Francis Jeffrey Jeffrey.

Selections from the essays of Francis Jeffrey online

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alluded. It is very honorable indeed, we think, both to


the author, and to the readers among whom he is so
extremely popular, that the great interest of his pieces is
for the most part a Moral interest — that the concern we
take in his favourite characters is less on account of their
adventures than of their amiableness — and that the great 5
charm of his works is derived from the kindness of heart,
the capacity of generous emotions, and the lights of
native taste which he ascribes, so lavishly, and at the
same time with such an air of truth and familiarity, even
to the humblest of these favourites. With all his relish 10
for the ridiculous, accordingly, there is no tone of misan-*
thropy, or even of sarcasm, in his representations ; but,
on the contrary, a great indulgence and relenting even
towards those who are to be the objects of our disappro-
bation. There is no keen or cold-blooded satire — no 15
bitterness of heart, or fierceness of resentment, in any
part of his writings. His love of ridicule is little else
than a love of mirth ; and savours throughout of the
joyous temperament in which it appears to have its
origin ; while the buoyancy of a raised and poetical 20
imagination lifts him continually above the region of
mere jollity and good humour, to which a taste, by no
means nice or fastidious, might otherwise be in danger of
sinking him. He is evidently a person of a very sociable
and liberal spirit — with great habits of observation — 25
who has ranged pretty extensively through the varieties
of human life and character, and mingled with them all,
not only with intelligent familiarity, but with a free and
natural sympathy for all the diversities of their tastes,
pleasures, and pursuits — ■ one who has kept his heart as 3°
well as his eyes open to all that has offered itself to
engage them ; and learned indulgence for human faults
and follies, not only from finding kindred faults in their
most intolerant censors, but also for the sake of the


virtues by which they are often redeemed, and the suffer-
ings by which they have still oftener been chastised.
The temper of his writings, in short, is precisely the
, reverse of those of our Laureates and Lakers, who, being
5 themselves the most whimsical of mortals, make it a con-
science to loathe and abhor all with whom they happen
to disagree ; and labour to promote mutual animosity
and all manner of uncharitableness among mankind, by
referring every supposed error of taste, or peculiarity of

10 opinion, to some hateful corruption of the heart and

With all the indulgence, however, which we so justly
ascribe to him, we are far from complaining of the writer
before us for being too neutral and undecided on the

15 great subjects which are most apt to engender excessive
zeal and intolerance — and we are almost as far from
agreeing with him as to most of those subjects. In
politics it is sufficiently manifest, that he is a decided
Tory — and, we are afraid, something of a latitudinarian

20 both in morals and religion. He is very apt at least to
make a mock of all enthusiasm for liberty or faith — and
not only gives a decided preference to the social over the
austerer virtues — but seldom expresses any warm or
hearty admiration, except for those graceful and gentle-

25 man-like principles, which can generally be acted upon
with a gay countenance — and do not imply any great
effort of self-denial, or any deep sense of the rights of
others, or the helplessness and humility of our common
nature. Unless we misconstrue very grossly the indica-

30 tions in these volumes, the author thinks no times so
happy as those in which an indulgent monarch awards a
reasonable portion of liberty to grateful subjects, who do
not call in question his right either to give or to withhold
it^— in which a dignified and decent hierarchy receives


the homage of their submissive and iininquiring flocks —
and a gallant nobility redeems the venial immoralities
of their gayer hours, by brave and honourable conduct
towards each other, and spontaneous kindness to vassals,
in whom they recognise no independent rights, and not 5
many features of a common nature.

