illiam Jerdan died on 11 July 1869. His death certificate identified the cause as "Decay of Nature," in other words old age. His son John was with him. Francis Bennoch, the sculptor Joseph Durham and a local pillar of society Mr Noakes, attended his burial. The Times considered him worthy of an obituary on 13 July, on the basis that:
Forty years ago there were few names better known in London society and in the world of letters than that of William Jerdan.... His genial spirit, ready wit and abundant anecdote made him a welcome guest in other than mere literary circles ... the last two parts of the Gentleman’s Magazine contain an article on the celebrated Beefsteak Club, which no other living man could have written from personal knowledge.... His kindly help was always afforded to young aspirants in literature and art, and his memory will be cherished by many whom he helped to rise to positions of honour and independence.”
Once again, Jerdan and Leigh Hunt’s lives had reflected each other: Hunt’s obituary in a local newspaper of 1859 remarked “Some people will be surprised to hear not only that Leigh Hunt is dead, but that he only died on Sunday last ... he was one of a generation long since passed away.” But he was outlived by Jerdan for another decade.
James Abbot McNeill Whistler's quick pen-and-ink sketch, "The Beefsteak Club" (much later — 1903). Click on this image and those following to enlarge them.
A shorter notice of Jerdan’s death was published in the New York Times of 17 July, which did not make any mention of his brief connection with the American press. Gentleman’s Magazine itself noted that Jerdan’s last articles in its pages, on the Beef Steak Club, had now acquired “a special and melancholy interest”. He had died, they reported,
full of years and honours. For half a century he had been a successful worker in the field of literature and politics. There were few men of note during that time with whom he was not personally acquainted.... In his eighty-eighth year it was singular to note with what zest he applied himself to the history of the ‘Beef Steaks’. He seemed to live again in transcribing his notes of the famous Club. Nothing, he said, had given him so much pleasure for many years as the telling of this story, and it was a great satisfaction to him that the record should appear in the Gentleman’s Magazine.... [August 1869, p. 378]
Jerdan had apparently written the notes for these two articles at an earlier time; the language is vigorous and robust, befitting his subject, “The Steaks”, subtitled “Vulgarly the ‘Beef’, Classically the ‘Sublime’”. He introduced his subject by railing against “Progress! Aye that is the word now. It is in everybody’s mouth; everybody boasts of it. It is the grand feature of the age.” He was not against progress, but had a strong reservation: “... it does, now and then, obliterate what was good of old, and the Sublime Steaks afford a striking example.”
Many years before he had been taken to the last meeting of “a Club which had defied time from the reign of Charles II”. Jerdan described, with evident relish, the customs of the original old dining and drinking society, and the club which took over from it in 1735. Art and furniture belonging to The Steaks had recently been auctioned and throughout his articles Jerdan noted the prices fetched for many items. He wrote with great authority on the drinking habits of the club: “Port wine being the living element of the Steaks and the very essence of their existence”; it was odd to find Jerdan, renowned for his love of drink, insisting, “In uttering my diatribe against the prevalence of intoxication and consequent debauchery, during the last forty years of the past century, I desire to be understood as directing it only against the excess. Let us not be unjust. In the worst there is always something of good.” The “good” was the fellowship and intimacy of the members. Jerdan told anecdotes of famous figures who had belonged to The Steaks, and described in detail the windowless room behind the Lyceum Theatre built especially for their meetings, with a huge gridiron on view in the adjacent kitchen on which the beefsteaks were cooked, and served with “choice salads (mostly of beetroot), porter and port.”
This first instalment ran to over twelve pages, while the final article following in the next month was fourteen pages. Jerdan's own nature was a perfect fit to write about high class, witty, jolly gatherings of men whose sole aim was good company, good food and good drink. His pleasure in repeating stories, puns and sayings of The Steaks is plain, and the Gentleman's Magazine the ideal place for such an article to appear. Fittingly it was an essentially eighteenth-century club, whose history was related by an essentially eighteenth-century man at the very end of his long life. Somewhat surprisingly, Henry Irving quoted substantial passages from the articles on The Steaks in his discussion of clubs, in his book Impressions of America published in 1884; he noted that “the late William Jerdan was the first to attempt anything like a concise sketch of the club.... ” Jerdan, that great admirer of the theatre, would have been delighted to be quoted by one of its greatest actors. In the same December issue of the Gentleman's Magazine which carried the final article on The Steaks, was an article linking Jerdan with another writer, H.H. Dixon. This noted that “they were both kindly, genial scholarly men worthy of our most respectful remembrance; and their names will be ranked high on the national muster roll of famous journalists.”
