
contention brought conspicuously to light, and, for the

25 last time, the fading image of feudal chivalry in the
mountains, and vulgar fanaticism in the plains ; and
startled the more polished parts of the land with the wild
but brilliant picture of the devoted valour, incorruptible
fidelity, patriarchal brotherhood, and savage habits of the

30 Celtic Clans, on the one hand, — and the dark, intract-
able, and domineering bigotry of the Covenanters on the
other. Both aspects of society had indeed been formerly
prevalent in other parts of the country, — but had there
been so long superseded by more peaceable habits, and


milder manners, that their vestiges were ahuost effaced,
and their very memory nearly extinguished. The feudal
principalities had been destroyed in the South, for near
three hundred years, — and the dominion of the Puritans
from the time of the Restoration. When the glens, and 5
banded clans, of the central Highlands, therefore, were
opened up to the gaze of the English, in the course of
that insurrection, it seemed as if they were carried back
to the days of the Heptarchy ; — and when they saw the
array of the West country Whigs, they might imagine 10
themselves transported to the age of Cromwell. The
effect, indeed, is almost as startling at the present mo-
ment; and one great source of the interest which the
volumes before us undoubtedly possess, is to be sought
in the surprise that is excited by discovering, that in our 15
own country, and almost in our own age, manners and
characters existed, and were conspicuous, which we had
been accustomed to consider as belonging to remote
antiquity, or extravagant romance.

The way in which they are here represented must 20
satisfy every reader, we think, by an inward tact and
conviction, that the delineation has been made from
actual experience and observation ; — experience and
observation employed perhaps only on a few surviving
relics and specimens of what was familiar a little earlier 25
— but generalised from instances sufficiently numerous
and complete, to warrant all that may have been added
to the portrait : — And, indeed, the existing records and
vestiges of the more extraordinary parts of the represen-
tation are still sufficiently abundant, to satisfy all who 30
have the means of consulting them, as to the perfect
accuracy of the picture. The great traits of Clannish
dependence, pride, and fidelity, may still be detected in
many districts of the Highlands, though they do not now


adhere to the chieftains when they mingle in general
society ; and the existing contentions of Burghers and
Antiburghers, and Cameronians, though shrunk into com-
parative insignificance, and left, indeed, without protec-
5 tion to the ridicule of the profane, may still be referred
to, as complete verifications of all that is here stated
about Gifted Gilfillan, or Ebenezer Cruickshank. The
traits of Scottish national character in the lower ranks,
can still less be regarded as antiquated or traditional ;

10 nor is there any thing in the whole compass of the work
which gives us a stronger impression of the nice observa-
tion and graphical talent of the author, than the extra-
ordinary fidelity and felicity with which all the inferior
agents in the story are represented. No one who has not

15 lived extensively among the lower orders of all descrip-
tions, and made himself familiar with their various tem-
pers and dialects, can perceive the full merit of those
rapid and characteristic sketches ; but it requires only a
general knowledge of human nature, to feel that they

20 must be faithful copies from known originals ; and to be
aware of the extraordinary facility and flexibility of hand
which has touched, for instance, with such discriminating
shades, the various gradations of the Celtic character,
from the savage imperturbability of Dugald Mahony, who

25 stalks grimly about with his battle-axe on his shoulder,
without speaking a word to any one, — to the lively un-
principled activity of Galium Beg, — the coarse unreflect-
ing hardihood and heroism of Evan Maccombich, — and
the pride, gallantry, elegance, and ambition of Fergus

30 himself. In the lower class of the Lowland characters,
again, the vulgarity of Mrs. Flockhart and of Lieutenant
Jinker is perfectly distinct and original ; — as well as the
puritanism of Gilfillan and Cruickshank — the atrocity of
Mrs. Mucklewrath — and the slow solemnity of Alexander


Saunderson. The Baron of Bradwardine, and Baillie
Macwheeble, are caricatures no doubt, after the fashion
of the caricatures in the novels of Smollett, — or pictures,
at the best, of individuals who must always have been
unique and extraordinary : but almost all the other per- 5
sonages in the history are fair representatives of classes
that are still existing, or may be remembered at least to
have existed, by many whose recollections do not extend
quite so far back as to the year 1745.

There has been much speculation, at least in this
quarter of the island, about the authorship of this singular
performance — and certainly it is not easy to conjecture
why it is still anonymous. — Judging by internal evidence,
to which alone we pretend to have access, we should not 15
scruple to ascribe it to the highest of those authors to
whom it has been assigned by the sagacious conjectures
of the public ; — and this at least we will venture to
say that if it be indeed the work of an author hitherto
unknown, Mr, Scott would do well to look to his laurels, 20
and to rouse himself for a sturdier competition than any
he has yet had to encounter !


