erdan’s friendly connection with Charles Dickens was to involve him in some of the author’s business arrangements. Bentley had given Dickens the task of editing the memoirs of Grimaldi the clown, which he had worked on reluctantly at the beginning of 1838. In February of that year the Memoir was published, and Dickens received one hundred pounds for his editorial work. In September he signed a further agreement with Bentley concerning the Miscellany, and also concerning the publication of Barnaby Rudge. Overwhelmed by work, in January 1839 Dickens asked Bentley for a six-month postponement of the novel, and angry correspondence ensued. On 17 December 1839 Dickens referred to Bentley as “the Brigand of Burlington Street” in a letter to T. Beard (L. Nayder). The outcome was that in February Dickens resigned from editing the Miscellany, and Bentley gave him until the end of the year to complete Barnaby Rudge. Harrison Ainsworth, who succeeded him as Editor of the Miscellany, invited Dickens to dinner; other guests included Jerdan, ;, George Cruikshank and Leigh Hunt.
Throughout 1839 Dickens became ever closer to Macready, telling the actor that he was going to dedicate Nicholas Nickleby to him, and accepting Macready’s request to be godfather to his son. In October, Dickens noted that he dined with Macready, Forster, Maclise and Jerdan, indicating that despite his penurious condition, Jerdan was still accepted into his accustomed social circles and also that although Dickens had severed his connection with the Miscellany, this did not affect his acquaintance with Jerdan.
Rather out of season, Jerdan’s contribution, “Dead Man’s Race – a Christmas Story” appeared in the February 1839 issue of Bentley’s Miscellany. It drew a picture of a traditional fireside in a great hall; master, family, servants and visitors gathered around. Games were played, toasts drunk, songs sung, until it was time for the host’s own contribution, “The Dead Man’s Race,” a horror story designed to raise the hair on the necks of the assembled company, and contrasting vividly with the cosy scene. A drunken farmer, robbed on an unsuccessful visit to the fair, loses his way home in wild countryside. He finds a hut to shelter in, but is appalled to see it contains only a dead man in his coffin. Riding quickly away he is chased by the coffin mounted on wheels complete with its occupant. As he slowed or sped up so did the coffin. Terrified into insensibility he fell off his horse. Found next day, he told his awful story and was thought to be raving; he died a few days later. Some believed his tale to be true. The fireside listeners were so scared by the story the maids refused to sleep alone that night. On the same page in the Miscellany that this tale ended, was printed Camilla Toulmin’s poem, “On the Death of Mrs MacLean (L.E.L.),” a placement that was surely not a coincidence.
In this year 1839, Charles Dickens was elected to the Committee of the Literary Fund, which already included Jerdan and Dickens’s enemy and former publisher Richard Bentley. Dickens attended very few meetings and was not eligible for re-election when his term ended in 1841. He was on the Committee however when the Rev. Whittington Landon resigned the Secretaryship of the Literary Fund in February, with effect from 24 June that year, a resignation forced by the fact that he failed to account for ten pounds five shillings. Jerdan’s son, William Freeling, applied for the job, as did Octavian Blewitt who had previously lost the election to Whittington Landon two years earlier. Anxious that his membership of the Committee should not adversely affect his son’s chances, Jerdan wrote formally to the Literary Fund, offering to resign if his son was appointed Secretary. He had taken soundings from older members of the Committee who saw no impropriety in his remaining, but others had expressed concerns about possible conflict of interest. Seldom too subtle, Jerdan put his son’s case all too plainly: “I trust that my past exertions in the cause will not be deemed a sufficient ground to put a relative out of the pale of employment, and at all events as I have for many years procured the Fund as much as its Secretary’s Annual Salary, that such a source of service may not provoke either uncourteous remark or unmerited hostility” (Archives of the Royal Literary Fund. British Library M1077). Writing on 11 March to Crofton Croker, Jerdan was very concerned that “William is very unlucky in having Lords Munster and Mountnorris, Sir J Swinburne and Sir P Joddrell and perhaps Brandreth all absent from Town; so that I fear only you, our friends, Mr Nichols and another or two be active instead of passive, our chance is O.” (Royal Borough of Kensington & Chelsea, Family & Children’s Service). William Freeling Jerdan’s application was supported by testimonials from M C Wyatt, Crofton Croker and Walter Henry Watts. A ballot was held on 13 March, in which young Jerdan got 14 votes, and Blewitt 31. Details of the voting were not disclosed but it is highly likely that his father’s chequered reputation with the Fund (such as destroying Soane's portrait and questions over handling some monies entrusted to him), were a grave disadvantage to his son. The decision to appoint Blewitt was to prove invaluable for the Society. He was an excellent organiser and administrator and benefited posterity by keeping the papers of the Fund in impeccable order. One poignant application to the Fund in 1839 was from Leigh Hunt, in dire poverty, coping with many children and a wife driven to alcoholism. He received fifty pounds. His plight would have reminded Jerdan just how precarious was a life in literature.
On the receiving end of so many hundreds of letters, most of them wanting something of him, Jerdan would have been happy to receive one from the distinguished painter Thomas Uwins. Ostensibly to correct the attribution of a painting mentioned in the Literary Gazette from himself to his nephew, Uwins gave Jerdan a well-timed and unsolicited testimonial of appreciation in his letter of 4 March 1839:
I cannot refuse myself the pleasure of thanking you, Sir, for the kind manner in which you have spoken of my works through the whole of my career – the more, as kindness is so much opposed to the fashion of the times. Goldsmith’s disabled soldier says ‘two fellows belonging to a pressgang knocked me down and then told me to stand’. This is the line of action generally pursued by the British Press towards the art and artists of England. At the conclusion of your labours you will have to reflect on a different course – you have tried to do good in your day and generation, and at least you will not lose the reward of gratitude from those who, like me, have been stimulated by your encouragement and have derived benefit from your praise. [Ashcombe Collection, II 78.2, Fitzwilliam Museum, MS 215-1949, University of Cambridge]
Such sentiments were meat and drink to Jerdan whose abiding philosophy had been to give kindness and praise whenever possible, and the kindness of omission where it was not. There had, of course, been exceptions in his long career, but this was the touchstone he tried to adhere to.
