LORD  BYRON  and  his  TIMES
Documents Biography Criticism

The Autobiography of William Jerdan
Ch. 17: The Criminal

Vol. I. Front Matter
Ch. 1: Introductory
Ch. 2: Childhood
Ch. 3: Boyhood
Ch. 4: London
Ch. 5: Companions
Ch. 6: The Cypher
Ch. 7: Edinburgh
Ch. 8: Edinburgh
Ch. 9: Excursion
Ch. 10: Naval Services
Ch. 11: Periodical Press
Ch. 12: Periodical Press
Ch. 13: Past Times
Ch. 14: Past Times
Ch. 15: Literary
Ch. 16: War & Jubilees
‣ Ch. 17: The Criminal
Ch. 18: Mr. Perceval
Ch. 19: Poets
Ch. 20: The Sun
Ch. 21: Sun Anecdotes
Ch. 22: Paris in 1814
Ch. 23: Paris in 1814
Ch. 24: Byron
Vol. I. Appendices
Scott Anecdote
Burns Anecdote
Life of Thomson
John Stuart Jerdan
Scottish Lawyers
Sleepless Woman
Canning Anecdote
Southey in The Sun
Hood’s Lamia
Murder of Perceval
Vol. II. Front Matter
Ch. 1: Literary
Ch. 2: Mr. Canning
Ch. 3: The Sun
Ch. 4: Amusements
Ch. 5: Misfortune
Ch. 6: Shreds & Patches
Ch. 7: A Character
Ch. 8: Varieties
Ch. 9: Ingratitude
Ch. 10: Robert Burns
Ch. 11: Canning
Ch. 12: Litigation
Ch. 13: The Sun
Ch. 14: Literary Gazette
Ch. 15: Literary Gazette
Ch. 16: John Trotter
Ch. 17: Contributors
Ch. 18: Poets
Ch 19: Peter Pindar
Ch 20: Lord Munster
Ch 21: My Writings
Vol. II. Appendices
The Satirist.
Authors and Artists.
The Treasury
Morning Chronicle
Chevalier Taylor
Foreign Journals
Vol. III. Front Matter
Ch. 1: Literary Pursuits
Ch. 2: Literary Labour
Ch. 3: Poetry
Ch. 4: Coleridge
Ch 5: Criticisms
Ch. 6: Wm Gifford
Ch. 7: W. H. Pyne
Ch. 8: Bernard Barton
Ch. 9: Insanity
Ch. 10: The R.S.L.
Ch. 11: The R.S.L.
Ch. 12: L.E.L.
Ch. 13: L.E.L.
Ch. 14: The Past
Ch. 15: Literati
Ch. 16: A. Conway
Ch. 17: Wellesleys
Ch. 18: Literary Gazette
Ch. 19: James Perry
Ch. 20: Personal Affairs
Vol. III. Appendices
Literary Poverty
Ismael Fitzadam
Mr. Tompkisson
Mrs. Hemans
A New Review
Debrett’s Peerage
Procter’s Poems
Poems by Others
Poems by Jerdan
Vol. IV. Front Matter
Ch. 1: Critical Glances
Ch. 2: Personal Notes
Ch. 3: Fresh Start
Ch. 4: Thomas Hunt
Ch. 5: On Life
Ch. 6: Periodical Press
Ch. 7: Quarterly Review
Ch. 8: My Own Life
Ch. 9: Mr. Canning
Ch. 10: Anecdotes
Ch. 11: Bulwer-Lytton
Ch. 12: G. P. R. James
Ch. 13: Finance
Ch. 14: Private Life
Ch. 15: Learned Societies
Ch. 16: British Association
Ch. 17: Literary Characters
Ch. 18: Literary List
Ch. 19: Club Law
Ch. 20: Conclusion
Vol. IV. Appendix
Gerald Griffin
W. H. Ainsworth
James Weddell
The Last Bottle
N. T. Carrington
The Literary Fund
Letter from L.E.L.
Geographical Society
Baby, a Memoir
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Alas! alas!
Why all the souls that were, were forfeit once;
And He that might the vantage best have took.
Found out the remedy. How would you be,
If he, which is the top of judgment, should
But judge you as you are? Oh think on that,
And mercy then will breathe within your lips,
Like man new made.—Shakspere.

