he family across the lane was named Landon: the parents were John and Catherine, née Bishop, with three children, Letitia Elizabeth, born in August 1802, Whittington Henry, two years younger and Elizabeth, born in 1812. John Landon’s father had been a country rector, but John himself was a midshipman before joining, and eventually becoming a partner in, the army agency Adair & Co. in Pall Mall.
The family lived at 25 Hans Place, Chelsea, where their first two children were born. When Letitia was five she went to school at 22 Hans Place, an establishment run by a Miss Rowden, whose other pupils had included Mary Mitford and Lady Caroline Lamb, the latter taking her own child to the school in due course. Letitia was here for only two years, learning excellent French and nourishing her love of poetry, before the family moved to a large country house, Trevor Park, in East Barnet, where John Landon’s brother had just taken the lease. Here, the little girl enjoyed great freedom, roaming in the woods and park of the estate. She was taught by her cousin, Elizabeth, and showed a voracious appetite for reading, feeding her imagination with Scott, Robinson Crusoe, Cook’s Voyages and a Life of Petrarch, which gave her a lifelong affection for Italy, although she never travelled there. She had an excellent memory for everything she read, and also evinced a great talent and facility for writing, mostly poetry. She took affectionate care of her young brother Whittington, who showed far less ability, and was a much weaker character. John Landon’s experiments in model farming on nearby Coventry Farm were severely affected by the end of the Napoleonic wars, which led to a depression in agriculture, and his interest in the army supply agency also suffered due to the drop in demand. The family returned to London in 1815, living first in Fulham, then moving to Old Brompton in 1816, adjacent to the Jerdan’s home. Jerdan referred to the Landon’s house as a “mansion” with “a fair garden and paddock”, free from the noise of London. A nineteenth-century illustration of the house shows a four bay Georgian brick building, three storeys high, flanked by one storey high wings and a single storey extension in front of the main block. It had nine bedrooms, a “handsome drawing room”, and outbuildings which included a double coach house. According to the Kensington Land Tax Record BookLandon paid sixty pounds rent for the house, and fifteen pounds for the land, whilst the rent for Jerdan’s cottage was forty-five pounds, indicating the difference in the size of their establishments (No. 4925 for 1819).
Brompton, at this time, was a pretty place, far enough from town to be country, but near enough to be accessible for daily engagements. Haymaking still went on there, honeysuckle and roses flourished; the area drew artists and writers who appreciated the quiet, and the clean air after the noise and pollution of London. Jerdan enjoyed being surrounded by creative people, especially as his daily business was conducted in the rush and grime of the town.
Letitia and Whittington Landon played with the Jerdan children whose ages ranged from thirteen to two years old, the two youngest not yet born. Letitia would have known their mother, Jerdan’s wife Frances, when she visited their house to play. Her own parents grew more unhappy as their financial troubles multiplied, and Letitia became used to “the idea of living with secrets” (Lawford 337). Crucially, she was likely to have seen them put on a “face” or a mask to hide their troubles from the outside world. The habit of hiding secrets behind a misleading exterior was to become a necessary part of her own character and her work.
All through her childhood Letitia Landon wrote poetry for her own amusement, and continued to read hugely. When her father’s business ventures failed, the family were in financial difficulties. It was very likely that this was the moment when Letitia’s mother and her cousin Elizabeth, who lived with them, conceived the idea of approaching their near neighbour, the well-known editor, William Jerdan. It was an obvious idea – the Literary Gazette was famously influential and respected; no shame could attach to their daughter’s work being included in such a periodical. In any case, such contributions were generally anonymous, and the family needed income.
Jerdan himself romanticised these early days with Letitia; nothing, as far as is known, survives from this period of their relationship, save the poems themselves. All that exists are Jerdan’s own memories, committed to paper many years later, when much water had flowed under their respective bridges. His two accounts differ slightly from each other, as often happens with old memories. Friends of Letitia’s also recalled her youth, from a perspective of many years, their recollections fulfilling their own agendas of romanticising the poet.
The occasion when Jerdan first described seeing Letitia from his window, was in a Memoir attached to a second edition of her novel Romance and Reality in 1848, some thirty years after the event, and is surely coloured by time in his “recognition” of the nascent poet:
When the writer first noticed her from his adjacent residence she appeared to be a girl of some fourteen or fifteen years of age, slightly proportioned, yet with an exuberance of form. In manners she was simplicity itself, and from her previously retired life, and not having associated with children of her own age, strangely combined the infantile with the intellectual. With her book in one hand, reading as well as she could by snatches, she might be seen trundling her hoop, during the hours for exercise, round and round the lawn, and it would have been difficult to suppose that she was doing aught else than combining lesson with play in a curious fashion. But the soul of Poetry was already there; and her first essays in song came with the hoop.
For a man then nearing forty, married, and with a growing family of his own, Jerdan took a close, and maybe not too disinterested, interest in his neighbour’s “exuberance of form”, a neighbour who was not fourteen or fifteen but nearer to seventeen. As much as her physical attributes, what he found attractive was the combination of the physical with the intellectual, the child within the adult, and having observed Letitia so closely, may have been more than otherwise willing to give her poetry his serious attention.
Revisiting this first glimpse of Letitia Landon five years later, for his Autobiography, he reported that
My first recollection of the future poetess is that of a plump girl, grown enough to be almost mistaken for a woman, bowling a hoop round the walks, with the hoop-stick in one hand and a book in the other, reading as she ran, and as well as she could manage both exercise and instruction at the same time. The exercise was prescribed and insisted upon: the book was her own irrepressible choice.
Jerdan recalled that the first approach came from Mrs Landon, telling him that her daughter was “addicted to poetical composition” (3.175). She asked him, as a favour, to give his opinion on some of her daughter’s efforts. Jerdan doubted that the poems were indeed those of the young hoop-bowler and playmate of his children. He thought instead that they were productions of her cousin Elizabeth, modestly hiding her identity. Elizabeth’s two letters indicate that although she herself was not acquainted with the Jerdan family, she knew that at least there was some connection, probably through the young people, and could thus ask for his opinion as to whether “any taste or genius is expressed, or, on the contrary, if he should only call it a waste of time from which no benefit can arise” (3.175). Jerdan replied immediately, acknowledging some merit, which Elizabeth knew would encourage Letitia to strive for improvement. He considered that her juvenile works were “crude and inaccurate, as might be anticipated, in style, but containing ideas so original and extraordinary, that I found it impossible to believe they emanated from the apparent romp, and singular contradiction of the hoop and volume” (3.175). Letitia was aware – maybe not at the time, but certainly later – that he had questioned her authorship, telling Samuel Carter Hall that “He would not believe that they were written by the child whom he saw playing with his own children” (Hall 269). To try and ascertain without further doubts whether the verses were indeed written by Letitia and not by her cousin Elizabeth as he half suspected, Jerdan set her a test. Driving from London to Brompton one day, they passed St Georges Hospital. As Jerdan explains in his “Memoir of L.E.L.,” he challenged Letitia to produce some verse upon the subject. Immediately after dinner she showed him “a most touching poem of seventy-four lines” thus convincing him finally that her talent and facility were genuine (xi).