It is very remarkable, however, that, with propensities
thus decidedly aristocratical, the ingenious author has
succeeded by far the best in the representation of rustic
and homely characters ; and not in the ludicrous or con- 10
temptuous representation of them — but by making them
at once more natural and more interesting than they had
ever been made before in any work of fiction ; by showing
them, not as clowns to be laughed at — or wretches, to be
pitied and despised — but as human creatures, with as 15
many pleasures and fewer cares than their superiors —
with affections not only as strong, but often as delicate
as those whose language is smoother — and with a vein
of humour, a force of sagacity, and very frequently an .
elevation of fancy, as high and as natural as can be met 20
with among more cultivated beings. The great merit of
all these delineations, is their admirable truth and fidelity
— the whole manner and cast of the characters being:
accurately moulded on their condition — and the finer
attributes that are ascribed to them so blended and 25
harmonised with the native rudeness and simplicity of
their life and occupations, that they are made interesting
and even noble beings, without the least particle of
foppery or exaggeration, and delight and amuse us,
without trespassing at all on the province of pastoral 30
or romance.

Next to these, we think, he has found his happiest
subjects, or at least displayed his greatest powers, in the
delineation of the grand and gloomy aspects of nature.


and of the dark and fierce passions of the heart. The
natural gaiety of his temper does not indeed allow him
to dwell long on such themes ; — but the sketches he
occasionally introduces, are executed with admirable
5 force and spirit — ^and give a strong impression both
of the vigour of his imagination, and the variety of his
talent. It is only in the third rank that we would place
his pictures of chivalry and chivalrous character — his
traits of gallantry, nobleness, and honour — and that

10 bewitching combination of gay and gentle manners, with
generosity, candour, and courage, which has long been
familiar enough to readers and writers of novels, but has
never before been represented with such an air of truth,
and so much ease and happiness of execution.

15 Among his faults and failures, we must give the first
place to his descriptions of virtuous young ladies — and
his representations of the ordinary business of courtship
and conversation in polished life. We admit that those
things, as they are commonly conducted in real life, are

20 apt to be a little insipid to a mere critical spectator ; —
and that while they consequently require more heighten-
ing than strange adventures or grotesque persons, they
admit less of exaggeration or ambitious ornament : —
Yet we cannot think it necessary that they should be

25 altogether so tame and mawkish as we generally find
them in the hands of this spirited writer, — whose powers
really seem to require some stronger stimulus to bring
them into action, than can be supplied by the flat
realities of a peaceful and ordinary existence. His love

30 of the ludicrous, it must also be observed, often betrays
him into forced and vulgar exaggerations, and into the
repetition of common and paltry stories, — though it is
but fair to add, that he does not detain us long with
them, and makes amends by the copiousness of his


assortment for the indifferent quality of some of the
specimens. It is another consequence of this extreme
abundance in which he revels and riots, and of the
fertility of the imagination from which it is supplied, that
he is at all times a little apt to overdo even those things 5
which he does best. His most striking and highly
coloured characters appear rather too often, and go on
rather too long. It is astonishing, indeed, with what
spirit they are supported, and how fresh and animated
they are to the very last; — but still there is something 10
too much of them — and they would be more waited for
and welcomed, if they were not quite so lavish of their
presence. — It was reserved for Shakespeare alone, to
leave all his characters as new and unworn as he found
them, — and to carry Falstaff through the business of 15
three several plays, and leave us as greedy of his sayings
as at the moment of his first introduction. It is no light
praise to the author before us, that he has sometimes
reminded us of this, as well as other inimitable excel-
lences in that most gifted of all inventors. 20

To complete this hasty and unpremeditated sketch of
his general characteristics, we must add, that he is above
all things national and Scottish, — and never seems to
feel the powers of a Giant, except when he touches his
native soil. His countrymen alone, therefore, can have 25
a full sense of his merits, or a perfect relish of his
excellences; — and those only, indeed, of them, who
have mingled, as he has done, pretty freely with the
lower orders, and made themselves familiar not only
with their language, but with the habits and traits of 30
character, of which it then only becomes expressive. It
is one thing to understand the meaning of words, as they
are explained by other words in a glossary, and another
to know their value, as expressive of certain feelings and


humours in the speakers to whom they are native, and as
signs both of temper and condition among those who are
famiUar with their import.

