n 1856 a book was published in Philadelphia which referred to Jerdan’s wife, the single clue which has led to her identification. The book was by Charles Lanman, entitled Adventures in the Wilds of the United States and British American Provinces. In New Brunswick, now Canada, Lanman had come across Robert Eggar, brother of Jerdan’s wife Frances, six years her junior. Eggar “claimed a good name for his family”, and told how he had come to New Brunswick in 1809 at the age of twenty-two. He was a government agent, transacting business in the fur trade. His claim to fame was his sister’s marriage to William Jerdan. Lanman was clearly impressed with Eggar, dubbing him ‘The Hermit of Aroostook’ and recalling his meeting in a further book, Haphazard Personalities, published in Boston in 1886. The timing of this unexpected revelation of Frances’s identity coincided almost exactly with news of her death.
Frances and her daughter Elizabeth had moved some years earlier to Bentley in Hampshire, but she became ill with digestive problems and then contracted a chronic gastroenteritis, from which she died at 6 Albert Cottages, Stoke Field, Guildford on 23 February 1856. She was seventy-six and her death certificate noted her as “wife of William Jerdan, Gentleman”. Her death was mentioned in the Gentleman’s Magazine and in the Leader. The notation of “wife” (taken together with Robert Eggar’s claim to be Jerdan’s brother-in-law, although no marriage certificate has been found), indicates that they were still legally married, or at least accepted as such, so that it would not have been possible for Jerdan to have married Mary Maxwell before this time, unless bigamously, for which there is no evidence. There is also no evidence that he married Mary subsequently, although on the majority of her children’s birth certificates she is called “Jerdan”. After her mother’s death, Elizabeth Hall Dare Jerdan, now aged thirty-six, had to earn her own living and, like so many single middle-class women of the times, became a governess,
Her older brother, William Freeling, had worked with his father for many years, as an assistant on the Literary Gazette. His health had suffered from the constant strain of Jerdan’s acute poverty and the demands of his father’s large family, as well as his own cramped living conditions in Southwark. In 1856 he was listed as a Supplementary Clerk in the Post Office at St. Martins-le-Grand, in the office of the Secretary Rowland Hill. On 17 May 1856, aged 40, he took the unusual step of writing to Puttick & Simpson, leading auctioneers of music and art, enclosing a batch of autograph letters for safekeeping until the death of the authors and in the event of his own death. Many “literary autographs” appeared in the auctioneers’ catalogue of April 4 1860, including some addressed to Jerdan (Bodleian d. 113, f270). This sale was after William Freeling’s death, and the letters were very probably those he sent to them at this time.
These letters caused some problems for Jerdan, who had mentioned them to Bennoch, and the matter became generally known to some of their authors. “With regard to the autographs you may justify me and satisfy our fussy friends,” Jerdan told Francis Bennoch indignantly in a letter proably written on 4 May 1856:
There is not a letter of Wrights (tho’ I have many which we wd not like published at the Cross) such as loans to him when pushed and very free opinions of mutual friends – of Tuppers, there are two or three mere notes with his signature – and indeed such is the character of all I have sent of any living writer and therefore there can be no offence. Mackay’s “wrath” I might deem unseemly. Does he imagine I wd make public his letters of everlasting gratitude to me for procuring him aid from the L. Fund when he required it? Surely there are of those who censure me not a few who might well be afraid of my letting the world see what returns I have had for most essential services. But let that pass. Only it is dangerous to provoke, instead of striving to serve an Old Friend whose friendship has been of so much value, as mine has been to These.
Jerdan had found letters of his own catalogued for sale; he insisted that he had no idea how they had been obtained and that he had known nothing about them. “I went on the day previous, looked over the lots, and retired every letter of a nature to be deemed private,” he informed Bennoch. The whole affair had stung him to the quick: “Let any enemy of mine meet me face to face and allow fair play for explanation, and if they can convict me of an act unbecoming for a gentleman and man of honour, I will trouble not one friend any more.” Destitute as he was, he would not stoop so low as to try and make money on letters from friends, or from any correspondence he had received over his long career – at least until their authors were dead.
Jerdan and Bennoch had paid a courtesy visit to Nathaniel Hawthorne, the American novelist, when he first came to England in 1853 as Consul, settling in Liverpool. At the time Nathaniel Hawthorne had wondered about Jerdan, “What there was in so uncouth an individual to get him so freely into polished society” (English Notebooks 379). Hawthorne and Bennoch had stayed in touch, perhaps because of mutual liking or because of trading arrangements. (Bennoch, Twentyman and Rigg’s wholesale silk company had been formed ten years earlier.) Hawthorne certainly had a soft spot for Bennoch, writing of him, although anonymously in Our Old Home as “the man to whom I owed most in England, the warm benignity of whose nature was never weary of doing me good” (English Notebooks 642n). On 22 March 1856 Hawthorne travelled to London, complaining of the usual dull and monotonous journey. It was Good Friday, so the streets “had on their Sunday aspect. If it were not for the human life and bustle of London, it would be a very stupid place, with a heavy and dreary monotony of unpicturesque streets” (English Notebooks 281). Already in this grumpy mood, and made more weary by a walk in the drizzle, Hawthorne took himself out again after lunch to Wood Street in the City to visit Bennoch’s place of business. Hawthorne enjoyed his friend’s bluff, kindly manner and after discussing matters of mutual interest, enquired after Jerdan.
