LORD  BYRON  and  his  TIMES
Documents Biography Criticism

The Autobiography of William Jerdan
Ch. 14: The Past

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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I fear me, thou
Wilt give away thyself in paper shortly.
The evil that men do lives after them,
The good is oft interred with their hones.
So let it be. . . . Julius Cæsar.

I cannot say that such is the case in my memory. As I look back, it is true, I see almost everything in diminished proportions, and through a misty atmosphere; but the clouds hang most heavily over the evil, the animosities, and the injuries, obscuring them to a sense now more awake to the future than to the past; whilst the view of the good, the affectionate, and the beneficial, if somewhat affected by distance (except in the few greatest events which time only magnifies and brightens) is still coloured by a mellow light, which sets the objects in clear relief, to cheer and solace the downhill of life. The petition for forgiveness as we forgive others, in our earliest-taught and never-forgotten prayer, is breathed more sincerely and deeply from the lips of age than the lips of youth; for then it is much easier to forgive, and there is more pressing need to seek forgiveness.


The retrospects in my last chapters naturally lead to these reflections, and suggest the lesson of wisdom, which is rarely, if ever thoroughly, mastered at the period when it would he most useful. If we could but measure the value of things as they are passing, by the same standard we apply to them when they are passed, how many a false estimate, how many an idle wish, how many an envious feeling, how many a bitter disappointment, how many a vain regret, how many an angry passion, how many a moral taint would we he spared. But this cannot be; it is well if so much can be acquired as to inculcate calm and patience enough for a glance into futurity, and the self-questioning likely to be of importance to after years.
It so falls out,
That what we have we prize not at the worth,
While we enjoy it; but being lack’d and lost,
Why, then we rack the value:
and the same law of mind causes us to over-prize what we have not, and what we desire to have.

After a lapse of years, if we revisit the scenes of our infancy and youth, it is miserable to perceive how infinitely small everything has become. The roomy home, over which you and your brethren romped and ran, is wonderfully circumscribed; the large garden is reduced to a yard, and you could almost leap over the remaining fruit trees it cost you such trouble to climb; the play-ground, with space enough for the range of bows and arrows, not to mention foot-ball or shinty, has dwindled into a hop-step-and-jump; the wide streets are narrow, the ample market-square, such a race to cross at hide-and-seek, or hare-and-hounds, may be stept across in a few strides; the fields have drawn their confines much closer to their centres; the long walks
have abridged themselves; the woods are not near so wide, nor the trees so high; the rivers are much shallower, and the dreadful whirlpool has ceased to be a vortex, the waters gliding quietly away, as if there never had been a boy-forbidden danger on the bank-overshadowed spot; the very far prospects have approached nearer;—ah, you have but turned the glass and put the wide end to your eye, or rather old Father Time has been at his sleight-of-hand, and whipt into yours a microscope, instead of the delightful magnifier (the French Panégyriste) through which you used to look in the days o’ lang syne.

The cluster of half-a-dozen years, which I am endeavouring to embrace in this portion of my narrative, was full of progress, and with less of vicissitude than of endless variety. I have never been a systematic arranger and preserver of papers—if I had, I should have wanted spacious premises and an unchangeable residence for the reception and care of the collection—but, even as it is, with all my burnings, and thefts, and gifts of autographs, &c, &c., there is an appalling quantity in the midst whereof I am now seated, as if I were a literary idol, but, alas, one the majority of whose worshippers are all departed, and whose temple is empty. And when I glance over the multitude of these letters scattered around, observe their contents, and try to resuscitate the sentiments, wishes, hopes, fears, and qualities they embody, I feel myself lost in a wilderness of wanderings and reflections. The bridge of the Vision of Mirza has changed into a literary phantasmagoria, the figures appearing and disappearing, as it moves on with railway speed, till one by one the thronged scene is thinned, a little onward others have dropped, and by and by nearly all have vanished! What, indeed, has been the aftercourse and ultimate fate of that crowd of correspondents? What the results of the
applications they so tremblingly or hopefully adventured, the struggles in which they so gladly engaged, and the prospects they so arduously sought to explore? The young, the fair, the wise, the enthusiastic, the learned, the tasteful, the scientific, the ambitious, are all there—some with their first flights— some with their already jaded efforts—some for bread—some for fame—what has become of them, where are they all?