Sir George Frampton's memorial to Leigh Hunt, as illustrated in the 1897-98 Magazine of Art.
The Gentleman’s Magazine articles appeared several months after Jerdan’s death, and stood as some kind of memorial to him. In a final echo of Jerdan’s parallel life events to those of Leigh Hunt, the family were too poor to mark his resting-place. Nine years after Hunt’s death a subscription had been raised for a memorial. The impecunious Jerdan had given one guinea, the same sum as Lord Lytton and S. C. Hall, an amazingly generous gesture to the man who had attacked him early in his career. Hunt’s monument in Kensal Green had been unveiled in October 1869. It was five years before Jerdan’s grave in the churchyard of St. James’s, Bushey village, was marked by a tombstone erected by his friends. On one side it bore the inscription in Roman capitals: William Jerdan, F.S.A.; born at Kelso, April 16, 1782, died at Bushey, July 11, 1869. Founder of the Literary Gazette and its Editor for 34 years”. On the other side was inscribed: “Erected as a tribute to his memory by his Friends and Associates in the Society of Noviomagus, 1874.” The event was duly recorded in Notes & Queries on 10 October 1874.
St. James’s, Bushey village, Hertfordshire.
Nine days after her father’s death, his daughter Agnes Maxwell was christened at the age of 23, and two days later married Charles Martin, brother of Frederic, her sister Marion’s husband. The haste to marry so quickly after Jerdan’s death was plain when their daughter, also Agnes, was born soon after but lived only a few months. The couple made their home in Willington, Derbyshire, where Charles was a Railway Clerk. By 1881 they had four children and he had become Chief Stationmaster.
As far as the Leisure Hour was concerned, Jerdan lived on. In August 1869 an article on the early history of the Royal Geographical Society appeared; it was unsigned but bore the hallmarks of Jerdan’s intimate knowledge of the nascent Society. No mention was made of his death at the time, and the magazine continued to print his series of "Characteristic Letters" right through until December. Uncharacteristically, Jerdan had obviously planned ahead and prepared several future issues. He covered Hudson Gurney, a wealthy fellow antiquarian in a brief entry; David Macbeth Moir, a doctor and frequent contributor to Blackwood’s under the penname "Delta," whose poem to his dead child Jerdan included; Harry Goodsir, surgeon and naturalist to the Franklin expedition appeared in October with only a few lines of comment, the article being mainly a long letter written from Baffin’s Bay in 1845 describing the natural world he found there. The following month was devoted to George Mogridge, known to Leisure Hour readers as "Old Humphrey""; his career, like so many others, had begun in the Literary Gazette, and in his memoirs appeared a recollection of meeting L.E.L. in Jerdan’s study, where she engaged in lively conversation. Jerdan included a long, rather sycophantic letter from Mogridge written in 1830, begging him to "notice" his book of poems, and full of praise for Jerdan’s judgment. The final entry in the series appeared in December and concerned the Rt. Hon. Thomas Grenville whose assistance Jerdan had sought in 1830 when he was struggling to write dozens of biographies for Fisher’s National Portrait Gallery, and in this instance, the entry for Lord Grenville himself. Grenville considered his life to have been of only “trivial interest” and agreed only to correct dates and facts in Jerdan’s entry. He was the brother of the late Prime Minister but had preferred books to politics, leaving his vast and valuable collection to the British Museum. Jerdan claimed to have enjoyed Grenville’s “almost intimate acquaintance,” and that a breakfast and a morning’s conversation with him “was a treat that any Prince in Europe might envy.”
The final subject of this long-running series of "Characteristic Letters" shared Grenville’s entry, and returned Jerdan to his very early days in Cromwell Cottage, before his editorship of the Literary Gazette had started. There he met ‘Isabella Kelly’, penname of his neighbour Mrs Hedgeland, novelist since 1795. The last letter was from her son, by then Lord Chief Baron, correcting a few details in a reference to his mother’s works. And so this strangely posthumous series came to an end, and it was not until the same issue, in December 1869, that the Leisure Hour finally acknowledged the death of their author, with a selection of his very own "Characteristic Letters."
