Decorated initial J

s the year opened, Jerdan was on the point of losing his beloved Literary Gazette. On 15 February 1850 he made another appearance in the Bankruptcy Court. He was told to bring proof of his debts before Commissioner Holroyd on 18 June. This worry, and the recent deaths of his younger brother and of his daughter must have somewhat overshadowed the birth on 6 March of another boy, their eleventh child, born to Mary Maxwell (Birth Registrations, St. George, Southwark 4.484). They called him John, suggesting that the first John, born ten years earlier, had died in the interim, though no death registration has been found to corroborate this supposition. Now, “Mary Ann Jerdan, formerly Maxwell” was living at 2 Richmond Place, St George’s Road, Southwark, and on registering his son, Jerdan styled himself in the nick of time, as “Editor of Literary Gazette” – the last time he was able to proudly put this on an official document.

Another significant event occurred for one of Jerdan’s children on 17 March 1850. Laura Landon, daughter of L.E.L., was almost twenty-one when she had herself christened which her parents had seemingly failed to do at her birth. Laura had been brought up from an early age by Theophilus and Mary Goodwin. By 1851 Goodwin was a Master Silk Manufacturer employing three hundred and twenty people people, and the family lived in Islington, at Alford Cottage, Roseberry Place, where Laura appeared in the Census as ‘Niece’. According to Christening Records of St Michael’s Queenhithe, the christening took place on 17 March 1850 (City of London LDS Film No. 0374509). Errors on the baptism certificate suggest that she regarded Goodwin as her father, as his name was first written, but then heavily over-written by “Jerdan”. In the space for “Occupation of Father” was first written “Silk Manufacturer”, subsequently crossed through and “Gentleman” written instead. It could be concluded from these changes that Laura had only recently been told about her real parentage, perhaps as she approached her 21st birthday, and although she certainly had contact with Jerdan in subsequent years, his was not the name she instantly thought of as her Father when asked for information at her christening. It is not known whether Jerdan was invited to witness this important event in his daughter’s life, nor is it known how the Goodwins came to adopt her as their own, or whether Laura’s brother and sister had similar good fortune in their foster-parents. Jerdan’s life poses many unanswered questions.

Despite Jerdan’s best endeavours he must by this time have been despondent and weary, as the Literary Gazette “dwindled, became small by degrees, and beautifully less” (4.362). He was struggling to keep it alive; in the first few months of 1850, and indeed until October when Charles Swain sent him a note, this and other surviving letters show that Jerdan was still receiving submissions, welcoming contributions, and sending books for review. He kept Halliwell busy, asking him on 19 April 1850 for a second article on Dyce. “I should not like to pass it or him so lightly as one single notice” Jerdan said, remembering his long connection with Dyce, to whom he had inscribed a copy of his biography of the poet James Thomson, written in his youth (Edinburgh LOA 54/77). Dyce had also edited several publications for the Camden and Percy Societies, and so they were more recently acquainted. Jerdan’s letters to Halliwell came from an address of “Briars, Forest Hill”, but he later moved to Swanscombe, Kent.

As Jerdan’s journal declined, Charles Dickens started one of his own. The first number of Household Words appeared on 30 March and cost two pence. Dickens’s purpose was to have a journal “in which he could speak personally to the large circle of readers whom his name had drawn to him” (Lohrli 3). Agreeing with Jerdan’s moral standard for the Literary Gazette, and in common with his own novels, Dickens would publish nothing which, in the words of Mr Podsnap, “would bring a blush to the cheek of a young person”. Unlike the Literary Gazette however, the new journal did not review books, nor discuss them as literature, but it did summarize them and quote selections. Dickens’s direct competitors were Eliza Cook’s Journal and Douglas Jerrold’s Shilling Magazine which, like Household Words, were also concerned with social issues. Leigh Hunt contributed prolifically to the new magazine, and his articles were published as a book in 1855. Jerdan, however, did not contribute to Household Words for several years, until 1857.