I lay down my pen—I close my eyes—I offer my faculties to imagination—I am overwhelmed—Memory, the potent Witch of Endor, has raised up the dead—these are salt tears!

Let me away to work. The “Gazette” kept rising up, with flattering approbation, but not without its, and my, afflictions, if I employ the word as I mean it, to imply the effect of low, trumpery abuse, prompted by rancour and propped by falsehood, and received with such infinite contempt, that it could not mount even to the height of a spice of disgust. Success and critical offences naturally begat these funguses and blind stingless nettles. The rejection of a bad article created a disparager; the insertion of a censure made an enemy. One after another, journals in imitation of the “Gazette” sprung up; and several of them lasted a considerable time. And they, generally speaking, deserved no less, for the majority were conducted with commendable talent, and in a gentlemanly spirit of competition towards their model, notwithstanding that its pre-occupancy of the public kept them in the background. Thus, the “Literary Review,” the “Literary Chronicle,” the “Museum,” the “Somerset House Gazette,” the “Gazette of Fashion,” the “New Literary Gazette,” the “Athenæum,” and others I have forgotten, mewed and had their day, and all but the last-mentioned sank through inanition. The “Athenæum” held on in fruitless efforts, and with some curious acci-
dents, till the lucky idea of cheap literature suggested the expedient of lowering the price of the publication one half, and the plan, seconded by clever and not over-literary business and publishing devices, worked its way to popular success. It gradually took the wind out of the sails of the “Gazette,” and possessed quite ability enough to account for the change, especially in a commercial country, where, whatever else may be misunderstood, the difference between fourpence and eightpence cannot be mistaken.*

The rivalry was, as I have hinted, accompanied by no small share of contemporaneous censure and obloquy. I was beset with anonymous condemnation. One found out indifferent English in a miscellaneous sheet, filled from many sources (and I benefitted by the strictures); another complained of particularities (of which I was unconscious); a third irately challenged the Editor for gross misrepresentations; a fourth promised him a regular notice of his errors; and a fifth controverted the opinions and impugned the criticisms of the paper; so that all he could do was to go

* The Literary Review and the Literary Chronicle were both intelligent and instructive publications, embracing the general field of literature, &c., like the Gazette; and literary men of good abilities were engaged upon them. The Museum was more fanciful, and its editor, W. J. Graham, made an unhappy noise in our London circles and fled to America, where he was slaughtered in a duel. He was a very clever, accomplished, and gentlemanly fellow, who won golden opinions of every body; and I have the frankest of notes from him, asking information and advice for the conduct of his rival paper. The Somerset House Gazette was an extremely neat sheet, and made the fine arts a leading object. The New Literary Gazette was a shameless piracy, concocted to deceive the unwary public. The Gazette of Fashion was nearly occupied with attacks on me and the Literary Gazette, and did not last long. Of the Athenæum, here I will only mention that it occasionally sought guidance from “Our” experience. I remember one note requiring it, and promising to “réciproque” it when desired—which phrase caused a good laugh, though its purport described precisely what ought to exist where literary men and gentlemen are concerned. When the press falls into the hands of persons who are neither, the degradation is pitiable.

back to his school-learning and ponder on the fable of the old man, and his son, and the jackass, who, trying to please everybody, could please nobody, no matter how they managed. The only resolve I could arrive at was, that I should not attempt to bear the ass on my shoulders.

But then came a more imposing arraignment; one of those bitter-sweet proofs that you are of sufficient consequence to provoke malice, hatred, and all uncharitableness. Half-a-dozen publications were brought out for the purpose of reviling me. They are now lying on my desk, cherished by my vanity and kept to this day, when, I dare say, all the rest of the reading world has forgotten them—copies of the “Ass,” the “Wasp,” the “Scorpion,” and “Cockney Critics,” besides other major and minor affairs, which tickled me heinously at the time, and make me quite as sore now as they did then; or as present hostile criticism does. I think it was Reynolds, Morton, or Colman (a dramatist), who was once driven by stress of weather to stay eight-and-forty hours in a country inn. To pass the time, any books were asked for, but there were none—only an old magazine volume. The imprisoned traveller had no resource but to read it, and found it to contain a series of the severest possible remarks upon him and his writings. “Well,” said he, “if I had happened to see this at the time, how miserable it would have made me; but as it is, what a pack of hurtless nonsense. I shall never heed what critics say of me any more.” I am afraid my skin was thicker, for I did not care a pin for my assailants “at the time.” Yet they fancied they were hitting very hard. The “Wasp,” No. 2, published by W. (not Judge) Jeffreys, nobly declares its principles, and parades them.

