Page images
[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

was visiting some friends in Edinburgh. In the autumn of 1815 the restoration of peace gave him an opportunity of gratifying his old desire to visit the continent. In 1820, his literary honours were crowned by his election to the Lord Rectorship of Glasgow College. In June, 1829, his professional eminence was recognised in his appointment as Dean of the Faculty of Edinburgh; and he therefore resigned the editorship of the · Review, as incompatible with that position. On the long-deferred accession of the Whigs to power, he was made Lord-Advocate, and sat in Parliament successively for the Forfarshire burghs, Malton, and Edinburgh ; the first and second, though Malton was a nomination borough, costing 10,000l. In 1834, he was raised to the Scottish bench. On the 26th of January, 1850, in his seventyseventh year, he died.

These few briefly-recorded incidents are the bones of a public and private life intensely interesting. Lord Cockburn has not written as a literary artist; but he has not failed—he could not well fail to produce the narrative of an animating career and the portraiture of a beautiful character. We trace through his pages the development of the tiny, timid child, trembling at the footstep of the unknown, dreaded master, and weeping at the loss of a first place in his class—the little black creature' haranguing his college fellows against the election of Adam Smith to the Lord Rectorship—the home-sick youth, distraught with sorrow at the solitude of Oxford, but panting with the thirst of fame, and despairing of reaching it but by poems so mediocre that his friendly editor suppresses their remains--the briefless advocate, consumed with impatience to earn his bread, projecting books that never saw the light, suing in vain for employment to London editors and bibliopoles, turning his aching eyes to India for means of livelihood, yet venturing to marry on a hundred a year, and exhausting his patrimony in the furniture of a top story-refused an appointment that would have worn out his days in an obscure clerkship, having offended his only patron by political heresy, conspiring with half a dozen aspirants, mostly poor as himself, to start a quarterly magazine-lifted, in a few months, to a dazzling elevation of intellectual renown and to the enjoyment of comparative affluence~abased to the dust, a year or two later, by the blows that shivered his household gods, more cherished than the idols of intellect or ambition-slowly finding consolation in the exercise of mental energies, and the renewal of heart ties-rejoicing in the attainment, successively, of the highest honours of the literary and forensic vocations, the just rewards of political service, and the constant delights of a charming home and godlike friendships-sinking quietly into the vale of years, and dying at an age beyond threescore and ten, in the midst of as much of happiness as earth could afford. It is only on one or two points of this picture that we can dwell.

Of the establishment and early history of the “Edinburgh Review, we had hoped to have learned even more than Lord Cockburn tells us, or rather, permits Jeffrey to tell. Sydney Smith's account of the affair is well known. One day we happened to meet in the eighth or ninth story or flat, in Buccleuch-place, the elevated residence of the

[ocr errors]



then Mr. Jeffrey. I proposed that we should set up a review. This was acceded to with acclamation. I was appointed editor, and remained long enough in Edinburgh to edit the first number of the “Edinburgh Review." **

This version, however, is more dramatic than accurate. Smith was confessedly the first to 'propose that we should set up a review;' but the proposition was one to be anxiously debated in a committee of ways and means, rather than to be voted by acclamation. Constable, “though the most spirited of publishers,' seems to have been reluctant to embark in an enterprise of which he must bear the pecuniary risk. When determined on and announced, the appearance of the first number was delayed three months. The confederates were themselves timid, and the laughing Sydney by far the most so, making us hold our dark divans at Willison's office, to which he insisted on our repairing singly, and by back approaches or by different lanes.' Smith was not the formally appointed editor of even the first number. The writers met, .as many as could be got to attend,' at the printingoffice, corrected their proofs, and criticised each other's articles. The extraordinary success of the · Review' put an end to this unmethodical and profitless management. After the first three numbers, Constable was told, in a letter from Smith, who had gone south, that he should give an editor 501. for each number, and allow the writers ten guineas a sheet. That the bookseller readily agreed, is the best evidence that can be given to this generation of the sensation which these young unknown penmen had effected. Jeffrey was at once appointed editor, at which Horner, then at the Chancery bar, records that he is glad, and that ‘few know the genius of that little man.' This same Horner, in common with his fellow-contributors, was already a cause of harass to his old co-mate and chief. For contributions to the third, fourth, and subsequent numbers, we find the anxious editor dunning and entreating him. An article on Malthus, the Chancery barrister had had two years under hand. At length, Jeffrey writes

• The cry is still for copy. We must publish, it seems, by the 15th of July, to attain the object for which we went back to the 18th; and they wish, if possible, to set the press agoing in the course of ten days from this time. Now, my most trusted and perfidious Horner, I earnestly conjure you to think how necessary it is for you to set instantly about Malthus.

