he first part of 1845 was marked by three deaths: in February came the shocking news of Laman Blanchard’s suicide; the following week Jerdan wrote to comfort William Francis Ainsworth on the death of his son and received detailed directions how to travel by omnibus to reach Hammersmith for the funeral. He was urged to arrive early, as his “presence would bring me much comfort”, and “I have now put my reliance in you, I know you will not disappoint me” (23 February 1845, Bodleian d. 113, f17). Despite his own domestic upheavals Jerdan was valued by a few discerning friends who saw beyond his ‘good fellow’ exterior to the emotional and sympathetic man within; the January 1845 Ainsworth’s Magazine described him as “the friend of all who struggle in the thorny way of literature”. The third death was of a literary friend Richard Barham, contributor to the Literary Gazette and author of the ‘Ingoldsby Legends’. These popular tales appeared in Bentley’s Miscellany from 1837 until 1843, when they moved to the rival New Monthly Magazine under Thomas Hood. Barham nevertheless remained friends with Bentley, who asked Jerdan to prepare an article on him after Barham’s death in June. Jerdan replied that he had been “looking out for data to write a right and proper memoir of our regretted friend Barham and think I shall be able to do what you ask.” His tribute appeared in the July issue of the Miscellany, along with Barham’s last lyric poem.
Difficulties were rife in the literary world. The popularity of annuals declined. Heath, publisher of the Book of Beauty amongst others, was almost bankrupt, causing Lady Blessington’s health to suffer from the worry and endless drudgery which she undertook in order to support herself and the profligate Count D’Orsay. It has been said that literary visitors to her dinners wearied of her cadging contributions to her annuals and, that to add insult to injury, she was vilified for her connection to the annuals by those whom a short time before were clamouring to be allowed to contribute to them (Sadleir 219). Women writers were the target of an anonymous book which Jerdan reviewed favourably on 27 June 1846. Tracts for the Improvement of our Popular Literature opined that a women “thrusting her name and sentiments before the world in the pages of a book is a violation of the delicacy and beautiful silence which should attend her being. No woman, even the most successful in authorship, has added to her dignity by her writings” (374). Like hundreds of other women, Lady Blessington and the late L.E.L. wrote for their daily bread, and hung on to as much “dignity” as possible while so doing. The fact that Jerdan chose to extract from and review this book suggests that he was in agreement with its tenets and thus at odds with his own important support of women writers.
The handful of Jerdan’s surviving correspondence at this period was sent from the ‘Literary Gazette Office’. Mrs Bray asked him in March 1845 whether he still resided in Surrey Street, or was only there occasionally, as she was unsure where to send a review of her work she wished him to include in the Gazette. Jerdan may easily have wanted to cover his tracks, between his legal wife and his present and growing family in Lambeth. He might have used his office premises as a place to sleep on occasion.
Jerdan’s bank account details of 1845 have survived in The Royal Bank of Scotland Group Archives, and show on the credit side only “Receipts” but, with a single exception, do not identify who was paying him (DR/427/273). Messrs Drummond customer account ledger 1845, pp. 38 and 45.). Over the course of the year twenty-six deposits were made, ranging between £5 and £262.10s, totalling just over £1352. His expenses were a little over £50 less than this, several to a variety of unfamiliar names, the reasons for which are not known. He paid £11 7s to Christies and Manson, precursors of the art auctioneers Christies, and £7 19s 10d to Swan & Edgar, a fashion store. Such payments suggest purchases of non-essentials, surprising as Jerdan's affairs were in a precarious state. He also made fifteen payments at irregular dates and of varying amounts to a Mr. Stuart, totalling £1741s 9d. The identity of ‘Mr. Stuart’ is not certain, but there are two main possibilities: one is that Jerdan was sending money to Fred Stuart, his son by Landon now about twenty years old; the other, and stronger, possibility is that when Jerdan had borrowed money from, as he had called it, a “family connexion” in 1841, this is quite likely to have been his mother’s wealthy brother John Stuart, gentleman farmer of Ednam near Kelso. Jerdan had needed the money to buy up Longman’s and Colburn’s shares in the Literary Gazette and these payments were probably made to reduce his loan. In 1845 Jerdan also made three payments to the Garrick Club, ten pounds to (Masonic) Lodge No. 1 and in June, sixteen pounds to the British Association, indicating that he considered that he was still in a position to pay his subscriptions to these institutions. However, he could not manage to keep up his subscriptions to every organisation as money was still in short supply. On 17 April 1845 William Jerdan was expelled from the Society of Antiquaries for being sixteen years in arrears with his subscription. It was the old familiar story – an echo of what had happened with the Geographical Society. In his Autobiography Jerdan explained, “As years accrued, I found that my eight guineas entrance and four guineas per annum subscription met with no adequate return or inducement to continue a member; for not having time to hunt him up, I never could get papers or volumes of the Archaeology from the then fat, contented and rosy official of the name of Martin, and I therefore discontinued my attendance” (4.32). It does not seem to have occurred to him that he did not receive these documents as he had not paid his dues. Nevertheless, he still faithfully inserted reports of the Society’s meetings in the Literary Gazette.