Letittia Elizabeth Landon by Daniel Maclise. c. 1830-35. Courtesy of the National Portrait Gallery London. NPG 1953. Click on image to enlarge it.
That the plan to get Letitia’s work published was a family affair, is confirmed by an undated letter from Catherine Landon now in the Bodleian Library to Jerdan from Mrs Landon, informing him that a friend “wishes much to see a trifle of Letitia’s in the Gazette of next or following Saturday. The kindness her family have experienced from Mr and Mrs Jerdan will not be obliterated from the mind of Mrs Landon, it will give her much pleasure to hear they are all well” (MS. Eng. lett. d. 114 f9). Whether this was the “trifle” she desired, or another, Letitia’s first published poem, “Rome”, appeared in the Literary Gazette on 11 March 1820. It comprised seven four-line stanzas, and was signed with the single initial “L”. Jerdan admitted “crudities” but thought “there was a redeeming quality in some of the epithets and expressions, and the sentiment of the whole an evidence of thought which broods upon its subject” (3.177). He felt vindicated by her next offering, “The Michelmas Daisy” also published in March, admiring its “touching simplicity” which was more in tune with the trend of the day and the popularity of the ‘Lake’ poets. Three more poems followed during the course of the year, one in August named “Fragment”, that Jerdan called “the germ of the future L.E.L.” (3.178), the other two in October, all signed only with “L”. F. J. Sypher suggests Letitia published an additional poem, “Sonnet,” in the number for 18 November (364n13).
Landon’s social world was narrow as her parents financial burdens deepened and she went little into “society”. She made up for this by creating her own inner worlds, fuelled by the extensive reading she had indulged in all her life. Her head was full of heroines, sacrificing themselves for love. She concocted long narrative poems, convinced of her talent; she had little interest in the commonplace, thinking herself extraordinary.
Jerdan had his own worries in the period of 1819-20. His sixth child, Elizabeth Hall Dare was born in September 1820 (Bishops Transcripts, St. Mary Abbott, Kensington. DL/T/47/26). Debts and the needs of his growing family, , forced his attention to the circulation of the Literary Gazette. Books and poetry overwhelmed him, authors clamoured for reviews and notices, and he had to organise, if not write, all the other information the Gazette needed, such as filled the Fine Arts columns, and proceedings of the various societies. Jerdan’s own love of poetry was inculcated by his eighteenth-century education; fortunately for him, and for Letitia Landon, the first quarter of the nineteenth-century still enjoyed poetry of all kinds, and would-be poets were two-a-penny. Jerdan acknowledged this in an essay, “Poetry” in the Literary Gazette of 3 February 1821:
This is the age of versification: we know not how many volumes of first, of juvenile, of humble, of unknown, of indifferent, and of qualified essays in poetry, load our table. Unfortunately for those essayists who possess talents which, perhaps, only require development, this is also the age in which many distinguished bards flourish…Not to be among the foremost is now to be nothing; there is hardly a medium space between fame and oblivion.
The Literary Gazette was itself the ‘foremost’ of the literary periodicals, the best vehicle for Landon’s verses. Even at such an early stage of seeing Landon’s poetry, Jerdan recognised that she was out of the ordinary, and that it would be well worth his time to foster her talents for the benefit of the Literary Gazette. Fortunate as this was for the young poet, it was also a stroke of luck for Jerdan. “If Letitia really was the poet, and thus a ‘child poet’, she would be the marvel of his lifetime and, as his protégée, this ‘divine’ creature had the potential to become his most enduring triumph, her poetry lasting long after his magazines were no longer read” (Lawford 185). Accordingly, from this time Letitia Landon was more than an occasional contributor. She became Jerdan’s pupil, a situation that her family would have encouraged: an experienced editor who could offer the budding poet advice, and a paid outlet for her work, he was a family man who knew her as his children’s friend, and she the poet whose parents were acquainted as neighbours with both her tutor and his wife. He recalled this time as idyllic:
It is the very essence of the being I have so faintly portrayed, not to see things in their actual state, but to imagine, create, exaggerate, and form them into idealities; and then to view them in the light which vivid fancy alone has made them appear. Thus it befel with my tuition of L.E.L. Her poetic emotions and aspirations were intense, usurping in fact almost every other function of the brain; and the assistance I could give her in the ardent pursuit produced an influence not readily to be conceived under other circumstances or a less imaginative nature. The result was a grateful and devoted attachment; all phases of which demonstrate and illumine the origin of her productions. Critics and biographers may guess, and speculate and expatiate for ever; but without this master-key they will make nothing of their reveries. [3.170]
In such a hothouse atmosphere, flushed with pleasure at the interest the older man took in her writing, it is small wonder that Letitia Landon fell in love with William Jerdan. The “grateful and devoted attachment” of which he spoke so many years later indeed provides the “master-key” to unlocking the real meaning of the vast quantity of work that Landon produced and is, with a single exception, the only clear and truthful admission made by either Jerdan or Landon about their relationship. But that was still ahead; at this time, Landon had published her first three verses in the Literary Gazette, and was about to write her first book, under the watchful protection of her mentor.
In August 1820, as she turned eighteen, Landon began to write a long narrative poem. Taking the first attempt with her, she left Brompton for a four months’ visit, probably staying with her paternal grandfather at Tedstone Court in Tedstone Delamere, and seeing other relatives who lived in the area. Dissatisfied, she threw the first draft into the fire, finding it difficult to maintain her confidence without Jerdan’s constant encouragement and presence. Reworking her ideas, she tremulously sent him the first of the poem’s two Cantos, “too well aware of my many defects…your judgement will be most unmurmuringly and implicitly relied on” (3.181). Jerdan’s reply was positive and greatly encouraging. This poem was the first of dozens Landon wrote to Jerdan, her first love. Supported by evidence from Landon’s letters to her cousin Elizabeth, it has been clearly shown that he was the subject she addressed:
the speaker seeks to convey to the beloved how he has pleased her, how she longs to please him further. After she tells the Spirit of the Harp, “I love thee, passionately love!” and “thou enchanting power, my love is thine”, she sighs, “But there is a dearer bliss..
