Currency and Finance

the consideration of currency – money and other representations of value that did not themselves establish that value – constituted one of the most perplexing and convoluted aspects of romantic-era finance, and one which preoccupied the Edinburgh under Jeffrey’s editorship.

MONEY exists, broadly, in two particular formations, commodity money in which the value of the money derives from the material – usually a metal – from which it is made, and fiat money, whose value is determined by the support of the government. In practice, economies contain complex blends of these forms, along with an intermediate form of paper money that is exchangeable, at least in principle, for a specific commodity, such as a quantity of gold.  Money is in general issued by governments, but various mediums of exchange that serve similar purposes can be produced by banks and other financial institutions. The organization of money, its rates of circulation, and structures of loaning that convert money into a commodity in itself, all contribute to the financial industry as it develops from the founding of the Bank of England in 1694. As international trade increases, the exchange of values between nations using distinct currencies required both legal regulation and increased public comprehension of prices. The regulation of money, such as fixing wages to the price of bread in the Speenhamland Acts of 1795, simultaneously shaped and regulated markets.  Because of mounting governmental debts and decreasing stores of gold, in the midst of a run on the banking system, the government in 1797 enacted a Banking Restriction that suspended the government’s obligation to exchange paper money for gold. The result was a transformation of the monetary system – and the rhetoric of it – into one in which financial stability was located in the solidity of the merchant class and the government. For the founders of the Edinburgh, especially Jeffrey and Horner, the Bank Restriction Act served to demonstrate the effectiveness of public discourse in regulating economic activity. Yet the effects, both local and international, both immediate and long-term, were subject to intricate debates, and from 1797 to 1821, when the Restriction was lifted, the ‘Bullionist’ controversy raged throughout the pamphlet and periodical presses on the effects of the Restriction Act and a variety of other measures that shaped monetary policies. Bullionists believed that the convertability of paper money into gold was a necessary check on inflation, and that the increasing circulation of paper money would drive gold out of England – and worse, into France, where it could be reshaped into military might. This complexity meant that the Napoleonic wars had distinct economic components, with opponents seeking to destabilize the currencies of their enemies.

The Edinburgh repeatedly returned to discussions of currency and its effect on trade, financial institutions, and government; more than 600 articles from 1803-1830 mention ‘money’ (about the same rate as the Quarterly, but notably less frequently than many periodicals, including, in the 1820s, Blackwood’s Edinburgh Magazine). In its first issue, it offered a distinctly positive and measured review (written by Horner) of Henry Thornton’s Paper Credit, a cautious endorsement of the Restriction Act. Eventually, Horner and Thornton would team up as principal authors of the Bullion Report of 1810-1.

In 1808, responding to Thomas Smith’s ‘Essay on the Theory of Money and Exchange’ and the vagueness with which both Smith and his predecessors have defined money mistakenly as a ‘measure of value’, and insisting this failure leads their analyses astray, the Edinburgh declared that to call money a ‘measure’, is to use that metaphorically; where a ‘pint’ is a ‘measure of water’, it is only metaphorically that ‘a shilling measures a quarter loaf’. This metaphor conceals a most crucial quality of money, namely that – unlike standards of measures such as the pint and the yard – ‘it is itself perpetually subject to variations’ (ER 13:4, 39). After demonstrating the absurdity of considering money as an ‘abstract idea’ (43), the Edinburgh demonstrates, with an amusing narrative, that the inconvenience of barter exchange occurs because of the specificity of commodities: a man with a sheep desires a hatchet, but a sheep is worth 6 hatchets, and he cannot give only a sixth of the sheep, and in any case, the man selling the hatchet ‘does not want to purchase a sheep, but a cloak’. The Edinburgh rehearses a historical imagining by which precious metals are simply a common object of barter and, by social practice, are shaped into recognizable forms – coins – in which the stamp indicates an established quantity of the metal. The conclusion drawn is that ‘coins are mere commodities, subject to the laws which regulate the purchase and sale of all other commodities’ (49).