At this point in Hawthorne’s journal, his record is strangely at odds with what is known about the relationship between Jerdan and Bennoch, coloured perhaps by his depressed and damp state at the time. Concerning Jerdan, Hawthorne noted:
Mr Bennoch spoke of him as a very disreputable old fellow, who had spent all his life in dissipation, and has not left it off even now in his old age. I do not see how such a man has attained vogue in society, as he certainly did; for he had no remarkable gifts, more than scores of other literary men, and his manners had, to my taste, no charm. Yet he had contrived to live amongst and upon whatever is exquisite in society, and in festivity, and had seduced (according to Bennoch’s statement) innumerable women, and had an infinity of illegitimate children, besides an unconscionable number born in wedlock, of more than one wife. I asked Bennoch whether he supposed that there was any truth in the scandalous rumors in reference to Jerdan and L.E.L. He replied that he did not think that they were true to the utmost extent, although he conceived that there had been great freedom, and even licentiousness, of intercourse between her and Jerdan – great looseness of behaviour – only falling short of the one ultimate result. He said that Jerdan had assured him, on his honour, that L.E.L. had never yielded her virtue to him; and Bennoch thought he would not have denied it, had the case been otherwise. But, in short, the impression on my mind about Jerdan is, that he is a good-for-nothing old wretch, always disreputable, and now drunken and rowdyish on the edge of the grave. He is shameless even in begetting legitimate children; being now much above seventy, and his youngest child only about three years old.
Hawthorne himself had the reputation of a highly moralistic man; this account has a ring of Bennoch attempting to tell his visitor what he thought he wanted to hear, rather than disclosing the close nature of his friendship with, and boundless generosity to, Jerdan. Bennoch was on good terms with Jerdan’s children by Mary Maxwell and, if recent family information is correct, Ella Stuart, Landon’s daughter, came to stay with them at least once, so that Bennoch would have known that she was Jerdan’s daughter, in contradiction of his assurances to Hawthorne.
Hawthorne’s social rounds in London included many of Jerdan’s own acquaintance, including Samuel Carter Hall whose effusiveness Hawthorne found overwhelming. Hall however, found Hawthorne “one of the most lovable of men”, of “painful shyness in general society,” as he described him in his Retrospect of a Long Life (2.202). On 10 July Hawthorne sat through a long dinner party and then met Bennoch, travelled back by train and cab to Blackheath. Next day the Bennochs left for a continental journey and wishing to relax, Hawthorne happened to pick up Volume IV of Jerdan’s Autobiography. He was dozing over it, “(wretched twaddle, though it records such constant and apparently intimate intercourse with distinguished people)”, when Jerdan himself was announced. Remembering his earlier opinion of the “uncouth individual”, Hawthorne’s vivid but sympathetic portrait of Jerdan now reflected the parlous state his visitor was in at the time:
He now looks rougher than ever; time-worn but not reverend; a thatch of grey hair on his head; an imperfect set of false teeth; a careless apparel, checked trowsers, and a stick; for he had walked a mile or two, from his own dwelling. I suspect (and long practice at the Consulate has made me keen-sighted) that Mr Jerdan contemplates some benefit from my purse; and, to the extent of a sovereign or so, I would not mind contributing to his comfort. He spoke of a secret purpose of Bennoch and himself to obtain me a degree or diploma in some Literary Institution – what one, I know not, and did not ask; but the honour cannot be a high one, if this poor old fellow can do aught towards it. I am afraid he is a very disreputable senior, but certainly not the less to be pitied on that account; and there was something very touching in his stiff and infirm movement, as he resumed his stick and took leave, waving me a courteous farewell, and turning upon me a smile grim with age, as he went down the steps. In that gesture and smile I fancied some trace of the polished man of society, such as he may have been once; though time and hard weather have roughened him. [English Notebooks 378]
Hawthorne was writing in the middle of the Victorian period, and perhaps needed some grit in the oyster of his generally positive report on England for his American readers – a touch of the disreputable to spice his journal. During this same period Jerdan paid a call on Hawthorne at his home, recalled in great detail by Hawthorne’s son Julian, half a century later, a portrait of Jerdan more vivid and evocative than any which his contemporaries have furnished:
One Sunday forenoon...we descried an old gentleman approaching up the winding street. As he drew nearer he presented rather a shabby, or at least, rusty appearance. His felt hat was not so black as it had been; his coat was creased and soiled; his boots needed a blacking. He swung a cane as he stumped along, and there was a sort of faded smartness in his bearing, and a knowingness in his grim old visage, indicating some incongruous familiarity with the manners of the great world. He came to a halt in front of the house, and, after quizzing it for a moment, went up the steps and beat a fashionable tattoo with the knocker.
