inally free from his years of labour, Jerdan had plenty of time but no income. The first of several poems he contributed to Fraser’s Magazine was in the issue of December 1851; it was called “Prospero” and like some of those which followed, indicated Jerdan’s sombre mood. His poem ended:
Away! I hear your little voices sinking
Into the wood – notes of the breeze –
I hear you say – “Enough, enough of thinking!”
Love lies beyond the seas.
Life beyond the seas was to be the choice of several of Jerdan’s offspring. In 1852 Ella, his and Landon’s eldest daughter, now aged 25, decided to emigrate to Australia. Her life is known solely through memories of her own daughter and grand-daughter, which mention that in the late 1840s Ella stayed with Jerdan’s children in London and had noted how many he had. There was also a notation that in about 1848 Ella had been a governess in the family of the British Ambassador in Paris. (In 1848 this was Lord Normanby, whose son had married in 1844, and started his family.) She spoke fluent French, an indication of having been educated in a good family, and had the presence to conduct herself well in high society. Her decision to sail for Australia may have been linked to her desire to find a better life and climate, both for herself and for her brother Fred, who had always suffered from chest complaints. Knowing she was leaving England (and therefore apparently familiar with her whereabouts and circumstances) Jerdan presented her with his Autobiography, inscribed “A prosperous and happy journey in the distant world to which she is now going”. He did not mention such an incriminating word as “daughter”. However, in a note written by her great-granddaughter, Ella is alleged to have said that her father’s voice was “ringing in her ears that she would never be welcomed back.”
Some caution should be used in accepting the family lore that has been handed down by Ella’s descendants: they were told, or believed, that L.E.L. and Jerdan had been married in France, overlooking the fact that Jerdan was already married to Frances (presumably, even in the absence of documentary evidence), and also overlooking that even if L.E.L. had been married to Jerdan, she could not then have married Maclean. The note also claims that Landon was “murdered by one of the servants” at Cape Coast Castle, another unfounded rumour, but one that the family may have thought added to the glamour of their famous ancestor.
Ella Stuart in Melbourne, Australia. Click on images to enlarge them.
According to private correspondence from Michael Gorman, one of Jerman’s descendants, the voyage to Australia took six months, during which time Ella and the ship’s Captain, James Gregson, formed a close relationship. On arriving in Melbourne Ella, possibly aided by letters of introduction from Lord Normanby, moved in Government House circles and indeed, Captain Gregson’s love letters were addressed to her there. On 23 June 1852 in Richmond, Victoria, Ella married James Gregson. He retired from shipping shortly afterwards and invested in land. They lived well, and Ella became a keen huntswoman, owning hunting horses and riding to hounds (Gorman). She started the first girls’s chool in Melbourne. Of course no one, especially a woman making her way in a new country, could be expected to admit to her illegitimacy, although it would appear, because of the existence of a portrait of L.E.L. in the family’s possession, that Ella was proud to acknowledge her mother’s identity. She may have been less eager to acknowledge Jerdan as her father, but Ella’s feelings for her father have been coloured by the written and handed-down reminiscences of her granddaughter Ethel. Ella seems to have remained close to her brother Fred, taking responsibility for his welfare, but she was reputedly cold towards her sister Laura for reasons only to be guessed at. Ella and James Gregson had five children, one named Laura Landon Gregson, after Ella’s sister. This conflicts with the family story that Ella and her sister Laura were never friends and disliked each other, yet another instance where the family mythology does not square with known facts (Lawford). Ella Stuart Gregson lived to the age of 87, and died in 1910.
Jerdan had now arranged with Arthur Hall, Virtue & Co of Paternoster Row, to publish his Autobiography. To heighten anticipation, hints were dropped to the press. The Critic of December 1851 noted under the heading of ‘Gossip of the Literary World’, that “Mr Jerdan is, we are assured, proceeding…with his Autobiography and Reminiscences the commencement of which will relate to the youth of some of the highest dignitaries of the law now living and the sequel will illustrate, from forty years of intimacy, the character and acts of George Canning and nearly all the leading statesmen, politicians, literati and artists who have flourished within that period” (578). This could indicate, by reference to ‘the sequel’ that only two volumes were originally intended, but Jerdan had many memories and the Autobiography, subtitled with his “Literary, Political and Social Reminiscences and Correspondence” finally ran to four volumes. His publishers had been created in 1849 by a merger between Arthur Hall, publisher of Sharpe’s London Magazine and George Virtue. This latter also published The Art Journal, edited by S. C. Hall, which rose to become a highly successful publication. The newly merged company had then expanded into book production, with Jerdan’s Autobiography being one of its early titles.
The first volume was completed on Jerdan’s seventieth birthday, 16 April 1852, and was dedicated to his long-time and influential friend the Lord Chief Baron, the Rt. Hon. Sir Frederick Pollock, with a brief but emotional reference to the length of their friendship and Jerdan’s esteem and regard for his dedicatee. Of the four volumes the first is the most recognisable as Autobiography, being in more or less chronological order, commencing with some background of his parents, following his activities through to his visit to Paris in 1814, with a sprinkling of anecdotes of poets and writers of that time.
In his Introduction, Jerdan acknowledged the difficulty of writing about ‘Self’. He was an experienced biographer, having written dozens of such articles for Fisher’s National Portrait Gallery, but “had not the faintest conception of the embarrassments and obstacles which stood in the way of a satisfactory performance of the altered task.” He felt repugnance at casting himself as hero, but had been for so long connected with the great men of the nation, and his work was so diffused in many periodicals, this was an opportunity to leave an “enduring monument”. His main purpose however, he stated, was to warn would-be writers of the perils of a literary life. His own life had been one of “much vicissitude, of infinite struggle and latterly of very grave misfortune”, although he admitted that “much that has been owing to mistakes, to errors, to faults, and to improvidence on my own side.” He was not willing to take all the blame however, and pointed to “misconceptions, injustice, wrongs and persecutions, unprovoked by any act of mine, on the part of others”. Literature was less profitable than felony, he claimed.
Jerdan foresaw that his narrative would be of a “very mixed and almost incongruous character”, his life having been a rapid alternation of pain and pleasure. “I have drained the Circé-cup to the lees,” he confessed, “but I still gratefully acknowledge the enchanting draught of its exquisite and transporting sweetness, in spite of the emptiness of its froth and the bitterness of its dregs.” He mourned all his departed friends, and quoted a long passage from L.E.L. written in 1833, on the theme of man’s destruction of what should be held dear to him. Such an early appearance of Landon, in the very Introduction to his Autobiography, demonstrates that she was seldom far from his thoughts. In contrast, his marriage was barely mentioned. As before and later in the lives of Jerdan and Hunt, this omission reflected Leigh Hunt’s own Autobiography, published two years earlier where, in nine hundred and sixty eight pages, he mentioned his wife only once. Perhaps Jerdan had read Hunt’s book, and taken note of his virtual silence on the matter, even though, as a biographer of Hunt’s noted, such omission was “remarkable even in those reticent times” (Roe 84).
Much of Jerdan’s early history from Volume I has been incorporated into the present biography, but even in this early stage of his Autobiography, he showed a disregard for dating his information. What was irritating to readers of this volume became a real frustration in those which followed, as he seldom indicated with any clarity to what year his memories related. He made some excuse for this in the Postscript to Volume I, where he rejoiced that the printers had sufficient quantity for this volume, but he was concerned about the quality, trying perhaps to pre-empt criticism of errors and inaccuracies. A private matter, he said, “had occurred to break hurtfully” into his time, and he had been surprised to discovered that his forty to fifty years of papers had been dissipated, “no one knew whither!” What this hurtful private matter was can only be conjectured. Mary Maxwell, at home with at least some of her eleven children was probably by now showing signs of the mental distress which was later to confine her to an asylum. Although the printers were satisfied with the two hundred pages he had produced, Jerdan added a further eighty pages of Appendices, one being his story of ‘The Sleepless Woman’. He also reprinted Southey’s “March to Moscow,” and revealed a previously unpublished poem of the late Thomas Hood’s, written in 1827, entitled “Lamia.” This first volume ended with his plan of the House of Commons lobby, showing the position of the various people in it, when Perceval was assassinated. Jerdan had wanted to include the outline of the fatal pistol, but the page size was too small. Jerdan told his dear friend Francis Bennoch in a letter of 13 April, “I have wrought like a Galley Slave, and as the printers have galleys, I suppose it must be just and right” (MsL J55bAc Iowa).
