LORD  BYRON  and  his  TIMES
Documents Biography Criticism

The Autobiography of William Jerdan
Ch. 8: Edinburgh

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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But now the trumpet, terrible from far,
In shriller clangors animates the war;
Confederate drums in fuller concert beat,
And echoing hills (Pentland) the loud alarm repeat.

Having presented the gallant Commander-in-Chief, en déshabille, it may not be amiss to enliven my page with a few other anecdotes of an individual who played so conspicuous a part in the later politics and history of the country. And I must begin with the notice of a dog of mine, because thereby hangs a tale. His lordship, I need hardly relate, married the Countess of Loudon, one of the wealthiest and noblest matches in Scotland. After his return to his residence in Queen-street, with his bride, it so happened that a perverse pointer, which Mr. Elliott had permitted me to keep in his stables behind the house, at the end of a very short piece of garden ground, either took it into his head to begin, or vehemently to continue, a bad custom, hitherto unchecked by any neighbour whom it might annoy,—viz., that of howling a serenade throughout the livelong night. This was worse than marrowbones and cleavers, or the nuptial clangors of street-bands, and I was not surprised at an application from his lordship to abate the nuisance; which was immediately done, and Ponto
removed to country-lodgings within a mile of sweet Edinboro’ town.

Soon after this, there was a grand field-day of the Volunteers, and an awful sham-battle fought, in which the company in the First or Gentleman’s Regiment, to which I belonged,—the left Grenadiers, under Captain Sir John Marjoribanks—behaved with great gallantry, and only retreated from the spirited defence of an old stone wall in obedience to signal, and not from apprehension of the assailing force of Highland Caddies, though it must be confessed that Donald, in the heat of running, and firing, and climbing, had almost wrought himself into that sort of Celtic paroxysm which could hardly distinguish between a mock fight and a real one. We, nevertheless, retreated, I assure you, leisurely (as ought to have been stated in the general orders after the battle), crossed a green field in tolerable order, and re-formed, in conjunction with other troops destined to the daring attack upon Craigmillar Castle. The castle was stoutly defended at the practicable breach made by the operations, during many years, of Major-General Time, and the foremost of the rash, forlorn hope, were beaten back by the blank cartridges from the guns of the besieged, which literally tumbled a few over, and blew the feathers out of the hats of others. Observing this disaster, Colonel Hope directed a coup-de-main. We popped round an angle of the walls, took the enemy en revers, and gloriously achieved the triumph of the day by marching through the captured castle and drawing up in line on the other side. The only casualty was a hare killed, whose seat was disturbed amid the hottest of the manoeuvres; and the greatest alarm created by several ramrods having been discharged in the excitement of the moment, at the concluding feu-de-joie, among the crowd of spectators, fortunately without effect.


Alas, where are the warriors who fought with me on that immortal occasion?—the bruit of which doubtless helped to dispel Buonaparte’s Boulogne dream, and save Britain from invasion. Where are my brave comrades of that northern prototype of the storming of Badajoz and San Sebastian? At least ninety-five in the hundred of them are in their lowly graves; no foreign levy can touch them now, after life’s fitful fever they sleep well, and soon will all the rest be, with their trophies, swept away, and leave no living chronicler of this memorable fight. There were, I believe, above five thousand Volunteers in the field, and though we can at all times bear the powder of a harmless joke upon the subject, it is no unimportant precedent to look back upon the effect of the Volunteer system, at a very dangerous crisis of England’s fate. The thing may have to be done again; and it ought never to be forgotten that arms entrusted to the disaffected, converted them into loyalty and patriotism—such was the result of confidence: and that when an alarm of invasion was actually spread in consequence of an accidental lighting of the beacons, from twenty to twenty-five thousand resolute and well-armed men (with hardly a single absentee), marched in the night for the defence of the Capital, from between the Tweed and Forth, and from the ancient kingdom of Fife. There was small temptation to land troops, however bold and disciplined, upon a coast so guarded, though by raw levies, accustomed only to parades, training, and mimic war.

Agreeably to the usual fashion, numerous dinner parties took place in the evening of Craigmillar’s Saint Crispin; and it was about eleven o’clock when I strolled homeward up Queen Street. Still inflamed by military ardour, with the addition of a little wine (and it might be whiskey toddy) I was particularly struck in the moonlight by the two wooden
sentry-boxes which ensconced the sentinels at
Lord Moira’s door. Like Cæsar it was, Veni, vidi, vici, and for the douceur of half-a-crown I prevailed on the good-natured fellows to turn out and do me general honours. In the very midst of this salute, who should appear to the clank of the muskets but the Commander-in-Chief, in propriâ personâ! It was a grave offence in his eyes; and very shortly after, my ceremonious regular soldiers were marched off prisoners to the guard-house, for having yielded on their posts to the silly importunities of a red-coated Volunteer. Next day I was thoroughly ashamed, and still more alarmed with the dread that punishment might be the consequence of this indiscretion. I got Mr. Elliott to write to Lord Moira; and ran to everybody I fancied could assist me, for advice and interest at head-quarters. Among others Tom Sheridan was not neglected, and under his counsel and dictation I was induced to send in my own petition, in which I recapitulated the dog-service, and so seasoned the application as instructed by my friend, that not even the sternness of the strict disciplinarian could withstand it, and he sent me the order for the liberation of the prisoners, with an admonition to be less ambitious till I was promoted above the rank of a private. Ever after he accosted me by the title of Marshal Jourdan; which name stuck to me awhile, to my no small annoyance.