Another tribute came from a writer, Simon Gray. Longman, Orme & Co. published a book by him in 1839, containing two works. One was “The Spaniard, or Relvindez and Elzora, a Tragedy” and the other a comedy written in 1789, “The Young Country Widow”. Noticing the book, the November 1839 Gentleman’s Magazine remarked that “the comedy is dedicated to another great critic, Mr Jerdan.” Gray’s Dedication was in the form of a letter addressed to “William Jerdan Esq. Croupier to the A Club.” In his autobiography Jerdan refers to being the croupier of the ‘Anonomi’ Club, which met monthly at the Freemasons’ Tavern, and hethrough names Simon Gray as a member, “an odd character, clerk in the War Office, and author of several pamphlets on ‘Finance’” (4.352). The letter from him began
If I thought our very worthy chairman would smile on having a tragedy put into his hands by one who paid so much attention to so dry, heavy – how shall we epithetise it? – a subject or science as statistics or political economy, surely I cannot expect less from our very worthy croupier, on having a comedy, forsooth, put into his hands by the same student of the dry, or heavy, but that he should laugh fairly and broadly out.
There was much more of this heavy-handed attempt at humour, a dig at Jerdan’s “dabbling with the currency”, a reference to his work with John Trotter on the national finances, and finally an apology for not having “punning personae” in his comedy, recalling Jerdan’s statement at some previous meeting in a club, “that it was barely possible for any man, on average, to create a truly good, unsought for pun, above once a fortnight”. Jerdan, inveterate punster that he was, could surely not have meant what he said. No response from Jerdan survives to inform us whether he was pleased or otherwise at this verbose tribute.
Jerdan’s relationship with Bentley had taken a knock since Bentley’s refusal of another loan. This may have been the reason for Jerdan’s unusually peevish note on 25 May 1839, having sent a story in to the Miscellany:
I am much chagrined at not having had a proof of the Legacies of Intellect agreeably to your promise. Perhaps you will return the MS of which I have only to say that I refused a guinea a page for it, in consequence of the friendly terms on which you and I have long gone on. I am not one of the captious or easily affronted writers; but feel such things to be very discouraging, and also that a monthly certainty to the amount I am offered would be very convenient were I to write elsewhere…I literally locked myself up nearly two whole days to supply the article now thrown aside.
Bentley must have reconsidered the story, since “The Legacies of Intellect – a Philosophical Vagary” appeared in the June issue. This long contribution was said by Jerdan to be an allegory on the perils of too much knowledge – this at a time when he himself was promoting in the pages of the Literary Gazette information from all the Royal Societies and other scientific and arts institutions and celebrating the seemingly endless discoveries and inventions of the age. He did “not mean to write in praise of Ignorance”, he declared, but quoted Alexander Pope that a single pursuit is more suited to man’s intellect.
His allegory centers on a hero from long-ago, Alfric Athelwerd, whose thirst for knowledge was encouraged by his gifted and wealthy parents. He became renowned for all he knew and was called “The Happy Man”. Jerdan’s penchant for fairy tales allowed him to change the laws of nature so that individuals could bequeath the sum of their own knowledge to someone else. In a cynical aside Jerdan noted how the more one has the more one gets, and so Alfric became the heir to many people’s understanding of science, poetry, mechanics and so on. Alfric coped with all this information, “But at Length came the fatal Legacies of Intellect, and he was advanced a hundred years beyond the age in which he lived.” He could out-strategize Wellington, make the achievements of Newton and Faraday insignificant, and was in sum “a vast and single instance of pre-human intelligence”.
Bringing his story right up to date Jerdan said that in July 18— war was declared, and a “mighty armament” was ordered to sail for the Mediterranean. Alfric begged the government to delay as, using his superhuman powers, he knew that fatal storms were due in the Bay of Biscay. He was laughed at and ignored. The inevitable occurred and thirty thousand men were lost at sea. The following year he foresaw crop failure would cause a famine in England and devised a way to avert catastrophe. Again he was derided and ignored, and famine and many deaths followed.
Rejected and repelled, Alfric decided to marry, choosing a bride who knew nothing, but was attracted by his wealth. Returning to his studies he became infatuated by astronomy, and here the story took off into the realms of the surreal. He built a telescope billions of times stronger than any known, with which he could watch planetary worlds, finding their beings more corpulent the nearer they were to the sun, and noting other characteristics specific to certain planets. Jerdan surmised that Alfric’s observations might not be understood until the year 2839, “when the human race may have proceeded to a similar extent of intelligence”. Alfric invented balloons to visit other planets and a language which might be universally understood . Whilst he worked on a theory that the world was informed by one soul, which was divisible into an eternity of parts and communicated by sparks, his wife presented him with a daughter.
Jerdan’s examples of his hero’s hypotheses were sometimes credible, sometimes absurd: at one time he announced “There is no such thing in creation as inorganic matter” and later, that “Shadows are real beings, not less substantial than the men and women they had been supposed to copy”, differing only in that they can elongate or shorten themselves. Alfric’s apogee was his experiment with the human soul: he wanted to go further than the current obsession with phrenology and mesmerism (both of which fascinated Jerdan), and believed that the soul resided in the brain. By removing part of the skull and passing his hands in one direction, he watched the soul take wing and leave the skull. Passing his hands the opposite way Alfric rehoused the soul which, he found on interrogation, had conversed with pre-Adamite angels. Overcome by the immensity of his discovery, Alfric confided to his wife his intention to send their baby daughter’s soul on a similar journey. Terrified, she secretly arranged for him to be restrained and charged with insanity. Here, Jerdan observed that “to be once charged with insanity is so indubitable a presumption of the fact, that it is next to impossible to persuade any one to believe the contrary. If you are angry, it is furiousness, if you are quiet, it is sulkiness; if you are silent, you are morbid; and if you speak you are misunderstood.” Despite his earlier prophecies proving accurate, Alfric’s pleas as to the truth of his discoveries were in vain, and he was sent to an asylum, “a woeful example”, concluded Jerdan, “of the danger of being wiser than the generation in which he lived, to be declared, instead of ‘The Happy Man’, a Monomaniac!!!”
Jerdan’s frame of mind seems to have been no lighter in May, when “The Bridegroom’s Star” appeared in Bentley’s Miscellany. His bridegroom, Henry, counted the days until his marriage with the peerless Marion; his joyful anticipation turned to fear as the day drew nearer. Jerdan’s thoughts were given to Henry: “Ah! how like to far travel is the journey of life!… The last brief tide is the voyage round the world – the last few hours is the sum and history of human existence.” As the day came closer, Marion asked to be alone on the day preceding the wedding, and on the penultimate night they revisited the places dear to them. The wedding day dawned, but Marion was deathly ill with plague and died in agony. Mad with grief, Henry did not attend her burial and lost his reason for a time. Recovering slightly, he saw “a new and dazzling Star”, and believed it to be his Marion, who was not, after all, alone; they were at last together. Suddenly the star burst from the sky, and Henry fell dead and was buried with his love. Their inscription read only “A Falling Star”. This story may signify Jerdan’s feelings on the quick marriage, followed by the unexplained untimely death of L.E.L. – his star had vanished and even in his chaotic and hectic life, he would have missed her brilliance and her company, and been at a loss to comprehend why she should have been so untimely wrenched from the world.