The sense of purpose and energy in this early book, and its usefulness in tracing events in Jerdan’s life, diminished in the volumes that followed. This may have been largely due to the mixed reception given by the press to Volume I. Reviews appeared from 8 May, only three weeks after Jerdan had finished writing it. His old foe the Athenaeum devoted four columns to it, acknowledging Jerdan’s long association with famous literary, political and professional figures. However, as Jerdan had feared, the Athenaeum noted the disconnection of the narrative and how Jerdan was “sparing in dates and altogether careless of the order of time”. A few of the lighter anecdotes were then extracted, followed by a remark that “the only subject on which Mr Jerdan quits his gossiping chit-chat style is that of the adoption by young men of literature as a profession. To this topic he returns again and again”, quoting one of Jerdan’s more bitter pieces of advice:
I earnestly advise every enthusiastic thinker, every fair scholar, every ambitious author, every inspired poet, without independent fortune, to fortify themselves with a something more worldly to do. A living in the Church is not uncongenial with the pursuits of the thinker and scholar, the practice of medicine is not inconsistent with the labours of the author, and the chinking of fees in the law is almost in tuning with the harmony of the poet’s verse. Let no man be bred to literature alone, for, as has been far less truly said of another occupation, it will not be bread to him. Fallacious hopes, bitter disappointments, uncertain rewards, vile impositions, and censure and slander from oppressors are their lot, as sure as ever they put pen to paper for publication, or risk their peace of mind on the black, black sea of printer’s ink. With a fortune to sustain, or a profession to stand by, it may still be bad enough; but without one or the other, it is as foolish as alchemy, as desperate as suicide.
Poor as he was at this time, Jerdan was not necessarily thinking here of himself alone; over the years of working for the Literary Fund he had seen scores of writers falling upon times of dire poverty and this warning could be seen for exactly what he claimed: a warning to young men to equip themselves more fully for the world if they wished to write, as it was an unreliable occupation.
The Spectator of 15 May quoted the same extract and noted: “It is not the calling but the man that produces the success…the life which Mr Jerdan describes himself as having led…would have been fatal in any profession.” This perceptive observation did not prevent The Spectator’s review of the Autobiography from being favourable to the work, remarking that there “is a solid and sustained interest…they are very well written…[it has] a good deal of matter.” Its emphasis was on Jerdan’s Autobiography representing the class of “littérateurs…persons who...are drawn to writing by circumstances, or a failure in vocations of drier and more sustained labour.” Despite its mainly positive review, The Spectator leaves one feeling that its judgment of Jerdan was as somewhat of a dilettante figure, a judgment which disregarded his huge literary output as editor of the Literary Gazette, and his other reviews and stories.
The June 1852 Tait’s Edinburgh Magazine took an opposing view of Jerdan the man. “Mr Jerdan tells us he was a spoiled child…the wonder is that so petted a juvenile should ever have been transformed into such a dogged and indefatigable worker as he has shown himself to be for nearly half a century” (380). Jerdan’s ubiquitously quoted passage mystified Tait’s, who pointed out that poverty is felt at very different levels by different people. Apart from this quibble, however, Tait’s advised their readers that “there is not an atom of spleen” in Volume 1, “which is filled with good things…The writer has moved in the best company in the true sense of the term – men of genius, men of enterprise, men of valour…Mr Jerdan can delineate subjects the reverse of aristocratic with the graphic power of Boz, though he but rarely condescends to do it.” Such a warm reception would have given Jerdan great encouragement for his second volume.
Chambers’s Edinburgh Journal of 12 June also gave Jerdan’s book a friendly review: “It will be found to be one of the most amusing books of the day, and also not without a moral of its own kind…we at least feel pretty sure that the lives and characters of living men could scarcely be in gentler or more genial hands than those of William Jerdan.” Noting the generally sympathetic tone of Jerdan’s Literary Gazette over the years, in contrast with that of its rivals, the editor was now,
at seventy, relieved from his cares, with little tangible result from his long and active career; but for this the readers of his Autobiography will be at no loss to account. Jerdan has evidently been a kind-hearted, mirth-making, tomorrow-defying mortal all his days, as if he had patriotically set himself from the beginning to prove that Scotland could produce something different from those hosts of staid, sober, calculating men for which it has become so much distinguished.
The July 1852 New Quarterly Review followed much the same argument as The Spectator, referring to the success of Jerdan’s boyhood friends, which he had said was because they chose professions while he chose literature (270). The New Quarterly was pitiless: “No such thing: it was because they minded the shop and he did not.” More charitably, the review concluded that the volume was amusing and the public should buy it. To draw the sting out of their sharp remarks they ended on a humane note: “We have been, in truth, not a little moved to take his part by a furious onslaught made upon him by a periodical upon which delicacy and good taste should have imposed silence if they could not dictate applause. Mr Jerdan is not quite an eagle, but we do not like to see him wounded by a shaft feathered by his own goose-quill. Such ungenerous assaults remind one of those prudent savages who, when their fathers grow old and unfit for work, made them contribute to the family economy by roasting and eating them.”
The assault to which this paper referred was in fact the one review which Jerdan could justifiably have expected to celebrate his first volume: that in the Literary Gazette, the journal on which he had expended so much effort and warmth for thirty-four years but which was now in other hands. If he looked here for some sympathetic and encouraging mention to stimulate sales of his book, he would have been sorely disappointed. On 15 May the reviewer, who was of course not named, purported to regret his inability to produce a favourable review. Indeed, it was with “unaffected pain” that he noticed the work, and would have preferred to let it pass unremarked, but Jerdan’s close association with the Literary Gazette made this impossible. The “old man…writing in the evening of his life, as we fear for his daily bread…should receive from every critic charitable consideration and the tenderest treatment,” especially from his old paper. This was the tone Jerdan himself might have taken in reviewing an old friend. Instead, the reviewer was merciless, attacking Jerdan far more personally than any of the other reviews, with a ferocity that suggests revenge for some perceived offence. His insinuations also strongly suggested a knowledge of Jerdan’s personal domestic arrangements which, even if known to the other critics, they had the decency to avoid mentioning. Jerdan was roundly criticised at some length for saying that literature was a profession to be avoided unless in possession of independent means. Were his accusations true, that society was culpable for his misfortunes, then he would be justified in his opinion; however, challenged the reviewer, “Investigate the matter fairly, and it shall be found that not one real grievance can Mr Jerdan bring before any tribunal competent to judge between man and man, whilst society has a thousand charges to lay at the door of this unhappy man of letters, to every one of which, for very shame, he cannot choose but plead guilty.” Jerdan had no-one to blame but himself, “when the only thing really worth mourning over has been his own wilful and wicked flinging away of the finest opportunities.”
