Jerdan’s name was kept alive in odd corners, not quite forgotten by the popular press although more often quoted in the venerable magazine Notes & Queries, devoted as it was to words and literature, and to which Jerdan had contributed frequently at the end of his life; his name continued to appear throughout the years. Quotations from the Literary Gazette, his Autobiography, and from Men I Have Known, and Fisher’s National Portrait Gallery, were often used for answers to many queries posted on a wide variety of topics. Jerdan had become metamorphosed into a kind of oracle, whose word was taken as the ultimate, definitive pronouncement. Between 1875 and the end of the century at least thirty-seven different queries were related to him, by which time any contributor to Notes & Queries who had any personal acquaintance with him, had died. Jerdan’s voice lived on however, into the twentieth century, some twenty-four references to him appearing in the magazine until the 1980s.
Naturally enough, with the explosion in Regency and Victorian literary studies over the last hundred years, Jerdan’s Autobiography, as well as the Literary Gazette, have proved fruitful, if frustrating, ground for researchers. In part, this was what he had in mind, especially concerning the Literary Gazette, wanting it to be a literary history for posterity when he said: “I am conscious that productions of this kind are rarely more than popular for a limited period; and then are to be found in libraries for future references, perhaps by authors who may be investigating portions of the literary history of past times.” Such scholarly journals as The Year’s Work in English Studies, The Nineteenth Century, Past and Present, and The Review of English Studies have mined Jerdan’s output exhaustively. This is only to be expected, for he created the first weekly literary periodical in the country, and wrote widely of his personal knowledge and experience of the great (and not-so great) men and women of half a century. More surprising perhaps, are the instances where Jerdan is cited in non-literary studies. A cursory trawl on a computer search engine shows his work being used in studies on art, crime, antiquarianism, photography, electricity, gas lighting and animals, to name but a few; he has been widely quoted in biographies, and the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography includes his name thirty-five times in connection with other entries.
There is a small mystery too, in his legacy: in September 1875 a Maxwell Jerdan wrote a novel entitled Kate Elder, published by Tinsley who reprinted a new six shilling edition in October, which was advertised throughout the following year. The combination of Maxwell and Jerdan must surely indicate the author as one of the offspring of Mary Maxwell and William Jerdan, but no further information on this author has yet come to light.
Jerdan perhaps made a posthumous appearance as a character in literature, although neither in life nor in death has he been previously noted to appear in Thackeray’s Pendennis, which famously includes Maginn, L.E.L., Colburn and Bentley. Unless (and this is only a wild guess or wishful thinking,) Thackeray turned him into a bit part, a Mr Doolan, who was an Irishman who read the Dawn, a liberal newspaper – a possible inversion of a conservative Scotsman who edited the Aurora. Doolan worked as a reporter for the ‘Tom and Jerry’ newspaper, talked about men of letters with whom he was very familiar, particularly “about Tom Campbell and Tom Hood…as if he had been their most intimate friend.” Pointedly, Thackeray had the coach travelling through Brompton as the conversation of which this was a fragment, was taking place. Halfway through the novel Doolan is killed off: “They buried honest Doolan the other day; never will he cringe or flatter, never pull long-bow or empty whisky-noggin any more.” This may be a brief sketch of Jerdan or some other journalist, and it is possible that a figure as well-known and colourful as Jerdan appeared in other books of the period, but has so far been unidentified. His name did appear, though, in two stories published long after his death. The Belgravia Annual of Christmas 1883 carried a story by a James Payn entitled “Why he married her”; the heroine is ‘Miss Letty Jerdan’, conflating L.E.L. with her ex-lover, but the stockbroker husband is called Richard Taunton, a name with no Jerdan resonance. In July 1898 the London Quarterly Review noted a book, A Woman Worth Winning, by George M. Fenn, in which Sir Martin Jerdan is madly jealous of his wife’s former lover and Lady Jerdan is a noblewoman. Her former lover is immured in a lunatic asylum because of the baronet’s jealousy. Apart from the incidence of the Jerdan name there is the introduction of madness, a subject with which Jerdan had been only too familiar. So long after his death this may have been merely coincidence, so not too much should be read into this.
A more lasting legacy of Jerdan’s is the continuation of his far-flung progeny, many proudly bearing the names of Jerdan or Stuart often as traditional family middle names regardless of gender. Some who consider themselves cousins are likely to have sprung from different mothers, whether Frances Jerdan, Letitia Landon or Mary Maxwell. They live in America, in Japan, Australia and Canada, and probably in many other countries too. The name of William Jerdan is memorialised in Isola Jerdan, that barren inhospitable island off Cape Horn, named for him by Captain Weddell, and also somewhere that could not be more different – a small pedestrian street in Fulham, West London, called Jerdan Place. This name was approved by the Metropolitan Board of Works on 11 August 1876, changed from its previous incarnations as Frederick Place and Market Place. The Minutes of this meeting show that no discussion took place as to the reason for the change; it was odd that Jerdan was chosen for a street in Fulham, an area where he had never lived. He was, however, known in his day as a frequent guest at Priors Bank nearby; the honour of having a Place named for him came seven years after his death.
None of Jerdan’s many offices or homes still exist; even his gravestone was removed within fifty years of its being erected over his resting-place, to make way for other interments. The cottage where he died is no more, though other cottages of the same period can still be found on Bushey Heath. The armlets in the British Museum are the only relics which he touched, together with the three hundred-plus letters in his hand lodged in various archives. We have his Autobiography, the bound volumes of the Literary Gazette, and his stories, verses and biographies. The contribution Jerdan made to literature and to the history of periodicals, his encouragement to authors, artists and others, and his struggle against his own indulgent personality, deserve more than the cursory mentions of him offered by his contemporaries, and it is hoped that this work will go some way towards redressing the balance.
Last modified 16 June 2020