Yet this understanding of money became complicated as money entered the discourse of contracts, where money was both ‘the standard, by a comparison with which the relative values of commodities is ascertained’ and ‘also the equivalent, by the delivery of a fixed amount of which, the stipulations, in almost all contracts and agreements, may be discharged’. Considering three books that concerned the ‘Pernicious Effects of Degrading the Standard of Money’, the Edinburgh, declaring that making ‘any direct alteration in the terms of a contract’ by the government would be a ‘tyrannical interference with the rights of property that could not be tolerated’, decried a substitute strategy of ‘altering the standard’ and consequently and simultaneously altering the purchase power – the actual determinate by which one agrees to a price – that is ultimately delivered. Demonstrating a strategy of devaluing currency in order to reduce national and royal debt, the Edinburgh notes that the result – the fact that the government and monarchy now must also use the degraded money for purchasing – means that no long-term gain is achieved by resolving debt in this fashion (ER 35:2, 474) and the government’s ability to borrow is curtailed. Thus, the prolonged restriction on paper money meant that the quantity in circulation, held steady by the discipline of the government and the watchful accounting of the public press for the first decade of the Back Restriction Act, gave way to a dramatic rise in the amount of paper money and a corresponding depreciation of its value, thus effectively transforming contracts in favor of debtors as against creditors (478).

The Edinburgh, however, goes on to argue that the return to a gold standard is similarly damaging, although in the opposite direction, forcing debtors to pay a higher value than their loan stipulated. In 1826, the Edinburgh continued to warn against that ‘sudden change in the quantity, and, consequently, in the value of money’ (ER 44:1, 71). A vital component of its promulgation of political economy, the Edinburgh under Jeffrey continued to chart the increasing rise in international money markets as well as to insist on an empirical basis for its understanding of the importance of the rate of monetary circulation as an indicator of economic health.

Mark Schoenfield, Vanderbilt University

Polanyi, Karl. The Great Transformation: The Political and Economic Origins of Our Time. 1944. (New York: Beacon Press, 1957).

Laidler, David, ‘The Bullionist Controversy’, in Money, Eds, John Eatwell, Murrey Milgate and Peter Newman. (New York: Macmillan Press, 1989).

Jane Austen (1775-1817)

, novelist.

JANE AUSTEN, the daughter of an English clergyman, has become perhaps the best-known novelist of her generation, even though she was overshadowed at the time by contemporaries such as Sir Walter Scott, Maria Edgeworth, and Madame de Staël. While she began writing in childhood and wrote preliminary drafts of two of her mature novels during the 1790s, it was not until 1811, with the publication of Sense and Sensibility, that Austen launched her publishing career. She followed that with Pride and Prejudice (1813), Mansfield Park (1814), and Emma (1816). Northanger Abbey and Persuasion, her first and last completed novels, appeared posthumously in 1818. Austen did achieve modest literary success before her death:  the Prince Regent admired her work highly enough to invite her to dedicate Emma to him (which she did somewhat reluctantly), and Scott praised Austen’s fiction both publicly in The Quarterly Review and privately in his journal. Scott’s article for The Quarterly was, however, the only significant review that Austen received during her lifetime; she was not one of the very select few women novelists to be reviewed by The Edinburgh, though Jeffrey was reportedly ‘kept up three nights’ by Emma (1815). Her reputation began to climb in the 1820s and 1830s and ‘the novels of Miss Austin’ received favourable mention in an article Jeffrey wrote on Felicia Hemans in 1829 (ER 50:33). When in 1846 Jeffrey published his Contributions to the Edinburgh Review, he cited Austen as an ‘intrinsically original’ writer who had contributed to rescuing the novel from the ‘despicable’ and ‘degraded’ state to which he saw the genre as having sunk by the opening years of the nineteenth century (Jeffrey Contributions 3: 2).