Obviously distracted, Jerdan sent Bentley another article dashed off in a hurry, clear from the internal evidence, and therefore signed with Jerdan’s pseudonym. He explained that the term “Hatchment” is an adaption of “Achievement”, and described a tablet displaying the coat of arms of a deceased person. This odd article took the form of a letter to the Countess of B[lessington], telling her he had been inspired by the previous night’s party at her home, G[ore] House, to pen a poem about a Hatchment seen at another mansion. Six stanzas, each of eleven lines, indifferently rhymed, (one carrying Jerdan’s footnote that he had “to apologize for the difference of construction in this stanza; but I have not time to amend it.) The poem illustrated the sentiments in Jerdan’s opening letter, that at the happiest of times we sometimes fall into melancholy and a Hatchment overlooking scenes of revelry is a reminder of mortality. This gloomy piece was unlikely to give much cheer to readers of this issue of Bentley’s Miscellany.
Encouraged by Bentley’s acceptance of the long story “Legacies of Intellect” and perhaps to make up for the scrappiness of “The Hatchment”, Jerdan sent Bentley his next offering, following it up with a note that he could either adopt it whole or with omissions Jerdan had marked. Jerdan thought this story might “attract some notice from a new class of readers belonging to the various Societies named.” Bentley had softened a little in the matter of advances, and mentioned money to Jerdan, laying himself open to receive another pleading note: “I must greatly depend on you for my Autumn Excursion, on which I move on Friday”, wrote Jerdan, asking for an advance “towards fifty, on the Miscellany score…” The new story, “Baron Von Dullbrainz” appeared in the September issue.
The title immediately indicated that Jerdan’s sombre mood had lifted somewhat, and he was back to his old tricks, satirical and word-playing. His foreign hero was “fated to be feted” and was introduced into fashionable London society, proof said Jerdan “of the extreme readiness with which the people of Great Britain confess the superiority of foreigners, whilst native talents are left to be their own reward.” There followed an account of an assembly of the Royal Society when, after a talk on “improvements in photogenic drawings” by “Mr Talbot Foxhound” [William Henry Fox-Talbot], Von Dullbrainz gave a speech on the subject, in excruciating English, portrayed with gusto by Jerdan full of “dat” and “dere”. He ended by insulting the assembled Fellows by saying his host had told him that FRS meant “Fellow Remarkable Stupide” and the President was therefore well suited to be at the head of such a Society. Despite this, or perhaps because of it, he was lionized by all and in great demand, his opinions sought on every topic.
Jerdan enjoyed himself on Von Dullbrainz’s next disquisition on Balls – hand-balls, footballs, golf balls, St Paul’s, dancing Balls, voting balls – all in the phonetic foreign accent : an avalanche of unintelligible nonsense, which merely served to confirm his brilliance in the eyes of his hosts . Similar events occurred at the Geological and Astronomical Societies, and many others. At the Mechanics Institute, Jerdan next parodied Charles Babbage (1791-1871) originator of the idea for a programmable computer with his Analytical Machine, and inventor of a Difference Engine for production of logarithm tables. Von Dullbrainz, who talks about “a cleber mechanicien call Babbleage,” pointing out that it is easy to make a machine more clever than the maker. “For example, I make a vheel; dat vheel is more cleber dan me, for he can roll a hunder mile, and I gannot roll one!” Von Dullbrainz intended to improve Babbleage’s machine and incorporate “Mr Veetstone’s” speaking machine that would “speak more plainter and better English as me.” Jerdan here refers to Charles Wheatstone, who invented a speaking machine in 1837 based on an eighteenth-century design.
Jerdan’s creativity and sense of mischief then invented Von Dullbrainz’s most biting and entertaining exploit. At the Statistical Society he disputed the benefits of censuses, and statistical tables on population and social classes. His table was to calculate the “Lies, Fibs, Misrepresents and Mistyficasions” of various trades and professions, and Jerdan set out the statistics in tabular form. In one thousand MPs, for example, were 84,118 lies, “18 ½% to be added during Election time”. He calculated how many gold or silver watches were owned by each class of person, and that laid side by side they would measure over fifty-seven miles. This last pronouncement was clearly influenced by an occasion Jerdan wrote about many years later in Men I Have Known; he had been present at an event when Sir Mark Isambard Brunel “ended with an estimate showing how many gold and silver watches were worn by particular members belonging to the several classes of people and how, if laid down on the road, touching each other, they would reach from London to Portsmouth” (50).
Considering that it was time to leave England whilst his reputation was high, Von Dullbrainz made a final appearance at the British Association in Birmingham, where a grand dinner was given in his honour. His farewell speech noted how in his own land he had been derided but that the English had known how to value him. “You know notting of de sciences, de lierature, or de arts; but you are amable peoples and ven cleber foreigner of genus come to you, you savey to appreciate him”. His speech was interrupted by a Chartist attack, during which the orator fled from the room and was last heard of in another country, where he was writing about his travels. Jerdan’s intimate acquaintance with the proceedings of all the societies and institutions, both because of their inclusion in the Literary Gazette and for his own personal interests, gave him the material for this convincing story and allowed him to make fun of them, and of the English proclivity to admire foreign “intellectuals”.
Dullbrainz’s “Mr Talbot Foxhound” was, of course, William Henry Fox Talbot, an early pioneer of photography. Jerdan’s original intention when he took over the Literary Gazette was that it should become a resource wherein future generations could trace the history of literature. In fact, it became a source of information about many other things too: art, music, drama and science. Of particular interest is the correspondence from Fox Talbot to Jerdan, beginning in response to a request for details about his invention on which he addressed the Royal Society on January 31 1839, on “the art of photogenic drawing”. Fox Talbot’s lengthy reply appeared in the Gazette of 2 February. He explained that he had worked on his invention for a long time, and at the exact moment he was preparing his presentation to the Royal Society, Daguerre in Paris came out with a very similar, but not identical system. In the race for pre-eminence, Fox Talbot had been urged to exhibit his materials at the Royal Institution’s Friday evening lecture led by Michael Faraday on 25 January, before reading his paper at the Royal Society. His letter explained how his invention was an improvement on the camera obscura and camera lucida, familiar to most persons. In his invention, “it is not the artist who makes the picture, but the picture which makes itself.”
