ermed “the panic of 1826”, it began at the end of the previous year, when Bank of England gold reserves fell dramatically. When its cash reserve fell below two million pounds, the Bank resolved to discontinue its credit facilities, and began to discriminate in the discounting of bills, and the making of loans. In December the house of Peter Pole & Co., agents for forty country banks, failed. The country banks then collapsed, suffering from stock market crashes which triggered commercial failures. The banks’ failure was compounded by the fact that they were seen to have issued too many small denomination notes. The public panicked, and a run on gold ensued, almost entirely depleting the Bank of England reserve (Bisschop). To alleviate the situation the Bank circulated one pound and two pound bank notes, and the Royal Mint increased production of sovereigns, moves that restored a measure of confidence in the Bank. The massive bank failures, stock crashes and recession in early 1826 were the impetus for a series of new Acts reorganising the business of banking, but the English recession had far-reaching effects on Europe, and also on Latin America where so much had been invested in shareholdings. The fallout caused widespread economic hardship in Britain, with labour unrest in the factories and mills.
Much closer to home, Jerdan noted that at the Literary Club “Two or three absentees at a time were missing from their mess – their plates were empty, and so were their seats. Aldermen sent turtles no more; wealthy publishers forgot whence haunches came; stationers and printers, instead of baskets from their hot-houses, got a poor dessert in hot water; and as for the authors, they had to relinquish their feasting, and find themselves rather worse accommodated than they were before” (3.291). One of the hardest hit was Constable, publisher of Sir Walter Scott, whose business collapsed on 14 January when a bill drawn by Constable on their London agent Hurst Robinson & Co. was dishonoured. leaving him, Ballantyne and Scott many thousands of pounds in debt. Colburn appears to have been the only publisher who managed to stay afloat during this terrible time, “the only man in the trade who continued to issue new books” (Gettman 18).
In his memoir Jerdan was unusually clear about his own financial affairs at the time of the Panic. Scripps, printer of the Literary Gazette, had just erected “one of the most perfect printing houses in town” and was therefore short of funds to help him over the downturn. Those who would have helped him were suffering their own difficulties, and Jerdan somehow became caught up in Scripps’s problems. “My bank credit was closed, and the advances reclaimed; and all around, everybody was urgent for everything due to them. It was fortunate I was in the flourishing condition I have stated; and yet it was with much loss and some difficulty that I succeeded in consolidating my incumbrances into a bond, with my share of the Literary Gazette as security for £3284 to be paid off by quarterly payments of £125, equal to £500 a year” (4.18). His seven years of famine, Jerdan noted, were supposed to be followed by seven years of plenty, but were now hampered by this considerable financial drain. His bond was held by Twinings (the Bank which had helped him to move into Grove House) and “to them and Messrs. Longmans some five-sixths of it were due” This was not Jerdan’s only liability, as he had earlier raised the huge sum of £1600 “on an annuity in Rochdale” which, together with a life assurance, were costing him a “ruinous pitch” of £184.2.4 a year, payable half-yearly. An Indenture dated 27 November 1829 refers to these arrangements. Two documents of February 1827 related to Twinings, to whom Jerdan owed £1368 plus interest (presumably including the £1000 they ‘gave’ him on his moving into Grove House); a further document of 24 May 1827 related to the £1600 borrowed from a Joseph Heath, Grocer, of Rochdale, passed on to a Banker, John Roby. Jerdan was to pay £224.2.6 a year for his lifetime, even more than the ‘ruinous’ sum he recorded later. University of Reading, Special Collections, Longmans Archive, 129/8.
Over time, he paid off his bond, but let the insurance fall into arrears “at a late date when principal and fair interest had been paid over and over again”. Coupled with these burdens, there was the expensive house to maintain and Jerdan had “the intense wish that I were in my cheap little box of a cottage again [and was] only aggravated by the impossibility of retreating thither.” The Panic was far-reaching and was not the last time Jerdan’s finances were affected by matters outside of his control.
Jerdan and John Trotter (of the Soho Bazaar), devised a scheme for placing the finances of the nation on a better footing. (That Jerdan, the most careless manager of his own money, should even consider this project, is ironic.) The two men worked strenuously on their plan, Trotter often interrupting Jerdan as he worked on Literary Gazette matters at home, far into the night. Jerdan was a night-owl, believing that “the most studious, and learned, and deeply pondered writings were produced by the sitters-up at night, and not by spinners in the sun” (2.228). He held to his earlier injunction: Sleeping will not do! The financial plan was devised to give a boost to the country and improve the value of currency. In the Literary Gazette of 30 April 1826 Jerdan told his readers that although the magazine normally touched only briefly on matters of religion, politics and finance, how much more secure Great Britain would be if
a sound settled currency could be established liable to no fluctuation, but susceptible of easy and perpetual regulation as circumstances required, representing real property (the foundation being much more valuable than the representative) and preserving the precious metals and combining all the great interests of the country so intimately with the common weal, as to preclude the possibility of panic or consequential distress...The Editor of this journal does not assume to himself the capacity and knowledge which should entitle him to decide presumptuously on so vast a design; but he has to observe, that its simplicity is equal to its vastness.
The matter was revived at the end of September. Jerdan had been unable to persuade John Trotter to bring it forward, but he had permission to set the outline before the public. Lest this should look too serious for some readers, Jerdan assured his readers that “friends who look to the Gazette chiefly for the literature of the day and reading of a lighter class, need not apprehend any great encroachment upon our space with this discussion of a political tendency in the highest sense of the word. A column or two weekly, for a very few weeks, will suffice for it, extraordinary as we consider its bearing to be as regards every rank of society in the kingdom.” The subject was followed up over several weeks. Jerdan received a good deal of response from his readers, as a result of which he announced that the various papers would be presented in a pamphlet “with the lines numbered and blank leaves for remarks, so that whatever objections are made, may be promptly and decisively answered by references to its declared principles and demonstrated practicabilities and advantages.” They submitted the finished proposal to Sir Coutts Trotter, John Trotter’s son and director of Coutts Bank, and also to various distinguished politicians and statesmen. Its ingenuity was acknowledged, but the “bullionist school” objected to the theory, whilst the opposite view held it to be a panacea for all monetary evil. Whilst nothing appeared to happen as a result of all Trotter’s work and Jerdan’s publicity, this was evidence of the latter’s concern with a world wider than solely the literature for which his magazine was named. The following year Jerdan collected the Literary Gazette articles into a book, published by Longman, Rees, Orme, Brown and Green, entitled National Polity and Finance: A Plan for Establishing a Sterling Currency.
With Jerdan’s usual bad luck when it came to timing of financial matters, the family were now ensconsed in their smart too-expensive new mansion, Grove House. Landon was pregnant again, and decided it was time to move too. Leaving the comparatively sheltered environment of Sloane Street, she moved backwards, regressing it might be said, almost to the womb. She chose to take up residence in the boarding house of the Misses Lance at 22 Hans Place, the very house where she had briefly attended school many years previously, near to her erstwhile parental home, and birthplace. Here she lived in a sparsely furnished attic room for the next ten years. Another lodger in the house was the thirty-five year old Emma Roberts, also a writer, whose close first-hand observations of Landon have been much noted by those interested in Landon's poetry and life. It was not Roberts, however, who was criticised for living alone, but Landon. An unchaperoned single young woman, a professional author, caused rumours to start gathering. Landon had been accused of owing wages, by a servant who had left her employ some six years earlier. She set out her case in a clearly argued statement which she sent to Jerdan with a covering note, asking “Is there nothing I can do for you in the live way. I am still quite lame.” Jerdan sent her statement on to E. Dubois, the judge in the case, explaining that he had instructed his own solicitor to appear in court, and that if Dubois ruled for the Plaintiff, the money would be paid (4 April n.y. British Library, 20081 f252). Shrewdly, Jerdan noted in a postscript, “If you are an Autograph collector, the enclosure will reward you for the trouble.” This incident demonstrated how Jerdan was Landon’s advisor in business and in personal matters, as well as her secret lover.
It is more than possible that on one of those riotous nights with his friends, while Jerdan was on his third bottle of wine – a regular event – he might have let slip to Hook, or another tongue-wagger, that L.E.L. was carrying his child. Although boasting of his conquest does not seem to have been a practice of Jerdan’s, he did not hesitate to blow his own trumpet when it came to his acquaintance with the high-powered of the land, such as Canning or Freeling. It is conceivable that he did unwisely tell someone about the expected child, and must have then been horrified to see it plastered all over The Wasp for anyone to deride.
There is not a shred of available evidence that Frances Jerdan knew about her husband’s affair with the famous poet, but once it became a matter of common suspicion, if not actual knowledge, it is hard to credit that some word did not reach her ears. Stuck at home, albeit a grand large home, with seven children, she had no choice but to keep up appearances and be his hostess when he chose to give one of his many parties.
Jerdan, however, was still under attack. Westmacott was not alone in his overwrought reactions to perceived ‘puffing’ in the Literary Gazette and to Jerdan himself. The Wasp, Scorpion and the Ass all had their say. Jerdan quoted the second issue of The Wasp in his reminiscences, noting that its publisher, W. Jeffreys, patronisingly referring to him as Master Bill and Master Willie, said he was beaten as a child, a fact “altogether new” to Jerdan. With “equal truth and accuracy” Jeffreys claimed that Jerdan had bought a share in the Literary Gazette “as portable puffing machine” for Longmans. Jeffreys and Westmacott both piously asserted that their exposure of the alleged favouritism of the Literary Gazette and its Editor was to warn the public to be on their guard. They, and Jerdan’s other persecutors, were desperate to challenge his authority as a literary critic, but could do so only on the basis of his past record, and the perception of the Literary Gazette as a promotional tool for its owners. Jerdan remarked that as he had not died of this assault, The Wasp tried again in issue number five, belabouring him and George Croly, accusing them of several instances of injustice, and qualities that “unfits this committee man of the Royal Society of Literature, this inquisitor of the Literary Fund etc. for any and every relation of literary and social life.” When The Wasp died, the Scorpion took up the cudgels, reiterating the same accusations, to be succeeded by the Ass which, said Jerdan, “was very filthy and indecent.” Rumours and rumblings continued for some years, as background noise to the daily and weekly grind of turning out the Literary Gazette.