Jerdan’s Autobiography was briefly compared with Leigh Hunt’s. Both had suffered financial hardships, both blamed others for their misfortunes, both decried the status of literature, both, according to the reviewer, had been well paid for their efforts but had carelessly disregarded their good fortunes. (What the reviewer did not note was that coincidentally both men had blamed the indulgence they had been given as children for their inability to control their lives more effectively.) Further, both had apologised for the disconnected nature of their memoirs, as Jerdan had done in his Postscript which, the Literary Gazette critic pointed out, “may be taken as a sample of Mr Jerdan’s life…He is not a man of substance at this moment; he is thrown from the social eminence upon which his abilities well entitled him to be placed – not because he took to letters in his youth as the substantial pursuit of his life – but because, from beginning to end, wherever and howsoever employed, and with whomsoever engaged, it was the curse of William Jerdan to have ‘private circumstances occurring to break hurtfully into his work’.” This reviewer certainly seems to have known more about Jerdan’s life than a casual critic would have done. He went on to stress the “high capabilities wilfully wasted”, and wondered at length how Jerdan had avoided the early influences of his youth that had so benefited his exalted friends. He too lit upon Jerdan’s comment about learning how debt was a curse, but observed that Jerdan’s words remained merely that, and were never translated into actions. Hypocritically, he claimed that it was harder for him to write the truth than for Jerdan to peruse it, but insisted that “Literature is in no way responsible for the calamities of William Jerdan. How many of them are traceable to violation of the domestic affections it is not for us to decide.”
The Literary Gazette echoed the other reviews in choosing to quote Jerdan’s paragraph of dire warning, but did not bother to cloak its response in guarded language. “What a tissue of falsehood and unpardonable misrepresentation is here!…The social failings that rendered Mr Jerdan’s abilities of no avail to him in literature would have been his stumbling block in every profession and in any trade. Has he ever taken the trouble to calculate the self-denial, the steady perseverance, the patient self-devotion…” of Pollock, Truro and the others, he asked angrily. Other writers had not expressed Jerdan’s “fallacious hopes” etc. “They are not the lot of Hallam, of Macaulay, of Dickens; they are not the lot of Southey...” The virtuous and hard-working do not incur “the righteous doom of the spendthrift and the libertine”. Harsh words indeed.
The critic pointed to Jerdan’s handsome remuneration as editor of the Sun and as editor and part proprietor of the Literary Gazette: “It is a matter of notoriety that he drew for years a considerable income. If Mr Jerdan has been foolish enough, year after year, to spend more than he earned – to make no provision for his family when Providence put the means in his way – to exhibit no self-government and no moral strength, we are sorry for him and can pity his present blank and dreary lot. But let him not visit upon literature the calamities of his own creating or slander the profession of his adoption.”
This fulminating and vituperative attack on Jerdan as an individual, concluded by noting that there was no reason to have included Hood’s poem in the book, and that some of Jerdan’s anecdotes were interesting, others improbable. The coup de grace was swiftly administered – that the whole book was done with “a view of an instant return – ever a cruel necessity in Mr Jerdan’s life – the wholesome confessions of a literary man, who has travelled through the world in pain, trouble and sorrow, only because he did not choose to live prosperous, happy and respected.”
Francis Bennoch, 1812-1890 by William Ridgway after Alexander Johnston.
Courtesy of the National Scottish Portrait Gallery.
In a note to Bennoch, Jerdan told his friend, “The Literary Gazette has given me (not my book) a malevolent notice which is so far satisfactory as it proves what bitter enemies I had assailing me, and how unscrupulous their means. For the rest it is too contemptible. The Spectator about the soundest, most impartial and rather severe of our weekly Journals is very favourable” (Huntington Fl 2839). Jerdan did not identify the writer of the Literary Gazette review, although he must have known who it was who harboured such a violent hatred for him.
The Eclectic Review waited until its September issue to review Volume I of the Autobiography and did so in tandem with a review of R. P. Gilles’s Memoirs of a Literary Veteran, published by Bentley the previous year. Jerdan would probably have found this juxtaposition galling, that his long-time associate had chosen to publish a work similar to his own. Both the authors reviewed had been editors, both were Scotsmen, and both had dwelt upon their hardships and misgivings about the literary life, and Gilles had been thrown into prison. The Eclectic’s account of Gilles, from his Memoirs, made Jerdan’s shortcomings seem quite trivial. The reviewer, disagreeing with Tait’s opinion about “not an atom of spleen”, remarked that Jerdan’s book “is much better written”, but that it “is equally pervaded by that spirit of acrimonious raillery and that tone of melancholy” as Gilles’s book. Jerdan’s circumstances had been less favourable than Gilles’s but “he attained a much higher position as a man of letters”. Noting that, by his own account, he had not been ill-paid, Jerdan had looked back upon his life as made up of “uncertain rewards” and “broken hopes”. The reviewer found these comments contradictory, especially in view of Jerdan’s assertion that he “got his first lesson of that fatal truth, that debt is the greatest curse which can beset the course of a human being”. He seemed to have been burdened with this curse for a great part of his life, remarked the critic, noting with little sympathy how Jerdan himself admitted that his start in life had been on equal terms with men who had attained the height of their professions. Had Jerdan confronted the question of their rise and his own less worldly attainments earlier, his life might have been different. He had given up his studies in the law whilst his friends had persevered, kept to their goals, and focussed on their careers. Jerdan blamed his condition on his dependence on “the fragile crutch of literature”, rather than on his own shortcomings. Quoting the same bitter extract as the other reviews, the Eclectic thought this was “mistaken counsel”. “It is a fallacious excuse for an ill-regulated life”, it noted sternly.
Before the reviews appeared, Jerdan wrote on 1 May 1852, probably to Blackwood’s, saying that the first Volume was to be sent for review in the Magazine, and that in the second volume would be “letters etc. from my old friend Blackwood” (National Library of Scotland 4098/205). He had sent a review of American Lay Sermons and asked if it was to be used, or for the return of the manuscript. (No contribution from Jerdan has been indexed in the magazine.) In the same note he said “As I have some correspondence of Delta, it would gratify me much to have his Biography, and as I am Newspapering a bit again, I will give you a Notice in return.” ‘Delta’ was the pseudonym of David Macbeth Moir, a physician and writer with close ties to Blackwoods, who had died on 6 July 1851 following an accident.
The “Newspapering” was being undertaken concurrently with Jerdan’s writing of the second volume of his Autobiography, and was providing him with much-needed income. The London Weekly Paper, organ of the middle classes, priced at 4 pence, was a large broadsheet paper advertised as “a record of political, domestic and foreign news, literature, arts, sciences etc. under the direction of William Jerdan Esq. late editor of the Literary Gazette.” The proprietor, Frederick Tallis, had his office at Crane Court, Fleet Street. Jerdan wrote to Bennoch on April 13th that the first issue was to be on 15 May, and asked his friend for a contribution: “I feel that a series of articles on the L.[London] corporate body and city affairs wd be more likely to bring it at once into notice in the Metropolis. If you agree and will do the business, a brief introduction concocted between us cd be desirable” (MsL J55bAc Iowa). In June Jerdan reported that from the second issue circulation had increased weekly, “unparallelled in newspaper enterprise”, and by the fifth issue the weekly increase had risen to nine hundred and seventy-five, a vindication of its aim to be independent of all political parties, its object being the welfare of the people. In November Tallis added his name to the masthead, the paper then being called Tallis’s London Weekly Paper.