“It will be in the recollection of our readers (i. e., the readers of No. 1, which appeared the week before,) that we
divided the genus Quack into two distinct species—in the latter of which we classed Liston. The individual now under consideration is an equally worthy member of the former, viz., those who gain the public applause under false colours; these must be unmasked.
Mr. Jerdan shows himself forth to the world an encourager of the arts and sciences, a first-rate critic, a brilliant wit, a sublime poet, and, above all, editor and writer of the ‘Literary Gazette.’ Now, all these various qualities are mere gratuitous assumptions; and as we are compelled to strip him of all these fine feathers, and exhibit him in his native imbecility, we must commence by referring to the boyish days of Master Bill Jerdan; for like Ovid and Pope, and a few others of his own class, ‘he lisped in numbers, for the numbers came.’ At an early age, then, we find him studying Latin and Logic at the Grammar School of Kelso, a small town in the South of Scotland, sufficiently near the English borders to give him some idea of the English language, as spoken in all its purity in the wilds of Cumberland. Master Willie appears to have had every advantage in cultivating his infant genius that rank and situation could give him; his papa being not only chief baillie, but also the head skinner and tanner of the aforesaid ancient town. [There was a tan-yard on my father’s property; but he never was in trade: he would have been wealthier if he had had the profits of the business as well as the rent of the yard.] This latter circumstance appears to have given him the idea that he could ‘curry the hides’ of his schoolfellows with imperial impunity; he therefore began his literary career with a tolerably severe lampoon on one of his companions; but it unfortunately happened that the subject of the witticism had not a sufficiently exalted idea of the right divine of the son of the chief
baillie and head skinner of Kelso, and Master Willie got a sound drubbing for his pains [altogether new to me]. This rather damped our hero’s ardour for the muses, but happening to hear, on his arrival to man’s estate, that Scotch geniuses in London got (contrary to the Kelso and monkey system) more halfpence than kicks, he resolved to try his fortune in the great city, where he was lucky enough to be retained as reporter to that eminent parliamentary and political paper, the ‘
Morning Post.’ Here he chiefly distinguished himself by his partiality for porter and puns, which he indulged amidst an admiring audience in a small pot-house in the neighbourhood of Drury-lane, where he reigned supreme, the oracle of unfledged critics and embryo reporters.”

With equal truth and accuracy the writer traces me through my connection with the “Sun,” where I “at once assumed the airs of a man in authority;” worried my partner by petty annoyances till he bought me out “at an enormous sacrifice,” which I “coolly pocketed,” and therewith “managed to buy a share in the ‘Literary Gazette,’ a paper then recently established by Sir Richard Phillips and Longman and Co., as a portable puffing machine for their heavy productions.” I also contrived, the “Sun” being a strong Ministerial paper, “to scrape an acquaintance with a few of the lower satellites of office, and was even recorded to have been honoured with a sort of semi-recognition from the great John Wilson Croker himself.” There is a great deal more of the same kind of stuff, concluding with a candid estimate of my in-capacities.

“In the first place, then, his claims as a patron of the arts rest on the power which he possesses of eulogising to a certain set any unknown author, whose works may happen to be published by some of the elect; in the second place,
he arrogates to himself the title of a first-rate critic, for no other reason that we can guess, except his peculiar talent of reviewing books without reading them; and, finally, he fancies himself a wit and a poet, because he passes the morning (having nothing else to do) in wandering about to collect bad puns, which he retails in the evening (without much regard to the decency of the subject,) at the numerous Indigo parties of which he is a member, and, after attentively studying the poetical contributions of all his correspondents, ventures on some such brilliant effusions as ‘
The Three Kates’ in ‘Friendship’s Offering.’ We should feel some apology due to our readers for devoting so much space to a subject apparently so insignificant, were it not that the great number of individuals, who pin their faith to the ‘Literary Gazette,’ from the belief of its being conducted by a man of talent and education, is so great as to induce us to believe that we are conferring no ordinary benefit on the reading public, in giving them an inducement to exercise their own judgment on literary subjects, by opening their eyes to the manner in which they are imposed upon by a man who would persuade them that he is at least a modern Longinus, while, when shown in his true colours, he stands confessedly as merely ‘a Quack of the day.’”

