Francis Jeffrey Jeffrey.

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1 Ed. New York, 187 1, I, 176.

2 Lord Cockburn's Life of Lord Jefffcy, I, 106.


Jeffrey was utterly dumbfounded, for he had predicted for
our journal the fate of the original ' Edinburgh Review,'
which, born in 1755, died in 1756, having produced only
two numbers ! The truth is, the most sanguine among
us, even Smith himself, could not have foreseen the
greatness of the first triumph, any more than we could
have imagined the long and successful career the Review
was afterwards to run, or the vast reforms and improve-
ments in all our institutions, social as well as political, it
was destined to effect." ^

The subscription list of the Revieiv grew within six
years from 750 to 9000 ; and by 18 13 it numbered more
than 12,000. The importance of these figures is better
understood when the reader recollects that in 18 16 the
London Ti?7ies sold only 8000 copies daily. Moreover,
it should be remembered that one copy of a magazine
went much further then than it goes now, and did service
in more than a single household. In 1809 Jeffrey boasted
that the Review was read by 50,000 thinking people
within a month after it was printed ; doubtless this was
a perfectly sound estimate.

Various causes have been suggested as contributing to
the instant and phenomenal success of the Review, —
the puzzling anonymity of its articles, its magisterial
tone, the audacity of its attacks, what Horner calls its
"scurrility," the novelty of its Scotch origin. All these
causes doubtless had their influence. More important
still, however, were the wit and knowledge and originality
of the brilliant contributors that Jeffrey rallied round him.
Writing to his brother in July, 1803, Jeffrey thus describes
his fellow-workers : " I do not think you know any of my
associates. There is the sage Horner, however, whom
you have seen, and who has gone to the English bar with

^ The Life and Times oj" Lofd Brougham, I, 180,


the resolution of being Lord Chancellor ; Brougham, a
great mathematician, who has just published a book upon
the Colonial Policy of Europe, which all you Americans
should read ; Rev. Sydney Smith and P. Elmsley, two
Oxonian priests, full of jokes and erudition; my excellent
little Sanscrit Hamilton, who is also in the hands of
Bonaparte at Fontainebleau ; Thomas Thomson and
John Murray, two ingenious advocates ; and some dozen
of occasional contributors, among whom the most illus-
trious, I think, are young Watt of Birmingham, and Davy
of the Royal Institution." ^ Many of these names are
now forgotten, but those of Sydney Smith, Brougham,
Horner and Davy speak for themselves and are guaran-
tees of brilliancy of style, originality of treatment, and
vigorous thought.

The editor and the contributors, then, must receive
their full share of credit for the success of the new
Review ; but their ability alone can hardly account for a
success that converted' the "blue and yellow" into a
national institution. To explain a success so permanent
and far-reaching, we must look beyond editor and con-
tributors and consider the relation of the Review to its
social environment. The Edinburgh Review came into
being in answer to a popular need ; it developed a new
literary form to meet this need ; and its business arrange-
ments were such as enabled the cleverest and most
suggestive writers to adapt their work to the require-
ments of the reading public more readily and more
effectively than ever before. The meaning of these
assertions will grow clearer as we consider the differ-
ence between the Edinburgh Review and earlier English

^ Lord Cockburn's Life of Jeffrey, II, 64.



Prior to 1802 there were two standard Reviews in
Great Britain, — the Monthly Review and the Critical
Review. Minor Reviews there had been in plenty, of
longer or shorter life ; but these two periodicals had
pushed beyond their rivals and were regarded as the best
of their kind. The Monthly Review had been founded in
1749 by Ralph Griffiths, a bookseller; it was Whig in
politics and Low Church in religion. Its rival, the
Critical Review^ of which Smollett was for many years
editor, had been founded in 1756, and was Tory and
High Church. These Reviews were alike in form and
were hardly to be distinguished in externals and in
ostensible aim from the later Edi7ibHrgh Review. They
were made up of short articles on current publications
and professed to give trustworthy opinions of the merits
of all new books.

