20000 Free eBooks
Library for Free Download eBooks and Read Online

Your last book:

You dont read books at this site.

Total books at library:
about 20000

You can read online and download ebooks for free!

Ebooks by authors: A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z 
Chambers, William / Chambers's Edinburgh Journal, No. 435 Volume 17, New Series, May 1, 1852



No. 435. NEW SERIES. SATURDAY, MAY 1, 1852. PRICE 1-1/2_d._


The maxim, that men may safely be left to seek their own interest, and
are sure to find it, appears to require some slight qualification, for
nothing can be more certain, than that men are often the better of
things which have been forced upon them. Those who advocate the idea
in its rigour, forget that there are such things as ignorance and
prejudice in the world, and that most men only become or continue
actively industrious under the pressure of necessity. The vast
advantages derived from railway communication afford a ready instance
of people being benefited against their will. At the bare proposal to
run a line through their lands, many proprietors were thrown into a
frenzy of antagonism; and whole towns petitioned that they might not
be contaminated with the odious thing. In spite of remonstrances, and
at a vast cost, railways were made; and we should like to know where
opponents are now to be found. Demented land-proprietors are come to
their senses; and even recalcitrant Oxford is glad of a line to

Cases of this kind suggest the curious consideration, that many
remarkable benefits now experienced were never sought for or
contemplated by the persons enjoying them, but came from another
quarter, and were at first only grudgingly submitted to. A singular
example happens to call our attention. There is a distillery in the
west of Scotland, where it has been found convenient to establish a
dairy upon a large scale, for the purpose of consuming the refuse of
the grain. Seven hundred cows are kept there; and a profitable market
is found for their milk in the city of Glasgow. That the refuse of the
cow-houses might be applied to a profitable purpose, a large farm was
added to the concern, though of such land as an amateur agriculturist
would never have selected for his experiments. Thus there was a
complete system of economy at this distillery: a dairy to convert the
draff into milk, and a farm to insure that the soil from the cows
might be used upon the spot. But, as is so generally seen in this
country, the liquid part of the refuse from the cow-houses was
neglected. It was allowed to run into a neighbouring canal; and the
proprietors would have been contented to see it so disposed of for
ever, if that could have been permitted. It was found, however, to be
a nuisance, the very fishes being poisoned by it. The proprietors of
the canal threatened an action for the protection of their property,
and the conductors of the dairy were forced to bethink them of some
plan by which they should be enabled to dispose of the noxious matter
without injury to their neighbours. They could at first hit upon no
other than that of carting away the liquid to the fields, and there
spreading it out as manure. No doubt, they expected some benefit from
this procedure; and, had they expected much, they might never have
given the canal company any trouble. But the fact is, they expected so
little benefit, that they would never have willingly taken the trouble
of employing their carts for any such purpose. To their surprise, the
benefit was such as to make their lean land superior in productiveness
to any in the country. They were speedily encouraged to make
arrangements at some expense for allowing the manure in a diluted form
to flow by a regular system of irrigation over their fields. The
original production has thus been _increased fourfold_. The company,
finding no other manure necessary, now dispose of the solid kind
arising from the dairy, among the neighbouring farmers who still
follow the old arrangements in the management of their cows. The sum
of L.600 is thus yearly gained by the company, being not much less
than the rent of the farm. If to this we add the value of the extra
produce arising from the land, we shall have some idea of the
advantage derived by this company from having been put under a little

An instance, perhaps even more striking, was supplied a few years ago
by certain chemical works which vented fumes noxious to a whole
neighbourhood. Being prosecuted for the nuisance, the proprietors were
forced to make flues of great length, through which the fumes might be
conducted to a considerable distance. The consequence was surprising.
A new kind of deposit was formed in the interior of the flues, and
from this a large profit was derived. The sweeping of a chimney would
sometimes produce several thousand pounds. At the same time, nothing
can be more certain than that this material, but for the threat of
prosecution, would have been allowed to continue poisoning the
neighbourhood, and, consequently, not yielding one penny to the
proprietors of the works.[1]

