n 1812 when Jerdan started to work on the Sun, the paper’s fortunes were in decline. It had been an organ of Pitt politics and had been earlier been convicted of a libel on a Lord St Vincent, resulting in Mr Herriot, the Sun’s editor, being imprisoned for six months, while the printer and Scripps the publisher were each imprisoned for one month, and John Taylor the drama critic, was given a fine of one hundred marks. Such draconian measures to punish newspapers were not uncommon.
On 10 May 1813 Jerdan was appointed editor of the Sun. The paper’s proprietors were George Herriot who owned five shares, and Robert Clarke who owned three shares, both former editors of the paper, and John Taylor, in whose ability the other two proprietors had lost confidence. It was for this reason that Jerdan had been brought in. He and Taylor owned one share each. In addition to his one-tenth share in the Sun, Jerdan was to receive a weekly salary of between five and six hundred pounds a year, and was assured of the ‘entire control’ of the paper. This seemed clear enough, and Jerdan was satisfied with the arrangement, although financially he was not as well paid as he had been when combining a range of journalistic activities. He saw himself as the saviour of the Sun and so was willing to take a reduction in his income.
Shortly after he joined the Sun he published a declaration of his principles, from which he later claimed he had never swerved, believing them to be the “true elements of the true Press”. He stated that the British nation should be informed of “the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth”, even though he acknowledged that mistakes can happen. News that created excitement (and, implicitly, sales) which next day proved a fallacy, was inconsistent with his principles, as was the practice of promoting “the sordid purposes of gambling and stock-jobbing”. The Sun, he insisted, would never be prostituted by doing such things. The public should be given bad news undiluted, because after twenty years of upheaval they had learnt to overcome unpleasant tidings; they should also be given good news, but this should not be exaggerated. Having set out his stall, Jerdan embarked upon the task of editing the Sun.
His first leader appeared on the anniversary of Perceval’s death. The political debate on the position of Roman Catholics, to whom Perceval had been antagonistic, had continued. Jerdan took the Protestant, opposition side, claiming that he “wrote so well that the Sun was publicly stigmatised and burnt by the Romish party in Dublin” (1.159).
This was the period of Jerdan’s most active and ferocious political writing. The fervent Toryism he shared with his father and brother George found another outlet in almost daily attacks on the Whig opposition, through his editorial and leader writings in the Sun, against the Whig paper, the Morning Chronicle. The Chronicle’s editor was James Perry, in later years a friend of Jerdan’s with whom he shared “the pleasant field of literature”, after Jerdan had come to view Perry as merely the tool of the party. (Interestingly, he did not make any comment about his own position vis-à-vis the Tory party.) In “The Social Status of Journalists at the beginning of the 19th Century” A. Aspinall cited Jerdan and Perry were as exceptions to the prevailing view that until the 1820s journalism “was regarded as neither a dignified nor a reputable profession” (Quoted Pyle 19). However, this view is at odds with Collins, who says that from the beginning of the century “journalism stands out henceforth as the great avenue to success in the profession of letters” (203).
In 1813 Wellington was engaged in the Peninsular Wars. Jerdan was incensed at the opposition’s evident admiration for Napoleon’s powers when the Morning Chronicle opined in July, as Wellington triumphantly entered Madrid, that Buonaparte was merely delaying his war in Spain until a more convenient opportunity. It was an exciting time, watching the progression of Napoleon’s downfall in a succession of events of unparalleled consequence. On most nights the evening papers published up to four or even five editions, as they attempted to keep up with the speed of extraordinary news arriving from all fronts on the continent. Jerdan was proud to uphold traditional Tory values, losing no opportunity to promulgate them in the Sun, as well as attacking the opposition views in the Morning Chronicle. He published a nine-stanza verse entitled “A Brace of Opposition Similes”, likening the all-the-talents crew to curs tied to a cart, impotent to perform real service (1.161).
Six weeks after Jerdan’s installation as editor, he and his fellow shareholder John Taylor joined forces in contravention of their contractual obligation. This was a clause prohibiting them to bail a third party on pain of forfeiture of their shares. However, they agreed to do just that, giving bail for a stricken journalist, Mr Proby, Lord’s reporter for the Morning Chronicle and, according to Jerdan, a ‘great oddity’ in his day. This small infraction would normally have bound the two rebels closely together, but this did not last. Proby had never left London, never been on a horse or boat, walked with a cane his own height, later exchanged for an umbrella which he was never without. He could memorise and report on entire debates in the Lords, without making a note, and wrote novels on the social manners of the times. He was addicted to confectionery, for which debts Jerdan and Taylor bailed him, and was known to be so punctual there was no need for his observers to carry a watch. He ended his life in a Lambeth workhouse, from which he visited his friends clad in its grey garments, and in which he exulted at being permitted to teach the workhouse children their ABC. Jerdan shared in a subscription of a few pounds a year to bring Proby some modest comforts.
