Page images
PDF

PREFACE.

No reasonable man, I suppose, could contemplate without alarm, a project for reprinting, with his name, a long series of miscellaneous papers—written hastily, in the intervals of graver occupations, and published anonymously, during the long course of Forty preceding years!—especially if, before such a suggestion was made, he had come to be placed in a Situation which made any recurrence to past indiscretions, or rash judgments, peculiarly unbecoming. I expect therefore to be very readily believed, when I say that the project of this publication did not originate, and never would have originated with me: And that I have been induced to consent to it, only after great hesitation; and not without misgivings— which have not yet been entirely got over. The true account of the matter is this.

The papers in question are the lawful property, and substantially at the disposal, of the publishers of the Edinburgh Review: And they, having conceived an opinion that such a publication would be for their advantage, expressed a strong desire that I should allow it to go out with the sanction of my name, and the benefit of such suggestions as I might be disposed to offer for its improvement: and having, in the end, most liberally agreed that I should have the sole power both of determining to what extent it should be carried, and also of selecting the materials of which it should be composed, I was at last persuaded to agree to the proposition: and this the more readily, in consequence of intimation having been received of a similar publication being in contemplation in the United Slates of America;*— over which, of course, I could not, under any arrangements, expect to exercise the same efficient control.

With all this, however, I still feel that I am exposed to the imputation, not only of great presumption, in supposing that any of these old things could be worth reprinting, but of a more serious Impropriety, in thus openly acknowledging, and giving a voluntary sanction to the republication (of some at least) of the following pieces: And I am far from being sure that there may not be just grounds for such an imputation. In palliation of the offence, however—if such offence shall be taken—I would beg leave humbly to state, First, that what I now venture to reprint, is but a small part—less 1 believe than a third,—of what I actually contributed to the Review; and, Secondly, that I have honestly endeavoured to select from that great mass—not those articles which I might think most likely still to attract notice, by boldness of view, severity of remark, or vivacity of expression—but those, much rather, which, by enforcing what appeared to me just principles and useful opinions, I really thought had a tendency to make men happier and better.

I am quite aware of the arrogance which may be ascribed to this statement—and even of the ridicule which may attach to it. Nevertheless, it is the only apology which I now wish to make—or could seriously think of making, for the present publication: And if it should be thought utterly to fail me. I shall certainly feel that I have been betrayed into an act, not of imprudence merely, but of great impropriety. I trust, however, that I shall not be driven back on so painful a conviction.

The Edinburgh Review, it is well known, aimed high from the beginning:—And, refusing to confine itself to the humble task of pronouncing on the mere literary merits of the works that came before it, professed to go deeply into the Principles on which its judgments were to be rested; as well as to take large and Original views of all the important questions to which those works might relate. And, on the whole, I think it is now pretty generally admitted that it attained the end it aimed at. Many errors there were, of course—and some considerable blunders:—abundance of indiscretions, especially in the earlier numbers: and far too many excesses, both of party zeal, overweening confidence, and intemperate blame. But with all these drawbacks, I think it must be allowed to have substantially succeeded— in familiarising the public mind (that is, the minds of very many individuals) with higher

* Carey & Hart, Philadelphia, announced that a selection would be made from the Edinburgh Review, at the time they first published a selection of Mr. Macnnley's 11Critical Miscellanies," and wrote to a friend of Lord Jeffrey, soliciting a list of that writer's articles. The publishers of the Review afterwards concluded to print these "Contributions," and at ihe author's request, forwarded a copy of the work to C. & H., from which the present edition is printed, verbatim, without abridgment. — {American Publitlur$.)

speculations, and sounder and larger views of the great objects of human pursuit, than had ever before been brought as effectually home to their apprehensions; and also, in permanently raising the standard, and increasing the influence of all such Occasional writings; not only m this country, but over the greater part of Europe, and the free States of America: While it proportionally enlarged the capacity, and improved the relish of the growing multitudes to whom such writings were addressed, for "the stronger meats" which were then first provided for their digestion.