It has pleased Providence to order that from all the forms of organic
life there shall arise a refuse which is offensive to our senses, and
injurious to health, but calculated, under certain circumstances, to
prove highly beneficial to us. The offensiveness and noxiousness look
very much like a direct command from the Author of Nature, to do that
which shall turn the refuse to a good account--namely, to bury it in
the earth. Yet, from sloth and negligence, it is often allowed to
cumber the surface, and there do its evil work instead. An important
principle is thus instanced--the essential identity of Nuisance and
Waste. Nearly all the physical annoyances we are subjected to, and
nearly all the influences that are operating actively for our hurt,
are simply the exponents of some chemical solecism, which we are,
through ignorance or indifference, committing or permitting. There is
here a double evil--a positive and a negative. When the Londoner
groans at the smokiness of his streets, and the particles of soot he
finds spread over his shirt, his toilet-table, and every nice article
of furniture he possesses, he has the additional vexation of knowing,
that the smoke and soot should have been serving a useful purpose as
fuel. When he passes by a railway over the tops of the houses in some
mean suburb, and looks down with horror and disgust on the pools and
heaps of filth which are allowed to encumber the yards, courts, and
narrow streets of these localities, to the destruction of the health
of the inhabitants, he has a second consideration before him, that all
these matters ought to be in the care of some easy-acting system, by
which, removed to the fields, they should be helping to create the
means of life, instead of death. We never can look upon a great
factory chimney pouring forth its thick column of smoke, without a
twin grief--for the disgust it creates, and the good that is lost by
it. Properly, that volatile fuel should be doing duty in the furnace,
and effecting a saving to the manufacturer, instead of rendering him
and his concerns a nuisance to all within five miles.

Troublesome as these nuisances are, there is such an inaptitude to new
plans, that they might go on for ever, if an interference should not
come in from some external quarter. It matters little whence the
interference comes, so that the end be effected. We cannot, however,
view the proceedings of a Board of Health in ordering cleanly
arrangements, or those of a municipal council putting down factory
smoke, without great interest, for we think we there see part, and an
important one too, of the great battle of Civilisation against
Barbarism. And this interest is deepened when we observe the benefits
which Barbarism usually derives from its own defeats. The
factory-owner, for instance, will find that, in applying an apparatus
by which smoke may be prevented, he will not merely be sparing his
neighbours a great annoyance, but economising fuel to an extent which
must more than repay the outlay. By repressing nuisance, he will be in
the same measure repressing waste.[2] Were there, in like manner, a
general measure for enforcing the removal of refuse from the
neighbourhood of human habitations, the rate-payers would in due time
see blessed effects from the compulsion to which they had been
subjected. Their groans would be succeeded by gladness, and they would
thank the legislators who had slighted their remonstrances. When the
cholera approached in 1849, our British Board of Health ordered a
general cleaning out of stables, and a daily persistence in the
practice. It was complained of as a great hardship; but the Board
ascertained that owners of valuable race-horses cause their stables to
be thoroughly cleaned daily, as a practice necessary for the health of
the animals; the Board, therefore, very properly insisted on forcing
this benefit upon the proprietors of horses generally. Can we doubt
that a similar policy might be followed with the like good
consequences at all times, and with regard to the habitations of men
as well as horses?

It would thus appear, that men may really be allowed a too undisturbed
repose in their views and maxims, and, if always left to seek their
own interests, would often fail to find the way. If, indeed, it were
true that men are sure to find out their own interest, no country
should be behind another in any of the processes or arts necessary for
the sustenance and comfort of the people; whereas we know the contrary
to be the case. If it were true, there should be no class in our own
country willing to sit down with the dubious benefits of monopoly,
instead of pushing on for the certain results of enlightened
competition. It could only be true at the expense of the old proverb,
that necessity is the mother of invention; for do we not every day see
men submitting idly and languidly to evils which can just be borne?
whereas, if these were a little greater, and therefore insupportable,
they would at once be remedied. An impulse _ab extra_ seems in a vast
number of instances to be necessary, to promote the good of both
nations and individuals. Now, whether this shall come in the ordinary
course of things, and be recognised as necessity, or from an
enlightened power having a certain end, generally beneficial, in view,
does not appear to be of much consequence, provided only we can be
tolerably well assured against the abuses to which all power is
liable. It may be well worthy of consideration, whether, in this
country, we have not carried the principle of _Laissez faire_, or
_leave us alone_, a little too far in certain matters, where some
gentle coercion would have been more likely to benefit all concerned.


