LORD  BYRON  and  his  TIMES
Documents Biography Criticism

Recollections of Writers
Douglas Jerrold to Alfred Novello, 25 February 1852

Chapter I.
Chapter II.
Chapter III.
Chapter IV.
Chapter V.
Chapter VI.
Chapter VII.
Chapter VIII.
Chapter IX
John Keats
Charles Lamb
Mary Lamb
Leigh Hunt
Douglas Jerrold
Charles Dickens
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West Lodge Putney, Lower Common.
Feb. 25th, 1852.

Dear Sir,—Disabled by an accident from personal attendance at your meeting, I trust 1 may herein be permitted to express my heartiest sympathy with its great social purpose. That the fabric, paper, newspapers, and advertisements should be taxed by any Government possessing paternal yearnings for the education of a people, defies the argument of reason. Why not, to help the lame and to aid the short-sighted, lay a tax upon crutches, and enforce a duty upon, spectacles?

I am not aware of the number of professional writers—of men who live from pen to mouth—flourishing this day in merry England; but it appears to me, and the notion, to a new Chancellor of the Exchequer (I am happy to say one of my order—of the goosequill, not of the heron’s plume) may
have some significance; why not enforce a duty upon the very source and origin of letters? Why not have a literary poll-tax, a duty upon books and “articles” in their rawest materials? Let every author pay for his licence, poetic or otherwise. This would give a wholeness of contradiction to a professed desire for knowledge, when existing with taxation of its material elements. Thus, the exciseman, beginning with authors’ brains, would descend through rags, and duly end with paper. This tax upon news is captious and arbitrary; arbitrary, I say, for what is not news? A noble lord makes a speech: his rays of intelligence compressed like
Milton’s fallen angels, are in a few black rows of this type; and this is news. And is not a new book “news”? Let Ovid first tell us how Midas first laid himself down, and—private and confidential—whispered to the reeds, “I have ears;” and is not that news? Do many noble lords, even in Parliament, tell us anything newer?

The tax on advertisements is—it is patent—a tax even upon the industry of the very hardest workers. Why should the Exchequer waylay the errand-boy and oppress the maid-of-all-work? Wherefore should Mary Ann be made to disburse her eighteenpence at the Stamp Office ere she can show her face in print, wanting a place, although to the discomfiture of those first-created Chancellors of the Exchequer—the spiders?

In conclusion, I must congratulate the meeting on the advent of the new Chancellor of the Exchequer. The Right Honourable Benjamin D’Israeli is the successful man ot letters. He has ink in his veins. The goosequill—let gold and silver-sticks twinkle as they may—leads the House of Commons. Thus, I feel confident that the literary instincts of the right honourable gentleman will give new animation to the coldness of statesmanship, apt to be numbed by tightness of red-tape. We are, I know, early taught to despair of the right honourable gentleman, because he is allowed to be that smallest of things, “a wit.” Is arithmetic for ever to be the monopoly of substantial respectable dulness? Must it be that a Chancellor of the Exchequer, like Portia’s portrait, is only to be found in lead?


No, sir, I have a cheerful faith that our new fiscal minister will, to the confusion of obese dulness, show his potency over pounds, shillings, and pence. The Exchequer L.S.D. that have hitherto been as the three Witches—the weird sisters—stopping us, wherever we turned, the right honourable gentleman will at the least transform into the three Graces, making them in all their salutations, at home and abroad, welcome and agreeable. But with respect to the L.S.D. upon knowledge, he will, I feel confident, cause at once the weird sisterhood to melt into thin air; and thus—let the meeting take heart with the assurance—thus will fade and be dissolved the Penny News’-tax—the errand-boy and maid-of-all-work’s tax—and the tax on that innocent white thing, the tax on paper. With this hope I remain, yours faithfully,

Douglas Jerrold.
J. Alfred Novello, Esq., Sub-Treasurer of the Association for the Repeal
of all Taxes upon Knowledge.