In March, Fox Talbot offered Jerdan a choice of various documents for the Literary Gazette, but the following week on 30 March Jerdan printed another letter from him, dissenting from a statement in the previous week’s paper, challenging the claim made that his process had been improved upon, and that the discovery was made by several persons simultaneously. This printed letter contained many details in support of Fox Talbot’s pre-eminence. A draft letter to Jerdan, with many crossings-out indicated the inventor’s impatience in trying to set out his case, followed a few days later by a letter in which he declared that he disliked controversy, and had already stated in the Literary Gazette that as long ago as 1834 he had “discovered the art of obtaining photogenic pictures from glass,”and pressing his point that Daguerre’s sudden intervention had precipitated him into presenting a paper more “imperfect and hasty” than he would otherwise have done. In June, Fox Talbot sent Jerdan a packet of photogenic drawings. Not everyone was happy with the new inventions. Jerdan remarked in Men I Have Known that some referred to it punningly as “The Foe To Graphic Art” (363).
Fox Talbot found in Jerdan’s Literary Gazette a popular channel by which he could spread the word about his invention, thus reaching many more than might read transactions of the Royal Society. Two years later he wrote to Jerdan again, in a letter published in the Literary Gazette of 13 February 1841, revealing a discovery made a few months earlier, “of a chemical process by which paper may be made far more sensitive to light than by any means hitherto known.” This meant vastly quicker pictures could be achieved. He called this new process Calotype, to distinguish it from Daguerréotype. Noting the Gazette’s earlier support for Fox Talbot, Jerdan appended an Editor’s note to this letter: “See Literary Gazette of that period in which we exposed foreign pretensions and established just rights and British claims.” Patriotic and clearly fascinated by the new technology, Jerdan gave considerable space to more detailed letters from Fox Talbot in the Literary Gazette of February and July 1841. When the photographer’s serial “The Pencil of Nature” was published by Longmans in 1844, Fox Talbot sent Jerdan a copy for review. These strictly scientific exchanges merged, as they often did with Jerdan, into a more friendly relationship a few years later when Jerdan was able to offer Fox Talbot the support of the Literary Gazette in an erupting quarrel.
In his personal life Jerdan was still upsetting his friend Macready. Having, at Jerdan’s request, withheld his cheque for £70 in December, in February he now received Jerdan’s dishonoured note or draught on Longmans for his debt. “Oh, Jerdan! Jerdan!” moaned the long-suffering Macready to his diary. For all the quick temper for which Macready was renowned, his patience with his debtor was amazing, but not so amazing as Jerdan’s evident thick skin and unabashedness at facing him. When Macready performed in Bulwer’s ‘Richelieu’ on 7 March, Jerdan was amongst the group who came afterwards to his room, and at the end of the month Macready invited him to dinner with others. The following day the Shakespeare Club was honouring the actor, and he spent the morning fretting, as usual, over his speech. Dickens was in the Chair, with Jerdan and Blanchard as joint Vice-Presidents. There were over two hundred guests including Leigh Hunt, Maclise and Thackeray. After an excellent dinner songs were sung and “Jerdan spoke very well”. The financial transactions between them evidently did not affect their basic friendship. Jerdan visited back stage during that summer, and attended Macready’s Testimonial Dinner at the Freemasons Tavern in July, when the actor “proclaimed that his poverty not his will, had obliged him to desist from management” (of Covent Garden). Jerdan’s non-payment of his debt was clearly a serious matter to Macready at this precarious time in his life.
A major celebration on 5 October was Dickens’s dinner at the Albion, Aldersgate, to mark the completion of Nicholas Nickleby. It fell to Macready to propose Dickens’s health, and it took him all morning to work on his speech. “We sat down to a too splendid dinner” he noted in his diary; “the portrait of Dickens by Maclise was in the room.” Jerdan recalled being given the “post of honour at the bottom of the table, and am happy to remember that I acquitted myself so creditably of its onerous duties, as to receive the approbation of the giver of the feast, his better half and the oi polloi unanimously” (4.365).
William Jerdan. Daniel Maclise. 1830. Courtesy of the National Portrait Gallery.
Maclise had made a portrait of Jerdan as well as of Dickens, this being the one used by xFraser’sxxx for their ‘Gallery of Illustrious Literary Characters’ in 1830. Two more portraits of Jerdan were made; one dated 20 October 1839 was by Count d’Orsay, a delicate pencil study of Jerdan in profile, wearing tiny spectacles, a high stock and a coat with deep lapels. In addition to d’Orsay’s signature, Jerdan added his own beneath his portrait. A few months later Alexander Craig painted Jerdan in oils on board; his subject wore a similar, or probably the same, coat, but now buttoned closely. He was in a relaxed pose, facing forwards. Neither of these images shows a man significantly more aged than the Maclise portrait ten years earlier, despite the emotional and financial turmoils that Jerdan endured in the intervening years.
Jerdan had a new scheme hatching which was taking up a good deal of his time and attention, a welcome diversion from grieving about Landon’s untimely death and concerns for his new expanding family. He had always given support to those whose life was dedicated to literature, as his efforts on behalf of the Royal Society of Literature and more effectively the Literary Fund Society showed. After expending a considerable amount of work, he assembled a committee to progress his big idea, the formulation of “A Plan of a National Association for the Encouragement and Protection of Authors and Men of Talent and Genius”.
At the time, he was unaware of two previous attempts at creating a similar association. When apprised on the first of these by Sir Henry Ellis of the British Museum, Jerdan hurried there to examine the archive. This plan was a century old, had been well funded and impressively supported by men from all professions. Their Proceedings had been published, but at the point in Jerdan’s Autobiography where he mentions this, he had almost reached his allotted number of pages and did not go into any detail. This old association lasted for thirteen years, and when it ceased the remaining funds were donated to the Foundling Hospital.
The second such idea was much more recent. It seems odd that Jerdan had not been asked to participate when, only seven years previously, under the patronage of the Duke of Somerset President of the Royal Institution, Thomas Campbell and others had promoted a similar scheme. They tried it for a short while, but gave up in the face of insurmountable difficulties when their Bankers became bankrupt losing all of the collected subscriptions.