[1] The idea of this article, and the above facts, are derived from a
valuable memoir just published by the Board of Health, with reference
to the practical application of sewage water and town manures to
agricultural production.

[2] We understand that this has been the case with factory-owners at
Manchester who have applied the smoke-preventing apparatus. The saving
from such an apparatus in the office where this sheet is printed,
appears to be about 5 per cent.; an ample equivalent for the outlay.


On arriving at Blois, I went to the Hôtel de la Tête Noire--a massive,
respectable-looking building, situated on the quay nearly opposite a
bridge that crosses the river to the suburb of St Etienne. The comfort
of the rooms, and the excellence of the dinners that succeeded one
another day by day, induced me to stay longer than I had intended, and
rendered me spectator and part-actor in an adventure not uncommon in
French-land. My apartment was numbered 48--by the way, who ever saw
No. 1 in a hotel, or upon a watch?--and next door--that is, at No.
49--dwelt a very dignified-looking gentleman, always addressed as M.
Jerome. I often take occasion to say, that I pique myself on being
something of a physiognomist; and as I have been several times right
in my judgment of character and position from inspection of the
countenance, the occasions in which I have been mistaken may be set
down as exceptions. M. Jerome at once interested me; and as I was idly
in search of health, and had taken care to have nothing whatever to do
but to kill time, the observation of this gentleman's appearance and
manners naturally formed a chief part of my occupation.

I began by ascertaining exactly the colour of his eyes and
hair--nearly black; the shape of his nose--straight, and rather too
long; and would have been glad to examine the form of his mouth, but a
huge moustache hanging over his lips in the French military style--see
the portrait of General Cavaignac--prevented me from ascertaining the
precise contour of what one of my old philosophers calls the Port
Esquiline of Derision. M. Jerome was, upon the whole, a handsome man,
with a romantically bilious complexion; and the expression of his
large dark eyes was really profound and striking. His costume was
always fashionable, without being showy; and there was nothing to
object to but a diamond ring, somewhat too ostentatiously displayed on
the little finger, which, in all his manual operations, at dinner or
elsewhere, always cocked up with an impertinent 'look-at-me air,' that
I did not like. When, indeed, this dandy walked slowly out of the
dining-room to the door-step, and lighted his cigar, the said little
finger became positively obnoxious; and I used to think whether it
were possible that that human being had been created purposely as a
scaffolding whereon to exhibit a flashing little stone, set in twenty
shillings worth of gold.

M. Jerome, though not, strictly speaking, a silent man, was
sufficiently reserved at table. The early courses were by him always
allowed to pass without any further remark than what politeness
requires--as: 'Shall I send you some more of this _blanquette_?' or,
'With pleasure, sir;' and so forth. When dessert-time approached,
however, he generally began to unbend, to take part in the general
conversation, and throw in here and there a piquant anecdote. He did
this with so much grace, that had it not been for the diamond ring, I
should have been disposed to consider him as a man of large experience
in the best society. The other people who generally attended at
table--travellers, commercial and otherwise, with one or two smart
folks from the town, on the look-out for Parisian gossip, to retail to
the less adventurous members of their circle--were all delighted with
M. Jerome: it was M. Jerome here, and M. Jerome there; and if M.
Jerome happened to dine out, every one seemed to feel uneasy, and look
upon him as guilty of a great dereliction of duty. They could almost
as well have done without their _demi-tasse_.

Although I am an inquisitive, I am not a very impertinent man. I like
to pry into other people's affairs only in so far as I can do so
without hurting their feelings, or putting my own self-love in danger
of a check. If, therefore, I gave the reins to my curiosity, and
devoted myself to studying the more apparent movements of this M.
Jerome, I shrank from putting any direct questions to the _garçon_,
who might probably at once have given me a very prosaic account of
him. On one occasion, I threw in casually a remark, to the effect that
the gentleman at No. 49 seemed a great favourite with the fair sex;
but the only reply was a smile, and an acknowledgment that, in
general, people of fascinating exterior--here the _garçon_ glanced at
the mirror he was dusting--_were_ great favourites with the fairer
portion of the creation. 'We Frenchmen,' it was added, 'know the way
to the female heart better than most men.' The waiter had paused with
his duster in his hand. I felt that he was going to give me his Art of
Love; and opportunely remembering that I had a letter to put into the
post, I escaped the infliction for the time.