ah! canst thou,
From whom it came, paint the deep joy, or tell
What the young minstrel feels, when first the song
Has been rewarded by the thrilling praise
Of one too partial, but whose lightest word
Can bid the heart beat quick with happiness –
It is my thought of pride, my cherish’d prize,
To breathe one song not quite unworthy thee. [Lawford 181]
It would have taken a strong-minded man to ignore such a blatant declaration from a young and innocent protégée. Jerdan’s life was already full; there was a new baby in the house and now he was faced with Landon’s open adoration, a heady situation he could not ignore. In telling Jerdan so directly of her feelings for him, she ran the risk of exposing herself to her readers, but she was promoted and perceived as such a child-like ingénue that no such situation crossed anyone’s mind. Further verses were sent to him under cover of a letter from her mother, who asked for his opinion and tellingly mentioned, “I believe you are aware of her reasons for wishing to publish”. Letitia was worried that she was very young to be rushed into producing a book, but the family needed the money she might make. However, another letter from Catherine Landon of 27 November assured Jerdan that “Without your sanction she feels herself without a hope of success and has no resolution to go on. She has upon her list more than sufficient to defray the expenses of publication – I do not mean by subscription.” If Catherine Landon had actually read her daughter’s outpouring of love, it is surprising that she would have countenanced sending it on to Jerdan, despite the pressing need for income. More probable is that she did not read it, having never been supportive of, or interested in, Letitia’s poetry and story-telling through all the years of her childhood. She informed Jerdan that the famous actress Mrs Siddons, who was a family friend of the Landons, was “shortly going to Oxford, and as we have connections there [John Landon’s brother Whittington, was Provost of Worcester College], is taking it up very warmly.” Although in the end no help was forthcoming from Mrs Siddons, the book was dedicated to her, under the initials “L.E.L.”. Letitia Landon’s grandmother Mrs Bishop, who had independent means, largely paid for the publication of the new book. Jerdan never discovered the source of Mrs Bishop’s wealth, “having a confused idea that she was the natural daughter of an aristocratic family”, but the mutual affection between her and Letitia endeared her to him.
The Fate of Adelaide, a narrative poem, with additional shorter poems to expand the collection, was published in August 1821, as its author became nineteen. Jerdan seems to have been instrumental in finding the publisher, John Warren of Old Bond Street. Although Landon did not refer specifically to this book when she wrote to her friend Katherine Thomson in 1826, it is likely to be the one she meant, as her subsequent works were eagerly awaited. She told her friend, defending her relationship with Jerdan from the rumours that were then rife:
I have not had a friend in the world but himself to manage anything of business, whether literary or pecuniary. Your own literary pursuits must have taught you how little, in them, a young woman can do without assistance. Place yourself in my situation. Could you have hunted London for a publisher, endured all the alternate hot and cold water thrown on your exertions; bargained for what sum they might be pleased to give; and after all, canvassed, examined, nay quarrelled over accounts the most intricate in the world… [Blanchard 55]
Landon’s dreamed-of knight in shining armour had ridden to her rescue, guiding her through the perilous world. Or so it must have seemed to the young and utterly inexperienced Landon. Sadly for the success of her first book, the publisher went bankrupt in the same year, denying her any profit she was due. A few periodicals reviewed The Fate of Adelaide quite favourably and the book, at 7s 6d, sold quite well. Jerdan did what he could to promote the book by reviewing it in the Literary Gazette of 4 August. His review failed to mention his own close association with the writer, even to the point of preparing the work for publication. Neither did he mention that the Miss Landon, author of the book, was that same poet who had appeared already in the Literary Gazette under the signature “L”. Unusually for Jerdan where his friends were concerned, his review did not excessively praise the work. He mentioned her “exuberance of fancy, inequality of diction”, but does praise some “touches…of genius”. As reviewer he opined that “she has the feeling and genius of poesy in her mind, and if she cultivates its mechanical requisites, represses words, cherishes deep thinking and ponders on selection and polish…”she would greatly improve. In other words, she needed more tutorial sessions with him. These continued, engendering in Jerdan an emotion he could not combat. Watching over her, he idolised her, as she adored him.
From day to day, and hour to hour, it was mine to facilitate her studies, to shape her objects, to regulate her taste, to direct her genius, and cultivate the divine organisation of her being. For the divine part was in Her! … impossible for me by any description to convey an accurate idea of the dual individuality of L.E.L. In exoteric society she was like others; but in her inmost abstract and visioned moods (and these prevailed) she was the Poet, seen and glorified in her immortal writings. [3.169]
The “dual individuality” which Jerdan referred to was a characteristic of Landon remarked upon by her later biographers; her ability to switch instantly from the melancholy in which her poems were often born to the gay and witty socialite her world demanded, the “mask” that she had learnt from her parents being used to protect her inner self.
Easy to imagine then, the editor harassed at work, inundated with six children at home, finding solace and gratification in teaching the brilliant and adoring young woman – a situation of mutual idolisation, each fulfilling an unmet need in the other. The fact that he suspected her contributions to his magazine would attract attention and increase circulation was his bonus. Her’s was the older man’s attention and interest in her work and herself, after years of indifference from her own family.
Variously described by her “friends” in their memoirs, all agreed that she was no conventional beauty. Katherine Thomson recalled that she was at this time
a comely girl with a blooming complexion, small, with very beautiful deep gray eyes, with dark eyelashes: her hair, never very thick, was of a deep brown, and fine as silk: her forehead and eyebrows were perfect; the one white and clear, the other arched and well-defined. She was inclined rather to be fat; too healthy looking; and then her other features were defective – her nose was retroussé. Her mouth, however, without being particularly good, was expressive, and proportioned to her small and delicate face. Her hands and feet were perfect; and in time her figure, which had a girlish redundance of form in it, became slighter and ended by being neat and easy, if not strictly graceful. She had a charming voice… [Thomson 1.277]
Laman Blanchard, her earliest biographer, described how Her easy carriage and careless movements would seem to imply an insensibility to the feminine passion for dress; yet she had a proper sense of it, and never disdained the foreign aid of ornament, always provided it was simple, quiet and becoming…. Her face, though not regular in ‘every feature’, became beautiful by expression; every flash of thought, every change of colour of feeling, lightened over it as she spoke, when she spoke earnestly. …her mouth was not less marked by character, and besides the glorious faculty of uttering the pearls and diamonds of fancy and wit, knew how to express scorn, or anger, or pride, as well as it knew how to smile winningly, or to pour forth those short, quick, ringing laughs which, not excepting even her bon-mots and aphorisms, were the most delightful things that issued from it. 
A later sketch of Landon by her close friend Anna Maria Hall, concurred with the dark hair, retroussé nose, and unremarkable mouth, mentioned the “peculiar beauty” of her ears, and concluded that “She would have been of perfect symmetry but that her shoulders were rather ‘high’. Her movements, when not excited by animated conversation, were graceful and ladylike, but when excited they became sudden and almost abrupt.” The several portraits of Landon, mainly by Maclise, are unhelpful in picturing her; they do not resemble each other, and although Mrs Hall believed that Pickersgill’s engraving was the closest likeness, Landon’s image somehow escapes us, behind that mask she wore in public.