In April 1826 Jerdan’s baby daughter Georgiana, his “little darling”, fell ill and died. Jerdan’s writings scarcely mention his family at all, so they remain shadowy figures in his story. Exceptionally, he became highly emotional relating the death of his little girl, aged sixteen months. She contracted an infected mesenteric gland. Watching his child dying was a horrific experience, knowing that no medicine could help her. It was clearly a traumatic time, as it would be for any doting parent, and Jerdan, with his self-confessed passion for children, was no exception. What went through his mind as his baby lay helpless, knowing that his other, secret daughter Ella Stuart, just two years older, was happily playing elsewhere, can only be left to the imagination.
The distraught father could not accept Georgiana’s fate, and recalled that “In the enchanting light of a summer morning, my child about twelve months of age, turned upon her pillow, put her arms around my neck, touched my lips with one soft kiss and in that kiss breathed her soul to heaven.” One must forgive him the melodramatic touches, and his minor factual errors: it was not summer, but April, and the child was not twelve but sixteen months old. The death-bed scene is nevertheless affecting and for Jerdan it was “the first mortal breach upon the integrity of my happiness.” He had thought himself invulnerable, easily recovering from the many difficulties he had in life, but this loss was something greater, and he was utterly unmanned. He could not bear to part with the child, and kept her coffin in the house so that every morning he could kiss her, until her physical decay forced him to permit her burial, which took place on 26 April. All the griefs which he endured throughout his life, none had made him feel as this bereavement did, “a convincing sense of the utter helplessness of humanity.” To throw himself back into work was a blessing, and he found in literature a potent force for “soothing sorrows and blunting the stings of worldly troubles.”
Wordly troubles, however, were never very far away; a ‘Sketch of Society’ in the series of ‘Paul Pry on his travels’ in the Literary Gazette of 30 July, observed that “many persons very wrongly imagine that the art of puffing is English: we are tolerably good hands at it as all readers of newspapers and posting bills know from Ross’s wigs down to Rowland’s Macassar Oil and Charles Wright’s champagne (justly so called because he makes it all himself without the aid of the grower in France).
Wright was justifiably angry, and sued “Jerdan and Others” for libel. The matter was reported in the Times of 30 November 1826. Wright claimed damages of two thousand pounds. Fittingly, as the case opened, “the Court was at that moment placed under the extra obscuration of an eclipse of the sun”. The prosecutor “had a tender regard for the liberty of the press,” but was surprised that a literary journal should “taint their pages with the affairs of men in business and that a business not at all relating to literary works.” The prosecutor himself had often enjoyed Wright’s hospitality, and many a glass of his “delicious beverage…delightful drink”. Because of his excellent wine Wright stood high with the public and enjoyed “the good opinion of the bon ton. The publisher of the libel must therefore have sought to injure Wright’s reputation in order to “bring forward some more favoured and less deserving aspirant to public favour.” Wright demanded that the Literary Gazette correct their statement in a future number of the Gazette. The defendants expressed regret, the notice had been an oversight, they would make every reparation in their power.
Their “reparation” was buried in a review of Parry’s Journal on 26 August where, following a description of a masquerade devised to amuse the expedition to the North West Passage, when in their winter quarters, it read:
Poor fellows! They had none of Charles Wright’s Champagne, which we are induced to mention again, because, we are told, he is going to prosecute the Literary Gazette for a libel upon it – the Gazette we believe said that it was so good that it must be (as he advertized) his own, and not nasty French stuff…
The prosecuting lawyer was apoplectic: “This was the reparation – this was the recantation which had been promised – this was the refutation which was to appear in the journal.” If the Gazette had made a proper apology, no case for libel would have been brought. Mr Wright paid tax of fourteen thousand pounds, proving that he imported great quantities of wine, and going “some way to prove that his champagne was not manufactured at home.” Winding up his speech, the prosecutor advised the Court that Mr Wright traded from under the Colonnade in the Haymarket, “Where, if any of the gentlemen in the box, or any others, had a wish to purchase good and brilliant champagne,” they would be so happy with it, they would repeat their orders, a blatant advertisement for his client’s business. Wright’s clerk was called as a witness: he had got one Literary Gazette from the publisher’s office in Wellington Street, but was unable to get another. “Neither Jerdan nor Colburn live in the house in Wellington Street”.
Jerdan’s lawyer cross-examined the clerk as to whether he had seen Wright’s advertisements in the Sunday Times:
Tom Moore gaily says, That the best of all ways To lengthen our days Is to steal a few hours from the night. But deny it who can, A much better plan To lengthen life’s span, Is to quaff the Champagne of Charles Wright.
Many other such advertisements were evidenced. The defendant’s lawyer, Taddy, then said that as his colleague had admitted a “tender regard for the press”, Taddy knew he also had a “tender regard for good wine”. The accusation was not whether Wright’s wine was good or not, but that he “professed to sell French champagne, and this at 5s6d a bottle, which is impossible.” Better than press advertising, observed Taddy, was the puff his lawyer had just given him in Court. Taddy tore his opponent’s speech to shreds, mocking his every point. Moreover, bringing this libel action had in fact advertised Wright’s wines even more widely, and “in consequence it will be a benefit and not an injury to the plaintiff”. Joking about the eclipse he suggested his “learned friend” felt oppressed, but whether from the eclipse of the sun or “from too liberal a draught of Mr Wright’s champagne, he was unprepared to say.” His wine could certainly be recommended to Captain Parry’s expedition which “was placed under a permanent eclipse of the sun”. Summing up, Taddy said that if the jury believed Wright had been truly injured they should find for him, but if they thought the action served to puff his wines and he would suffer no disadvantage, they should give a verdict for very small damages. The jury deliberated a short time, and returned a verdict for Wright. Damages were set at fifty pounds. This was a high price to pay and unnecessary, had Jerdan placed an apology into the Gazette rather than rub salt into Wright’s wound with the second comment. Brushes with the law had already dogged Jerdan and would continue to do so. In this case his offence could be construed as careless rather than malicious.
With so many troubles and distractions, Jerdan had yet another upset to cope with. In the August issue of the Examiner, (which Leigh Hunt had started but of which he was no longer editor), was an unwarranted personal attack. The Literary Gazette had reviewed a novel entitled Truth (by W. P. Scargill) criticising it severely, an unusual treatment from the usually kindly editor. The Examiner instantly took up the cudgels:
Our readers know something already of the ignorance and malignity of the worthless hack who conducts the Literary Gazette…we have never thought it worth while to quarrel with criticisms which are inane and despised as they are notoriously corrupt: but when his venom overpours, and he goes out of his way to wound individuals by malicious falsehoods, we think he becomes of importance enough to warrant our holding him up to the scorn of society.
There was much more along the same lines, quoting Jerdan’s contradictions, and holding them up to ridicule. There is an irony in the abusive treatment the paper, undoubtedly influenced by Leigh Hunt, gave to Jerdan in this and future issues of the Examiner, when in fact the two men had much in common throughout their lives.
The Bellingham assassination of Spencer Perceval highlighted their similarities: it had a strong influence on Leigh Hunt, who was eight years younger than Jerdan, and also a journalist; many circumstances and incidents throughout the lives of Jerdan and Hunt reflected those of the other man, and although they were acquainted were never close. Like Jerdan, Hunt acknowledged that he had been over-indulged as a child, and thought this to have caused the flaws he saw in his own character. Hunt was more afflicted by the psychological reasons for Perceval’s death, rather than the political. He was “preoccupied with the psychology of the murder, speculating on how madness and violence in adult life may be traced back to parental neglect or misdirected fondness.” His thoughts echoed Jerdan’s reflection on his own childhood, how he grew up, “being pampered and petted with or without reason, I naturally grew up petulant and self-willed.” Whereas although Jerdan acknowledged such burdens and was generally able to shrug them off, Leigh Hunt suffered from them, and within three months of Perceval’s assassination, “was afflicted by another upsurge of nervous illness” (Roe 26). Hunt’s illness could also have been brought on by his troubles with the Examiner, for which he was jailed in 1812. Whilst he was imprisoned, he was visited by Byron, at a meeting that was to have consequences in later life for Hunt and, by literary association, for Jerdan too. Despite recurring parallels in the lives of the two writers, they never became friends but managed eventually to effect some measure of reconciliation, largely due to Jerdan’s forgiveness for Hunt’s vilification of him in various papers.
George Gordon Lord Byron. Engraved by H. Robinson after a painting by Richard Westall, R.A.
From the 1840 Fisher’s Drawing Room Scrapbook edited by L.E.L. and Mary Howitt.
Samuel Maunder, whose brother-in-law Pinnock had ruined their publishing business, was helping the artist Richard Dagley to prepare a book entitled Death’s Doings, for which Jerdan wrote a contribution in 1826. In a letter of 6 September 1826 Maunder expressed his delight: “[I] think it gives variety and spirit to the work. It is an excellent baccanalian article – brisk and sparkling as champagne” (Bodleian d. 114, f85). He doubted however that the Epitaph was entirely original and suggested an alternative. Not all contributors had pleased Maunder, as he told Jerdan: “I am afraid I shall be thought the Buffa of Death’s Doings. But really some of the writers were so sober that I purposely got drunk – or more poetically, ‘rapt, inspired!’”, a state Jerdan could sympathise with. The book was a compilation of Dagley’s drawings, verse by L.E.L. and others, and prose contributions from several writers. Jerdan’s contribution was called “The Last Bottle,” a melange of prose and verse to accompany a macabre drawing of four people around a laden table, bottles rolling on the floor, and a skeleton, the figure of Death, putting the last bottle into a bowl. Jerdan’s piece may have echoed his own thoughts at dark moments: “An’ if it be the last bottle, Death is quite welcome; for then life has run to the very dregs and lees and there is nothing more in it which can be called enjoyment.” He included drinking songs of the ancients, spoke of Herodotus and Plutarch, and ended with the friends of the deceased drinking their third bottle each, over an epitaph (presumably the alternative suggested by Maunder):
Habeas Corpus! Hic Jacet!
