LORD  BYRON  and  his  TIMES
Documents Biography Criticism

The Autobiography of William Jerdan
Ch. 12: L.E.L.

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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We love the bird we taught to sing.—L. E. L.
I cannot but remember such things were,
And were most dear to me.

The foregoing lines may suggest that I have arrived at the most difficult point in these memoirs. Of the gifted being whose career, intimately blended for nearly twenty years with my own in every intellectual and literary pursuit, it is my inevitable task to describe, I cannot write in a language addressed to common minds or submitted to mere worldly rules. I must appeal to the feeling and the imaginative; for such was L. E. L. She cannot be understood by an ordinary estimate nor measured by an ordinary standard; and those who have not poetry in their souls and warm and deep sympathies in their natures, will find little to interest them in this portion of my work.

Yet is the mystery of the tragedy powerfully affecting; and when I am calling on readers to look back above thirty years upon its earliest scenes, I implore them not to view my statements as those of age and reflection, but, as they belong to a distant period; to take all the conditions of that period into their consideration; and put themselves in the mood to feel that what is new to them, is to me a retrospect the
L. E. L.169
most painful that can be conceived, and exciting emotions of unutterable grief.

I found in L. E. L. a creature of another sphere, though with every fascination which could render her most loveable in our every-day world. The exquisite simplicity of childhood, the fine form of womanhood, the sweetest of dispositions, the utmost charm of unaffected manners, and, above all, an impassioned ideal and poetical temperament which absorbed her existence and held all else comparatively as nothing. The development of this Psyche-phenomenon was her life, and all that pertained to it. Her whole history realised the allegory, if it be an allegory, of Apuleius, as closely as if it had been invented to shape her course, with the exception of its fatal termination on earth—death instead of slumber; but let us hope only a different mode of raising her to that heaven where her prototype entered into the glories of immortality and the unalloyed raptures which are sought in vain in mortal communion.
“We love the bird we taught to sing;”
so sung she to me; and it but weakly expressed the idolisation which the constant watch over the expansion of that extraordinary and yet most natural Intelligence inspired. From day to day and hour to hour, it was mine to facilitate her studies, to shape her objects, to regulate her taste, to direct her genius, and cultivate the divine organisation of her being. For the divine part was in Her! She was the Myth of the Grecian tale; and unless it can be comprehended that there are two almost distinct yet inseparably united faculties to be traced in human nature—the one celestial and the other terrestrial—I must confess it to be impossible for me by any description to convey an accurate
idea of the dual individuality of
L. E. L. In exoteric society she was like others; but in her inmost abstract and visioned moods (and these prevailed) she was the Poet, seen and glorified in her immortal writings.

And immortal they will be, despite of the critical censures which may justly be bestowed upon immature blots and careless errors: so long as love and passion animate the breast of youth, so long as tenderness and pathos affect the mind of man, so long as glowing imagery and natural truth have power over the intellect and heart, so long will the poetry of L. E. L. exert a voice to delight, touch, refine, and exalt the universal soul.

I have endeavoured to explain this subject, not metaphysically, but absolutely and truly, in order that what follows may not be mistaken for self-assumption.

It is the very essence of the being I have so faintly portrayed, not to see things in their actual state, but to imagine, create, exaggerate, and form them into idealities; and then to view them in the light in which vivid fancy alone has made them appear. Thus it befel with my tuition of L. E. L. Her poetic emotions and aspirations were intense, usurping in fact almost every other function of the brain; and the assistance I could give her in the ardent pursuit produced an influence not readily to be conceived under other circumstances or upon a less imaginative nature. The result was a grateful and devoted attachment; all phases of which demonstrate and illume the origin of her productions. Critics and biographers may guess, and speculate, and expatiate for ever; but without this masterkey they will make nothing of their reveries. With it, all is intelligible and obvious, and I have only to call on the admirers of her delicious compositions to remember this one fact to settle the question of their reality or romance—that
L. E. L.171
they are the effusions of passionate inspiration, lighted from such unlike sources, and not uncommon events, and that they must be attributed to the spirit which clothed them according to its own unreal dreams, and not to the apparent cause.