Jerdan’s tasks as editor were undoubtedly demanding, but he was a likeable man who gathered a circle of associates to encourage and stimulate him. His friends assembled in the office in the afternoons, to give and receive news and information. Mr Proby, the ‘oddity’ from the Morning Chronicle, was a frequent visitor, surprising given the fierce rivalry between the two newspapers. Francis (later Sir Francis) Freeling, the actor John Kemble and Robert Clarke, shareholder in the Sun, were other regular callers.
The Sun was an evening newspaper, so the mornings were full of frantic activity. Once the paper had gone to press, around two o’clock in the afternoon, Jerdan had another two or three hours of lighter work in preparation for the following day. Before the advent of rail and telegraph, much important news reached London in the afternoons. Laws prohibited the importation of newspapers from the continent, but they were sometimes smuggled in for sale. A single paper could fetch up to one hundred guineas if it was recent, especially if it carried news of Buonaparte’s German campaigns. Occasionally it happened that news thus obtained and printed in the papers was the first time the government heard of it. Jerdan mentioned at least two letters from Downing Street which revealed this situation. He became a habitué of the corridors of power, familiar with ministers and officials in various departments. He was to be found on his knees in the Foreign Office, crawling over maps spread on the floor, whilst he and the Under-Secretary struggled to find the unfamiliar place-names where Buonaparte’s army was marching.
Jerdan was glad to see the end of 1813, penning a ‘vale’ :
Eighteen hundred and thirteen, I bid you adieu,
In the dark to eternity jog;
Before you took leave you had got out of view,
And now you are lost in a fog.
His new year started well, with a visit to Drury Lane to see the famous actor, Kean, in ‘Shylock’ (sic). Jerdan became a great fan of Kean and followed his theatrical career with interest, seeing in his Richard III and Othello perfect vehicles for his physique and talent but he did not think that Kean was so successful in the roles of Romeo, Hamlet or Lear. January also brought the great Frost Fair on the Thames, when sheep were roasted on the ice – or rather ‘scorched’ as Jerdan grumpily remarked. This was a time when every available printing press was ready to satisfy the huge demand by authors of all abilities – or none. Continuing the sheep theme, Jerdan remarked that many would-be authors were thereby ‘fleeced’. The icy grip on the country lasted until mid-March, bringing snow and fog. Mail could not be delivered and the price of bread and coal soared. On the plus side, there were sideshows and merry-go-rounds on the Thames to amuse the populace.
In this period Jerdan started to educate himself about art, a passion which lasted throughout his life. His entrée to this world was through the British Institution, where fine art was exhibited and offered for sale. Founded in 1805, the British Institution opened in Pall Mall, London, in January 1806. Its aim was to promote the Fine Arts in the United Kingdom. Two exhibitions were held each year, one of old, the other of new pictures. Jerdan became especially interested in British art. The press of the time gave only scant attention to the subject, but Jerdan later claimed to be responsible for bringing public attention to the Arts throughout the ensuing thirty-six years of his journalistic career. Moreover, he believed he had enough influence “to guide the judgment and influence the taste of the country” (1.176). The Sun, a highly political paper, was not to be the vehicle for this guidance; the journal where Jerdan was to play a significant role in forming taste in both art and literature was still three years away, but it was whilst editor of the Sun that his deep interest in art was formed.
Jerdan was widening not only his professional circle, becoming acquainted with writers of all genres, politicians, booksellers and merchants, but also found opportunity to make new friends outside of the Sun and its interests. At home, Cromwell Cottage was becoming crowded: on 2 March 1814 a daughter was born, named Mary Felicity Dawn (Bishops Transcripts, St. Mary Abbott, Kensington. DL/T/47/23.). In his Autobiography, Jerdan made virtually no reference to his domestic life, and what little is known has to be pieced together from inference and from scattered mentions in surviving correspondence. At this stage of his life, it appears that Jerdan was happy in his work, fulfilled in his family life, and sufficiently free to indulge in his many social and personal interests and activities. He needed these distractions to alleviate the gruelling mornings spent in preparing the paper for its daily appearance, and trying to keep abreast of wars on multiple fronts.
At the beginning of 1814 important events were taking place: British forces attacked Washington DC, burning the White House and the Capitol; the first steam-driven war ship was developed by the British navy, and the Corn Laws were passed. Finally, and crucially – or so it seemed – Napoleon had been vanquished and exiled to Elba, a cause of great relief and rejoicing by the Allies. Curiosity about his place of exile encouraged Jerdan to translate a French account of a recent visit to that island by Arsenne Thiebaut de Berneaud. Voyage to the Isle of Elba was published as a single octavo volume by Longman & Co. in June 1814. Jerdan dedicated his translated book to Charles Long (later 1st Baron Farnborough), a close friend of Pitt, in esteem and admiration for his untiring support of Pitt’s principles through his work as a legislator and holder of various government offices. (Long had also dissuaded Jerdan from publishing criticism of the judicial system at the time of Perceval’s murder, and in retrospect, Jerdan was grateful for his advice.)
