LORD  BYRON  and  his  TIMES
Documents Biography Criticism

The Autobiography of William Jerdan
Ch. 6: The Cypher

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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Ex nihilo, nihil fit.
Whole rows of cyphers just for nothing stand,
An unit is worth millions of the band.

Wilde and I were now all agog for an audience of the Prime Minister, to put him in possession of the good fortune which had befallen his government, and ourselves in the way of wealth and promotion. My county member, Sir George Douglas, gave letters of introduction, and we had the honour of an interview with Mr. Sarjeant, the private secretary of Lord Sidmouth. To him we candidly explained the mode according to which we held the decyphering of secret despatches to be impossible, and were dismissed from a polite reception with an appointment for another day, when the question should be more fully treated. In about a week we attended and again saw the secretary, who, at first, did not seem to recollect anything about us or our momentous affair; but on having his obliviousness refreshed, did “remember the secret cypher of which he had a copy in his drawer,” waving his hand towards that receptacle of our treasure, or its counterfeit resemblance. Other correspondence and conferences took place, when, from severe illness, my time came to depart for Scotland,
and I left my partner in negotiation with the minister; the result of which I never heard! It may appear strange that, after my removal, I did not pay greater attention to this so lately absorbing speculation; but fever had so far erased it from my brain, and engaging in a novel course, and not hearing anything of it, my volatile genius concluded that it had failed, and for years a thought of it hardly ever crossed my mind, even as a passing shadow or reminiscence. It was, however, singularly restored by an accidental circumstance which happened in 1813, or 1814, when I was editor of the “
Sun” newspaper, and in constant and familiar communication with the Treasury and Secretary of State’s departments. One day I went into Mr. Under Secretary Rolleston’s room in the Foreign Office, Downing Street; and finding that he had gone out for a few minutes, casually seated myself by the table at which he had been writing. My eye was immediately caught by the hieroglyphics and figures with which I saw his paper overspread, and I went near to examine the scroll. Mr. Rolleston soon returned, and observing me thus employed, told me, with a laugh, that I was welcome to detect the secrets of that despatch, and make what use of them I liked. I confessed that although I certainly could not read it, because I had not the key, yet I was perfectly acquainted with the mode of its construction, and was indeed the inventor of the design. This surprised him much, and he acknowledged that the principle and method I described were truly the elements of his composition, and in use wherever secrecy was required in the Foreign Office. I have thus reason to believe that my cypher has been, and is still, the lock up of diplomatic correspondence, which none except the party addressed can understand, and is a sealed book to all the world beside.

But the striking curiosity of the business is, that the first
personal acquaintance of the future
Lord Chancellor of England with any official personage connected with the government should have arisen out of a sportive juvenile bet, and the suggestion of the writer of this biography. How far it was, if ever farther cultivated, I have no means of knowing, but it was an introduction to a superior class, and might have been turned to advantage by a young and able man entering upon the busy scene of professional life. I have noticed that he had much greater difficulties to contend against than his schoolfellow, F. Pollock; because, in the first place, his father did not move in so respectable a circle; in the second place he had not the advantage of a University education; in the third place he began with a lower branch of legal practice; and in the last place he was affected by an impediment in his speech. Wilde, senior, was an attorney in a limited sphere, with a still inferior partner, and resided in one of the small houses in Warwick Square, Newgate Market, and had a rural retreat in one still smaller at Holloway, at the foot of Highgate Hill. There was one window in the parlour and two on the first floor, which by courtesy we will call the drawing-room. Yet thither have the Lord Chancellor Truro, the Lord Chief Baron and I been well pleased to repair for recreation on a summer Sunday, and regale ourselves on the be-knighted joint of prime roast beef, which was a Sir long, long before any of those who ate of it could dream that similar and greater honours awaited their onward triumph in the grand competition of English society. From among the people to the judge’s ermine and the coronet of the peer is a glorious stride. Who could have imagined it possible at the humble little cottage at Holloway! But talent, persistence, and energy are engines to accomplish any and every thing in this land of equal freedom, in which the course is clear and
open to the high and low, and the goal is within the reach of all who are gifted with superior powers for the winning of the race.

Of Wilde’s energy there were many striking proofs even in his younger days; and the character bore him through every obstacle. His dogged resolution to overcome the impediment in his speech, and his success in doing so, afforded a remarkable instance of this quality. He would stand silent till he had composed the organs of sound for the distinct articulation of what he desired to say, and by the skilful and constant application of this inviolable resolution, he, by his own unaided and untaught efforts, conquered the annoying affection. I remember his taking me to some dark office in the Inner Temple Lane, to show me Bloomfield, the author of “The Farmer’s Boy,” who, through the interest of Capel Lofft, had been appointed to a situation for some distribution of law forms administered there. The excitement caused a fit of stammering to come on, and there he stood, dumb as a statue for several minutes, till he had forced his organisation, by the effort of will over physical defect, to perform the duty he demanded, and give utterance to well delivered and well rounded periods. Such a self cure is extremely rare, and in this case was nearly perfect; for the only remains that ever appeared in after years was a slight occasional and hardly observable hesitation when pleading at the bar.