Jerdan knew nothing of these earlier attempts when, in the autumn of 1839, he used all his influence and contacts to obtain patronage and subscriptions for his great Plan. The Duke of Rutland and Lord Willoughby de Eresby each subscribed one hundred guineas, various Marquises, Earls and Lords followed; Jerdan’s friend Frederick Pollock joined in, as did some authors who had achieved great success, such as Captain Marryat and G. P. R. James. He wrote to Sir Thomas Noon Talfourd on 5 August that he had a “Committee of much distinction to aid in launching it in a manner to assure the public of its high, benevolent, just and patriotic character. It is closely allied to your Copyright measure, and would give that which it will secure and perpetuate” (MsL J55Ac, Iowa). He urged Talfourd as the Plan’s “natural ally” to rally to its support. Confiding to Crofton Croker that he had also persuaded Sir Martin Archer Shee to join the committee, Jerdan told his friend, “I only want the sinews of war to put the Plan on its feet and let it march on. I am trying hard for them” (Autograph Letters, Houghton Library, Harvard University). A Prospectus was prepared, setting out in detail the financial aspects of the Plan. Discovering now the earlier efforts to create an Association to encourage literary men, Jerdan believed it useful to put the whole idea into context, writing an “Illustration” of his Plan in which he set out the information relating to these two earlier efforts.
For his brave new Plan, Jerdan gave himself the titles “F.S.A., M.R.S.L. and Corresponding Member of the Real Academia de la Historia of Spain etc.” befitting his status as Secretary of the proposed new Association (Unfortunately, the Academia has failed to respond to requests for any surviving correspondence to support this supposed honorary membership). Noting that “The wants and complaints of Authors are not of modern birth: they are co-eval with the annals of literary labour, and, certainly, have not decreased with the increase of publication, or, as it is whimsically styled, the Spread of Knowledge.” The new Plan was two-fold: to encourage the production of good literature and to benefit authors. Jerdan was especially pleased to note that several of the current benefactors had ancestors who had supported the original Plan in 1738, a coincidence which aroused in him “strange emotions”, the great and the good working together for “the same pure and beneficent purpose”.
In his Prospectus, Jerdan acknowledged that the two earlier associations had ended for quite understandable reasons, but set out his “hope that, taught by experience and belonging to an age of far more universal cultivation and extended intellectual pursuits, the Establishment of the Undertaking…will become an effectual and permanent resource against the evils that oppress literary merit and talent, and a fountain whence the national literature may gush out afresh in purer and more abundant affluence than has for years attended its turbid and polluted course.” He listed the first patrons, explaining that it was intended to bring in also heads of “the highest institutions for instruction and refinement”, lawyers, eminent artists, popular writers and “independent and liberal men of every creed, class, occupation, pursuit and character.” Seizing a chance to establish his own place amongst such exalted company, Jerdan inserted a few lines about himself:
With regard to the Secretary we have but one word to say: for many years intimately connected with every ramification of the literary and publishing world, he has seen enough to induce him to devote all the energy he possesses to the furtherance of this undertaking; and he does so in pure and good faith, because he is convinced it will be a great and lasting blessing to those whose sufferings he has during all that period, deeply commiserated, and tend to establish a superior order of National publication.
The Prospectus then turned to the formal business of the Association, proposing capital of 200,000 shares, being 2000 of ten pounds each and 9000 of twenty pounds each. At least that’s what the prospectus says, even though the figures don’t add up! There were to be two classes of shareholders, one being of Patron Proprietors who would contribute the whole of their investment at the outset and earn dividends on their shares. Some had agreed to forgo any dividends and these would be consolidated, the profits thus accrued paid into the Literary Fund. Patron Proprietors were to be protected from any further liability. The second class was of Subscribing Shareholders who could also earn dividends, this class being able to purchase the lower value shares and thus extend membership of the Association to the less affluent. The total capital mentioned was a huge sum, but the Prospectus explained that the "Experiment" could proceed once £50,000 had been raised and a Deed of Settlement executed.
Jerdan set out three ways that publication was at present achieved: the first was self-publishing, very expensive, with a large percentage going to agents; secondly, established authors sold their copyright to publishers, who then took a disproportionately large share of the proceeds; and the third, and by far the most common method, was that of authors “who write for bread”, and who are at the mercy of publishers doling out to them “often under circumstances painfully humiliating, a scanty and uncertain pay”. The purpose of the Association was to “rescue the intellectual character of the nation from these degrading and deteriorating circumstances, by providing Capital for the less wealthy, ready access to fair competition for the deserving, adequate compensation for the skilful and industrious, diminished cost and increased emolument to all”. This was to be achieved by authors submitting their work to a properly constituted committee called a “College”, and if a decision was taken that the work had merit it would be published by the Association at its own cost and risk, or it would assist the writers in publishing, or it would purchase the manuscript “at such prices as may be deemed advisable”. The College would be remunerated by a small percentage on profit of successful works, from which a deduction would be made from those with poor sales. By this system, Jerdan asserted, the College’s “decision must be confessedly far superior to the existing system, in which superficiality and ignorance, instead of learning and intellect, almost always decide the question of publication, and no element enters into the calculation but the trading methods for most rapidly realizing the pounds, shillings, and pence.”
Premises were to be taken from which to run the scheme, publishers would not suffer as the books published by the Association would be high-priced works which most publishers would not undertake, and the Association would benefit from profits which would otherwise “go into the pocket of the mere Capitalist.” The current practice of publishers to turn a quick profit, and an unwillingness to take on books of superior quality “is one of the great causes of the superficial and debased state of our national literature; from which, it is anticipated, this Association will retrieve it, and place England on a level with Foreign countries.” The Prospectus included much more detail, setting out precise allotments of shares, together with addresses at which applications could be made. The “National Association Office” was for the time being at 13 Parliament Street, Jerdan’s own office, from which he sent out handsomely written letters to accompany the Prospectus, which was printed by James Moyes of Leicester Square and published by W. Stephenson of 12 and 13 Parliament Street. These letters put forward the Prospectus as a work in progress and invited “expedient amendments”. The John Bruce Collection at Yale University has an example in the letter Jerdan wrote to Bruce dated only 7 December.
The Plan was then set afoot with high hopes for the benefits it offered to literature and the men who wrote it. The Council were indeed noble and titled, but that did not necessarily make them good businessmen. Jerdan later compared Campbell’s plan of 1831 being defeated by the bankruptcy of the Bank to his own Plan, “wrecked by the introduction into it of several City men of business, who were to undertake the issuing of shares and other matters, of which I and my literary colleagues were profoundly ignorant. The result was, that they did manage the affairs into a ruin” (4.349). A house had been taken in Charing Cross, other expenses incurred and, like so many of Jerdan’s encounters with the world of finance, “the whole fabric fell smash to the ground”. He was somehow left several hundred pounds the worse, “no one thanked me, that some laughed at me, and that my friends the publishers said it served me right.” His record of financial disasters was unfortunate, not always due to his own carelessness and ignorance. The crash of Whiteheads Bank at the beginning of his career, and the Panic of 1826 were both outside of his control. However, in handling such large sums of donated money as were subscribed for the Association, one would have expected others more experienced and capable to be jointly responsible for its care. This was unfortunately not the last time that Jerdan was to be the victim of financial skulduggery.