Jerdan’s objective was to translate Thiebaut’s French as closely as possible, to give his readers “a perfect idea of the manner in which Members of the French Institute and men of science in that country, direct their inquiries.” Thiebaut’s own Introduction ran to fifteen pages. Jerdan acknowledged that were the author “less a scholar, he would be more entertaining”, but facts were so interwoven with learning, Jerdan could not separate them. He merely moved the chapter on Geology from second to fourth place, as being of less interest to the general reader. The book was dry in content, consisting of chapters on a General View of the Isle of Elba, Population, Natural History, Agriculture, Industry, Political History, Geology and Topography. It does not appear to have been a success and was not reprinted. Jerdan commented that it did not add much to his resources. He sent a copy as a gift to Walter Scott, whose letter of thanks dated 2 November 1814 recalled with pleasure the kindness he received at Kelso from Jerdan’s father, although he thought that Jerdan himself had probably been too young to remember him from those days (Historical Society of Pennsylvania, Dreer Collection).
Napoleon’s exile immediately made a voyage to France possible. The country had been closed to English visitors since the breakdown of the Peace of Amiens in 1802. Even before the signing of the Cessation of Hostilities, Jerdan saw it as his duty, as editor of a political paper, to lose no time in leaving London to investigate the newly-opened country across the Channel. He left Robert Clarke, his co-proprietor, in charge of the Sun.
Although Jerdan had, by 1814, contributed a great deal of political comment and leaders to the Sun and various other newspapers, these were unsigned, and thus his authorship of specific pieces can seldom be indisputably verified. Jerdan’s largest body of attributable journalistic writing was a series entitled “Journal of a Trip to Paris”, thirty-one articles signed ‘Viator’, written between April and September 1814, and published in the Sun. (Entries from 22 April to 10 September 1814 are numbered to 32, but No. 26 is missing; No. 25 appeared on 26 August and No. 27 the following day. The latter refers to a topic in his ‘last letter’ i.e. No. 26, which appears not to have been printed, or was incorrectly numbered.) In his Autobiography, published in 1852, he identified these articles as his own. These reports therefore afford the earliest substantial opportunity to note his journalistic style and capabilities; most of his later writing for periodicals was also unsigned, but here, in the Sun, Jerdan was free to choose his topics, his politics (which, like the Sun, were strongly Tory), and safe in the certainty that whatever he sent back to London would be published within a few days. An “in-joke” which only he and a very few others would appreciate, was in the text of one Journal entry that appeared on 29 May 1814, where he addressed himself to “Mr Editor”, saying “I must be allowed occasionally to riot on trifles, drop and resume subjects ad libitum, and, in short, write just as chance and whim determine”. Clarke, as Acting Editor, was hardly likely to overrule or alter the contributions of his permanent editor who saw himself as a pioneer of travel journalism, an early Rough Guide or Lonely Planet, forging into newly accessible territory to tempt and guide future travellers. Jerdan’s stated aim in the first entry of the “Journal of a Trip to Paris” was to add “the minute touches which generally escape the common picture-drawers for the public”. All the newspapers covered politics, but ‘Viator’ would give his public colour, sounds, sights and personal observations of the state of the country not seen for many years since the advent of Napoleon. Discipline and structure were never Jerdan’s strong points, although the way in which his lively journalistic observations of Paris tumbled out, mixing national character and politics with trivia, and tourist guide with art criticism, make them immediate, and real, giving a strong flavour of post-revolutionary Paris.
Jerdan sailed from Dover on 19 April 1814 on the first regular Packet, the Lady Francis, his friend Francis Freeling having obtained his passage (1.177). Even before leaving Dover, Jerdan witnessed an event which so moved him, he mentioned it not only in his “Journal”, but repeated it thirty-eight years later in his Autobiography. A beautiful girl, about twenty years of age, had just arrived from France. She flung herself upon “the free land of Albion”, weeping tears of joy at the end of eleven years’ captivity in a foreign land. Jerdan insisted he did not want to create a ‘sentimental journey’, like Sterne; however, he was a sentimentalist, so could not resist this emotional image of freedom from the bonds of the hated Corsican tyrant.
The energy and enthusiasm with which Jerdan embarked on his adventure was immediately apparent. With his ‘tour guide’ hat on, he urged travellers, especially ladies, not to be seduced into accepting passage on the numerous opportunistic boats taking advantage of the crowds wishing to get to France quickly, but only to trust to regular Packets for their safety and convenience. He vividly described the chaotic, absurd disembarkation at Calais, whereby men and luggage were decanted from the Lady Francis into a six-oared boat, and were set upon by hundreds of men, women and children spilling from the shore into the sea, trying to grab hold of some piece of luggage and carry it to dry land. The passengers too were seized upon and bodily carried ashore. Jerdan reported that a “sturdy fisherwoman with a long paddle in her hand took violent possession of my person, which she disposed of as the Indian females do their children” and so he came ashore to start the great adventure (Sun, 28 April 1814). Thoroughly soaked from the rain above and the sea below, travellers and baggage were reunited at the Customs House and then continued on their way.