Here lies William Wassail, cut down by the Mower;
None ever drank faster or paid their debts slower –
Now quiet he lies as he sleeps with the fast,
He has drank his last Bottle and fast, fast he sped it o’er,
And paid his great debt to his principal creditor;
And compounded with all the rest, even with Dust.
Jerdan surely regretted Maunder’s changes to his undoubtedly superior epitaph. In reviewing the book, the Monthly Magazine of November 1826 noted, regarding Jerdan’s contribution, “There is something Rabelaisian in the style” (476). and the Literary Gazette gave Death’s Doings an enthusiastic review over two issues — 30 September and 14 October 1826 — with special emphasis on Dagley’s drawings. In neither review did Jerdan mention “The Last Bottle,” although he extracted copious quotations from the other contributors (4.296). Dagley was overwhelmingly grateful for the Literary Gazette’s notice of his work, such fervent praise bringing tears to the eyes of his family. He sympathised, however, with the ‘chagrin’ Jerdan must have felt, seeing a notice on the same work in the Literary Chronicle on the same day. This race for first place was clearly of prime importance to editors, and the leak may have come, Dagley suspected, from the printers. Maunder, he felt, would have found it difficult to refuse a formal request from the Chronicle. Sycophantically, Dagley wrote Jerdan on 3 October 1826, “Of their favourable opinion I make little account, as it may have given vexation to you” (Bodleian Library MS. Autogr. C.9 f33).
The race for first notices and the give and take between Jerdan and Maga’s Blackwood continued, more or less good-naturedly, each asking the other to review some pet writer. Blackwood had asked Jerdan to review a work by Gillies which he admired, and was delighted with the treatment it received in the Literary Gazette. Irritably, Jerdan advised him that the review had in fact been written
by a young lady for whom and for whose productions your Magazine has shown anything but partiality. Whether indeed as a friend brought before the world through the Literary Gazette or as a young female of very singular talent I do not think you have treated L.E.L. either with gallantry or justice – her publications have either not been noticed, or they have been slurred over; and even of herself you have permitted flippant and depreciating mention to be made. The public, however, have done her more justice, and so with all the faults of her compositions, will posterity, for she possesses genius. [2 December 1826, NLS 4017/168-9.]
The Literary Gazette noted all major (and some minor) works of travel and exploration. The British were covering the globe, mapping and describing it for the benefit of those at home who went no further than their armchairs, to read about it. James Weddell sailed further into the Antarctic than anyone had been before, a record unsurpassed for ninety years. His feat was subsequently honoured by naming the sea, which he had called the King George IV Sea, for him, the Weddell Sea. He discovered a type of seal, since named the Weddell Seal, and his work was honoured with a Fellowship of the Royal Society of Edinburgh. His Voyage Towards the South Pole…in 1822-24 recording this courageous and difficult voyage was published in 1825. It gave details not only how to navigate these unfriendly waters, but the wildlife found there, and proposals for seal conservation, sealing having been the main purpose of the expedition.
Jerdan gave the book an enthusiastic and appreciative review in the Literary Gazette of 24 September, with further extracts in the two following weeks, drawing a grateful acknowledgment from the author, accompanied by “four dozen pints of the finest Malmsey Madeira brought from the Island” (4.394). Naturally, hospitality was offered in return and Weddell joined those from all walks of life whose company Jerdan enjoyed. Weddell had expressed his regard for Jerdan in a manner in which few have been so honoured, by naming an island after him — Isla Jerdan, next to Isle Hermite, Cape Horn. Delighted as he was to receive such a mark of esteem, he was under no misapprehension about the benefits it may bring:
I am proud of my name being given in his map to an Island, though at Cape Horn, and so desolate and unproductive, that even in my worst days, I have never thought of proceeding to that stormy region to take possession of my undoubted property, with its ice-bergs and pen-guins (such natural subjects for a pen-man), and, it might be, a native Patagonian or two, only I should have been afraid to attempt the rule over the females of so gigantic a people, however loyal and attached! [4.394)]
Weddell, who lost his vessel in a shipwreck, had to resort to employment on an Australian run and died in London in poverty in 1834. Before this sad turn of events, however, there was a memorable party on board the ship that was to take Weddell to Australia. Jerdan was one of the guests and enjoyed an evening so unusual and merry that he recalled it in vivid detail years later. The company had dined, and were offering toasts to the prosperity of their host,
when lo, a crash was heard, the broad cabin light above us was dashed into fragments, the shivered glass and frame-work descended in showers, and in the midst the cause of all this confusion, a huge black pig, objecting to the process, came tumbling through the skylight, not at all like Mercury alighting on a heaven-kissing hill. Some of us were knocked under the table, the upheld bumper glasses accompanying the fall of man, and we had no time to recover from our amazement, when a half-naked, and much over-heated, huge negro rushed down the ladder into the cabin, and springing on the pig, the cause of all our woes, and clasping the also black monster in his arms, hugged it up to its destination in spite of struggles and shrieks the most swinishly desperate and deafening. The dénouement was followed, as we gathered ourselves up, with roars of uncontrollable laughter and, as none of us were seriously damaged, the jollity was renewed in a humour which did not tend to diminish the succeeding revels of the day. [4.395]
Jerdan’s joie de vivre, his love of company and pleasure, is infectious in this account, and such a party would have been a great relief to him in a difficult year.
Another distraction, also involving an animal, occurred just over the road from the Literary Gazette office, so was an event for which Jerdan had a front-row seat. The Strand building of Exeter ’Change had, by this time, come to be synonymous with ‘menagerie’. (See illustration no. 7.) Byron had visited it in 1813 to see Chunee, an elephant who had been retired there after performing for forty nights in pantomime at Covent Garden in 1811 [Altick 309]. In 1825 Chunee accidentally killed his keeper, and a few months later went berserk in his upstairs cage, made of iron-bound oak bars, three feet in girth. Chunee’s distress communicated itself to the other caged animals, and the army was called in to restore calm. Despite firing over one hundred rounds of ammunition into the frightened elephant, Chunee survived, and before the cannon arrived, “a keeper pierced Chunee’s vitals with a harpoon. This wound, combined with the cumulative effect of 152 balls brought him down.” The blood flooded the den to a considerable depth. Disposing of 10,000 pounds of elephant flesh was a massive problem, involving butchers and surgeons, and it was taken away in a long procession of carts. Chunee’s skeleton went on display on tour, and then in the Egyptian Hall, and later to the Hunterian Museum; it was destroyed by bombing in WWII. (Exeter ’Change was closed in 1828 to make way for the creation of Trafalgar Square and the animals were eventually relocated to the new Regent’s Park Zoo).
Such an unusual event happening just outside his office window would have attracted Jerdan’s curiosity, putting into perspective a petty and annoying occurrence which took place in September, when the Literary Gazette offices were broken into. Not much damage was done and Jerdan treated the affair humorously, advising his readers on 16 September under the exciting heading of “Robbery, Piracy, Plagiarism and Murder”:
The melancholy accident which befel the LG last week, has not as yet been made known to the public through the usual means in such cases. There has neither been a police report upon the examination of the thieves, nor a coroners inquest upon our bodies in consequence of the suicide to which our misfortune has driven us. On the contrary our Gazette was published last Saturday as if nothing had happened, and we continue to write as if we were alive. But the fact is , that our new office in Wellington Street, in full view of the Thames and its police; under cognizance of the Strand and its nightly guardians; nay, within the very blaze of the gas-lit turnpike on Waterloo Bridge, was wickedly and feloniously broken open, and plundered to a very considerable amount, namely three shillings and fourpence, being the full and lawful price of two stamped and two unstamped Literary sheets. With regard to the literary tastes of our visitors, however, if we may judge from appearances, they were addicted to quick acquisitiveness, rather than to slow and patient study; for they took away with them every key in the place except a Key to Hindu Mythology in one vol. 8vo, which probably escaped their notice. But our doors, drawers and strong-box (as aforesaid) were all denuded.It seems as if these ingenious persons had been interrupted in their investigations, for various packages, evidently made up for removal, were left in most admired disorder; and whether in a hurry, or as a reproof to us for our abominable habit of punning occasionally, there was also left a crow-bar, indicating that they could crow over us without a dread of being brought to the bar.
Jerdan sounded relaxed about the disturbance at his office, but in the next week’s Gazette his front page review was in a very different mood, most unusual for the invariably kind tone of the journal. Reviewing A Word to the Members of the Mechanics Institute by one R. Burnet of Devonport, he said that
this desultory and incoherent production…a meeting of the members and an assemblage of the inmates at Bedlam must be more alike than could be expected…such a gallimatias of sense and folly, of intelligence and rhapsody, of acuteness, incongruity, information and absurdity we never happened to peruse before…” there followed nearly 2 pages of extracts, then “But, with all this folly, it must not be thought that the author is an unmitigated ass; on the contrary, there are long portions of his book which may be read with gratification and instruction. Like Hamlet, he is only crazed nor-nor-west; when the wind is easterly at Plymouth he is mechanical enough to know a hand-saw from a steam engine…
and promised more the following week.
Stung, as well he might be, Burnet thanked him for the “excellent advertisement” and sent him ten shillings to put the publisher’s name at the head of the article, “whether we go to a theatre to be amused by a Bedlam or read a work written by one amounts to the same thing provided we enjoy it,” he told Jerdan, who responded churlishly in the ‘To Correspondents’ column, saying he did not know what to do with half a sovereign and had sent it on to the Literary Fund, “a charity so excellent that even this sum must do some good.” Despite his scorn of Burnet’s work, the Literary Gazette carried another six columns of extracts from it.