The year of Landon’s first published book of poems was a year when much was happening in the world of poetry. Keats published ‘Lamia’, ‘Isabella’, and ‘The Eve of St Agnes’, with other poems including the now famous ‘Ode on a Grecian Urn’ and ‘To a Nightingale’. Shelley’s ‘Ode to a Skylark’, ‘The Cenci’ and ‘Prometheus Unbound’ appeared, as did Wordsworth’s ‘The River Duddon, a Series of Sonnets’. Poetry was still an immensely popular form of literature, and Landon’s debut, nurtured so carefully by Jerdan, assured her a place amongst the best of her contemporaries.
Jerdan’s treatment of the ‘Lake Poets’, Wordsworth, Coleridge and Southey, and of Keats, Shelley and others has been fully discussed elsewhere (Duncan). Although his politics were largely in accord with the former group, it has been alleged that he failed to understand, and disliked, the differing mysticisms of Coleridge and Wordsworth. Even forty years later he had not grasped the importance of Wordsworth in whom he found that
a strange incongruous mixture of the namby-pamby with the delightful, the ludicrous with the pathetic, and the affected with the natural in Wordsworth – that his poet eye never reached the sublime, or rolled in frenzy, but was chastened into a pervading sobriety of vision, which nevertheless included a magic sphere, sweetly adorned with grace, wisdom and purity. [Men I have Known 475]
However, at the time he hailed Southey (whose ten volume edition of Collected Works was published by Jerdan’s Literary Gazette partner Longmans), as one for whose works “we have always felt the warmest admiration”. He, or at least the Literary Gazette, never commented on any specific detail of Southey’s poetry, as he did with L.E.L.’s works. In short, “The editor had no mind for subtlety. It is clear that poetry of grandeur was, for Jerdan, poetry in the tradition of Milton…In his reviews of Coleridge and Wordsworth especially are two of his outstanding weaknesses: his antipathy towards mysticism and his circumscribed concept of the proper diction and subject matter of poetry.” (Duncan 216). In this personal preference Jerdan clung to his eighteenth-century education, even though in his professional life he was keenly aware that literature was evolving at speed. Within two years of taking charge of the Literary Gazette he spoke of his paper as a principal organ of the “great literary revolution” (22 May 1819, p. 321), but for him the changes he welcomed veered toward the sentimental and gothic, embodied by the poetry of L.E.L. and Charles Swain.
He was unlikely to wholeheartedly welcome Keats, a friend of Leigh Hunt’s and one of the derided “Cockney School”. Nevertheless, the Literary Gazette gave Lamia its first public notice, with merely a non-committal sentence as introduction, but it carried in full “Ode to a Nightingale,” “To Autumn” and “Lines on the Mermaid Tavern.” Jerdan (or Landon) may have had little or nothing to say on these now famous poems, but a biographer of Keats observed that the quotations were probably of more value than a set review in the Gazette, “at least if it were written by the editor, William Jerdan, who was said by his fellow-journalists to acquire knowledge of books sent in by cutting the leaves and smelling the paper knife!” (Quoted Duncan 222 from Hewlett). This unnecessarily unkind assessment of Jerdan’s reviewing abilities is obviously partisan, and equally obviously inaccurate. Many reviews were certainly of a general nature and relied heavily on lengthy extracts, but others showed an understanding of content and substance which demonstrated that the work had been looked at more closely, if not by Jerdan himself then by one of his reviewers.
Jerdan made an unprecedented, personal attack on Shelley upon publication of a new edition of Queen Mab in 1821, a unique instance of mentioning any writer’s personal affairs, even including Byron’s much-publicised immoralities. Jerdan expressed his revulsion in a lengthy four page review in highly coloured language which he attempted to justify in a footnote to his article:
We are aware, that ordinary criticism has little or nothing to do with the personal conduct of authors; but when the most horrible doctrines are promulgated with appalling force, it is the duty of every man to expose, in every way, the abominations to which they irresistibly drive their odious professors. We declare against receiving our social impulses from a destroyer of every social virtue; our moral creed, from an incestuous wretch; or our religion from an atheist who denied God and reviled the purest institutes of human philosophy and divine ordination, did such a demon exist. [19 May 1821, p. 305]
Jerdan’s diatribe indicated the Gazette’s disgust at the gossip surrounding the half-sister of Shelley's wife, who had been living with Mary and Shelley in Switzerland in 1814. Jerdan's outraged sense of morality appeared to have seen no irony in his condemnation of Shelley's behaviour and his own nascent adulterous affair with Landon. He was more upset by Shelley's atheism, calling him an “incarnate driveller…miserable worm!”, copying the verse containing Alastor’s statement “There is no God”, solely as a reason to call for censorship to “prohibit the sale of this pernicious book” (307). Instead of merely ignoring an earlier work by Shelley, the Literary Gazette reluctantly reviewed The Cenci: “We have much doubted whether we ought to notice it; but as watchmen place a light over the common sewer which has been opened in a way dangerous to passengers, so have we concluded it to be our duty to set up a beacon on this noisome and noxious publication” (1 April 1820, p. 206). This was not enough to satisfy the outraged reviewer who pronounced the work “a dish of carrion” and “the production of a fiend”, but nevertheless quoted extracts from it, for the disapprobation of readers. Three years later, when Shelley was safely dead, Jerdan reviewed his Posthumous Poems more kindly, observing that “There is peace, and there is pardon, there is tenderness in the grave. That which in life is denominated crime, is by death almost softened into error, and Pity goes hand in hand with Reprobation” (17 July 1824, p. 451.)
Whilst Jerdan denounced Shelley’s personal immorality, he was busily engaged upon his own close relationship with Landon and with producing the Literary Gazette. When not nursing his new protégée, and running the journal, he had many other interests. One of the more important and far-reaching activities he became involved in was the founding of the Royal Society of Literature. Zealous and energetic as he was (and indeed claimed himself to be in all that he undertook) he threw himself into this new project with enthusiasm (Autobiography 135). King George III had died in January 1820, succeeded by George IV. The new King began divorce proceedings against Queen Caroline whom Canning had tried so hard to comfort before she went into exile, and whom Jerdan had seen leaving Canning’s house in tears. She had returned to England to claim her rights as Queen, again supported by Canning and Lord Brougham, and was garnering public sympathy. In July the King wished her to be tried in Parliament under a “Bill of Pains and Penalties”, accusing her of licentious behaviour and proposing to dissolve the marriage. Popular outcry forced the abandonment of this trial, but Caroline lost much popular support by her attempt to force an entrance into the Coronation, in July 1821, when she was locked out of Westminster Abbey. Parliament granted her an annuity, but she died a month later, freeing George IV of a burden and embarrassment.