Jerdan’s “Journal” entries described the arduous journey from Calais to Paris, a total of thirty-six hours on the road. His observations ranged "from politics to agriculture and from serious matters to trifles". He had a knack for the quick sketch, an evocative word-picture, such as the postillion he acquired at one post, dressed in pre-Revolutionary costume: “The large cocked hat, the powdered and ponderous queue, the ragged dress, and beyond all, the enormous jack-boots into which this veritable Frenchman inserted his pony limbs” (29 April 1814). The poverty, misery and beggary along the way affected Jerdan deeply, as did the almost total absence of young men. Horses, cattle and sheep were gone too, requisitioned or eaten. Very old men, women and children worked the fields, pulling ploughs and harrows. He constantly passed or came upon companies of soldiers, such as Prussian Hussars in Boulogne, contrasting with the wretched condition of French conscripts. These conscripts, some only fifteen or sixteen years old, were sick, wounded and broken “by a complication of distress, these most miserable of human beings consigned, in the very flower of youth, to premature old age, and an early grave.”
Such heavy matters were leavened by some humorous observations – Jerdan was seldom down-hearted for long, and he wanted to entertain as well as to instruct. He delighted in describing the antics of postillions, who took every opportunity to show off to their English milords, by skilful whip-cracking, singing and general good-nature. These were the only young men met with upon the journey who were not soldiers.
Transport was an important topic on which he expended several column inches, explaining the differences between French and English systems. He zealously gave details of each post between Calais and Paris and the charges for each post and horse, so that those who planned a similar trip would be able to calculate their financial needs. The currency exchange rate was not favourable, losing about two to three hundred pounds for every thousand pounds brought from England. Jerdan did not mention, until his Autobiography written many years later, that to avoid currency losses, he sent his excess gold home with a friend, Turner, who was never heard of again, and was presumed to have been murdered for the gold.
English visitors were warmly welcomed by all kinds of French peasants with whom Jerdan spoke, seeking them out in their huts and houses. The English were seen as the source of regeneration and trade, and it was Jerdan’s opinion that it was the very struggle for superiority between England and France over six hundred years which “exalted these nations, respectively, in the consideration of each other…with 400,000 victorious Russians, Austrians and Prussians over-spreading their country…the French think more highly of the power of Great Britain…than they consider the rest of the world together” (2 May 1814). He believed this confidence would prove to be of mutual advantage.
Throughout these “Journals” his despair at the pitiful scenes on all sides was clearly evident. He was surprised, however, that whilst the French spoke of Buonaparte with disgust, he discerned “a coolness in their hate which I cannot reconcile with that temper and character of a people which I could admire” (3 May 1814). From a longer perspective, it may not in fact have been coolness, rather a lack of energy caused by the privations suffered by the population over so many years, in the cause of the bloody revolution.
Jerdan’s highly charged emotions threatened to overwhelm his journalistic style as he contemplated events that resulted in collaborators being rewarded with the land and possessions of murdered noblemen. He tried to be even-handed, to understand the plight of some who had no choice but to serve Buonaparte, but was unforgiving of those men he named who “waded through blood and infamy to these favours from an infamous Master … scoundrels, whose atrocities are unparalleled in history” (14 May 1814). Epithets such as “demon”, “butcher” “Corsican Tamerlane” abounded; his heartfelt loathing for the man who had so decimated an entire country and culture could not be contained.
He felt sympathy for the ignominy of the people. The military were quartered everywhere, each village and hut housing a one-time enemy. Jerdan expressed the hope that such close quarters would alleviate any feelings of hostility, create a mutual understanding, and pave the way for future harmony in Europe. This seems a naïve idea for a political journalist. After a long and weary war, to have a soldier of the occupying force living under one’s roof must have been salt in the wound, and a situation highly unlikely to generate the harmony that Jerdan expected.
Jerdan’s route into Paris took him from St Denis through Montmartre, so recently the scene of Buonaparte’s final defeat. So recent, indeed, that dead horses still lay unburied and, in Jerdan’s colourful words:
In other respects, however, all was as if no such battle had ever been fought. The fields, so lately stained with human blood, and disfigured with the mutilated corpses of the slain, were green with cultivation - over the road formed by the transport of artillery, the plough and the roller were drawn in tranquillity - where the bugle and the trumpet so recently sounded the dreadful charge; where the noisy drum drowned the groans of the dying, and confounded in rude clamour all the agonies of battle; where carnage revelled, and the smoke, and fire, and thunder of war was terrible; even there, within so short a space, rural quiet and pastoral simplicity reigned with an undisturbed sovereignty. The song of the labourer in the field had entirely succeeded to the strife of the warrior; the lovely herbage did not seem as if its roots had been moistened with human gore. The celebrated heights of Montmartre on the left, crowned with windmills in full activity, looked gay and animated. So wonderful and mutable are the affairs of men! [16 May 1814.]
Entering Paris affected Jerdan deeply. He mused upon Arabian Tales, mythical meetings of Princes, gatherings of Warriors, and reflected that the real-life equivalents of all these heroes, and more, were crowded within the walls of Paris; figments of his rich imagination, fuelled by his wide literary knowledge, were about to become reality.