Among my other miscellaneous movements during this period was a mission to Oxford to be present at Lord Grenville’s installation as Chancellor of the University, It was a splendid and interesting ceremony, and as crowded as possibility or practicability could, any how, accommodate. I should have been obliged to walk the last stage, for want of a fore-ordered conveyance, but for the good-nature of Mr. Sheridan, who, having stopped with Lord Fitzhardinge to dine at an inn on the road, instead of plunging into the confusion at head-quarters, lent me a chaise to extricate me from my difficulties at approaching night. I have no vocation to describe the stately and brilliant proceedings—it is enough to remember that some visitors, for want of lodgings, slept in their carriages on the first night, when exorbitant prices were demanded, and that I had to pay five guineas a week for a three-pair-back room in an obscure
lane, besides extra for (non-) attendance. I have ever since thought it hazardous and expensive to be a freshman at Oxford, which may, perhaps, account for my education not being finished as it might have been! An autumnal visit to Tweedside prepared me for the winter’s labours; and the following year, a week or ten days at Cambridge, and the shooting season at Harlow Bush—quite at hand to claim the Dunmow flitch of bacon, if I could have swallowed the oath as easy as the fat—did for me the same. An engagement to attend the committee on the Regent’s Canal was soon after a profitable employment. My duty was to write a précis of the day’s proceedings—not more than half-a-sheet of letter paper—for which I received my fee regularly along with the counsel, and on the whole netted between 140l. and 150l.; going from the committee-room in good heart to my work in the gallery of the House of Commons.

I have now to record two events of a painful nature; the one of private, the other of public interest. The first relates to the melancholy fall from rectitude and respect of an individual with whom I lived on terms of constant intimacy, and who, till the moment of his detection and disgrace, was one of the pleasantest and best-liked persons in the social circle of Brompton, where he resided. His name was Hammon; he was a clerk in the banking house of Birch and Co., Bond-street, in which he had risen, by time and talent, into a handsome salary, and the confidential position he abused; had married the daughter of a highly respectable tradesman in Curzon-street, and, with the prettiest little wife in the neighbourhood, entertained their friends and visitors in the neatest and best appointed small abode which the vicinity of Hans-place and Sloane-street could boast. He was himself good-looking and intelligent,
rather petit, but very gentlemanly; always carefully dressed, agreeable in his manners, and obliging in his disposition: was it to be wondered at that he was a general favourite, and that his manage, altogether, was viewed as a pattern of the utmost domestic comfort and happiness? And so it might have been sung of it—
I said if there’s peace to be found in the world
The heart that is humble may hope for it here!
Alas! how deceitful are appearances; bitter were the ashes within the core of this golden apple. Hammon, to sustain expenses beyond income, furnished another of those sad examples which I have been exhorting, especially my younger readers, to shun like pestilence, and which must ever lead to misery, if not of the aggravated character of actual guilt, tending, at least, to moral debasement and mortifications most painful to bear. By a curious system of fictitious entries in the bank books, posting into the ledger items as if read to him from the day-book, or, vice versa, reading from the day-book imaginary items for another clerk to post into the ledger, he contrived to appropriate what sums he wanted, and to keep the process secret, so that at the time there was no semblance of irregularity. When the annual balances were struck, the amount of defalcations was discovered; but no retrospective examination or auditing could arrive at the cause.

At last the mine exploded, and the offender fled. Never shall I forget my dismay and sorrow when one morning on descending to breakfast a letter was put into my hands written by the unhappy being, dated from Tothill-fields prison, briefly stating what had befallen him, and begging for my pity and succour. An event so utterly unexpected; a
calamity so deplorable and irretrievable; a prospect so horrid and appalling, crushed me down, and, for days and nights, filled my mind with wild wandering thoughts and dreadful visions, which were distressing in the extreme. I had never come into contact with Crime before, so as to see its hideousness, and watch its awful consequences.

I trust the exalted moralist, the strict, the sanctimonious, the self-approving sinless, will not be startled by the statement that the unfortunate Hammon was comparatively innocent of wrong. I am no apologist for the artful means he employed for his unrighteous purpose, nor for his flagrant breach of the inflexible laws of honesty and honour, nor for the dangerous doctrine, that the absence of evil intention can justify evil acts; but in the instance before me I am simply telling the truth when I say that there were palliatives in the case which might make stern Virtue pause, and Justice hesitate. There was enough to condemn, and the well-being of the community might render it absolutely necessary that punishment should be awarded; but for the sake of frail humanity, even in its lowest degradation, I would fain put in the plea that some genuine, though dormant, good may lie in the breast of the fallen malefactor. Cases of hardened guilt and atrocious crime I have had no opportunities to observe; hut even among these I was assured by the worthy ordinary of Newgate, the Rev. Mr. Davis, there are very few which do not yield some traits of a redeeming nature, and the reawakening of consciences, which prove that though the divinity within had been silenced for a season, it had not been entirely obliterated. All that I contend for, then, is, that in such transgressions as Hammon’s, the world ought not to put on the impenetrable armour of outraged impec-
cability, but rather, in the feeling language of
Burns, that man
Should gently scan his brother man;
nor, as another poet has it,—
Shut the gates of mercy on mankind.

