1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Ferrier, Susan Edmonstone

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FERRIER, SUSAN EDMONSTONE (1782–1854), Scottish novelist, born in Edinburgh on the 7th of September 1782, was the daughter of James Ferrier, for some years factor to the duke of Argyll, and at one time one of the clerks of the court of session with Sir Walter Scott. Her mother was a Miss Coutts, the beautiful daughter of a Forfarshire farmer. James Frederick Ferrier, noticed above, was Susan Ferrier’s nephew.

Miss Ferrier’s first novel, Marriage, was begun in concert with a friend, Miss Clavering, a niece of the duke of Argyll; but this lady only wrote a few pages, and Marriage, completed by Miss Ferrier as early as 1810, appeared in 1818. It was followed in 1824 by The Inheritance, a better constructed and more mature work; and the last and perhaps best of her novels, Destiny, dedicated to Sir Walter Scott (who himself undertook to strike the bargain with the publisher Cadell), appeared in 1831. All these novels were published anonymously; but, with their clever portraiture of contemporary Scottish life and manners, and even recognizable caricatures of some social celebrities of the day, they could not fail to become popular north of the Tweed. “Lady MacLaughlan” represents Mrs Seymour Damer in dress and Lady Frederick Campbell, whose husband, Lord Ferrier, was executed in 1760, in manners. Mary, Lady Clark, well known in Edinburgh, figured as “Mrs Fox” and the three maiden aunts were the Misses Edmonstone. Many were the conjectures as to the authorship of the novels. In the Noctes Ambrosianae (November 1826), James Hogg is made to mention The Inheritance, and adds, “which I aye thought was written by Sir Walter, as weel’s Marriage, till it spunked out that it was written by a leddy.” Scott himself gave Miss Ferrier a very high place indeed among the novelists of the day. In his diary (March 27, 1826), criticizing a new work which he had been reading, he says, “The women do this better. Edgeworth, Ferrier, Austen, have all given portraits of real society far superior to anything man, vain man, has produced of the like nature.” Another friendly recognition of Miss Ferrier is to be found at the conclusion of his Tales of my Landlord, where Scott calls her his “sister shadow,” the still anonymous author of “the very lively work entitled Marriage.” Lively, indeed, all Miss Ferrier’s works are,—written in clear, brisk English, and with an inexhaustible fund of humour. It is true her books portray the eccentricities, the follies, and foibles of the society in which she lived, caricaturing with terrible exactness its hypocrisy, boastfulness, greed, affectation, and undue subservience to public opinion. Yet Miss Ferrier wrote less to reform than to amuse. In this she is less like Miss Edgeworth than Miss Austen. Miss Edgeworth was more of a moralist; her wit is not so involuntary, her caricatures not always so good-natured. But Miss Austen and Miss Ferrier were genuine humorists, and with Miss Ferrier especially a keen sense of the ludicrous was always dominant. Her humorous characters are always her best. It was no doubt because she felt this that in the last year of her life she regretted not having devoted her talents more exclusively to the service of religion. But if she was not a moralist, neither was she a cynic; and her wit, even where it is most caustic, is never uncharitable.

Miss Ferrier’s mother died in 1797, and from that date she kept house for her father until his death in 1829. She lived quietly at Morningside House and in Edinburgh for more than twenty years after the publication of her last work. The pleasantest picture that we have of her is in Lockhart’s description of her visit to Scott in May 1831. She was asked there to help to amuse the dying master of Abbotsford, who, when he was not writing Count Robert of Paris, would talk as brilliantly as ever. Only sometimes, before he had reached the point in a narrative, “it would seem as if some internal spring had given way.” He would pause, and gaze blankly and anxiously round him. “I noticed,” says Lockhart, “the delicacy of Miss Ferrier on such occasions. Her sight was bad, and she took care not to use her glasses when he was speaking; and she affected to be also troubled with deafness, and would say, ‘Well, I am getting as dull as a post; I have not heard a word since you said so-and-so,’—being sure to mention a circumstance behind that at which he had really halted. He then took up the thread with his habitual smile of courtesy—as if forgetting his case entirely in the consideration of the lady’s infirmity.”

Miss Ferrier died on the 5th of November 1854, at her brother’s house in Edinburgh. She left among her papers a short unpublished article, entitled “Recollections of Visits to Ashestiel and Abbotsford.” This is her own very interesting account of her long friendship with Sir Walter Scott, from the date of her first visit to him and Lady Scott at Ashestiel, where she went with her father in the autumn of 1811, to her last sad visit to Abbotsford in 1831. It contains some impromptu verses written by Scott in her album at Ashestiel.

Miss Ferrier’s letters to her sister, which contained much interesting biographical matter, were destroyed at her particular request, but a volume of her correspondence with a memoir by her grand-nephew, John Ferrier, was published in 1898.