Jerdan believed that Buonaparte’s most heinous crime, amongst a litany of atrocities, was his plan for the defence of Paris. Flimsy wooden barriers which could not have withstood a single assault had been erected; if Marshal Marmont, whose corps was defending the city, had attempted to repel the Allies at this vulnerable point, this would have “produced a catastrophe so horrid, that nature shrinks at the bare apprehension of it” (20 May 1814). As it was, Marmont’s men stood their ground, fighting from every height for thirty miles, taking countless Allied lives. Only when Montmartre and Belleville, on the doorstep of Paris, were stormed, and Paris lay at the feet of the 200,000 Allied troops who surrounded the capital, was a Capitulation proposed and agreed. The corps of Marmont, Duke of Ragusa, had defected, making continued resistance impossible. This defection gave rise to a new French verb, raguser, to betray (Davies 752). Looking back at these events which had happened only a few weeks earlier on 31 March when it was clear that the Allies had triumphed, Jerdan said the French, “a gay and giddy people” did not seem to care. One emperor was much the same as another” (20 May 1814).
Jerdan’s overall impression of Paris was of a “miserable, ill-built, irregular, dirty, and disgusting place” (27 May 1814), hardly a ringing endorsement to his readers, as potential travellers and tourists. Its only splendour was in its palaces, “and even there the toe of meanness does so tread upon the heel of magnificence, that it galls its kibe” (it irritates a chilblain — Hamlet Act V sc. 1). He explained the problem of finding one’s way around the streets of Paris, exacerbated by the many name changes, which the locals knew, but the tourist did not. There were ancient names, revolutionary names, then imperial names, and currently, changes back to Bourbon nomenclature. He mentioned what he called “the greatest ornament” of Paris, the circle around the city of wide Boulevarts (sic) planted on each side with trees. However, other streets were narrow, with central gutters awash, and no pavements for pedestrians who took their chances between passing carriages.
Aware of his self-appointed task as ‘pioneer’ and tour guide, Jerdan realised that accommodation was what the traveller required. He was at pains to explain clearly the various types of lodging available and their prices. He was unusually practical too, advising those who preferred private lodgings to hotels “that they ought to be provided by some friend or agent before you arrive in Paris; otherwise you are apt to be annoyed in searching for them, and more imposed upon in your bargain” (20 May 1814). He reassured the timid that lodging houses were licensed by the Police and their proprietors were therefore unlikely to cheat, for fear of having the license rescinded. Jerdan himself finally negotiated a room in a hotel in the Rue Vivienne, not far from the Louvre, later moving to the Hôtel du Rome.
Shoals of would-be servants offered themselves for hire, but picking the honest and faithful one was the challenge. Jerdan was sympathetic up to a point; he knew that periods of work and enforced idleness create need, and addiction to bad habits. Illustrating the problem, he admitted how he was duped by one such servant, to whom he gave an important package to post to London, with six francs for postage; three days later the package was found at the British Ambassador’s office, whence the man had taken it, pocketing the six francs. Thenceforth he managed with just the hotel’s servant.
Jerdan offered his readers some notion of prices of staple foods. Whilst he showed that most provisions were cheaper in France, coffee, tea and sugar cost more than in England. He found the tea undrinkable, one brew being made from dried birch leaves. The cheapness of wine was a delight to him, table Burgundy being less than a shilling, and the best Claret and Champagne only two to four shillings a bottle. This, he said, was the “fair side of the picture”. However, if an Englishman chose to live in France, he “must consent to the surrender of almost all the domestic comforts of life” (16 May 1814). On this point Jerdan became severely moralistic, maintaining that the French were strangers to cleanliness and delicacy; filth and grandeur mixed indiscriminately; they were an unsociable people who, as a legacy of a terrible revolution, had lax principles and were morally subverted. He seemed genuinely shocked at this moral turpitude: "the obvious absence of every idea of honour in the high, and of honesty in the low” (16 May 1814). His implication was that such behaviour was unknown in England. This critical and rather negative view of the French was balanced by his oft-repeated claim that the French people he met throughout his trip were unfailingly polite, willing to assist the traveller, and always helpful.
An entire “Journal” entry was devoted to one of the best restaurants in Paris, Beauvilliers, describing its Bill of Fare and Wine List, the layout of the restaurant, the modus operandi of the staff, and the discernible national manners or lack of them, of customers from Austria, Prussia and Russia as well as the French and English. In his Autobiography in 1852 he still remembered Beauvillier’s fondly, saying there was no longer a restaurant in Paris to match it (1.187).
