LORD  BYRON  and  his  TIMES
Documents Biography Criticism

The Autobiography of William Jerdan
Baby, a Memoir

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. page 247.
“Death sends Truth hefore it as its messenger.”

Every reader of common sagacity will readily perceive at once how the following auto-biography was communicated; and therefore I will not, as is too much the fashion among authors by profession, trouble them with unnecessary explanation. Suffice it to say, that the authenticity of the narrative is unquestionable; for I had it out of the individual’s own mouth, and I have not altered one syllable. Sceptical persons might doubt the existence of those precocious talents which enabled Baby at the early age of twenty-four hours to deliver the painful relation of all its experience and sufferings in this world; but when it is recollected that the human mind often exhibits wonderful phenomena amid the bright glances which precede death, it will be acknowledged that the present memoir is the result of one of these half-mundane, half-celestial illuminations of the spirit.

“My first perception of life,” said Baby, “or at least the first particular which I consider it fitting to record—for I am
not like a German biographer, who would go farther back, to the very beginning of things—was my being handed from the rough grasp of man into the arms of a filthy old woman. I cannot describe to you the disgust I felt at the hag. Her countenance was most forbidding, her eyes inflamed, her nose reddened towards the tip, and her breath abominably infected with the odours of a transparent fluid called gin. I did not know on inhaling the scent of this offensive compound what it was; but the wretch was determined that I should not long remain in ignorance of its effects either in a gaseous or a liquid form. It was evident from my entrance into the world that this monster entertained a design against my life, and though I resisted with all the energy of a free-born and independent infant, the contest was too unequal, and I finally sunk beneath her machinations and those of my other cruel persecutors.

“The moment I perceived that her intentions were fatal, I set up a squall which you might have heard, in the stillness of the night, quite across the square; but it was utterly disregarded, or made the subject of mockery. ‘There’s a stout boy,’ cried the demon, ‘I’ll warrant ye, that will expand the bones of his head for him.’ My poor head indeed was the immediate object of her attack; for taking another gulp of gin from a glass, and spouting some of the fiery fluid into her hand, she instantly deluged my skull with it, and rubbed with all her might. Oh, the dreadful torture which I endured! The burning substance penetrated through the fontinelle, or mole of the head, to my very brain, and scorched it into agony. I writhed and screamed in vain; and, the paroxysm of madness over, uttered a low and piteous moaning which might have melted the heart of a fiend. But mercy was never meant for me. Conscious of my inherent rights and dignity as a British man-child, and resolved to support both at the expense of my fortune and existence, oppression and tyranny were soon leagued against me, and I was crushed by the foul combination.

“Not yet a quarter of an hour old, the barbarous usage I had undergone was but a prelude to the whole iniquitous course which was systematically pursued against me by all but one being, who, from her affection to me, was exposed to almost equally relentless persecution. My poor mamma, she alone showed any sympathy for Baby; but she was too powerless to afford me sufficient succour in aid of my own brave exertions.

BABY. 413

“Finding that the application of the gin, though it turned my brain, did not absolutely destroy me, the old woman, whom they called Nurse (Curse would have been a juster title) endeavoured to kill me in another way. There was a large brown pan in the middle of the appartment filled with tepid water, and into this the murderess plunged me headlong. She thought she could drown me, but again my activity and presence of mind prevailed, and I saved myself from a watery grave by the vigour with which I kicked, and the force with which I squalled. Astonished by my courageous conduct, and baffled in her vile scheme, the tigress was compelled to desist; but if she could not accomplish the murder she could gratify her hellish spite, which she did by taking an opportunity to scrape me from head to foot, more in the manner of a dead pig than a living boy. I was much hurt by this process; my excoriated skin smarted all over, and I could do nothing but cry and howl as if my lungs were bursting. To this natural appeal no attention whatever was paid by my unnatural enemies.

“The next attempt upon me was of a different, but hardly less infamous character. You are aware how they used to treat their mummies in Egypt in the olden time. From this I presume the hint was taken for the new torment practised upon me. Laying me in her lap, the malignant old woman took a long roll of linen and began to swathe me up as if indeed I were a defunct Egyptian, never intended to stir or breathe more on this earth. Round and round did she whirl me; and I never experienced such a sensation of giddiness before, as that which now overcame me. I could frame an idea what it was to be tumbled about, but to be tossed and gyred in this violent manner was too much to be borne. I was, however, reduced to passive endurance by being so tightly bound, and so worn out by the conflict I had inflexibly maintained, that I seemed almost reckless of what was done to me.