Personal attacks continued. The Atlas printed a stinging one on Jerdan that was gleefully reprinted in the Examiner of October 1826. Jerdan was accused of falling into “fits of involuntary puffing” whereby, whilst he decried the practice, he was guilty of it. The article made fun of his protestations that “a fair meed of praise” was not a puff, and jeered at his practice of continuing reviews in subsequent issues matters he thought too heavy to complete in one, such as the Plan for a National Currency.
At the end of 1826 Jerdan wrote at least two contributions to annuals. “A Brother to his younger sister, on seeing her gather wild-flowers,” appeared in The Amulet, A Christian and Literary Remembrancer, a new venture edited for ten years by Samuel Carter Hall. This, with a few minor changes, was the poem Jerdan had written to his sister in 1802, when he was convalescing at home in Kelso. In 1826 he was likely to have been far too busy with his own occupations to take the time to compose a poem especially for The Amulet, and so provided one that he had in his store. He reprinted it in his Autobiography, under the title of “The Nosegay”, indicating that for him it stood the test of time. The other contribution entitled “A Prayer and a Promise to Cupid” was made to Friendship’s Offering, a tiny, thick annual. The four verses seem to reflect how he was feeling, torn between his wife and his mistress, needing always more time, more energy, more love:
Oh, lend me Love! A hundred hearts;
On thy Exchange I’ll use the store,
Forgotten all the anguish smarts,
Suffered so oft – then felt no more.
The heart penurious nature gave,
Has been destroyed among the fair;
To every beauteous face a slave –
Giving to each fine form a share.
Then lend me, Love! A hundred hearts;
On thy Exchange I’ll use the store;
Forgotten all the anguish smarts,
Endured so long, then felt no more.
Rich in the gift I’ll hoard not one,
But, still, from bliss to bliss will rove;
And, when my hundred hearts are gone –
Lend me another hundred, Love!
This poem might also reflect the Jerdan who reputedly had several liaisons, not just with Landon but with other, unspecified women. No evidence has been found for this spiteful rumour, emanating mostly from Rosina Bulwer, who hated him. Perhaps it was about this time that Landon wrote her short poem, Faith Destroyed:
Why did I love him? I looked up to him
With earnest admiration, and sweet faith.
I could forgive the miserable hours
His falsehood, and his only, taught my heart;
But I cannot forgive that for his sake,
My faith in good is shaken, and my hopes
Are pale and cold, for they have looked on death.
Why should I love him? He no longer is
That which I loved.
According to J. McGann and D. Riess, “The poem is a Fragment from ‘Ethel Churchill’, pub. 1837, but possibly written at this earlier date and appears elsewhere as [A Late Breakfast] in Blanchard” (291). If this poem was written about this time, Landon conquered her temporary despair, as the affair continued for several more years.
Generously, the Literary Gazette gave the Forget-Me-Not a long front page review on 28 October, referring to annuals as “exotics [which] have soon become naturalized in our genial literary climate. It would be in poor spirit to criticize them.” However, he went on, clearly venting pent-up anger over the way he had been vilified in the gutter press,
A miserable trade in falsehood and calumny, may, perhaps, attract momentary notice to any disreputable journal; but it is vain to look either for public favour or endurance from a system of vulgar personality and corrupt depreciation. The petty talents required to be spiteful and malignant speedily find a correct estimate in public opinion: and like the noxious reptiles which, having ejected their poison, drop down harmless and die, the paltry revilers of all who fall in their way, having voided their slimy venom, become more impotent than before, confined, it is true, to the most obscure and wretched productions, whose only hope of getting to be known at all is the hope of attracting attention by slander and obscenity; and it is a strong example of the extent to which this vile and disgraceful traffic is carried, when even so pleasing and unexceptionable a volume as the Forget me Not could not escape the would-be bitterness of these crawling creatures.
But let us leave them to their unprofitable filth and unmanly acrimony, troubling their own little puddles of dirt, till a few short days or weeks sees them extinct and rotting; their dream that they have been inflicting pain on sensitive genius or humble worth vanished into thin air and the fond imagining that they were of mighty importance in the hour of their noisy gabbling dissipated for ever: "the rest is silence".
Having got this off his chest, Jerdan gave a much shorter, calmer review of The Amulet the following week, and in November one for the Literary Souvenir, singling out for admiring mention the poetry of Barry Cornwall and L.E.L. He did not forget to mention Friendship’s Offering, calling it a “very pretty and elegant volume” which resembles the Forget-Me-Not and the Souvenir. “Upon the whole we think the latter superior to the former, and perhaps to anything of the same kind elsewhere. Some of the poetry is also of the highest beauty, but there are a few performances the mediocrity of which ought to have led to their exclusion.”
In the midst of all this literary activity, Jerdan had to make time for his first family. His eldest son, John Stuart, aged nineteen, needed his help, and contacts. Worshipful as Jerdan was of George Canning, and fully aware of the politician’s sensitivity towards charges that the press had undue influence on politics, Jerdan nevertheless attempted to use their friendship to further his family’s interests. This is no more than fathers have done through the ages, and Jerdan would have seen nothing wrong in it. He sought a clerkship for his son in the Foreign Office, of which Canning was at that time Secretary for Foreign Affairs.
It was a week before Canning found time to reply frankly, explaining that he had many applications for such positions and had turned down requests from the Dukes of Cambridge and Gloucester. He thought, and believed that on reflection Jerdan would agree, that because of his “connection with the publick press, however honourable, it would make the introduction of a son of yours into the Foreign Office liable to some objection.” In compensation however, he offered John Stuart a position to be available soon, in the Navy Pay Office under Mr Huskisson. Within a day or two Canning found time to speak personally to Jerdan on the matter, and in a subsequent letter explained his caution more fully. His objection was realistic; if Jerdan’s son were in the Foreign Office, any indiscretion or leak of information would be blamed on him. Jerdan could only agree with this rationale, and considered it a kindness that the great man should take such trouble. John Stuart was quickly found a place as a clerk in the Board of Trade but this did not work out satisfactorily. With his father’s encouragement he then became secretary for the Abbotsford subscription, to keep Sir Walter Scott’s house as a living memorial for Scott’s family.
At the end of the year a disgruntled Jerdan wished he could dispense with the annual custom of addressing his readers at this season. After ten years’ labour, he said, “continually cheered by public approbation and progressive prosperity, we have but little to say.” His independence in the conduct of the Literary Gazette had proved successful, and would continue, “our impartial spirit is directing that important power which this Journal has obtained for itself in the literature of the age” (30 December 1826). Bentley’s archives in the British Library showed that in 1826, 5000 copies of the Literary Gazette were printed, of which about 4000 were sold (St. Clair Appendix 8). This was an upbeat note on which to end a year which, for the nation, had proved so difficult in its financial transactions, and which for Jerdan himself had encompassed the personal tragedy of the loss of baby Georgiana.
Unfortunately, the next year, 1827, was to prove dreadful for Jerdan, causing him to muse that “there seems to be periods of fatality in the loss of those who are dear to us, as in the epochs of the falling stars, a series of our brilliant lights are extinguished and our firmament robbed of its beauty and lustre for ever” (4.130). The death this year that wrung his heart in early January, was that of his brother Gilbert at forty-seven, two years older than William. They had been close as children; Jerdan remembered him as a youth, “sprightliest of the sprightly, wonderfully active, brave as a lion, fearless and kind-hearted” (4.63). Gilbert had been a clever boy, but had not been as lucky as William; he had not received an education at Dr Rutherford’s establishment but had become a weaver in Glasgow. Dissatisfied, he turned to plumbing, but his unlucky streak persisted and his premature death was due to lead which poisoned his lungs. Jerdan mourned him deeply, reliving memories of his brother’s humour and their shared boyhood. He had helped his brother often, even though Gilbert had someTimes drained his finances when Jerdan could afford to assist him, and even when he could not. Unlucky again, Gilbert had received his share of a family inheritance just a few months before his death, too late to be of any real use. A notice of Gilbert’s death appeared in The Times of 17 January, and could only have been placed there by Jerdan himself: “On 15th last at Bronte Place, Walworth, Mr Gilbert Jerdan, second son of the late John Jerdan Esq. of Kelso N.B. and brother of the late Lieutenant-Colonel Jerdan of Bombay and of William Jerdan of Brompton”. Jerdan took Gilbert’s body back from London to Scotland. Jerdan missed his “cheerful, fondly-attached and affectionate brother” very much. Jerdan made no mention of Gilbert’s family, but his brother left a wife Elizabeth, who died in Southwark, London, in 1851, aged 73 attended by Susannah Jerdan, probably their daughter.
On 18 June Jerdan’s great friend and host of many enjoyable visits, Lord de Tabley died after an illness. Barely recovered from the loss of baby Georgiana, and Gilbert, this was a severe blow to Jerdan, who saw him as a “noble exemplar of refined taste and munificent patronage and native art” (4.64). A few years earlier de Tabley had tried to sell his collection of British art to create a National Gallery, but was refused by the Prime Minister. At the time of his death he and Jerdan were planning to coauthor a “British Ichthyology”, the natural history of fishes, a mutual passion. The project had proceeded so far that it was advertised in the March 1826 Edinburgh Magazine as being “in preparation”: “There is preparing for publication a quarto volume, British Ichthyology, with fine engravings of the principal Fish of Great Britain from drawings taken from nature, by Sir John Leicester and some of the first artists – with a Preface and Occasional Remarks by W. Jerdan (845)/ Jerdan gave details of the proposed book in his autobiography (4.144). Over thirty years later Jerdan still considered this project “a desideratum, and a design likely to be highly prized, if executed in the accurate and superb style contemplated by Lord de Tabley.”