I had, indeed, observed that if the public generally admitted the
valuable qualities of M. Jerome as a companion, his reputation was
based principally on the approval of the ladies. All these excellent
judges agreed that he was a nice, quiet, agreeable person; and 'so
handsome!' At least the seven members of an English family, who had
come to visit Chambord, and lingered at the hotel a week--five of them
were daughters--all expressed this opinion of M. Jerome; and even a
supercilious French lady, with a particle attached to her name,
admitted that he was 'very well.'

One day, a new face appeared at table to interest me; and as the
mysterious gentleman and his diamond ring had puzzled me for a
fortnight, during which I had made no progress towards ascertaining
his real position and character, I was not sorry to have my attention
a little diverted by a mysterious lady. Madame de Mourairef--a Russian
name, thought I--was a very agreeable person to look at; much more so
to me than M. Jerome. She was not much past twenty years of age;
small, slight, elegant in shape, if not completely so in manners; and
with one of those charming little faces which you can analyse into
ugliness, but which in their synthesis, to speak as moderns should,
are admirable, adorable, fascinating. I should have thought that such
a _minois_ could belong only to Paris--the city, by the way, of ugly
women, whom art makes charming. However, there it was above the
shoulders, high of course--swan-necked women are only found in
England--above the shoulders of a Russian marchioness, princess,
czarina, or what you will, who called for her cigarettes after dinner,
was attended by a little _soubrette_, named Penelope, and looked for
all the world as if she had just been whirled off the boards of the
Opera Comique.

I at first believed that this was a mere _mascarade_; but when a
letter in a formidable envelope, with the seal of the Russian embassy,
arrived, and was exhibited in the absence of the lady herself, to
every one of the lodgers, in proof of the aristocratic character of
the customer of the Tête Noire, I began to doubt my own perspicacity,
and to imagine that I had now a far more interesting object of study
than M. Jerome and his diamond ring. Madame de Mourairef was an
exceedingly affable person; and the English family aforesaid, whom I
have reason to believe were Cockney tradesfolks, pronounced her to be
very high-bred--without a fault, indeed, if it had not been for that
horrid habit of smoking, which, as they judiciously observed, however,
was a peculiar characteristic of the Russians. I am afraid, they would
have set her down as a vulgar wretch, had they not been forewarned
that she was aristocratic. The French lady seemed to look upon the
foreign one as an intruder, and scarcely deigned to turn her eyes in
that direction. Probably this was because she was so charming, and
monopolised so much of the attention of us gentlemen.

'They no sooner looked than they loved,' says Rosalind. This was not,
perhaps, quite the case with M. Jerome and the Russian princess, who
took care to let it be known that she was a widow; but in a very few
days what is called 'a secret sympathy' evidently sprang into
existence. The former, of course, made the first advances. His
diplomatic and seductive arts were not, however, put to a great test,
for in three days the lady manifestly felt uneasy until he presented
himself at dinner; and in a week, I met them walking arm in arm on the
bridge. It was easy to see that he was on his good behaviour; and from
some fragments of conversations I overheard between them when they met
in the passage opposite my door, I learned that he was 'doing the
melancholy dodge,' as in the vernacular we would express it; and had
many harrowing revelations to make as to the manner in which his heart
had been trifled with by unfeeling beauties.

'There is a tide in the affairs of an hôtel:' I am in a mood for
quoting from my favourite authors; and whereas we had at one time sat
down nearly twenty to table, we suddenly found ourselves to be only
three--M. Jerome, the princess, and myself. A kind of intimacy was the
natural result. We made ourselves mutually agreeable; and I was not at
all surprised, when one evening Madame de Mourairef invited us two
gentlemen to take tea with her in her little sitting-room. Both
accepted joyfully; and though I am persuaded that M. Jerome would have
preferred a tête-à-tête, he accepted my companionship with tolerable
grace. We strolled together, indeed, on the quay for half an hour. It
was raining slightly, and I had a cough; but I have too good an
opinion of human nature to imagine that my new acquaintance kept me
out by his fascinating conversation, in order to make me catch a
desperate cold, that would send me wheezing to bed.