Summoned in-doors soon afterwards, we found this questionable personage sitting in the drawing-room. His voice was husky, but modulated to the inflections of polite breeding; he used a good many small gestures, and grinned often, revealing the yellow remains of his ancient teeth; he laughed, too, with a hoarse sound in his throat. There was about him an air of determined cheerfulness and affability, though between the efforts the light died down in his wrinkled old eyes and the lines of his face sagged and deepened. He offered to kiss my sisters, but they drew back; he took my hand in his own large, dry one with its ragged nails and swollen joints. At length he inveigled my younger sister to his knee, where she sat gazing unflinchingly and solemnly into him with that persistence which characterizes little girls of four or five who are not quite sure of their ground. Her smooth, pink-and-white cheeks and unwinking eyes contrasted vividly with his seamed yellowness and blinking grin; for a long time he coquetted at her, and played peep-bo, without disturbing her gravity, making humorous side comments to the on-lookers meanwhile. There was a ragged and disorderly mop of gray hair on his head, which showed very dingy beside the clear auburn of the child's. One felt a repulsion from him, and yet, as he chatted and smirked and acted, there was a sort of fascination in him, too. Some original force and fire of nature still glowed and flickered in his old carcass; something human stirred dimly under the crust of self-consciousness and artificiality. Rose's adamantine seriousness finally relaxed in a faint smile, upon which he threw up his hands, emitted a hoarse cackle of triumph, and exclaimed, "There--there it is! I knew I'd get it; she loves me—she loves me!" He then permitted her to slip down from his knee and withdraw to her mother, and resumed the talk which our entrance had interrupted. It was chiefly about people of whom we youngsters knew nothing…he had the nobility and gentry at his finger-ends; he was privileged, petted, and sought after everywhere; if there were any august door we wished to enter, any high-placed personage we desired to approach, any difficult service we wanted rendered, he was the man to help us to our object. Who, then, was he? He has long been utterly forgotten; but he was well known, or notorious, during the first half of the last century; he was such a character as could flourish only in England. His name was William Jerdan; he was born in 1785, and was now, therefore, about seventy years old. He had started in life poor, with no family distinction, but with some more or less useful connections either on the father's or the mother's side. He had somehow got an English education, and he had pursued his career on the basis of his native wits, his indomitable effrontery and persistence, his faculty of familiarity, his indifference to rebuffs, his lack of shame, conscience, and morality. How he found the means to live nobody could tell, but he uniformly lived well and had enjoyed the good things of the world…Now, however, in his age, he was wellnigh at the end of his tether; what we should call his "pull" was losing its efficiency; he was lapsing to the condition where he would offer to introduce a man to the Prince of Wales or to Baron Rothschild, and then ask him for the loan of five pounds--or half a crown, as the case might be. He was a character for Thackeray. He haunted my father for a year or two more, and then vanished I know not where. [Hawthorne and His Circle]
Julian Hawthorne’s sister Rose made similar, if briefer, recollections in her Hawthorne and His Circle, which she published in 1897.
At this point, Jerdan had absolutely no work at all, no income besides his pension and no expectations. His debts were necessarily mounting daily and he was unable to keep his promise to repay any of Bennoch’s loans, or those of his partner Mr Riggs. In yet another heart-rending letter to his benefactor dated 1 June 1856 he begged Bennoch, “Cannot you hear of some place [for the older boys], however moderate and humble? As for my own exertions I wish I were a Copying Clerk rather than endure the strange chances of a job here and there…I am as much distressed as a human being can be by sheer misfortune” (MsL J55bA Iowa). As ever, Jerdan was in denial that his misfortunes were any of his own making, and his failure to save anything from the considerable sums he had earned in the past was somehow not his fault. He must have sorely tried Bennoch’s patience, just as he had formerly caused Macready to withhold any more ‘loans’ that were in reality gifts.
Three weeks later Jerdan was again telling his friend on the 21st, “My boys hang on hand and I can procure no regular pen-work, and the load on my back increases in weight as I grow the weaker to sustain it. But hence to useless complaining. The bed is made and I only wish it were deeper and quieter” (MsL J55bAc Iowa). Having got his troubles off his chest he brightened up, enclosing a book written by a Glasgow merchant as a consequence of Jerdan’s Plan of Polity and Finance in 1827; he asked Bennoch to glance at it, so that they could compare their opinions. To assist Bennoch Jerdan also enclosed the only copy he could find of the essays which he and John Trotter had published at the time of their financial Plan. (Three months later Bennoch had still not responded to this request, and Jerdan was being harassed by the Glasgow merchant.) As soon as Jerdan had something outside of his own troubles to think about, his old ebullient self was reasserted. “What do you think of the Wallace Night move in Scotland?”, he asked his compatriot. “Should London reflect the patriotic idea?”