Hammon went unsuspected to the coast, and might easily have escaped to the continent by hiring a boat (for it was during the non-intercourse period), but he insanely loitered for several days, as if at play with his existence, and was consequently apprehended, committed, tried at the Old Bailey, and sentenced to death.

During all these fatal transactions I saw him frequently, and endeavoured to impress upon him the serious and wicked character of his delinquency, but all my arguments were vain. By a strange perversion of the moral faculty, he never could be brought to feel or confess that he had been guilty of a grave offence, and far less of one worthy of the severest penalty of the law. This was his argument: he had never intended to wrong or rob his employers; he had, it was true, helped himself for temporary convenience, but he was resolved to replace every farthing. To this end, having been disappointed in his wife’s fortune, which instead of being forthcoming on their marriage, was settled to be paid at her father’s death, he had endeavoured to sell a house belonging to him, in Vere Street, valuable as being near Ibbotson’s hotel, and convenient for lodging its over-numerous frequenters, but the negotiations had been protracted—he dreaded detection in the Bank—and fled. Such were the opiates with which he beguiled his proper senses, the flattering unction which he laid to his sinking soul. In all his transactions out of the pale of the banking-house, he was not only honourable,
but rigidly punctual and correct: I knew of thousands of pounds belonging to individuals which had passed through his hands, and been most faithfully dealt with. How can we account for such anomalies, such contradictions, such blindness as this?

Deeply interested as I was in the fall of the wretched convict, and of his amiable wife, I strained every nerve to save him from execution; there was a legal distinction in his case resembling that of Aslett, which afforded some footing, and his fair conduct and integrity in all beyond the scene of his fraud, helped me farther on; so that I procured numerous respectable signatures to a petition for the modification of his sentence; and having, from my own position, ready access to the government authorities, where the fountain of mercy lay, I urged every favourable circumstance which could strengthen the application. For a while the scales hung dreadfully on the balance; the prosecutors were inexorable; and the portentous words, “Justice must take its course,” rung frightfully on my ear. Under these impressions, I went to speak with the unhappy man in the condemned cell, and received a shock the effect of which, though quite casual, has not been obliterated to this day, when I shudder at its bare remembrance. My spirits were excited almost to distraction by the interview, and I wrung the poor fellow’s hand, perhaps for the last time, and rushed from the dismal place. To my horror I found the doors bolted and egress denied; I screamed for the gaoler, but no one answered my call; reason had not time to exercise its influence, and after another fruitless effort with hand and voice, I tried to grasp the iron fastenings and fell down, as if shot, perfectly insensible upon the pavement. I had luckily been observed though not answered, and I awoke under stimulants in the governor’s apartment, to
learn that according to custom the gates were shut at the particular hour for the convenience of the turnkeys, and other prison regulations. My nerves, however, did not recover the stroke for several weeks.

Another, and a disgraceful incident preceded my final success, and though I have publicly alluded to it years ago, and was only dissuaded by prudential friends, from making it a matter of serious charge against a high legal functionary, I yet relate with reluctance, in the firm belief that such a thing would be utterly impossible in the present day. In the course of our beseeching of interests in every quarter, to aid us in our salvatory endeavours, I accompanied Mrs. Hammon and another lady to the chambers of the then Recorder of London, familiarly, and to my judgment rightly, called “Black Jack,” who (I think) had tried the cause, and had therefore paramount influence in directing the result, in order to obtain his merciful representation to the Secretary of State. We went to his house or chambers in Chancery Lane, and made our errand known to an attendant, who communicated its purport to his master. At his desire Mrs. Hammon was shown up stairs, whilst her friend and I waited in the room below. What was our astonishment, in a short while, to see her rush in, aghast and panting with terror—the Angelo of that infamous hour, had proposed to her to go with him to Richmond from the Saturday to Monday, as the condition of his recommending the remission of her husband’s life!!! This fact may appear incredible: it is literally true! But to end this tale. I ultimately procured a commutation of the sentence, and leave for the criminal to transport himself for life.* I got him, with a full knowledge of his antecedents, into the employment of a humane and worthy wine merchant of

* See Appendix G.

Bourdeaux, with whom, however, he did not continue long. The last I saw of him was many years afterwards, when he risked his neck by an incognito visit to England; and the last I heard of him was, as the most dapper and active waiter in a large French hotel between Calais and Paris.

His unfortunate wife retired into the North of England; and blameless and excellent as she was, I should regret, if still living, that ever this volume of my chequered life should fall under her notice.