When we push beyond form and outside, however, and
consider the contents, the scope and tone of the articles,
the policy of the manager, and the character of the con-
tributors, we find these earlier Reviews totally unlike the
Edinburgh. They were booksellers' organs, under the
strict supervision of booksellers, and often edited by
booksellers. They were used persistently and systemati-
cally, though, of course, discreetly, to further the book-
seller's business schemes, to quicken the sale in case of
a slow market, and to damage the publications of rivals.
They were written for the most part by drudges and
penny-a-liners, who worked under the orders of the book-
seller like slaves under the lash of the slave-driver. All
these points are well illustrated in the history of the
relations between Dr. Griffiths, editor of the Mofithly^
and his subordinates.


Griffiths was originally a bookseller ; and though he
was able later to retire from this business and to devote
himself wholly to the management of his Revieiv^ he
retained still the instincts of a petty tradesman, and kept
his eye on the state of the market like a skilful seller of
perishable wares. Of scholarship, of genuine taste and
literary ability he had next to nothing ; but he had shrewd
common sense, sound business instincts, tact in dealing
with men, readiness to bully or to fawn as might be
needful, and unlimited patience in scheming for the com-
mercial success of his venture.

His dealings with Goldsmith between 1755 and 1765
and with William Taylor of Norwich between 1790 and
1800 illustrate perfectly his policy in conducting the
Monthly and the light in which he regarded his con-
tributors. Goldsmith he by turns bullied and bribed
according as poor Goldsmith was more or less in need of
money. On one occasion he became Goldsmith's security
with his tailor for a new suit of clothes on condition that
Goldsmith at once write four articles for the Rriiew ;
these articles were turned out to order, and appeared
in December, 1758. On Goldsmith's failing to pay his
tailor's bill in the specified time, Griffiths demanded the
return of the suit and also of the books ; and when he
found that Goldsmith had pawned the books, he wrote
him abusively, terming him sharper and villain, and
threatening him with jail. In 1759 on the appearance
of Goldsmith's first book, Griffiths ordered one of his
hacks, the notorious Kenrick, to ridicule the work, and
to make a personal attack on the author. These orders
were faithfully carried out in the next number of the
Mo7itJily Review}

With William Taylor of Norwich Griffiths took a very

1 Forster's Goldsmith, London, 184S, bk. ii, j). 170.


different tone. Taylor was one of the few men of
breeding and of parts who before 1802 condescended
to write for Reviews, and he was moreover for many
years the great English authority on German literature.
For these reasons Griffiths always handled him with the
utmost tenderness, and, even when giving him orders or
refusing his articles, took a flattering tone of deference
and admiration. On one occasion Taylor demanded an
increase of pay ; Griffiths's answer gives a very instructive
glimpse of the relations between the bookseller-editor
and his hack-writers. The "gratuity" for review-work,
Griffiths assures Taylor, had been settled fifty years
before at two guineas a sheet of sixteen printed pages,
" a sum not then deemed altogether puny," and in the
case of most writers had since remained unchanged,
although there had been certain " allowed exceptions in
favour of the more difficult branches of the business."
These exceptions, however, had tended to cause much
jealousy and heart-burning among the contributors ; for
"it could not be expected that those labourers in the
vineyard, who customarily executed the less difficult
branches of the culture, w^ould ever be cordially con-
vinced that their merits and importance were inferior to
any." After these laborious explanations Griffiths agrees
to raise Taylor's compensation to three guineas per sheet
of sixteen printed pages, though he expressly points out
that by so doing he risks "exciting jealousy in the corps,
similar, perhaps, to what happened among the vine-
dressers, Matt. chap, xx." " If objections arise," he
shrewdly continues, " we must resort for consolation to
a list of candidates for the next vacancy, for in the
literary harvest there is never any want of reapers." ^
Griffiths's slave-driving propensities show clearly through

1 J. W. Robberd's life of William Taylor, I, 130-132.


the thin disguise of politic words. Plainly he feels
himself absolute master of the minds and wills of an
indefinite number of penny-a-liners ; and it is on these
penny-a-liners that he resolves to depend for the great
mass of his articles.