“I fancied at last they were going to execute me without the formality of judge or jury, for they put an ugly cap upon my head, and brought a band under my chin and across my throat to strangle me, drawing the ligature even to suffocation. I cannot tell how I escaped, but I did escape this, the third attempt upon my life, within the first thirty minutes of its duration.

“A very few moments’ repose being allowed me, I began to
reflect upon my hapless condition. Here was I without a friend in the world who could help me, with a bold and uncompromising spirit it is true, but comparatively weak and defenceless; here was I naked and exposed to the most diabolical malice of foes, who had obviously entered into a conspiracy to make away with me by some means or other. What could I do? to whom could I appeal? there was no one to take my part. But I will not anticipate events; they crowded facts enough into my miserable span, as you shall now hear without being troubled with any reflections upon them.

“Having walked into the world about midnight, I looked at the time-piece on the mantel-shelf, and found that I had been more than two hours in this busy life; but circumstances had crowded so rapidly into that space, and I had been made so utterly miserable by the stirring scenes in which I acted so important a part, that I felt no appetite whatever. On the contrary, I seemed to entertain a loathing for food; my indignation may therefore be conceived when I observed the odious female, to whom I have so often already had occasion to allude, preparing some diet, and evidently for me. I knew it by the scowl upon her countenance, as she took up a bottle and poured some of its contents into a silver teaspoon; my presentiment was almost instantly realised. Seizing me quickly unawares, I had barely a moment to extend my jaws in the act of bawling for assistance, when the gag or spoon was thrust into my mouth, and the whole of its nauseous freight forced down my throat. Scream I could not—a sort of gurgling noise was all that could be heard; I sank back, and thus tasted the first of bitterness my youthful stomach was doomed to receive.

“I have intimated that, like other geniuses, I was born with literary tastes, and a taste for the fine arts. I am sure, had my life been prolonged, I should have turned a celebrated author as well as painter. As it has been decreed, I can only claim the fame of being ‘The Little Unknown.’ But there was something curious in the coincidence that my earliest acquaintance with literature and painting should be so vastly disagreeable as to consist of my reading Ol. Ricini on the bottle whence I had been poisoned, and swallowing that oil which might have been the medium of a nobler production than it was now destined to produce. Mingled with the tints of a Titian, it
might have created an immortal Venus. But I will not pursue the contrast.

“A sense of sickness took possession of me. I asked myself Is this the food of human beings? Is it for the enjoyment of such delicacies as this that gourmandism and sensuality fill so prodigious an extent in the existence of men? If it be so, how I pity them! Ah! were their palates as pure as mine, how would they abhor and nauseate such indulgences! I am ashamed to own it, but as this is a biography of truth (and I believe the only one ever written), I must confess, à la Rousseau, that I internally exclaimed with an oath, ‘It is d——d bad.’ The recording angel, I trust, considering my provocation, would deal mercifully with this offence.

“Fatigue had now completely exhausted me, and sleep began to steal over my faculties. A yawn was the sign of this soporific condition; and will it be credited that the wretched Nurse would not even permit this natural symptom? She who had violently forced my mouth open for her own cruel purpose, would not suffer me to open it myself, but the moment she saw me seeking this relief, she clapped her finger and thumb under my lower jaw, which she pushed upwards till I thought it would have cracked again.

“Inured to suffering, sleep at length closed my weary eyelids, and I slumbered free from sorrows for awhile. But it was the mere insensibility of tired nature—not a sweet and refreshing repose. Ignorant people, and especially poets, talk of balmy sleep being like an infant’s. Bah! they must have forgotten their infancy—the swaddling which precludes free respiration—the other incumbrances of babyhood. For my share I had a horrid dream. I fancied I was put away from the world again, and I could, but I will not, a tale unfold.

“I woke but to fresh troubles, to new and unheard-of inflictions, of which it is almost impossible to state whether the utter nastiness or the barbarity were the most shameful. Like a criminal from the rack condemned to undergo further ordeals, no sooner did the Nurse notice that I was taking a survey of the chamber than she immediately darted upon her prey. From a small skillet or pan she spooned forth a thickish unpleasant substance, whether called pap or gruel I never could learn, for I heard both names applied indiscriminately: and first—oh, beast!—drawing the mess through an ordeal of mouth never to
be forgotten, she poked the revolting spoonful almost into my throat. Reject it I could not; down it went. In flavour certainly not so abominable as my breakfast of castor oil, this my second meal was rendered no less obnoxious by the process of its administration or service. Surely in this instance, whoever sent the meat, the devil inspired the cook.