With these convictions and impressions, it will not I think be expected, or required of me, that I should look back—from any station—upon the part I took in originating and conducting such a work, without some mixture of agreeable feelings: And, while I seek not to decline my full share of the faults and follies to which I have alluded, I trust I may be allowed to take credit, at the same time, for some participation in the Merits by which these were, to a certain extent at least, redeemed or atoned for.

If I might be permitted farther to state, in what particular department, and generally, on account of what, I should most wish to claim a share of those merits, I should certainly say, that it was byjjiaving constantly endeavoured to combine Ethical precepts with Literary Criticism, and earnestly sought to impress my readers with a sense, both of the close connection between sound Intellectual attainments and the higher elements of Duty and Enjoyment; and of the just and ultimate subordination of the former to the latter. The praise in short to which I aspire, and to merit which I am conscious that my efforts were most constantly directed, is, that I have, more uniformly and earnestly than any preceding critic, made the Moral tendencies of the works under consideration a leading subject of discussion; and neglected no opportunity, in reviews of Poems and Novels as well as of graver productions, of elucidating the true constituents of human happiness and virtue: and combating those besetting prejudices and errors of opinion which appear so often to withhold men from the path of their duty—or to array them in foolish and fatal hostility to each other. I cannot, of course, do more, in this place, than intimate this proud claim: But(for the proof—or at least the explanation of it,—I think I may venture to refer to the greater part of the papers that followj

I wrote the first article in the first Number of the Review, in October 1802:—and sent my last contribution to it, in October 1840! It is a long period, to have persevered in well —or in ill doing! But I was by no means equally alert in the service during all the intermediate time. I was sole Editor, from 1803 till late in 1829; and during that period was no doubt a large and regular contributor. In that last year, however, I received the great honour of being elected, by my brethren of the Bar, to the office of Dean of the Faculty of Advocates:—When it immediately occurred to me that it was not quite fitting that the official head of a great Law Corporation should continue to be the conductor of what might be fairly enough represented as, in many respects, a Party Journal: and I consequently withdrew at once and altogether from the management :*—which has ever since been in such hands, as can have left those who take an interest in its success, no cause to regret my retirement. But I should not have acted up to the spirit of this resignation, nor felt that I had redeemed the pledge of neutrality I meant to give by it, if I had not at the same time substantially ceased to contribute to, or to concern myself, in anyway, with the conduct or future fortunes of the Review. I wrote nothing for it, accordingly, for a considerable time subsequent to 1829: and during the whole fourteen years that have since elapsed, have sent in all but Four papers to that work—none of them on political subjects. I ceased, in reality to be a contributor, in 1829.

In a professed Reprint of former publications I did not of course think myself entitled to make (and accordingly I have not made) any change in the substance of what was originally published—nor even in the expression, except where a slight verbal correction seemed necessary, to clear the meaning, or to remedy some mere slip of the pen. I have not however held myself equally precluded from making occasional retrenchments from the papers as they first appeared; though these are mostly confined to the citations that had been given from the books reviewed—at least in the three first of these volumes: But notice, I believe, is given of all the considerable omissions—(with some intimation of the reasons)—in the places where they occur.

It will be observed that, in the Arrangement of the pieces composing this collection, I have not followed, in any degree, the Chronological order of the original publications: though the actual date of its first appearance is prefixed to each paper. The great extent and very

* For my own sake in part, but principally for the honour of my Conservative Brethren who ultimately concurred in my appointment, I think it right to state, that this resignation was in no degree a matter of compromise or arrangement, with a view to that appointment:—the fact being, on the contrary, that I gave no hint of my purpose, in any quarter, till after the election was over—or at all events till after the withdrawal of the learned and distinguished Person who had been put in nomination against me, had made it certain that my return would be unanimous. His perseverance. I doubt not, might have endangered that result: For, though considerably my junior, his eminence in the profession was, even then I believe, qui'e equal to mine. But ha "uerously deferred to my Seniority.