Whilst I state an interesting fact absolutely necessary for the true understanding of a destiny and vein of poetry, which at once attracted extraordinary attention, and will for ever stir responsive chords in human hearts, I would fain disarm criticism of its possible power to misinterpret what I have stated into personal application. Shakespeare, even in his Faery Land, drew exquisitely from the deepest fountains of Nature, and exhibited her illusions in the reflected enchantments of Oberon; but that She is far more potent than he. In the “Midsummer Night’s Dream”—and what is a whole life but such a vision?—Helena says—
“Things base and vile, holding no quantitie,
Love can transpose to forme and dignitie;”
and the infatuation of Titania with a mere vulgar mortal, and with the head of an ass to boot, is thus readily accounted for.

The medium through which the Poet looks is not the atmosphere of reason, or of our accustomed day and night. Reason is overpowered by imagination; the visible objects of the clear day are electrically lighted with halos of splendour; and the obscure objects of night are distorted into shapes of amazement and terror. The super-Natural reigns, and exercises a dominion which could account for a hundred times greater marvels than I have candidly attempted to explain; and I have only once more to beg for a candid construction. With this philosophy of cause and effect, it is no vain folly in me to show how I became invested with such credulous perfections. Cherishing the
ruling passion, there was an incessant community of thought; every line and every motion of a soul imbued with a quenchless thirst for literary distinction and poetic glory was submitted for my advice; mine was the counsel that pointed the course and the hand that steered the bark, and the breath that filled the sail: was it then to be wondered at that the conscious progress towards the fruit of this engrossing ambition should resolve and extend itself into an enthusiastic feeling, even on such feeble foundations of affection for the guide and the hyperbolical estimate, which magnified and illuminated every trivial and common feature till very slight, if any, resemblance to the original remained? The world was only opening and unknown to her, and she might—even holding her child-like gratitude in view—both feel and say, “For almost every pleasure I can remember I am indebted to one friend. I love poetry; who taught me to love it but he? I love praise; to whom do I owe so much of it as to him? I love paintings; I have rarely seen them but with him. I love the theatre, and there I have seldom gone but with him. I love the acquisition of ideas; he has conducted me to their attainment. Thus his image has become associated with my enjoyments and the public admiration already accorded to my efforts, and he must be all I picture of kindness, talents, and excellence.”

Gratitude is prone to such illusions, and especially where combined with the fire and fervour of genius; and if
We love the bird we taught to sing,
how much more intensely must we cherish the love of the bird that sings in such a strain?

I asked the reader to shut out the present from contemplation, and throw back his glance to the date of which I am writing—to recognise, if congenial, the character
L. E. L.173
whose outline I have traced, and the circumstances which developed it: through the intervening gloom, the retrospect, even to the sympathising stranger, must be uninviting; to me it is as the Valley of the Shadow of Death, and attempted to be recalled through floods of unavailing tears flowing from aged eyes, it is impossible to declare whether the impenetrable darkness is more dismal or the revealing light more distressing.

The Fate of Genius, the title of one of her own works, was the unhappy fate of L. E. L.

To me the return of services was great. Within a little time after the appearance of her poetical productions in the “Literary Gazette,” she began to exercise her talents upon publications in general literature, principally in the provinces of poetry, fiction, and romance; and very soon evinced such power of discrimination and judgment as to aid me much in increasing the growing popularity of that journal, and lighten those labours which, even with all the assistance they received, were incessant and oppressive. By and by, the casual help became permanent, and, for a number of years, I might account L. E. L. rather an effective colleague than an occasional contributor; for she delighted in the work to the extent of craving for the employment, reading everything voraciously, forming opinions, and adding to her stores of knowledge, writing skilfully, and often beautifully upon her favourite subjects, and, in short, doing little less for the “Gazette” than I did myself.

And looking at the existing condition of periodicals of this class, amid the clashing of rivalry and the multiplicity of claimants upon the public attention, it is not easy to apprehend the station and influence of the “Literary Gazette” in its palmy days. It was the court of appeal for all the literature of the period; its voice was potential, and its
character held high throughout the sphere it essayed to occupy, in letters, and sciences, and fine arts. I am bold to say, decry it who will, that it deserved the confidence reposed in its integrity, and some share of the praise bestowed upon its ability. It could not be otherwise, for its columns were enriched from week to week with contributions from the most distinguished individuals of the age; and it was only my good fortune, as its editor, to have much of the credit it so fairly won, reflected upon me. This, without presumption, solves the problem of the prominent position assigned to my humble deserts, and witnessed by the acknowledgments and thanks, now spread in many hundred letters around me, signed by the highest names of the present century, in the three noble, intellectual pursuits I have enumerated; flattering and gratifying were they at the time, and still they impart a balm to the wounds since inflicted by hands which ought to have brought healing and solace instead of wrong and injury. But the fair and the foul of the world must be met as the world is constituted; the fair with thankfulness and pleasure, the foul with endurance and regret. Much could I moralise on this tempting theme, but this is neither time nor place, and I hasten to resume my narrative.