In Tait’s Edinburgh Magazine of May 1850, was a long review entitled “The Papacy under Napoleon”, and signed with the initials W.J. (and attributed by the Wellesley Index to Jerdan). The subject was one with which there is no other indication that Jerdan was familiar, books on religious matters having played little part in his literary life. He was, however, always interested in history and this may have been the aspect that attracted him. Tait’s made no distinction between Jerdan’s own words and what appears to be a lengthy extract from the book under ‘review’, Historical Memoirs of Cardinal Pacca, Prime Minister to Pius VII. Jerdan praised the translator Sir George Head, and the first paragraphs gave a brief introduction to Cardinal Pacca, presumably culled by Jerdan from the book. With no quotation marks or other evidence that the body of the review was directly extracted from the book, the final paragraph seemed to revert to the reviewer, commenting that the memoirs were of much general interest and of historical value. “They have some bearing on questions now affecting Rome and the Papacy; above all, they are important to teach vain-glorious Frenchmen, sighing for empire, what France may gain and lose under a Bonaparte empire.” Jerdan, hater of Napoleon, steered a neutral course avoiding direct political comment, as advised so long ago by George Canning.

It was finally the end of the road for his beloved Literary Gazette. Jerdan would not describe the actions of another by which he was “finally and foully done, not only out of the property, but out of the editing and income attached to it by a regular written agreement” (4.262). Tales of wrongs would not interest his readers, he said. Death and retirement necessitated new arrangements for printing and publishing. As Jerdan told the story he was – yet again – the unfortunate victim of someone else’s fault. His account was decidedly murky and lacking in particulars; he claimed that he was betrayed by “the best intentions of one of my best and dearest friends, into contracts with parties who proved every way unworthy of trust. An aim to attain an ulterior object and supplant me in my copyright property, was from the beginning cunningly and systematically pursued.” Such scheming was exacerbated by Jerdan’s old nemesis – not taking care of the accounts. He sank into “the lower still” and was confused and muddled. This made him vulnerable, he said, to intrigue and plotting and there was a “final contest, from which the much-changed Gazette was rescued, but I fell a victim to as gross malignity as ever was foully resorted to in revenge for disappointed roguery.” Jerdan seemed more offended by being taken to task for not keeping adequate account books than for any other failings, inserting a note into his record of events that “An envenomed injury was done me, not as a gentleman, a man of honour, but as a trader…” This was construed as an insult to the essentially eighteenth-century literary man who had nevertheless guided much of the reading public throughout three decades in the first half of the nineteenth century. The kind and decent man Jerdan was (setting aside some of his personal life), did not seem able to grasp the necessity in the fast, new, changed world in which he found himself, that business had to be attended to according to rules and law, even when one had no liking or aptitude for such work. The exact circumstances of the Literary Gazette’s fate were vague, and Jerdan was no more explicit in his personal correspondence. A letter in Houghton Library, Harvard University, dated 15 January, probably of 1851, from Blenheim Villas, gave no indication of his addressee, but it might have been Halliwell, because of the reference to their mutual friend Wright:

My dear Sir,

My head is so confused that I do not know that I have written to you since yours of the 11th.

The utter rascality of the persons now holding the LG by a succession of gross swindling is amost incredible; but that may rest for exposure and I need not trouble friends with the distress into which it has plunged me. I would to heaven another Journal could be brought on on the original plan with some improvements, and I think it wd soon succeed – but – but the capital is wanting among us all, though there are learning, talent and ability enough for an excellent publication.

It might be an efficient organ of Archaeology and bright general literature. But where is the Maecaenas, or the Trader, who wd be content with a fair share? Your ideas are good, but. I have left the Quarterly to be returned to you in the city. In a scheme I scratched out and gave to Wright, I included your name as a valuable contributor – we could be very strong.

I have a very long explanatory letter from the Marquis which I shd like to show you – “private”.

Most truly yours,

Jerdan’s unwillingness to explain what happened may indicate his own failings in the matter, but this letter shows his eagerness to bounce back with another journal, surely not least because of his urgent need for income.

Jerdan’s Literary Gazette had enjoyed success for more than twenty years, and some reasons for its subsequent failure have been suggested as they occurred: he stuck firmly to his own rules of reviewing books of good morals and good taste, suitable for young ladies and family reading; he swam almost always with the tide of public opinion, not against it; he discovered, promoted and was loyal to many young writers, not only Landon, but Procter, Montgomery and others, and enjoyed to the utmost the social contacts his editorship offered. Some of these “positives” were also “negatives”, to use Jerdan’s own metaphor of the vacillating needle: his loyalty and personal taste for moral works blinkered him to changes in popular taste, as in his inability to understand such as William Wordsworth, Samuel Taylor Coleridge or Thomas Carlyle, and to his continued enthusiastic support of minor poets such as Felicia Hemans and Joanna Baillie because he admired their piety in precedence over their poetic skills.

