Francis Jeffrey, Lord Jeffrey, Member of Parliament, Lord Advocate, judge, editor and literary critic, was born on the 23rd of October, 1773
Francis Jeffrey is described as an eminent judge and man of letters, which two statements concisely sum up his contribution. But to elaborate... apart from his ultimately successful, parallel careers as an advocate and politician, Jeffrey is rightly famous for being one of the founders of the Edinburgh Review, which first appeared on the 10th of October, 1802. From Jeffrey's point of view, the magazine was a 'godsend' as recently married and struggling as a lawyer, he needed a reliable source of income. The idea for the setting up of a review came about in Jeffrey's house, on the third story in Buccleuch Place, when he had a few of his mates round for a dram. One of those was the English writer and Anglican cleric, Sydney Smith, who is credited with having proposed the idea, albeit it had no doubt been discussed less determinedly on previous occasions. Whatever he made as a lawyer and M.P., Jeffrrey got a decent income from the 'Review', whose publisher, Archibald Constable, ended up paying sixteen guineas a sheet, which was more than “three times what was ever paid before for such work.”
The magazine was so successful that,by 1814, they were printing nearly 13,000 copies. It adopted its Latin motto judex damnatur ubi nocens absolvitur (the judge is condemned when the guilty is acquitted) from the Sententiae (Sentences) of Publilius Syrus, a Syrian in Julius Caesar's Rome. Publilius' was famous for his pithy maxims, which were written in iambic and trochaic verse. Funnily enough, Smith is on record as having said (of the Sentences) that “none of us, I am sure, had ever read a single line.” Within a year, after its first floundering, committee-based proof readings in Craig's Close, Jeffrey became the sole editor of the 'Review'. Jeffrey held that position for around twenty-six years and exactly ninety-eight numbers, ending in June, 1829, when he resigned and handed over to fellow lawyer, Napier Macvey (a.k.a. Macvey Napier), who had been the editor of the Encyclopædia Britannica.
Jeffrey's two hundred contributions to the Edinburgh Review contained a mixture of moral sentiment and pungent criticism, perhaps none more effective than that, which led to his squaring up for a duel, in London. After returning from Nova Scotia, the Irish poet and entertainer, Thomas Moore, often referred to as Anacreon Moore, published his book entitled 'Epistles, Odes and Other Poems'. Now, Moore was fond of producing mocking criticisms of the embryonic United States, particularly on its attitude towards slavery, but Jeffrey's review of Moore's work, for the fifteenth number of the 'Review', was critical of the morality expressed in his poems. As a result, in 1806, Moore challenged Jeffrey to a duel and the two men, and seconds, met at Chalk Farm. Perhaps that adventure was what led Jeffrey to make one of his better known quotes: “Opinions founded on prejudice are always sustained with the greatest of violence.” Luckily for whomsoever, the Polis arrived and interrupted the proceedings, arresting both men and preventing the sustaining of violence or injury by either.
Unfortunately for Moore's reputation, Jeffrey's pistol was found to be empty and that lack of a bullet haunted Moore for years, with reports that he had been dastardly responsible leading to him being mocked by the likes of Byron. However, the story had a happy ending beyond the obvious as the two men later became firm friends, with Jeffrey even going so far as to praise Moore's subsequent work in a later 'Review'. In fact, the abrasive Moore was also later reconciled with Byron. Two Scots gentlemen versus one Irish hooligan, you might say.
Francis Jeffrey was born in Edinburgh on the 23rd of October, 1773. In October, 1781, wee Frankie began studies at the High School, then in Fyfe's Close. After that, between 1787 and '89, he studied Greek and Philosophy at Glasgow University, which is where he came under the influence of the whiggish Professor Millar, which according to Jeffrey's father was “his corruption.” Jeffrey then went on to study Law and History at Edinburgh University, attending the classes of Hume and Dick. In September, 1791, Jeffrey went to Oxford, where he entered Queen's College, but he didnae like it much and in July, 1792, went back to Scotland to prepare for the Scottish Bar, to which he was admitted on the 16th of December, 1794.
Jeffrey made a slow start to his legal career, because he switched his politics from Tory to Whig, which was kind of professional suicide in those days. Whatever you might think of the 21st Century Tory Party, just imagine that every stereotypical aspect of the 'Tories' that is derided by its detractors was magnified by at least an order of magnitude in the 18th Century version. Back then, the entire system of government in Scotland was in the hands of Tory patronage, chiefly administered by Henry Dundas (later, Lord Melville).
Notwithstanding the success of the 'Review', Jeffrey's ambitions were for the Bar and, reciprocally, thanks in part to the literary reputation that he gained as its editor, his advancement in the legal profession was aided. By 1806, Jeffrey's law career had begun to pick up and, in 1816, with the introduction of juries for civil cases, it blossomed a wee bit more. Ultimately, as the political landscape changed over time, his liberal Whig politics produced a return and, in 1829, Jeffrey was elected Dean of the Faculty of Advocates. He became Lord Advocate in 1830 and that same year, he entered Parliament as a member for Malton and subsequently, the Perth Burghs and Edinburgh. In 1831 and 1832, Jeffrey introduced the Scottish Reform Bill, which led to an increase in the numbers entitled to vote (albeit the resulting total comprised just one out of six adult males). Jeffrey became Lord Jeffrey, Judge of the Court of Session, in May, 1834.
Amongst the over 250,000 broadsheets held by the National Library of Scotland, comprising proclamations and the news of the day, which were sold on the streets by pedlars, is a ballad in praise of Jeffrey's support for the Reform Bill and his 1833 election campaign. The broadside was published by Sanderson's in Edinburgh and is entitled 'Hurrah! For Francis Jeffrey'. However many folks it influenced, Jeffrey was returned as M.P., six months after the passing of his Bill, without which many of his supporters wouldn't have been entitled to vote. Here's a verse a as a wee taster:
“In politics his views are clear;
Oppression's sway we need not-fear,
For Liberty – to Scotsmen dear –
Oppression's sway we need not-fear,
For Liberty – to Scotsmen dear –
Is sacred to Frank Jeffrey.”
Francis, Lord Jeffrey, died on the 26th of January, 1850, and he was buried in Dean Cemetery.