Jerdan’s own interests were wider than literature and fish. He admired sculpture, and became a champion of the Northumbrian sculptor John Graham Lough (1798-1876). He went to Lough’s lodgings in London to see the giant figure of Milo attacked by a Wolf, and hailed its creator as a “genius”. He did not, however, mention that the frustrated sculptor had made a hole in the ceiling of his room in order to accommodate the statue’s head! In the Literary Gazette of 12 May 1827, he devoted an entire column to “this young genius”, and the following week L.E.L.’s poem “Genius” appeared, “inspired by a view of the sculpture designed by Mr Lough.” Many years later, her poem “The Lost Pleiad” inspired one of Lough’s own works. When Lough married and moved to a more spacious lodging, Jerdan ensured that the Literary Gazette announced the new address of his gallery. He moved again and by 1846 was in a house where he remained for the rest of his life. The poetess Camilla Toulmin reported how she and about eight or ten chosen friends visited his studio to see a new work in clay, and were afterwards entertained to an informal meal. Jerdan was one of those “who professed to be art critics, [and] came to pass their opinion before it was too late to be of service” (Lough 30). In 1838 Lough unsuccessfully entered the competition for Nelson’s monument, his design strongly supported by the Literary Gazette. Three years later Jerdan reviewed the sculpture exhibited at the Royal Academy in the 1841 Literary Gazette and was indignant at Lough’s failure to secure a commission from this, or any other competition. “What a commentary upon the state of the art of sculpture in England, its patronage and its appreciation!” (224). The following year Jerdan again expostulated that at the Royal Academy Exhibition there were only three busts by Lough, and called it “a national shame”.
However, literary matters were always uppermost. A potential row flared up in the Spring of 1827 which took Jerdan’s mind off his troubles for a while. Sir Walter Scott had completed his nine volumes of The Life of Napoleon Buonaparte under very difficult circumstances, as he had recently lost his wife, and his publisher Constable had collapsed leaving Scott with debts of one hundred and twenty one thousand pounds. This massive work of over a million words was published by Cadell in Einburgh and by Longmans in London, the latter having paid 10,500 guineas for it, an astronomical sum. Lockhart had assured Jerdan that he would send him some volumes in the course of a week. This was at the end of April and Lockhart said that “The printer Mr Ballantyne tells me ‘The work cannot appear before the end of the first week in June.’” On 19 and 27 May the Literary Gazette printed the first extracts from the book, acknowledging indebtedness to a North American Review for it, and vouching for its accuracy. On 2 June Jerdan wrote indignantly to either Lockhart or, more likely, to the publisher in Edinburgh, Cadell, advising them that he had cancelled a paper intended for that week’s Literary Gazette and on the same date inserted a Notice which he hoped would satisfy Scott, Ballantyne and everyone concerned with the work:
We abstain from quoting (as we intended) any further portions of the Life of Napoleon in consequence of being, since our last Number, informed that what appeared in the American Review had been obtained in a surreptitious manner; though copies of that Review are in the hands of several persons in London as well as in ours, and consequently its contents may be (and have been ) extracted by other Journals, we will not knowingly lend the LG to the propagation of what the author may not approve, and what indeed may be a very unfair example of the merits of the work.
In a letter of 2 June 1827 to R. Cadell, Jerdan protested that other publications had noticed the work, “therefore if I had not printed what I did the Literary Gazette would have seemed inferior in information to other journals, instead of maintaining its character with the public...I never in my life, either as a man, or a writer, violated, to a hair-breadth, any confidence reposed in me…I hope it will not be forgotten that not merely a property on which I entirely depend but also a reputation which must be clear to every individual, are at stake” (NLS 21002/31-2). Again, to be “first past the post” was of crucial importance to the status of the Literary Gazette.
Jerdan’s troubles with Scott’s work were not yet over. By October Cadell was ready to publish the two volumes of Scott’s Chronicles of the Canongate, the first volume of which included a short story, “The Two Drovers”. Somehow the text for this volume had been leaked en route to Paris, where Galignani was to publish a continental English-language edition. The pirated copy of “The Two Drovers” appeared in the London Weekly Review on 20 October, and the Literary Gazette published the Introduction to the book on 27 October. Self-righteously, Jerdan wrote to Cadell on 25 October 1827 just before his issue appeared, “The piracy is assuredly one of the most rascally things I ever met with; and very injurious to you” (NLS 21002/43-4). The “Drovers” had been touted around to the Literary Chronicle for twenty pounds and been rejected and it was then released to the Weekly Review, “the set connected with which appears to me to be of the most contemptible kind.” Jerdan assured Cadell of his regard for the famous author: “I am surprized that any body should esteem me cold to the extraordinary genius of Sir Walter Scott. In all Great Britain he has not a warmer or more devoted admirer than myself. I even agree with my fair friend, L.E.L. that if she were a Queen she would be right in giving him a peerage of fifty thousand pounds a year, as the reward of the immeasureable delight he had given to his species…” Covering his back, his postscript divulged “I have printed the whole Introduction and trust that is not wrong. In fact it could not be compressed or described without gross injustice to its immortal writer.”
Scott was not the only Scottish writer to be in financial difficulties. At the beginning of May 1827 Jerdan wrote to James Hogg, replying to what was evidently a request to be put forward to the Royal Society of Literature for a grant. In his letter of 30 April 1827 Jerdan explained that Hogg’s works of popular poetry and fiction stood no chance of success with that body. “It is rather for the encouragement of learning than of that kind of literature which may be sustained by making itself popular; and therefore authors of works requiring great labour and deep research (yet of a character not to attract general readers) come more distinctly within its sphere than authors of works of fancy and imagination” (NLS 2245/98-9.). Perhaps to sweeten the blow, Jerdan also mentioned that he had read Hogg’s early works whilst a schoolboy in Kelso, and they had made a lasting impression upon him. At the same time Jerdan wrote to William Blackwood in Edinburgh, advising him of Hogg’s plight and suggesting that an application be made to the Literary Fund. He was sensitive about not hurting Hogg’s feelings, although “In my own judgment it ought not to do so – for every man is (and literary men most of all are) liable to depression, and need not be ashamed of sympathy and assistance” (NLS 4019/230-3). He asked Blackwood to “smooth away any difficulties” in the matter. In May 1827 Jerdan apprised the Literary Fund Committee that Hogg was in an “embarrassed situation”. Because Hogg had a “considerable reputation both as a Poet and as a writer of many popular works of fiction” the Fund granted him fifty pounds, “being on the largeish scale of the Society’s grants” to be transmitted to Hogg through Jerdan (Archives Royal Literary Fund, British Library, M1077/18.). Jerdan sent Hogg’s acknowledgement to the Committee with a covering note saying that “from the nature of the letter that it would be unpleasant to my feelings to have it either read to the Committee or kept.” The Fund’s files do not include Hogg’s letter, so they would appear to have honoured Jerdan’s request.
However, his modesty may been disingenuous, as in his memoir he includes a most flattering letter from Hogg which is undated, but thanks Jerdan for the “valuable present”, although uncertain as to what fund provided it (1.146). Hogg remarked dryly, “I now see what hitherto I have sparingly believed, that it is not those who make the most glowing expressions of esteem or admiration etc. that are most to be depended on.” Hogg mentioned the few days he had recently spent with Scott, who believed that Jerdan generally carried out what he undertook, and Hogg would confide only in Scott that Jerdan had indeed been of vital assistance to him. Hogg was at pains to explain that he was in financial difficulties not because of his own concerns, but because he had to take on the burdens of providing for three households of his family. Telling Jerdan that he had many manuscripts ready, he asked for some advice about publishing them, but apologised for selfishly taking up Jerdan’s time; he was “really so proud at finding that I have a real and sterling literary friend which to my fondest estimations has hitherto proved rather equivocal…”. If this was indeed the letter enclosed to the Literary Fund, small wonder that Jerdan was embarrassed to have it read aloud to his co-committee members. An anonymous admirer of Hogg sent him a gift of twenty pounds, also using Jerdan as an intermediary.
With so many things on his mind, it was not perhaps surprising that in a note of July 1827 Jerdan wrote to the publisher Richard Bentley, that he had met with a severe accident and could not attend to much. He had had a narrow escape with his life but was in no danger. This might have been one of the many occasions when he was thrown from a carriage, or even the consequence of an accident arising from drinking too much. It may have been this accident, or a real ailment which caused Landon to comfort him:
I am most truly sorry to hear of your illness – you will be quite knocked up, I wish you could go out of town for two or three days, a run down to Brighton would do you a world of good, leave the Gazette to me, would you trust it…I would call at your house, but I am afraid, for if any body here were to be ill six months hence, I should be thought to have brought hooping cough etc…Yours very pityingly, I should be so glad to do anything for you, to send you to Brighton would be the best service.
In his edition Landon’s correspodence, F. J. Sypher dates this as ‘perhaps 1832’ from a mention of Medwin’s translation of Agamemnon by Aeschylus, but it most likely refers to Medwin’s translation of another play by Aeschylus, Prometheus Bound (1827). Jerdan’s accident and Landon’s affectionate concern, with her offer to take care of the Literary Gazette point to the earlier date as being more likely. Another a December letter that Sypher dates to 1833, told him, “I am very anxious to hear what you are doing – I think if you could manage it a run down to Clifton would do you a world of good. I want so to know if you approved my review of the ‘Book of Beauty’. I miss so very much not being able to talk to you about my judgments before they become quite definite…I was so sorry to hear of your sore throat.”
Despite his illnesses and troubles with the Literary Gazette, Jerdan had not completely lost his sense of humour; in Men I Have Known, Herdan tells that he attended a ‘conversazione’ hosted by the Marquis of Northampton (264). Beards were not yet in fashion, and only two men at the gathering wore them. One was Mr Ward, a Royal Academician with failing eyesight, and the other the ‘Blind Traveller’ James Holman. Jerdan mirthfully recalled, “I took an opportunity to introduce them to each other, and as one was blind and the other could not see, advised the cultivation of a further intimacy by the mutual stroking of beards – a ceremony they performed with hearty laughter, and to the no small amusement of a little circle of admiring spectators.”