On the same day as his expulsion from the Antiquaries, Jerdan was cheered by attending a meeting of the Metropolitan Red Lions at the ‘Cheshire Cheese’ in Fleet Street. He enjoyed “an evening ever memorable for the brilliancy and pungency of the songs, anecdotes and jokes, at which we shall find the following grave philosophers assisting in the mysteries of the brotherhood” (Blackwood’s [October 1861]: 473). The Red Lions were formed in 1839 as an offshoot of the British Association; they were, continued the article in the Edinburgh Magazine, “the younger tribe of naturalists, disliking the irksomeness of the established ordinary”, in the same spirit as the Noviomagians who split from the staid Society of Antiquaries. Jerdan was always ready to join the group which had less formality and more fun, and had been elected as a member in York in September 1844. He received an offer of two Silver Tickets for the Royal Orthopaedic Hospital Festival with a letter exhorting him to choose a companion “worthy of the occasion”, as the charity had been distinguished by a Royal Title and a Royal President. Quarles Harris, who wrote this letter, must have been well aware of the boisterous company Jerdan enjoyed keeping even though he softened his stricture by noting on 24 April 1845 that “My Brother was much gratified by your favourable notice of his Poem. It has been very ill treated by many” (National Library of Scotland, 9814/108-9). Quarles’s fears were unfounded. As much as Jerdan enjoyed an evening singing and drinking with his circle of mainly Irish and Scottish friends, he had also mixed with Prime Ministers, and many Lords and nobles, and knew how to comport himself in high society.
Jerdan wrote an obituary in the Literary Gazette of 10 May 1845 for his late dear friend Thomas Hood, who had died in misery and penury:
[a] spirit of true philanthropy has departed from its earthly tenement; the light of a curious and peculiar wit has been extinguished; the feeling and pathos of a natural poet have descended into the grave; and left those who knew, admired and loved these qualities to feel and deplore the loss of him in whom they were so pre-eminently united.
Yet we can hardly say that we deplore his death. Poor Hood! His sportive humour, like the rays from a crackling fire in a dilapidated building, had long played among the fractures of a ruined constitution, and flashed upon the world through the flaws and rents of a shattered wreck. Yet infirm as was the fabric, the equal mind was never disturbed to the last. He contemplated the approach of death with a composed philosophy and a resigned soul. It had no terrors for him.
Jerdan revealed that Hood was helped at the last by Sir Robert Peel, who organised a pension for Hood’s widow of one hundred pounds per annum. The Literary Gazette was once again a way in which Jerdan could make known to the public the kindnesses and generosity given and received by those he considered friends, as he had done earlier at the time Bulwer refused to take royalties from Macready when the actor could scarcely support his family.
Jerdan’s own finances were still on a knife-edge. He was unwell in the summer and sent his long-suffering son William Freeling to Bentley with a note enclosing a draft for more than the thirty pounds he already owed Bentley, urgently requesting a cheque for the difference. He also owed money to a Mr Smith, and had heard from Gibbs, Smith’s agent, on 13 November 1844 that the terms of acceptable payment were twenty pounds down plus Gibbs’s expenses and “the remainder in quarterly payments with 5% added from dishonour of the Bills” (Bodleian d. 113, ff215, 216). This seems as if it were a substantial debt, and Jerdan had to earn fast just to stand still.
Some time between acquiring the sole property of the Literary Gazette in 1841 and the summer of 1847, Jerdan took on two dormant partners. One was his son-in-law Thomas Irwin and the other was Irwin’s brother. Given the parlous state of Jerdan’s finances the Irwins presumably paid Jerdan something for their shares. Irwin paid £52.10 to Jerdan’s account in December 1845, possibly for his share of the partnership. Their partnership with him ended in December 1847 but was to land them in Court despite this precaution.
In May 1845 a Testimonial was proposed for John Britton, who had risen from a penniless childhood to a respected place as antiquarian and topographer. His books on English cathedrals had been rendered uncompetitive by the advent of steel engraving rather than copperplate, and although Britton switched to the new medium he was still dependent on private subsidies. For forty years he had been an adviser to the Literary Fund; he campaigned for government protection of ancient monuments, and was a keen supporter of what was to become the Royal Institute of British Architects. However, he was now facing bankruptcy, hence the Testimonial. He wrote to ask Jerdan’s advice how to make it a special occasion, and thanked him for the “constant and reiterated acts of courtesy and kindness you have ever evinced for the works and characters of those authors and artists who have come under cognizance”. He would have become aware of this through their joint efforts at the Literary Fund. A few years later Britton, like Jerdan, could not afford his membership of the Society of Antiquaries; he died of bronchitis in 1857. Britton’s portrait had been painted in 1845 by John Wood who, a few months earlier, had himself written to Jerdan. His plaintive letter said that his son had died and he asked Jerdan to exert his “powerful influence” to get his surviving son a place at Christ’s Hospital School, “the best testimonial you could pay to the memory of your departed friend” (DNB). (This possibly referred to the recent death of Hood.) Wood evidently placed a great deal of faith in the spheres of Jerdan’s influence, but Jerdan may not have responded too favourably to such blatant emotional pleading.
In September Jerdan went to Miss Kelly’s Theatre with Macready, Maclise and others, to see an amateur performance of Ben Jonson’s ‘Every Man in his Humour’. Forster and Dickens played the leading parts. Macready had a dreadful cold and waiting in the pouring rain afterwards to gather his party together did not improve his humour. He griped in his diary entry for 7 September 1845, “I read Jerdan’s notice in the Literary Gazette of the performance of the amateur play. It was written in a false spirit and will do harm to the persons engaged in the play” Jerdan’s review in the issue for 27 September 1845 acknowledged that the theatricals were supposed to be a private affair, “but it is not easy to keep from the press secrets entrusted to ten or fifteen score of confidants, especially within the walls of a theatre” (). He praised the scenery, and the skill of the actors: “There was visible at once a self-possession and earnestness, which seemed far more like long practice and experience than first attempts, however well rehearsed, to embody the admirably drawn creations of the dramatist…Mr Forster threw himself into it with a perfect abandon, and executed his task as if he had trod the boards for years, with perhaps only a little more freshness both in conception and delineation. It was impossible to fancy it a debut…Mr Dickens makes the ‘stricken deer’ the veriest hang-dog and craven that can be imagined; a sneaking, pitiful fellow.” Why Macready thought such enthusiastic praise would “do harm” to those in the play could only be a matter of professional jealousy at their excellent performances.