One event was so momentous that it is curious Jerdan did not mention it in his “Journal of a Trip to Paris”. It must have made a deep impression upon him, as he recounted it vividly in his Autobiography. On 4 May Louis XVIII entered Paris. This magnificent occasion was celebrated with a parade on the banks of the Seine by the elite of the Allied Forces and the colourful presence of Russian, Prussian and Austrian uniforms. The Duke of Wellington had come from Toulouse, and paraded in plain clothes to avoid attention, but the news soon spread, and Jerdan tells us “They hurra’d and shouted as if they were demented, and a French conqueror of Great Britain had suddenly descended upon them. “Vive Vellington! Vive Vellington!” resounded from ten thousand throats” (1.193). The Sun readers would surely have been gratified to know how their hero was feted in Paris, and Jerdan may have known that the event would be widely covered in the news columns of his paper. People of many nations were in the crowd, and the rejoicing completely overshadowed even the jubilation caused by Buonaparte’s exit from Fontainbleau to his exile on Elba only two weeks earlier. Workmen were frantically busy replacing the Imperial crowns, Ns and Bees wherever they were found, and the air was thick with jokes punning on the initials. White flags flew, and it seemed to Jerdan that only white doves were allowed in the skies. The day ended with a grand ball given by Sir Charles Stewart, the British Ambassador, to which Jerdan was admitted with a ticket given to him by Lord Burghersh, later Earl of Westmoreland.
One of the promised “trivial” episodes which Jerdan found worth recounting, was the early morning, unannounced visit of a group of five “Dames des Halles”, alias Poissardes (fishwives). Naked and sleepy, he was no match for these gaudily dressed women armed with flowers, who sandwiched him into his bed, noisily demanding 5 francs of the English milord. He used to feel contempt, he said, for those warriors beaten by the Amazons, but now he understood their situation better!
His personal interest in the arts coincided with the journalistic necessity to report on the major institutions and buildings of the newly liberated city. Eager to see whatever Paris had to offer, he hurried to the Louvre, the most important public building. He found the experience overwhelming; examining the sublime collection of art on display, he was “agitated with delight and rapture and astonishment” (29 May 1814). Running from one marvel to another, he found himself “dissatisfied with that narrowness of intellectual power” which impeded fixing every piece upon his memory. From this first visit he selected only the Apollo Belvedere which he venerated “as if a divinity were before you”. He could not tear himself away from the Louvre until closing time. In his later life Jerdan exhibited this same deep love and respect for works of art, perhaps too often calling them works of ‘genius’, but nevertheless, responding to and respecting serious artistic endeavours. His use of the word ‘genius’ was applied to those of talent and potential and in his time was generally used more freely than the more rareified connotation recognized today.
Jerdan later visited another great institution, the Hotel des Invalides or, as he called it, the Chelsea Hospital of France. Being an Englishman he was warmly welcomed and, as before, commented that to be an Englishman was a passport to civility and attention everywhere. I wish I could reflect on the politeness shewn to Foreigners, because they are foreigners, in England, with the same complacency, but in this respect the French are far our superiors (16 August 1814).
He inspected the Hospital’s church, now devoid of its religious decorations and of military trophies, which had now been returned to their rightful owners. The Common Hall was decorated with pictures of French victories, and he “enjoyed a secret national pride in observing that not one of them was over the English”. In his view, this Hospital should be on every tourist’s list, unlike the Ecole Militaire which was disappointing and dilapidated.
He reported that the huge ground of the Champ de Mars, where the “Corsican Tyrant” had displayed his military power to subjugate his people, now offered a very different scene: encampments of soldiers, some with their families or with women of the town, horses, camp fires and tents, dancing, drinking and story-telling, the whole forming a spectacle he felt his “humble pen” could not adequately describe. He took a gleeful pleasure in noticing that the Fountain of the Invalides, ornamented with the Lion of Venice appropriated by Buonaparte and decorated with glorifying inscriptions to the usurper, slaked the thirst of a Cossack’s horse drinking from its basin. His piece ended, “What a comment!” (18 August 1814).
Jerdan also visited the Cossack encampment on the banks of the Seine, describing it as a “great gipsy party”. So that his readers at home could picture this scene, he likened its picturesque wildness to a scene in Dr Loutherberg’s popular Eidophusikon, a model theatre with movable scenes lit by variable lighting that had been enormously popular in London some years earlier. Jerdan admired the Cossacks’ strength and courage, but not their table manners:
They were at dinner, standing around a pot upon the channel, and with spoons conveyed its contents to their mouths, by insinuating the spoon most adroitly through more hair than any “hill horse Dobbin” has upon his tail. When they arrived at a lump of meat, it was torn to pieces with great dispatch, and with the ceremony of a cannibal. [6 August 1814]
Another Cossack habit was to “water” the gardens of houses where they were billeted, not, as the owners thought, out of gratitude for a roof over their heads, but knowing that valuables were often buried in anticipation of their approach; the water immediately sank where the ground had been recently dug, but remained longer on the surface where it had not, instantly indicating to the Cossacks where a search was likely to reveal hidden treasures (Autobiography 1.195)).
Jerdan seemed bemused by the Parisian lifestyle – rising at five or six, the Court was in session by seven, and by nine the Tuileries were crowded with Civil and Military Officers attending to their various functions. By noon, all business was concluded, and while women continued to shop all afternoon, the men idled, gambled and went to the theatre. He feared this “strange kind of gossiping, lounging life” would be “the source of immorality, licentiousness and disorder”, but hoped it was a temporary reaction to the recent terrors the country had passed through.