My cottage overlooked the mansion and grounds of Mr. Landon, the father of L. E. L., at Old Brompton; a narrow lane only dividing our residences. My first recollection of the future poetess is that of a plump girl, grown enough to be almost mistaken for a woman, bowling a hoop round the walks, with the hoop-stick in one hand and a book in the other, reading as she ran, and as well as she could manage both exercise and instruction at the same time. The exercise was prescribed and insisted upon: the book was her own irrepressible choice.

L. E. L. 175

A slight acquaintance grew out of neighbourhood; and I was surprised one day by an intimation from her mother that Letitia was addicted to poetical composition, and asking me to peruse a few of her efforts and say what I thought of them. I read, and was exceedingly struck by these juvenile productions—crude and inaccurate, as might be anticipated, in style, but containing ideas so original and extraordinary, that I found it impossible to believe they emanated from the apparent romp, and singular contradiction of the hoop and volume. An elder cousin, who took a part in her education, seemed to me to be the real, and Letitia only the ostensible writer; and the application made under this disguise to conceal the diffidence of a first attempt at authorship. But the bill was a true bill, and my doubts were speedily dispelled.

I hope, however, it will interest my readers to note the first steps of a career so brilliant in the fictitious, so shadowed in the real world. The first two notes from the cousin, to whom I have alluded, open the scene and indicate my opinion:—

“Old Brompton, Feb. 13th.

Miss Landon, though not having the pleasure of personally knowing Mr. Jerdan, from the very great politeness the family have at all times received, ventures to intrude the enclosed lines. They are written by a young friend, for whom Miss L. feels most anxious solicitude. If Mr. Jerdan will, therefore, give his candid opinion whether he considers any taste or genius is expressed, or, on the contrary, if he should only call it a waste of time from which no benefit can arise. Miss L. feels the liberty she is taking; trusts Mr. Jerdan will believe it is an obligation never to be forgotten.”

“Old Brompton, Feb. 14th.

Miss Landon feels particularly indebted to Mr. Jerdan for the trouble he has kindly taken, and more so for the very friendly and candid opinion he has given on the subject. It will prove a source of much gratification to the youthful writer that a man of Mr. Jerdan’s acknowledged talent should allow them the smallest merit; at the same time it will prove a strong inducement for further improvement, endeavouring to avoid those errors in each branch his kindness has pointed out. Miss L. cannot conclude without again apologising for the very great liberty taken, and to assure Mr. J. it will ever be remembered with gratitude.”

The manuscripts were corrected, and some other short compositions submitted to me, from all of which I was the more and more forcibly struck with the innate genius they displayed, and the unmistakeable proofs that the writer possessed the great essential elements of taste, feeling, warmth, and imagination, without which the attempt to write poetry is but a sham. On the 11th of March, No. 164 of the “Literary Gazette,” her first composition, entitled “Rome,” was printed and published, under the signature of L. I copy it:—

Oh, how art thou changed, thou proud daughter of fame,
Since that hour of ripe glory when empire was thine,
When Earth’s purple rulers, kings, quail’d at thy name,
And thy Capitol worshipped as Liberty’s shrine.
In the day of thy pride, when thy crest was untamed,
And the red star of conquest was bright on thy path,
When the meteor of death thy stern falchion’s edge flamed,
And earth trembled as burst the dark storm of thy wrath.
L. E. L. 177
But Rome, thou art fallen, the memory of yore,
Only serves to reproach thee with what thou art now:
The joy of thy triumph for ever is o’er,
And sorrow and shame set their seal on thy brow.
Like the wind-shaken reed, thy degenerate race,
The children of those once the brave and the free—
Ah, who can the page of thy history trace,
Nor blush, thou lost city, blush deeply for thee!
Could the graves raise their dead, and thy warriors arise,
And see thy blades rusted, thy war-banners furled,
Would they know the proud eagle that soared through the skies,
Whose glance lighted over a terror-struck world?
Yet, e’en in disgrace, in thy sadness and gloom,
An halo of splendour is over thee cast:
It is but the death-light that reddens the tomb,
And calls to remembrance the glories long past.