Jerdan would have welcomed the income from editing this paper, but it was not primarily about literature, his real forte. Whilst he wrote the next volume of his Autobiography, he was also interested in offering his writings to America. The well-known publisher from Boston, J. T. Fields, was also a friend of Francis Bennoch and Jerdan hoped to use this mutual acquaintance to his advantage. “Any news of Fields and 'pastures ever new'?” he asked Bennoch on April 13th. On 11 May 1852 Fields wrote from Paris, in response to Bennoch’s mention of Jerdan’s Autobiography, commenting:
You tell me Jerdan's book is out. I long to be at it. I know I shall devour every word with interest for I am convinced if any man in England knows how to make a readable book it is our friend Wm. Jerdan and wish I were the owner of a good sound fortune if for no other reason than the satisfaction it wd afford me to say to Jerdan and such as he "There, take that little sum and be jolly the rest of yr days with no further thoughts of £.s.d. - If we had the sale of his LG in America I shd propose to our firm to allow him just the same copyright as we give Am'n. authors. It wd make a great difference in the sake my being absent because I shd take extra pains to advertize the great men's(?) of the work and spread its fame about the country if I were at home. I supposed Virtue would not allow the early publication to any one in America because I know he has a house in New York where all his pub'ns are offered at American prices. However when I arrive in London if anything can be done for Jerdan's interests in America, doubt not it shall be done. I consider that he has done more for good literature and has befriended more young writers than any living man and I love (?) him accordingly. [Huntington Library BE3]
Such warmth of feeling and intention should have boded well for Jerdan’s hopes of an American market for his writings. The effervescent writer Martin Tupper also waited with anticipation for Fields’s arrival, mentioning Grace Greenwood (the pseudonym of Sara Jane Clarke Lippincott, 1823-1904), American poet and essayist. He told Bennoch that
Fields is reminded to bring me more than his usual Graces with him, to consort with our Greenwood condition hereabouts: and we'll all eat gooseberry fool in character among the haycocks. Jerdan is to be drest out on the occasion in straw hat ribbons and knee-nuffens, as an "Arcadian" pastor: Mrs Bennoch shall sing; you shall dance; Grace aforesaid shall be our shepherdess; and Fields shall have his congenial fill (tell him) of silly-bub and goosberry fool. [Huntington Library BE233]
In My Life as an Author, Tupper remembered this festivity long afterwards: “Do I not pleasantly remember the jolly haymaking, when old Jerdan calling out ‘More hay! More hay!’ covered Grace Greenwood with a haycock overturned, and had greeted a sculptor guest appropriately and wittily enough with ‘Here we are, Durham, all mustered!’ the ‘we’ being besides others, Camilla Toulmin, George Godwin and Francis Bennoch.” The hay-covered Grace Greenwood recalled the same party, especially “Mr Jerdan, or ‘old Jerdan’ as he is familiarly called, a man of nearly 70 years, yet retaining the joyous spirit of 17, one of the finest wits and most remarkable personages of his time” (41).
Fields had arrived in London by the summer, but although he had expressed himself so encouragingly about prospects for the Literary Gazette in America, Jerdan was anxious, telling him in his letter of 28 August 1852:
My dear Sir, Our meeting is so uncertain and the strain of your business engagements so great and the Bennochian return before you go so uncertain – that I am re- or in-duced to write.
I should like much to know what you think probable about the Auto-biography in America; and if you wd buy any copies, or secure the embellishments – Canning’s is the least likeness of him ever published.
Again, would you have anything to say to my Paraphrase of old Proverbs – full of wise sayings and modern instances – with curious annotations and delightful illustrations by A. Crowquill – at least as far as can be judged by the specimens I have received.
To turn a few dollars wd not hurt one’s health or spoil one’s appetite, and I have been sickly and out of spirits for nearly all this week, so want comforting, which please afford to, my dear Sir, Yours very cordially, [Houghton]
While he waited for news of an American debut from Fields, Jerdan completed the second volume of his Autobiography by August 1852, three months after the first had made its appearance. This volume was dedicated to the memory of George Canning. In the ‘Prefatory Chapter’, Jerdan referred to the favourable reception of his first volume, “by the almost unanimous voice of those critics in whom the public reposes confidence…” He had been mistaken however, by some critics, and attempted to set them straight on their misunderstanding that he had disparaged the practice of literature and been ungrateful for his success. As Chambers’s had noted, he said, he had aimed to present his life candidly, thereby pointing a moral at the expense of “adorning” his tale; he was not writing a novel, but “the genuine life”, and “as for the vilifications of the Holy Willies of the earth, I am disposed to take, even for them, the blame that I may deserve in a repentant spirit and despise all the rest.” The facts of the author’s life, maintained Jerdan, “has very little to do with his text…It is an unwholesome principle, therefore, to attempt the rebuke of virtuous precepts, merely because they may be uttered by some one who may not have fulfilled the duties of the decalogue: it is a mode of judging that must be condemned.” He returned to the charge of disparaging the profession of literature to refute it absolutely, maintaining that his statements were the very reverse. “Literature is neither appreciated, encouraged, nor honoured as it should be…” His first book had merely exposed his own experiences with its errors and blunders, he wrote, in the hope that others pursuing literature would avoid at least the same mistakes. His intention was to show the evils, enjoyments and disappointments that can befall the writer, “the injustice and wrongs he is doomed to meet with”. Jerdan’s naivety is surely assumed; he went on to claim, in the name of warning others, but in fact reflecting on his own individual experiences,
the abstraction of his mind from the needful details of accurate business, and its aptness to seek refuge from dull realities in the brighter idealities of imagination as the result; and his often blameable inattention, impunctuality and want of order, which leave him almost a helpless prey, to be preyed upon by the sordid, the grasping, the scheming and the rascally, who are not slow to take full advantage of their opportunities to plunder and defame their victims. [2.6]
He had plainly not taken to heart the Literary Gazette reviewer’s remarks that such a fate had not befallen Charles Dickens, Henry Hallam, Robert Southey and others, and that it was Jerdan’s own failings that had caused his downfall. He disputed this analysis however, pointing out that tens of thousands have experienced heartache and poverty, and not all were “careless, extravagant, reckless, vicious!”
The second volume commenced more or less where the first ceased, covering some stories about Canning, the row with Taylor over the Sun, Trotter’s Bazaar and many reminiscences and anecdotes of old friends from the world of literature, as well as letters which he scattered throughout his four volumes. Jerdan wanted to include examples of his friends’ and his own writings within his Autobiography, and his placements were not always relevant. He admitted, “…no matter what the taste of readers may be, I have a lot of poetry to deposit somewhere in the course of my Biography”. One was a doggerel verse on the illness and death of a pet dog found to have died of a seventy-yard tapeworm, the suicide of his distraught mistress, and the accidental death of her maid on beholding such horrors. More poetically, Jerdan included the verse, “Lines written by the Sea Side” which had appeared in The Poetical Album in 1828, but here entitled it “The Waves.” His alter-ego ‘Teutha’ was quoted in a four stanza poem called “Moonlight” and to lighten things up, a small Impromptu, “The Painter’s Defence”:
A Bride’s likeness was painted, where only one hand
Was seen, to the critic’s dismay;
But the artist, when blamed, cried ‘What would you demand?’
She has just given the other away!
Based upon an old Scottish saying, “It wants a new stock, a new lock, and a new barrel, like the Highlandman’s pistol”, Jerdan used the opportunity to regale his readers with a long poem entitled “The Highlandman's Pistol; a Fable for the present time.” The Highlandman, Donald, treasured an old pistol inherited from his ancestors, rusty and old-fashioned but reliable and prized. Wicked counsellors persuaded Donald to despise it, to change it, Lock, Stock and Barrel. When he needed it to defend himself against attack it burst asunder, allowing the enemy to kill him. The story ended that his place was desolate, deserted by Heaven as he had refused its gifts. The poem itself ended with a ‘Moral’:
In Britain’s Isle, so matchless fair,
Of Innovation’s wiles beware.
Your glorious Constitution rears
Its fabric through a thousand years,
Impregnable to every storm,
Immortal, if insane Reform,
Vision’d Perfection, and wild Change,
Within are ne’er allowed to range.
Then doubt Improvement’s specious cry,
And prize substantial blessings high;
Warn’d by our tale, not told in vain,
Believe not every spot a stain,
Nor every ancient form misspent,
Nor useless each rich ornament.
Experience proves, at endless length,
These may be glory, wisdom, strength;
And Fable only strives to show,
Aptly, that from rash counsels flow,
Guilt, Madness, Ruin, Slavery, Woe!! [2.360]
This would appear to have been written twenty years earlier, at the height of the Reform crisis, but Jerdan still considered it worthy of a place in his memoir.