One of Jerdan’s favourite projects made a step forward in September when the 6th Earl of Clarendon laid the foundation stone for the Booksellers’ Provident Retreat (Literary Gazette, 6 September 1845). John Dickinson, eminent papermaker of Apsley Mills, had given three acres of land at Abbots Langley Hertfordshire, to the Booksellers’ Provident Society to build accommodation for their members, who had to have subscribed for a minimum of seven years to the Booksellers' Provident Fund, or for members’ widows. The original house still fulfils its purpose, and from 1965 twenty-four modern bungalows were added. Now run by the Book Trade Benevolent Society, the house was renamed Dickinson House in 1979.
Jerdan proudly made the formal introduction of the Earl to the assembled company. The cost of building was estimated at two thousand six hundred pounds, and although seven hundred pounds short, the deficit was made up by those present. A commemorative scroll together with silver and copper coins was buried in a crystal bottle according to custom. Although Jerdan’s name did not appear on the Committee for 1845, according to the Gentleman’s Magazine of October 1845 he was one of a number who made toasts at this important event (411). By the following March the project was well under way and the Literary Gazette for 14 March 1846 reported that an official ‘opening’ was planned when it was completed.
This occurred in July 1846, and Jerdan participated in this formal opening of the Booksellers’ Provident Retreat. At noon a special train took about two hundred people from London to Abbots Langley. There were heavy showers and when these had passed the company was shown over and around the building, listened to an address from the architect and a prayer from the Vicar. Finally, with the addition of local worthies, two hundred and fifty people sat down to luncheon. Edward Bulwer Lytton was in the Chair and many toasts were made including one by Jerdan. It was a long day as the London train to take the party home did not leave until seven in the evening, but it was a good cause and one with which Jerdan was proud to be associated.
The desperate plight of so many even well-educated people – such as the booksellers – as well as the many without that advantage prompted Disraeli, in his novel Sybil, to observe the contrast between rich and poor: “Two nations between whom there is no intercourse and no sympathy; who are as ignorant of each other’s habits, thoughts and feelings as if they were...inhabitants of different planets.” This was not entirely true, as the age was marked by an explosion of private charities, such as those which Jerdan so actively supported.
During 1846 Jerdan edited a second volume for the Camden Society, following the success of his book on the Rutland Papers four years earlier. The new volume was Letters from James Earl of Perth, Lord Chancellor of Scotland to his sister the Countess of Errol and other members of his family. The original documents had been loaned to Jerdan by Lady Willoughby de Eresby. He prefaced the volume with a letter to his benefactor thanking her and referring to “grateful recollections of the beautiful country perilled and lost by your ancestors in what they deemed a sacred cause, and justly and happily restored to their descendants.” The hope that her descendants would continue to enjoy “this noble possession is not mine alone, but the fervent and heartfelt wish of all who have had the good fortune to partake of the refined hospitalities of Drummond Castle; and whilst delighting in its social and intellectual intercourse, to revel in those glorious Highland sports which, with health and excitement in their train, give a zest to life it would be difficult to surpass within the sphere of humanity”. Jerdan thus managed, in the space of a few lines, to impress his readers about his familiarity with Drummond Castle and its lordly inhabitants, and at the same time to be suitably grateful to the Lady of the Castle.
His introduction to the Perth Papers showed a detailed knowledge of the Drummond clan history over five hundred years; he gave a brief history of the Stuart kings, partisan in a way that G. Pyle calls “annoyingly sentimental”(216) but this was only to be expected considering Jerdan’s Borders background and his politics, especially his mother’s claim to be descended from the Stuart kings. He attempted a balanced view of the Stuarts, asking rhetorically:
Were they faultless? No! Were they inferior to or more vicious than their contemporary sovereigns in the civilized world? Certainly the reverse! Who couples with the name of any one of them the epithets cruel, savage, barbarous, perfidious, bloodthirsty or tyrannical? None! Adversaries inspired by religious differences and conflicting politics have endeavoured to point out weaknesses and errors in the characters of some of them, and prove that they were – fallible human beings; but the glance we have cast hurriedly over their melancholy fates, varieties of premature and appalling deaths, by assassination, by rebellion, by war, or by the executioner’s axe, will demonstrate that they were indeed more sinned against than sinning, and admit us to the understanding of the grounds upon which they were almost adored by the thousands and tens of thousand who were ready to lay down their lives, and did die for them in many a gory bed, and in many an ignominious and more horrible sacrifice.
Jerdan went on to set out the story of the three Thanes of Perth, the Drummonds, whose true sense of patriotism and loyalty led them to risk all of their fortune and property. The letters he edited for this volume were dated from December 1688 when the Earl of Perth tried to escape to France to follow James II. He was in disguise, with his pregnant wife, but was apprehended and imprisoned in Stirling Castle, not released until 1693 upon a bond of five thousand pounds that he would leave the Kingdom. He went to Rotterdam and on to Italy, writing vividly descriptive letters to his brother and sister at home of which twenty-six were reprinted in Jerdan’s work. The letters told of the customs, religious observances, landscapes and politics of those he met on his travels. Many of his references to people and places were carefully annotated by “Ed.”, Jerdan drawing on his personal knowledge or consulting books for the relevant information.