It is unnecessary to point out the crudities in this exercise, such as the utter mistake in the fourth line; but I fancied there was a redeeming quality in some of the epithets and expressions, and the sentiment of the whole an evidence of thought which broods upon its subject. But the next little effusion, in the following “Gazette,” set my mind at rest; for it spoke in the same tone of touching simplicity which has adorned later productions of a similar nature:—

Last smile of the departing year,
Thy sister sweets are flown;
Thy pensive wreath is still more dear,
From blooming thus alone.
Thy tender blush, thy simple frame,
Unnoticed might have pass’d;
But now thou com’st with softer claim,
The loveliest and the last.
Sweet are the charms in thee we find,
Emblem of Hope’s gay wing;
“Tis thine to call past bloom to mind—
To promise future spring.—L.

A temporary absence afforded the muse a season to reflect on friendly criticism and dogmatic rules, till August furnished a passing jeu d’ esprit at its commencement, and the following germ of the future L. E. L. at its close:—

Is not this grove
A scene of pensive loveliness—the gleam
Of Dian’s gentle ray falls on the trees,
And piercing through the gloom, seems like the smile
That pity gives to cheer the brow of grief:
The turf has caught a silvery hue of light
Broken by shadows, where the branching oak
Rears its dark shade, or where the aspen waves
Its trembling leaves. The breeze is murmuring by,
Fraught with sweet sighs of flowers and the song
Of sorrow, that the nightingale pours fourth,
Like the soft dirge of Love.
There is oft told
A melancholy record of this grove—
It was time once the haunt of young affection,
And now seems hallowed by the tender vows
That erst were breathed here.
Sad is the tale
That tells of blighted feelings, hopes destroyed;
But love is like the rose, so many ills
Assail it in the bud—the cankering blast,
The frost of winter, and the summer’s storm,
All bow it down; rarely the blossom comes
To full maturity; but there is nought
Sinks with so chill a breath as Faithlessness,—
As she could tell, whose loveliness yet lives
In village legend. Often, at this hour
Of lonely beauty, would she list the tale
Of tenderness, and hearken to the vows
Of one more dear than life unto her soul!
He twined him round a heart which beat with all
The deep devotedness of early love—
Then left her, careless of the passion which
He had awakened into wretchedness:
L. E. L. 179
The blight which withered all the blossoms love
Had fondly cherished, withered to the heart
Which gave them birth. Her sorrow had no voice,
Save in her faded beauty; for she looked
A melancholy, broken-hearted girl.
She was so changed, the soft carnation cloud
Once mantling o’er her check like that which eve
Hangs o’er the sky, glowing with roseate hue,
Had faded into paleness, broken by
Bright burning blushes, torches of the tomb,
There was such sadness, even in her smiles,
And such a look of utter hopelessness
Dwelt in her soft blue eye—a form so frail,
So delicate, scarce like a thing of earth—
’Twas sad to gaze upon a brow so fair,
And see it traced with such a tale of woe—
To think that one so young and beautiful
Was wasting to the grave.
Within yon bower,
Of honeysuckle and the snowy wealth
The mountain ash puts forth to welcome spring,
Her form was found reclined upon a bank,
Where Nature’s sweet unnurtured children bloom.
One white arm lay beneath her drooping head,
While her blight tresses twined their sunny wreath
Around the polished ivory; there was not
A tinge of colour mantling o’er her face,
’Twas like to marble, where the sculptor’s skill
Has traced each charm of beauty but the blush.
Serenity so sweet sat on her brow;
So soft a smile yet hovered on her lips,
At first they thought ’twas sleep—and sleep it was—
The cold long rest of death.—L.

Only one other piece, called “Vaucluse,” appeared this year, in October, and to it was tagged the annexed prettiness:—

The bee, when varying flowers are nigh,
On many a sweet will careless dwell;
Just sips their dew, and then will fly
Again to its own fragrant cell:
Thus, though my heart, by fancy led,
A wanderer awhile may be,
Yet soon returning whence it fled,
It comes more fondly back to thee.—L.