A dozen or so importuning letters survive from Jerdan to Bentley, all undated by year. One, on 16 December, asked the long-suffering publisher for money. Jerdan had been ill for three weeks, he said, and “would esteem him a good fellow and friend who would lend me £20 or £25 till I could send a cheque about the middle of January or before.” Another, dated 19 December, so likely to refer to Bentley’s response, complained that “being ill and depressed by pain” he had hoped for an earlier reply. Bentley had not sent the requested funds, and Jerdan was hurt and indignant: “I have no right to find fault either with the spirit or wording of it; though between you and me I wd rather have had you say straightforwardly I wd rather not than speak to a man of common understanding of a disposition to serve, in an independent gentleman, prevented by ‘adherence to a strict rule of business’, which he had known not to interfere in a hundred instances.” Jerdan’s hasty handwriting and lack of punctuation betray the desperation he felt at Bentley’s refusal to help on this occasion.
For twenty-two years the Literary Gazette had dispensed what Jerdan insisted were independent opinions of the books it reviewed; the Gazette, with its imitators and followers had been influential in guiding all aspects of the publishing profession from writers through printers and publishers, to booksellers, libraries and the reading public. Such influence set Laman Blanchard to considering what was “The Influence of Periodical Literature on the State of the Fine Arts” in the Monthly Chronicle of 4 December 1839. His article was chiefly concerned with drama, which had been in a low state until Macready took over Covent Garden Theatre, but the actor could have done better, Blanchard thought, by turning “his resources to a nobler purpose than that of pampering the prevailing taste for spectacle.” Turning to criticism of books, Blanchard understood that a balance had to be achieved between honesty and affording “the requisite amount of satisfaction to an advertising bookseller”, (a reference of the old topic of puffing). Advances in this respect, he felt, “appears rather to have been owing to the influences of private friendships than to a thoroughly awakened sense of public duty…the tone of personal partiality is too obvious in some – that of personal hostility still more disagreeably striking in others.” He called for more conscientiousness in newspapers and periodicals, standing as they did midway between professional writers and artists, and the public. He suggested that reviewers should not be swayed by friendship alone, that they should not merely succumb to “a desire to conciliate the givers of agreeable parties, encourage the willing contributions of engravers and publishers, or, return the small but convenient patronage of numerous free admissions.” Blanchard did not name any names and Jerdan would doubtless deny this as a description of himself, but he was as susceptible as anyone to any benefits that his position would bring him, short of compromising his literary judgment.
On 30 December a great party took Jerdan’s mind off more serious matters. Pryor’s Bank Fulham was the home of Thomas Baylis and William Lechmere Whitmore, both Fellows of the Society of Antiquaries. Their house was over-flowing with curious objects, art and furniture, and on this day they held a masque. It was written for the occasion by Thomas Hook; the text was printed and sold in the rooms to the one hundred and fifty guests, for the benefit of the Royal Literary Fund, raising three pounds twelve shillings and sixpence. Hook played the part of the Great Frost; Crofton Croker was Father Christmas and there was a Grand Tournament in which the hosts, mounted on hobby horses, jousted fiercely. In his A Walk from London to Fulham Croker tells that The fun became “fast and furious, and to which an impudent but most amusing jester (Mr Jerdan) mainly contributed, was checked only by the announcement of supper” (316). Jerdan’s resilience in the face of ongoing struggles and disappointments seemed unquenchable.
By 1840 Bentley was prospering as a publisher on his own account; he had received £1500 for his share in his printing business, plus a £3500 penalty from Colburn for breaking their partnership. He had also received £750 from Bulwer who wished to regain copyright of three of his novels (Gettman 23). With Jerdan’s help, Bentley was about to make even more money. The Literary Gazette of 4 April 1840 gave a short but enthusiastic reception to Dickens’s new work, Master Humphreys’s Clock. Jerdan became closely involved in the affairs of the popular author, acting on Bentley’s behalf, whilst John Forster acted for Dickens, in negotiating a final agreement. On 2 June Dickens wrote to his solicitor, Thomas Mitton, “I shall be anxious to know what Forster and Jerdan do, and I hope and trust that they may be able to arrange that matter and set it at rest for ever. You have heard from Forster, I dare say, of Jerdan’s admission that it was intended as a settlement of the Barnaby question? That’s a great point, I know you will think, as I do.” There were several matters in dispute: The Memoirs of Grimaldi, Barnaby Rudge and Oliver Twist, as well as copyright in Dickens’s writings in Bentley’s Miscellany. On the last of these, Dickens told Mitton, “Let Miscellany papers go. They are of no great worth and when one has the Devil on one’s shoulder it is best to shake him off, tho’ he has one’s cloak on.” Both Forster and Jerdan agreed that it was not worth disputing the copyright in the five papers concerned, and Jerdan so advised Bentley on the 19 June that Dickens could include these “slight papers” in any future collection of his writings, although the copyright remained with Bentley.
The major matter was Oliver Twist, the first of Dickens’s novels to be published under his own name, his other writings having been signed ‘Boz’. Jerdan’s negotiations were set out in his letter to Bentley of 19 June 1840 for his publisher to ratify or reject (Henry W. and Albert A. Berg Collection, New York Public Library 369758B). Dickens was to pay Bentley £1500 for relinquishing the copyright of Oliver Twist and release from the contract for Barnaby Rudge; £750 for Bentley’s unsold stock of 1002 copies of Oliver Twist, together with Cruikshank’s plates of the illustrations. Jerdan advised Bentley that should he ever require an impression from the plates for the Miscellany, he was entitled to it. Dickens was to be advanced the £2250 he had to pay to Bentley by Chapman and Hall. Bentley responded favourably, telling Jerdan on the 21st that “I am so perfectly convinced that you did all that could be done under the circumstances” that he ratified the agreement with only petty amendments about the cost of striking off a Cruikshank plate, and that he should receive the money for the stock within a week of signing the agreement which was concluded on 2 July (Berg Collection 36975B). With regard to the Grimaldi Memoir, Jerdan suggested that it was not worth much; Bentley should give Dickens fifty pounds to give up any claim to it, and there was no point in keeping past papers now that the matter was settled. These negotiations were revealed by Jerdan in his Autobiography several years later, causing Bentley great offence.