The ‘patriotic idea” was for a memorial to William Wallace, the Scottish patriot who had died in 1305. Jerdan had been asked for his opinion about fund-raising and in a letter of 4 July 1856 advised his correspondent (unnamed, but probably Charles Rogers, editor of The Modern Scottish Minstrel),
I am all for a National, chiefly Scottish Dinner, at the London Tavern, with Lord Elgin, Lord Eglinton and other distinguished men at the head of it (vide my list for Burns in 1816); and I have no fear of raising a Fund of more than you want for the Monument and a surplus for some patriotic purpose to keep the maker annually, constantly, in the Country’s memory. Command my best sources if they can be of use in promoting the design. [NLS 14303/262-3]
With this letter he enclosed a collection of his “versifying published and unpublished” and noted that “The Wee Bird’s Song” was his favourite. He especially requested that his papers be returned, “the sooner the better, as I was born in 1782 – and hardly expect to see 1882 as an Anniversary.” Two months on September 15th later he told Rogers that he had called at the office of his London Secretary and offered his help, mentioning the prominent part he had played in the Burns and Ettrick Shepherd festivals. Jerdan strongly supported the idea of a Dinner at the London Tavern (when did he not?), and thought “some hundreds of pounds” could be raised (NLS 14303/276-7). The foundation stone of the Wallace Monument was finally laid in June 1861, overlooking the battlefield of Stirling. “The mere revival of the National feeling in the British Capital, every now and then, is an excellent object – nutriment to Scottish brotherhood, good feelings and charities.” The old convivial Jerdan had not completely disappeared under the crushing weight of penury and “no pen-work”, and he would have been flattered that his opinion and assistance were still thought, in some quarters, to be useful.
In Notes Notes & Queries Queries of September 1856 an H. G. Davis suggested that Jerdan could write “a most interesting paper” on his recollections of the area of Cromwell House where he used to live and where he had dug up “statues and other pieces of sculpture”. He believed Cromwell had occupied Cromwell House and if not the Protector himself, then Chief Justice Hale. However, Jerdan did not publish any such history in Notes Notes & Queries Queries; he needed to spend his writing time to make money, interested as he would have been in such a project. Pyle has suggested that he may have done a little work as a publisher’s reader, evidenced by a letter reporting on the manuscript of a novel, “praising character and dialogue, objecting to a lack of variety from chapter to chapter”, but his addressee is not named, so the evidence is slight.
In the autumn Jerdan was once again unwell, and confined to bed. We learn from Jerdan’s letter of 4 October 1856 that the faithful Bennoch referred him to a Dr Thomson for a consultation (MsL J55bAc Iowa). By suggesting that Jerdan consult a particular doctor, Bennoch may have been indicating that he would meet the Doctor’s fees. (This was not the Dr Thomson who had treated Landon, as he had died in 1849.)
Jerdan was in constant financial straits. In a letter of 16 October 1856 written after he had recovered from his illness he acknowledged Bennoch’s advice that ‘Gentlemen in difficulties’ consult with friends, and asked him, “I have some pictures, curious and of value, if I could avail myself of such property to tide over the year. Can you advise or promote this object and essentially benefit…W. Jerdan” (MsL J55bAc). Times were hard, when he was forced into selling his personal possessions. Yet again, he reflected Leigh Hunt’s enforced selling of his precious books to keep his family fed, back in 1834; Hunt however was later able to re-purchase them, although after Hunt’s death his son Thornton disposed of his father’s library of two thousand books, mainly to J. T. Fields in Boston.
By November Jerdan was desperate enough to forget about being a “Gentleman in difficulties”, and on November 1st wrote from his heart to Messrs. Cook, whose writ made him fear imprisonment. Mustering all his skills of eloquence he pleaded to be released from his debt:
I am advised by friends who also know you well to make a final appeal to your humanity to stop a proceeding against my person which must either make me a fugitive or a prisoner for life. My viability to meet your claim has been rendered more and more afflicting by unfortunate circumstances and a vain struggle to regain the means I had when I contracted the debt and which were swept away through no fault of mine, from employments both in America and London.
Thus reduced I have had to subsist on very precarious and inadequate resources, to support in the humblest way a family of eleven children, unhappily deprived of a Mother’s care by the heaviest calamity that can befal a living soul – the loss of reason, and consequent charge in a lunatic asylum.
I am blamed, Gentlemen, for contracting this debt as if at the time I had no reasonable prospect of paying it, but such is not the case, and it may also be remembered in my favour that I used the best of my literary efforts and connections with the American and Australian press to be of service to your great concerns.