The resulting book was reviewed in depth in the Gentleman’s Magazine of January 1846, interesting in that while it reported the letters themselves accurately, (even correcting one of Jerdan’s transcriptions), the reviewer took quite the opposite view to Jerdan’s wholehearted support for the Stuart cause:
Mr Jerdan’s Dedication and Introduction are very lively and interesting, but we totally disagree with him in his estimate of the worth of the princes of the house of Stewart (sic). We think too, he is altogether mistaken in endeavouring to explain or defend Scottish loyalty to that house by a consideration of the presumed excellence of its several members as princes. No! The partisans of the Stewarts in Scotland had read history with different eyes to Mr Jerdan and were too wise to rest their cause upon any such perilous foundation.
Despite this controversy, the reviewer concluded that “The whole book indeed is one of the most readable and interesting the Camden Society has issued”. The Athenaeum also reviewed the publication, taking a leaf out of the Literary Gazette’s book by printing substantial extracts from the letters. Having edited the successful Rutland Papers, and now the Perth Papers, Jerdan could have reasonably expected some mark of recognition from the Camden Society. It was not to be. “I perceived that I was not treated with the consideration due to me; ex.gr. by the Camden Society, to which I contributed two of as interesting and popular volumes as it has published. The private hostility, indorsed, as I was told, by Mr. A. Way, was so great, that I never had the compliment paid to me to be placed upon the Council. So much for affronted Humbug” (4.187). Jerdan, it seemed, had upset at least one of the Council members, who blackballed him from being elevated to the position he coveted.
There was at this period an unprecedented rise in availability of news and information. According to J. H. Bickley, in London alone “there were nearly two thousand [coffee and tea houses], all well-stocked with the organs of ‘useful knowledge’ (119). One…subscribed to 43 London daily papers, 7 country papers, 6 foreign papers, 24 monthly magazines, 4 quarterlies and 11 weeklies.” This easy access competed with the value of the Literary Gazette as a digest and adviser of what was new in the cultural sphere (although of course a large part of the Gazette’s readership was female, and read the journal at home, not in coffee houses). Even closer to the heart of Jerdan’s difficulties was the half-price Athenaeum, which continued to make life difficult for him as he struggled to keep the Literary Gazette afloat. In the first issue of the new year he referred to “the great change we have made BY NEARLY DOUBLING THE SIZE AND QUITE HALVING THE PRICE OF THE LITERARY GAZETTE”. Its usual sixteen pages became twenty-four, and the price dropped to fourpence unstamped, fivepence stamped; it had taken him about fifteen years to follow the Athenaeum’s lead, in which period the rival paper had out-stripped his own. Book reviews remained the Literary Gazette’s primary focus, but it was becoming increasingly hard to keep up with the flood of new works. In 1843 the Gazette commented in reviews or notices on about 630 of 1900 works published, and in 1847 on 700 of over 2000 published works (Pyle 71). Whilst the buying public bought fewer Literary Gazettes, the magazine’s influence was still considerable, and sought after by publishers and authors. A contemporary source, the Newspaper Press Directory of 1846, commented that the Literary Gazette “has long sustained its reputation and is too well known to need much description: when it reigned without a rival, its decisions had almost as much of authority as official announcements in the Gazette [the London Gazette]… but the old original [Literary] Gazette, yet maintains ‘high place’ in literature, and, with the present year, a more popular character has been given to it by increase in size” (Mitchell).
The paper thus continued on its plan, Jerdan said, “for encouraging all that can tend to special good and harmony, cheering on the labourers in every part of their course, and only condemning (without asperity) such things as threaten the progress of the truth, intelligence, prosperity and happiness among our fellow men.” Such high-mindedness was hard to keep up. Gleefully he noted on a letter from William Nicol, “The Athenaeum shown up” (7 January 1846, Bodleian Library, MS. Eng. lett. d. 114, f106). Nicol had highlighted errors made in the rival paper, calling their reviewer an “ignoramus”. Any crumb of comfort at the discomfiture of the journal which had usurped his Gazette was welcome to Jerdan. However, the Literary Gazette still had enough influence for Bentley on 7 January 1846 to send Jerdan early sheets from his newest book, a life of the Marquis Wellesley, a week prior to its publication, requesting that it be ‘noticed’ as Bentley considered it his most important work of the season (Bodleian d. 113, f44).
In April, the Literary Gazette announced the acquisition of a new steam printing press; Jerdan thought that circulation of his larger, cheaper journal had increased dramatically enough to merit investment in the latest technology. This proved to be a poor financial decision.
Keeping up a good face on his declining paper even though he had halved its price, Jerdan commented to Halliwell on 22 March 1849, “I hope you see the Gazette: it is getting on famously” (Edinburgh LOA 25/89). Strenuous efforts appear to have been afoot to gain new readers for the Literary Gazette. In October 1846 Jerdan heard from a C. Smith of the City on 27 October 1846 that
I should have liked a much larger number of Lit Gaz circulars. I find I continually get members to take it, and especially new and sincere ones, but (as I always feared) when we decided upon the annual subscription, we have an immense number down as associates who never give us either literary or pecuniary aid and from whom we ought to relieve ourselves. I hope to bring in 200 or 300 more respectable associates from different towns and places, and am printing new circulars for our friends to persuade them with. Hitherto people have been elected too carelessly. The Lord Mayor about whom such a fuss was made, (like many more) has never noticed his Election! Now with all such persons we have no hopes for the Gazette, but as our lists get purified so I think your excellent periodical will increase in circulation. [Bodleian Library MS Eng. lett. d. 114, f214]
Jerdan told Halliwell on “Nice rows getting up in the R. Soc of Antiquaries! There will be a good bit of fun yet.” In this case it was about the resignation of the President, the Earl of Aberdeen, and the creation without consultation of a new office of Assistant Secretary at one hundred and fifty pounds per annum. The Literary Gazette covered the row in issues of 21 and 28 March. Halliwell and Wright were in a tussle too, and Jerdan told Halliwell on 28 March 1846, “This day’s number is a great sheet on our side – for the Archaeological Association, for Wright and for yourself. It shows what a set of inimical underhand intrigues and intriguers have been at work against what is right, upright, honest and Wright” (Edinburgh LOA 27/22). Jerdan would never let a punning opportunity pass him by.