Jerdan’s interventions on Bentley’s behalf were unusual in that he had no formal role in Bentley’s business but the two had been intertwined professionally for many years, both through Colburn and latterly because of the Miscellany. Jerdan was also morally obligated to Bentley, on whose patience and generosity he so frequently called. Dickens did not take it amiss that Jerdan had represented Bentley against him, rather that he had helped to smooth the difficulties that had arisen. In March Jerdan was one of a group who dined with Dickens and Forster, but on 16 August Dickens and Forster quarrelled at dinner at Dickens’s home, where Maclise and Macready were also present. Forster was asked to leave the house, but apologised for the offence he had given, causing Dickens to write the following day to Macready, “There is no man, alive or dead, who tries his friends as [Forster] does” (www.dickenslive.com). Macready probably thought that Jerdan came in a close second.
Jerdan frequently called in to see Macready at the theatre during the year, but Macready’s Diary made no more mention of any financial exchanges between them. However, Jerdan still contrived to incur his friend’s considerable displeasure when, on 7 November, Macready recorded:
Looked at the newspapers and was especially disgusted to see Jerdan yielding a sort of assent to the pretension of character on the part of that wretched fellow Bunn – actually recommending him to make another essay!!! What a thing this Press is – all that is brutal, base and blackguard is concentrated in its trade, and with the rare exception of Fonblanque and a few others, there is not a gentleman to be found throughout the mass of them.
This was a case of letting his personal animosity for Bunn override his judgment of the Press as a whole. He was himself indebted to the newspapers for good reviews. A few days after this Macready’s daughter Joan died, and he was involved in another, more public personal matter. This closely mirrored Jerdan and Landon’s early relationship and must have brought back many memories to Jerdan. Macready’s young female lead in most of his plays, Helen Faucit, visited his room nightly after performances, supposedly so that he could help her with her studies, just as Landon originally went to Jerdan for tuition. Macready was susceptible to such evident adoration as his young pupil offered him.
Jerdan knew that the Literary Gazette was running into difficulties; in yet another undated letter, probably of this time, he wrote to Bentley being “vexed and disappointed” that he had called three times that day without success. He had three urgent matters to discuss: he was leaving town and needed some money as “a small arrangement and very temporary but of consequence to me to be done”; he was to “do a jocular ‘Journal of a British Ass’ for the Miscellany in strict confidence, and finally, the most crucial matter for Jerdan: “I wish to speak with you on an important crise (sic) which may open a share in the LG (most confidential).” From subsequent events, it appears that Bentley was not amenable to taking a share in Jerdan’s periodical.
“The year 1840 marks a turning point in the rewards of authorship” according to the records of the Literary Fund. The year was noted as a turning point by analysing the number of applicants and times of applications between 1800 and 1840, and then from 1840-1880, indicating that Victorian writers were better remunerated than their Georgian counterparts(N. Cross, The Royal Literary Fund 15). Before this date distinguished authors were more likely to be applicants than sponsors. Such famous but ill-rewarded authors included Samuel Taylor Coleridge, James Hogg, Thomas Love Peacock, Leigh Hunt and Thomas Hood. There were writers such as William Wordsworth, Charles Lamb and Percy B. Shelley who also earned little, but had a private income or paid employment, so had no need to apply to the Literary Fund. After the 1840 point authors like Dickens, Thackeray, Alfred Lord Tennyson and Anthony Trollope earned good incomes from their work, and became subscribers to the Literary Fund. The organisation itself saw some changes in this year, two of which were particularly unhappy events for their participants.
The Rev. Whittington Landon’s apparent misconduct concerning the missing £10.5s for which he had been forced to resign his Secretaryship, was referred for a meeting of the sub committee of the Literary Fund in March 1840. By November Landon had applied for a post in the Church, and the Committee was asked for a reference by the Rector of All Hallows, Lombard Street. Without providing any details, the Committee Minutes for November 1840 show that the Committee replied that “the motives which led to the rescinding of Mr Landon’s testimonial were not such as to diminish his utility as a parish priest” and that he was merely inefficient as a Secretary (Archives of the Royal Literary Fund, British Library, M1077).
At the same meeting that pushed Landon to resign, a question was raised as to whether any member of the Committee or Council was disqualified by reason of their arrears. Blewitt reported that Mr Jerdan’s subscription had been unpaid since 1835. Jerdan protested that he had paid, and could produce receipts to prove it. Coming as he often did to his friend’s rescue, Croly seconded by Nichols proposed to refer the matter to a sub-committee, pending which Jerdan’s re-election to the Council should stand, but that if he could not produce receipts for his subscriptions, he would resign. On 8 April a letter from Jerdan was read to the Chairman of the Meeting, resigning his place on both the General Committee and the Council of the Literary Fund. Jerdan’s old enemy, Charles Dilke of the Athenaeum, did not let matters lie. He moved that the Committee look more closely at two donations in particular which had involved Jerdan as intermediary. These donations had been made ten months previously but Dilke seems to have waited until Jerdan was already under fire before raising the matter. It would be charitable to believe that he had the good interests of the Fund at heart rather than rejoicing at an opportunity to kick his victim whilst he was down.
At a subsequent meeting of the Fund it became clear that at the last Anniversary Dinner a John Howell had pledged money to the Fund in the form of a cheque handed to Jerdan and that a Mr Baily had also given his draft for ten guineas donation to the Fund to Jerdan. Upon investigation it was revealed that Jerdan had given Howell’s cheque for eleven guineas to Stevenson, “a Bookseller of Parliament Street…for the rent of chambers in his house occupied by the ‘National Association for the Encouragement of Authors’” (Archives of Royal Literary Fund, British Library M1077). Jerdan had owed five pounds for the rent and Stevenson had paid him the difference in cash. Baily’s cheque had been cashed by Jerdan on 9 May 1839. It was not explained why it had taken ten months for these misappropriations to come to light. Jerdan wrote to John Britton in June to say that he was considering writing to the Fund, “to prevent the grounds of my retirement either being misrepresented now or on the books hereafter…” On 8 June 1840 he asked Britton to call on him “with Mr Howell’s partner, who knows you, and has some fancy that he might have handed a cheque to you for the Fund by which means it might come to me, At present how it could do so, as I believe it did, is the most incomprehensible puzzle I ever had in my life” (British Library, Manuscript Department 38794/170). Whatever the outcome, Jerdan was required to pay the missing twenty-two pounds one shilling to the Fund, “or give such an explanation as he may think proper”. Even Jerdan’s friend Thomas Hood, was appalled by the turn of events, writing to his wife in April, “I did not tell you there has been strange work in the Literary Fund – embezzling of money etc. People who had given £10 and so forth at the anniversary said not to have paid – but on being applied to, had paid – and some of their cheques I believe paid in to Jerdan’s banker – traced. Jerdan has resigned his seat there so we may presume Verdict Guilty. What a set they are” (quoted Pyle 202).