But I urge no merits. I can only now throw myself, in old age, and sinking under other miseries, upon your merciful consideration. To destroy me utterly beyond a hope in this world, and with me (…) on helpless offspring, would surely be a punishment more cruel than any offence I have given you ought to provoke in Christian breasts, taught to pray to God to forgive them as they forgive others. In inexpressible distress I therefore once more appeal to you. In a letter to Mr Jones I have a reference to Mr Bennoch as cognizant of my situation and I go no farther than to state that while he censures the manner of my having contracted this debt he affords me some relief by expressing his opinion that in so sad a case such a House as yours will not proceed to extremities against me. [MsL J55bAc Iowa]
Three weeks later on November 20th, in a dazed confusion, he asked Bennoch,
Did I understand you to say, yesterday, that Messrs Cook had withdrawn their proceedings? It was not merely Mr. Ald. W’s presence which confused me, but just before you came up, I am sorry to say me head gave me a stagger and nearly a fall on the floor with the Paper in my hand. It arose, I think, from stooping over it, but these sensations are significant. Thanks for the good and merciful help – I cannot describe the benefit – only once more perhaps and then wait the falling due. Pray say about Messrs. C. [MsL J55bAc Iowa]
Bennoch was to come to his aid yet again at Christmas, by giving young Henry, now aged 19, a trial for a position in his company. “I cannot say how thankful I am to you for the great service you have done to Henry and to us all. It is a fair and most welcome opening and I trust he will acquit himself so as to do credit to his friends. Mr F. thought him not strong, from his pale looks, but he is perfectly healthy and with regular meals and habits will soon show better. Of late we have been strangely un-provisioned, and suffered a good deal more than I shd like the world to know” (30 December 1856; MsL J55bAc Iowa). His other son Charles, was to start work at Mr Penn’s and Jerdan asked Bennoch to advance him some funds to set up both his boys appropriately.
For a short time Jerdan’s letters carried the address of 16 Park Walk, West Brompton, but this was a temporary measure, and he was shortly to make a move to his final home.
After a desperate year in which he had virtually no work at all, Jerdan would have been relieved to find Dickens amenable to a contribution or two to Household Words. His first article, “The Gift of Tongues”, earned him two guineas, in line with Dickens’s normal payment of one guinea for a two-column page (Lohrli 21). Unlike his many contributions to Bentley’s Miscellany, Jerdan’s articles for Household Words were not fiction. Being now quite free from regular editorial duties he had more time than he would have liked to write up these essays, and to a certain extent they are an outlet for the opinions and knowledge he had amassed.
The first such essay published in Household Words of 10 January 1857 is a heartfelt and reasoned argument for the practical necessity of teaching eastern languages in England. Jerdan noted that the recent war had brought western armies into contact with a Babel of tongues, including Persian, Croatian, Bulgarian and many others including, of course, Russian. He asks, “Who was so much at a loss for the gift of tongues as the Englishman? Who was so little as the Russians?” Using agents and interpreters to acquire supplies, he argued, left the English open to double-dealing; their inability to converse with prisoners lost opportunities to obtain useful information. Russian officers, on the other hand, always spoke French and English and often other languages such as Polish and Cossack tongues.
Jerdan noted that Sir Charles Trevelyan, A colonial administrator with a facility for languages, posted to India 1826-40, commissioned assistance from Professor Max Müller, a ‘philosophical linguist’ which, although too late to be useful in the war, highlighted faults in the English educational system. In 1854, together with Sir Stafford Northcote, he published “The Organisation of the Permanent Civil Service”, of which institution he is known as the “father.” This was said to demand very little thought and deliberation from pupils, and concentrated on training the mind by mathematics especially Euclid. This, Jerdan (and Müller) believed, “excludes all human interest from calculation, and every accident that could bring judgment and discretion into play.” Mathematics had a definite place in education, but the study of living language is a better way of teaching boys to think. The “mere study” of words assists the development of reason.
From this theoretical position, Jerdan described Müller’s attempts to illustrate the practical benefits of the proposal. He took common military terms, to “see how much thought is suggested by them”. One example serves to explain this process: “Caballus, a cart-horse rather than a charger, gives us not only cavalry and a horseman, but a chevalier; and we must needs take the terrible cannon from canna, a cane or hollow tube. Musket (French, mousequet; Italian, moschetto) was the name of a sparrow-hawk, stood godfather to the German terzerol, a small pistol.” Other terms given similar treatment included infantry, soldier, corporal and marshal. Müller’s rationale was that each word has a story to tell, changing in form and meaning, becoming exalted or lowly according to the times. The huge diversity of languages in a small geographical region around the Black and Caspian Seas and the Danube, formed an obstacle for inhabitants wishing to resist Russian occupation as they had no common form of communication. Russia, in contrast, used the Cyrillic alphabet, “one of the greatest barriers between that empire and the intellectual world of Europe.” Moreover, Russian officers were taught many languages, including Arabic, Tartaric and Tscherkessian (Circassian).