As an example of this gossiping life, Jerdan described how in public gardens such as the Luxembourg and the Tuileries, dozens of stalls were filled with newspapers and journals. These were for sale or, for one sou lent, to readers to regale passers-by with the news. At this low price, he noted, “the very poorest of the people are enabled to become great politicians at the cheapest rate”. Seeing the press as “the most potent moral engine that exists” (29 May 1814). Jerdan deplored the censorship which had not yet been lifted from the French press, contrary to the idea of liberty, the founding principle of the new order. On the firm ground of his own experience, Jerdan noted that “the news of the day at Paris is infinitely more various and uncertain than in London” (13 August 1814). London papers reported on news great and small, whereas the Paris press, having been so long under repressive constraints, which he hoped would soon be lifted, barely published more than official news, for fear of offence and punishment.
Jerdan was horrified at the lack of observance of the Sabbath. Christian devotion ended with the Revolution. The shops were open, and there was no rest, but for him the most shocking were the occupations of Sunday evening: theatres crowded with inferior ranks, dancing houses full of music and riotous behaviour, scenes of revelry he calls a “Saturnalia”. Such non-observance could only result in even more moral turpitude. The disappearance of religion from France was evident in the deconsecration of the Church of Saint Genevieve, and its renaming as the Pantheon, designed to be the resting-place of great men who oppressed their fellow creatures and defied Heaven (6 September 1814). He challenged the inscription that these were ‘grands hommes’ deserving of the admiration of posterity.
Jerdan the Moralist is again evident in a diatribe against the venal French habit of gaming, seeing it as a “general laxity of principle and depravity of morals”. He visited all classes of gaming-house, from those of Princes to the lowest public rooms, and even pavement games, to ascertain their levels of pollution. He likened some to Hogarth’s ‘Rakes Progress’, and in the interests of journalism, studied the subject closely enough to describe in detail the methods of gambling at Faro and Hazard, solely of course for the edification of his readers.
The loyalty of large numbers of French people to the House of Bourbon was an eye-opener to Jerdan, who understood the huge risks taken in keeping images and reminders of the monarchy throughout the tyrannical rule of Buonaparte. They had risked death, in the belief that the monarchy would ultimately be returned to power. Some objects were immense oil paintings, often including portraits of men who subsequently collaborated with Buonaparte; Jerdan remarked how their presence in the pictures was simply ignored, the owners being interested only in what a man is, not what he was. In Versailles, Jerdan admired a pair of portraits of the late King and Queen and wished to purchase them. His offer was refused, but he was shown the vast hiding place behind the kitchen where these paintings and numerous other objects had lain hidden for years. The touching faith of the French in the restoration of the Bourbons made Jerdan ever more angry about the despotic rule of Buonaparte. He was at his most lucid in raging against this hated tyrant, and the way in which he had deliberately kept all France plunged into ignorance and barbarity, in order to exert his sovereignty:
Thus, though I have for years entertained a determined hatred to the system of the Usurper, and had conceived a pretty strong picture of his iniquitous misrule, the variety, the extent, the perfection of his infamy was not to be imagined; and only now, when I have it before me in a tangible shape, can I form any idea of the audacity and turpitude of this Corsican Demon. You will scarcely credit me when I tell you, that there is not only no classical instruction among the rising generation of France, but they are actually as dark and uninformed as the Vandals of ancient ages. [5 July 1814]
He apparently believed that such ignorance of the classics, of history, and of Greek and Latin poets would have dire consequences for the French who, he maintained, had been in a state of delusion.
After having been in Paris for several weeks, Jerdan set off in July on a tour of towns to the east of the city, including Laon, Reims, and Troyes, so recently the theatre of war. He gathered eyewitness information from all types of inhabitants and shopkeepers, and the local Prefectures made their records available to him. He discovered, and reported in his “Journal”, that the people’s bitterness was directed not against the Allies, but against their own countrymen. Buildings were torn apart for firewood, and in Soissons the destruction of over thirty churches and abbeys begun in the Revolution, was completed by the French soldiery. The enemy was still at Laon, twenty miles away, when French soldiers, anticipating their arrival, razed the town to the ground. Many of the people had no option but to live in the underground vaults of the destroyed churches. The Prefects assessed losses at Soissons alone at four million francs. Such military action against their own compatriots clearly shocked and upset Jerdan, but as a journalist he had a duty to report on what he found.