In January 1846 the Council of the Royal Society of Literature had adopted Jerdan’s notion to repeal certain bye-laws, and a special general meeting was called which agreed to reduce admission and subscription fees which had been set since 1826. Coincidentally, at the same meeting seven new members were elected including Jerdan’s son William Freeling, who had married Louisa Richards on 30 December 1845 (Marylebone Registration 1.193). The Society was having its own troubles, reported in the Literary Gazette of 14 March, centering on the allegedly illegal award of a Gold Medal, illegal because the paper for which it had been awarded had not been included in the Philosophical Transactions of the Society for 1845. The Society stood firm on its award, causing the Literary Gazette to pontificate “it is hoped that the irresponsible committees would be abolished, with their sooner or later jealousies, selfishness and favouritism.”
The March and April 1846 issues of Tait’s Edinburgh Magazine carried a lengthy review by Jerdan of John Hill Burton’s Life of David Hume. Tait’s was founded in 1832 and grew to rival Blackwood’s in popularity and sales. The review commenced with a question: “What is Biography?” and answered it: “For our present purposes it is sufficient to assume that the great end of biography is to convey a complete and accurate idea of the individual who forms its subject in his inner, and in his external life; especially as that is shaped and coloured by the society and circumstances in which he is placed” (March 1846 137-45). The tone of Jerdan’s review was positive and he discussed Hume as portrayed by Burton. He offered a few short extracts and was critical that too much time had been spent on Hume’s first work which the philosopher himself disclaimed. Retelling the main points of Hume’s life Jerdan then selected anecdotes from Burton’s book on topics he himself was interested in: people, marriages, money. He concluded by remarking that he could give only a “very imperfect idea” of a work of a thousand pages, “containing so much rare and wholly original matter”.
The Literary Gazette noted the major work on 14 and 21 March; a reader wrote to the Gazette drawing the Editor’s attention to a quotation from Hume’s letter containing the expression “You seem to be relapsing into barbarism and Christianity in England”, and asking whether Burton had actually seen such a document. “A little controversy will not hurt the work”, commented this reader whose letter, perplexingly, was signed “W. Jerdan” and is in Jerdan’s handwriting, a brave effort to stir up interest. Jerdan received a long letter from Burton following a public one printed in the Literary Gazette. Jerdan had also written to Tait who had shown his letter to Burton. There had been such a passage in one of Hume’s letters, Burton confirmed, but he had decided to omit it and explained his reasons at some length. Although he would prefer nothing more said on the subject, if Jerdan thought it useful he would give a public explanation. He thought Jerdan’s review had been in a “very liberal and kind spirit” and left it to him to decide, feeling “that I am in the hands of a man of honour and discretion” (National Library of Scotland, 9393/85-8).
Even with the usual drudgery of filling the Literary Gazette every week Jerdan appeared to have time – and need – for extra work, such as this long review in Tait’s. He approached Bentley on April 4th with a proposal that he should edit Theodore Hook’s productions and posthumous papers. He and Hook had been friends from 1808 until Hook’s death in 1841, and Jerdan believed that “if properly done it wd redound to the honour of his memory and exhibit him to the world as a far superior being to its common apprehension of his character”. This was a project Jerdan really wanted to undertake. “If confided to me, I can promise to do my best, con amore, for I dearly loved Hook and spent hundreds and thousands of happy hours in his brilliant and delightful society, admiring his wonderful variety, promptness and extent of his genius. To do some justice to them would be a pleasure, tho’ of a mournful nature.” This letter was dated 4 April with no year given, and in another of 4 February, also with no year given, Jerdan asked Bentley “Aught of the Hookiana?” It would seem that Bentley could not be persuaded to commission Jerdan to memorialise his friend as he wished, for in 1849 Bentley published The Life and Remains of Theodore Edward Hook by R. Barham.
In the meantime, Jerdan’s social life continued in much the same way. Macready noted that on 28 April 1846 he dined with Lady Blessington and the company included Jerdan, Charles Dickens, John Forster, Edwin Landseer. and Lord Chesterfield. The Countess was in deep financial difficulties because of D’Orsay’s wild spending and because of the debts she had incurred when moving into Gore House in 1835. Gore House, (on the site where the Royal Albert Hall now stands) was then in the country. The house was built at the beginning of the century, and between 1808-21 had been the home of William Wilberforce, just before he moved to Grove House, which Jerdan took over from him.
Dickens tried to help by making her “Society Correspondent” for his Daily News at two hundred and fifty pounds for a six-month trial, but he resigned after only three weeks and her contract was not renewed. The money problem seemed universal. In his diary Macready recorded on 15 May that Jerdan was still up to his old habits; “Note from Jerdan, again asking me, in a confidential note, to lend him money; he has already £100 of mine. I cannot afford to – risk is a foolish word – to lose any more. I wrote very kindly stating my inability to accommodate him.”