In the same issue of the Leisure Hour as Jerdan’s final "Characteristic Letters" appeared the magazine made a tribute to him with a column under the same heading, the letters this time featuring Jerdan himself. The writer noted that on Jerdan’s death obituaries linked him to the Literary Gazette, and “there were many to whom the name of both the paper and its editor were strange. They both belonged to a generation which had passed away.” The Leisure Hour quoted the Times obituary in full, noting that unlike other such notices, it made no mention of the Literary Gazette. The first letter printed was an unfinished one to his daughter Frances-Agnes, wife of Thomas Irwin. It was dated 12 August 1866, written when Jerdan had himself been ill for a week and felt his end was imminent. He gave her a brief outline of his life, from his first poem on Wilberforce in 1804, life on the Gladiator, his early jobs as a journalist, and then listed all of his writings that he could remember. Most of this information was of course already in his Autobiography. He also mentioned writing “much” for the Kelso Mail and for the London Review. Very few copies of the Kelso Mail covering the period of Jerdan’s lifetime survive, and those which do have no authors’ names appended to articles. They do feature an occasional brief paragraph copied from the Literary Gazette, but these could not be the writings to which Jerdan referred. The London Review articles are similarly unattributed.
Three of Jerdan’s letters to Chief Baron Frederick Pollock were printed, one dated when he moved to Bushey Heath, the second included a mention of receiving proofs of his first article for the Leisure Hour, on "About Sixty Years Ago" and wishing Pollock were nearby to see them. He talked about his “inherent anti-historical spirit” of liking Charles II, admiring Richard III and so on, interrupting himself to tell Pollock that his “little fellow” had just asked him “to go and dig some potatoes for his dinner, and as I understand that better than your square roots, I shall bid you goodbye for the present....” The image of the old man digging for his children’s dinner is a touching one, remembering that same man in better days in the glittering surroundings of Lady Blessington’s salon or George Canning’s drawing room. On 11 November 1859 Jerdan had sent Pollock several of his Leisure Hour articles on ‘Men I Have Known’, asking if he would find time to proof subsequent ones. He was “much affected by the death of Lady de Tabley,” he told his friend, especially as only three months earlier she had invited him to Tabley House but he had been unable to go. “She was one of the loveliest and most fascinating creatures I ever saw, and my regrets are deepened by the simple accident of having failed in this tryst, which can never more be offered in this world.” Jerdan had had a genuine fondness for this woman, namesake and godmother to his deceased infant Georgiana, so this was a real sorrow not merely the sentimental ramblings of an old man.
Joseph Durham, a friend whom Jerdan teased, and who attended Jerdan's funeral.
The Leisure Hour noted that later letters from Jerdan to various correspondents made “frequent references to the res angusta domi [hand to mouth existence]." The magazine tried to show different aspects of Jerdan’s character in the letters they selected, in the spirit of the title of his series; his playful, one might almost say childish side was evidenced by a letter to the sculptor Joseph Durham in 1851 after a visit to his studio. Jerdan teased him about “an extraordinary work by a young sculptor,” the tools he invented for his purpose, his artistry and skill. Puzzled, Durham asked for an explanation, to be told that it was a description of himself preparing the beefsteak for Jerdan’s dinner.
His grand-daughter Maymé, likely to be his pet name for Mary, the eleven-year old daughter of Frances-Agnes and Thomas Irwin, was the recipient of a unique extant letter to a grandchild, which has survived only because in print in the Leisure Hour. The letter was dated August 1857. Jerdan was glad they were settled in their “pretty country lodging”, he said, and that the boys were “soapy (so (h)appy),” and that she and Agnese (Felicity-Agnes her seven year old sister) were going to take music lessons. He had had new jam for breakfast and gave his grand-daughter instructions on collecting blackberries and making jam, and hoped she would invite him over to visit. “You must not think me an idle foolish old granny, for writing all this 'nonstence' to you, and if you and the boys will write to me in return, I shall be soapy myself. I am impatient to see you all ruddy and stout, and your mother beginning to turn a fattish old lady – not too fat either – but the picture of a strong-minded woman, laughing at care, and as usual petting (My dear children) Your Affectionate grand-pa.”
Another rare letter to one of his close family was also included in the Leisure Hour selection; these must have been lent to the magazine by his daughter to whom this one was sent, dated 7 February, with no year given
My very dear Agnes, I was prepared for your sad letter, but it makes me unspeakably miserable. The vision of the wasted life and the suffering form cannot be driven from my mind for any period of time. I try to write, and it may beguile a few minutes; I sink into my chair, and ponder; I cannot be long after. It is a mercy there are no children there.
I fancy I am something better, I was out ten minutes in the sunshine on Saturday, and thought I could walk ever so far. But I am best in my bedroom, where, thank Heaven! We can, as yet, keep a fire – for without warmth I am perished. But enough of self – I will go out whenever the weather admits.