We must content ourselves, we fear, with this hasty
5 and superficial sketch of the general character of this
author's performances, in the place of a more detailed
examination of those which he has given to the public
since we first' announced him as the author of Waverley.
The time for noticing his two intermediate works, has

lo been permitted to go by so far, that it would probably be
difficult to recall the public attention to them with any
effect ; and, at all events, impossible to affect, by any
observations of ours, the judgment which has been passed
upon them, with very little assistance, we must say, from

15 professed critics, by the mass of their intelligent readers,
— by whom, indeed, we have no doubt that they are, by
this time, as well known, and as correctly estimated, as
if they had been indebted to us for their first impressions
on the subject. For our own parts we must confess, that

20 Waverley still has to us all the fascination of a first love !
and that we cannot help thinking, that the greatness of
the public transactions in which that story was involved,
as well as the wildness and picturesque graces of its
Highland scenery and characters, have invested it with a

25 charm, to which the more familiar attractions of the other
pieces have not quite come up. In this, perhaps, our
opinion differs from that of better judges; — but we
cannot help suspecting, that the latter publications are
most admired by many, at least in the southern part

30 of the island, only because they are more easily and
perfectly understood, in consequence of the training
which had been gone through in the perusal of the
former. But, however that be, we are far enough from
denying that the two succeeding works are performances


of extraordinary merit, — and are willing even to admit,
that they show quite as much power and genius in the
author — though, to our taste at least, the subjects are
less happily selected.

* * 5

The scene of the story thus strikingly introduced is
laid — in Scotland of course — in those disastrous times
which immediately preceded the Revolution of 1688 ;
and exhibits a lively picture, both of the general state of
manners at that period, and of the conduct and temper 10
and principles of the two great parties in politics and
religion that were then engaged in unequal and rancorous
hostility. There are no times certainly, within the reach
of authentic history, on which it is more painful to
look back — which show a government more base and 15
tyrannical, or a people more helpless and miserable :
And though all pictures of the greater passions are full of
interest, and a lively representation of strong and
enthusiastic emotions never fails to be deeply attractive,
the piece would have been too full of distress and 20
humiliation, if it had been chiefly engaged with the
course of public events, or the record of public feelings.
So sad a subject would not have suited many readers —
and the author, we suspect, less than any of them.
Accordingly, in this, as in his other works, he has made 25
use of the historical events which came in his way,
rather to develope the characters, and bring out the
peculiarities of the individuals whose adventures he
relates, than for any purpose of political information ;
and makes us present to the times in which he has placed 3°
them, less by his direct notices of the great transactions
by which they were distinguished, than by his casual
intimations of their effects on private persons, and by the
very contrast which their temper and occupations often


appear to furnish to the colour of the national story.
Nothing, indeed, in this respect is more delusive, or at
least more woefully imperfect, than the suggestions of
authentic history, as it is generally — or rather universally
5 written — and nothing more exaggerated than the
impressions it conveys of the actual state and condition
of those who live in its most agitated periods. The great
public events of which alone it takes cognizance, have
but little direct influence upon the body of the people ;

lo and do not, in general, form the principal business, or
happiness or misery even of those who are in some
measure concerned in them. Even in the worst and most
disastrous times — in periods of civil war and revolution,
and public discord and oppression, a great part of the

15 time of a great part of the people is still spent in making
love and money — in social amusement or professional
industry — in schemes for worldly advancement or
personal distinction, just as in periods of general peace
and prosperity. Men court and marry very nearly as

20 much in the one season as in the other ; and are as merry
at weddings and christenings — as gallant at balls and
races — as busy in their studies and counting houses —
eat as heartily, in short, and sleep as sound — prattle
with their children as pleasantly — and thin their