In November 1820, whilst all this was proceeding, the new King had other, more positive plans, including an idea which he asked Dr Burgess, Bishop of St David’s, to put it into action. (Jerdan thought that the King must have been happy to have a positive and optimistic project to work on, as an antidote to the previous long period of riots and political threats.) The Bishop in turn approached James Christie, a colleague of Jerdan’s in the Literary Fund. Christie assured Jerdan that not only the King, but Ministers and Churchmen supported the idea of an institution along the lines of the French Academy, so that Literature would take its place with such established Royal Societies as those for science, fine arts and antiquities. Christie also believed that the new society would, as a side-effect, benefit the work of the Literary Fund by raising the profile of literature generally. Flatteringly, Christie wrote to Jerdan that his opinion was influential and asked him to speak favourably about the project. Of course Jerdan was happy to be invited in on the foundation of such an enterprise, one close to his own interests and especially as it was to be so well-funded by the King, who had agreed to donate one thousand pounds a year, and a hundred guineas annually for two medals for distinguished literary merit. Jerdan thought that the King was at heart a beneficent and generous soul, whose early “sensuous indulgences” had been caused by his pampered upbringing (3.128). (Jerdan, it will be remembered, was always an ardent supporter of the King when, as the Duke of York, he had become embroiled in the Mary Ann Clarke affair).
Accordingly, the Literary Gazettes of December 1820, reinforced by a front page feature on 6 January 1821, published the first announcements of the plan for a Royal Society of Literature, (mentioning objections to some inadequacies of the plan, although insisting “But to its spirit, none”) together with an outline of the prospectus submitted to the King, and Jerdan’s own comments supporting its aims: “for the encouragement of indigent merit and the promotion of general literature”, with the King as patron, and Dr Burgess at its head. This declaration was met with instant hostility by opposition papers. The Morning Chronicle denounced it as an “‘extra-loyal’ invention for the benefit of persons in ‘high places’ to meet”, and suggested that a rival establishment be set up. This was never followed through and was summarily dismissed from Jerdan’s mind. The Literary Gazette article was, unsurprisingly, praised by the head of the Society, the Bishop of St David’s, who was delighted that Jerdan “has kept the subject alive…put it on its right footing…excited very widely those higher feelings in its favour…capable of becoming a great instrument of national good” (3.139). Arranging to meet with Jerdan to promote the Society, the Bishop underlined the two main aims: to reward literary merit, and to excite literary talent. Jerdan himself objected to the phrase “for the encouragement of indigent merit” and proudly reported in the Literary Gazette of 17 February that it had subsequently been removed.
Several committee meetings had taken place before Jerdan was invited to join, on 12 April 1821. Many were called, but the work fell upon only half-a-dozen individuals. They judged the best poem on Dartmoor, for a prize of fifty guineas, which was won by Felicia Hemans. The main work of the committee, though, was to prepare the prospectus for publication, a frustrating and onerous task that Jerdan likened to Penelope’s web, with “no end to our Odyssey”. What was agreed at one meeting was changed at the next, the members attending only sporadically, so that the composition of the gathering was never the same. Nit-picking over specific words resulted in letters flying back and forth, but in May 1821 the committee met again at Hatchards in Piccadilly, believing that agreement had finally been reached. At the last moment it became clear that a spanner had been thrown into the works by Sir Walter Scott, (knighted in this year), who had made known to the Secretary of the Home Department, Lord Sidmouth, that he considered such institutions as the nascent Royal Society of Literature to be injurious rather than beneficial to the interests they espoused (It is ironic that in 1827 Scott accepted a medal from the RSL.) Sidmouth had passed this letter to the King, and then advised Burgess that the plan should not now proceed.
Horrified at the waste of time and effort he had so far invested, Jerdan went to see Burgess, urging him that to abandon a project that the King had personally entrusted to him would be disrespectful, and that the counter-order from Sidmouth should not be credited without recourse to the King himself. Using his “old-boy network”, Jerdan wrote to Prince Hoare, an active committee member who was just then with the King at Brighton. Hoare brought the subject to the King’s attention, to discover that the monarch knew Scott well, and realised that where the writer did not lead he was not inclined to co-operate, much less to follow. To everyone’s relief, word got back that the King expected Dr Burgess to continue with his initiative. If Jerdan’s account of the near-strangulation of the budding RSL is accurate, he could justly claim to have saved the institution by his mediation.
Having surmounted that hurdle, Jerdan continued actively to recruit high-ranking men of his acquaintance to take an interest in the RSL. To his dismay, Sir Francis Freeling, his long-time friend, declined. More mortifying, he received a note from George Canning, who had seen the plan in the Literary Gazette. His reasons for refusing to become involved were, he said, “partly general, partly personal.”
1st, I am really of opinion, with Dr Johnson, that the multitudinous personage, called the Public, is, after all, the best patron of literature and learned men.
2nd, A much older authority, Horace, has described the general character of poets (in which other authors may perhaps be comprehended) in a way which would make it unadvisable for any individual who is already in hot water enough, as a politician, to prepare another warm bath for himself, as arbiter of literary pretensions and literary rivalries.
It is obviously much easier to avoid belonging to the institution, than, belonging to it, to decline to execute its functions; and therefore I should very much wish to avoid it. [3.149]
Jerdan had more success with the Duke of Rutland, the Earl of Munster, Lord Willoughby de Eresby, Lord Chief Baron Pollock and others. He also introduced two future presidents to the Society. His fellow council members were Bishops, Lords, a Marquis, Knights of the Realm, several Reverends and other respected, if less exalted figures – just the kind of company which his ambition relished. By the end of the year the RSL was in a good condition. Jerdan had his hands full acting as the President’s deputy manager, correcting proofs of the Prospectus and involved in preparing and announcing the topics on which prizes were to be awarded in the coming year. When the list was finally published it was the season when the gentry left town, so that the committee dwindled to two, or often to only one. Jerdan remarked that he felt “like the one soldier from India, who represented Hamilton’s regiment at the review” (3.153). The Literary Gazette continued to report on the activities of the RSL, as it did with the other Royal Societies, but this one was always closest to Jerdan’s heart. In May he was a Steward at the seventh anniversary of the Artists Benevolent Institution, founded for relief to distressed artists, proving that his concern was not restricted to literary strugglers.