What is certain is that Jerdan had, for four decades, a huge energy and output of work, the ability to produce a lively and detailed paper on a regular weekly basis, sometimes in the face of tremendous difficulties when printer or publisher failed; he was active in raising three separate families, in membership of several learned societies, in pursuing his interests in archaeology, history and antiquities, in theatre and shows of all kinds, and generally in keeping all of these balls in the air over long periods, with frequent financial disasters, some but not all, of his own making. His ultimate failure was, perhaps, exacerbated by his refusal through vanity or penury to hire others more equipped than he to deal with such authors and works that he found unpalatable or difficult. However, he was so closely identified with the Literary Gazette, and so closely did he identify himself with it, that he would have found such passing-off most unpleasant, always excepting the invaluable help that he acknowledged he had received from Landon, their close relationship at that time making them almost inseparable. In short, the very characteristics of morality, sentimentality and closeness to the public taste, which had made the Literary Gazette so popular and successful in the 1820s and 1830s, were those same characteristics which Jerdan did not, or could not change, and which caused its decline throughout the 1840s.

On the financial side, given Jerdan’s history of defaulting on loans or of borrowing from Peter to pay Paul, it is probable that he had put the Gazette up as security against loans which he was unable to repay. The paper would thus fall into the hands of those who held his pledges, either directly or were sold on to other interested parties, who became the new owners of Jerdan’s journal. That he had finally lost control of the Literary Gazette is evident from an announcement in the paper on 30 November 1850, that the price would drop from 4d to 3d on 1 January, and that it would henceforth be confined to literature, dropping all other departments, and that from January, all “Order and Advertisements will in future be received by Messrs Reeve and Benham, 5 Henrietta Street, Covent Garden, where, after the 1st January 1851, the Literary Gazette will be published.” Lovell Augustus Reeve and James Macaulay succeeded Jerdan as Editor either immediately, or within a year. The Gazette was to have a further eight editors, and merge with The Parthenon before it finally expired in 1863.

The first Literary Gazette of 1851 published now by Reeve and Benham, announced a new Editor, an extended circle of contributors and a reduced price, in “the hope of regaining the position it once held in the periodical literature of this country.” Cold comfort to Jerdan who was now, after nearly half a century, out of work. Of his first family two children were dead, two married, one in India and the last, William Freeling, working with him. Two of Landon’s children were living abroad, although Laura was still in London. Jerdan and Mary Maxwell were still producing children and living in difficult circumstances. In one considerable way it was the end of an era, but in Jerdan’s domestic life, things were very much the same as ever. He had a note from the Rev. William Bruce Robertson who had heard him read a paper somewhere and wished to know him better, warmly inviting him to Edinburgh. He requested Jerdan to give his “special regards to Mrs Jerdan and warmest remembrances of course to the yr 10 old with so much of the dew of his youth upon him” (Edinburgh Gen. 1983/65). From this it is evident that Jerdan’s current family was by now public knowledge. The ten-year old boy could have been Charles, William or Walter, but as the letter is undated, one cannot be sure; what is clear is that Mary Maxwell was known as Mrs Jerdan and was, by now, meeting at least some of Jerdan’s acquaintance.

The news quickly spread that Jerdan “had been violently and disgracefully terminated” from his thirty-three year connection with the Literary Gazette, and had fallen upon hard times (4.368). His friends did not desert him. William Francis Ainsworth loyally wrote to him at Christmas, “I hope you are making arrangements about a new Gazette. It is evident you ought to do so as the old one will soon not be worth picking up in the streets” (26 December 1850; MsL A2969j, Iowa). Other friends set about two projects to alleviate his predicament. One was to lobby for a pension for him, the other to open a subscription for a public testimonial on his behalf.