Other poems of slight merit appeared throughout, but Jerdan never lost sight of his chief purpose. He was at pains to point out that men of fortune did not have “to make literature their staff”, and indeed for several it had cost them money to be published. He picked this topic up again in an Appendix, having in this volume meant to demonstrate “beyond controversy from the multitude of the unsuccessful and unfortunate and the paucity in numbers of those who reached any moderate degree of opulence, the truth of the positions I have laid down in regard to literary pursuits. But the task has grown too large...” and would be pursued in future. Loath to leave his pet subject entirely, Jerdan listed in two columns ten painters and ten poets, to compare their achievements with their pecuniary remuneration, from which he concluded that “higher intellect being requisite in one case than in the other – not that the artist is too liberally encouraged, but that the author is ill requited and wronged.”
The reviews for this second volume were less divided than for the first one. The Athenaeum’s review of 4 August 1852 followed the hitherto derided methods of its old rival, the Literary Gazette, by saying very little and extracting at length:
Our reasons for specifying the contents of this work instead of subjecting it to the usual amount of critical annotation are not likely to be misunderstood, and claim no minute statement or explanation. We will therefore pass through this second volume lightly, and let Mr Jerdan tell his own story with as little disturbance as may be. The first chapter is as essay on the sorrows and difficulties of literature as a profession – on which theme Mr Jerdan descants as often as digression is permissible. 
The September 1852 Tait’s Edinburgh Magazine focussed on Jerdan’s attempted vindication of his views on the literary profession, sympathised with his examples of those who achieved great ends but carefully avoided any judgment on the merits of the book as a whole (569).
The 1852 Westminster Review expended an amazing twenty-five pages reviewing the first two volumes of the Autobiography. The author embarked upon a cruelly vindictive character assassination, causing Jerdan to comment in a footnote in Volume III (page 306), that he had read the article,
and perceive it to be furnished by the same individual who has got his pay for the same matter in other quarters…the whole diatribe proceeds, and, with the inveterate inconsistency of conceding all my argument whilst abusing myself, on grounds which no human being has a right to assume against another, especially in the braggard style of this ubiquarian hangman reviewer. I must have been poor game to him, after Dickens! – but he is not a Tory in the Westminster!
This was a mild protest in response to the viciousness with which he was treated by the critic. The long article observed that a man who wrote his ‘life’ should have something to tell, and a reason to tell it; something unusual should have happened to him, to justify his writing, or there would be a “plague of autobiographies”. Nothing of the kind had been found in Jerdan’s volumes, he claimed, the most memorable event being his birth. Being a mere editor was nothing remarkable, and a man had to have produced his own writings to earn a position of respect. The status of the Literary Gazette was attacked, arguing against Jerdan’s claim for its exalted position in periodical literature.
Turning to the Autobiography itself, the Westminster Review critic highlighted Jerdan’s statement that his ‘spoiling’ as a child was detrimental to his adult life, commenting spitefully that “If we get no more in the way of a moral from the book than this, we may congratulate ourselves on getting so much.” Jerdan’s inclusion of much detail met with derision: “He finds himself writing his life, and having once placed himself in the position of the hero of a book, he falls into the belief that everything personal to the actor who monopolizes the foreground must possess a certain value and attraction…” Ironically, Jerdan had omitted most of his personal life from his book thus, too late, giving the lie to his critic’s accusation. Jerdan was a literary failure, crowed the critic, chortling over the success of the highly placed men of Jerdan’s circle, and laughing, as had other critics, at Jerdan’s putting the blame on literature for his failure to be as successful as his friends. At this juncture the critic became exceptionally personal, asking rhetorically many questions along the lines of: “Has he ever thought of comparing his life with theirs? – his wasteful habits with their persevering industry and self-denial? Does he believe that they achieved their distinction by dining out; by the indulgence of idle pleasures; by dallying with time and fortune; and living for today without a thought of tomorrow?” The remainder of this lengthy review was in similar vein, the tone sarcastic and biting. Pages were devoted to exposing the flaws in Jerdan’s attributions to literature of failure and poverty; much that is written, the reviewer commented, is transitory, worthless, uninformed, fugitive. Jerdan was accused of seeing the profession of literature solely in terms of money. “He never asks the question, did such or such a writer deserve a great reward? – he only inquires, did he get it”. Even Jerdan’s many anecdotes were found to be wanting: “The names of his celebrities flit through his pages, and scarcely leave an impression on them. We learn nothing of their ways of life, their conversation, their specialities,…” he carped, somewhat unjustifiably, as Jerdan had indeed sketched in some personal characteristics, especially in the case of Canning.
The Westminster Review differed notably from all other reviews in the very small number of extracts it used, preferring to fill its pages with scalding criticism of Jerdan’s work, self-confessed kindliness, personality, opinions and experiences. In a final barb the reviewer noted: “Few men connected with current literature have enjoyed better opportunities than Mr Jerdan of attaining a final position of credit and security; and if he have not succeeded, we must seek the causes in other sources of misfortune than his overflowing good nature, and the imputed ingratitude of the world.” The deliberate unkindness of this entire review suggests that the critic had a very personal score to settle with Jerdan as, although many of his points are similar to those of other reviewers, none had attacked Jerdan in such a personal manner, or in such bitterly sarcastic language.
In its 14 August 1852 issue The Spectator, whose review of Volume 1 Jerdan had thought the best, completely changed their tune now, complaining of “excessive stuffing…tedious discussions….reprints of fugitive pieces, whose attraction has for the most part long ceased, (if the bulk of them ever had any)” (25). This was cruel and harsh and not wholly justified. Jerdan’s Autobiography can – and has been – mined for nuggets of information about any one of the myriad of people he mentioned, but his fragmentary style can be off-putting if one seeks a coherent narrative. More rewarding is to accept that his books are a series of recollections in no particular order, and often his connections are between one thought and another, an anecdote leading on to an account of a dinner leading to a poem or a memory of some contributor to the Gazette, or an incident in his own life; interesting in his terms and if expectations of readers are not met, this does not diminish the validity of Jerdan’s own train of thought and associations of ideas.
Jerdan must have dreaded the Literary Gazette’s reaction to his second volume. He had reason: its article in the August 21st issue was just as vindictive as before, for they described as “another volume of inconsistent grumbling, unjustifiable invective and puerile complaint!…a miserable but unauthorized whining over the literary profession relieved by scarcely a page of biography or original composition that an indifferent reader will care to peruse. We entreat Mr Jerdan for his own sake, to desist from this unmanly and unnecessary wailing” (635). He was not the man to give advice, it went on, as whatever he earned he always spent more. The critic attacked Jerdan’s alleged profligacy: “When his income has not been sufficient to pay for the ordinary necessaries of a man of family, has he not wantonly and madly persisted in the indulgence of gross sensual luxuries.” This was a very personal charge and one which, in the circumstances, Jerdan was powerless to refute. The Gazette critic repeated his earlier assertion that Jerdan’s calamities were the fault of his own shortcomings, not of literature.
Listen to his sickening groans and you would really conclude that he had nothing to tell you but the story of a wretch starving in a garret, nibbling at a goose quill, unblessed with a friend, not recognized by a solitary acquaintance. Believe nothing of the kind! Take Mr Jerdan’s account of himself from his own lips, and he is an object of interest and of envy at every turn of his life. In virtue of literature he has lived all his days upon the fat of the land, and been honoured by the friendship and regard of some of the greatest men of the time.
Sneeringly, the Gazette pointed to Jerdan’s friendship with de Tabley and Canning, his familiarity with Caroline Lamb and his self-confessed good deeds in regard to various people mentioned in his Autobiography. All this, believed the reviewer, happened because of his literary position. But now, he has forfeited respect; “he has wearied his well-wishers and deliberately cast asunder his friendships… so Mr Jerdan has sunk, and in his misery unjustifiably and uselessly upbraids an honest calling for disasters for which he alone stands culpable in the eyes of the world.” The Gazette was “curious to follow Mr Jerdan as he progresses in his story. If he dare write his ‘confessions’ – he has indeed an instructive tale to tell. But he must dig deep down, and not be content to skim – with eye averted – the mere surface of his long and singularly-spent life.” This was a large gauntlet to throw in Jerdan’s path and one that he could not accept without betraying his wife, Landon, and even his current ‘wife’, Mary Maxwell. His impotent rage can be imagined as he prepared for his third volume, where he finally steeled himself to the subject of Letitia Landon.