The tea was served, as I suppose it is served in Russia, very weak,
with a plentiful admixture of milk and accompaniment of _biscuits
glacés_. Madame de Mourairef did the honours in an inexpressibly
graceful manner; and I observed that there was a delightful intimacy
between her and her maid Penelope, that quite upset my ideas of
northern serfdom. I think they even once exchanged a wink, but of this
I am not sure. There is nothing like experience to expand one's ideas,
and I made up my mind to re-examine the whole of my notions of
Muscovite vassalage. M. Jerome seemed less struck by these
circumstances than myself--being probably too much absorbed in
contemplation of our hostess--but even he could not avoid exclaiming,
'that if that were the way in which serfs were treated, he should like
to be a serf--of such a mistress!'

'You Frenchmen are _so_ gallant!' was the reply.

A little while afterwards, somebody proposed a game of whist. There
was an objection to 'dead-man,' and Penelope, with a semi-oriental
salaam, offered to 'take a hand.' Madame de Mourairef was graciously
pleased to order her to do so. We shuffled, cut, and played; and when
midnight came, and it was necessary to retire, I felt almost afraid to
examine into my own heart, lest I might find that the soubrette
appeared to me at least as high-bred as the mistress.

We spent some delightful evenings in this manner, and perhaps still
more delightful days, for by degrees we became inseparable, and all
our walks and drives were made in common. The garçon often looked
maliciously at me, even offered once or twice to develop his Art of
Love; but I did not choose to be interrupted in my physiognomical
studies, and gave him no opportunity.

A picnic was proposed, and agreed upon. We intended at first to go to
Chambord; but there was danger of a crowd; and a valley on the road to
Vendôme was pitched upon. A _calèche_ took us to the place, and set us
down in a delightful meadow, enamelled with flowers, as all meadows
are in poetry. A few great trees, forming almost a grove, shaded a
slope near the banks of a sluggish stream that crept along between an
avenue of poplars. Here the cloth was laid at once for breakfast; and
whilst M. Jerome and the princess strolled away to talk of blighted
hopes, Russia, serfdom, wedlock, and the conflagration of the Kremlin,
Penelope made the necessary preparation; and I, in my character of a
fidgety old gentleman, first advised and then assisted her. I am
afraid the young damsel had designs upon my heart, for she put several
questions to me on the state of vassalage in England; and when I
developed succinctly the principles and advantages of our free
constitution, and said some eloquent things that formed a French
edition of 'Britons never shall be slaves,' she became quite
enthusiastic; her cheeks flushed, her eyes brightened; and with a sort
of Thervigne-de-Mericourt gesture, she cried: 'Vive la République!'
This was scarcely the natural product of what I had said; but so
lively a little creature, in her dainty lace-cap and flying pink
ribbons, neat silk _caraco_, plaid-patterned gown, with pagoda
sleeves, as she called them, and milk-white _manchettes_--her
_bottines_ from the Rue Vivienne, and her face from Paradise--could
reconcile many a harder heart than mine to greater incongruities. Our
arrangements being made, therefore, I sat down on a camp-stool, whilst
Penelope reclined on the grass; and I endeavoured to explain to her
the great advantages of a moderate constitutional government, with
checks, balances, and so forth. Although she yawned, I am sure it was
not from ennui, but in order to shew me her pretty pearly teeth.

M. Jerome and the princess came streaming back over the meadow--even
affected to scold me for having remained behind. They were evidently
on the best possible terms, and I took great satisfaction in
contemplating their happiness. Either my perspicacity was at fault,
however, or both had some secret cause of uneasiness that pressed upon
their minds as the day advanced. Had they been only betrayed into a
declaration and a plighting of their troth in a hurry? Did they
already repent? Did Madame de Mourairef regret the barbarous splendour
of her native land? Did M. Jerome begin to mourn over the delights of
bachelorship? These were the questions I put to myself without being
able to invent any satisfactory answer. The day passed, however,
pleasantly enough; and the calèche came in due time to take us back to

Next morning, M. Jerome entered my room with a graceful bow, to
announce his departure for Paris, whither it was necessary for him to
go to obtain the necessary papers for his marriage, and Madame de
Mourairef, he added, accompanied him. I uttered the necessary
congratulations, and gave my address in Paris, that he might call upon
me as soon as he was settled in the hôtel he proposed to take.