25 plantations and scold their servants as zealously, as if
their contemporaries were not furnishing materials thus
abundantly for the Tragic muse of history. The quiet
undercurrent of life, in short, keeps its deep and steady
course in its eternal channels, unaffected, or but slightly

30 disturbed, by the storms that agitate its surface ; and
while long tracts of time, in the history of every country,
seem, to the distant student of its annals, to be darkened
over with one thick and oppressive cloud of unbroken
misery, the greater part of those who have lived through


the whole acts of the tragedy will be found to have
enjoyed a fair average share of felicity, and to have been
much less impressed by the shocking events of their day
than those who know nothing else of it than that such
events took place in its course. Few men, in short, are 5
historical characters — and scarcely any man is always,
or most usually, performing a public part. The actual
happiness of every life depends far more on things that
regard it exclusively, than on those political occurrences
which are the common concern of society ; and though 10
nothing lends such an air, both of reality and importance,
to a fictitious narrative, as to connect its persons with
events in real history, still it is the imaginary individual
himself that excites our chief interest throughout, and we
care for the national affairs only in so far as they affect 15
him. In one sense, indeed, this is the true end and
the best use of history ; for as all public events are
important only as they ultimately concern individuals, if
the individual selected belong to a large and compre-
hensive class, and the events, and their natural operation 20
on him, be justly represented, we shall be enabled, in
following out his adventures, to form no bad estimate of
their true character and value for all the rest of the

The author before us has done all this, we think ; and 25
with admirable talent and effect : and if he has not been
quite impartial in the management of his historical
persons, has contrived, at any rate, to make them
contribute largely to the interest of his acknowledged
inventions. His view of the effects of great political 3°
contentions on private happiness, is however, we have no
doubt, substantially true ; and that chiefly because it is
not exaggerated — because he does not confine himself
to show how gentle natures may be roused into heroism,


or rougher tempers exasperated into rancour, by public

' oppression, — but turns still more willingly to show with
what ludicrous absurdity genuine enthusiasm may be
debased, how little the gaiety of the light-hearted and

5 thoughtless may be impaired by the spectacle of public
calamity, and how, in the midst of national distraction,
selfishness will pursue its little game of quiet and cunning
speculation — and gentler affections find time to multiply
and to meet !

lo It is this, we think, that constitutes the great and
peculiar merit of the work before us. It contains an
admirable picture of manners and of characters ; and
exhibits, we think, with great truth and discrimination,
the extent and the variety of the shades which the

15 stormy aspect of the political horizon would be likely to
throw on such objects. And yet, though exhibiting
beyond all doubt the greatest possible talent and
originality, we cannot help fancying that we can trace the
rudiments of almost all its characters in the very first

20 of the author's publications. — Morton is but another
edition of Waverley ; — taking a bloody part in political
contention, without caring much about the cause, and
interchanging high offices of generosity with his political
opponents. — Claverhouse has many of the features of

25 the gallant Fergus. — Cuddie Headrigg, of whose merits,
by the way, we - have given no fair specimen in our
extracts, is a Dandie Dinmont of a considerably lower
species ; — and even the Covenanters and their leaders
were shadowed out, though afar off, in the gifted Gilfillan,

30 and mine host of the Candlestick. It is in the picture
of these hapless enthusiasts, undoubtedly, that the great
merit and the great interest of the work consists. That
interest, indeed, is so great, that we perceive it has even
given rise to a sort of controversy among the admirers


and contemners of those ancient worthies. It is a
singular honour, no doubt, to a work of fiction and
amusement, to be thus made the theme of serious attack
and defence upon points of historical and theological
discussion ; and to have grave dissertations written by p
learned contemporaries upon the accuracy of its repre-
sentations of public events and characters, or the moral
effects of the style of ridicule in which it indulges. It
is difficult for us, we confess, to view the matter in so
serious a light ; nor do we feel much disposed, even if 10
we had leisure for the task, to venture ourselves into the
array of the disputants. One word or two, however, we
shall say, before concluding, upon the two great points of
difference, First, as to the author's profanity, in making
scriptural expressions ridiculous by the misuse of them 15
he has ascribed to the fanatics ; and, secondly, as to the
fairness of his general representation of the conduct and
character of the insurgent party and their opponents.

