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The Autobiography of William Jerdan
Anonymous, “Something more than a Joke,” 1843

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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Mr. W. H. W., a gentleman connected with the fine arts, and long known as a member of the London press, died last year. He had through life borne a high character, and was remarkable for the general urbanity of his manners and his benevolence. In society he appeared mirthful or serene; but there were moments when he was strangely disturbed, and mournful recollections seemed to overwhelm him with something more than grief. At times he would start in great agitation, affected by a simple expression which had touched a chord that fearfully vibrated through his whole
frame. He remained single, but was said to have experienced a disappointment in an affair of the heart, early in life, which had driven him to the verge of madness. On one occasion, walking with a friend in London, they met an individual on whom Mr. W. gazed stedfastly, but did not speak to him. They passed, and he then exclaimed, “That is a scoundrel; he got for his wife the woman I ought to have married.”

What it was that at times disturbed him, it is not in the power of the writer to reveal. Though intimate with him for years, no explanation was ever volunteered. His liberal nature and unimpeachable integrity, as they gained him the affectionate regards of a large circle of friends, might have been expected to secure him from the hostility of every one. But that he had enemies, bitter and most terrible enemies, the following narrative, committed to paper, immediately after the circumstance and conversation it describes, will clearly demonstrate.

On Thursday, Dec. 21, 1821, A. and B., who had long been on friendly terms with Mr. W., went to dine at the Burton Ale-house, in Henrietta-street. While there they recollected that Mr. W. lived in the neighbourhood (he then lodged, I think, in Southampton (Bedford) street), and thought he would like to join them. They sent a waiter to invite him to do so. Mr. W. had visited Macclesfield a short time before, and to cause him some ludicrous surprise, as well as to make him come more speedily, they ordered the man to say that two gentlemen from Macclesfield desired to see him. The waiter went, but returned with the answer that Mr. W. was out for the evening. On leaving the tavern, the companions resolved, as he was to dine in company with them on the following Monday, to play off a further joke on their friend. They called at his
residence, and finding that he was still from home, left a message for him, that two gentlemen from Macclesfield had called to see him, and would do themselves the pleasure of waiting on him again, at seven o’clock on the evening of Monday. They expected that this would cause him to leave the party with whom he was to dine, at the hour named, and they proposed to drink his health in his absence, and then send a servant after him, with ‘a note to state what had been done, and to announce that the two gentlemen from Macclefield awaited his return to thank them for the honour they had conferred.

Monday came, the party dined together, and Mr. W. was present, but did not withdraw, as A. and B., or A. at least, thought he would. In the course of the evening, B. spoke to Mr. W. about Macclesfield, but nothing remarkable occurred till the party had nearly left the dining-room, and A. and B. found themselves alone. It was then that B. told A. he had a most extraordinary communication to make respecting Mr. W. They were, however, interrupted, and no opportunity offered for making it that evening, but on the following Thursday they again met, and B. gave the following statement:—

“The revelation I have to offer will cause you great surprise. On the day after we called on W., and left word that two gentlemen from Macclesfield would wait on him again, I received a note from him couched in these terms:—

“‘Dear B.,—For God’s sake let me have a quarter of an hour’s conversation with you, at your own house before you go to dinner, on a matter of VITAL importance to me. Your half distracted,

“‘W. H. W.

“‘P.S. Pray mention this to no human being.’


“The word ‘vital,’ B. continued, had three lines drawn under it. I confess I thought that he had detected us, and was playing off a counter-trick. I, however, returned the following answer:—

“‘Dear W.—I am afraid to flatter myself that you jest in your otherwise alarming letter.

“‘You will find me at home at four o’clock. Yours,


“I almost expected, when I went home, to find him laughing and dancing in the drawing-room; but on looking at him I found he was much disturbed. He spoke with a faltering voice, and altogether his aspect indicated the severest distress. ‘How can I,’ he exclaimed, ‘how can I tell you what I have to say?’ After some pause he proceeded:—

“‘I am reduced to such a situation that I have no alternative but to put an end to my existence or to leave the country. Can you, and will you, assist me with the means of doing the latter?’ I told him that I knew he was accustomed to view some things in a very peculiar light, and begged of him to impart what he had on his mind to some of his friends, with the expectation that they would convince him that neither of the steps which he contemplated were necessary. This he declared it was useless to do. His case was one in which argument could be of no avail. He said he must quit the country, though the idea of leaving his connexions in England gave him great pain. I endeavoured to draw from him his secret, that I might advise him upon it, but in vain. He begged of me to ask no questions, and declared that he would answer none, but demanded of me whether I
could and would enable him to go abroad? I, at least said, ‘I can and I will, if it be necessary.’

“I then made a new attempt to draw from him the cause of his distress, but to no purpose. Suddenly a thought flashed across my mind that there might be some connection between his present conduct and our prank of Thursday. I was about to leave the apartment to procure the cash he wanted, but I now paused, and fixing my eyes steadily on him, said:

“‘Before I comply with your request I have one question to ask.’

“‘I will answer none,’ was his reply.

“Upon this I placed my back against the door, and retorted on him in a peremptory tone—

“‘You must not leave this room till you have given an answer to one question.’

“He seemed struck by the determination of my manner, and, after some hesitation, desired to know on what subject I wished to interrogate him.

“‘Tell me,’ said I, ‘if that which disturbs you was communicated to you yesterday?’

“‘It was,’ he replied.

“‘Did you hear of it before you went home at night?’

“He wildly asked—‘Why do you ask—why, why? No, it was not told to me before I went home at bed-time.’

“I now,” continued B., “felt convinced of that which before I had, I know not why, suspected, and I went on to say—‘W., you must yet answer me a third question:—Does that which has moved you arise out of anything that you were told about two gentlemen from Macclesfield?’

“On being thus addressed, he ran up to me with an air of wildness not to be described, seized my coat, and impetuously exclaimed—


“Good God! what do you mean? Yes it was!” I then told him to be calm; and added, ‘it was I and was and A. called, and by way of a joke left that message.’ He looked greatly amazed; a crowd of thoughts seemed running through his mind, and being scarcely able to stand, he threw himself on the sofa in great disorder, completely overcome by his feelings, and remained for some time incapable of speech. What he could have imagined, or what may be the cause of conduct so extraordinary, I cannot guess. In the course of our conversation he assured me, in the most positive manner, that he was not leaving the country in consequence of anything that could be thought dishonourable; and that he was not flying from the officers of justice, or seeking to avoid danger of that sort. How singular the accident! Had he applied to any one else, excited as he was, he might have carried his point without being questioned, and have been, through a joke, an exile from his country for life. No person in existence but yourself could have prevented his flight by supplying the requisite information, and it might not have occurred to you to put those questions which I happened to ask.”

The writer knew Mr. W. for many years subsequently, but no explanation of this strange affair was ever given. Beyond the annoyance of the moment, he is not aware that Mr. W. in any way suffered through it, but consequences more serious than those which seemed likely to grow out of it have seldom been seen in real life as the result of what was meant to be a perfectly friendly and harmless joke. It was thought prudent never to make the incident a topic of conversation. Silence has been observed for more than twenty years, but the grave having closed over the lamented individual, whom it concerned, the incident is no longer deemed a secret.