'I take two persons with me,' he said, smiling; 'but one of them
leaves her heart behind, I am afraid.'

This alluded to Penelope; but I was determined not to understand. I
went to say adieu to Madame de Mourairef, who seemed rather excited
and anxious. Penelope almost succeeded in wringing forth a tear; but I
did not think it was decreed that at my age I should really make love
to a Russian serf, however charming. So off they went to the railway
station, leaving me in a very dull, stupid, melancholy mood.

'What a fortunate man M. Jerome is!' said the garçon, as he came into
my room a few minutes afterwards.

'Yes,' I replied; 'Madame de Mourairef seems in every way worthy of

'I should think so,' quoth he. 'It is not every waiter, however
fascinating, that falls in with a Russian princess.'

'Waiter! M. Jerome!'

'Of course,' replied my informant. 'You seem surprised; but M. Jerome
is really a waiter at the Café ----, on the Boulevard des Italiens;
came down for his health. We were comrades once, and I promised to
keep the secret, for he thought it extremely probable that he might
meet a wealthy English lady here, who might fall in love with
him--your countrywomen are so eccentric. He has found a Russian
princess, which is better. I suppose we must now call him

Although, like the rest of my species, disposed to laugh at the
misfortunes of my fellow-creatures, I confess that I pitied Madame de
Mourairef; for I felt persuaded that M. Jerome had passed himself off
as a very distinguished personage. However, there was no remedy, and I
had no right to interfere in the matter. The lady, indeed, had been in
an unpardonable hurry to be won, and must take the consequences.

In the afternoon, there was a great bustle in the hôtel, and
half-a-dozen voices were heard doing the work of fifty. I went out
into the passage, and caught the first fragments of an explanation
that soon became complete. M. Alphonse, courier to M. de Mourairef,
had arrived, and was indignantly maintaining that Sophie and Penelope,
the two waiting-maids of the princess, had arrived at the Tête Noire,
to take a suite of rooms for their mistress; whilst the landlord and
his coadjutors, slow to comprehend, averred that the great lady had
herself been there, and departed. The truth at length came out--that
these two smart Parisian lasses, having a fortnight before them, had
determined to give up their places, and play the mascarade which I
have described. When M. and Madame de Mourairef, two respectable,
middle-aged people, arrived, they were dismally made acquainted with
the sacrilege that had been committed; but as no debts had been
contracted in their name, and their letters came in a parcel by the
post from Orleans, they laughed heartily at the joke, and enjoyed the
idea that Sophie had been taken in.

The following winter, I went into a café newly established in the Rue
Poissonière, and was agreeably surprised to see Sophie, the
pseudo-princess, sitting behind the counter in magnificent toilette,
receiving the bows and the money of the customers as they passed
before her, whilst M. Jerome--exactly in appearance as before, except
that prosperity had begun to round him--was leaning against a pillar
in rather a melodramatic attitude, a white napkin gracefully depending
from his hand. They started on seeing me, and were a little confused,
but soon laughed over their adventure; called Penelope to take her
turn at the counter--the little serf whispered to me as she passed,
that I was 'a traitor, a barbarian,' and insisted on treating me to my
coffee and my _petit verre_, free, gratis, for nothing.


In the crisis of the French Revolution, British society was paralysed
with conservative alarms, and all tendency to liberal opinions, or
even to an advocacy of the most simple and needful reforms, was met
with a ruthless intolerance. In Scotland, there was not a public
meeting for five-and-twenty years. In that night of unreflecting
Toryism, a small band of men, chiefly connected with the law in
Edinburgh, stood out in a profession of Whiggism, to the forfeiture of
all chance of government patronage, and even of much of the confidence
and esteem of society. Three or four young barristers were
particularly prominent, all men of uncommon talents. The chief was
Francis Jeffrey, who died in 1850, in the seventy-seventh year of his
age, after having passed through a most brilliant career as a
practising lawyer and judge, and one still more brilliant, as the
conductor, for twenty-seven years, of the celebrated _Edinburgh
Review_. Another was Henry Cockburn, who has now become the biographer
of his great associate. It was verily a remarkable knot of men in many
respects, but we think in none more than a heroic probity towards
their principles, which were, after all, of no extravagant character,
as was testified by their being permitted to triumph harmlessly in
1831-2. These men anticipated by forty years changes which were
ultimately patronised by the great majority of the nation. They all
throve professionally, but purely by the force of their talents and
high character. As there was not any precisely equivalent group of men
at any other bar in the United Kingdom, we think Scotland is entitled
to take some credit to herself for her Jeffreys, her Cranstons, her
Murrays, and her Cockburns: at least, she will not soon forget their