At this period under the auspices of his lordship, as Grand Master, the union of the ancient and modern Freemasons was perfected, and one of the most magnificent sights ever witnessed, even in Edinburgh, with its lofty and irregular buildings, affording such scopes for scenes of the kind, was displayed. The grand procession moved from the Parliament Square down the High Street, and by the North Bridge, to the Theatre, which was converted into a spacious saloon for the splendid assemblage; and the
glittering of the Masonic jewels, on deputations from all the Lodges in Scotland and other brethren, together with the brilliant illuminations, and the gleaming of more brilliant eyes from every casement, made the whole a magic spectacle. By this means the Commander-in-Chief was my brother, and for the benefit of Masonry, I will add that the circumstance stood in good stead as a complement to the dog’s tale.

Still endeavouring to preserve a few scattered traits of the individuals and period now on hand, I may recur to song and anecdote, such as were wont to delight the ear or set the table in a roar. Sheridan wrote and sung entertaining lyrics far above average merit—I wonder if any traces of them exist; his son Frank, too early lost, as an inheritor of his family’s genius, assured me he knew of none being preserved:—and short rich stories used to embellish the conversation, most quaintly told by Lord Elcho and similar original characters—a separate race, by-the-by, numerous in those days, but almost obliterated now by the changes in society. Oddities are becoming every day more rare. The dramatic art has no peculiarities to work upon. People are all about as like each other as flocks of sheep; and seem to move, talk, act, and perform their parts just as if they were all shaped after the same pattern. One of Sheridan’s compositions on the disbanding of the army was an amusing specimen. I can still recollect two verses: after disposing of the higher ranks—
“Says the captain, ‘I’ll go home
Where my wife and children cry;’
Says the lieutenant, ‘I’ll to my lass,
For the devil a wife have I.’
Says the Serjeant, ‘I’ll to the highway,
Better do that than do worse;’
Says the corporal, ‘I’ll go too . . . .
So stand and deliver your purse!’”

The robbing his superior, the Monsieur Halbert, as a beginning, was a happy thought, and indicative of great fitness for the occupation. As a companion in prose I quote (from memory) the droll old Lord Elcho:—

“I once presided (said he) over a jolly company when it was more customary than it now is, and the more’s the pity, to call upon every guest in turn for a song or a tale, under the penalty, in case of refusal or non-compliance, of a strong tumbler of salt and water. I, at last, came to a contumacious chap, who protested that he could neither sing a song or tell a tale. This would not pass with me, and especially as I had had my eye upon this Billy for some time, and did not at all like his jeering leers and scoffing manners. So I said to him peremptorily, ‘Well, sir, if ye can do neither the one nor the other, you must oblige me by tossing off the tumbler I will now order to be brought to you.’ ‘Stop,’ he cried hastily, ‘let me try first?’ Silence ensued, and he proceeded—‘There was once a thief who chanced to find a church-door open, of which carelessness he took advantage and stepped in, not to worship, but to carry off whatever of portable he could find. He put the cushions under his arms, hid as much as he could, and impudently wrapt the pulpit cloth about him like a plaid. But lo and behold, whilst he was thus employed the sexton happened to pass by, and seeing the church-door open, got the key and locked it; so that when our sacrilegious friend thought he had nothing to do but to slip out as he slipt in, he discovered that he was a close prisoner and all egress stopped. What to do he knew not; but at last it struck him that he might succeed in letting himself down to the ground by the bell-rope. Accordingly, with it in hand, he swung gently off; and you may be certified set up a ringing that alarmed the neighbourhood. In short he was captured with his booty upon him as soon as he reached
mother earth; upon which, looking up to the bell, as I now look up to your lordship, he remonstrated, “Had it not been for your long tongue and empty head, I might have escaped!’”

“I have never ventured to insist upon a gentleman drinking salt and water since.”

At or about this time, the day before or day after, as “Moore’s Almanac” used to express it, for, in such matters, I do not like to be closely particular, the flirtations provoked by the military gave rise to many little scandals, and Raeburn’s clever caricatures embodied some of them in ludicrous and piquant style. They did not extend to scan, mag., but only to a sportiveness and freedom of manner which I merely notice as another proof of the difference then existing between London and Edinburgh—the latter more resembling a country village than a populous city; and also the difference which fifty years has made in both, and throughout the land. The dispute between two beauties of the best kith and kin, as to who had the handsomest limbs, the same to be shown beneath a curtain behind which their persons were hidden, and the decision entrusted to two or three gallant officers, was a real case in point. Such frolics would not be tolerated in 1852, but in 1802, though they incurred some censure they did not involve disgrace.

As a literary observer, I should be doing injustice to the civilising and refining influence of letters, if I did not offer my opinion that the alterations for the better in Edinburgh, commencing soon after the date to which my preceding descriptions apply, were attributable, in an eminent degree, to the springing up of an independent national system of literature there. From gross living and hereditary coarseness, the inhabitants were suddenly awakened to questions of general importance, and requiring the exercise of intellect
to understand and discuss them. The confined ideas of provincialism were enlarged, and they gradually became to the whole world akin. The “
Edinburgh Review” sharpened their wits, Scott’s works created new sources of enjoyment; Constable’s immense speculations, though ending in ruin to himself, were of extraordinary benefit to his country, from Berwick-on-Tweed to the Hebrides; and Blackwood fell in with new stimulants and fresh materials to augment the movement and complete the change. Thence “Stands Scotland where it did?” Assuredly not. As before, it had been distinguished for ages, in producing men among the greatest of the immortals in every branch of human daring,—statesmen, warriors, poets, scholars, philosophers; so now it burst forth nulli secundus, in all the wonderful progress of modern invention and improvement. Her children may well be proud of her!