A small matter occurring in early April had unwelcome repercussions for Jerdan later that month. He let his admiration for Canning run away with him in a review of Ward’s De Vere on 27 April 1827. The book contained a portrayal of an ideal statesman, a god-like character, whom the Literary Gazette identified as Canning. Ward, pretending to be embarrassed by this, wrote at length to Canning distancing himself from such indelicacy, protesting about “the officiousness of the reviewer (whoever he may be, and however sincere in his admiration of yourself)”. Canning reassured Ward that “While I concur with you in regretting the indiscretion of the editor of the Literary Gazette,” he was not in the least offended. “I must be very sensitive if, after thirty-three years of Parliamentary life, any allusions of the press, in good or evil part, could seriously affect my equanimity” (Canning Correspondence). The repercussions of the over-enthusiastic review were soon to become apparent.
With his vast network of acquaintances, writers and colleagues on a multitude of organisations. Jerdan was well placed to hear gossip and rumour. One occasion stood out far above all others. His friend Thomas Hunt, distinguished writer on architecture and a restorer of royal palaces, was working in St James Palace on 12 April 1827. Trapped unwittingly in a side room from which he could not escape without risking severe repercussions, Hunt was a hidden ear to a secret conversation. The King had just then invited Canning, Jerdan’s hero, to become Prime Minister, and retiring to the room adjacent to Hunt’s, discussed this meeting with his confidante, the Marchioness of Conyngham. Hunt was terrified – he was eavesdropping on the King, too late to make his presence known. Once the King had moved away, Hunt left the Palace and went straight to Jerdan, who was delighted to learn from him that the King’s impression of Canning was at least as high as his own, and that he believed the new Prime Minister would “conduct the affairs of the Kingdom to the heights of prosperity and glory” (4.150).
Overcome with emotion that his sovereign admired Canning as much as he did, Jerdan at once hastened the next morning to Downing Street, so that he could impart his privileged knowledge to the Prime Minister. Canning’s private secretary, Stapleton, assured Jerdan that Canning could not possibly see him, burdened as he was with affairs of state and the appointment of ministers on this first morning in office. Jerdan persisted, insisting that his card be taken to Canning, on which he had written “Dear Sir – pray see me – if it were not of sufficient consequence I would not ask at such a time.” To Stapleton’s evident amazement Canning agreed. Jerdan was shown to a first floor room overlooking Downing Street where, waiting for his audience, he became “exceedingly agitated and worked up to so distressing a state of nervous tremor” that he sank into the nearest chair. In his highly charged state he could hardly believe his eyes when the bookcase in front of him swung open, and Canning entered the room. Struggling to his feet, Jerdan was overwhelmed to find that the Prime Minister was giving him his whole hand to shake, not just the one or two fingers usually proffered. For Jerdan, this was the surest sign of acceptance.
The interview which followed, as related in detail by Jerdan, was not only momentous for him, as sealing the tie of friendship between the holder of the highest office in the land, and the mere journalist/editor, but also throws light on how closely linked Jerdan was to the delicate political situation occurring on that day. Astonishingly, Canning seemed to have had time for a cosy chat, as Jerdan described him placing two chairs with their backs to the window, and launching into a minute exposition about his interview with the King. Of course, we only have Jerdan’s word for this extraordinary behaviour, but the wealth of detail and the fact that when he wrote about it thirty years later it was still so clear to him, tend to confirm that the meeting did take place in the way he related. Canning even showed him the manner in which the King extended his hand to be kissed, a nugget of play-acting that surely even the literary-minded Jerdan would not have invented. Canning divulged that the King had asked him what his intentions were, should the Protestant factions in Cabinet object to his appointment. Canning told him, in secrecy, that a prominent Whig had already promised the Opposition’s support should this occur. Somehow the secret “oozed out”, as Jerdan put it, and the consequence was that on this first day in office, seven members of the Cabinet resigned, and Canning found himself alone. Peel and Wellington, members of the Cabinet who may each have expected to be Prime Minister, were over-looked by the King, Peel as too junior and inexperienced, and Wellington because he had become commander-in-chief on the death of the Duke of York. Since the previous Prime Minister Lord Liverpool’s illness and inability to continue in office since February, these two hopefuls “were not so much directly rejected by the King, as shelved during the course of a month of what Professor Aspinall has described as ‘masterly inactivity’”.
Reluctant to appoint a Prime Minister once it was clear that a solidly Protestant government could not be formed, Canning was the obvious choice. Peel was violently against Roman Catholic concessions, whereas Canning was more liberally minded. (It was an irony, therefore, that within a few years Peel’s views changed completely and he made the necessary concessions to Rome.) Over the previous two years the King had moved from an aversion to Canning to a liking: “...the opposition of the great families of the country to a ‘charlatan parvenu’ only strengthened the King’s belief that he was fighting the pretensions of the great aristocratic cliques which had tried to monopolize the office during his father’s reign.” Sensitive to criticisms of Canning as a ‘parvenu’, Jerdan noted that the same could be said of Lord Eldon and the Duke of Wellington, who also rose from the ranks. Not everyone saw Canning’s appointment merely as a revolt against paternal traditions. For the public and the press, his appointment was the most popular ever known.
No wonder then, that Canning on his first day, nervous and deserted by his ministers, found time and evident relief in discussing the situation with his old friend William Jerdan. Alternately flushed and pale, Canning’s demeanour brought home to Jerdan “on how fragile a thread of human endurance the fate of a nation and the welfare or misery of millions may depend.” Jerdan was frightened for his friend’s health. Bringing this unprecedented interview to a close, Canning asked Jerdan to attend the House of Commons every night, and make notes of his impressions, to be sent to the Prime Minister next morning, a task Jerdan could accomplish with ease because of his earlier journalistic experience on the Sun and other newspapers. Complying with this request gave Jerdan access to the Prime Minister whenever he wished.
Canning’s political expertise overcame the split that his appointment had caused the Tory party, and he gathered a Cabinet which included moderate Whigs and the Hon.William Lamb (later Lord Melbourne). Canning faced violent hostility in the House, most notably from Earl Grey who denounced him “in one of the most personal invectives that ever was delivered in the Parliament of England” (4.156), an attack which Canning was unable to refute in his old articulate way, as his health declined under the strain. He was aware that Peel had not only resigned from the Cabinet, but was actively fomenting opposition – something Jerdan had forecast in one of his daily notes, which Canning had not yet had time to read. Upon doing so, he joked with Jerdan that he had inherited the second sight of his native country and was “an astute political prophet”. In recalling these events, Jerdan forestalled any accusation of self-aggrandisement on the grounds that such intimate glimpses into the mind of a Prime Minister would not be of interest to future generations, an evidently ingenuous comment as he devoted many pages of his Autobiography to recounting them.
Mired as Jerdan was in charges of “puffing”, despite the plethora of protests about editorial independence that pepper the Autobiography, he was quite prepared to use his considerable influence on behalf of his friends. The difference was that in the first instance he had pressure put upon him, but in the latter case he was in the driving seat, and wished to use his position at the Literary Gazette to promote those he admired. As always, there was a ‘quid pro quo’. The most blatant example of this was Jerdan’s letter to Prime Minister Canning in 1827; this was not concerned with ‘puffing’, but asked outright for some recognition in return for his services, albeit that it take the form of affording help in running the Literary Gazette to free him up to actively support Canning:
I occupy a singular position in the literary world, and may claim the merit of some tact and discretion, if not of some talent, in having made my journal so widely influential. The result is that from the highest to almost the lowest class of public writers I am of sufficient importance to possess a very considerable weight with them. From book authors, through all gradations of the periodical press, it is not a boast to assert that I could do much to modify opinions, heat friends and cool enemies. I am on terms of personal intimacy with 49 out of 50 of those who direct the leading journals of the day; and I can from time to time oblige them all. Thus situated, I need not assure you that I have not failed to do what I could, where your interests were involved. But I am convinced that I could do so much more; and without a compromise of any kind imperceptibly. I insensibly exercise a very desirable influence over these organs of public opinion.
Why I cannot do all I wish, without troubling you, is simply on account of my want of time and sufficient fortune to execute what I purpose. My Gazette nets nearly five thousand pounds a year, of which I have rather more than one-third; but every moment of my life is laboriously devoted to it. Should you think well of what I have stated, and find me eligible for any mark of favour which would enable me to associate an efficient coadjutor in the ‘Literary Gazette’ and take myself a somewhat higher status in society, I would without doubt or fear of success undertake to produce very beneficial consequences throughout the whole machinery of the press. It requires but cultivation.
I have etc. W Jerdan
I come even at this moment becuse I consider no time should be lost in meeting a bitter opposition and rallying supporters against it.
This appeal, written on 19 April 1827, appears to have gone unanswered. Canning no doubt had fresh in his mind Jerdan’s indiscretion in the review of Ward’s De Vere less than two weeks before, and his assurance to Ward that the press could not affect his equanimity. He had every reason to believe in Jerdan’s loyal support, but little reason to believe in his powers of diplomacy and discretion. Jerdan tried again on 5 May, this time addressing himself to Canning’s Secretary, Mr Stapleton. His letter was verbose, but his sincerity and enthusiasm to be of service to his idol Canning, are manifest. The letter referred back to the episode of his secret cypher used by the Foreign Office, and even his tiny part on the occasion of Perceval’s assassination; he reiterated his request to Canning, continuing:
I trust it will be felt that this is not a selfish position, if in order to do what I wish I should give up a considerable portion of income, and risk the principal on which it is founded. But I am not, on the other hand, insensible to the benefit which might be to me and mine, if I were thought worthy to be brought forward at this stirring period…
I hope it may be anticipated that I would proceed with delicacy and discretion. My connections with the press being altogether literary renders me liable to no suspicion …My present situation in life is such that I flatter myself no objection could be urged against my eligibility for any payment, with which Mr Canning might think it right to honour me…I am persuaded that I could be essentially useful to his Administration and from the bottom of my soul I desire to be so. the present question can only be defeated if unfortunately deemed open to improper construction. For myself, I am confident an arrangement might be effected without a scruple or a whisper… It is painful to write about oneself, but the object contemplated is in my mind of infinite importance, and every hour delayed is a disadvantage. Pray pardon this letter and believe me to be etc.