'Shut yourself up within your double doors; commit the doctort for one eight days to his destiny; and cease to perplex yourself with “what the Dutch intend, and what the French ;” let the blue stockings of Miss be gartered by some idler hand; resist, if possible, the seductions of Mrs. Smith, and the tender prattlings of Saba; think only of the task which you have undertaken, and endeavour to work out your liberation in as short a time as possible. I do think it of consequence that we should begin, if possible, with this article, both because it is more important, and more impatiently expected than any other, and because I really do not know of any other that I have a right to demand, or the power of getting ready so soon, &c.' Such are the toils of literature, such the temptations to idleness, even in that fresh, vigorous season, when labour-once fairly begun—is a delight, and the urgings of res angusta domi join with the wooings of ambition !

* Preface to Sydney Smith's collected Works.

† Addington.

[ocr errors]

For this onerous labour, what preparation had Jeffrey made ? For the effect which his first stroke produced, where was the adequate cause? The reply is a lesson to the idle dreamer, who, infected with the vain conceit of genius, excuses his indolence by the apparently untrained efforts of his fancied exemplars. If there be anything valuable in the history of his progress,' says Jeffreys' biographer, .it seems to me to consist chiefly in the example of meritorious labour, which his case exhibits to young men, even of the highest talent. If he had chosen to be idle, no youth would have had a stronger temptation, or a better excuse for that habit; because his nátural vigour made it easy for him to accomplish far more than his prescribed tasks, respectably, without much trouble, and with the additional applause of doing them off-hand. But his early passion for distinction was never separated from the conviction that in order to attain it he must work for it. Accordingly, from his boyhood, he was not only a diligent, but a systematic student.' At Glasgow, he seems to have commenced the habit of not only taking copious notes of every lecture he heard and every book he read, but to have expanded them by the record of his reflections. From that he advanced to translation and theme-writing. The essays that remain and are specified, are on such subjects as still engage the pens and tongues of tyros, but display a very unusual acuteness, fulness of thought, command of language, and continuity of purpose. Some of these productions occupy fifty, seventy, or a hundred folio pages, in a small crabbed handwriting; and the whole would certainly fill many printed volumes. Their most instructive and remarkable characteristic has yet to be mentioned— Nearly the whole of his prose writings are of a critical character; and this inclination towards analysis and appreciation was so strong, that almost every one of his compositions close with a criticism upon himself.' A letter written at fifteen years of age to Dr. Adam, is marvellous for its display of natural juvenility and advanced self-culture.

He apologizes to his old master for his “uninvited intrusion,' by the information that for some weeks he has been • impelled to the deed by the impulse of some internal agent;' and that this impulse, he has tracked, after 'a weary way,' to ' some emotion in the powers of the will rather than of the intellect.' The burden of his epistle, and the only apparent object of his writing, is expressed in this Johnsonian sentence :

· When I recollect the mass of instruction I have received from your carewhen I consider the excellent principles it was calculated to convey-when I contemplate the perspicuous, attentive, and dispassionate mode of conveyance --and when I experience the advantages and benefits of all these, I cannot refrain the gratification of a finer feeling, in the acknowledgment of my obligations. I am sufficiently sensible that these are hackneyed and cant phrases; but as they express the sentiments of my soul, I think they must be tolerated.”

It is possible, however, to attribute too much to even well-directed industry. No expenditure of lapidary skill can put the deep mirroring lustre of the diamond upon the dull, soulless pebble; nor will the self-consuming ardour of a Pollok kindle within him the genius of a Milton. Jeffrey was naturally endowed with qualities favourable to


the writing faculty. The poetry and polish of his style-to which far more than to their critical acumen his writings owe their popularity-expressed the warmth of his admiration for physical loveliness, and his keen sensibility to the domestic affections. The love of country scenery was in him almost as passionate and tender as in Shelley. The hard-headed lawyer and critic could appropriate, with the omission of a word,* the invocation of Alastor

Earth, ocean, air, beloved brotherhood!' His filial love to our great mother' grew with the expansion of his intellect, and intensified with his pursuits. His youthful tours afoot through Wales and the Highlands were repeated at every opportunity through life. He would turn with impatience from the drawing-room of London, to pace beneath the oaks of Kensington; and describes, with a gusto that must have solaced Wordsworth, a view of sunrise from Westminster-bridge. But it was rather-according to his own theory of beauty—for its associations, than its sensuous charms, that he loved the picturesque. Among his youthful compositions is one on this subject, and evidently the germ of his celebrated treatise in the • Encyclopædia Britannica.' In an imaginary dialogue, he exclaims

* See that little dim distant light, which shines like a setting star on the horizon; is there anything in the whole circle and series of objects with which