The essay made a plea for English statesmen to follow this example and establish language schools in tongues that related to England’s great Asiatic and Indian interests. From Sanskrit to Chinese and Indian dialects, Englishmen who transact the business of empire should be able to speak these languages. St Petersburg boasted a chair for every branch of oriental literature, the French Academy’s members represented every department of eastern philology; Vienna, Denmark and Prussia encouraged oriental scholars and used them as consuls and interpreters. English universities, especially Oxford and Cambridge, should remove difficulties for oriental scholars, award them honours and scholarships and increase the number of oriental professorships. Other universities would follow suit once they saw the benefit. As a parting thrust, to underline the paucity of England’s openness to oriental languages, Jerdan pointed out that in all of England there was not a supply of oriental type to print Professor Müller’s essay. This had to be undertaken in Leipzig. (In 2010 the situation had not improved; in Iraq British soldiers cannot converse with Iraqi soldiers or civilians.)
The two guineas he received for this article did not begin to meet his commitments and he still fretted about his boys. Henry’s trial month with a company recommended by Bennoch, was coming to an end; Charles was about to start work in Mr Penn’s factory, and Jerdan explained to Bennoch that he was forced to beg for an advance (presumably on his pension) of seven pounds, as the boys’ needs had straitened his resources. He had still not been told officially whether Cooks had withdrawn proceedings against him, and still suffered “painful apprehensions” on that account. Now that the two older boys had some employment Jerdan turned his attention to the rest of his family. “The young ones are in dismal lodging and I am most anxious to flee away with them and be at rest in some retired spot suited to our reduced circumstances. Charles and Henry being off my hands may make the move possible”, he told Bennoch on 27 January 1857 (MsL J55bAc Iowa). Jerdan’s head had been troubling him and he felt himself confused at times, his memory failing. Young Henry had seemingly satisfied his employers, and entered upon a formal apprenticeship. Jerdan wrote happily to Bennoch on 10 February 1857: “The first wish expressed by Henry after signing his indentures was to come across and thank you, with which I was much pleased as it showed a right disposition which I trust will continue with him, so that he may be a credit to your recommendation and ‘conduct himself’ (as on his trial) to his Master’s ‘entire satisfaction’” (MsL J55bAc Iowa).
Jerdan was proud of his son’s instincts, and knew that of all his children, Henry was the one who most admired Bennoch, and a few years earlier was the one who had dreamed of saving his benefactor from drowning.
Whilst he did his best to provide for these sons of his and Mary Maxwell’s, he received the worst news about his son with Frances, George Canning. On 26 February 1857 George died in Calcutta, aged only 39. His two-line obituary in the Gentleman’s Magazine said that “He was for several years connected with the Calcutta Englishman newspaper”, another of Jerdan’s offspring who were connected with the Press. It is unknown whether he married or left any issue.
In the dark days of the previous year Jerdan had been forced to pawn some of his possessions, and they were now due to be redeemed or lost. “Some of them were once left with Mrs. B.” he reminded Bennoch, “and I think were liked for her table. They are of much more value than what would redeem them…I should never need them again and from five to ten pounds would recover (I imagine) what could not be purchased for thrice the amount” (MsL J55bAc Iowa). How humiliated Jerdan must have felt to be reduced to asking his highly-esteemed friend not just for the usual loan, but to buy his household goods. The days when he had hob-nobbed with Prime Ministers and Lords, and his influence sought by so many, were far behind him. Now Bennoch was the one involved in politics. On 30 March Jerdan rejoiced:
Bravo, My Dear Bennoch!
I congratulate you on your victory; and only wish those in want of public or private support, might find themselves aided by such a friend. As for your Protégé, I think it would have been a shame to London to throw him over, though the family-loving author of Don Carlos would not grant a pension to his kind and amiable Reviewer. Never mind! Forget and forgive. I presume – he will put himself at the head of Reform, and if the cunning Premier does not anticipate and outbid him, be again Prime Minister of England. In that event I rely on you to have my shabby Pension increased, agreeably to the merits of My Dear Bennoch, Yrs most sincerely, W Jerdan
The cause for celebration was Lord John Russell’s overthrow of the government of Prime Minister Palmerston, which had been defeated on Richard Cobden’s motion censuring the resort to force against China and condemning the Second Opium War. The Earl of Derby was appointed to his second brief conservative administration and Russell survived the attempt to oust him from his City seat. As Bennoch had had much influence in the City, it was this on which Jerdan congratulated him, but Bennoch’s influence was on the wane: his business was in a bad way and notice of its bankruptcy had been printed in The Times. Alarmed, Nathaniel Hawthorne hurried to see him, finding Bennoch and his two partners shadows of their former selves. Bennoch confided that, unknown to him, his partners had speculated and lost the company’s money. All hope Bennoch had of civic appointment had vanished and he was reduced to being dunned for his gas bill. Sorrowfully, Hawthorne noted that his friend “had to begin life again, as he began it twenty-five years ago, only under infinite disadvantages…Every other man, into whatever depths of poverty he may sink, has still something left…the merchant has nothing” (English Notebooks 606). Bennoch somehow retrenched and Hawthorne’s son, Julian, noted that he repaid all his creditors with interest and became once more active and happy (quoted in English Notebooks 654n).