George Gordon, Lord Byron, English Bards and Scotch Reviewers, a Satire (London : J. Cawrhorn, March 1809)

Such is the force of Wit! but not belong
To me the arrows of satiric song;
The royal vices of our age demand
A keener weapon, and a mightier hand.                             40
Still there are follies, e’en for me to chase,
And yield at least amusement in the race:
Laugh when I laugh, I seek no other fame,
The cry is up, and scribblers are my game:
Speed, Pegasus! ––ye strains of great and small,
Ode! Epic! Elegy! ––have at you all!
I, too, can scrawl, and once upon a time
I poured along the town a flood of rhyme,
A schoolboy freak, unworthy praise or blame;
I printed ––older children do the same.                             50

‘Tis pleasant, sure, to see one’s name in print;
A Book’s a Book, altho’ there’s nothing in’t.
Not that a Title’s sounding charm can save
Or scrawl or scribbler from an equal grave:
This Lamb must own, since his Patrician name
Failed to preserve the spurious Farce from shame.
No matter, George continues still to write,
Tho’ now the name is veiled from public sight.
Moved by the great example I pursue
The self-same road, but make my own review: 60
Not seek great Jeffrey’s, yet like him will be
Self-constituted Judge of Poesy.

A man must serve his time to ev’ry trade
Save Censure, Critics all are ready-made.
Take hackneyed jokes from Miller, got by rote,
With just enough of learning to misquote;
A mind well skilled to find, or forge a fault;
A turn for punning ––call it Attic salt;
To Jeffrey go, be silent and discreet,
His pay is just ten sterling pounds per sheet: 70
Fear not to lie, ’twill seem a ‘sharper’ hit;
Shrink not from blasphemy, ’twill pass for wit;
Care not for feeling ––pass your proper jest,
And stand a Critic, hated yet caressed.

And shall we own such judgment? no ––as soon
Seek roses in December ––ice in June;
Hope constancy in wind, or corn in chaff,
Believe a woman, or an epitaph,
Or any other thing that’s false, before
You trust in Critics who themselves are sore; 80
Or yield one single thought to be misled
By Jeffrey’s heart, or Lamb’s Bœotian head.
To these young tyrants, by themselves misplaced
Combined usurpers on the Throne of Taste;
To these when Authors bend in humble awe
And hail their voice as Truth, their word as Law;
While these are Censors, ‘twould be sin to spare;
While such are Critics, why should I forbear?
But yet so near all modern worthies run,
‘Tis doubtful whom to seek, or whom to shun; 90
Nor know we when to spare, or where to strike,
Our Bards and Censors are so much alike.

[pp. 4-7.]


Health to immortal Jeffrey! once, in name,
England could boast a judge almost the same;
In soul so like, so merciful, yet just,
Some think that Satan has resigned his trust,
And given the Spirit to the world again,
To sentence Letters, as he sentenced men.
With hand less mighty, but with heart as black,
With voice as willing to decree the rack;
Bred in the Courts betimes, though all that law
As yet hath taught him is to find a flaw,
Since well instructed in the patriot school
To rail at party, though a party tool,
Who knows? if chance his patrons should restore
Back to the sway they forfeited before,
His scribbling toils some recompense may meet,
And raise this Daniel to the Judgment-Seat.
Let Jeffrey’s shade indulge the pious hope,
And greeting thus, present him with a rope:
“Heir to my virtues! man of equal mind! 450
Skilled to condemn as to traduce mankind,
This cord receive! for thee reserved with care,
To wield in judgment, and at length to wear.”

Health to great Jeffrey! Heaven preserve his life,
To flourish on the fertile shores of Fife,
And guard it sacred in its future wars,
Since authors sometimes seek the field of Mars!
Can none remember that eventful day,
That ever-glorious, almost fatal fray,
When Little’s leadless pistol met his eye, 460
And Bow-street Myrmidons stood laughing by?
Oh, day disastrous! on her firm-set rock,
Dunedin’s castle felt a secret shock;
Dark rolled the sympathetic waves of Forth,
Low groaned the startled whirlwinds of the north;
Tweed ruffled half his waves to form a tear,
The other half pursued his calm career;
Arthur’s steep summit nodded to its base,
The surly Tolbooth scarcely kept her place.
The Tolbooth felt ––for marble sometimes can, 470

On such occasions, feel as much as man––
The Tolbooth felt defrauded of his charms,
If Jeffrey died, except within her arms:
Nay last, not least, on that portentous morn,
The sixteenth story, where himself was born,
His patrimonial garret, fell to ground,
And pale Edina shuddered at the sound:
Strewed were the streets around with milk-white reams,
Flowed all the Canongate with inky streams;
This of his candour seemed the sable dew, 480

