Incorporating Voices: the Edinburgh Review

  • Mark Schoenfield
Part of the Nineteenth-Century Major Lives and Letters book series (19CMLL)


The rapid sales of the Edinburgh Review (2,500 copies by the third number; LLJ II:65) and the ensuing public discussion, proffered as objective indicators of success, created from its outset in September 1802 a mythology of inevitable triumph.1 Demonstrating the pervasiveness of that myth, an 1804 pamphlet engaging a legal dispute between Edinburgh master-printers and compositors uses “an example” from a work “in everybody’s hands, the Edinburgh Review” (Additional Memorial 2). Their prominence provoked responses across the political spectrum.


French Revolution Body Politic Corporate Identity Paper Money Professional Class 
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  1. 1.
    James Greig catalogues contemporary references to the Edinburgh’s literary significance. For example, under the guise of the “author of Waverley,” Scott (who had reviewed for the Edinburgh) noted that Constable established “a Court of letters, which must command respect, even from those most inclined to dissent from many of its canons” (7). Edwin Whipple, in 1850, traces the origins of a shift in literary culture to the economic disadvantages of a few Scottish intellectuals: The Edinburgh Review, which took the lead in the establishment of the new order of things, was projected in a lofty attic by two briefless barristers and a titheless parson; the former are now lords, and the latter is a snug prebendary, rejoicing in the reputation of being the divinest wit and wittiest divine of the age. That celebrated journal made reviewing more respectable than authorship. (I:10) John Ring (1807) identifies six journals that recurrently attacked the Edinburgh and ten books written against specific reviews within the first five years; many prompted a series of texts that circulated the Edinburgh’s notice and notoriety.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    After the second number, Coleridge remains confident of the Edinburgh’s failure, although his need to assert authority strains his dismissive tone: “Your [Southey’s] prophecy concerning the Edingburgh Review did credit to your penetration. The second number is altogether despicable—the hum-drum of pert attorneys’ Clerks, very pert & yet prolix & dull as a superannuated Judge … the first article on Kant you may believe on my authority to be impudent & senseless Babble” (Letters II:936). By June 1803, he recognizes influence that he tries to trivialize: “I have not seen the Edingburgh Review—the truth is, that Edingburgh is a place of literary Gossip—& even I have had my portion of Puff there” (Letters II 953).Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    Rei Terada develops Coleridge’s objections to empiricism that weave through his notebooks (261–5).Google Scholar
  4. 4.
    Coleridge’s response to the Edinburgh was more complex than the hostility of these pronouncements suggest. At his own request to Jeffrey, he reviewed Thomas Clarkson’s antislavery work for the Edinburgh in 1807 and assured Jeffrey that he understood the editor’s obligation to produce “a general consistency of principle in the different Articles” (Letters III:148). The following year he noted that Jeffrey and Constable subscribed to his The Friend (Notebooks III:3471). Kim Wheatley has explored how the dispute between Jeffrey and Coleridge has a doppelganger structure; she concludes: The notion of holding oneself aloof from the age of personality has to remain a fantasy. John Wilson’s review [in Blackwood’s] of the Biographia accuses Coleridge of being “haunted by the Image of a Reviewer wherever he goes” (BM2:14). Not only is Coleridge “haunted” by his enemies, he is one of them: “almost every friend he ever had is a Reviewer;—and to crown all, he himself is a Reviewer …” (BM2:14). (“Reading” 8)Google Scholar
  5. 5.
    The idea of the literary world as a “republic” was cliche. Writing to Francis Horner to “dun” him for thirty pages, Francis Jeffrey laments that if Horner does not comply, “I shall be tempted to despair of the republic” (LLJ 60).Google Scholar
  6. 6.
    Poovey notes, “[W]hen Henry Brougham, Francis Jeffrey, Francis Horner, and James Mackintosh—all of whom had been [Dugald] Stewart’s pupils—established the Edinburgh Review in 1802, that created a vehicle capable of disseminating the lessons Stewart had taught throughout literate Britain” (269).Google Scholar
  7. 7.
    John van Wyhe describes the tension between Phrenology as a “reform science” or as a “science of personal authority” (313–14).Google Scholar
  8. 8.
    The conditions Cockburn enumerates includes “the fall of old systems on the French revolution; the strong feelings of resentment at our own party intolerance; the obviousness that it was only through the press that this intolerance could be abated,” and the “dotage of all existing journals” (LLJI:125–6).Google Scholar
  9. 9.
    Philip Flynn and Clive have noted Jeffrey’s intellectual development among the debating societies, and Hesketh Pearson narrates parallels between the founding of the “Friday club,” a debating and dinner club that included Walter Scott, Horner, and Jeffrey, and the Edinburgh Review. Tracing Jeffrey’s debts to and divergences from the “practicality and undogmatic skepticism” of Cicero and David Hume, Flynn has demonstrated the Edinburgh’s dissemination of Scottish Enlightenment ideals as a body of knowledge and a set of criteria for assessing political and aesthetic claims (Jeffrey 45–6).Google Scholar
