17 Jeffrey Street, now home to Michael’s Steak and Seafood Bar, has two strong connections to the publishing history of the city. It was once the original home of Canongate Books, which is now happily tucked away in Tweeddale Court.

It’s also in the heart of the street named after Francis Jeffrey, who became the founding editor of literary magazine The Edinburgh Review in 1802. It was in this pioneering publication that Francis reviewed a book of poetry by Felicia Hemans, and described her work as a “fine exemplification of Female poetry.” At the time, women’s work was seen as trivial in comparison to their male counterparts, so it was fairly pioneering for him to celebrate the work of women writers and their “female genius.”

 

 

The happier productions of female genius

– Francis Jeffrey
 

 

 

 

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.

 

Edinburgh has a strong history of female writing, including Muriel Spark, Dorothy Stevenson and Dorothy Dunnett, dating back to Elizabeth Melville.

Back in 1606, Elizabeth – also known as Lady Culross – was the first woman writer to see her work in print. Edinburgh printer Robert Charteris produced Melville’s Ane Godlie Dreame, a Calvinist dream-vision poem. Her commemorative flagstone in Makars’ Court, unveiled by Germaine Greer in 2014, features a quotation from the Draeme: “Though tyrants threat, though Lyons rage and rore/ Defy them all, and feare not to win out”