That of his valour showed the bloodless hue;
And all with justice deemed the two combined
The mingled emblems of his mighty mind.
But Caledonia’s goddess hovered o’er
The field, and saved him from the wrath of Moore;
From either pistol snatched the vengeful lead,
And straight restored it to her favourite’s head;
That head, with greater than magnetic power,
Caught it, as Danae caught the golden shower,
And, though the thickening dross will scarce refine, 490
Augments its ore, and is itself a mine.
“My son,” she cried, “ne’er thirst for gore again,
Resign the pistol and resume the pen;
O’er politics and poesy preside,
Boast of thy country, and Britannia’s guide!
For long as Albion’s heedless sons submit,
Or Scottish taste decides on English wit,
So long shall last thine unmolested reign,
Nor any dare to take thy name in vain.
Behold, a chosen band shall aid thy plan, 500

And own thee chieftain of the critic clan.
First in the oat-fed phalanx shall be seen
The travelled Thane, Athenian Aberdeen.
Herbert shall wield Thor’s hammer, and sometimes
In gratitude, thou’lt praise his rugged rhymes.
Smug Sydney too thy bitter page shall seek,
And classic Hallam, much renowned for Greek;
Scott may perchance his name and influence lend,
And paltry Pillans shall traduce his friend;
While gay Thalia’s luckless votary, Lamb 510
Damned like the Devil –– Devil-like will damn.
Known be thy name! unbounded be thy sway!
Thy Holland’s banquets shall each toil repay!
While grateful Britain yields the praise she owes
To Holland’s hirelings and to Learning’s foes.
Yet mark one caution ere thy next Review
Spread its light wings of Saffron and of Blue,
Beware lest blundering Brougham destroy the sale,
Turn Beef to Bannocks, Cauliflowers to Kail.”
Thus having said, the kilted Goddess kist 520
Her son, and vanished in a Scottish mist.

Illustrious Holland! hard would be his lot,
His hirelings mentioned, and himself forgot!
Holland, with Henry Petty at his back,
The whipper-in and huntsman of the pack.
Blest be the banquets spread at Holland House,
Where Scotchmen feed, and Critics may carouse!
Long, long beneath that hospitable roof
Shall Grub-street dine, while duns are kept aloof.
See honest Hallam lay aside his fork, 530
Resume his pen, review his Lordship’s work,
And, grateful for the dainties on his plate,
Declare his landlord can at least translate!
Dunedin! view thy children with delight,
They write for food––and feed because they write:
And lest, when heated with the unusual grape,
Some glowing thoughts should to the press escape,
And tinge with red the female reader’s cheek,
My lady skims the cream of each critique;
Breathes o’er the page her purity of soul, 540
Reforms each error, and refines the whole.

pp. 34-44.

Francis Jeffrey (1773-1850), or Lord Jeffrey


FRANCIS JEFFREY was born in Edinburgh on 23 October 1773 to the humourless and conservative George Jeffrey, Depute Clerk in the Court of Session (Scotland’s highest court), and his more lively and affectionate wife, Henrietta (née Louden), of a Lanarkshire farming family, who would die when Jeffrey was only twelve. Of small stature and with little interest in sports, Jeffrey excelled academically, first at the Edinburgh High School, then (from age 14 to 17) at the Universities of Glasgow and Edinburgh. After an unhappy year at Oxford in 1791-2, Jeffrey completed his legal studies in Edinburgh before being admitted advocate at the Scottish bar in December 1794. His friend and biographer, Henry Cockburn, writes eloquently and at length of the bias and obstruction facing liberal Whigs in the increasingly conservative 1790s under the ‘reign’ of the Tory Henry Dundas, Scotland’s political manager. Like many of his Whig friends, Jeffrey was refused official positions in Edinburgh’s legal institutions and found briefs difficult to come by, and began to establish a reputation as an advocate only by occasional pleading in the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland.