This, then, was the character of a typical editor-
publisher of the old-fashioned Review, and such in its
general outlines was the policy he pursued. The results
were deplorable. The editor-publisher prescribed to his
hacks what treatment a book should receive. Some-
times this was with a view to the market. " I send also
the ' Horae Biblicae ' at a venture," writes Griffiths to
Taylor, "... it signifies not much whether we notice
it or not, as it is not on saky ^ The Italics are
Griffiths's own. Sometimes, the publisher-editor merely
wanted to favor a friend or injure an enemy, Griffiths's
dictation in the case of Goldsmith's first book has already
been noted. On another occasion Griffiths sent a copy
of Murphy's Tacitus to Taylor with the following signifi-
cant suggestion : " One thing I have to mention, entre
nous, that Mr. M. is 07ie of us, and that it is a rule in our
society for the members to behave with due decorum
toward each other, whenever they appear at their own
bar as authors, out of their own critical province. If a
kingdom (like poor France at present) be divided against
itself, ' how shall that kingdom stand ? ' " ^ if Griffiths
ventured on this dictation with a man of Taylor's stand-
ing and independence, his tyranny over his regular
dependents must have been complete and relentless.

As a result, review-writing became purely hack-work.
The reviewer had no voice of his own in his criticism ;
what little individuality he might, in his feebleness, have

1 J. W. Robberd's Life of William Taylor, I, 139.

2 Ibid., I, 122.


put into his work, had he been left to himself, dis-
appeared under the eye of his task- master. He
became a mere machine, praising and blaming per-
functorily and conventionally, at the bidding of the
editor-publisher. Mawkish adulation or random abuse
became the staple of critical articles ; and in neither
kind of work did the critic rise above the dead level of
hopeless mediocrity.

A final result of this whole system of review-managing
and hack-writing was unwillingness on the part of men of
position to have anything to do with review-writing. If
a man criticised books in a Review, he felt that he was
putting himself on a level with Kenrick, Griffiths's
notorious hireling who had been imprisoned for libel,
with Kit Smart, who had bound himself to a bookseller
for ninety-nine years, and with other like wretches.
William Taylor of Norwich was one of the few gentle-
men who, before 1802, ventured to write for Reviews.

With the establishment of the Edhiburgh Review all
this was changed. The prime principle of the new
Review was independence of booksellers. The plan was*
not a bookseller's scheme, but was hatched in the fervid
brains of half-a-dozen young adventurers in law and
literature and politics. From the start the bookseller
was a " mere instrument," as Brougham specially notes.
The management of the Review was at first in the hands
of Sydney Smith. When he set out for London his last
words to the publisher Constable were, " If you will
give ^200 per annum to your editor and ten guineas a
sheet, you will soon have the best Review in Europe."-^
Accordingly, the editorship was at once offered to Jeffrey,
at even a higher salary, ^300, than Sydney Smith had
named. Jeffrey hesitated because of " the risk of general

1 Lord Cockburn's Life of Lord Jeffrey, I, 108.


degradation."^ But he found the ;^3oo "a monstrous
bribe " ; moreover, the other contributors were all plan-
ning to take their ten guineas a sheet ; accordingly, after
many qualms he swallowed his scruples and became a
paid editor. "The publication," he wrote to his brother,
in July 1803, "is in the highest degree respectable as
yet, as there are none but gentlemen connected with it.
If it ever sink into the state of an ordinary bookseller's
journal, I have done with it."^

So began Jeffrey's "reign" of twenty-six years; and
so ended the despotism of booksellers. Henceforth the
editor, not the publisher, was master. It was Jeffrey who
decided what books should be handled or rather what
subjects should be discussed ; it was Jeffrey who deter-
mined the price to be paid for each article, — "I had,"
he declares, "an unlimited discretion in this respect";^
it was Jeffrey who pleaded with the dilatory, mollified the
refractory, and reached out here and there after new con-
tributors ; in short, it was Jeffrey who shaped the policy
of the Review and impressed on it its distinctive char-
acter. " The sage Horner's " nickname for Jeffrey, " King
Jamfray," was certainly apt.