“The consequence might easily have been foreseen, but it was very hard that, from no excess of my own, I was attacked with cholera—the fashionable name for what my grandmamma in ultra-refinement termed a stomach complaint. But whether called by a learned Greek, a fashionable, or a vulgar name, I was compelled to indure what I had been compelled to incur. I was no volunteer glutton or drunkard: superior to man I had not made the ill of which I had so much to complain.

“Had it not been for the continuance of my malady, I might have fancied that the world was not a perpetual hell. For several hours I was not meddled with. A great piece of flannel was wrapped round my head and shoulders, and I was smothered in the bed, which had something of warmth more consonant to my constituted habits than the cold of a winter night, to which I had been so much exposed.

“A weary period having elapsed, I was removed from my nest. The fire yet burned cheerfully, but the candle had grown to an immense wick with a top like the dome of St. Paul’s, and a light dim and flickering. Nurse sat by the fireside in a great arm-chair, smelling more than ever of the beverage which was as the breath of her nostrils; that breath, by-the-by, was ever and anon turned to a deep, but by no means musical diapason. Lying on her knee during one of these naps, I gazed around with that degree of curiosity which new situations commonly excite, for I naturally wished to become acquainted with the manners, habits, and customs of my fellow creatures. The view impressed me with no idea of comfort. Phials with labels about their necks, pipkins, napkins, basins, clothes, chairs, and tables at all sort of angles, &c., &c., seemed so untidy that I could well understand why it was called a sick-room; it was enough to make any body sick.

“As morning approached, two or three maids began to peep in. They giggled, walked on tiptoe, and appeared as highly elated as if each had borne a son of her own. They drank with the Nurse, and carried off some tea and sugar to make breakfast.
One or two of them looked at me, and observed that I was a nasty looking animal. After which they laughed and took a glass, whispering, as far as I could gather, a great deal of impertinent nonsense.

“Carrying me in her arms, the Nurse about this time went towards the window, and quietly withdrawing the curtain, lest my mamma should observe how malignantly she was treating me, exposed me to the full glare of morning. The flash of pain was excessive; instinct shut up my eyes, or I should have been blinded for life. But this was only one of the slightest of the miseries heaped upon me.

“Soon after, my first acquaintance on earth returned, under pretence of inquiring about my health. The villain, in my own hearing, approved of all that had been done to me, and spoke of repeating the same kind of usage, if I presumed to dispute their authority. While he was talking another man came in, who I soon gathered was another ruthless enemy of mine. Indeed I saw now that he was the origin of all my distress—the instigator of my persecution, and like a coward bribed others to commit the crime he had not courage to perpetrate with his own hands. I tried hard to divine what new plot was hatching against me, but could not make it out. I only observed this fellow slip the bribe into the open fingers of the other, who—though called doctor, which is derived from learning—looked smilingly like a murderer, evidently promised acquiescence, and walked away, grinning most diabolically as he conveyed the gold to his pocket.

“The noise, I presume, waked my poor mamma, for she uttered a low noise, and moved slightly on her pillow. Alas! it was but to provoke outrage; the second savage strode up to the bed, and putting his face close to hers gave her a smack, which, though partially concealed, was perfectly audible to my ear. How I longed for a giant’s strength to punish the miscreant! but I was condemned to a similar fate. The suffering saint was so accustomed to ill-treatment, that she only smiled faintly and waved her pale hand, when the assassin quitted his prey and advanced towards me. My rage and hatred were inconceivable: I think I could have repelled him had he assailed me alone, but one of his infamous associates was still left to help him; she held me towards him, and he served me exactly as he had served my martyr of a mother. Till then I
knew not the pang she had borne with such patient resignation: of all the pains I had yet encountered it was the most poignant and severe. His chin was armed all over with sharp spears, and short but cutting knives; and these, by a dexterous motion, such as only long practice could have taught the tormentor, he contrived to stab into every pore of his victim’s face. I screeched aloud, and I saw the tear come into mamma’s eyes; but the others, as before, only made a scoff of my agony. ‘He is a charming boy, and your very picture! He is indeed his papa’s own!’ said the Nurse (as confounded a lie as ever was ottered! and besides, my countenance was so distorted that I was like nothing human); and then Papa chuckled out a horse laugh, and taking out his purse, without the least affectation of secresy, bribed and rewarded his other vile companion.

“A few words passed between them; and again inflicting the torture upon his unhappy and unresisting wife, the flinty-hearted tyrant withdrew.