* Ocean' is the rejected word. Jeffrey's notion of the sea was a curiously heretical one. The diary of his voyage is a continued railing at the element on which he is embarked, no less for its ugliness than its discomforts. As soon as out of sight of land, he writes :— It is amazing how narrow and paltry the boundless sea looks when there are no high shores in sight to mark its boundaries ! I should think the eye does not reach more than seven miles of the surface at any time. To-day it seems not much larger than a Spanish dollar, and much of that complexion. Not a sail or any vestige of man since the ship. of-war left us.' On the eleventh day, his aesthetic experience is summed up in the declaration :-There is nothing so ugly or mean as the sea in roughish weather. The circuit very narrow, the elevations paltry, and all the forms ungraceful and ignoble. It looks like a nasty field deformed with heaps of rubbish, half shovelled and half frozen ; and then the total want of vegetable odour, or variety, or any local association, make it still more uninteresting. The sunsets are sometimes magnificent, but rather gloomy and terrible ; deep recesses of glowing pillars, and awful prison gates of red hot clouds, with sunbeams issuing, from their cavities, and spreading an angry and awful light on the waters.' And a summer Sunday at sea is thus contrasted with the same day at his beloved Hatton :- An enchanting day if we could be on shore; warm, still, and glorious, with bright frothy clouds, and sighing airs; enough to rustle leaves and fan the brows of fatigue; but here only flapping our sails and spreading the nauseous smell of our pork boiling all over the ship. There is nothing so sweet to my imagination as a bright calm Sunday in the early part of autumn : gilding, with its temperate splendour the yellow fields and holy spires, and

carrying, on its still and silent air, the soothing sounds that fall and expire in that mild pause of labour ; lowing oxen, bleating sheep, and crowing cocks, heard from farm to farm, through the clear air ; and even the wood pigeons and roosting crows resounding through far groves ; and the distant tinkling of bells, and the slow groups wandering from church, and the aspect of peace and plenty, and reflection, that meets the eye on all sides. At sea, however, there is nothing but a wearisome glare, and a sickening heave of the water, and fretting, and gloom, and impatience.'


[ocr errors]


we are surrounded on every side that pleases and affects you more than its soft
and tranquil light,--than the long line of trembling fire with which it has
crossed the lake at the bottom of the cliff under which it burns? And what is
it that yields this simple object so high, a power of pleasing, but that secret and
mysterious association by which it represents to us the calmness and rustic
simplicity of the inhabitants of that cottage; by which we are transported
within its walls, and made to see and to observe the whole economy and occupa-
tion of the household.'
About the same time, he wrote, in the true spirit of a student of the
• humanities : '— All that regards man is interesting to me. Everything
which explains his character and his contradictions ; every investigation
that promises to illustrate the phenomena which he unfolds, I pursue
and explore with insatiable eagerness and affection. It was in thus
searching into his own heart, that he found the source of mastery over
his fellows. He made his pages glow with the warmth of the fire that
burnt within his bosom, and men caught the contagion of his earnest-
ness, while they were pleased with the play of his fancy. From this
• dear, retired, adored, little window' of his top flat, he looked upon
the chequered surface of society—upon the vanity and oppression that
is done under the sun, upon the labour wrought and the rest enjoyed-
then turned within, to the woman who had taken him, poor and obscure,
for the love and pride he had excited—and wove the whole into the
work of the hour, the paper on poetry, history, or politics, that lay
before him; for such a soul will utter itself on whatever called to speak.
No wonder that the new magazine, thus written, electrified the whole
reading public of that generation, annihilated the venal or partizan scrib-
blers that lived on the timid disgust of honest men, and constituted a new
epoch in the literary history of Britain. We have not at hand the
numbers of the · Review' for 1805-6, but we have not the least doubt
that upon its pages is distinctly visible the shadow of that dark, deep
cloud which then overspread the house in Buccleuch-place. The man
who went sobbing along the empty streets' from the deathbed of a
sister, angry with the rising sun and singing birds, and more than
willing to put off life and follow her who never looked so lovely as now
that she lay still, still and calm, with her bright eyes half closed, and
her red lips half open'-he could not but write then with pathos and the
eloquence of grief, though his theme were of the hardest secularity.
Still less was it possible he should not challenge the world to put on
sackloth with him, when the hope of fatherhood was suddenly dashed
into the deep despair of the widower. The readers of the Edinburgh'
may have never heard of its editor's bereavement, but they must have
been inoculated with the tenderness of the man who wrote thus to
his brother:

“My dear John,-I am at this moment of all men the most miserable and
disconsolate. It is just a week to-day since my sweet Kitty died in my arms,
and left me without joy, or hope, or comfort, in this world. Her health had
been long very delicate, and during this summer rather more disordered than
usual ; but we fancied she was with child, and rather looked forward to her
complete restoration. She was finally seized with the most excruciating head-
aches, which ended in an effusion of water on the brain, and sunk her into a
lamentable stupor, which terminated in death. It is impossible for me to

« PreviousContinue »