But there were several other hardly less important
points in which the business policy of the Edinbu?'gh
was a new departure. The compensation for reviewing
was greatly increased. The old price had been two
guineas a sheet of sixteen printed pages ; the Edinburgh
Revieiv^ after the first three numbers, paid ten guineas a
sheet, and very soon sixteen guineas. Moreover, this
was the minimum rate ; over two-thirds of the articles
were, according to Jeffrey, " paid much higher, averaging

1 Lord Cockburn's Life of Jeffrey, II, 63.

2 IbicL, II, 65.

3 Ibid., I, 1 10.


from twenty to twenty-five guineas a sheet on the whole
number." ^

Again, every contributor was forced to take pay ; no
contributor, however nice his honor, was suffered to
refuse compensation. This change was of the utmost
importance ; the rule salved the consciences of many
brilliant young professional men, who were glad of pay,
but ashamed to write for it, and afraid of being dubbed
penny-a-liners. By Jeffrey's clever arrangement they
could write for fame or for simple amusement, and then
have money "thrust upon them." With high prices and
enforced compensation the new Review at once drew into
its service men of a totally different stamp from the old

Finally, the Editihtirgh was published quarterly, whereas
the old Reviews were published monthly. This change
was for two reasons important : in the first place, writers
had more time in which to prepare their articles and led
less of a hand-to-mouth life intellectually ; and, in the
second place, the Review made no attempt to notice all
publications and chose for discussion only books of real
significance. Coleridge particularly commends this part
of the Review's policy : " It has a claim upon the
gratitude of the literary republic, and indeed of the read-
ing public at large, for having originated the scheme of
reviewing those books only, which are susceptible and
deserving of argumentative criticism." ^


These, then, were the principal points in which the
organization and policy of the Edi7iburgh Review

1 Lord Cockburn's life of Jeffrey, I, no.

2 Coleridge, Biographia Literaria, chap. 21.


contrasted with those of its predecessors ; and the
influence of these changes on the tone and spirit of the
articles in the new Review cannot well be exaggerated.
The Edifiburg/i Review was not to be a catch-all for waste
information ; it was to become an organ of thought, a
busy intellectual center, from which the newest ideas
were sent out in a perpetual stream through the minds of
sympathetic readers. The Review had opinions of its
own on all public questions. In politics, it advocTated
the principles of the Constitutional Whigs, at first in a
non-partisan spirit, after 1808, fiercely and aggressively ;
it pleaded for reform of the representation, for Catholic
emancipation, for a wise recognition of the just discontent
of the lower classes and for judicious measures to allay
this discontent without violent Constitutional changes.
In social matters, it urged reforms of all kinds, the repeal
of the game laws, the improvement of prisons, the protec-
tion of chimney-sweeps and other social unfortunates. In
religion, it argued for toleration. In education, it attacked
pedantry and tradition, ridiculed the narrowness of
university ideals, and contended for the adoption of
practical methods and utilitarian aims. In all these
departments it criticised the existing order of things,
always brilliantly and suggestively, and sometimes fiercely
and radically, and stirred the public into a keener
consciousness and more intelligent appreciation of the
questions of the hour, social, political and religious.

Now it is plain that, to accomplish all this, writers
would find it necessary to go far outside of the old limits
of book-reviewing, and to make their articles express
their own independent ideas on various important topics
rather than simply their critical opinions of the merits of
new publications. And this is precisely what happened.
A book-review became in most cases merely a mask


for the writer's own ideas on some burning question of
the hour. In other words, the estabhshment of the
Edinburgh Review really led to the evolution of a
new literary form ; the old-fashioned review-article was
converted into a brief argumentative essay discussing
some living topic, political or social, in the light of the
very latest ideas. This kind of essay had been unknown
in the eighteenth century, and was developed at the
opening of the nineteenth century in response to the
needs of the moment.

Nor was this change in the nature of the review-article
unremarked at the time ; Hazlitt noted it and with his
usual sourness protested against it. " If [the critic]
recurs," he says, ''to the stipulated subject in the end, it
is not till after he has exhausted his budget of general
knowledge ; and he establishes his own claims first in
an elaborate inaugural dissertation de otniii scibili et
qicihusda77i aliis, before he deigns to bring forward^ the
pretensions of the original candidate for praise, who is
only the second figure in the piece. We may sometimes
see articles of this sort, in which no allusion whatever is
made to the work under sentence of death, after the
first announcement of the title-page." ^ Coleridge, on
the other hand, approved of the change, and commended
the " plan of supplying the vacant place of the trash or
mediocrity wisely left to sink into oblivion by their own
weight, with original essays on the most interesting
subjects of the time, religious or political ; in which the
titles of the books or pamphlets prefixed furnish only the
name and occasion of the disquisition." ^ The reviewers
themselves recognized, of course, the change they were
working, though they did not altogether realize its