Jerdan repaid the missing money in June, asking the Committee to include names of intermediaries in their Printed Lists as well as the names of donors. This was rejected by the Committee. Another letter from Jerdan was read at this meeting, concerning his resignation from the Council, and yet a third letter, the contents of which were not disclosed in the Minutes but were simply “passed over.” At the same meeting, as he had been unable to produce receipts for his membership subscriptions, he was removed from membership of the Society and his election to the Council was null and void. Thus ignominiously ended an association of over twenty years which had given Jerdan much pleasure and brought relief to many struggling writers. In writing his memoirs Jerdan restrained himself until the fourth volume before referring to it, merely as “A dislike to new principles in the grants, a cabal, and a paltry insult, which I thought the official authorities ought to have taken up, caused me to retire from it; yet with every warm wish for its increase and liberal and humane management.” Jerdan thought the Fund should support equally the ‘distinguished’ and the struggling writer, a distinction he felt had been lost in favour of the former (4.36).
Jerdan seems to have been unable to accept that his removal from the Council of the Literary Fund was a fait accompli. In February (the year was not given, but likely to have been 1841), he wrote to Snow of the Fund reluctantly tendering his resignation from the Council and was pained to see an advertisement for the pre-Anniversary meeting. “I am sure I need not say,” he wrote, “that my wish in this respect arises from no abatement of zeal or affection for the Institution; but I have allowed myself, by misplaced confidence, to be driven into a position in which I can be of no use to the Society; and I can only hope that no longer period will elapse before I am enabled to prove my regard for it as usual even without official oblyphons.” At the same time Jerdan was forced to leave the Literary Fund, Queen Victoria married Prince Albert, that enthusiastic supporter of the arts to whom Jerdan may well have applied for royal patronage for his many charitable interests, had the timing of his resignation not been so unfortunate.
Even as he was under such a dark cloud and risking his reputation with the Literary Fund and possibly even the public, should the rumours be leaked, Jerdan had to keep producing work. The Mirror of July 1840 noted that the staple of Bentley’s Miscellany was “jocularity and light reading”, and that it frequently had “papers of fine wit and brilliant satire. That which chiefly sparkles on its front this month is ‘The Sleeping Beauty in our Time’, a marvellous tale….” written by Jerdan.
Jerdan’s device for this story was to update an old fairy tale as a vehicle for considering how England has changed over the preceding century. He looked back at one of the Frost Fairs for which London had been famous since the mid-seventeenth century, choosing the fair of 1740 as a convenient comparison with the present day. A young princess vanished from the festivities, never to be found. A hundred years later, as Jerdan wrote the story, a whaler returned to port from the Arctic bringing ashore a young woman. She had been discovered when a harpoon split open an iceberg, and she was found perfectly preserved inside. Gradually thawed she returned to life, and the remainder of the story concerned her conversations with the ship’s captain, each of course thinking the other insane, not comprehending that a century separated their worlds. She enquired about the people and politics of 1740, of which the captain knew nothing, but told her instead of contemporary equivalents, such as that since the Reform Bill, Lord Melbourne had been the premier, “but they say that he, rather than guard and uphold, likes to deal heavy blows and sore discouragement on the Protestant church.”
Seeing the Hamburgh steamer sailing past, the princess screamed in terror for the captain to save the people on board, not knowing about steam, and that ships were no longer reliant on wind: “… you would have me believe that, by means of a kettle of water put on to boil, you could force great ships to move against wind, and tide, and stream, wherever they wish to go. Fie! To treat me as if I were a fool or a simpleton.” The princess demanded to know the progress of many things that were happening in England at the time of her disappearance, and was told about the founding of the British Museum with its wonders, the establishment of the United States, development of London around the old Foundling Hospital, which was just raising subscriptions in 1740, and the many changes of alliances in the wider world. Mutually puzzled about foreign affairs, the princess and the captain could find no common ground as they neared England. Sighting Dover Castle the princess looked forward to a welcome from “Mr Weller the deputy governor.” Jerdan, shamelessly stealing from Dickens, has the captain tell her: “Mr Weller, Madam, is not the governor. Mr Pickwick is, and Samivell is his servant.” She was amazed to be told that London streets were safe from robbers, that a police force had reduced murders, dinner was at eight and not at two, and that Chelsea Fields were now Belgrave and Eaton Squares. Demanding a sedan chair she was escorted to a train, the wonder and vapour and rattling of which sent her into a swoon. Roused to consciousness she caught sight of London Bridge: “not the London Bridge of her memory, with its incumbrances and mouldering buildings, but a splendid edifice spanning the flood of Thames in two or three prodigious strides, whilst immediately above a greater miracle still presented itself, a bridge of iron! And hundreds of demon steamers were plying in every direction, some of wood, some of iron, and all crowded with busy thousands.”
Jerdan remarked that one could point out millions of changes, but would pick out a few that occurred to him; one was the printing of Parliamentary debates with the names of speakers – an imprisonable offence a century earlier – no franking, no lottery, and coffee houses superseded by clubs. Looking back to the literary luminaries of the princess’s day, Jerdan listed Dryden, Pope and Thomson, reserving Swift for a “bonne bouche”. This was an account of Dean Swift creating a huge bonfire in Dublin to mark the anniversary of the Battle of the Boyne, but Jerdan remarked that the Ireland of a century ago was “too like the Ireland of today – stained with rapine, murders and banded combinations riding roughshod over the laws.” However in England, things were better: manners had become more refined, the administration of justice vastly improved, as demonstrated by the fact that hangings and floggings were not so common or barbaric as had been the practice.
Bringing himself up short from his long catalogue of the century’s changes, he commented that he had intended to pen a jeu d’esprit, and not an essay, saying at last that in bygone days charity was more abundant than in present times. In the days of the old Frost Fair, the rich took care of the poor. His story ended rather abruptly, and inconsequentially, as if he had run out of steam, or space. However, this last comparison, the only one in which earlier days were better than the present, reflected his abiding concern for the dire poverty around him, especially amongst writers, and through the Literary Fund he had done what he could to alleviate it.
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Last modified 4 July 2020