1902 Encyclopedia > Susan Edmonston Ferrier

Susan Edmonston Ferrier
Scottish novelist

SUSAN EDMONSTON FERRIER, (1782-1854), Scottish novelist, born in Edinburgh in 1782, was the aunt of the subject of last notice. Her father was James Ferrier, for some years factor to the duke of Argyll, and at one time one of the clerks of the court of session with Sir Walter Scott. Her mother was a Miss Coutts, the beautiful daughter of a Forfarshire farmer. Miss Ferrier's first novel, Marriage, was begun ia concert witb a friend, Miss Clavering, grand-daughter of the duke of Argyll; but this lady soon relinquished her share in the work, and Marriage, com-pleted by Miss Ferrier alone, appeared in 1818, when its authoress was between five and six and thirty. It was followed in 1824 by The Inheritance, a better constructed and more mature work ; and the last and perhaps best of her novels, Destiny, dedicated to Sir Walter Scott (who himself undertook to strike the bargain with the publisher Cadeil), appeared in 1831. All these novels were published anonymously; but, with their clever portraiture of contem-porary Scottish life and manners, and even recognizable caricatures of some social celebrities of the day, they could not fail to become popular north of the Tweed, and many were the conjectures as to their authorship, which was by some attributed to Scott himself. Thus, in the Nodes Ambrosiance (November 1826), the Shepherd mentions The Inheritance, and adds, " which I aye thought was written by Sir Walter, as weel's Marriage, till it spunked out that it was written by a leddy." Scott himself gave Miss Ferrier a very high place indeed among the novelists of the day. In his diary (March 27,1826), criticizing a new work which he had been reading, he says, " The women do this better. Edgeworth, Ferrier, Austen, have all given portraits of real society far superior to anything man, vain man, has produced of the like nature." Another friendly recognition of Miss Ferrier is to be found at the conclusion of his Tales of my Landlord, where Scott calls her his " sister shadow," the still anonymous author of "the very lively work entitled Marriage."

Lively, indeed, all Miss Ferrier's works are,—written in a clear, brisk English, and with an inexhaustible fund of humour. It is true her books portray the eccentricities, the follies, and foibles of the society in which she lived, carica-turing with terrible exactness its hypocrisy, boastfulness, greed, affectation, and undue subservience to public opinion. Yet Miss Ferrier wrote less to reform than to amuse. With an honest aversion to these things herself, she wished, not to lecture her readers, but to laugh with them. In this she is less like Miss Edgeworth than Miss Austen. Miss Edgeworth was more of a moralist; her wit is not so in-voluntary, her caricatures not always so good-natured. But Miss Austen and Miss Ferrier were genuine humorists, and with Miss Ferrier especially a keen sense of the ludicrous was always dominant. She could be serious, she could be pathetic, she could even touch some of the finest chords in human nature; but she never interfered with the depths of human wickedness and misery. She liked best to laugh; she turned naturally to the humorous, and her humorous characters are always her best. It was no doubt because she felt this that in the last year of her life she regretted not having devoted her talents mere exclusively to the ser-vice of religion, not taking into account then how much good she had involuntarily done, and how much harmless pleasure she had distributed about her; for, if she was not a moralist, neither was she a cynic; and her wit, even where it is most caustic, is never uncharitable.

Miss Ferrier lived till 1854, more than twenty years after the publication of her last work. The most pleasant picture that we have of her is in Lockhart's description of her visit to Scott in May 1831. She was asked there to help to amuse the dying master of Abbotsford, who, when he was not writing Count Robert of Paris, would talk as brilliantly as ever. Only sometimes, before he had reached the point in a narrative, " it would seem as if some internal spring had given way." He would pause, and gaze blankly and anxiously round him. " I noticed," says Lockhart, " the delicacy of Miss Ferrier on such occasions. Her sight was bad, and she took care not to use her glasses when he was speaking; and she affected to be also troubled with deafness, and would say, ' Well, I am getting as dull as a post; I have not heard a word since you said so-and-so,'—being sure to mention a circumstance behind that at which he had really halted. He then took up the thread with his habitual smile of courtesy—as if forgetting his case entirely in the consideration of the lady's infirmity."

Miss Ferrier died, November 5, 1854, at her house No. 38 Albany Street, Edinburgh. She left among her papers a short unpublished article, entitled " Becollections of Visits to Ashestiel and Abbotsford." This is her own very inte-resting account of her long friendship with Sir Walter Scott, from the date of her first visit to him and Lady Scott at Ashestiel, where she went with her father in the autumn of 1811, to her last sad visit to Abbotsford in 1831. It con-tains some impromptu verses written by Scott in her album at Ashestiel.

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