Lord Jeffrey--his judicial designation in advanced life--was of
respectable, but not exalted parentage. After a careful education at
Edinburgh, Glasgow, and Oxford, he entered at the bar in 1793, when
not yet much more than twenty years of age. His father, being himself
a Tory, desired the young lawyer to be so too, seeing that it would be
favourable to his prospects; but he could not yield in this point to
paternal counsel. The consequence was, that this able man practised
for ten years without gaining more than L. 100 per annum. All this
time, he cultivated his mind diligently, and was silently training
himself for that literary career which he subsequently entered upon.
His talents were at that time known only to a few intimates: there
were peculiarities about him, which prevented him from being generally
appreciated up to his deserts. His figure, to begin with, was almost
ludicrously small. Then, in his anxiety to get rid of the Scottish
accent, he had contracted an elocution intended to be English, but
which struck every one as most affected and offensive. His manners
were marked by levity, and his conversation to many seemed flippant.
His literary musings also acted unfavourably on the solicitors, the
leading patrons of young counsellors. Reduced by dearth of business
almost to despair, he had at one time serious thoughts of flinging
himself upon the London press for a subsistence. The first smile of
fortune beamed upon him in 1802, when the _Edinburgh Review_ was
started--a work of which he quickly assumed the management. That it
brought him income and literary renown, we gather from Lord Cockburn's
pages; but we do not readily find it explained how. While more
declaredly a literary man than ever, he now advanced rapidly at the
bar, and quickly became a man of wealth and professional dignity. We
suspect that, after all that is said of the effect of literary
pursuits on business prospects, the one success was a consequence in
great measure of the other.

The value of this work rests, in our opinion, on the illustration
which it presents of the possibility of a man of sound though
unpopular opinions passing through life, not merely without suffering
greatly from the wrath of society, but in the enjoyment of some of its
highest honours. After reading this book, one could almost suppose it
to be a delusion that the world judges hardly of any man's speculative
opinions, while his life remains pure, and his heart manifestly is
alive to all the social charities. The heroic consistency of Jeffrey
is the more remarkable, when it now appears that he was a gentle and
rather timid man, keenly alive to the sympathies of friends and
neighbours--indeed, of _womanish_ character altogether. As is well
known, his time arrived at last, when, on the coming of the Whigs into
power in 1830, he was raised to the dignified situation of Lord
Advocate for Scotland, and was called upon to take the lead,
officially, in making those political changes which he had all along
advocated. It is curious, however, and somewhat startling, to learn
how little gratification he professed to feel in what appeared so
great a triumph. While his rivals looked with envy on his exaltation,
and mobs deemed it little enough that he should be entirely at their
beck in requital for the support they gave him, Mr Jeffrey was sighing
for the quiet of private life, groaning at his banishment from a happy
country-home, and not a little disturbed by the troubled aspect of
public affairs. Mr Macaulay has somewhere remarked on the general
mistake as to the 'sweets of office.' We are assured by Lord Cockburn,
that Jeffrey would have avoided the advocateship if he could. He
accepted it only from a feeling of duty to his party. He writes to a
female relation of the 'good reason I have for being sincerely sick
and sorry at an elevation for which so many people are envying, and
thinking me the luckiest and most elevated of mortals for having
attained.' And this subject is still further illustrated by an account
he gives of the conduct of honest Lord Althorpe during the short
interval in May 1832, when the Whigs were _out_. 'Lord Althorpe,' he
says, 'has gone through all this with his characteristic cheerfulness
and courage. The day after the resignation, he spent in a great
sale-garden, choosing and buying flowers, and came home with five
great packages in his carriage, devoting the evening to studying where
they should be planted in his garden at Althorpe, and writing
directions and drawing plans for their arrangement. And when they came
to summon him to a council on the Duke's giving in, he was found in a
closet with a groom, busy oiling the locks of his fowlingpieces, and
lamenting the decay into which they had fallen during his ministry.'

