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only fitted by the vigor of their age, the warmth of their foelings, and their respective talents, for the undertaking in view, but were urged by their position, sympathy, and hopes. The great secret of the immediate popularity of the work was undoubtedly its independence. The world instinctively rallies around self-reliance, not only in the exigencies of actual life, but in the domain of letters and politics. Accordingly, the freedom of discussion at once indulged, the moral courage and spirited tone of this fraternal band, won not less than it astonished. The example, so unexpectedly given, in a region distant from the centre of taste and action in the kingdom, of candid and firm assertion of the right of private judgment, the fearless attitude assumed, and the enlightened spirit displayed, carried with them a novel attraction and the highest promise.
The Edinburgh Review was the entering wedge in the old tree of conservatism which had long overshadowed the popular mind; it was like the trumpet-note of an intellectual reinforcement, the glimmering dawn of a more expansive cycle in the world of thought. The feverish speculations ushered in by the French Revolution had prepared the way for the reception of new views; the warfare of parties had settled down into a truce favorable to the rational examination of disputed questions. The wrongs of humanity were more candidly acknowledged ; a new school of poetry and philosophy had commenced ; and in Scotland, where Jeffrey declares there was a remarkable “ intellectual activity and conceit of individual wisdom," a medium of opinion and criticism such as this was seasonable and welcome. Yet it is characteristic of his cool, uninspired mind, that he entered upon the experiment with little enthusiasm. He says, in his correspondence, that his “standard of human felicity is set at a very moderate pitch," and that he has persuaded himself that "men are considerably lower than angels ;” his expectations were confessedly the reverse of sanguine; and he eagerly sought to establish his professional resources, and make literature subsidiary. His allies were finely endowed. The wit of Sydney Smith alone was a new feature in journalism; and the remarkable coterie of writers, of which the Review soon became the nucleus, gave it the prestige of more versatile talent than any
similar work has ever boasted ; so that the editor justly says: “I am a feudal monarch at best, and my throne is overshadowed by the presumptuous crests of my nobles."
A novelty in Lord Jeffrey's position was the social and even civic importance this species of literature acquired. The idea of a man of letters had been associated with refinement, meditation, and a life abstracted, in a great degree, from the active concerns of the world. There was, however, something quite adventurous, exciting, and eventful, in a vocation that so constantly provoked resentment and elicited admiration. Challenged by Moore, carrying Boswell drunk to bed in his boyhood, in correspondence with Byron, dining with Scott, living within constant range of Sydney Smith's artillery of bon-mots, the companion of Brougham, Mackenzie, Playfair, Erskine, Campbell, Hamilton, and other celebrated men of the day, his natural fluency derived point and emphasis from colloquial privileges ; and doubtless somewhat of the antagonistic character of his writings was derived from the lively debates of the club, and excited by the attrition of such vigorous and individual minds. We are told of his “speculative playfulness," " graceful frankness,” and “gay
“ sincerity.” These, and epithets of a similar kind, sufficiently indicate the causes of his success. It was through the very qualities that constitute agreeability in society that he pleased as a critic. More serious and intense writing would have repelled the majority. Lord Jeffrey made no grave demands on the thinking faculty; he did not appeal to high imagination, but confined himself to the level of a glib, polished, clever, and often very pleasant style. It was a species of man-of-the-world treatment of books, and therefore very congenial to mediocre philosophers and complacent men of taste.
But to recognize in such a critic the æsthetic principles which should illustrate works of genius, is to wantonly neglect those more earnest thinkers and reverent lovers of the noblest developments of humanity who have, through a kindred spirit, interpreted the mysteries of creative minds. There are passages in Coleridge, Ulrici, Schlegel, Mackintosh, Hazlitt, Wilson, Carlyle, Lamb, and Hunt, which seize upon the vital principle, give the magnetic clue, prolong the key-note of the authors they have
known and loved, compared to which Jeffrey's most brilliant comments are as a pyrotechnic glare to the beams of the sun. The list of two hundred articles contributed by him to the Edinburgh displays such a variety of subjects as it is quite impossible for any one mind either thoroughly to master or sincerely relish. The part which he most ably performs, as a general rule, is what may be called the digest of the book ; he gives a catalogue raisonée, in the broadest sense of the term, and this is excellent service. Biographies, travels, works of science and history, are thus introduced to the world under a signal advantage, when there is no motive to carp or exaggerate in the statements. Next to this class of writings, he deals skilfully with what, for the sake of distinction, may be called the rhetorical poets — those who give clear and bold expression to natural sentiment, without a predominance of the psychological and imaginative. The school of Pope, which appeals to the understanding, the fancy, and to universal feeling, he understands. ·Hayley, Crabbe, Campbell, Scott, and portions of Byron, he analyzes well, and often praises and blames with reason; to Miss Edgeworth, Irving, and Stewart, he is just. But the sentiment of Barry Cornwall, the suggestive imagery of Coleridge, the high philosophy of Wordsworth, and the luxuriant beauty of Keats, often elude the grasp of his prying intellect.
