Home  »  Volume XII: English THE ROMANTIC REVIVAL The Nineteenth Century, I  »  § 5. Gifford; Scott; Lockhart; Croker

The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
Volume XII. The Romantic Revival.

VI. Reviews and Magazines in the Early Years of the Nineteenth Century

§ 5. Gifford; Scott; Lockhart; Croker

The editorship of Gifford lasted till 1824. During those fifteen years, he wrote few articles himself, but he dealt strenuously with the papers sent him by contributors, in the way of compression, addition and amendment, to the no small dissatisfaction of the writers. It is interesting to know that Jane Austen derived her first real encouragement as a writer of fiction from an article on Emma in The Quarterly by Walter Scott, who remarked with approval on the introduction of a new class of novel, drawing the characters and incidents from the current of ordinary life, as contrasted with the adventures and improbabilities of the old school of romance. Still more interesting is it to be told that Walter Scott himself reviewed Tales of my Landlord in The Quarterly Review for January, 1817, venturing to attribute them to the author of Waverley and Guy Mannering and The Antiquary! Whilst wishing their author every success, he was solemnly warned that he must correct certain very evident defects in his romances if he expected his fame as a writer of fiction to endure.

  • A leading fault in these novels is the total want of interest felt by the reader in the character of the hero. Waverley, Bertram, etc., are all brethren of a family—very amiable and very insipid sort of young men.
  • Few critics are, in truth, so competent to discuss the merits and defects of books as the authors who produce them. Many an author has felt, when reading a criticism of his work, whether favourable or the reverse, how much more tellingly he could himself have administered the praise or the blame. The centenary number of The Quarterly Review—April, 1909—attributes, no doubt correctly, the concluding laudatory paragraphs of this article, not to Scott himself, but to the editorial activities of Gifford.

    The two great literary and critical journals had now become the recognised standard-bearers of their respective political parties. Neither entirely excluded from its pages occasional contributions from the opposite camp; but, as a general rule, writers on any subject who were in sympathy with the political objects of liberalism or conservatism rallied respectively to The Edinburgh or The Quarterly Review. As might have been expected, the recognised position that each now held and its close connection with statesmen—the responsible leaders of parties—served to strengthen strict party-ties whilst, perhaps, lessening political independence. As the years went on, the change that had come over the character of The Edinburgh was strongly marked. “It is odd to hear,” wrote Walter Bagehot in 1855, “that the Edinburgh Review was once thought an incendiary publication.” After half-a-century of existence, the belief had become general, he says jokingly, that it was written by privy councillors only. It had long been engaged not only in fighting political conservatism, but in a scarcely less fierce struggle against the extreme men, as it considered those who formed the left wing of the liberal party. In its first half century, Jeffrey and Macaulay were the two men whose character was most deeply impressed both upon the political and literary habits of thought of The Edinburgh Review. It now stood for moderate reform: Macaulay being equally happy in pouring broadsides (1829) into the radical philosophers headed by Bentham and James Mill and their organ The Westminster Review, and in turning his fire, ten years later, against the obscurantist views of the ultra-tory party represented by Gladstone’s book on church and state.

    Contributions, of course, were always anonymous; but there was not, nor could there be, any concealment of the authorship of such papers as Macaulay, for a series of years, sent to the Review—essays which have taken their permanent place in English literature. In many other cases, the veil of anonymity was a thin one. In 1846, just before Lord John Russell formed his first administration, the whig orthodoxy of the Review was unimpeachable, as may be seen from the list of subjects and authors in the April number. It was as follows:

  • Parliament and the Courts, by Lord Denman.
  • Shakespeare in Paris, by Mrs. Austin.
  • Legislation for the Working Class, by Sir George C. Lewis.
  • The Religious Movement in Germany, by Henry Rogers.
  • Lyall’s Travels in North America, by Herman Merivale.
  • European and American State Confederacies, by Nassau Senior.
  • Scottish Criminal Jurisprudence, by Lord Cockburn.
  • The Political State of Prussia, by R. M. Milnes (afterwards Lord Houghton).
  • Earls Grey and Spencer, by Lord John Russell.
  • As regards matters of political, ecclesiastical and religious interest, the tendency of The Edinburgh was consistently in favour of broad and liberal views. Jeffrey and Macaulay, Thomas Arnold, Henry Rogers, Sir James Stephen and, later in the century, Arthur Stanley and Henry Reeve, were among those who, over a long course of years, represented the thoughts and sentiments of the Review.