The petition for a pension for “the literary labours of Mr token of our approbation of his meritorious efforts during a long series of years…” was signed by several Lords and a bishop who added a note “with special reference to the conduct of the Literary Gazette as regards its moral tendencies during a long course of years”. This would have pleased Jerdan, who had set much store by his journal’s moral integrity. The ‘Memorial’ or petition was sent to Lord John Russell, the Prime Minister in July 1850, with a covering note from Jerdan’s lifelong friend the Lord Chief Baron Frederick Pollock. The fund was dry, however, and Russell suggested another application be made the following year.

With time to spare, Jerdan made the first of his many contributions to the magazine Notes & Queries, which had been launched the previous year by the antiquary W. J. Thorns. Its object was for readers to ask and answer questions primarily concerned with English language, literature and lexicography, history and antiquarianism. Jerdan’s foray was about a notice of a paraphrase of the Bible which he had examined and found the manuscript to be “utterly unfit for decent perusal”. Having delivered himself of this opinion, Jerdan made no further published contributions to Notes & Queries for another five years, although several entries mentioned his name, usually in connection with quotations from the Literary Gazette.

He would have noted with interest the publication of Leigh Hunt’s Autobiography, aware of the many parallels in their respective lives. Hunt received excellent reviews, except from John Forster who complained that he had not been mentioned enough (Holden 285). Hunt had hoped to be made Poet Laureate but, in 1843 on the death of Southey, had been passed over in favour of Wordsworth, who had himself now just died; Hunt’s bid for the honour was opposed by the Athenaeum and Hunt accepted that Alfred Tennyson was the worthy holder of the post. The plaudits that Hunt received for his Autobiography may well have given Jerdan the idea to write his own book, which appeared two years later.

J. M. W. Turner. Signed by “P. McDowell. Sculp. London.” Stone. St. Paul's Cathedral, London. [Click on images to enlarge them.]

1851 was the year J. W. M. Turner died and was buried in St. Paul’s; the Pre-Raphaelite brotherhood, founded three years earlier, got into its stride and, more significantly, it was the year of the Great Exhibition at Crystal Palace. Jerdan made no mention of going to see this, but it is inconceivable that he failed to do so, loving as he did all kinds of ‘shows’. He was surely one of the six million who attended, travelling on one of the three thousand omnibuses which London now boasted, each with ten horses, carrying three hundred people a day. The year marked the juncture between the discontents of the ‘Condition of England’ period and what has been called ‘the age of equipoise’ (Ford). Engel’s Condition of the Working Classes in England had been published seven years earlier. Popular literature had left behind Romantic poetry and silver fork novels, and embraced the tales of Dickens, then turned to Anthony Trollope, William Makepeace Thackeray, and George Eliot. Carlyle’s ‘heroic’ books of the 1830s had seized the Victorian mind, although this terminology is applied with hindsight, his works straddling Victoria’s accession to the throne.

The turning-point of the year in the context of British history, from years of war and tumult to comparative calm and prosperity, reflected a time of change in Jerdan’s own life, from a busy journalist and editor of the Literary Gazette, to an unemployed and almost unemployable, unhappy, impoverished man. How fortunes had changed from twenty years earlier when Jerdan was at the peak of his career, in love with Landon, and a valued member of the learned societies. Now he was reduced to asking Macready for a stall at the theatre. “Poor fellow”, Macready wrote in his diary on 25 February 1851. He himself was suffering – the previous day his eldest daughter Nina had died, the second of his children to pre-decease him. Jerdan wanted the seat for Macready’s farewell performance on the following day, when he played Macbeth. Jerdan was amongst the usual crowd including Dickens and Edward Bulwer-Lytton, who came to his room after the performance.

Jerdan’s bankruptcy proceedings had culminated on 18 June when he appeared with proof of his debts. He must have then been officially declared bankrupt as, when he found himself in Court yet again, he was described as “insolvent”. This Court appearance was in an action taken by Silverlock, the printer of the Literary Gazette against Thomas Irwin, husband of Frances-Agnes, Jerdan’s eldest daughter. The case concerned a number of bills of exchange drawn by the printer and accepted by Jerdan, and also for work done for Irwin for which he had paid £168 into Court. The Times report noted on 18 February that Jerdan was, in August 1847, the registered proprietor of the Literary Gazette but that he had two dormant partners, the brothers Irwin. Silverlock, who knew of this partnership and believed the Literary Gazette was solvent, had invested in new types and commenced work at £13.12.0 a week. His bills were paid by Jerdan initially but by the end of November 1847 they were in arrears. He then applied to Irwin at his place of work, the Audit Office, and was told that Irwin denied liability and had severed his connection with the Literary Gazette. He was therefore free of any liability incurred by the journal especially as the bills had been accepted by Jerdan alone. The jury had to determine whether Silverlock had already known about the dissolution of the partnership; they could not decide the point, and “it was agreed that the printer should have the verdict for the balance of £400 if the Court were of opinion there was any evidence of the plaintiff’s knowledge of the dissolution”. This affair, together with the no doubt unpleasant situation of dissolving their brief partnership, must have strained relations between Jerdan and his son-in-law who had probably entered into such an agreement in an attempt to help Jerdan in troubled times.