Although Jerdan was grateful to George IV for his philanthropic contributions to the cause of literature, it was George III, on the throne when Jerdan was born and reigning for sixty years, whom he wished to commemorate. His efforts were a long-drawn out story, but they began with a flourish in an advertisement in the Literary Gazette of 10 February 1821, where Jerdan’s name appeared on the Sub-Committee. This was followed by a large sketch in the issue of February 24 1821, of a cartoon by Wyatt for a public monument to honour the late King. Four prancing horses pulled an elaborate carriage on which stood the King, as Caesar, wearing a laurel wreath, wrapped in a flowing cloak, carrying a sceptre. Two angels complete with wings danced attendance, one blowing a trumpet, the other holding aloft a wreath. At the horses’ feet were cannonballs and strange creatures. Jerdan’s accompanying text described more fully the details on the car, which depicted Fame, Victory, Commerce, Arts, Agriculture and Religion. It was intended to carve the names of subscribers on the pedestal of the monument. Jerdan gave five guineas, and the Duke of York one hundred and five pounds ( The Times, 10 July 1821). The Duke of York had approved the design as did many of the “illustrious in rank and talent”. This was to be a huge monument, befitting the great reign of the King. It was quite unusual for the Literary Gazette to include visual images, so the large space devoted to this ambitious drawing would have made a big impression on its readers.
It was another year before the Literary Gazette again referred to the monument. On 16 March 1822, a detailed progress report was provided, reminding readers of the prominent men involved in the project. All was proceeding well, until a plan was put forward to hold a public dinner on 4 June, the date of the late King’s birthday, with the purpose of raising funds and promoting awareness of the monument. “Strong and active opposition” was aroused, and it was argued that Wyatt’s design should not be accepted without a national competition, allowing all artists who wished to submit their ideas. HRH The Duke of York decreed that the anniversary day be merely observed by a dinner, but not used to further the grand project. It was to be attended by the usual great and good but, observed Jerdan, “Thus far the plan was patronized, was carried on, and was paralysed”. Subscriptions had reached only five thousand pounds. The objections raised were discussed in the Literary Gazette,. The writer pointed out that Wyatt’s proposal could be executed as planned, and did not preclude the government or anyone else from creating a competition for a second memorial. The King, it was suggested “who had a monument in the hearts of ten millions of his subjects, is deserving of more than one tribute from the Arts, which he encouraged.” This was a matter set to run and run.
There were numerous day-to-day problems in compiling the Literary Gazette so that it was ahead of the competition in reviewing new books. Timing was crucial, early copies were requested from the publishers, and because the Gazette was the most popular literary periodical in London, Jerdan was able to call the tune. With the best will in the world, outside factors intervened, as Scott’s publisher was all too aware, when he wrote to Jerdan from Edinburgh on 5 January 1821, enclosing a copy of Kenilworth:
When I send it however I cannot but express some doubts about the date of publication – we ship on 9th inst. from Leith and if wind and weather were favourable the bulk might be in London by the following Saturday or Monday, 13th or 15th, but this is uncertain – and I state it thus candidly to you – were the book to get up so as to be out on the Monday, your announcement might appear on the Saturday preceding, that is the 13th, but if any ice in the River or contrary winds come in the way of this, the Announcement of the 13th would play the devil… [NLS 791 217-19.]
Such considerations would have made it almost impossible to time announcements of newly published books to be not too far ahead, and certainly not behind, those of the competition. In the event, Jerdan played it safe and the review appeared on 20 January. Making such judgments was merely one of Jerdan’s every day decisions. Clearly, the impact of a review in the Literary Gazette was all-important to the success of the book and publishers would court Jerdan’s co-operation in timing his reviews very precisely.
Contributors often became friends; Bryan Procter (the poet, Barry Cornwall) who, apologising that he had no poetry to send, enclosed a hare instead: “You, in your wagging way will say that it has fewer feet”. In an undated letter Proctor asked after the “little folks and Mrs. J.” and another time suggested that Jerdan bring his daughter Mary to visit (MsL C8213je, Iowa). He embroiled Jerdan in his contretemps with the Rev. George Croly, who was offended that the actor Macready had given priority to a work of Procter’s despite having been given the opportunity to see Croly’s play first. Procter told Jerdan in a letter dated December 1820, “I have been endeavouring to serve him in several quarters – Do not mention this (of course) to him or anyone” (MsL C8213je3, Iowa). It was impossible for Jerdan to be detached from the hurly burly of a wide variety of literary activities undertaken by his vast network of acquaintances, but as Editor, he had to remain as objective as possible.
He could not always please everyone. The Literary Gazette was quick to denounce what it saw as ‘humbug’, both in painting and in ‘shows’. It poured scorn upon a painting exhibited in Pall Mall by an Italian artist, at the sight of which the Gazette reviewer raged on 25 March 1820: “A miserable, indecent and offensive daub, as a work of art not superior to the pictures which one sees for a half-penny by looking through the magnifying glass of a peep-show, is placed in a darkened room, and by the paltry trick of lighting it from below, made to look like a bad transparency” (207). A later exhibition was attacked by the journal as “a waste of canvas…naked forms rendered odious and indecent by bad painting: such constitute the merits of this shameful and shamefully bepuffed Exhibition. We know of no visitors for whom it is fit, except the Agents of the Society for the Suppression of Vice; and we have only to add, that a more indelicate, nasty, impudent, trumpery show, was never offered to a British public” (24 May 1823, 33.).
On the other side of the coin, a very displeased painter, T. C. Hofland, wrote to Jerdan on 28 January 1821 complaining that although the Literary Gazette had previously spoken favourably of his works, “I cannot but feel some surprise and I may add mortification, to find my name totally omitted from your account of the private view of the British Institution, particularly as I exhibit five pictures” (MsL H7125j Iowa). The account had probably not been written by Jerdan himself, but as with everything appearing in the Literary Gazette, the buck stopped with him, and Hofland should perhaps have been glad to be spared the vehemence of some art reviews in the Gazette.
Others took criticism with good-natured humour, which must have cheered up Jerdan’s day: a Mr Porden, possibly the distinguished architect, thanked Jerdan for criticism of his poem in a letter of 31 December 1821, when he admitted that
would gladly remove the objectionable verb if he were able, for he has so little of the irritability of a Poet that he would alter every word if (as in the present case) there were a good reason for it; being of opinion that in poetry no word or expression should be retained if a better can be found. But after some endeavours he has found himself too stupid to alter the lines in question, and he would rather print the verses as they are, or even forgo the printing altogether, than destroy the picturesque of the passage… [Bodleian d. 114, f147.]
Between January and June 1819 Colburn’s New Monthly Magazine was edited by the twenty-two year old Alaric Watts. On relinquishing this post, Watts began a long and friendly relationship with Jerdan. He contributed both prose and verse regularly to the Literary Gazette for about three years between 1819 and 1821, and in Jerdan’s absence acted as his ‘lieutenant’. The fifteen years difference in their ages did not affect the warmth of their friendship, and even when their opinions differed, this did not change their fundamental respect and liking for each other. Jerdan regretted that, like himself, Watts “did not find literature the path to fortune”, but he admired Watts’s taste, intelligence and application to work. He was honourable and kind-hearted, said Jerdan, and often sought the advice of his senior, refusing work which might adversely affect Jerdan’s own interests (4.10). They had a common inaptitude for business matters. Watts, reported his son, “had, I think, much the same dislike to accounts that Dr Johnson admitted himself to entertain of ‘clean linen’, perhaps for something of the same reason, their cold, unaccommodating character…an ‘account’…is justly to be regarded with apprehension by persons not skilled in the manufacture and use of such engines” (Alaric Watts 1.224).