Somehow Jerdan found time to wine and dine with huge enjoyment, at his favourite restaurant Beauvilliers. On one especially memorable evening he met Davidoff, the formidable leader of the Black Cossacks, and another famous general, with both of whom he exchanged compliments and toasts. With a surfeit of wine loosening his tongue, he let it be known that he was editor of a major English newspaper, and thus could speak for England. This news swiftly circulated throughout the restaurant. Suddenly, a seedy-looking personage arrived. Noting the deference paid to him, Jerdan enquired as to his identity. This man was none other than the fabled Marshal Blucher who, even at this date before the Battle of Waterloo, England regarded as a hero for his fight against Napoleon. Jerdan had learnt during his time in Paris, that Blucher was an inveterate but unlucky gambler, and thus France was revenged upon him! Blucher hated everything French to such a degree that when King Louis wished to give him a medal, Blucher refused as he had so many there was nowhere to hang a new one, and it would have to go on his back. “Well,” he was told, “put it there and I’ll be bound it will be where no enemy will ever hit it!” Jerdan remarked that Blucher had an eye for good art, and had earmarked many fine paintings in the Louvre to be removed and sent away to Berlin, Potsdam etc. It was only with great difficulty that he was persuaded to relinquish his hold on some of these works. Blucher’s hatred of the French extended to his refusal to listen to the language, but Jerdan did not know this. On sending over his compliments to the Marshal, Jerdan was astounded to see the old man rise, and come across to his table to talk to him. Jerdan addressed him in French, which Blucher ignored. Jerdan then spoke to him in English, which was translated into German for Blucher. The two men must have enjoyed each other’s company, for next morning they breakfasted together. This meeting was a memorable high point for Jerdan, but not so memorable apparently for Blucher. When Jerdan met him again in London a few months later, Blucher, tired out by the constant adulation of the English crowds, had forgotten their earlier Parisian encounter.
Jerdan’s stay in Paris was by no means all taken up with serious political reporting. One evening, having dined too late to attend the theatre, he visited a couple of dwarfs instead. He described this meeting in great detail, clearly enamoured with their height and appearance, and evidently admiring the lady’s talent for pianoforte and her fluency in four languages. Another time he went to a freak show of an abnormally “Fat Child”, and from this spectacle to another, showing paintings depicting Naples and Amsterdam, and Prevost’s panorama of Boulogne. These encounters were entirely in keeping with his life-long interest in and attraction to all kinds of the unusual, and to all types of show, which later in London included other dwarfs and the freaks so popular at the time.
The Theatre Français came in for his criticism: its ticket purchase system was crowded and dangerous, the mere act of paying for your ticket being to risk a dislocated shoulder or other injury. Once inside, the Theatre was disgraceful, mean and filthy. Jerdan’s article knowledgeably discussed the performance by the famous tragedian Talma. He likened the production to one which might have been seen half a century earlier in England, before the advent of Garrick’s introduction of ‘Nature’; he thought the French drama unnatural and the language not expressive of the passions it declaims. Not to denigrate the tragedic abilities of Talma, Jerdan likened him to “a race-horse in a broad wheeled wagon-team” unable to show the true nature of the tragedy (6 September 1814). The topic of dramatic language seems to have bothered Jerdan, who returned to it in a later “Journal” entry, explaining that :
It is not alone the everlasting jingle of the rhyme, which in French tragedy impresses the English ear with the idea of burlesque, but the mode of laying the emphasis in delivering this heroic poetry, adds to the grating effect. The words are pronounced in an entirely different manner from common life. All the emphases are not only thrown upon the ends of words, but also upon the termination of verses, and thus the drawl of monotony is most disagreeably and unnaturally perfected. [7 September 1814)
Furthermore, he noted, “the universal French shrug…is very ill-suited to our ideas of dignity in Tragedy.”
On his final Sunday in Paris, Jerdan attended the King’s Chapel in the Tuileries, and was impressed with the surroundings and the service. In the evening he went to the Olympic Circus, watching horses perform and two stags jump through fire, an act he thought singular for such a timid animal. His grand Finale to the “Journal of a Trip to Paris” was a visit to the Bibliothèque du Roi, the last two words having just been imposed over the ubiquitous “Imperiale”. Jerdan’s own words are eloquent of his admiration and envy:
Indeed, it is impossible for an Englishman to visit or speak of the Institutions for the promotion of Literature in France, without experiencing a secret pang of mortification, and of regrets, that, with all its wealth, magnificence, and power, there is nothing like them in his own country. The facility of access afforded to strangers, the magnitude and value of the collections, the excellence of their arrangement and keeping, the unreservedness with which their choicest stores are unlocked to the researches of students of all nations, as well as to natives, are, in truth, worthy of our imitation. In France, these opportunities are valuable: in England where the light of science is so generally diffused over the mass of the people, they would be beyond all value! [10 September 1814]
It seems appropriate that this considerable body of Jerdan’s journalism should end with a prospectus for the promotion of literature in England; perhaps it was this one experience, beyond all the myriad other memories he took home from his trip to Paris, which became the engine of the enormous time and effort he expended throughout his life to further the cause of literature.
Aspinall, A. “The Social Status of Journalists at the beginning of the 19th Century.” Review of English Studies 21 (1945) 216-32
Collins, A. S. The Profession of Letters – a Study of the Relations of Author to Patron, Publisher and the Public 1780-1832. London: George Routledge & Sons, 1928.
Pyle, G. P. “The Literary Gazette under William Jerdan.” PhD dissertation. Duke University, 1976.
Last modified 17 June 2020