Dickens was elected to the Council of the Royal Literary Fund in 1851. Dissatisfied with the management of the Fund, Dickens attempted reform on two fronts, spending the next year trying to reform the administration of the Fund, in the face of increasing opposition from the more conservative members. He wanted to ensure that authors applying for aid were not treated as beggars but could retain some dignity. He also protested that the administration costs were out of all proportion to the funds distributed to applicants (Cross 18). He also wanted to empower the Council which, due to an error in the amended Charter of 1847, had lost any power over the Committee and the work of the Royal Literary Fund. Failing to persuade the Royal Literary Fund, Dickens and Bulwer-Lytton, started a Guild of Literature and Art. Jerdan believed that the Guild “was an enlarged and probably more skilfully modelled adoption” of his earlier plan. The Guild’s principle was to honour professional writers by granting pensions and, if necessary, accommodation. Outraged by Dickens’s unmistakeable portrait of him as Skimpole in Bleak House, Leigh Hunt refused to join the Guild, but Charles Dilke of the Athenaeum and John Forster did join it. It was a success for a short time, but was outlasted by the Royal Literary Fund, which is still in existence.

In the face of Dickens’s prolonged campaign the Royal Literary Fund set up a Special Committee to look into reform, which itself set up a sub-committee to recommend extensions to the Fund’s policies. These extensions sound very much like the proposals Jerdan had claimed to put forward a couple of years earlier: granting of pensions and loans to authors, the Fund’s premises to be a literary club and hotel, and the founding of a college. There was money for this, as the Permanent Fund had accrued £21,000 since 1802, and subscriptions could be raised from a public appeal. A further proposal of the sub-committee was to rename the fund the “Literary Institution of Great Britain” (Cross 1). Predictably, other committee members vetoed the proposals, horrified at the notion of spending funds on providing a literary club and using the Fund’s premises as a hotel for literary men. Dickens fought on for the next few years.

Jerdan claimed to have made a proposal to the Royal Literary Fund to provide housing for “unsuccessful and worn out authors” (4.37). He said he had a promise of Crown lands for free, in Essex, a list of donations over one thousand pounds and volunteer gifts of manuscripts for publication, the fees for which were to be added to the Fund. Some on the Committee opposed him and his plan was not adopted.

There were troubles afoot in another charity connected with literature. In May 1852 John Chapman, publisher of ‘free-thinking’ books and new owner of the Westminster Review, mounted a campaign against the Booksellers’ Association, a price-fixing cartel which prevented small publishers offering discounts of more than 10% on the published price. Dickens chaired the meeting and letters of support from Leigh Hunt, William Ewart Gladstone, John Stuart Mill and others were read out. Jerdan, whose interests lay with the Booksellers Provident Society and their Retreat, was not noted as being present at this meeting. His presence was felt, however, at a meeting of the Royal Society of Literature on 27 February, when a memoir he had written was read. This was on An Interesting Passage in the Life of Mary Queen of Scots during the time of her Imprisonment in England. The Athenaeum of 5 April 1851 reported that this was an abstract of correspondence between Philip II of Spain and the Duke of Alva during 1569-71; the letters were preserved in an archive in Brussels (384).