How grieved and anxious I am about you! Remember how much depends, and take all the care you can of yourself. And poor (sister) Pussy – what trials she has of woes, yet she is safe herself, and will I trust live to enjoyment, when time has softened the regret for those who have gone before. The inversion of the order of nature is the worst to bear. Why do I linger on, and where are those who should have laid my head in the grave!
I am unable to write more. May heaven strengthen and bless you. My poor love to all. Your affectionate father.
The "sad letter" to which he refers at the beginning of this letter is likely to have related to the death of his son William Freeling, who died on 6 February 1859, from consumption, and was childless.
As the Leisure Hour pointed out,
These letters may not appear very "characteristic" to those who knew Mr Jerdan in his early years, when he was the life of many a social circle. But we prefer giving letters which pertain to the later period of his life, when he had relations with this magazine. To the same period belongs the following:
I have got very deaf. What a blessing! There is such a lot of silly talk I cannot hear – such scandals, etc.
My eyes are failing. How fortunate I do not see a tythe of the folly and wickedness that is going on around me! I am blind to faults which would provoke me to censure.
I have lost my teeth, and my voice is not very audible. Well, I find it is of no use babbling to folks who won’t listen, so I save my breath for better purposes. I don’t show my teeth where I can’t bite. I venture on no tough meal.
My taste is not as discriminating as of yore, and the good is that I am more easily satisfied, don’t keep finding fault, am contented and thankful. A nice palate is a plague I have got rid.
My joints are rather stiff. Well, if they were ever so supple, I do not want to go to see sights, hear concerts, make speeches, carouse at feasts.
I am not so strong as I was; but for what do I need to be stout. I am not going to wrestle or fight with anybody. My morals are greatly improved. My brain is not so clear as in my younger days, and all the better, for I am neither so hot-headed, nor so opinionated. I forget a thousand injuries.
If these were Jerdan’s own words and not copied from elsewhere, the fragment gives a clear sketch of the old man ever trying to be optimistic, finding some good things to say about the ravages of age. The day before he died he wrote a note to the little daughter of his medical attendant who would take no money for his services. Jerdan wrapped two guineas, a great sum for him, into the note, which told her, “Dear Lilian, A wee bird bids me send you a gold penny to buy a pretty dress for the Heath Road on sunny summer days.” This charming story encapsulates so much of Jerdan’s complex personality: the “wee bird” echoes his mis-quote of his beloved L.E.L., “we love the bird we taught to sing,” his legendary kindness and generosity, and his evident love of and empathy with children, and his profligacy with money.
Apart from this tribute in "Characteristic Letters," and the Times notice of Jerdan’s death, which was copied in other papers and periodicals, few people commented on his passing. Most of his closest circle had predeceased him, so it was left to a younger man to have the final word. Samuel Carter Hall’s character was totally at odds with Jerdan’s: he was teetotal, married to Anna Maria for a lifetime, childless, in employment throughout his career. In the Art Journal which he had edited for many years, Hall was generous in his farewell to a man of whom he had never approved:
It is but justice to say of Mr Jerdan that he ever ‘did his spiriting gently’, was always ready to help, and never willing to depress, the efforts of men striving for fame; and many are they who achieved greatness mainly as a consequence of the encouragement received at his hand, whom severity of rebuke might have depressed into oblivion. It is scarcely too much to say that during his fifty years of labour there was hardly a young author who did not gratefully thank him for good words. [1 September 1869, p. 272.]
Jerdan treated artists well too, Hall observed. "... his judgment was sound and his verdicts were seldom questioned....” Hall suggested that present day critics would do well to emulate Jerdan’s example.
When Hall came to write his Retrospect of a Long Life in 1883 he was eighty-three years old. He still treated Jerdan as fairly as he could and his words are those most often quoted in any later description of Jerdan. He acknowledged that the Literary Gazette had been “a power in the Press. Its good or ill word went far to make or mar an author’s reputation, and the sale of a book was often large or limited according to its fiat ... he was far less given to censure than to praise” (164-66). Hall echoed Hawthorne’s opinion of Jerdan as “time-worn but not reverend,” but went on to say,
yet in old age he retained much of his pristine vigour, and when he was past eighty could be, and often was, witty in words and eloquent in speech. Yet his life is not a life to emulate, and certainly not one for laudation. Many liked, without respecting him. No doubt he was of heedless habits, no doubt he cared little for the cost of self-gratification, and was far too lightly guided all his life long by high and upright principles.