miscellaneous nature of the subjects discussed, seemed to make such a course ineligible; and rather to suggest the propriety of a distribution with reference to these subjects. I have now attempted therefore to class them under a few general Heads or titles, with a view to such a connection r And, though not very artificially digested, or strictly adhered to, I think the convenience of most readers will be found to have been consulted by this arrangement. The particular papers in each group or division, have also been placed in the order, rather of their natural dependence, or analogy to each other, than of the times when they were respectively written. I am now sensible that, by adopting this plan, I have brought more strikingly into view, the repetitions, as well as the discrepancies and small inconsistencies, which I take to be incident to this kind of writing. But this is a reproach, or disadvantage, to which I must be content to submit: and from which I do not apprehend that I shall have much to suffer, in the judgment of good-natured readers. There are many more important matters as to which I am conscious that I shall need all their indulgence: But to which I do not think it necessary, as I am sure it would not be prudent, now to direct their attention.

Before closing this notice, there is a little matter as to which several of my friends have suggested that I ought to take this opportunity of giving an explanation. My own first impression was, that this was unnecessary; and, but for the illustrious name which is connected with the subject, I should still be of that opinion. As it is. I cannot now refuse to say a few words on it.

In the second volume of Mr. Lockhart's Life of Sir Walter Scott, there are (at page 219) several extracts from a letter of Sir Walter to Mr. George Ellis, dated in December 1808, and referring among other things to the projected establishment of the Quarterly Review: in connection with which topic, the following passage occurs—"Jeffrey has offered terms of pacification—engaging that no party politics should again appear in his Review. I told him I thought it was now too late; and reminded him that I had often pointed out to him the consequences of letting his work become a party tool. He said, he did not care for the consequences; They were but four men he feared as opponents, &c. All this was in great good humour. He has no suspicion of our Review whatever."

Now though I have no particular recollection of the conversation here alluded to, and should never dream, at any rate, of setting up any recollection of so distant an occurrence in opposition to a contemporary record of it by such a man as Sir Walter Scott—I feel myself fully warranted in saying that the words I have put in italics are calculated to convey an inaccurate impression of any thing I could possibly have said on that occasion;—and that I am morally certain that I never offered to come under any such engagement as these words, in their broad and unqualified sense, would seem to imply. Of course, I impute no intentional misrepresentation to Sir Walter Scott. Of that he was as incapable, as I trust I am of the baseness of making the imputation. Neither can I think it possible that he should have misunderstood me at the time. But in hastily writing a familiar letter I am satisfied that he has expressed himself inaccurately—or at least imperfectly—and used words which convey a far larger and more peremptory meaning than truly belonged to any thing I could have uttered. My reasons for this conviction I think may be stated, to the satisfaction even of those to whom the circumstances of the parties may yet be unknown.

My first reason is, that I most certainly.Aa<i no power to come under any such engagement, without the consent of the original and leading Contributors,—from whom no such consent could then have been expected. I was not the Proprietor of the work—nor the representative, in any sense, of the proprietors—but merely the chosen (and removeable) manager for the leading contributors; the greater part of whom certainly then looked upon the Political influence of the Review, as that which gave it its chief value and importance. This condition of things was matter of notoriety at Edinburgh at the time. But at all events nobody was more thoroughly aware of it than Sir Walter Scott. He has himself mentioned, in the passage already quoted, that he had frequently before remonstrated with me on what he thought the intemperate tone of some our political articles: and though I generally made the best defence I could for them, I distinctly remember more than one occasion on which, after admitting that the youthful ardour of some of our associates had carried them farther than I could approve of, I begged him to consider that it was quite impossible for me always to repress this—and to remember that I was but a Feudal monarch, who had but a slender control over his greater Barons—and really could not prevent them from occasionally waging alittle private war, upon griefs or resentments of their own. I am as certain of having repeatedly expressed this sentiment, and used this illustration to Sir Walter Scott, as I am of my own existence.