Whilst the application for Jerdan’s pension was initially rejected, the proposed Testimonial was drawn up. On March 30th Jerdan told his friend A. Forrester (pseud. Crowquill) that it far exceeded his “most sanguine expectations; there are fifty members and every name of public note and value: some of the highest in every walk of life and literature. I am gratified beyond expression” (Huntington). He had some personal problems, however; “a painful face ache and face so swollen and distorted that you would not have recognized me – so out of drawing and drawing out – except teeth.” He had also been “run down by a street cab and a narrow escape with life and limb.” Taking his mind off these troubles he heard from Dickens who, accepting his invitation to serve on the Testimonial Committee, urged Jerdan on 8 February 1851, “I strongly advise this – that there be no public notification of, or allusion to, the design, until that committee shall have been formed and shall have met and decided on their course. It seems to me exceedingly important, for many reasons, to be strict in observing this rule” (Letters). Disillusioned, Crofton Croker however, declined to serve on the Committee telling Balmanno, “it was very painful for me to refuse, but it was due to my own character as a man of integrity to do so” (Pyle 231). Although sympathetic to Jerdan, Croker believed “he certainly has much to blame himself for and has ship-wrecked his character with respect to his utter wrecklessness respecting money matters…This is a sad thing – but that it would come to this was foreseen by everyone twenty years ago or even more.” Everyone, he meant, except Jerdan.

The Committee’s first meeting took place on 14 April, and was duly reported in The Times. By the meeting in August, at the Royal Society of Literature, there were an impressive sixty-eight members whom Jerdan proudly listed in his Autobiography. He had reason to be proud as his list began with the illustrious Lord Brougham, included his old friends the Lord Chief Baron and Lord Warren de Tabley, many from the worlds of art and literature, and even the actor Macready who had been so exasperated by Jerdan’s constant borrowing and non-repayment of loans. Jerdan quoted from the Globe newspaper of April 1851 the grounds for raising the subscription:

‘That the literary labours of such a man are well deserving of a special mark of public estimation’ and that it had been ‘resolved to open a subscription for the expression of this opinion by all friends of Literature, Arts, ad Sciences, who may have appreciated the devotedness of the Editor of the ‘Literary Gazette’ and the influence of his writings during this long period’ (thirty-four years); and farther, ‘To acknowledge his services in a gratifying and suitable manner by presenting him with a lasting token of the esteem in which he is held by the literary world.’ And to this the editor of the journal liberally added:-

This task so honourable to all concerned, has been undertaken by a committee of nearly seventy noblemen and gentlemen, representing every high order and class of intellectual society, and especially by Mr Jerdan’s distinguished literary contemporaries, who thus unanimously unite in recommending his services in the Press to the notice of the country which has profited by them. In few words we may assert that the example of the ‘Literary Gazette’ opened the way to, and effected a complete revolution in, periodical publications. Previous to its appearance, literature, the fine arts, and the sciences were very rarely mentioned in the journals; but now they have not only separate organs, but form prominent parts and portions of every periodical throughout the British Empire. Need we stop to observe the consequences of this system on their diffusion, encouragement and improvement.

Entirely in accord with the quarrels and problems Jerdan had encountered in his literary life, according to his own account the committee quarrelled amongst themselves, did not publish the list of subscribers as was the norm, and failed to accept voluntary offers of co-operation from towns and provinces. Jerdan was flattered that committee meetings were held at the premises of the Royal Society of Literature, and despite the subscription list not being published, he set it out in his Autobiography, showing the contributions of 142 people, ranging from fifty pounds to five shillings. Names of several Literary Gazette contributors were on his list, such as the poets Bryan Procter and Charles Swain, George Croly and Thomas Gaspey; Maclise subscribed, as did Dickens and Thackeray, and his old friend Edward Bulwer, now Sir Edward Bulwer Lytton, Bart. Jerdan himself took an active part causing Crofton Croker to tell Balmanno that “Jerdan is now reduced to the humiliating position of soliciting a subscription for his support” (Pyle 230). On 16 and 30 August 1851 Notes & Queries published a subscription list, as an incentive to their readers to make their own contribution in appreciation of Jerdan’s long years as Editor of the Literary Gazette, following this up with a further notice two weeks later. The total amounted to £900. Jerdan was “proud and grateful” for this tribute, but noted sadly that

