LORD  BYRON  and  his  TIMES
Documents Biography Criticism

The Autobiography of William Jerdan
Ch. 5: Companions

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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The dreams of early youth,
How beautiful they are—how full of joy!
When fancy looks like truth,
And life shows not a taint of Sin’s alloy.—Swain.

I have noticed the coincidence of two Lord Mayors having sprung out of my first acquaintance with the business premises of London, and, when I introduce my companions, it will appear that still more remarkable elevation attended the footsteps of some of them. But I may, by the-bye, take the occasion for noticing how extraordinary an effect it had on me, to observe that, in this mighty capital, every man was personally and sedulously occupied with his trade or occupation, and that no man, whatever it might be, was “above his business.” The same spirit is remarkable to the present day, but I do not think its operations are so obvious and universal. The merchant princes, it is true, still attend for a few hours at their offices in the city; the shopkeepers, in the most extensive lines, bestow infinite civilities upon their customers; and persons in mechanical trades do not keep aloof from their details. Still manners are considerably changed, and I fancy it would now be difficult to parallel that which struck me with astonishment on being measured for a London suit of clothes, to be forced
to allow the task to be performed by the master himself whom I had met travelling in the north as a gentleman (which in every sense he was), who lived in handsome style in a good house in Norfolk Street, and who, with two accomplished daughters, entertained the best company which the metropolis could supply half a century ago.

In consequence of the intimacies, or, as lads call them, friendships to which I have alluded, a small society was formed to meet at stated times, read papers on gives subjects, and discuss the same vivâ voce thereafter. It consisted of the three Pollocks, three Wildes, John, Thomas, and Archer, two Bramahs, sons of the ingenious and celebrated mechanician, Frederick Burchell, an apprentice at Charing Cross, and brother of the proprietor of the far-famed anodyne necklace, and myself, with occasional attendances of several individuals, rather our seniors, such as Mr. Jackson, a barrister, son of one of the Commissioners of Excise, Mr. Cartwright, an able surgeon, still strong in health, and efficiently practising the healing art, whilst Jackson was advanced to be legal chief of the Excise office in Edinburgh, and died there very sincerely regretted for his amiable qualities and general intelligence. And here let me pause to offer a few words in earnest commendation of youthful associations of this kind. They are of immense utility in developing the intellectual faculties, in stimulating to instructive competition, in leading to self-improvement, and a right standard of self-value, and in worthily employing the time which is otherwise but too likely to be wasted, if not worse, in idleness and want of thought. Our literature, our statesmen, our senate, our pulpit, our bench, our bar, yea, our public, and civil, and corporate, and even our vestry meetings, afford abundant evidence of the future capacity which is derived from such exercises, and how
eminently they serve to promote the advancement of those who have been trained in their voluntary school. The gift of elocution and eloquence is, in fact, the readiest and most certain high-road to preferment, and if the mind is by the same process stored with information—
“When house and lands are gone and spent,
This learning is most excellent.”

On the talents displayed at our club assemblages, in Mr. D. Pollock’s chambers, it does not become me to deliver an opinion, for I was not a laggard in the race. I recently entertained the hope of recovering some of the MSS. to afford a selection for my appendix, but am afraid they are irretrievably gone, and I condole with the public on the loss! David and Frederick Pollock, and Thomas Wilde were the most active and distinguished contributors, and when I reflect on the circumstance, and that the first died Sir David and Chief Justice of Bombay, the second is Sir Frederick and Lord Chief Baron of Her Majesty’s Court of Exchequer, and the third, Lord Truro, the other day Lord High Chancellor of England, the foremost civil subject of the realm, I cannot but marvel at the fate of their fourth and their not very unequal competitor. My prospects were apparently as bright as theirs, my cleverness (not to use a vainer phrase) was only too much acknowledged, and my career has not been altogether fruitless in the service of my country and fellow-creatures. I have laboured, too, as constantly and severely, and produced effects which have had beneficial contemporary influence, and may, I trust, secure for my name a remembrance in times to come; yet look I with my aspirations crushed, from the clouded bottom of the hill, rejoicing in and admiring, not envying, my early comrades, who having bravely climbed the
summit, they range along the height, and in happiness enjoy the brilliant region, on which, humanly speaking, warm and eternal sunshine settles.