Trying to keep his own income afloat, Jerdan made his second contribution to Household Words. The article entitled “Old Scraps of Science” published in the 11 April 1857 issue, concerned scientific advancements in the present age compared to those of two centuries earlier. Jerdan’s topic had been suggested by a speech at the British Association Meeting in Cheltenham which praised recent achievements. Because Jerdan recognised the debt owed to discoveries of an earlier age, he moralised that they should “teach us to modify the ultra high valuations of our noble selves.” Acknowledging the giants of the past as “oracles in the sciences”, he recounted some of the findings in natural sciences by sixteenth and seventeenth century figures. Some of these discoveries sounded far-fetched, but had been ratified by later and more scientific experiments. Jerdan’s detailed knowledge of revered figures such as Besler, Scaliger and Gesner from more than two centuries earlier was impressive, as was his grasp of aspects of their work that he described. He chose items which would be of interest to Household Words readers, more than to a scientific audience. Thus he mentioned a moss (usnea), the application of which stopped bleeding; whelk shells to remedy baldness, butterflies as a diuretic and burnt mussel shells as dentifrice. He discussed many other discoveries of the distant past which had been appreciated in the present, and pondered that in two centuries time, AD 2056, “our enlightened descendants may enjoy a laugh at the absurdities of our grand philosophy!”
An event which would have been of interest to Jerdan during 1857 was the opening of the South Kensington Museum, later to become the Victoria and Albert Museum. Nearby, the Royal Albert Hall was rising on the site of Lady Blessington’s Gore House. Jerdan, however, was looking in another direction. He had at last found the quiet country place he yearned for, where his youngest children could enjoy clean air and a place to grow. He moved with them to Bushey Heath in Hertfordshire, to a small cottage; the local churchwarden’s rate book valued this cottage in 1859 at £16.10.0, on which Jerdan paid first 2s 9d and later 1s 41/2d of tax, confirming the impression of a crowded dwelling too small for the numbers of children living there (quoted Pyle 259). He wrote to Frederick Pollock, his friend from boyhood, on the eve of his own 75th birthday, 15 April 1857, telling him, “I am safely lodged here, whither, thanks to your providence, I contrived to get down, finding that, with the utmost economy, the cost of moving consumed the last ‘splendid shilling’...” He asked after Pollock’s family and confessed, “My philo-progenitiveness is almost a mania. I cannot bear the sight or thought of children ill; and I am not sure that I do not connive at the vagaries even of ill children” (Leisure Hour (1 December 1869): 812). The village was on an omnibus route to London, so that when occasion demanded Jerdan could go into town. This he did on 1 June, asking Bennoch for yet more financial aid as “The moving and a new place have been severe on my limited means” and Henry needed “tailorage” (MsL J55bAc). Bennoch was planning a trip to Russia, and Jerdan was keen to help: “I trust you will remember my offer of letters to our Consul. I would also advise you to think a little of Masonic introduction and taking your clothing etc. with you. I have been told that such things have been productive of much pleasure and advantage.” Jerdan had been a Freemason in earlier years, but just as he had to resign from all other societies from inability to pay his dues, he would also have had to absent himself from Masonic gatherings, unless invited as a guest.
In the next surviving letter three weeks later, Jerdan sounded more like his old self, interested in literary matters which he had barely mentioned in many months. Bennoch had sent Marion Jerdan a gift, perhaps for her 21st birthday: “Mop is charmed with your gift of the portrait”, Jerdan noted. “It is certainly very true and replete with character. I am surprized that with such a look of poetry and genius you can maintain your reputation and credit as a City Merchant. A tithe part sufficed to ruin me as a man of business. Ask Mr Rigg” (MsL J55bAc Iowa). Their mutual friend, the poet Charles Swain, had just had a new book of poems published by Whittemore and Hall. “I hope they pay in proportion”, Jerdan remarked, as they had boasted of the book’s sterling qualities. “I am sure Mackay (if still chief Redacteur of the Illustrious) would cheerfully give his brother bard a lift, and at any rate that being forwarded by you to the proper Channel would secure attention. I will try the only Editor I know, the M[orning] Post, with a similar notice.” Jerdan had again been suffering with his leg: “My lameness is getting much better – the inflammation and swelling nearly reduced, and simply gout twinges induced by the affection – no one can imagine what the poison was, or whence proceeding. It resembled locally what we read of in tropical climes.”
Following his efforts on Swain’s behalf, Jerdan made another foray into the world of literature, sending some work to the son of his old friend Blackwood for the Maga, about Scotland “in elder time”. “I will not say more than that I have taken much pains with it and that if self-opinion does not deceive me, it is calculated to be popular and deemed worthy of Maga in the maturity, experience and vigour of ‘Five Hundred’. I set out with the Literary Gazette in the same year, 1817 – what a contrast now!” (NLS L 28 June 1857, National Library of Scotland, 4124/238-9.). It appears that Blackwood decided not to use this piece.