A lively outing was just the thing to cheer Jerdan up. The Society of Noviomagus had been in existence for eighteen years but their members clearly never outgrew their need for fun. On 11 May The Times newspaper reprinted an account from the Dover Chronicle of their latest antics in which Jerdan naturally participated. The account is so much in the spirit of the excursion that it is given here in full:
AN ANTIQUARIAN VISITATION On Monday last, a village near this place was invaded by a troop of outlandish-looking beings. What they were, who they were, or whence they came, was a problem too difficult to be at once solved. The first impression of the inhabitants at the mysterious proceedings of the strangers was that they were spies from the Prince de Jonville, sounding the banks of the Ottenham creek, because, after leaving a weird craft in two boats, as soon as they had rounded the cant, they ever and anon recklessly jumped into the soft mud, in which they sank to their middles, and began pricking the banks with iron rods, hazel or divining wands, wooden spades, broken sword sticks, and other queer instruments; whilst some, dropping upon their knees in the tenacious stuff, appeared to invoke the blessing of the gods for having successfully arrived at such adhesive land as the Kent coast presented. The costume of the creatures was wonderful; how the boots in which their lower limbs were encased had been affixed was marvellous; some had helmets on their heads of strange shape; others the red cap of liberty; the commander of the crew had a silver whistle and a cap with a gold band. After two or three hours' plunging, tumbling, screaming, and digging now and then one of them out of the bed of the creek, they took their departure. It was afterwards discovered that the suspicious-looking fellows were a party of distinguished British archaeologists, searching after Roman pots and pans, accompanied by Mr Hulkes of Rochester, who had brought them in his splendid yacht the Gnome. The gentlemen consisted of Mr Jerdan the editor of the Literary Gazette; Mr Wright the editor of the Archaeological Album, and the Journal; Mr C Roach Smith, the founder of the association, and author of Collecteana Antiqua; Mr Fairholt, the draughtsman to the association; Mr A J Dunkin, the editor of the Canterbury Report; and Mr Wickham. Some very pretty specimens were dug up out of the mud, and heaps of fragments of futile ware. It is evident, from the amazing quantities which extend along the coast for six miles, that the spot was a famous mart for crockery during the Roman era.
In this period, a few letters from Jerdan carry the address of ‘Kilburn Priory’. The author William Harrison Ainsworth lived there and for about a year Jerdan found lodgings near to his friend. Boyle’s Fashionable Court & Country Guide and Town Visiting Directory of 1847 lists him as a resident (558).
Jerdan’s family with Mary was expanding yet again. According to the 1861 Census, Agnes Maxwell Jerdan was born in 1846, bringing the total of this third family to eight, with more to come. Agnes had been Jerdan’s mother’s name, but also the name of his elder daughter by Frances, so it seems curious that he chose this name for another daughter. Writing in September to Macvey Napier of the Edinburgh Review suggesting that he publish some reviews by Thomas Wright, Jerdan mentioned that he had been in indifferent health with severe bronchitis which he was anxious would go before winter or he would have a hard time of it. Nevertheless, he still had to meet his commitments and his contribution to the Miscellany in November was “Titular Confusion: The Borough-Title Terminus”. This was an amusing light confection on the comedies of errors arising from three Lords with almost identical titles staying at the same hotel. Cases of mistaken identity, missed dinners, letters wrongly opened, giving away secrets of cheating at horse-racing and other things the real addressee would rather not have made public, and every possible mishap cram this farcical story. Jerdan ended with a paragraph starting ‘Moral’. He asked the Queen to confer titles from India or China, to avoid such confusion in future, rather “than run the risk of any accidental mischance among the aristocracy, to whose example we are all bound to look up for the purest morality and correctness of conduct.” If the reader was unsure about the moral until the end, Jerdan’s tongue firmly in his cheek removed all doubt.
Short of funds yet again Jerdan tried Bentley on 3 November, shrewdly reminding him that the Literary Gazette was awaiting Bentley’s latest book, and then coaxed, “if you think my Miscellany contributions worth anything and will favour me with it, now will oblige me. I have a share call which I need all I can muster to make up, or lose a considerable deposit.” Bentley scrawled across this letter his computation that far from owing Jerdan anything, the debt was on Jerdan’s side, having been advanced £150 and earned only £63 5s and he therefore owed Bentley £86 15s (British Library MSS 46651/143). Furious, Jerdan fired back on 7 December,
I think if you yourself take a look at the account sent it to me you will repudiate all the statements 1837-40 never mentioned to me in any way during now six years. As for myself I have no memory, check nor notion about them; and only think that what appears as a debt due by me must have been your kindly accommodating me, for short periods with cash for cheques which were either at once or eventually paid. However determine as you think proper. I am not one of the cantankerous grumblers.
Trying to turn the knife, he reminded Bentley,
I have been consulted about the only worthy life and correspondence of T Campbell - if you have any wishes in that direction, you will do well to talk it over with me soon. Remember Borneo. You might have had - and a huge prize to its publishers. There is nothing like plainness and straightforward decision - and no varying afterwards.
This angry communication ended with some business concerning Landon’s works, with Jerdan trying to lay down the law:
With regard to the matter of our last conversation, I have the power to cover or guarantee you against any demand; but I must do the whole entirely in my own way, acting upon circumstances only known to myself. If you are agreeable to this, and will give £25 per Work, so guaranteed, I will trust my picture to the Engraver for that purpose only, and if you desire it write you a brief Sketch or Memoir. as the picture matter will cost me money down, I have only to add that your decision at once and a draught wd be the answer expected by Dear Bentley, Yrs faithfully,W Jerdan.