It might be deemed an involuntary compliment to the honour and independence of the Gazette, that this tributary testimonial to its services to literature has not been signed by a number of publishers; but I am forced by truth to say that their public abstinence is of a different colour from their private assurances. I have quires of letters asking favours, and piles of letters returning thanks for them when they could be granted, from nearly every member of ‘the Trade’; but Messrs Longman and Co., and John Murray, in London and Blackwood and Robert Chambers in Edinburgh, are the only exceptions to the rule of economic oblivion. I confess that I looked for many a token, and that the slightest would have been the most agreeable to me; but I reconcile myself to the condition of the world by re-perusing a few of the olden epistles, expressive of such everlasting gratitude. They are very edifying, and would make an amusing olio for publication. [4.375]

Blackwood had subscribed £20, Longmans £50, and Murray £25. By casually mentioning a possible publication of an ‘olio’ (a ‘miscellany’) Jerdan may have been holding out a veiled threat to all those whom he deemed ungrateful – ingratitude being one of the worst sins, in his opinion.

Jerdan did his best to carry on with life as normally as possible with no employment and no income. He was still a committee member of the Statistical Section of the British Association for the Advancement of Science, and in June attended its 21st meeting, in Ipswich. He wrote to his host on June 22nd, “With regard to myself and the British Association, I believe I am the only individual who has attended every meeting since the first; and been, besides, a faithful historian of them all. This is some merit and not unworthy of acknowledgement. Forgive the egotism, of which I am rarely guilty” (Bodleian MS. Autogr. b.10). Jerdan could well be forgiven for trying to salvage some remnant of merit from the fiasco that was now his life.

The Census of 1851 revealed that William Freeling Jerdan and his wife Louisa had left Grafton Street, where Mary Power had died two years earlier, and were now living at 10 East Street, St Georges, Southwark, with Louisa’s parents, a sure sign that economically life was as tough for William the son as it was for William the father. Louisa’s father was unemployed and her mother a needlewoman; they shared their home with four other children and a servant. By the time of this Census Jerdan saw no more need for the pseudonym of Stewart, behind which he hid in the previous Census in Hercules Buildings. Now briefly resident at Blenheim Villas, Charlton, in Kent, he was in plain view, (although wrongly spelled by the census transcription as Jerdon), aged sixty-seven, with Mary, thirty-four. From this census we learn that Mary was born in Bath, Somerset and that her mother Ann was living with them, no doubt helping to care for a growing family. The two eldest girls, Marion and Matilda, aged 15 and 14, were still at home; Charles and John, children listed on the 1841 census disappeared from this one, John having presumably died and been replaced by the second John aged one year. Agnes Maxwell Jerdan did not appear on this Census, although on the following one in 1861 her age is given as fifteen. (The IGI record gives the mother as “Marian Maxwell”, but inaccurate transcription of names often arises and even in official documents Mary Ann was variously spelled as Maria, Mary Ann, Marianne or Marion.) William, Walter, Emma, Gilbert and George, aged between 7 and 3 had been added to the family in the last ten years, all the children born in “Middlesex, London”. Mary Maxwell had given birth to at least eleven children in fifteen years. The Census entry also recorded a Thomas Stewart, an unmarried relation of 22, a School Assistant.

Francis Bennoch, 1812-1890 by William Ridgway after Alexander Johnston.

Courtesy of the National Scottish Portrait Gallery.

The family at Blenheim Villas were living next door to Francis Bennoch, then aged thirty-eight and his wife Margaret and her mother. Jerdan told the childless Bennoch, “I don’t know how you manage, but every one of my children gets as attached to you as yours truly” (MsL J55bAc, Iowa). The son of the American writer and US Consul Nathaniel Hawthorne who was a close friend of Bennoch’s, recalled him as “a superb specimen of a human being…sparkling black eyes full of hearty sunshine and kindness, a broad and high forehead over bushy brows, and black wavy hair...he was the kindest, jolliest, most hospitable, most generous and chivalrous of men, and his affection and admiration for my father were also of the superlative kind” (Hawthorne and his Circle 88). A few years later Nathaniel Hawthorne visited Bennoch at his home: “Reaching Mr Bennoch’s house, we found it a pretty and comfortable one, and adorned with many works of art; for he seems to be a patron of art and literature, and a warm hearted man, of active benevolence and vivid sympathies in many directions. His face shows this. I have never seen eyes of a warmer glow than his” (Hawthorne, English Notebooks 291). The Jerdan children evidently had good instincts as far as their neighbour was concerned. The Bennochs proved to be good and supportive friends throughout this difficult time for Jerdan. In his best hand-writing and, unusually, dating his letter, “Gloomy November the First A.D. 1851” Jerdan wrote to Mrs Bennoch, “Your hospitalities have so cheered me with poetic society of late that I think it must have re-lighted my old feeble rushlight and tempted me again to try versification” (MsL J55bAc, Iowa). He told her of the robin redbreast which sang at Blackheath railway station, inspiring the seven verses he wrote on the train, set out for her delight. The robin’s life was more free than man’s, he believed:

What is’t to you whose golden breast
Still marks that happy age,
Ere toil the youthful world opprest,
Or Care filled life’s next page!