As to the first, we do not know very well what to
say. Undoubtedly, all light or jocular use of Scripture 20
phraseology is in some measure indecent and profane :
Yet we do not know in what other way those hypocritical
pretences to extraordinary sanctity which generally
disguise themselves in such a garb, can be so effectually
exposed. And even where the ludicrous misapplication 25
of holy writ arises from mere ignorance, or the foolish
mimicry of more learned discoursers, as it is impossible
to avoid smiling at the folly when it actually occurs, it is
difficult for witty and humorous writers, in whose way it
lies, to resist fabricating it for the purpose of exciting 30
smiles. In so far as practice can afford any justification
of such a proceeding, we conceive that its justification
would be easy. In all our jest-books, and plays and
works of humour for two centuries back, the characters


of Quakers and Puritans and Methodists, have been
constantly introduced as fit objects of ridicule, on this
very account. The Reverend Jonathan Swift is full of
jokes of this description ; and the pious and correct
5 Addison himself is not a little fond of a sly and witty
application of a text from the sacred writings. When an
author, therefore, whose aim was amusement, had to do
with a set of people, all of whom dealt in familiar
applications of Bible phrases and Old Testament adven-

10 tures, and who, undoubtedly, very often made absurd and
ridiculous applications of them, it would be rather hard,
we think, to interdict him entirely from the representation
of these absurdities ; or to put in force, for him alone,
those statutes against profaneness which so many other

15 people have been allowed to transgress, in their hours of
gaiety, without censure or punishment.

On the other point, also, we rather lean to the side of
the author. He is a Tory, we think, pretty plainly in
principle, and scarcely disguises his preference for a

20 Cavalier over a Puritan : But, with these propensities, we
think he has dealt pretty fairly with both sides — es-
pecially when it is considered that, though he lays his
scene in a known crisis of his national history, his work
is professedly a work of fiction, and cannot well be

25 accused of misleading any one as to matters of fact. He
might have made Claverhouse victorious at Drumclog, if
he had thought fit — and nobody could have found fault
with him. The insurgent Presbyterians of 1666 and the
subsequent years, were, beyond all question, a pious,

30 brave, and conscientious race of men — to whom, and to
whose efforts and sufferings, their descendants are deeply
indebted for the liberty both civil and religious which
they still enjoy, as well as for the spirit of resistance to
tyranny, which, we trust, they have inherited along with


it. Considered generally as a party, it is impossible that
they should ever be remembered, at least in Scotland,
but with gratitude and veneration — that their sufferings
should ever be mentioned but with deep resentment and
horror — or their heroism, both active and passive, but 5
with pride and exultation. At the same time, it is impos-
sible to deny, that there were among them many absurd
and ridiculous persons — and some of a savage and .
ferocious character — old women, in short, like Mause
Headrigg — preachers like Kettledrummle — or despera- 10
does like Balfour of Burley. That a Tory novelist
should bring such characters prominently forward, in a
tale of the times, appears to us not only to be quite
natural, but really to be less blamable than almost any
other way in which party feelings could be shown. But, 15
even he, has not represented the bulk of the party as
falling under this description, or as fairly represented by
such personages. He has made his hero — who, of
course, possesses all possible virtues — of that per-
suasion ; and has allowed them, in general, the courage 20
of martyrs, the self-denial of hermits, and the zeal and
sincerity of apostles. His representation is almost
avowedly that of one who is not of their communion ;
and yet we think it impossible to peruse it, without feel-
ing the greatest respect and pity for those to whom it is 25

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Online LibraryFrancis Jeffrey JeffreySelections from the essays of Francis Jeffrey → online text (page 14 of 21)