Collected and arranged by Jedediah Cleishbotham, Schoolmaster and
Parish Clerk of the Parish of Gandercleugh. ^ vols. i2mo.
Edinburgh, 1816.

This, we think, is beyond all question a new coinage
from the mint which produced Waverley, Guy Manner-
ing, and the Antiquary : — For though it does not bear
the legend and superscription of the Master on the face

5 of the pieces, there is no mistaking either the quality of
the metal or the execution of the die — and even the
private mark, we doubt not, may be seen plain enough,
by those who know how to look for it. It is quite
impossible to read ten pages of this work, in short,

10 without feeling that it belongs to the same school with
those very remarkable productions ; and no one who has
any knowledge of nature, or of art, will ever doubt that it
is an original. The very identity of the leading char-
acters in the whole set of stories, is a stronger proof,

15 perhaps, that those of the last series are not copied from
the former, than even the freshness and freedom of the
draperies with which they are now invested — or the ease
and spirit of the new groups into which they are here
combined. No imitator would have ventured so near his

20 originals, and yet come off so entirely clear of them :
And we are only the more assured that the old acquaint-
ances we continually recognise in these volumes, are
really the persons they pretend to be, and no false
mimics, that we recollect so perfectly to have seen them


before, — or at least to have been familiar with some of
their near relations !

We have often been astonished at the quantity of
talent — of invention, observation, and knowledge of char-
acter, as well as of spirited and graceful composition, • 5
that may be found in those works of fiction in our lan-
guage, which are generally regarded as among the lower
productions of our literature, — upon which no great
pains is understood to be bestowed, and which are
seldom regarded as titles to a permanent reputation. If 10
Novels, however, are not fated to last as long as Epic
poems, they are at least a great deal more popular in
their season ; and, slight as their structure, and imperfect
as their finishing may often be thought in comparison, we
have no hesitation in saying, that the better specimens of 15
the art are incomparably more entertaining, and consider-
ably more instructive. The great objection to them,
indeed, is, that they are too entertaining — and are so
pleasant in the reading, as to be apt to produce a disrelish
for other kinds of reading, which may be more necessary, 20
and can in no way be made so agreeable. Neither
science, nor authentic history, nor political nor pro-
fessional instruction, can be rightly conveyed, we fear, in
a pleasant tale ; and therefore, all those things are in
danger of appearing dull and uninteresting to the votaries 25
of these more seductive studies. Among the most popular
of these popular productions that have appeared in our
times, we must rank the works to which we just alluded ;
and we do not hesitate to say, that they are well entitled
to that distinction. They are indeed, in many respects, 3°
very extraordinary performances — though in nothing
more extraordinary than in having remained so long
unclaimed. There is no name, we think, in our litera-
ture, to which they would not add lustre — and lustre,


too, of a very enviable kind ; for they not only show great
talent, but infinite good sense and good nature, — a more
vigorous and wide-reaching intellect than is often dis-
played in novels, and a more powerful fancy, and a
5 -deeper sympathy with various passion, than is often com-
bined with such strength of understanding.

The author, whoever he is, has a truly graphic and
creative power in the invention and delineation of char-
acters — which he sketches with an ease, and colours

10 with a brilliancy, and scatters about with a profusion,
which reminds us of Shakespeare himself : Yet with all
this force and felicity in the representation of living
agents, he has the eye of a poet for all the striking aspects
external of nature ; and usually contrives, both in his

15 scenery and in the groups with which it is enlivened, to
combine the picturesque with the natural, with a grace
that has rarely been attained by artists so copious and
rapid. His narrative, in this way, is kept constantly full
of life, variety, and colour ; and is so interspersed with

20 glowing descriptions, and lively allusions, and flying
traits of sagacity and pathos, as not only to keep our
attention continually awake, but to afford a pleasing exer-
cise to most of our other faculties. The prevailing tone
is very gay and pleasant ; but the author's most remark-

25 able, and, perhaps, his most delightful talent, is that of
representing kindness of heart in union with lightness of
spirits and great simplicity of character, and of blending
the expression of warm and generous and exalted affec-
tions with scenes and persons that are in themselves both

30 lowly and ludicrous. This gift he shares with his illus-
trious countryman Burns — as he does many of the other
qualities we have mentioned with another living poet, —
who is only inferior perhaps in that to which we have last

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Online LibraryFrancis Jeffrey JeffreySelections from the essays of Francis Jeffrey → online text (page 13 of 21)