As I did not die of this terrible assault my eulogist was again “compelled” to return to the charge, and in No. 5 I am belaboured in company with George Croly, and the general opinion of my demerits is stated “(thanks to the common sense of the country) to condemn in the most indignant manner the means by which I had stepped into the Censor’s chair,”—that I had written myself down an ass, and “in fact, his (my) numerous instances of injustice would furnish a whole nest of Wasps, as well as every other quality that unfits this committee man of the Royal Society
of Literature (with the learned
Burgess at its head)—this inquisitor of the Literary Fund, &c, for any and every relation of literary or social life.

“‘Hic niger est,
Hunc tu Romane caveto.’”

Other numbers followed up the game, for spite and malevolence are not easily satiated; and when the “Wasp” tired the “Scorpion” began, and reiterated the accusations of partiality, superficiality, interestedness, and other odious offences, too tedious to enumerate. The “Ass,” published by Cowie and Co., was very filthy and indecent; and, glancing through some odd numbers I have by me, I observe only a few would-be-witty gibes of the flattest description.

Cockney Critics,” with “The Blow Fly, a Portrait, in Verse,” was written by Charles Westmacott, published by J. Duncombe and T. Holt, and dedicated to “William Jerdan, Esq., Editor of Longman and Co.’s ‘Literary Gazette,’” in the following flattering terms:—

“To hear an open Slander is a curse,
But not to find an answer is a worse.”

“In dedicating to you the following Satire, I have two motives—first, to attract attention to your name, and, secondly, to display both your name and character in its true light; dedications are, thanks to the independence of modern authors, out of fashion: the singularity of this will, therefore, I trust, obtain for you that notoriety to which your peculiar qualifications have so eminently entitled you.

“You would be thought the censor of the press, the magnus
apollo of criticism and literature, the judge upon whose fiat hangs the fate of genius. In your own conception there is no subject too lofty or profound for a display of your erudite skill, and liberal use of the dissecting knife; so also you think no trifle too mean to escape mangling by the dexterous use of your literary hatchet.

“Sir, you are a slaughterman of reputation, and can flay poor authors with as much facility, and something less of feeling, than a carcase butcher does the bleating lamb; nor do you confine your criticisms to authors alone, but, ‘labouring in your vocation,’ spread your pestilential breathings over the whole arena of genius, arts, and science.

“If to all these superlative qualifications (got God knows how) for the office of a public critic I could add that of honesty,* I would teach my tongue submission to your sapient judgment, and bow with becoming meekness to the Mohawk of Paternoster Row.—

“But I know ye, Sirrah, know all your paltry tricks, your devious windings, quirks, and shiftinga, and will uncase ye to the world.”

“You have placed yourself (in defiance to propriety) upon the pedestal of detraction, and are surrounded by satellites as malignant as the demoniac planet in whose orbit they move. Be it my office to expose the one and crush the other; first, then, to measure your altitude, and with my gray goose quill disjoint the pilfered fragments that compose your colossal self; which, like the idol of modern barbarians, disgraces the classic base where once was seen the splendid

* “I have heard, this critic boasts of his intimacy with such distinguished patrons of the arts as Sir John Fleming Leicester and the Marquis of Stafford: if they ever do suffer him into their presence, it can only be to laugh at his presumption, ignorance, and folly.”—The Blow-fly.

statues of
Phidias or Praxiteles. Could the gulph of death disgorge the mighty of the children of genius, what would Johnson, Warburton, Pope, or Harris think of the boasted refinement of the present age, to find the throne of criticism usurped by such a nameless thing in literature as William Jerdan?* I know not of what base materials you imagine modern authors to be composed, that you think they will meanly succumb to a self-elected critic, the hired oracle of an anti-literary faction, who (if he has the ability) has never yet found the courage to put his name to anything of equal magnitude with a sixpenny pamphlet. In all other arts and sciences, save that of literature, the judge must have toiled through a probationary course, and given sterling proofs of his superior claims to genius and perfection, before he is permitted to pronounce sentence upon the acts of others.† You have impudently thrust yourself into the judgment seat without the shadow of a qualification, and feeling your own lack of originality, seek to overcloud the glimmering hope which streaks with golden hue the opening morn of genius. Nor is it envy alone that guides your poisonous shaft, the bow is strung by interest, and the itching palm of the critic archer directs the arrow with a force proportioned to the bribe he takes.