  10. 10.
    For the first weeks of the crisis, the government treated it as chiefly involving merchants, but on March 2, a bill was brought authorizing the payment of laborers in notes. Fears of riots and rebellion were immediately raised, with Mr. Fox observing that “the general ignorance of the lower class of people” made them liable to “fraud and injury” by employers, as well as likely to find their notes not useable in purchasing necessities. The debate highlighted the obvious contradiction that Notes, in order to be legal, required the phrase “payable on demand” either printed directly on them or implicit through their issue—although they no longer were. These words became a formal condition of the notes rather than a substantial claim about them. Hence, the reliability of the government depended upon the notes containing a lie on their face. As a counter, Richard Brinsley Sheridan proposed making the bills payable only after a certain date, but John Freeman-Mitford, the solicitor general, pointed out that this approach would devalue them relative to other notes, and make laborers likely to refuse them. He suggested that bills correct in form and contradictory in practice were better than notes that stated their actual condition, as that statement itself would materially decrease purchasing power.Google Scholar
  11. 11.
    Stephen Koss’s discussion of the Anti-Jacobin’s attack on the Courier for reporting abuses of enemy prisoners of war (44) demonstrates the intersection of the shadow war of words and money with the military war that England was prosecuting.Google Scholar
  12. 12.
    Horner wrote to his father that “[w]ith respect to one great object for which you were at the expense and trouble of placing me here, I think I am beginning to pronounce some words as Englishmen do, and just to feel the difference between the rhythm of their conversation and mine” (MFH I:7). Reviewing the Memoirs in 1843, the Quarterly remarks on the success of this venture of Anglicization, first by declaring that “there was something in Mr. Horner’s character thoroughly English,” and adding, “If any man was the author of his own character, and, through his character, of his fame, … it was Francis Horner” (QR LXXII:109)Google Scholar
  13. 13.
    Horner gives a typical account of his studies: To consider “the principles of English pronunciation, and English composition,” he is conducting, with perhaps some irony, “a very rigid examination of the style of Mr. Hume in his History, which I am astonished to find abound so much both in inaccuracies and inelegancies.” He concludes this letter by expressing his disappointment in the “eloquence of the British Senate,” in contrast to classical speeches: The one [Fox], indeed speaks with great animation and, I am convinced, from the warmest sincerity of heart; and the other [Pitt] has a most wonderful fluency and correctness, approaching almost to mechanical movement. But neither of them has proceeded so far as the observance of Shakespeare’s rule; for the one saws the air with his hands, and the other with his whole body. (MFH I:11)Google Scholar
  14. 14.
    In 1806, teasing Horner about his efforts to become “Londonized” and joking about his desire for a “place,” Jeffrey assured him that he recognized his desire to “do some good, to make society and posterity your debtor” and his need to “cultivate and improve your own mind” (LLJ II:94, 96).Google Scholar
  15. 15.
    Hume had made a similar point about identity: [T]here is no question in philosophy more abstruse than that concerning identity, and the nature of the uniting principle, which constitutes a person. So far from being able by our senses merely to determine the question, we must have recourse to the most profound metaphysics to give a satisfactory answer to it; and in common life, this evident that these ideas of self and persons are never very fixed or determinate. (Treatise 189–90)Google Scholar
  16. 16.
    When the Anti-Jacobin reviewed the Edinburgh’s first issue, its longest response was to the Mounier essay (AJ XVI:213–17).Google Scholar
  17. 17.
    Biancamaria Fontana uses the Edinburgh Review to correlate transformations in the commercial world to the political struggles between the emerging modern parties of Whig and Tory (112–15).Google Scholar
  18. 18.
    Jeffrey recalls this association in writing to Horner in April 1803: “I hear of your talking about dung, and of your making a great deal of money. Good. I wish you would let me in on the secret” (LLJII:61).Google Scholar
  19. 19.
    Thornton had asserted that “[i]t has thus been admitted that paper possesses the faculty of enlarging the quantity of commodities by giving life to some new industry.” He notes, however, that this “[m] agic influence of the new paper” produces an economic quandary, because even assuming that, e.g., “thirty-five millions of additional bank notes will have the extraordinary power of calling at once into being thirty-five millions of new goods,” those goods “would by no means find employment for that equal quantity of paper which is here assumed to have given existence to it” (264–5).Google Scholar

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© Mark Schoenfield 2009

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