Stung, Bentley responded immediately on 7 December 1846:
Well! it is really a fine joke to call upon me to assist you in repudiating your debt to me in regard to the Miscellany. On a little reflection you must confess that this is asking rather too much of my complaisance. As to the way we may hereafter agree upon arranging that account is another affair. With respect to the Novels of L.E.L., Romance & Reality, Francesca Carrara and Ethel Churchill, I am willing, upon being guaranteed the undisturbed and sole remaining copyright in the three works to take them at your own valuation, namely £25 each. [8 December, probably 1846, Bodleian d. 113, f46.]
Jerdan responded that
My guarantee would be founded on the affairs many years before Mr Maclean appeared, which are amply sufficient for a hundred times the possible Contingency. But as you appear doubtful, I can only say that my offer was for the benefit of all parties, and that I have not the slightest desire to interfere with my responsibility.
This bad-tempered exchange may have been the cause of one of the shortest contributions Jerdan made to Bentley’s Miscellany in December 1846. The story was entitled “The Reasoning Schoolmaster – a real character”. Surprisingly, given its brevity and content, it was signed with his name and not his pseudonym. It took the form of a dialogue between a strict teacher and a pupil being caned for a minor offence. The beatings continued until the pupil thanked the teacher for the punishment. The teacher was then satisfied that justice had been done and acknowledged. Maybe Jerdan was thinking back to his own schooldays, or possibly this was an incident which one of his own children suffered. The sub-title indicates that it had the nub of a true story. It is not an entertaining piece especially in an issue around Christmas time, neither does it have an explicated moral as many of Jerdan’s stories did. It has the hallmark of haste and carelessness as if Jerdan had promised Bentley something and this was what came most easily to hand.
In the angry exchange between Jerdan and Bentley, Jerdan had alluded to a portrait and a memoir or sketch; these relate to two items Bentley was to publish within the next year or so, one being a “Biographical Sketch of L.E.L.” and the other, a new edition of Romance and Reality. Jerdan’s offer to Bentley of selling him the copyright in Landon’s three novels raises the question of his entitlement so to do. Laman Blanchard, who was her literary executor, had taken his own life in February 1845. Landon had died intestate, and it would appear that as Jerdan had been acting as her agent ever since her first works appeared in print there was now no-one else who had a greater claim to interest in her literary executorship. William Jerdan has been identified by Harry Ransom as an early literary agent, a claim based upon comments in Jerdan’s Autobiography, and in an archive of letters held at the University of Texas, consisting mainly of letters from Jerdan to Richard Bentley (H. Ransom). Twenty years later a page appeared in Notes & Queries entitled “William Jerdan: early literary agent”. The author of this piece (who had also written his PhD thesis on Jerdan and the Literary Gazette in the same year), used the same sources as the first writer on the subject, with the addition of correspondence files concerning Jerdan held at the Bodleian Library Oxford and, of course, Ransom’s published paper. Forty years later, much more material has become available, none of which confirms or refutes absolutely the labelling of Jerdan as a literary agent (Duncan. Notes and Queries [September 1968]: 346).
In his position as editor of the Literary Gazette, and being a man of legendary kindness and willingness to help authors, Jerdan was constantly asked for assistance in getting work published, for much of which help he appears to have been unpaid. In the first fifteen years of the Literary Gazette it (and therefore Jerdan), had great influence: he sat in the centre of a web of authors, printers, publishers, booksellers, engravers and artists, as well as scientists of all kinds, so was inevitably a facilitator between all these different interests. Many of Jerdan’s interventions between author and publisher have been noted in this present work as they arose, starting as far back as 1818, when he negotiated publication of Fitzclarence’s Journey from India to England with John Murray, who paid him seventy-five pounds, and another fifty pounds for Col. Hippesley’s Voyage to the Orinoko. Jerdan earned another one hundred pounds for negotiating the copyright to Hippesley (and a gift from the grateful author). He procured Alexander Fisher’s Journal of a Voyage of Discovery to the Arctic Regions and “saw it through the press”. He implied that this last action was for friendship; it was published by his Literary Gazette partner Longman & Co., and ran to several editions; it is possible that Longmans made Jerdan some payment for his services, although this is not known. He performed agent-type functions on many other occasions, including helping a writer, W. L. Bryan “prepare something for the press” in 1821, and after lengthy discussion succeeded in arranging for Longmans to publish Calthorpe for Thomas Gaspey, having been unsuccessful in interesting John Murray first. “Has any body, who reads this, ever had any experience of what it is to treat with a publisher for the publication of a new work by a little known author?” he asked plaintively, going on to print the anguished letters he received from Gaspey, before Longmans were persuaded to publish his work.
The part that Jerdan played as literary agent is most marked in the crucial role he played for Letitia Landon. Quite apart from his whole-hearted enthusiastic promotion of her poetry in the Literary Gazette, fired by her adoration and their long love affair, Jerdan took a central and active role when Landon published her books of poetry and prose. It has already been noted how he negotiated with Hurst Robinson to pay Landon three hundred pounds for The Improvisatrice, arranging that he would undertake proof-reading and discussing the frontispiece design, the best way to advertise the book, and how Landon was to be paid. When The Troubadour was ready he went into great detail with Robinson to get Landon the best possible return. Romance and Reality, published by Jerdan’s partner Colburn together with Bentley, occasioned correspondence in which Jerdan discussed the financial aspect of the deal on Landon’s behalf, and after Blanchard’s death he took on the role of her literary executor, negotiating the sale of her copyrights to Bentley. Other authors wanted his help too; one asked him to handle drafting a contract with publishers, and another to polish her work and try to get it published. He acted as agent between a Miss Landau and Longmans in 1820, the publishers advising him that they agreed to divide profits on her book of poems, and contrary to usual practice, would advance her two hundred pounds on the day of publication. Miss Landau, as a woman, plainly felt that she could not negotiate such terms with Longmans without help.