1 Hazlitt's Table Talk, series ii, essay 6.

2 Coleridge's Biographia Literaria, chap. 21.


significance. In 1807, Horner writes Jeffrey, "Have
you any good subjects in view for your nineteenth ?
There are two I wish you, yourself, would undertake, if
you can pick up books that would admit of them."^ This
quotation illustrates the fact that the important question
in the minds of the reviewers was always, not " What new
books have appeared ? " but *' \Miat topics just now have
the greatest actuality and are best worth discussing ? "

This, then, was largely the cause of the success of the
Review : it offered, in its articles, a literary form by
means by which the most active and original minds could
at once come into communication with "the intelligent
public " on all vital topics ; it made the best thought and
the newest knowledge more readily available than ever
before for readers who were every day becoming more
alive to their value.

The times were plainly favorable. The French Revo-
lution had stirred men's imaginations as they had not
been stirred for a century, and had shaken portentously
in all directions the foundations of belief. Traditions in
politics, in social organization, in religion were violently
assailed by men like Godwin, Home Tooke, and Holcroft,
and loyally defended by enthusiastic conservatives. The
fever of Romanticism was already making itself felt and
was quickening men's hearts to new passions and firing
their imaginations with new visions of possible bliss. The
air was full of questions and doubts, of eager forecasts and
of ominous warnings. All this ferment of life and feeling
demanded freer utterance than could be found through
old literary forms and with old methods of publication.

Moreover, the increasing importance of the middle class
and the spread of popular education were favorable to
the development of the new literary form. The number

1 Memoi7's atid Correspondetice of Horner, I, 419.

xli V INTR on UC TION.

of men who read and thought for themselves, had been
rapidly growing. These men were not scholars or deep
thinkers, and had no leisure to puzzle out learned
treatises. They were over-worked professional men or
business men, who were alive to the questions of the
hour, who had thought over them and discussed them
wherever and whenever they could, and who were anxious
for guidance from '' men of light and leading." The
essays of the new Review gave them just what they
wanted, — brief, clear, yet original and suggestive disser-
tations by the best-trained minds on the most important
current topics.

These, then, are some of the causes, over and beyond
Jeffrey's editorial skill, and the brilliancy and originality
of his co-workers, that led to the unprecedented success
of the Edinburgh Review. Their importance and their
significance are shown by the fact that within a few
years several other Reviews were founded on precisely
the same plan with the Edinburgh, and soon rivalled it in
popular favor. In 1809 the Tory Quarterly Review was
started with William Gifford as editor, and Scott, Southey,
Canning, Ellis, and Croker among its contributors. In
1820 the Retrospective Revieia was established, and in
1824 the Westminster Review, the organ of the Radicals ;
Bentham was its patron, Bowring its editor, and James
Mill and John Stuart Mill were constant contributors.
These Reviews were all quarterlies, and in the details of
their organization were modeled after the famous Edin-
burgh. They all found a ready welcome and, with the
exception of the Retrospective, have continued to thrive
down to our own day.

In the sixties, however, there came a still further
development of the Review ; the Eortnightly Review and
the Contejjiporary Review were established, — periodicals


that retain of the original Review nothing but the title.
They have thrown away the mask of the review-article,
and publish directly, over the author's name, brief dis-
cussions of whatever serious topics the public most care
to hear about. The discussions appear monthly, and
are somewhat less elaborate than the articles of the old
Quarterlies, but are fully as thoughtful and suggestive
and stimulating. These so-called Reviews evidently
represent one step forward in the process of adaptation
by means of which the writings of serious authors are
enabled to respond quickly and completely to the needs
of the public ; the establishment of the Edinbu7'gh Review
was merely one of the earlier steps in the same process
of adaptation.


With an Introduction and Explaitatory N'otes. By Henry Weber,
Esq. 2 vols. 8vo, pp. gjo. Edinburgh and London, 1811.

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Online LibraryFrancis Jeffrey JeffreySelections from the essays of Francis Jeffrey → online text (page 3 of 21)