The verse was no worse than many Jerdan had published in the Literary Gazette or the various annual over the years, but he did not take his effort too seriously: “Say let Charles Swain read this in his best manner and weep…I defy any of them, including Mr Fields, to spoil the ‘Poetry’!?!”

Mrs Bennoch enjoyed his verse and restored Jerdan’s self-confidence. He promised to bring her one of his ‘jeux d’esprits’, when he next came to visit, a celebration of Lord Mayor’s Day published in the Literary Gazette of 1830. In his letter of 4 November 1856 he joked, “It is as full of puns as Hood could have stuck it, and consequently a disgrace to the ‘solidarity’ (I do love new words)” (MsL J55bAc, Iowa). Jerdan told her that he had enjoyed the volume of Fields’s poetry she had lent to him, and was pleased to have the American’s favourable opinion. The volume had been published by Fields’s partner Ticknor in 1849. Jerdan, sadly noting “ Sat. night and no grog”, returned the book to Bennoch, with a note of his five preferences. As Fields was a “friend and admirer of [Samuel] Lover’s” Jerdan would “be glad to have a meet in my humble willa” (Huntington Fl 2840-1).

In December Jerdan moved to Parkwood House in Swanscombe, Kent, from where he wrote to Bennoch, “The Weekly Paper suggestion if entertained had better be thought of at once – my notion is that it won’t keep intact, and if we do not intrude, somebody else will. I think it safe now, as it is capable of being raised to a superb position both for profit and as a powerful organ – and unless J. is unreasonable, suspectible of an excellent practical arrangement, good for All” (MsL J55bAc, Iowa) Referring to a character from a music hall song, he hoped “Hookey Walker could be made easy…for I faint when I look round me, and the whole tribe of Israel gaping up to My dear Bennoch, (no, not to you, but to) yours most truly, W. Jerdan.” His “tribe of Israel” was an apt metaphor: Mary and eleven children relied on him for everything. He desperately needed to create some income, and from the content of this letter seems to have tried to persuade Bennoch to finance a new paper.

Some relief was imminent, as he had been negotiating with Hall and Virtue to write his Autobiography. He confided to the sculptor Durham that he expected “a fair partition of the profits; and I am not without hopes that my Publisher wd have nothing to regret in the issue. Expedite this if opportunity offers. From what I have seen I am firmly persuaded that Mr. V. is well placed to take a foremost place in “the Trade”. Few of our leading booksellers have any claims to their positions – they are intellectually poor” (Courtesy of Senate House Library, University of London, AL 438). Jerdan also told Bennoch that Virtue “is rather warm upon the Autobiography which would, for divers reasons, be very eligible” (MsL J55bAc, Iowa). He was about to spend a few days near Aylesbury and asked Bennoch or his wife to keep an eye on the family in his absence. “The expectation will be a cause of order where there is no supreme or effective authority.” He did not, apparently, consider Mary capable of maintaining discipline over her large brood of children, possibly because she was showing signs of mental illness by this time. Jerdan was so poor now that he even asked for an advance on Mrs Bennoch’s contribution to his Testimonial, even though Bennoch had already given him money to tide him over until Christmas. He was finding it difficult to get started on the Autobiography. A December letter told Bennoch in his usual punning style, “My Life worries me to death” (MsL J55bAc, Iowa). “I have not been able to begin it yet.” One distraction had been the illness of his son Henry whom he went to see in Clapham; scarlatina was feared, but it was not so serious and Henry recovered after a few days in bed. Jerdan, however, had got soaked on his journey and was feeling unwell although on his arrival home, “I whiskeyed and it did restore me for the time”. It was not a cheery Christmas.


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Last modified 11 July 2020