A Short Biographical Dictionary of English Literature/Jeffrey, Francis

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Jeffrey, Francis (1773-1850).—Critic and political writer, s. of a legal official, b. in Edinburgh, ed. at the High School there, and at Glasgow and Oxf., where, however, he remained for a few months only. Returning to Edinburgh he studied law, and was called to the Bar in 1794. Brought up as a Tory, he early imbibed Whig principles, and this, in the then political state of Scotland, together with his strong literary tendencies, long hindered his professional advancement. Gradually, however, his ability, acuteness, and eloquence carried him to the front of his profession. He was elected Dean of the Faculty of Advocates in 1829 and, on the accession to power of the Whigs in 1830, became Lord Advocate, and had a large share in passing the Reform Bill, in so far as it related to Scotland. In 1832 he was elected M.P. for Edinburgh, and was raised to the Bench as Lord Jeffrey in 1834. His literary fame rests on his work in connection with the Edinburgh Review, which he edited from its commencement in 1802 until 1829, and to which he was a constant contributor. The founding of this periodical by a group of young men of brilliant talents and liberal sympathies, among whom were Brougham, Sydney Smith, and F. Horner, constituted the opening of a new epoch in the literary and political progress of the country. J.'s contributions ranged over literary criticism, biography, politics, and ethics and, especially in respect of the first, exercised a profound influence; he was, in fact, regarded as the greatest literary critic of his age, and although his judgments have been far from universally supported either by the event or by later critics, it remains true that he probably did more than any of his contemporaries to diffuse a love of literature, and to raise the standard of public taste in such matters. A selection of his papers, made by himself, was pub. in 4 vols. in 1844 and 1853. J. was a man of brilliant conversational powers, of vast information and sparkling wit, and was universally admired and beloved for the uprightness and amiability of his character.