In some respects, the book will create surprise, particularly as to
the private life and character of the great Aristarch. While the
_Edinburgh Review_ was in progress under the care of Mr Jeffrey, it
was a most unrelenting tribunal for literary culprits, as well as a
determined assertor of its own political maxims. The common idea
regarding its chief conductor represented him as a man of
extraordinary sharpness, alternating between epigrammatic flippancy
and democratic rigour. Gentle and refined feeling would certainly
never have been attributed to him. It will now be found that he was at
all times of his life a man of genial spirit towards the entire circle
of his fellow-creatures--that his leading tastes were for poetry and
the beautiful in external nature, particularly fine scenery--that he
revelled in the home affections, and was continually saying the
softest and kindest things to all about him--a lamb, in short, while
thought a lion. The local circle in which he lived was somewhat
limited and exclusive, partly, perhaps, in consequence of having been
early shut in upon itself by its dissent from the mass of society on
most public questions; but in this circle Jeffrey was adored by men,
women, and children alike, on account of his extreme kindliness of
disposition. He was almost, to a ridiculous degree, dependent on the
love of his friends; and the terms in which he addresses some of them,
particularly ladies, sound odd in this commonsense world. Thus, the
wife of one of his friends is, 'My sweet, gentle, and long-suffering
Sophia.' He pours out his very heart to his correspondents, and with
an effect which would reconcile to him the most irascible author he
ever scarified. Thus, to his daughter, who had just left him with her
husband:--'I happened to go up stairs, and passing into our room, saw
the door open of that little one where _you_ used to sleep, and the
very bed waiting there for you, so silent and desolate, that all the
love, and the _miss_ of you, which fell so sadly on my heart the first
night of your desertion, came back upon it so heavily and darkly, that
I was obliged to shut myself in, and cry over the recollection, as if
all the interval had been annihilated, and that loss and sorrow were
still fresh and unsubdued before me; and though the fit went off
before long, I feel still that I must vent my heart by telling you of
it, and therefore sit down now to write all this to you, and get rid
of my feelings, that would otherwise be more likely to haunt my vigils
of the night.' Thus, on the death of a sister in his early days:--'A
very heavy blow upon us all, and much more so on me than I had
believed possible. The habit of seeing her almost every day, and of
living together intimately since our infancy, had wound so many
threads of affection round my heart, that when they were burst at
once, the shock was almost overwhelming. Then, the unequalled
gentleness of her disposition, the unaffected worth of her affections,
and miraculous simplicity of character and manners, which made her
always appear as pure and innocent as an infant, took so firm, though
gentle a hold on the heart of every one who approached her, that even
those who have been comparatively strangers to her worth, have been
greatly affected by her loss.... During the whole of her illness, she
looked beautiful; and when I gazed upon her the moment after she had
breathed her last, as she lay still, still, and calm, with her bright
eyes half closed, and her red lips half open, I thought I had never
seen a countenance so lovely. A statuary might have taken her for a
model. Poor, dear love! I kissed her cold lips, and pressed her cold,
wan, lifeless hand, and would willingly at that moment have put off my
own life too, and followed her. When I came here, the sun was rising,
and the birds were singing gaily, as I sobbed along the empty

The sensibility of Jeffrey to all fine expression that comes to us
through the medium of literature was intense, most so in his latter
days, when his whole character seems to have undergone a mellowing
process. While pining under his greatness as Lord Advocate, and an
authority in parliament (1833), he says: 'If it were not for my love
of beautiful nature and poetry, my heart would have died within me
long ago. I never felt before what immeasurable benefactors these same
poets are to their kind, and how large a measure, both of actual
happiness and prevention of misery, they have imparted to the race.

Pages: | 1 | | 2 | | 3 | | 4 | | Next |

Library mainpage -> Chambers, William -> Chambers's Edinburgh Journal, No. 435 Volume 17, New Series, May 1, 1852