Francis Jeffrey (1773 – 1850) is one of Edinburgh’s most famous sons; lawyer, critic, editor, politician, he shone in a society which at the time was full of famous names. Jeffrey’s particular claim to fame was his astonishing success in establishing the Edinburgh Review, which he edited for many years, and which was one of the major outlets for literary criticism and public debate in the English-speaking world.
Born in Edinburgh, educated in Glasgow and Oxford, Jeffrey found his success in 1801 when he hit on the idea of a periodical which would include politics, literature, public affairs and general interest: the Review appeared in print from 1802 onwards and until 1817 (when it was challenged by the new Blackwood’s Edinburgh Magazine) it dominated its field in Scotland. Jeffrey’s views were Whig, while Blackwood’s were Tory, and so the two magazines rivalled each other in public debate, fuelling controversy and sometimes causing quite a stir.
Jeffrey rose to be rector of the University of Glasgow, to be Dean of the Faculty of Advocates in Edinburgh, and in 1830 became Scotland’s Lord Advocate, entering Parliament in 1831. It was a decisive moment, and Jeffrey in London was instrumental in passing the Scottish Reform Bill. Despite the demands this placed on his time, his legal career proved brilliant (he became Lord Jeffrey) and to the end he was a popular public figure with a huge circle of friends. Edinburgh’s Jeffrey Street was named after him in 1868.