But in the next place it requires no precise recollection of words or occasions, to enable me now to say, that, neither in 1808, nor for long periods before and after, did my party principles (or prejudices or predilections) sit so loosely upon me, as that I should ever nave agreed to lay them aside, or to desist from their assertion, merely to secure the assistance of a contributor (however distinguished), to what would then have been a mere literary undertaking. For the value I then set on those principles I may still venture to refer to twenty-five years spent as their uncompromising advocate—at the hazard at least, if not to the injury, of my personal and professional interests. I have no wish at this moment to recall the particulars of that advocacy: But I think I may safely say that if, in December 1808,1 could have bargained to desist from it, and to silence the Edinburgh Review as an organ

of parly, I might have stipulated for somewhat higher advantages than the occasional cooperation of Sir Walter Scott (for he never was a regular contributor even to the Quarterly) in a work in which I had little interest beyond that of commanding a ready vehicle for the dissemination of my own favoured opinions.

All this rests, it will be observed, not upon the terms of any particular conversation, which might of course be imperfectly remembered—but upon my own certain knowledge of the principles by which I was actuated for a long course of years; and which I cannot but think were then indicated by a sufficient number of overt acts, to make it easy to establish the mastery they exercised over me, by extrinsic evidence, if necessary. If the prevalence of these principles, however, is plainly inconsistent with the literal accuracy of the passage in question, or the fact of my having actually made such an offer as is there mentioned, I think myself entitled to conclude that the statement in that passage is inaccurate; and that a careless expression has led to an incorrect representation of the fact.

And here also I hope I may be permitted to refer to a very distinct recollection of the tenor, not of one but of many conversations with Sir Walter, in which he was directly apprised of the impossibility (even if I could have desired it) of excluding politics (which of course could mean nothing but party politics) from the Review. The undue preponderance of such articles in that journal was a frequent subject of remonstrance with him: and I perfectly remember that, when urging upon me the expediency of making Literature our great staple, and only indulging occasionally in those more exciting discussions, I have repeatedly told him that, with the political influence we had already acquired, this was not to be expected— and that by such a course the popularity and authority of the Review would be fatally impaired, even for its literary judgments:—and upon one of these occasions, I am quite certain that I made use of this expression to him—"The Review, in short, has but two legs to stand on. Literature no doubt is one of them: But its Right leg is Politics." Of this I have the clearest recollection.

I have dwelt too long, I fear, on this slight but somewhat painful incident of my early days. But I cannot finally take leave of it without stating my own strong conviction of what must have actually passed on the occasion so often referred to; and of the way in which 1 conceive my illustrious friend to have been led to the inaccuracy I have already noticed, in his report of it. I have already said, that I do not pretend to have any recollection of this particular conversation: But combining the details which are given in Sir Walter's letter, with my certain knowledge of the tenor of many previous conversations on the same subject, I have now little doubt that, after deprecating his threatened secession from our ranks, I acknowledged my regret at the needless asperity of some of our recent diatribes on politics— expressed my own disapprobation of violence and personality in such discussions—and engaged to do what I could to repress or avoid such excesses for the future. It is easy, I think, to see how this engagement,—to discourage, so far as my influence went, all violent and unfair party politics,—might be represented, in Sir Walter's brief and summary report, as an engagement to avoid party politics altogether:—the inaccuracy amounting only to the omission of a qualification,—to which he probably ascribed less importance than truly belonged to it.

Other imputations, I am aware, have been publicly made against me, far heavier than this which has tempted me into so long an explanation. But with these I do not now concern myself: And, as they never gave me a moment's anxiety at the time, so I am now contented to refer, for their refutation, to the tenor of all I have ever written, and the testimony of all to whom I have been personally known. With any thing bearing the name of Sir Walter Scott, however, the case is different: And when, from any statement of his, I feel that I may be accused, even of the venial offences of assuming a power which did not truly belong to me—or of being too ready to compromise my political opinions, from general love to literature or deference to individual genius, I think myself called upon to offer all the explanations in my power:—While I do not stoop to meet, even with a formal denial, the absurd and degrading charges with which I have been occasionally assailed, by persons of a different description.

F. JEFFREY.

Craigcrook, \0lh November, 1843.

« PreviousContinue »