It was in one of these pleadings, only a few years ago, when defending a client alleged to be rather imbecile because he scribbled doggrel rhymes, Serjeant Wilde replied that the writing of doggrel was no proof of weakness of intellect, for he could quote an old friend of his who enjoyed a just celebrity in the literary world, and yet had addressed a post letter to another friend with this superscription:—
“This is for David Pollock, ’squire;
In Elm Court, Temple, pray inquire
On the ground-floor, and look no higher
To catch him.
He’ll pay you twopence for this letter,
He never did so for a better;
But if he should remain your debtor,
Do watch him.”
This well-remembered trick of youthful fun (how curiously are such trifles impressed upon us from that age to old, whilst multitudes of important things in the between are utterly forgotten!) raised the laugh ever so ready in Parliament and the Courts of law, and, it is to be presumed, was so apposite that it must have carried the cause!

It is grateful to look back on the critical epoch to which the last two chapters have referred; and to feel that they can well bear the reflection of riper years. Most of the party mentioned were recently released from immediate control, and, as it may be said, freely bracing themselves to enter upon the grand arena of self-dependent and public struggle. In the midst of exuberant animal spirits and the natural appetite for juvenile enjoyment, there was no debasing vice, nor low habit, nor unworthy inclination, nor desire for excess among us. The readings and discussions, a certain unison of two and three in studies and pursuits, and general intercourse with only the well-informed and better orders of society, were all safety-valves amid the temptations and opportunities of London. How harmless were our most extravagant frolics, may be gathered from my remembrance of one of the most piquant and entertaining of them, which may also serve as a sketch of bygone customs, when Charlies were and Police were not; and show what potent, grave, and reverend seniors might witness and promote in the days of their youth, on the plea of observing the manners and customs of the people. On breaking up
from a sederunt in Elm Court at a much later hour than usual one night, it so happened that my companion and myself saw a poor creature grossly maltreated in the street by Temple Bar. We interfered in vain to prevent a continuance of the injury, and finding our arguments less persuasive than some we had employed in the previous evening’s debate, we called the watch to seize the offender. Having seen the outrage, we were requested to step into the watch-house, at the entrance-gate of the new church in the Strand as we passed, and state the case to the dignitary of the locale, the worshipful constable of the night, an officer elected from among the élite of the parish. On entering we discovered a laughable Dogberry and Verges scene, and listened for a while, till our turn came, to proceedings almost as amusing as
Shakspeare himself could have represented. The whim, I suppose, was infectious, for on being invited by the Rhadamanthus to state the particulars of the assault, my friend began to address him in a set speech. He insisted on the sanctity which ought to shield a woman’s person, on the duty of every man to protect her from harm, and on the brutality of the wretch who could dare to violate every principle of humanity by insulting female weakness, and abusing female trust. “You, Mr. Constable,” he exclaimed, “must be too well versed in the classics not to know what Homer has so nobly put into the mouth of his gallant hero—

Νεστορα δ’ έλαθεν ίαχή, πίνοντά περ έμπης,
’Αλλ’ Ασκληπιάδην έπεα πτερόεντα προσηύδα
Φράζεο, διε Μαχαον, ύπως έσται τάδε έργα
Μείζων δή παρά νηυσί βοή θαλερων αίζηων.
’Αλλά σύ μέν νυν πινε καθήμενος αιθοπα οινον,
Είσόκε θερμά λοετρά έυπλόκαμος ’Εκαμήδη
Θερμήνη, καί λούση άπό βρότον αίματόεντα.
Αύτάρ έγών έλθών τάχα εισομαι ές περιωπήν.
”Ως είπών, σάκος ειλε τετυγμένον υιος έηος,
Κείμενον εν κλισίη, Θρασυμήδεος ίπποδάμοιο,
Χαλκω παμϕαινον ό δ’ εχ’ άσπίδα πατρός έοιο,
Ειλετο δ’ άλκιμον έγχος άκαχμένον όξέϊ χαλκω
Στη δ’ έχτός κλισίης, τάχα δ’ ειοιδεν έργον άεικές,
Τούς μέν όρινομένς, τούς δέ κλονέοντας όπισθε
Τρωας ύπερθύμους έρέριπτο δέ τειχος ’Αχαιων.
”Ως δ’ ότε πορϕύρη πέλαγος μέγα κύματι κωϕω,
’Οσσόμενον λιγέων άνέμων λαιψηρά κέλευθα
Αύτως, ούδ’ άρα τε προκυλίνδεται ούδετέρτέρωσε,
Πρίν τινα κεκριμένον καταβήμεναι έκΔιός οδρον.
’Ως ό γέρων ώρμαινε, δαϊζόμενος κατά τυμόν
Διχθάδι’ ή μέθ’ όμιλον ίοι Δαναων ταχυπώλων,
’Ηέ μετ’ ’Ατρείδην ’Αγαμέμνονα, ποιμένα λαων.
’Ωδε δέ οί ϕρονέοντι δοάσσατο κέρδιον είναι,
Βηναι έπ’ ’Ατρείδην οί δ’ άλλύλους ένάριζον,
Μαρνάμενοι λάκε δέ σϕι περί χροί χαλκός άτειρής
Νυσσμένων ξίϕεσίν τε καί έγχεσιν άμϕιγύοισι.