Occasions where Jerdan tried to smooth over disagreements which involved his friends have been interpreted as evidence of his acting as ‘agent’; however, it seems much more likely that he was acting merely as a friendly moderator, with no financial involvement whatsoever. Twice there were disputes between the novelist G.P.R. James and Bentley; in 1838, following James’s failure to produce Romances promised the previous year, Bentley had made an unreasonable demand for a three volume book to be ready within three months, and another three months later. The two parties could not agree and James turned to Jerdan for help, complaining that he had worked solidly for Bentley, unpaid, for several months. Bentley did not welcome Jerdan’s interference complaining bitterly to him, “what appeared to me both parties required was a mediator, not an arbitrator. By being put in possession of the view of both Mr James and myself, you would be best able to give advice in the matter and best serve both parties.” James thanked Jerdan “most sincerely for all the exertion, all the zeal, and all the interest you have displayed in this business. Knowing well the immensity you have to do, I can appreciate fully the sacrifice of time that you must have made. I need not tell you that I appreciate no less the friendship which prompted that sacrifice, or the judgment that brought it to a good result.” Jerdan’s personal friendship was with James, but his business relationship was with Bentley, and he tried to do his best for both parties. In the end he put the manuscript into Bentley’s hands, “and the affair was quietly finished”. On another occasion he told Bentley “I have seen Mr Weld today and he says he is sure Mr James would willingly refer the matter between you and him to be settled by me…I have moved in this business on your saying that if I cd manage it, it wd be the greatest service I cd render you – I merely mention the grounds that there may be no mistake hereafter”. Jerdan certainly owed Bentley a favour, in return for his constant drain on Bentley’s finances, but in the end the dispute was not solved. Bentley was also involved in a difficulty with Anna Eliza Bray over the poor sale of her works, and his intention to reduce her payments; she turned to Jerdan to intervene on her behalf. Here again, it is questionable whether the intervention was as a ‘friend’ or an ‘agent’ and although she promised that “one day you will find me really grateful in deeds as well as words” given that she was a middle-aged lady married to a clergyman, her ‘deeds’ could only refer to future acts of kindness to Jerdan, to reciprocate the kindness she requested of him. Jerdan reported a more business-like episode when the Misses Spence and Webb asked him and Landon to join them in a project, “The Tabby’s Magazine”, as they did not feel it was possible for them to find and negotiate with publishers directly, and Jerdan had the necessary contacts and experience.
In August of an unknown year, Jerdan approached Bentley in a clear role as agent for unnamed authors:
Are you inclined to speculate on my judgment for a novel on a very popular and interesting subject – written by more than one person high in literary reputation – but to be utterly secret…the price of a hundred pounds down and hundred on receiving all the MSS and a hundred on publishing a 750 Edition.
Now there is a pig in a poke for you, which in my opinion wd turn out a good fat sow; but you must judge for yourself what my judgment is worth.
It is unlikely that Bentley agreed to this “pig” without seeing a manuscript, and Jerdan’s fee, if there was to be one from the aspiring authors, would have been lost.
Involvement in the ill-fated ‘Juvenile Library’ has been cited as evidence that Jerdan was an ‘agent’, as he was to select authors and titles, and agree their rates of pay. In the event as mentioned earlier, to Jerdan’s disgust Bentley tried to negotiate directly with the authors and the series soon failed.
Many of the surviving letters are not the business correspondence of a ‘literary agent’ but are typical of Jerdan’s goodwill and kindness, full of good advice and introductions that might prove beneficial. There was no such profession as ‘literary agent’ in Jerdan’s time, and he clearly assumed the activities of that role as part of his daily routine; there is little surviving evidence that he profited financially by these kindnesses, although as he admitted, he was never averse to receiving “gifts” from grateful friends.
One commentator noted John Forster (and T. Watts-Dunton who was active from 1880), as “two of the most notable informal agents in the whole century”. The activities noted for Forster, mainly in connection with his work for Dickens, were similar to those of Jerdan in the same period, although possibly Forster was held in higher esteem by some. Thackeray observed of Forster, “Whenever anybody is in a scrape we all fly to him for refuge – he is omniscient and works miracles.” Jerdan and Forster worked together for their disputing principals Bentley and Dickens, coming to an amicable and gentlemanly agreement over copyrights. Like Jerdan, Forster was not paid for such a function – it was all part of the day’s work.
Sir Walter Scott apparently employed paid agents, the Ballantyne brothers, and if this was their role, rather than ‘merely’ printers and publishers of Scott’s work, then they pre-date the period of Jerdan’s activity by a few years; the Ballantynes’ function after 1813 was also to handle Scott’s dealings with publishers; they “suggested terms, played off John Murray against Constable, and concluded agreements.” If Ballantyne acted as Scott’s ‘literary agent’ it was not, at the outset, in a commercial sense; he insisted that Scott rewrite the first twenty-four pages of St Ronan’s Well, “to keep the Waverley novels the moral model acceptable by all”. Subsequently he was, with Constable, Scott’s partner in the “close vertical and horizontal concentration of media ownership.” When the whole elaborate edifice built around Scott came crashing down in 1826, Scott’s lawyer became his agent, negotiating successfully with Longman’s for Woodstock. This merging of the job of ‘literary agent’ with the functions of printer, publisher or lawyer serves to highlight the accepted practice of, in today’s jargon, “multi-tasking”, and nowhere was this more true than in the case of William Jerdan, whose vast web of contacts facilitated his involvement at all stages of the business of publishing.
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Last modified 11 July 2020