    Neither The Edinburgh nor The Quarterly was at any time carried on by what could be called a regular staff. Each was under the control of its editor, who selected his contributors and made up each number as he thought best. Jeffrey and his successor Macvey Napier held the editorship of The Edinburgh till close upon the middle of the century; while, during the first fifty years of The Quarterly, Gifford and Lockhart ruled, save for the couple of years (1824–6) during which Sir J. T. Coleridge, nephew of the poet, and friend of Keble, occupied the editorial chair. It was not till October, 1853, that Lockhart resigned in favour of an old contributor, Whitwell Elwin, the scholarly rector of a parish in Norfolk where he continued to reside. The hot youth of The Quarterly was now a thing of the past. The Edinburgh had ceased to be a firebrand; Maga had long added respectability to its other strong claims upon the public; and, under the new editorship, “moderation” became the distinguishing mark of The Quarterly. Elwin was a high church rector, but a moderate one; a tory but with whiggish leanings. “He had not a drop of party feeling in him,” he said of himself in 1854, nor any political antipathies. Literature had been through life “his first and only love”; and many admirable essays he himself contributed to the Review. His taste, however, had been formed and stereotyped in his youth; and he had little appreciation for rising genius, or any inclination to welcome, or even to try to understand, modern thought.

  • “He could not read,” so The Quarterly centenary article tells us, “Browning or George Eliot, and he thought little of Tennyson. Matthew Arnold, Swinburne, and Rossetti were mere names to him. He knew little and read less of modern French and German authors, and he disliked the Preraphaelite school of painting. He considered Darwinism a wild and discredited hypothesis; he believed in Paley, condemned Ecce Homo, and dismissed the ‘Higher Criticism’ with scorn”;
  • but this lack of appreciation for the sentiments of his own age did not prevent his enjoying the friendship and intimacy of the principal literary and scientific men of his day.

    Gifford and Lockhart had both been fighting men, who were not open to the reproach (as they would have thought it) of a deficiency of party zeal, or of lukewarmness in their political antipathies. Still, Lockhart, the editor of The Quarterly, was a different man from the Lockhart of the early days of Blackwood. The passing years and the intimate life of Abbotsford had done much to soften and widen the character of the brilliant and mischief-loving freelance of Maga. Andrew Lang has done good service in greatly modifying the severe estimate formed by many of his contemporaries of the character of “The Scorpion”; and has shown that he possessed a far more generous and more genial temperament than posterity had given him credit for. In the editorial chair, he ruled as a constitutional monarch, advised by his chief ministers Croker and Southey and Barrow; while Murray himself—the publisher and owner of The Quarterly—took no small part in the direction of its energies. Lockhart’s own political instincts were far less inclined to the older toryism than were those of Southey and Croker, to whose vehemence should be mainly ascribed the violent opposition of the Review to catholic emancipation and reform. Doubtless, it was Lockhart’s own wiser temperament that led The Quarterly to support the liberal conservatism of the Tamworth manifesto, and to uphold Peel till the general bouleversement of tory politics which followed his repeal of the corn laws.

    From its very birth, John Wilson Croker, then a young member of parliament, and already a friend of Sir Arthur Wellesley, gave strenuous support to The Quarterly, and, by constant contributions, down to the time of the Crimean war, did much to impress upon it his own strong spirit of toryism. It may well be that he does not deserve that reputation for the worst political self-seeking which was the result of Lord Macaulay’s vigorous denunciation, and of the fact that it was from Croker that Disraeli, in Coningsby, drew the portrait of Rigby. The Quarterly itself has recently defended him, and not unsuccessfully, against such an extreme charge. That he was a prejudiced, a bitter and a violent, political partisan is beyond dispute.

    The later political developments of the two great Reviews, however interesting, when W. E. Gladstone was an occasional contributor to The Edinburgh and The Quarterly (his topics being by no means exclusively political), and when Lord Salisbury was lending his brilliant and polemical pen to the conservative cause in The Quarterly, do not concern us here, though they seem to deserve passing mention.