He told Bennoch,
My present work in Volume 3 is very painful and perplexing. I have come to the advent of L.E.L: and knowing all the scandals that have been circulated, it is most difficult to treat. Her perfect idolatry of her first tutor and guide in poetry was an enthusiasm which none but poetic souls can feel or comprehend: and yet her poetry is quite unintelligible without this key. It is enough to make me ill, and I cannot review her fate or think of her tragic end, without weeping so much that I cannot see my paper. Even now I must stop. [Ms L J55bAc, Iowa]
Close as Jerdan was to Bennoch, and much as Bennoch aided him financially in desperate times, Jerdan was not being entirely honest with him about Landon, and his letter reads almost like a draft for what he wrote about Landon in this section of the Autobiography. His servant had gone away, he complained, and he had mixed up his medicines; the Doctor had told him to stay in bed. “I am a poor hand by myself, having been so cockered all my life by affectionate help…” he told his friend pathetically, trading on his usual excuse that his early “spoiling” had tainted his life, a theme he mentioned again in Volume III.
This third book carried on its fly-leaf the date of 1853, but the dedication was dated October 1852 and read, “To the memory of the deeply lamented L.E.L. to whose genius the Literary Gazette was, during many years, indebted for its greatest attractions, this volume is gratefully inscribed by W. Jerdan”. The first chapter dealt, as before, with his critics. He complained that he had been treated unfairly by having his warnings concerning the uncertainties of a livelihood from literature misinterpreted as a personal bemoaning of his own circumstances. Quite the reverse, he stated:
I have throughout represented my success as a repetition of the spoiling which marked by earlier years (see Vol. I), and acknowledged that I was lifted far above what my deserts in almost any other calling could have effected, without some lucky accident. I have shown that as the happy result even of my literary efforts, I lived all my life with the noble in station and intellect, which I could hardly have done under any other circumstances; and I have substantially reaped, in the sterling coin of the realm, a very handsome remuneration for my labours, such as they have been, in a successful periodical.
He had, however, been so burdened with debt at the outset, and for the first few years, that he could not save any money. In support of his warning thesis Jerdan revealed, “I have written or published ten or twelve separate volumes – not one a failure – and yet all I reaped from them would not have fed a grasshopper!” (His calculation includes multi-volume books such as Fisher’s National Portrait Gallery and The Paris Spectator so is a little misleading, but this does not alter his meaning.)
The early chapters of Volume III reminisced over many of Jerdan’s acquaintance in literature, including the publisher John Murray, the poet Hook, and the Irish poet Ismael Fitzadam whose verse Jerdan quoted and greatly admired. He covered his appointment at Editor of the Literary Gazette, which jogged his memory of many other writers, and mentioned in passing his great interest at that time in new treatments for the insane developed in Italy and brought to England, whereby patients were treated in beautiful surroundings with little restraint. He could not have imagined back then how this topic would touch him so closely in his later life. Jerdan went on to provide a detailed history of the Royal Society of Literature and finally, at page 168, he came to the core of this volume, two chapters on L.E.L.
He chose for his epigraph, “We love the bird we taught to sing”, the same phrase of L.E.L.’s which he quoted to Lady Blessington on Landon’s death, but which has not been identified in any of her extant writings. This was followed by “I cannot but remember such things were/And were most dear to me.” “The foregoing lines may suggest that I have arrived at the most difficult point in these memoirs”, he continued in a vein of eulogy over Landon’s genius and divinity, their closeness as teacher and pupil: “every line and every motion of a soul imbued with a quenchless thirst for literary distinction and poetic glory was submitted for my advice”. He acknowledged that his return was Landon’s inestimable assistance with his work on the Literary Gazette as well as her invaluable poetic contributions. Thinking back to this period of his work on the Gazette and its pre-eminent place amongst “the clashing of rivalry”, Jerdan told his readers,“It is not easy to apprehend the station and influence of the Literary Gazette in its palmy days. It was the court of appeal for all literature of the period; its voice was potential, and its character held high throughout the sphere it essayed to occupy, in letters, and sciences, and fine arts” (3.173).
Modestly, he continued, “it was only my good fortune as its editor, to have much of the credit it so fairly won, reflected upon me.” Jerdan included the letters from Landon’s mother with Letitia’s early poetry, and reprinted her first published poems from the Literary Gazette. No-one, of course, knew as much about Landon as Jerdan did, but he wrote not a word or a hint of their long love affair, their three children or of his own true feelings for her, excepting his opaque reference to the “master-key” without which her critics “will make nothing of their reveries”. Touchingly, however, he implored his reader to
shut out the present from contemplation, and throw back his glance to the date of which I am writing – to recognise, if congenial, the character whose outline I have traced, and the circumstances which developed it: through the intervening gloom, the retrospect, even to the sympathising stranger, must be uninviting; to me it is as the Valley of the Shadow of Death, and attempted to be recalled through floods of unavailing tears flowing from aged eyes, it is impossible to declare whether the impenetrable darkness is more dismal or the revealing light more distressing.
One wonders what Mary Maxwell, mother of so many of Jerdan’s children, made of his floods of tears at the memory of his past love, dead now these twelve years.
As if his first chapter on Landon might have shown too much emotion, the next one opened briskly, listing Landon’s earnings from her various works, and her grandmother’s legacy. He could not keep up this business-like tone, reverting at once to praising Landon’s “ceaseless consideration for the feelings of others…a sweet disposition, so perfectly amiable…” To demonstrate her character, Jerdan printed her letters to him from Paris in 1834, which have been mentioned earlier in this present work, concluding his tribute to her memory by observing that these letters “re-create a vivid portrait of the lamented writer.” In writing his Autobiography Jerdan could hardly have omitted Landon, even if solely for the substantial amount of her input to the Literary Gazette, and as he was trying to maintain at least a semblance of chronology her appearance was fitted in to the right time, the first few years of his editorship of the Gazette. There is however, (but perhaps with the benefit of hindsight), a highly emotional note to these two chapters, and certainly more space given to one individual, than appears anywhere else in the four volumes of Jerdan’s memoir.
Jerdan then reverted to his usual pattern of associated reminiscences, conscious that they did not form a coherent narrative. He excused this by noting,
Biography, especially if as various as mine, cannot be constructed with the consistency of an invented plot. My web is not woven of a fancy-pattern with the main design running from end to end, and the accessory sprigs and embroideries in apple-pie order; but more like that spun by the Moenian Arachne, where there is indeed a centre, but from which the threads diverge in every fashion, now apparently tied together in mathematical-looking angles and circles, now flowing freely in wider weft, now throwing out long filaments, whither, and for what purpose, it is not easy to tell, yet altogether displaying an irregular regularity which is pleasant to look upon, when once leisurely examined and properly understood!
This rather verbose description of himself at the centre of a spider’s web does indeed describe not only the structure of his Autobiography, but also of his literary and personal life; had he made this idea clear at the outset, perhaps some of his sterner criticis would have been kinder in their reviews of the apparently random nature of his reminiscences and associations of thought.
The by now familiar Appendices included letters and poems by Barry Cornwall and William Read, and in the final appendix Jerdan appealed, “I hope there is no reader on earth who would be so cruel to an autobiographer – a person who acts the part of a great medicine for the cure of the bile – as to deny him the comfort of two or three pages of Appendix to fill up the sheet with a few trifling specimens of his other writings.” The trifles were amusing, comprised of quips and puns, and a brief “Last Love Song.”
The Spectator’s review of Volume III was short and neutral, commenting that there was “less of the wonted topic…the misfortunes of literary men and the disadvantages of literature as a profession, than there was in the second volume…but the volume wants the reality of the youth and early manhood of its author.” The critic found that the two chapters on L.E.L. “tell very little and are somewhat mysterious to boot.”