The “Fate of Adelaide” was published in August, 1821, dedicated to Mrs. Siddons, who was a friend of Mrs. Bishop, the grandmother of the author, and had undertaken to interest herself more for the volume than she had time or opportunity to perform. In this line of parentage there was a mystery I never understood, i. e., who were the progenitors of Mrs. Bishop, herself an old lady of lady-like manners, pleasing conversation, affectionately fond of her grand-daughter, and possessed of a sufficient life-income to enable her to live genteely, and often have her pet-child to stay with her. I have a confused idea that she was the natural daughter of an aristocratic family. A contribution from her purse assisted the publication, and was the more needed, as a dissolution of the army agency partnership of Adair & Co., of which Mr. Landon was a member, and his expensive experiments in amateur model-farming, at the handsome country residence where the childhood of L. E. L., as artlessly and sweetly described by herself, was passed—not only rendered the cost an object, but even excited hopes of profitable results. That these hopes were doomed to be disappointed, I need not add; but the popularity of the poem was so decided, that it placed the gifted author in a position to negotiate for and receive considerable sums for all her subsequent works; of which I shall state the items when I come to that part of my memoir. As the composition proceeded, the anxieties about it increased; and two or three very short documents may be inserted to show the outer world some of the tribulations which young aspirants to literary fame must undergo, even when they have a popular editor, intimate with publishers, to help and cheer them on:—

L. E. L. 181
Dear Sir,

“Having now rendered my first canto as perfect as is in my power, I now venture to intrude it on your notice. I am too well aware of my many defects, and the high advantages of your opinion, not to anxiously avail myself of your permission to submit it to your inspection. Of the poem itself I have nothing more to say than that your judgment will be most unmurmuringly and implicitly relied on. It is quite at your option to throw it behind the fire, or allow it a little longer existence.

“But however delightful your praise may be, is it presumption to say, do not let me receive from your kindness what I would owe to your real sentiments?

“Before I conclude, I must be permitted to express my pleasure on seeing I had been honoured with a place in the “Gazette.” Pray accept my best thanks for the improvements you made.

“Believe me, dear Sir,
“Ever yours most gratefully,

My timid and docile pupil, if I may so say of this period, did not lack my sincere stimulus of genuine admiration to finish her task; and at length all was ready for the important launch. Still there were preliminaries and considerations.

“Wednesday, Nov. 4th.
My dear Sir,

“Again I am intruding upon your time, having received the enclosed from Letitia. Your former kindness induces my taking the liberty of asking you to look them over. Need I say how very anxious she is for your
opinion? I trust you will not think her arrogant, as I believe you are aware of her reasons for wishing to publish. I shall send to her next week. Perhaps you will do her the favour of then giving her your opinion. Need I say how very anxious she is to learn her fiat.

“In very great haste,
“Most truly yours,

The minor pieces to fill up the volume were definitely arranged, in answer to the following note, and “The Fate of Adelaide” and of the author sealed:—

“138, Sloane-street, Nov. 27th.
My Dear Sir,

“Conscious that your time is much occupied, I feel a groat repugnance in intruding my present request; but Letitia’s anxiety for your opinion will, I am afraid, make you consider us both very troublesome. Without your sanction she feels herself without a hope of success, and has no resolution to go on. She has upon her list more than sufficient to defray the expenses of publication—I do not mean by subscription.

Mrs. Siddons is shortly going to Oxford, and as we have connections there, and Mrs. S. is taking it up very warmly, we have hope that something may be done for our poetic sketches. A line from you, giving her your opinion, will settle the matter, whether she may proceed.

“I am, dear sir,
“Very gratefully yours,

The poem has not been reprinted in the two-volume
L. E. L.183
edition of her
poetical works, published by Messrs. Longman in 1850, with the biographical sketch by the lamented Laman Blanchard, who did all he could with his imperfect data and materials. Yet, with all its immaturity and want of polish, it is a performance of great promise, full of beautiful thoughts and glowing passages. The feeling and soul of poetry were there; and mechanical requisites and a more chastened style, might surely be predicted, to add another brilliant constellation to the admired galaxy of British female genius.