Two days later Jerdan received Stapleton’s terse reply, advising him that Canning had commented that
considering one of the great grounds of attack on the Government is the influence possessed over it by the press, it is obviously necessary that he should have it in his power to deny in the House of Commons as distinctly as he now can do, and as Lord Goderich has desired in the House of Lords, that the influence of the Government has been employed to induce the press to support it. You will easily perceive how impossible it would be for Mr Canning to do this after consenting to adopt the project for which you recommend.
In the book of Canning’s Correspondence, Stapleton mentioned that he was unaware of any previous friendship between Canning and Jerdan, so wrongly believed Jerdan to be opportunistic in approaching the Prime Minister. However, he also noted it to be his opinion that “Jerdan was a truly honest man”, although he had “under-estimated the liability of the proposed transaction to suffer from malicious interpretation.” Stapleton also believed that had an official promotion been conferred upon Jerdan as he requested, jealousy would “have dissolved nine-tenths of the influence on the strength of which he pleaded for the promotion.” Wellington had been severe upon the matter of corruption in the press, thus giving Canning additional reasons for declining Jerdan’s suggestion. On the same day as he received Stapleton’s letter rejecting his help Jerdan wrote again, worried that the opposition already had its press support in place: “I am of the opinion that Lord Lowther has got the start in influencing the John Bull. The Morning Post I am inclined to believe, has some friend with the Duke of Wellington at its side.” In the same note he asked if Canning would consent to take the chair at the forthcoming Literary Fund Dinner. Stapleton noted a little cynically, “This excellent and good litteraire writes more probably primarily with a view to bring his personality again before Mr Canning; secondly to mark his useful knowledge of the movements in the ‘press’ world…” He may have been right, but it is indisputable that Jerdan’s desire to be of service to Canning was heartfelt and genuine, and any benefit accruing to himself, although it would have been welcome, was of secondary importance. Certainly if he was receiving, as he mentioned in his first letter, “rather more than one-third” of the Literary Gazette’s net profits, he was very well remunerated for his work and for his share in the journal; he was asking Canning primarily for preferment, not for money.
To Jerdan’s surprise, in reply to his request, Canning agreed, finally, to join the Royal Society of Literature and, contrary to his principles five years previously, agreed to preside at the Literary Fund Anniversary Dinner the following month. On this memorable occasion Canning was accompanied by the famous Chateaubriand, whom the Literary Fund had aided years previously, when he fled from the guillotine in the French Revolution. To repay this debt the famous visitor gave fifty pounds to the Fund. Jerdan was delighted that at last, after years of reluctance, Canning had finally made overt his desire to promote literature and the position of authors.
Just when Jerdan rejoiced that Canning had made public his support for literature, disaster struck. Following hard on the heels of Jerdan’s recent bereavements, his dear friend George Canning fell ill and was taken to Chiswick where he died on 8 August 1827. S. C. Hall thought that he had caught cold when attending the midnight funeral of the Duke of York in January, in a bitterly cold St George’s Chapel, Windsor (Retrospect 1.162). Brooding about this a long time afterwards, Jerdan confessed that he never forgave himself for not offering Grove House for Canning’s comfort. Brompton’s air was so much better than Chiswick’s and it was nearer to town. Jerdan remained convinced that he might have been the means of saving Canning’s life. In the event, he requested and was granted a ticket to attend the funeral. Canning was buried in Westminster Abbey, commemorated by a statue in the Abbey and another, by Chantrey, in the garden of the House of Commons.
With Canning’s death, Jerdan’s hopes of using his influence for preferment for his sons and indeed for himself, died too. The accumulated loss was hard to bear. The earlier bereavements were bad enough, but for Jerdan, Canning’s death was of another order: he had given the man his complete devotion for twenty years, and had shared many private as well as public experiences with him, and putting aside any differences they had had about press influence on politics, Jerdan had appreciated and relished the acknowledgement and friendship Canning had shown to him in return (Letter J. G. Lockhart to Jerdan, 24 April 1827, John Rylands University Library, The University of Manchester, English MS Vol. 2.160).
Turning his attention back once more to literature, and using his experience and knowledge of the publishing business, Jerdan helped Landon to get good terms for her third book, The Golden Violet with its Tales and Romance and Chivalry. It was published by Longmans, forgetting their reluctance over The Fate of Adelaide and The Improvisatrice, ready to publish her now that she had established a following for her poetry. It was said that Landon received a thousand pounds for this volume (Sadleir, Bulwer 86). Longmans printed two thousand copies, but according to Sypher six months later they still had six hundred and forty in stock (94). These did not sell out for another ten years. Another source agrees with the two thousand printed originally, but notes that Longman’s archive shows a further five hundred printed in 1839, just after Landon’s death, and another five hundred in 1844. A letter of 1 June from Longman to Jerdan agreed to half profits with an advance of two hundred pounds, “although it is contrary to the usual practice of the house” (St. Claire Appoendix 9). Jerdan was clearly acting here as agent for Landon.
Jerdan reviewed The Golden Violet on the front page of the Literary Gazette of 16 December 1826. Before he got down to the book itself, he filled two columns with a discussion of the spirit of poesy in England, an Augustan epoch following the Elizabethan, a later epoch following the Augustan, each with a long and dreary time between. Now,
There is a harvest of ‘Beauties’ for posterity to select, the extent of which, we would live in the midst of them are not able to estimate or appreciate. But still the mass of compositions was so over-whelming that three or four years ago, poetry became almost a drug – the glorious feast was over and the replete public had no taste, no appetite for more…In this state of languour the youthful poetess whose volume is now before us essayed her powers, and we have no doubt in tracing a potent revival of the influence of poetry to her enchanting pen….it was reserved for a female in her teens, truly and gloriously to portray the tender affections, the sweet sympathies and the warmest emotions of feminine loveliness.
There was more, Jerdan praising L.E.L.’s poem “Erinna” as “perhaps the highest effort of L.E.L.’s genius” a perhaps inappropriately gushing effusion liable to call down scorn on his own head. Recalling his chiding of Blackwood for treating L.E.L. badly, Jerdan sent him a copy of the book with the heavy hint that “I am in great hopes to see a good review of The Golden Violet in your next No. assuredly no writer of true poetic feeling but must desire to cherish genius like what is displayed in this Vol. and with the double recommendation of youth and sex” (9 February 1827, NLS 4019/228-9.). The Golden Violet was not universally applauded. The Monthly Review criticised the other periodicals for praising L.E.L. so effusively, complaining that she spoke far too often of “love”, at least on every second page, and once even using the word to rhyme with itself. Jerdan, whilst some Times believing that she wrote too quickly and without time for revision, had no such scruples about her writing on the subject of “love”, especially where much of it was so clearly addressed to him.
He received a manuscript which Blackwood had received from an unnamed writer, apparently a review of The Golden Violet. Blackwood had sent it to Jerdan for comment, and in rejecting it Jerdan evidently felt strongly that the writer was adversely criticising his beloved L.E.L. and took the time to set out his objections at some length, an exercise which illuminates his protective attitude to his protégée:
it certainly is not written in the spirit of kindness for the author. I do not object so much to the Criticisms on what is censureable; but surely it does not do justice [to the] genius and multitude of natural beauties in the writer. The fairer way it seems to me of weighing a young and female candidate for poetical fame, is not to treat her as a matured and laborious author, but compare her with any other of her age and sex that ever existed, and see if there is any example of half so much talent. But I am a very partial judge in this particular instance, and may be wrong while your Critic is right…But look yourself at the noble composition Erinna and see if it deserves ridicule. [31 March n.y. NLS 4720/112-4.]
Even though this now unknown critic had “power so great that the friends of the poet could not help being very anxious for your good word combined with truth and justice”, Jerdan insisted on the superiority of his poet on the grounds of her talent, as well as her youth and sex.
This was the beginning of the hey-day of the annuals, Christmas gift books. Already having contributed to Ackermann’s Forget-Me-Not, and Alaric Watts’s Literary Souvenir, Landon now became involved with writing for a new one, The Keepsake. Her increasing output to satisfy the demand did not distract her from her major task of reviewing for the Literary Gazette, although the quantity of poetry she contributed to it decreased slightly. Jerdan too contributed to an annual in this year. One of his contributions to Friendship’s Offering in 1827 was “Bagatelle Compliment,” sixteen lines, the first verse about ordinary people going to heaven needing to be changed into angels; the second verse addressed to his “peerless Fair”, that now she is gone, she was an angel “ready-made”. His other contribution was a short piece – not worthy of the word “poem”, “The Proper Word;” the idea taken from a French writer. The bard sings about the ‘house’ that holds his beloved, but is challenged that ‘house’ is a poor word. Palace, castle or chateau would be loftier, but in the end it does not matter as
“…they’ve sent, far, far, from me,
To an Hospital the girl I love.”
Landon had no reason to fear any competition from Jerdan in the matter of poetry composition.
This paltry offering of Jerdan’s was but one of the many derogatory references made about him by Robert Montgomery, only nineteen years old, who did not like the way the country was going. Samuel Carter Hall recollected that Montgomery had shown him his satirical work and consulted him as to its publication. “It consisted of a series of assaults on all the leading poets and critics of the time: a David assailing a hundred Goliaths, without knowing how to use his sling.” (Hall, Retrospect 2.191). Ignoring Hall’s advice to throw it into the fire, the poem was duly published, “a wanton act of aggression,” said Hall, “that, before long, no one had reason to lament more bitterly than its author.” Montgomery vented his spleen, not only against the critics and poets, but against every aspect of society, in his verse satire, “The Age Reviewed.” Jerdan’s name collected numerous mentions, which although painful to him, indicated the strength of his influence and high profile. Montgomery was not too subtle in his attack – most references to Jerdan are accompanied by an explanatory footnote, in case the full impact of his satire had passed the reader by. In the Introductory Dialogue we read “…Or jingling Jerdan paved the road to fame”, with a note that “There is no one more capable of giving a new work a good introductory impetus than Mr W Jerdan, or to shew my respect for all HE says, ‘The witty Mr J.’. – but let him not hear of your delinquencies in failing to admire him and his columns!”