The bewildered constable looked, in his amazement and distress, towards the place where I was seated at the table, and, having pulled the night book of charges to me, was proceeding to fill it with entries of all sorts of transgressions, and their results in acquittals or punishments. The detection of this unparalleled transaction created great dismay, and made confusion worse confounded. The constable declared that he did not understand Homer at all, and called me from my mischievous employment to tell him plainly what had taken place. I, of course, followed in the track of my leader, and addressed the court in a grandiloquent style, lamenting the degeneracy of the age when such things could happen, and dwelling on the disgrace to the city of London or Westminster (dependent on which side of Temple Bar the man offence was committed), should the culprit escape retribution. I regretted that the constable was not sufficiently conversant with the Iliad to comprehend the masterly and touching appeal quoted from the illustrious Grecian bard; but as he must be familiar with what Virgil
had expressed under similar circumstances (it would have been hard to find out where the similarity lay), I would merely repeat the Roman sentiments on the occasion:

Conticuêre omnes, intentique ora tenebant.
Indè toro pater Æneas sic orsus ab alto:
Infandum, regina, jubes renovare dolorem;
Trojanas ut opes, et lamentabile regnum
Eruerint Danai; quæque ipse miserrima vidi,
Et quorum pars magna fui. Quis talia fando
Myrmidonum, Dolopumve, aut duri miles Ulyssis
Temperet à lachrymis? et jam nox humida cœlo
Præcipitat, suadentque cadentia sidera somnos.
Sed si tantus amor casus cognoscere nostras,
Et breviter Trojæ supremum audire laborem:
(Quanquam animus meminisse horret, luctuque refugit)
Incipiam. Fracti bello, fatisque repulsi
Ductores Danaum, tot jam labentibus annis,
Instar montis equum, divinâ Palladis arte
Ædificant, sectaque intexunt abjete costas.
Votum pro reditu simulant: ea fama vagatur.
Huc delecta virûm sortiti corpora furtim
Includunt cæco lateri; penitùsque cavernas
Ingcntes, uterumque armato milite complent.
Est in conspectu Tenedos, * * *

The patience of Job could have stood no more, and it was a relief to all concerned or present, when the good-humoured constable, evidently too dull or too bemused with beer for a joke, in a deprecatory tone interrupted me to beg that I would say no more. It was quite unnecessary, he was perfectly satisfied, and as we had witnessed the offence, he wished to be informed what we thought should be the nature and extent of the punishment. We forthwith intimated an opinion that the culprit, who had been sobered and frightened by the orations, ought to beg the lady’s pardon and disburse five shillings for the watchmen to drink; a sentence, I rejoice to add, so evidently tempering politeness and justice with generosity and mercy that it gave universal satisfaction, and we departed amid the plaudits and bows of the audience. So innocuous and extempore a freak can
derogate from no character, however grave and high, and I may as well make an end on’t. The exit from the watchhouse recompensed us for the time so idly spent, by displaying the sun emergent from the horizon, and lighting the heavens with all the rich tints and lustre of a glorious summer morn. To think of bed was out of the question; but at the bottom of one of the streets from the Strand to the river, we caught sight of a west country barge, slowly floating up with the tide towards Richmond. The vision was decisive; we were speedily on board and enjoyed a voyage as delicious as fancy could picture. Nothing disturbed the stillness of the hour and placid stream; the banks were lovely in the glow of light; the song birds were carolling sweetly from bush and bough; all nature was fresh and fair, and the soul attuned itself to the harmonies on every side. The turmoils, and the follies, and the griefs, and the stains, and the saddened reflections of the watchhouse, if not forgotten, were only thought of to be contrasted with the calm and repose, the inexpressible beauty and incitement to virtuous feeling and action, which breathed throughout the bountiful dispensations of Providence. We could but marvel at the contemptible experience of the midnight town, and acknowledge the divinity that stirred up all the finer elements of the inanimate and animate world, the transition to which only occupied the magic of a minute.

Ablution and a Richmond breakfast concluded the adventure, of which I hope no ill-natured critic will say, that as it had slept for half a century, and not being a Sleeping Beauty, it would have been as advisable to leave it to its slumbers.