Jerdan’s old friend, the Danish writer of fairy stories, Hans Christian Andersen, returned to London after an absence of ten years. He stayed with Charles Dickens for five weeks, during which time he saw various theatrical performances, met many new people and renewed acquaintance with old friends. He did not, however, see Jerdan, now living too far away from town in Bushey Heath. Jerdan wrote to him sadly on 25 June 1857,
Learning from the newspapers that you are again in London I cannot resist the wish to hear of your ‘whereabouts’, and to have the great pleasure of meeting you occasionally during your stay. I am, unfortunately, farther from Town than when we used to be much together on your former visit, and am besides at this moment confined to my cottage by indisposition; but I hope to be able to go out within a few days and make some arrangement for seeing you. I observe that you are with our mutual friend C. Dickens, to whom I had the gratification of making you personally acquainted….I look to your Portrait now before me with the loved inscription “the excellent kind hearted Jerdan from his true friend H. C. Andersen” and trust not to be forgotten, though more out of the busy world, and having to lament the loss of several distinguished parties whose hospitalities we so cordially enjoyed in company together. [Andersen]
No record survives as to whether Andersen ever replied to this letter. He outstayed his welcome with the Dickens family and when he finally departed for Paris Dickens wrote to Jerdan on 21 July 1857 that “He had spoken of you with much regard, and I understand, or fancied, had seen you” (Dickens Letters). Andersen had been “utterly conglomerated”, Dickens went on, “unintelligible”, and getting into “wild entanglements”. Dickens sounded as if he was trying to console Jerdan for Andersen’s apparent neglect, but Jerdan must have been hurt that his erstwhile friend, for whom he had done so much both in the Literary Gazette and personally, had not made time to visit him. Andersen published an intimate account of his visit with Dickens and his family, without warning his host who was on the point of separating from his wife. A few weeks after Andersen’s departure, Dickens fell in love with Nelly Ternan, thus rendering somewhat absurd Andersen’s account of a cosy, happy family life. He never understood why he had offended Dickens, who failed to reply to any of his letters until the day of his death, thirteen years later.
Although Dickens was obviously greatly distracted by his domestic upheavals he had incorporated Household Words into his new journal, All the Year Round, overlapping them for five weeks in May 1859. In the issue of 26 September Jerdan contributed “Old Hawtrey”. This filled four and a half columns, but no payment was listed in the Office Book. It has been noted that the Office Book payment record is not entirely complete, and “In a letter to Jerdan, Dickens recorded sending him Wills’ cheque in payment for the item which the Office Book records no payment; the letter does not state the amount of the cheque” (Lohrli 36). “Old Hawtrey” described a rural walk near Windsor in June, and a meeting between the narrator and a countryman of eighty-four. The main part of the story comprised his memories of youth, seeing King George III out hunting with his dogs, “a hallooing and barking and howling (the gift of tongues I think they called it)” – a cheeky reference to Jerdan’s earlier story in the magazine; he recounted how he met his wife when he was 21, and the “parcel of bairns” they had, “thinned off” by smallpox and even those who lived into adulthood had died before him. He was all alone. He remembered the jubilation over “Peace with Bonnyparty”, and walking to “Lunnun” with friends, where they were robbed; the Jubilee of George’s fifty years on the throne. Finally, as the sun went down, the old man said his prayers to himself, and “Amen” aloud, and retired to his cottage. The narrator, taking the same road after the harvest, decided to call on the old man, arriving just as his coffin was carried out, inscribed ‘Thomas Hawtrey Aged 84 years.’ Although Jerdan was only seventy-five not eighty-four, this little piece was clearly a trip down his own memory lane, and would have resonated with the older readers of Dickens’s magazine.
Jerdan’s last contribution to Dickens’s paper was a ‘Chip’, i.e. a short piece entitled “A British Nuisance”, for which he received one guinea. It was published in the issue of 23 January 1858, and told of the narrator’s escape from his Kentish village to Paternoster Row in London, the centre of education and enlightenment. A short walk from here took the narrator to nearby Newgate Prison, and a small square where sheep and bullocks were being slaughtered, watched by groups of young men and small boys. Open slaughterhouses, Jerdan wrote, were “calculated to be very hurtful to the children who assemble and meet together to witness these detestable spectacles. They must corrupt the heart and the head and pave the way, by a training not to be withstood, to cruelty and crime.” Animals should be killed mercifully, he proposed, out of public sight and preferably in the Moslem way of instant death. Animal welfare was a subject he had mentioned in his Autobiography as a cause which he had always espoused and this ‘Chip’ gave him an opportunity to make known his thoughts on the matter.
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Last modified 14 July 2020