In November 1801, Jeffrey would add to his responsibilities by marrying his second cousin, Catherine Wilson, daughter of the Professor of Ecclesiastical History at the University of St Andrew’s. Jeffrey and Catherine lost a son at only one month in September 1802, and Catherine herself died in August 1805 – events which, with the early loss of his beloved mother and sudden loss of her equally beloved surrogate, his sister Mary, in 1804, exacerbated a natural pessimism and induced in him a markedly fatalistic attitude to life that sometimes colours his social and political thinking. At the very least it explains why, when Jeffrey crossed the Atlantic in 1813 to marry his second wife, Charlotte Wilkes (another second cousin and great niece of the notorious John Wilkes) and they had a daughter (another Charlotte), the three became inseparable, with Charlotte and Charly accompanying him wherever he went – and this in defiance of Jeffrey’s reputation in society for harmless gallantry.

Jeffrey was eventually able to overcome political resistance to his advancement in the legal profession and would go on to become one of Scotland’s leading advocates, at the height of his powers in the years following the Battle of Waterloo when economic hardship led to industrial unrest and he became the (often successful) council to activists who fell foul of the state’s repression of political dissidence. Until his voice gave out in the mid to late 1820s, and in spite of a hybrid accent adopted as an eighteen-year-old living in England, Jeffrey was one of the greatest speakers of his age, his court pleading an Edinburgh tourist attraction. In July 1829, he was elected Dean of the Faculty of Advocates, giving the conflict of interest that would be created by his accepting this non-political legal appointment as his reason for handing over the editorship of the Edinburgh. From that moment, his life became a public and political one. Created Lord Advocate of Scotland when the Whigs won power late in 1830, Jeffrey was obliged to seek election to a seat in parliament and from there would be responsible for the Scottish Reform Bill, which in 1832 increased the franchise to fourteen times its original size (from 4,500 to 65,000). In 1834, having been elected MP for Edinburgh in the newly reformed parliament, he resigned his seat to take up a position on the bench in the Court of Session, held until his death on 26 January 1850.


Edinburgh Reviewer and Editor

Disappointed in his profession, Jeffrey’s thoughts had turned to writing – to creative writing (poetry) and to critical commentary. Throughout the 1790s, though with no specific end or vocation in mind, he continued the self-improvement mandated by his Enlightened teachers by attending university lectures in a variety of disciplines, becoming a regular and vocal member of Edinburgh’s Speculative Society (an agonistic intellectual debating society over which he presided for four years), reading extensively, and writing exhaustive critical notes on everything he read. In retrospect, it proved the perfect apprenticeship for the reviewing that would occupy his out-of-court moments for nearly thirty years. On initiating the Edinburgh Review in October 1802 with Sydney Smith and fellow lawyers Francis Horner and John Archibald Murray, Jeffrey immediately became (with Henry Brougham) its most prolific contributor, with the bulk of his substantial contribution (230 articles which amounted to 15% to 40% of each number) in original literature and literary history, travel writing, biography, cultural history and geography, philosophy, education, politics, and politics.

As an editor, when he took over from the third number, he was disorganized: always generous but never careful in his accounting, and sometimes forced to rely on contributors to tell him how much he owed them; often scrambling around for contributors and obliged to fill the vacuum with writings of his own; rarely meeting his own deadlines (though only occasionally seriously delinquent). But Jeffrey read, corrected, thought, and wrote scrupulously and well at an incredibly high speed, often writing and editing into the early hours. Though Brougham (on whom he was reliant) seems to have been allowed to impose on him, the Edinburgh remained very much his own throughout the years of his editorship, when the Edinburgh’s popularity and influence remained impressively consistent. The policies generally true of the Review were all specifically true of its editor, and the sheer quantity of his and Brougham’s contributions had a centripetal effect. On top of this, not only did Jeffrey often more or less subtly let a contributor know what approach and summary judgment he had in mind when commissioning a review, but most reviews were modified editorially after their composition. Sometimes these modifications were extensive, sometimes only slight, but nothing escaped Jeffrey’s surveillance. When in May of 1807 it looked like the Review would have to begin again under another name to circumvent a legal battle between Longman and Murray over the London publication rights, Horner reminded Jeffrey of something the other contributors had also repeatedly confirmed: ‘it is the stamp of your own hand that gives the work all its character’. The title Edinburgh Review remained, but by 1815 Horner was calling it ‘Jeffrey’s Review’.