The lack of spiritual insight was another disqualification of Lord Jeffrey as a critic of the highest poetry. Trained to logical skill, and apt in rhetoric, he never seems to have felt a misgiving in regard to their sufficiency as means of interpretation of every species of mental product. The intuitive creations of genius, born of the soul and not ingenuously elaborated by study, the "imagination all compact” of the genuine bard, were approached by his vivacious mind with an irreverent alacrity. To place himself in sympathetic relation with an individual mind, the only method of reliable criticism, was a procedure he ignored; the play of his own fancy and knowledge, and the oracular announcement of his judgment, were the primary objects ; the real significance of the author quite secondary. He reviewed objectively, and arraigned books at his tribunal without that jury of peers which true genius claims by virtue of essential right. A merely agreeable or indifferent subject thus treated may afford entertainment, exactly as a lively chat on the passing topics of the day amuses a vacant hour; but when the offspring of an earnest mind, and the overflowing of a nature touched to fine issues, are sportively discussed and despatched with gay authority, the impatience of more reverent minds is naturally excited.
There was a philosopbical elevation in Burke that tempered his severest comments; a noble candor in Montaigne that often reconciles us to his worldliness. Carlyle betrays so deep a sympathy that it robs his sarcasm of bitterness, and Macaulay is so picturesque and glowing that the reader cheerfully allows an occasional want of discrimination to unity of effect. But to that mental superiority which consists in sprightliness of tone and ingenuity of thought we are less charitable; pertness of manner is not conciliating; and off-hand, nonchalant, and superficial decisions, in the case of authors who have excited real enthusiasm and spoken to our inmost consciousness, are not received without serious protest. It is for these reasons that Lord Jeffrey occupies but a temporary place. He did not seize upon those broad and eternal principles which render literary obligations permanent; he was an excellent pioneer, and cleared the way for more complete writers to follow ; bis independence was conducive to progress in criticism, and his agreeable style made it attractive; but a more profound and earnest feeling is now absolutely required in dealing with the emanations of genius. Too much of the merely clever and amusing manner of Horace Walpole, and too little enthusiasm for truth, characterize his remarks on the really gifted. In the discussion of current literature, the claims of which are those of information and style only, no reviewer can give a better compend, or sum up merits and defects with more brilliancy and tact.
It is natural to expect, in the posthumous biography of influential men, a key to the riddle of their success, a solution of the problem of character, and such a revelation of personal facts as will throw light upon what is anomalous in their career, or explain, in a measure, the process of their development. The lives of Dr. Johnson, of Sir Walter Scott, of Schiller, and, among recent instances, of Keats, Lamb, and Sterling, by the new
information they convey in regard to the domestic situation, the original temperament, and the private circumstances of each, have greatly modified previous estimates, and awakened fresh sympathy and more liberal judgments. The life of Lord Jeffrey leaves upon the mind a better impression of the man than obtains among those who knew him only through the pages of the Edinburgh Review, while it confirms the idea which those writings suggest of the author. On the one hand is found a love of nature and a life of the affections which could not have been inferred, at least to their real extent, from the articles on which his literary fame rests; and, on the other, we perceive exactly the original habits of mind, course of study, and tendencies of opinion, to be anticipated from his intellectual career. Accordingly, the integrity, steady friendships, conjugal and parental devotion, and enjoyment of the picturesque, which are so conspicuous in the man, and so worthy of respect and sympathy, should not be allowed to interfere with our consideration of his merits as a writer and critic.
Jeffrey belongs essentially to the class of writers who are best designated as rhetoricians; that is, if closely analyzed, it will be seen that his force lies entirely in sagacity and language. Fluency, vitalized by a certain animation of mind, is his principal means of effect; words he knows well how to marshal in brilliant array; he points a sentence, rounds a paragraph, gives emphasis to an expression, with both grace and spirit. But the value of these elements of style is to be estimated, like the crayons and pigments of the artist, by the qualities they are made to unfold, the ideas they embody, the uses to which they are devoted. Jeffrey possessed them by virtue of an original quickness of intellect and patient industry.
The most striking fact of his early culture is the perseverance with which he practised the art of composition, not as an academic exercise, but as a means of personal improvement; he wrote elaborate papers on various subjects; and at the end recorded his opinion of them, usually the reverse of complacent; and this course he pursued for years, as is proved by the quantity and the dates of the manuscripts he left. No stronger evidence is required of the predominance of the technical over the inspired in his authorship, than this deliberate toil to master the art of ex