But what is the moral lesson I would draw from these facts? Why did my friends so nobly succeed, and why did I, ultimately, so grievously fail? The reasons are not far to seek. Frederick Pollock completed his education in an English University, where the highest honours were awarded to his great abilities, and indefatigable and zealous exertions. In every branch and class he was among the foremost, and, as Senior Wrangler, was the foremost of his year, carrying off the glorious prize from many a splendid and dangerous rival. In short, he had the vision of the future distinctly before his eyes, and he devoted himself heart and soul to its realisation. He never flagged, and, after the first great College step, his even path needed no more than unflinching perseverance in the course he had so auspiciously begun. From Edinburgh I corresponded with him in his onward movement, and occasionally added my mite of research to his studious investigations, which was of some advantage to me, though it could be of very little to him, and only prove the deep interest I felt in all that concerned his progress and welfare. A pleasing anecdote may illustrate this part of my narrative, as I had it from the lips of another conspicuous pattern of high exaltation through similar merits, from a humbler walk in life—the Bishop of London. In a conversation with his lordship a few months since, at Hatton, he informed me that his personal knowledge of the Chief Baron was nearly as old as my own, for he said, “We were at college together forty-seven years ago, when Pollock read Greek with me in the forenoon every day, and I read mathematics with him every evening. “This,” he added, “was good for both, but I then went to my curacy,
and he pursued his legal studies; and so we did not meet again together for some time.”

I now turn to Thomas Wilde, who had to struggle against infinitely greater difficulties than his school-fellow of Saint Paul’s. In the first place his birth was not so respectable, in the second he had an impediment in his speech, and in the third he had no college connexions or reputation to lift him forward. But he had a strong and indomitable will, and a natural energy that could not be repulsed—unswerving firmness and untiring application were his marked characteristics: he would give up nothing he had determined upon; he would yield to no opposition; and his abilities were already of a very masculine order. Accordingly when he entered the law as an attorney he was as sure of success as Pollock was at the bar, and thus they speedily outstripped and left me far in the distance.

For why? I unsteadily forsook the choice of a profession, and, within a few years, found myself leaning for life on the fragile crutch of literature for my support. And here again would I earnestly advise every enthusiastic thinker, every fair scholar, every ambitious author, every inspired poet, without independent fortune, to fortify themselves also with a something more worldly to do. A living in the Church is not uncongenial with the pursuits of the thinker and scholar, the practice of medicine is not inconsistent with the labours of the author, and the chinking of fees in the law is almost in tuning with the harmony of the poet’s verse. Let no man be bred to literature alone, for, as has been far less truly said of another occupation, it will not be bread to him. Fallacious hopes, bitter disappointments, uncertain rewards, vile impositions, and censure and slander from the oppressors are their lot, as sure as ever they put pen to paper for publication, or risk their peace of mind
on the black, black sea of printer’s ink. With a fortune to sustain, or a profession to stand by, it may still be bad enough; but without one or the other it is as foolish as alchemy, as desperate as suicide.

Having, however, brought prominent persons into my canvas, I must leave off descanting on incidental topics, and endeavour to entertain and interest readers with some traits and descriptions belonging to the earlier years of my pre-eminent London associates. The impressions of slight affairs are vivid still, and one matter is of sufficient importance to require a marked place in any autobiography of mine. Let me preface the next anecdotical chapter by observing that we lived much together, partook of the same amusements, joined in the same inquiries for our evening exhibitions, and indulged generally in the same moderate symposia after the conflict was over, and a keen encounter of our wits, satirical remark, humorous quizzing, and jocular caricature succeeded to the really grave and instructive exercises of the well-spent hours. It was upon one of these occasions that the event alluded to occurred, with the curious particulars of which I am about to make my readers acquainted. The discussion run upon the subject of secret cyphers, which hardly ever having heard of before, I asserted must be very easily invented, and maintained that I could myself frame a system which nobody on earth could decypher and read. This piece of provincial impertinence was punished by the not unusual test of a wager, in this instance with T. Wilde, a dinner to the little party, that I could accomplish no such feat. I fancied it so easy and was so sure of winning, by some nonsensical transposition of the alphabet, that I was thunderstruck when the “Cyclopædia” was handed from the library shelf, and I was invited to peruse the many schemes which
had been devised for this purpose, and the means by which the most complicated and mysterious of them had been unravelled, and made as patent as a round text hand. I felt the ninnyship of my ignorance and presumption, and when I retired to rest was on no very pleasant terms with myself, for I had looked very like what I had no chance of inventing—a Cypher.

The old axiom, however, proclaims it to be a wise thing to consult your pillow on weighty occasions, and whether it proceeded from my pillow or myself, between sleeping and waking, I cannot tell; but I arose in the morning with a secret cypher concocted in my brain, which I knew it to be impossible for any human being to make out. It was a simple thought; but there could be no mistake about it. Mr. Jackson called in to congratulate me, ironically, on my good luck in making so enviable a bet, and ask when and where we were to dine. To him I communicated my Secret, and at once found a proselyte and ally. He pointed out the vast importance of the matter, and spoke of the absurdity of wasting it upon a frivolous difference of opinion. It ought to be laid before the Government, and I cannot tell how immense a reward I was to reap for my wonderful discovery! No castle in the air was ever more stupendous and gorgeous than mine. Well, the first thing to do was to consult with my astute opponent, Wilde, and he also gave in his adherence instanter. Thus was the affair set in a proper light and put into a likely train; and I do not think a plum would have purchased my expectations from me.

Yet did they dissolve in thin air as visionary as the dream from which they were hatched, and
“Like the baseless fabric of a vision
Left not a wrack behind.”