“I had hitherto preserved considerable resolution under the indignities and dangers of my situation; but the last occurrence depressed me exceedingly. I clearly perceived that the only living creature attached to me by sympathy was exposed to the worst of injuries on that account: I saw that she was broken-spirited and uncomplaining, though decidedly unable to undergo, as I had done, the continued attacks of our adversaries: as a proof of this, I may state, that she took a cup of the oil, which the nurse presented to her, without even kicking or squalling. My soul died within me, and the shock of my feelings, I have no doubt, hastened my own dissolution.

“Well, the day wore on: several women called in for a few minutes, and all seemed of a mind that I ought to be made away with. One advised a second spoonful of oil as the means; another something named Daffy’s Elixir; a third, a drop or two of gin—on which the Nurse swallowed a bumper aside, to show, as it were, how it might be taken without flinching. Among the rest, was a very old female, whom they styled grandmamma, because she was dressed in a stately guise: this hideous person disguised herself by putting two round glasses over her eyes, and then came close to me. Oh, the insufferable beldam! a powder, of the most pungent and acrid nature, which she had concealed about her nose till near enough to shake it over my innocent organs, was so cunningly applied that I was not even
aware of the insidious act, till in the midst of fondling the whole catastrophe overwhelmed me. I endeavoured to ease myself by sneezing; upon which the company burst into a titter:—my curse be upon them for their inhumanity.

“By degrees we were left again to night and solitude; but my nerves had been so lacerated, and my constitution so impaired, that it soon became too evident the machinations of the conspirators were likely to terminate to their contentment. Lest it should be too slow, one of them was again sent for—my first worthy friend—and he ordered more poisons to be forced down my throat. In nothing was I left to nature; my very limbs were encumbered as if they had dreaded that being born a sans culottes, a sans culottes I should die: the inconveniency of this I will not describe. I was born to ill-luck in everything—to good-luck in nothing.

“Flayed, drowned, insulted, incapacitated, smothered, abused, tortured, poisoned, is it to be wondered at that I resigned myself quietly to the prospect of a release? My poor mamma was unhappy, and cried; and the last of the conspirators appeared upon the stage. He was a ferocious looking fellow, with a red face and twinkling eyes; and I suppose he was brought at the late hour from a masquerade as he was dressed in a domino. I fancy he had taken off his mask, but I will not positively assert aught of which I am not sure. Be that as it may, he took a little book from his pocket, and mumbled a few sentences (it would have gratified the literary taste with which I was born had he uttered them distinctly); he then dipped his fingers into some water, and contemptuously threw it in my face. Previous to this, however, there was a dispute among the actors in my tragedy. Mamma said softly, ‘Let it be William Frederick Augustus Gustavus: I so love a beautiful name, and one of which he may be proud hereafter.’ But my ruthless Papa replied, ‘No, it must be Peter Nathaniel, or uncle Peter may be offended, and old Nat. Curmudgeon, who has promised to stand godfather, forget him in his will.’ ‘Peter Nathaniel,’ accordingly exclaimed the black ruffian, when he dashed the water over my piteous countenance.

“It was of less consequence, for the curtain was now about to fall; I felt too weak to resist this last contumely, and submitted to be placed on the bed of my sorrowing parent. She laid me gently on her bosom, and the sight was so affecting that
the bearded barbarian, Papa, seemed to be moved by it. He dropped some consolatory words, and said if anything could restore me that loved bosom would. I was sorry to be obliged to agree with the murderer in any one opinion, though I felt I was fast departing; but in truth this soft and yielding breast was delightful whereon to rest my fevered cheek; I raised my little hand towards it—I threw the latest glance of my closing eye upon it—I drew one draught of nature from its fountain—I uttered one short sigh—I had for one moment tasted an earthly heaven, and for an everlasting heaven I winged my flight.”

With this beautiful sentence Baby concluded his autobiography, to which I have only two particulars to add, which I did not introduce into the narration for fear they might interrupt its simple pathos and elegant connexion. When I heard Baby state in the course of it, oftener than once, that he was a genius and born with a natural taste for literature, I thought it right to ask him for a definition of a man—a definition which Plato, and a considerable number of philosophers since Plato, have failed to reach. To this he replied, with wonderful promptitude—
Man is a Writing Animal.
Astonished by this immortal answer, I could scarcely breathe out—“Oh, young but mighty sage! can I perform aught to perpetuate my veneration for the memory of so extraordinary a being?” To which Baby sweetly rejoined, with the humility of a child, “Engrave this distich upon my monument:—
Since I have been so quickly done for,
I marvel what I was begun for!!!

Palmam qui meruit ferat.—W. J.