This was mild stuff, and Montgomery picked up steam when he subjected Landon and Jerdan’s relationship to his bile:
Miss Thomas Moore (1) by Jerdan puff’d to fame,-
Landon, or L.E.L. – whate’er thy name –
So fervid, flowery, sparkling in thy page,
Let school-girls trump thee, Sappho of the age!
… Fie on the furious tongues that dare to speak
’Gainst thee, verse-fountain of the month and week
While touchy Jerdan (2) hums a “Proper Word”,
Thy Sapphic moans shall balm the sighing herd;
Did Crusca live, how would he pine to see,
A burning Anna, realized in thee?
Montgomery’s footnote (1) stated that
“L.E.L. or Miss Landon, or Jerdan’s Protégée, or the verse manufacturer for every magazine, review and journal, has dwindled into more superfineries than ever, since the publication of her ‘Improvisatrice’. It is a great pity that she does not unshackle her mind from the controlling calculations of her mis-guided friend Jerdan. His glaring, enormous flatteries in the Literary Gazette will not eventually complete her fame, or gender improvement. Campbell says of her,’She has turned her head into a cullendar, and all her brains are daily running out.’ I trust Mrs Hemans will take the friendly hint, for she is becoming rather too common.
Footnote (2) was pointed, but not unjust:
Jerdan exposed himself very dangerously by printing ‘The Proper Word’ in Friendship’s Offering. No one ever did him the justice to think him a poet, or a properly qualified critic; but such inharmonious doggerel was a sad denouement from the president – the poetical judge that sways the columns of the most popular Gazette in the Kingdom!! ‘Pooh,’ replies Jerdan, ‘what care I for the opinions of the discerning? Seated round my port, I pronounce damnation or salvation on authors – just as the whim takes me – the weather affects me – or prejudice guides me.’
Elsewhere, Montgomery beat the same drum:
Supremely blest! who, far from Jerdan’s frown (1),
Obtains a column for his week’s renown;
Like warbling Sappho, bends his pliant quill,
To push a poem up Parnassus’ hill; (2)
Then, smooth that stream of praise, to authors dear –
For tickled Jerdan lends a listening ear.
Montgomery must have thought he was risking too much by his damning comments on one of the most influential editors of the day. He used his footnote (1) to mollify his target somewhat: “Mr William Jerdan is, ‘take him all in all’, the most good-natured of those critics, not overburdened with discrimination and talent: perhaps it is somewhat creditable to him that he has brought his Gazette to such an unrivalled circulation as it now enjoys.
The country papers were castigated for merely copying the Literary Gazette without using their own judgment, saying which he was “aware that I am subjecting myself unto a bit of dirty DAMNATION…but really I cannot resist writing a little truth…” In his footnote (2) Montgomery fulminated:
It is rather audacious for Mr Jerdan to pronounce so positively on poetry, being himself so incapable of stringing a few decent verses together. Shaftesbury says ‘ every WRITING critic is bound to show himself capable of being a writer; for, if he be apparently impotent in this latter kind, he is to be denied all title or character in the other.’ What says Mr Jerdan?
Alaric Watts was also vilified by the young satirist’s vicious pen:
Entranced, if Jerdan yield a barter’d page,
Where, on young merit thou canst vomit rage…
…Remorseful there, dissect thy feeble line,
And print us all the tinsel, PURELY thine.(1)
Resuscitating the famous quarrel, Montgomery said, at (1),
Doubtless the reader must remember, that whilst all the rest of the world were pouring forth their homage to the genius of Byron, the Literary Gazette was making itself stupidly singular, by cavilling and pecking at his Lordship, in all manner of ways. In this respect, partial injustice has been done to Jerdan: the ‘Plagiarisms’ as they were called, of Lord Byron, were grabbed up by Alaric Watts, to whose envious despotism, Jerdan had, for a while, delivered the critical reins. Alaric Watts was never much esteemed before this – after this mean attempt, the littleness of his soul was too apparent to escape universal censure.
Montgomery even managed to include a gibe at the row between Jerdan and Wright over the “false champagne”, with a footnote that “Mr Jerdan shows up this wine monger and his brotherhood with critical elegance.” There were various other mentions of Jerdan’s name, including the oft-quoted couplet “From them will Jerdan peck, and Colburn puff,/Till all but author cry out, ‘quantum suff!’” It is clear why Hall advised the satirist to throw his script into the fire, from these references to Jerdan alone, but the whole, more than sixty pages long, is equally, or more virulent about other notables in all fields of endeavour.
The Literary Gazette greeted The Age Reviewed with the following response:
We have been tempted to bestow more exposure upon this empty coxcomb than he is worth; but as his impudence appeared to be on a par with his ignorance, his effrontery with his want of talent, and his baseness with his bad poetry, we trust we shall be pardoned for the castigation we have bestowed upon him…. Many portions of the work…so gross, offensive, and beastly as to be utterly unfit for any place but the stews…altogether one of the most despicable publications that ever insulted the public taste.
By the time he came to write his Autobiography, Jerdan recalled that The Age Reviewed in which he had been so cruelly vilified by Montgomery, had been “lost sight of”. It had received, he remarked, “strong and decided disapprobation at my hands, notwithstanding their author had been introduced and welcomed to very intimate terms and social attentions in my house, where he had opportunities of meeting persons to whom it was not undesirable that a rising bard should be known” (4.312).
In later life Montgomery calmed down and became a clergyman, but not before another literary offering, The Omnipresence of the Deity was published by Maunder in 1828 and reviewed in two instalments by the Literary Gazette. A second edition was swiftly printed, about which Jerdan generously stated:
True genius is a rare plant and we should be ashamed of ourselves and our station in the literary world if we permitted either a cold-heartedness as individuals, or a cold criticalness as public writers, to rob us of that sympathy and enthusiasm which the first efforts of struggling genius is so finely calculated to inspire…
In his reminiscences, Jerdan noted that at the time he had stood virtually alone in vindicating the writer’s “poetic character”, an opinion which was soon taken up generally. Montgomery became a poet celebrated by many, although now obscure, and often linked with Landon as two minor poets once famous but forgotten with time (Duncan 245). Jerdan also gave room to “Satan,” another poem of Montgomery’s in January 1830, saying that he had not “the leisure to give it the attention its elevated character and importance demands” but devoted three pages to extracts, demonstrating yet again that he was not a man to bear a grudge. Montgomery’s works went through many editions, although at the outset, “the whole Trade took only six copies! But the Literary Gazette reviews soon turned the scale and when the third edition was called, the publisher, in thanking me, stated that he had sold two thousand copies over the counter in ten days –a poetical sale unequalled since the days of ‘Childe Harold’” (4.311).
Jerdan’s characteristic trait of not bearing a grudge was also evident in a note to Alaric Watts in December 1827. In addition to the Literary Souvenir, Watts was considering embarking on a new venture, possibly a right-wing newspaper The Standard. He had asked Jerdan’s opinion and was told,
You know the principles on which the Literary Gazette has been conducted, and my feelings with regard to fair and gentleman-like competition too entirely in cute, to doubt not only of my approving of your entering, should you see fit, on a weekly literary publication but of my wishing it to succeed in your hands. I must have been a consummate blockhead could I have fancied that it would be in my power to keep such a field for my own monopoly; and so far from thinking an honest rivalry injurious, I am persuaded it is the reverse. [Watts 2.34]
This generosity of spirit was not emulated by other journal editors. The Age, musing on “A Procession of Blues in Regent Street” noted “Miss Landon in swandown muff and tippet, acting The Improvisatrice, with a necklace of Jerdan mock brilliants; her appearance is more of the gazelle than the Gazette although much puffed by the latter, a man milliner (16 December 1827).
The Literary Chronicle, a look-alike imitation of the far more successful Gazette, sought opportunities to criticize Jerdan and his journal. In their issue of 5 April 1828 they created one out of odds and ends of literary matters, including quoting from the Gazette’s reception of The Age Reviewed, jeering about its critic’s “style”, and pointing out that “in some dozen lines of his satire [Montgomery] dared to speak derisively of a certain sacred person named Jerdan. What could be more wicked! Such a circumstance could not but contaminate the whole poem, and acting the reverse of the philosopher’s stone, convert gold into rubbish. Such conduct was intolerable; and all the thunders of criticism were called into action, to annihilate the audacious satirist. They have however, proved mere ‘bruta fulmina’. [Thunderbolts that strike blindly and in vain]” The Chronicle wrongly noted that The Omnipresence of the Deity was Montgomery’s first work, and called him “one of our greatest poets”.
The Chronicle’s article had been inspired by a comment in the Edinburgh Review, that “The success of some late literary journals only proves the demand for such matter, not, we fear, the capacity of their conductors adequately and worthily to supply it; the scissors being in truth the mechanical power mainly brought into play by these humble, though very useful personages.” Jerdan had taken this attack personally, giving rise to the Chronicle sarcastically calling him “the illustrious editor”, and observing, “The most offensive thing about the Edinburgh Review appears to be, however, its indulgence in puffs. This is too much for the sensitive nerves of the sensitive nerves of the editor of the Literary Gazette – puff being a word absolutely wanting to his own vocabulary. He never speaks contemptuously of his neighbours, he never praises the superiority of his own journal which ‘Like Aaron’s serpent swallows all the rest.’” They chided him for comparing Landon to Sappho, and his partiality for the poetess, and others from Colburn’s stable. However much this article may have upset him at the time, Jerdan had the last laugh, as the Literary Chronicle folded three months later, and became absorbed into the Athenaeum. Always regarded as inseparable, Jerdan and the Literary Gazette were both attacked in The Inspector, Literary Magazine and Review, (Vol. II, 1827). The Plan for a National Currency was criticised at some length and in the same issue the Literary Gazette was lampooned in a feature entitled ‘Saturnalia’.
Although Jerdan purported not to care about these barbed comments, their cumulative effect would have wounded him, but not enough to make him wary of praising to an excessive degree everything Letitia Landon wrote.
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Last modified 23 June 2020