Watts was clearly fond of Jerdan’s family; writing to him on literary matters around 1823, he wrote a letter urging Jerdan to take his sons to an exhibition of mechanical models, saying that he had a smaller model by the same artist, which could explain the geography and geology of Mont Blanc to the Jerdan boys (n.d., MsL W348AC, Iowa). He also suggested that they would enjoy the Automata Chess Player. It was in this same letter that Watts commented momentously, “I don’t believe there are two original thoughts in the whole of ‘Don Juan’. It turns out upon close investigation to be a piece merely of elegant mosaic work though put together with a very delicate finger.”
In his memoir of his father, Watts’s son commented that these criticisms of Byron would have attracted little attention but for the revulsion that was currently gripping the public upon publication of Don Juan (Watts vol. 1). Until then, the reading public had largely sided with Byron in his marital difficulties, but Don Juan presented a very different and repulsive side to Byron’s character, causing readers to feel betrayed, as if they had been fooled in their judgment. Watts had been a great admirer of the poet, and had almost completed a work of scholarship in which he dealt with each of Byron’s poems analytically, comparing each with passages in the works of other writers. When Watts showed him this work, Jerdan immediately saw that as it stood it would raise little interest, being too dry. However, with his journalistic experience, he quickly realised that directing attention to the similarities of Byron’s poem to other people’s work as noted by Watts, would certainly interest the public.
He accordingly advised my father to disembowel his production, and, casting his criticisms to the winds, or reserving them for future use, to concentrate the ‘Imitations and Coincidences’ into a series of papers for the Literary Gazette. Watts insisted that his name as author be appended to the series, believing “that anonymous attacks are cowardly. [114-15]
This series of articles in the Literary Gazette accusing Byron of plagiarism brought Watts prominently to the public’s attention. The articles were electrifying and were taken up by French literary journals, creating what Jerdan termed “A considerable sensation [which] led to much controversy at the time…a furious contest” (4.7).
Watts observed that the monthly periodicals waited to see the Literary Gazette’s opinion of new works before making their own pronouncement, especially in the case of Byron’s alleged plagiarism. Watts received a complimentary letter from Southey, who praised the plagiarism papers. This was not disinterested as Southey and Byron were shortly to lock horns over the epithet ‘Satanic School’ applied by Southey and Moore to both Byron and Shelley, believing that their works were marked by a “Satantic spirit of pride and audacious impiety”. Byron himself could hardly complain, as he had made a critical charge against Lord Strangford for stealing a single line from Moore; his own borrowings, as shown by Watts, were numerous. Such literary controversies were doubtless encouraged by Jerdan, as a means of increasing sales and readership of the Literary Gazette.
As fair and just as he always claimed to be, a few years later Jerdan printed a rebuttal to Watts’s charges of Byron’s plagiarism by Egerton Brydges (31 July 182.). Brydges’s argument was that lines and language one has read lodge in the subsconscious mind, and when they rise to the surface cannot be told apart from one’s original thoughts. Although giving space to a review of this book by Brydges, the Literary Gazette reviewer protested “This is any thing but convincing, for if true, there really is no such thing as plagiarism.”
Amongst the deluge of correspondence, contributions and books for review which landed on Jerdan’s desk, he especially enjoyed receiving a
large folio sheet, covered closely all over with manuscript, and supplying me with rich and sparkling matter, to adorn and enliven, at least, two or three successive numbers of the “Miscellaneous Sheet”. There was always a perfect shower of varieties; poetry, feeling or burlesque; classic paraphrases, anecdotes, illustrations of famous authors (displaying a vast acquaintance with, and fine appreciation, of, them). [3.83]
William Maginn by Daniel Maclise from Jerdan’s National Portrait Gallery.
These welcome contributions came from “Mr Crossman” of Cork, in Ireland. The clever, volatile man hiding behind the pseudonym was discovered to be William Maginn, whom Jerdan was to know and befriend until Maginn’s early death. Twelve years younger than Jerdan, he had taken a degree in classics at Trinity College Dublin and then assisted his schoolmaster father for a few years. Unlike Jerdan, Maginn completed his studies and in 1819 achieved his doctorate. Drawn to writing, he sent contributions to Blackwoods and to the Literary Gazette. “At that time, (1819) when Maginn commenced writing for it, the Literary Gazette … conducted as it was with judgment and fairness, obtained extended circulation and considerable influence. In Ireland, more particularly, it supplied a great want, and was no where more esteemed than in Cork. Its great merit was that it kept its readers well acquainted with what was done, doing and intended in the literary world” (3.83). With his order for a subscription to the Literary Gazette, Maginn requested Jerdan to send him information about Swedish literature and books, as he wished to study that language. By the age of twenty-five Maginn spoke and wrote in German, French, Spanish, Portuguese and modern Greek, and could translate Hebrew, Sanscrit and Syrian (Mackenzie 5.5).
Having had the true name of “Mr Crossman” divulged to him by a mutual acquaintance, Jerdan thought that “the dénouement of the mysterious veiling is a memorable key to the real character of the writer who was, to the end, diffident and unassuming as one unconscious of his extraordinary endowments” (3.85). Maginn’s own reason for the pseudonym was that his pieces were trivial, rushed off as they were between his obligations to school-teaching and the law, and did not deserve a “grave-looking” signature.
In the summer of 1821 Maginn made a short visit to London, to establish a personal connection with Jerdan and other literary figures. He arranged for his correspondence to be delivered to Jerdan, who brought it personally to him at the Angel Hotel, St Clements. Jerdan, always happiest in the company of the large group of Scottish and Irish writers who formed his circle, gave a party for Maginn at Michael’s Grove, to introduce him to literary London. Letitia Landon was also invited to this party, perhaps natural in that she was a new contributor to the Literary Gazette, but a questionable judgment given the strength of feelings that were boiling away beneath the surface.
When the nineteen-year old poetess entered Jerdan’s house to meet William Maginn, then twenty-eight, he was ready to be smitten, and was duly smote. She would have been delighted with his wide knowledge and linguistic skills, enough to ignore the stammer that overtook him “when under the excitement of wine or society”. Her charm and wit entranced him and it was rumoured that he proposed marriage to her within a very short time. Landon’s friends, Jerdan assuredly amongst them, thought it too soon for her to marry, especially as Maginn had no fortune and little prospects. Maginn returned to Ireland, where he married two years later. He gave up school-teaching and turned to literature for his living.