* “Take the opinion of the editor of ‘The Examiner’ on his (Jerdan’s) abuse of Lord Byron:—“This is certainly the most ‘gracious fooling’ Master Jerdan has treated the town with, since he abused the finest passages in ‘Heaven and Earth,’ as the merest ‘tol-de-rol buffoonery’ (I quote his own words). The editor of the Literary Gazette grudging a shilling for three Cantos of Don Juan! What does he imagine the public think of eightpence for sixteen pages of little else than a mass of unconnected extracts from about a dozen books? ‘When a true genius appears in the world,’ says Swift, ’you may know him by this sign—that the dunces are in confederacy against him.’”

† “It is a national disgrace that any common pick-fault who would experience a difficulty in stringing together three original sentences, should be permitted to set himself up for a critic, and mutilate what he cannot comprehend.”


“Revenge and fear, by turns, display their power over your jaundiced mind, and every line you write is impregnated with the sulphurous spirit of the author. I need not travel far through your absurdities for damning proof. Almost every page teems with some obnoxious sarcasm levelled at those (both male and female) who have not paid tribute to the Mohawk chieftain of the Cockney literati. For myself, you well know ‘I am not to be terrified by abuse, or bullied by reviewers with or without arms.’ The malignity of your attack upon a trifle of mine has defeated itself, while the approving voice of every other paper, and the flattering sale of the book offers the best reply to your slanders, and is a sure criterion of your critical abilities. Here I might safely waive all personal feelings but those of contempt; but I have undertaken to expose the system upon which you and your employers act, for the benefit of others, and I will fearlessly do my duty. Your arm is raised against every independent author.

“It is disgraceful to this age, that any publication so connected and so conducted, should be supported; and I am satisfied that it only requires to be generally known to meet universal condemnation.”

The verse is even more killing than the prose, but I will only inflict a taste of it upon my readers, as a poetical illumination of my autobiography, according to the sound rule audi alteram partem.

Is this the thing whom authors dread!
This long, dull, witless, pile of lead;—
This anything but man.
Can such a thing as this have power
To frighten from the sacred bower
The meanest in the van
Of that bright race whom genius guides?
Satire the very thought derides,
There’s none so poor in spirit—
A libel ’tis on those who write—
The world well know his dirty spite
Is surest proof of merit.
A mighty hero next appear’d,
By all the Cockney witlings fear’d;
L**gm**’s Colossus, he who rides
Upon the critic winds and tides,
That from Æolian caverns blow
The storms of Paternoster-row;
Who strides o’er science, arts, and books,
And kills poor authors by his looks;
“Who, in his sieve, about doth sail,
And like a rat without a tail,”
Such dirty, filthy, work doth do,
As daylight will not bear to view.

Mr. Canning is introduced as
He now vents his spleen at a second-hand stall,
And prints with his neighbour of Blunderhead Hall
[cant, for my residence].
At least, ’mongst the wags, ’tis thus currently said,
Canning’s silver is visible through Jerdan’s lead.”*

It is a custom more honoured in the breach than in the observance for publishers to string together the “Opinions of the Press” upon their publications, in order to exalt their merits and increase their sale. This chapter will, I trust, however, save mine from the trouble of collective puffery; since the abuse of parties, such as are here represented, must, to every upright and intelligent reader, convey the highest recommendation of the vituperated object. This,

* “Strange as it will appear, modest Mister Jerdan has certainly managed to wriggle himself into notice with this distinguished statesman; to whom, during his secession from the Cabinet, certain whims are attributed in the Literary Gazette.”

at least, I can truly affirm that the “
Gazette” and its Editor, so serviceably reviled, reaped every beneficial consequence which was naturally to be expected—the former advancing rapidly in circulation, and the latter being (it might be unduly) more highly appreciated in social and literary life.