Tait’s, which had been positive about the first two books, greeted the third warmly: “a treasury of readable matters culled with a liberal profusion from the hoarded stores of a long literary life”. The reviewer noted Jerdan’s “generous and kindly spirit” when introducing Literary Gazette contributors such as Pyne and especially Maginn, on whom Tait’s extracted the descriptive passages. Regarding L.E.L., the critic looked “for further information at his hands, and shall probably have it in a future volume”, and regretted that he had run out of space after mentioning only one-third of the “varied contents of this somewhat discursive but engrossing book”.
The Athenaeum of 13 November 1852 gave Volume III nearly three columns, much of which contained extracts from Jerdan’s text. Ignoring Jerdan’s own explanatory metaphor of the spider’s web, the reviewer carped:
The farther these confessions and experiences of a literary life proceed, the more discursive and reclamatory do they become. There is a perpetual reference either backward or forward. Something already written needs to be corrected or confirmed, - something not yet written is to be anticipated. Critics have yet to be answered, enemies defied, - forgotten papers to be brought in, with or without regard to time and theme. So that, altogether, instead of a regular narrative, with anecdotes, repartees and character introduced artistically to enliven and illustrate the individual story, the reader has in these volumes a literary olla [a large earthenware storage vessel], which would probably have little less of sequence if its articles were first put into a box, well shaken, and printed as they might happen to come out again. 
Taking up the chief bone of contention between Jerdan and the majority of his critics, the Athenaeum declared that the topic was referred to in almost every chapter. “We have taken no part so far in this discussion, - and, for reasons which our readers will appreciate, we still refrain from discussing with Mr Jerdan a topic so important and so delicate.” The review entirely overlooked the chapters on L.E.L., and extracted several anecdotes in a lighter vein for the entertainment of their readers.
In the interval between sending off his manuscript for Volume III, and awaiting its reviews, Jerdan was still working on his latest paper, Tallis’s Weekly. It was not doing well, and in January 1853 its proprietor was trying a new idea to encourage subscriptions by offering “a superb steel engraving” worth two guineas, entitled “Liberty and Captivity” to anyone who signed up for six months. Jerdan told Bennoch that he had not heard how the paper was succeeding, but “I think it ought to make its way and will: but my position has some drawbacks, from the erroneous notion that I am too Derbyish; and a hankering to be Liberal whilst pretending to hold equal scales” (MsL J55bAc Iowa). However, Jerdan’s article on “The Magazines” in the issue of 6 November, sounded like sour grapes, as if he was missing his job on the Literary Gazette, and was using the opportunity to air some old grievances:
The magazines seem to us on the whole unusually dull this year. Whether it be the weather, or the prospect of the duke’s funeral [Wellington], or something else, we know not, but something certainly has happened to cast a rather lugubrious tone over them all. Bentley’s indeed appeared so heavy…a certain sameness about [the articles] which would almost induce one to believe that they were all by the same writer…Fraser, which is also rather dull…the tone and style of Blackwood is the same, contains, if anything, less novelty than usual…
He was more complimentary about other periodicals such as Tait’s, Gentleman’s Magazine and the New Monthly Magazine, perhaps because they had not annihilated his Autobiography.
Jerdan was still considered by some to have influence. Lord Lennox assured him on 24 January 1853 that he would receive the first bound copy of his Memoirs of being aide de camp to Wellington, asking for an early notice “to start me well” (Bodleian d. 114, f28). In the 4 December issue of Tallis’s Weekly, Jerdan unashamedly took advantage of his position as Editor to give himself some free publicity, quoting at some length “an amusing instance” from Volume III of his Autobiography, concerning the difficulties of sending a package to the Duke of Wellington.
Jerdan, with two of his daughters (unnamed), spent nearly two weeks over Christmas and the New Year 1853 with the Polar explorer Sir James Ross and his wife at their home in Buckinghamshire (LetterJerdan to Mrs Darby, 12 January 1853. Pierpont Morgan MA 3553). Even in his penurious state he was still invited to his friends’ homes. His finances were to slightly improve when in March 1853 Jerdan’s pension of one hundred pounds a year was finally granted by the intervention of Lord John Russell, a previous Prime Minister, to the current PM the Earl of Aberdeen. It was grudgingly announced in the March 1853 Literary Gazette
We are happy to announce that a pension of £100 a year has been granted to Mr Jerdan, editor of this Journal from its commencement in 1817 to the close of 1850, in consideration of his literary labours. Although we have thought it right to repel the unwarrantable attacks made by Mr Jerdan on the profession of letters, and been thus driven to state the facts which have been the cause of his personal misfortunes, we are not the less sensible of his claim to literary sympathy. The award of a pension under such circumstances supplies a crowning proof of the consideration which literary position and connexion have procured for Mr Jerdan, although to this profession he attributes all his calamities. [253.]
This was a churlish way to score more points off Jerdan’s misfortune, under the guise of seeming to congratulate him on his pension award. Jerdan appreciated the pension and believed that there was nothing left in the fund to make him a more generous allowance. The lithographer and sculptor, R. J. Lane told Jerdan on February 12th, “I am glad the Lord John thanked you (as he ought) – the term “pension” is wrong it seems – as the grant is one hundred a year for two years, but then comes the intimation that no minister would be likely to discontinue it – this entre nous as it is a private letter” (Bodleian d. 114, f15). A rather more munificent pension of £200 a year had been granted to Leigh Hunt in 1847, with the bonus of an accompanying letter from Lord John Russell saying “the severe treatment you formerly received in times of unjust persecution of liberal writers, enhances the satisfaction with which I make this announcement.” Hunt had earned his larger pension by the long term he had spent in prison for publicising his liberal views, a sacrifice Jerdan had avoided by keeping away from politics for most of his working life.
After a hiatus of nearly a year, in November 1853 Jerdan published the fourth and final volume of his Autobiography and dedicated it to Sir Edward Lytton Bulwer-Lytton. The frontispiece was adorned by a flattering engraving of Bulwer and another of the Lytton ancestral home, Knebworth in Hertfordshire. Jerdan opened with his usual theme of commenting upon his critics. He said that “exhibitions of spite and rancour have demonstrated a truth of which I have long been aware, namely, that gratitude was the shortest lived of human virtues; but the compensation on the other hand of liberal sentiments and generous sympathies have far outweighed the inflictions of literary coxcombic pertness, and sheer stupidity and unprovoked malevolence.” He affected to “grin” at the double-sided portrait of himself given by his various reviewers. He quoted from letters he had received, mostly praising him, and noted that he had been encouraged to expand and to reduce, to include and to omit; taking full responsibility for his work, he remarked that “it will be my own fault at the end of my journey if I am discovered to be carrying my OWN ASS: and after all, it is better to ride an ass that carries, than a horse that throws, you.”
This volume focussed on contributors to the Literary Gazette, reminiscences of his old friends, his purchase of a share in the Literary Gazette and of Grove House. He also documented, albeit very vaguely, the financial trouble which necessitated selling his grand home, and proudly listed the committee which oversaw his Testimonial. The Appendices in this volume included his story, “Baby”, which had been published in the Mirror in 1831, and matters concerning the foundation of the Royal Geographical Society and the Literary Fund. He self-indulgently added what he called “a playful note” from Landon, sent probably around 1830, which he believed “will farther show from what a height I have fallen”. As her letter asked him to procure a theatre box for a friend, something he habitually did, asked for his opinion on her latest review, and wished his sore throat better, this hardly indicated the “fall” to which he alluded. Perhaps this was Jerdan’s way of pre-empting his critics from pointing too spitefully to his reduced condition.
Jerdan concluded his life story by observing that “Autobiography as it ought to be, was defined by a great man as ‘a portrait of the mind of the writer’, and in order to come somewhat within this canon, I have not hesitated to give such truthful lineaments as occurred to my pencil, though I was not artist enough to paint a complete picture…” He had been accused of egotism, he said, but that was something inseparable from his task.