This, at least, Jerdan would have agreed with, having said many times how his childhood ‘spoiling’ had had an adverse effect upon his life. Piously, Hall could not “turn a deaf ear to the prayer, that is half an apology” in the Autobiography, when Jerdan hoped that “some fond and faithful regret might embalm the memory of the sleeper....” But Hall also reminded his readers, lest they become too sentimental, that Jerdan had also written “I have drained the Circe cup to the dregs.” “Alas!” grieved Hall, “the dregs were pernicious to heart, mind and soul.” He noted, as mentioned elsewhere, that he found the Autobiography uninteresting and devoid of help to writers. He ended his piece on the editor with a most ambivalent paragraph:
I wish I could say something to honour the memory of William Jerdan, for personally I owed him much; I had always his good word, and so had my wife; there is no one of her books that did not receive generous and cordial praise in the Literary Gazette. I grieve that now he is in his grave I can give so little for so much.
Eliza Cook wrote a short poem (to be found in her Poetical Works of 1870) in memory of the man, who had guided and helped her, and with whom she had shared many a stroll on Bushey Heath:
"To the Late William Jerdan"
If my poor Harp has ever poured
A tone that Truth alone can give;
Thou wert the one who helped that tone
To win the echo that shall live.
For thou didst bid me shun the theme
Of morbid grief, or feigned delight;
Thou bads’t me think and feel; not dream
And ‘look into my heart and write.’
And looking in that heart just now;
‘Mid all the memories there concealed;
I find thy name still dearly claim
The thanks in these few lines revealed.
In December 1871, more than two years after Jerdan’s death, the journal Once A Week published an article entitled "Gossip from an Editor’s Book." It acknowledged that “Few people outside of literary circles have heard much of William Jerdan, or know that for half a century, in his various capacities of editor, contributor, and reviewer, he enjoyed a sort of critical supremacy of his own.” The article noted that the Autobiography, and Men I Have Known “are a storehouse of reminiscences of his contemporaries, told in a light and fluent style and replete with much interesting anecdote.” The article then drew largely on Men I Have Known, especially the sections on Coleridge and Campbell, selecting the lightest and most amusing stories of the poets. The writer observed that Jerdan’s admiration of Wordsworth “seems somewhat qualified,” and repeated Jerdan’s story of his visit to Wordsworth at Rydal Mount. Amusing incidents from Jerdan’s accounts of several more minor characters were mentioned, the writer concluding with, “We dismiss Mr Jerdan in the belief that we have shown how pleasant a companion he is.”
In the issue of All the Year Round of 18 December 1873, in an article entitled “Forty Years Ago,” readers were told:
>Among the lesser lights – great lights in their day – whose names have scarcely come down to the newer folk of this generation, the first in "Fraser’s Gallery" is a conspicuous example.
William Jerdan, editor of the Literary Gazette, was once a power in the Republic of Letters. It was thought that he could make and unmake literary reputations, though he could do nothing of the kind, and he was flattered and feared accordingly by all the smaller fry of literature. He was not unhonoured by the greater fry; for he was hospitable, generous, cordial, and the best of company, and lent a helping hand to young and struggling genius whenever it came in his way.
In 1875 Richard Henry Stoddard edited a book called Personal Reminiscences by Moore and Jerdan. This was published as one of the Bric-a-Brac series by Scribner, Armstrong & Co. in New York. The section on Moore drew from the eight volume Journal, Memoirs and Correspondence edited by Lord John Russell, and that on Jerdan from what Stoddard called the ‘essence’ of anecdotes in the more than fourteen hundred pages of the Autobiography. Stoddard clearly despised Jerdan, commencing his introduction with
William Jerdan was a man of note at one time, it is not easy to see why now. He was not a man of letters, though he wrote books, but a journalist... the reader will judge what it is ... if it be not as sprightly as he could wish, he should remember that it was written by one who began to remember when most begin to forget.... The brilliant poet [Moore] and the laborious journalist will now speak for themselves.
One wonders why, when he thought so little of him, Stoddard chose Jerdan as one of two people to "Reminisce" about. The fact that his book was published in New York indicates that Jerdan’s name still had some meaning in America, maybe because of his articles in the Boston newspapers, although these had been published twenty years earlier.
Hall, S. C. Retrospect of a Long Life. 2 vols. London: Richard Bentley & Son, 1883.
Jerdan, William. Autobiography. 4 vols. London: Arthur Hall, Virtue & Co., 1852-53.
Jerdan, William. Men I Have Known. London: Routledge & Co., 1866.
Stoddard, R. H., ed. Personal Reminiscences by Moore and Jerdan. New York: Scribner, Armstrong & Co. 1875. Reprinted Kessinger Publishing.
Created 23 June 2020