LORD  BYRON  and  his  TIMES
Documents Biography Criticism

The Autobiography of William Jerdan
Ch. 5: Misfortune

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
Creative Commons License

Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 Unported License.
Produced by CATH

Honour and shame from no condition rise;
Act well your part,—there all the honour lies.
Fortune in men has some small difference made—
One flaunts in rags, one flutters in brocade.
Worth makes the man, and want of it the fellow;
The rest is all but leather and prunella.

For several years previous to this period of my life, I lived on very intimate terms with a much respected gentleman, Mr. Peter Begbie; who had been in the Indian mercantile service, and now held a peculiar official situation in Somerset House. A numerous family surrounded his hospitable domestic hearth—the daughters accomplished with fine natural attainments, and his sons acquiring that instruction which was to forward them in their several walks of life, chiefly the church and the military and civil service of India. All the three elder girls wrote sweet poetry, for the “Sun,” and many of their compositions afterwards adorned the “Literary Gazette,” as I shall have occasion to notice in due time. Harlow, whom I introduced to them painted portraits of them, and fancy pieces in which they figured; and for his Hubert and Prince Arthur, in King John, exhibited in 1815, my friend Begbie and his second son sat for the characters. It was a social and
most agreeable rendezvous, at least twice a-week, and many a happy day I spent in their company. But,—there is always a but—a serious misfortune sprung out of this enjoyment, and afforded exactly such an incident as is likely to affect the welfare of a literary man, as I have described in the foregoing pages. Among the acceptable and intelligent gentlemen with whom I became acquainted at Mr. Begbie’s, was Mr. Whitehead, the principal of the banking firm of Whitehead, Howard, and Haddock, with whom, for reasons promising advantages to myself, I lodged the moderate sum of money I then possessed. On the 17th of November, this old established and highly respectable house, connected with many country banks, was compelled to stop payment; and notwithstanding the first favourable report of assets, and the known worth and integrity of the partners, the hope entertained of a favourable winding up was never fulfilled.

It may readily be believed that such an event materially deranged my resources and disconcerted my prospects: it was indeed a severe and unexpected blow, not only for the actual loss, but for its hurtful interference with ulterior objects and engagements. From what happened within the next two years, I never could recover the same ease of circumstances again. My final retirement from the “Sun” and the time required for the establishment, to be profitable, of the “Literary Gazette,” bound the chain faster and thicker round me, and to the end the more I made, as the common saying is, the more I was pillaged and victimised by those who had got a hold upon my progress and earnings.

It may be a silly tale, but it is a true one. The evil might possibly have been lessened by the possession and the exercise of a less sanguine disposition than belonged
to me, and of more severe prudence. But I fought hard too, and worked hard, in vain—the alp rose behind the alp in the ascent, and the pitfall succeeded the pitfall in the decline! The incubus never was entirely thrown off: if it had, I should have been a prosperous gentleman, but inexorable fate, like that of Greek tragedy, had ordained it otherwise, and fate was faithfully and zealously served by harpies, whose foul deeds it must be my task to expose. As a warning fact I would add, that a man struggling tinder difficulties is almost sure to come into contact with rascally people, who will betray and plunder him.

Like the magpie in the fable, he is thrown into bad company, and if they leave him a feather in his wing, or do not wring his neck, it is no voluntary omission of theirs. Vultures scent their prey from a wonderful distance:—the proverb is somewhat musty.

A friendly and sympathising letter from Mr. Freeling, relative to the loss to which I have alluded, may be added as an indication of his generous nature:—

“Lisson-grove, Saturday night.
Dear Jerdan,

“I regret most truly that you are a sufferer by the unfortunate failure of the Whiteheads. I am sorry you should think any apology necessary to me for any thing. I experience nothing but kindness and attention at your hands.

“Believe me ever yours truly,

“Perhaps you will come and dine here one day towards the end of the week.”

The disaster I have just explained (upon which my friend D. Pollock shrewdly observed, at an after period, “Jerdan
has been always kept back by the want of those few hundred pounds,”) was more than pecuniarily distressing; for I entertained a sincere regard for the greatest sufferer in the calamity, and was only reassured from very painful apprehensions when I learnt that
Mr. Begbie, like a good Samaritan as he was, had humanely taken charge of him in his distraction, and accompanied him to Calais. In my first volume I exhibited some traits of the penalties paid by crime; and I am sure, at this distance of time (thirty-eight years), it can hurt no private feeling to indicate the severe consequences which result from, and punish, even unguarded worth and too indiscriminating generosity. In our trading community and commercial country, a good man must not “wear his heart upon his sleeve for daws to peck at;” for trusty is the adage, “the simple man’s the beggar’s brother,” and heaven pity him when he has fallen into that state. Portion of a letter, dated Calais, 18 November, 1814, will afford a melancholy illustration of this topic:—

“I had written thus far when I received your few lines of Wednesday last, and I feel myself very grateful for your attention. Poor Whitehead! how I feel for him; for, though prepared for the event, yet he was not without hopes that the house might have weathered the storm. His unbounded liberality to, and confidence in, his brother, added to the sudden withdrawing the Bath bank’s account, have caused the calamity, I fear he has not nerves to return. I wish to God, my friend, you and Mrs. B. could induce Mrs. W, to join us as soon as she can. Till she does, I cannot leave him. I do firmly believe I have saved his life: he is really wild at times, and I have no trifling task, I assure you, to amuse him.