The Spectator dismissed the fourth volume, saying that all it contained were “not digressions, but only variations of the theme - Self and Gazette.” What else did they expect, one wonders, from the Autobiography of a man who had spent thirty-four years on his influential periodical? The Athenaeum that appeared on the very last day of 1853 was unhappy with Jerdan’s claims of ingratitude and with the sounding of “the trumpet of his own virtues” (1592). His publication of private letters was called into question; the reviewer was “not sorry that this work had come to a close…Mr Jerdan has evidently lost his temper, and with it his discretion.” The critic foresaw an angry response to this book, “though this may not be the case in the Athenaeum” he recorded smugly, having decimated the work in a single paragraph.
The faithful Tait’s waited a while before its review appeared, excusing itself by remarking that the volume “comes late to hand, like a tardy dessert after a dinner of three courses.” It was worth waiting for, full of things piquant, odd, funny and touching. In February 1854 Tait’s revived the old argument about publishers’demands for good reviews in the periodicals they owned, gently chiding Jerdan’s kindly nature:
There are some curious revelations in this volume of the soreness of publishers with regard to the works which they issue to the public. Surely no man in such a position ever dealt more leniently with authors than Mr Jerdan while at the head of the Literary Gazette; but it would appear that with certain publishers, nothing short of unqualified praise will please them...we fear, that Mr Jerdan has really some offences to atone for. His generosity has sometimes outrun his judgment and from hints dropped here and there in this concluding volume, it is to be suspected that some who have been most favoured, have been the least grateful.
Their review concluded by urging readers that Jerdan’s Autobiography was “the fullest and most amusing history which he can possibly meet with of the literary world of the last half century.”
The Literary Gazette refrained from reviewing Volumes III and IV, perhaps feeling that enough bitterness and gall had been expended on the first two books.
Taken all in all, Jerdan’s Autobiography was more ‘stream of association’ than it is organised chronological information. Although his avowed intention was to warn young people off a career in literature, the four volumes are peppered with boasting of the high, mighty and powerful whom he met through his long career. It is fruitless to search for almost any hard fact in their pages, the absence of dates being just one of the frustrating omissions. As might be expected Jerdan made little reference to anything after the glory days of 1830, and only tenuous, teasing remarks on the catastrophes that he suffered after that date. Almost nothing about his family found a place in his memoir although considerable space was devoted to Landon. It is conceivable that he intended a fifth volume which may have treated these matters in more detail, but that his publisher Virtue decided there was no demand for one. (He was correct, as the Autobiography was advertised in the Athenaeum in November 1858 at the reduced price of 10s for all four volumes.)
On the other hand, if his volumes are accepted for what they are, the somewhat rambling reminiscences of an elderly man who had recently suffered the loss of his life-long employment and his own journal, one can appreciate his mental connections between one anecdote and the next, whether driven by personality, time, topic, or some other personal connection only Jerdan could make. No-one would wish to dwell on the downside of their life when writing their memoirs, at least a man such as Jerdan for whom success seemed to be measured not so much in money, but in the kindness and influence he could offer to striving authors, and in the names of the great and the good he could call his friends.
The curmudgeonly Samuel Carter Hall, who had known – but not liked – Jerdan, looked back thirty years later to pronounce:
He left an Autobiography; considering his vast opportunities it is deficient in interest, of little use for reference, and giving us but a shadowy idea of the many great men and women to whom it makes reference and whom he has personally known. Indeed, he had personally known nearly all who flourished during the second quarter of the century. I have myself vainly sought in his four volumes for the help he might have given – and ought to have given – the writers who should come after him. 
This was an unnecessarily spiteful comment on the work of a man then long dead, a man whose usual joie de vivre was a characteristic quite foreign to Hall. Jerdan himself had already given his response to such criticism; he acknowledged his shortcomings, but said that “fifty years of literary life, mixed up with ‘all the world’ defies system”, and system was not one of Jerdan’s virtues (Stoddard 175).
Six weeks before Volume IV went to press, and despite the temptations of steel engravings and Jerdan’s efforts, his association with Tallis’s London Weekly Paper ran into difficulties. Its early success at fourpence had quickly fallen off, and it needed to sell twenty thousand copies to be profitable (4.363). Jerdan reported that they could not sell above half that amount; the price was raised to sixpence and circulation fell by half. In August they offered another engraving, this of Her Majesty on Horseback painted by Count d’Orsay; an advertisement for Tallis’s noted that it was “of the full extent allowed by law, containing 3060 square inches of reading matter, is of Liberal Politics, sound Protestant Principles and the best Family Paper issued from the Metropolitan Press.” None of this was enough to save it, and Jerdan’s role as editor came to an end in November 1853 with issue no. 77. The paper itself was absorbed into the Empire New Series at that time (“Pharoahs who knew nothing of Joseph” Jerdan claimed), and ran for a further three years. The reincarnated paper did not employ Jerdan, as was evident from his anguished letter to Bennoch of November 1853. Fields, despite his avowed intentions, had not found any work for him, and there was another matter which Jerdan needed to discuss with Bennoch. In his letter of 1 November 1851 he sounded desperate:
I enclose a copy of the letter I have addressed to Messrs Cook Son & Co as you advised.
I am sorry that after circumstances should impress you with the opinion that I committed a social injury in being carried away (it may be somewhat imprudently) by Mr Thomson’s flattering and seductive inducements. The failure of the Boston Correspondence and of Tallis’ Paper could not be foreseen at the time, and my plunge into difficulties was both sudden and unexpected. I have not now to learn however that Poverty is a moral taint.
I cannot, if I would, take the benefit of the Insolvent Court. My antecedents in 1850 prevent it and if Messrs Cook persevere in their merciless course, I must, as I have stated be made an outlaw, or sent to a Gaol till Death relieved me of my sufferings.
I think that with two years’ arrested life I cd do much to improve my circumstance – do something for the Children – and leave a memory better preserved from censure or calumny and higher in the literature of my country. But alas I see no way to this repose and can only groan forth Oh that I could flee away to be at rest.
I hope in my reference to you I have not exceeded the licence you prescribed. Much as I value yr friendship I would not press upon it even to a stretch of commercial convenance, to save me from ruin. As it is I am all but broken hearted
Yrs most sincerely,
WJ [MsL J55bAc Iowa]
I am of necessity away from Home, and all destitute enough.
The nature of Messrs Cook’s action is unknown, but was plainly very serious. Jerdan confided to Bennoch that he was in a “dreadful state” and had tried to see Frank Cook, but he was out of England; he had written instead to a Mr Jones, and enclosed his response for Bennoch to see. Jerdan was not optimistic: “If he apprehends me, the destruction of all belonging to me and my incarceration for life and the certain results. For God's sake help me if you can to avert this terrible stroke. I am obliged to flee from home. Can scarcely write this scrawl.” He was understandably terrified of being imprisoned for debt, a fate suffered by so many other literary men before him. He wrote often to Bennoch, to whom he was forced to apply for funds to keep going.
Jerdan’s letters asking friends for money often had a ring of melodrama, but these last two to Bennoch seem to have been wrung from his heart as he looked back over his life and realised, finally, that he was possibly nearing its end without having achieved security for his family or a place for himself in posterity. “Want, my dear Friend, and not Economy, is the order of the day with me, unless some replacement of the cash is effected,” he remarked to Bennoch in another letter. The children had to play their part too. “Charles has been a week in his trial at the [Press?] office. The girls talk of going out to service or teach.” Charles would have been about 15 or 16, the girls 17 and 18. How different the lives of this family to that of Jerdan’s legitimate children, steady in their careers or marriages.
In Fraser’s Magazine of September 1853 Jerdan contributed a four verse poem called “Après Moi,” about children’s happiness continuing, even though “The dead must rest – the dead shall rest”. His frame of mind spoke for itself.
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Last modified 13 July 2020