During this summer visit, Jerdan also introduced Maginn to John Wilson Croker, Secretary to the Admiralty and contributor to the Quarterly Review, to John Murray the publisher and to Theodore Hook of John Bull (Duncan 45.). Maginn was thus quite indebted to Jerdan, both for printing his pieces in the Literary Gazette, and for his valuable literary introductions. From the evidence of a letter he wrote to William Blackwood, Jerdan’s attention and hospitality was carelessly dismissed: “Jeradin [sic] of the L. Gaz. is an ass – but an honest fellow. We impose on him most horribly, he has published things which he would faint if he knew their import. I very often give him a lift, chiefly in the way of poems and parodies and such small beer…if you wish, I shall make use of him for you, and that in a way which he wd not have the slightest suspicion. “Pyle 90) Such sentiments do not show Maginn in a good light, and compare painfully with the glowing words that Jerdan used about his friend in later years, when the unfolding story between the two men involving Letitia Landon gave him good reason to speak otherwise:
Maginn, the precocious, the prolific, the humorous, the eccentric, the erratic, the versatile, the learned, the wonderfully endowed, the Irish …Romancist, parodist, politician, satirist, linguist, poet, critic, scholar – pre-eminent in all and in the last all but universal – the efflux of his genius was inexhaustible; …He jested and he mystified, and he laughed. He played with pebble-stones and nuggets of gold; pelting with the one, and hitting hard with the other…In any galaxy he was, indeed, a star of the first magnitude and greatest brilliancy. [3.82]
On 22 September 1821 the Literary Gazette printed the first of Landon’s poems to appear for eleven months, an absence during which she had produced the Fate of Adelaide, received a marriage proposal, and fallen more in love with Jerdan. The September poems are the first signed as “L.E.L.”, a change which “signals that the poet felt ready to be set apart; she felt certain she was good enough to begin establishing a poetic identity by letting readers know the poems were coming from a single source” (Lawford 222).
The following week’s Gazette carried an enthusiastic poem in response, by an anonymous writer signing himself A.H.R. For Jerdan, who clearly chose to print this tribute to L.E.L., the reader’s admiration convinced him that when her verses were read by others, their not-so-hidden messages of love for him could be interpreted as generic and not specific. By the time he penned his “Memoir of L.E.L.” in 1848, fashions had changed, and L.E.L.’s poetry had lost much of its following. Moreover, other memoirs had claimed that she had written her poetry from imagination and not through any genuine feelings, in essence that the social “mask” she wore was the real person, that there was no melancholy Poet behind it. These false reminiscences were more than Jerdan could bear. He wrote: “On the contrary, we think it impossible that such could have been the case with any mind that ever existed.” He quoted A.H.R.’s tribute in full, daring only to comment “This seems to us to be no less faithfully descriptive than rationally and metaphysically just, but we must leave speculation to those who will peruse the poetry and draw their own conclusions.” In suggesting this, he was not only defending L.E.L.’s genius, but encouraging readers to look again at her work, to keep her name alive because of her poetry, not for the reasons of scandal and titillation which were then ubiquitous.
Encouraged by A.H.R.’s response, and doubtless those of other enthusiasts, Jerdan moved L.E.L.’s next poems in November out of the insignificant “By Correspondents” feature into “Original Poetry”. These, in the issue of 10 November, were the “Six Songs of Love, Constancy, Romance, Inconstancy, Truth and Marriage”. They seemed traditional enough to appeal to readers who could identify with any, or all, of the situations she had tackled. Perhaps thinking back to Jerdan’s party for Maginn, and covering herself for spending too long with her would-be suitor, “Constancy” declared,
’Tis love that gilds the mirthful
That lights the smile for me,
Those smiles would instant lose their power
Did they not glance on thee!
In “Truth” she mused on two lovers on a deserted isle, realising pragmatically, “And then I thought how very soon/How very tired we should be.” Much of the lure and excitement of her passion for Jerdan was nurtured because of its secrecy, illegitimacy and danger; she was young, but she understood that enforced togetherness would be the death knell of love. She may also have made a virtue out of necessity – the impossibility of a marriage with Jerdan. In this series of verses she may have been toying with him; teasing and satirical, the ‘Matrimonial Creed’ with which she ended suggested that marriage is for money, not for love:
He must be rich whom I could love,
His fortune clear must be,
Whether in land or in the funds,
’Tis all the same to me
This tone is unique in Landon’s work. As Lawford points out, “Landon would never again so brazenly betray romantic ideals as she does at the end of these six songs, not in all of her writing over the next seventeen years” (235).
Jerdan marked the end of 1821 by inserting one of his own verses, signed ‘Teutha’ (Literary Gazette [Dec. 1821]: 814). Perhaps in a nod to Keats he called it Adonais, but subtitled it, “Elegy to my Hat which I took from my Study and hung up in the Lobby last week, when very ill”. It ran to seven verses, of which the first is more than enough for a flavour:
Well! To your peg of brass, old friend.
It soon may be, unless things mend,
Worth twice the head you cover;
These spasms a short time longer dealt,
I’ll feel no more than you have – Felt,
And be, like you, all over.
Jerdan’s love of puns quite often over-rode his judgment and sense of rhythm, but this was meant as a holiday issue of the Gazette, not to be taken seriously.
Blanchard, L. Life & Literary Remains of LEL. Henry Colburn, 1841.
Hall, S. C. Book of Memories of Great Men and Women of the Age, from personal acquaintance. 2nd ed. London: Virtue & Co. 1877.
Hewlett, D. Adonais: A Life of John Keats.
Jerdan, William. Autobiography. London: Arthur Hall, Virtue & Co., 1852-53.
Jerdan, William. Men I have Known. Lonodn: Routledge & Co, 1866.
Jerdan, William. “Memoir of L.E.L.” in Romance and Reality. London: Bentley, 1848.
Lawford, C. “The early life and London worlds of Letitia Elizabeth Landon, a poet performing in an age of sentiment and display.” Unpublished Ph.D. dissertation, New York: City University, 2001.
Mackenzie, R. S. Miscellaneous Writings of W. Maginn, Vol. V Fraserian Papers. Reprinted Redfield, N. Y. 1855-57. Google Books.
Pyle, Gerald. “The Literary Gazette under William Jerdan.” Ph. D. dissertation, Duke University, 1976.
Sypher, F. J. Letitia Elizabeth Landon: A Biography. Ann Arbor, Michigan: Scholars’ Facsimiles & Reprints: 2004, 2nd ed. 2009.
Thomson, Katharine and J. C. (Grace and Philip Wharton). Queens of Society. Philadelphia: Porter & Coates, first pub. 1860.
Watts, A.A. Alaric Watts. 2 vols. London: Richard Bentley, 1884.
Last modified 16 July 2020