“May I entreat you, my friend, should you receive this in time, to take Gloster Place in your way from the Strand, and pass an hour or two with her. I have written to her by this post, but I know that sometimes foreign letters are rather tardy in their delivery westward. As far as I can be comfortable, away from my family, I am so, but it is painful the state of suspense; did I know to a certainty when Mrs. W. would arrive, I should be easy.* Mr. W. begs to be very kindly remembered to you.

“Most truly yours,

“You talked of taking another trip to this country. I wish you could contrive to join us here.”

Notwithstanding what had occurred, the ensuing year, 1815, though the beginning of a great vexation and overthrow, was gone through without any particular incident to require notice, or any event to lament, till, at its close, I lost the estimable friend whose letter I have just quoted. The year opened triumphantly for a “Sun” editor. The glorious position which the British empire had attained, filled the breast of all who held its politics with exultation;

* This poor lady was ill calculated to meet the blast of adversity. In her prosperous days she was something of the temperament of many wealthy City dames whom I have met and (as usual) observed. Attentions of every kind were somewhat imperiously demanded, and sometimes ludicrously (often unwillingly) rendered. Of the former I remember a laughable instance. On the first day, in a fine Brighton lodging-house, the maid-servant, at dinner, brought up cold spoons wherewith to help the warm gravy; and got admonished for her ignorance of the science of waiting at table, and told never to bring up spoons again without making them as hot as possible. We soon after had coffee, and in an instant Mrs. W. threw down her cup, saucer, spoon, and all: the maid had made the latter nearly red hot, and burning her mistress’s fingers was the result of advice not afforded with sufficient coolness or particularity.

and it seemed impossible to make an addition to her power and fame. Waterloo was still in the womb of time, and little expected to be so near. We had rescued Spain; were in cordial alliance with the Continental Governments; had reduced the colossal and aggressive power of France; had established a general peace; and witnessed the financial and commercial interests of the land seeking new channels without a fear of the result, but rather a strong assurance of increased prosperity. The “Sun” had no spear to turn into a ploughshare, nor sword to convert into a pruning-hook; but it took its peaceful course with a far more frequent and enlarged attention to the literary productions and fine arts of the day. Hardly a Number appeared without reviews of new publications, and criticisms upon works of art; and be it remembered that these were very novel features to be displayed in a political journal; when there were no such literary periodicals as now abound. But the season did not last long for the development of this system. On the 10th of March a thunder-clap burst upon and astonished Europe:
Buonaparte had escaped from Elba, and landed in France!
Some reared aloft, come tumbling down amain,
And fall so hard, they bound and rise again;
And so did he,—the boldest, most adventurous, and extraordinary of mortals,—the
Marc Antony of our era,—raised aloft once more the meteor of the world, to be finally trod out by the greater Cæsar, Wellington. The newspapers were all alive again; and a period ensued of conflicting accounts, intense anxieties, and wonderful events, such as never had been crowded into so brief a space in the history of mankind. I know not if Napoleon’s daring and impatience got the better of his policy and prudence; but it does seem feasible
to suppose, that if he had waited but a short while, till the Congress of Vienna had broken up, and the allied armies were more widely separated or reduced, his chance of success might have been greater. He played his desperate game, however, with masterly skill and force, Macbeth-like, still trusting to his supernatural Grey Man, and undismayed by the appalling muster which advanced against him from every side. If not every inch an Emperor, he was every inch a Soldier; and many there were who dreaded the prestige of his military genius. The very humourists of Paris put some trust in his destiny, for one clever caricature, founded on the Parisian mode of elision, when asking for any newspaper,—with brevity calling the “Journal de Debats,” “le Debats;” the “Journal de l’Empire,” “L’Empire,” &c,—represented
Louis XVIII., Buonaparte, and the King of Rome sitting in a cafe, the Corsican reading the last-mentioned paper. The King says, very politely, “Sir, when you have done with the Empire, I will thank you to let me have it;” and Napoleon, pointing to the boy, replies, “Sir, I am sorry it is not in my power to oblige you, for it is bespoke for this young gentleman!”
Madmen ought not to be mad;
But who can help their phrenzy?
With Napoleon, there was method in it; but the odds were too much against him, in his last bold and desperate throw for the world’s dominion!