LORD  BYRON  and  his  TIMES
Documents Biography Criticism

The Autobiography of William Jerdan
Ch. 10: Naval Services

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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To rancour unknown, to no passion a slave,
Nor unmanly, nor mean, nor a railer,
He’s gentle as mercy, as fortitude brave;
And this is the true English sailor.—Dibdin.

London on my return to it presented altogether a different aspect to me. Three years had wrought a mighty change in it, in my quondam associates and in myself. The first was, perhaps, merely a delusion of the mind created by the latter two; for my friends had got into the harness of busy life, whilst I had been loitering on the way. They were full of activity and hope: I had no fixed object, and was unsettled and dissatisfied. This was a very unfavourable condition, and its consequences, as might be anticipated, such as could not be experienced without trouble and sorrow. My resources from home were necessarily limited, my anxieties unceasingly preying on my soul, and my desultory endeavours to achieve my indefinite scheme for provision and reputation, unfailingly abortive! Such a design so prosecuted could not possibly be successful; and the inevitable fate of relying upon chance in the chapter of accidents was the consummation of my visionary projects. In a small measure, it is true, I got into difficulties and into debt; and I mixed in too good and respectable a
connection to have mercy shown to my deficiencies. I endured the consequent annoyances and vexations in secret, sustained by the resentments of an injured man; whereas it was I who had wronged myself, and my own imprudence alone had cast me so far into the power of disappointed creditors and the clutches of grasping attorneys.

It was not much, indeed; but everything is overwhelming where the demands exceed the supplies, and, be he ever so poor, he who lives within his income is infinitely more prosperous and happier than the wealthy person who exceeds his revenues. It was now that I got my first lesson of that fatal truth, that debt is the greatest curse which can beset the course of a human being. It cools his friends and heats his enemies; it throws obstacles in the way of his every advance towards independence; it degrades him in his own estimation, and exposes him to humiliation from others, however beneath him in station and character; it marks him for injustice and spoil; it weakens his moral perceptions and benumbs his intellectual faculties; it is a burthen not to be borne consistently with fair hopes of fortune, or that peace of mind which passeth all understanding, both in a worldly and eternal sense. But I shall have much to say on the subject in the future pages of this biography, though I cannot omit the opportunity afforded by my earliest taste of the bitter fruit which poisons every pulse of existence, earnestly to exhort my youthful readers to deny themselves every expense which they cannot harmlessly afford, and revel on bread and water and a lowly couch, in humility and patience, rather than incur the obligation of a single sixpence beyond their actual means.

In the present instance, my difficulties, distressing in their nature though trifling in their amount, were shortly arranged, and the harpies chased away; but my hardly
recovered health could not withstand the mortification, and I relapsed into serious indisposition. The fire of resentment was extinguished, and lassitude, apathy, and doubt supervened to darken the prospect of one who had found himself so helpless in the hour of trial. The proud and vain reliance on my long and ridiculously flattered talents abandoned me, and I felt a sinking, physical and mental, which made me almost regardless of aught that could happen. In this desponding frame my uncle, who was then surgeon of the Gladiator guardship in Portsmouth harbour, deemed it desirable to have me under his own medical care, and, as I could not stay on board as a visitor, I had the honour to be entered in H. M. Royal Navy, assuredly not as A. B., for able-bodied I was not, but, as I have just ascertained, by application to the proper official quarter, as surgeon’s clerk, in which capacity I served from October 1st, 1805, to 28th February, 1806, when I was discharged, honourably, my nett pay, or wages, 5l. 3s. 1d., being paid some months after, as “per order, to Samuel Moses,” of whose existence, till I received this memorandum, I was profoundly ignorant. I have only to add that if
Mr. Disraeli should receive an anonymous sum of conscience money of about this amount, he may as well give me credit for it; as I never could estimate my naval services worthy of such a recompense either to myself, or my unknown representative, Moses. I was, however, placed in the gunners’ mess; the Captain of Marines, Mitchell, married and living ashore, kindly gave me up his cabin and cot: I took my meals with my uncle and other officers in the gun-room, and was occasionally threatened to be flogged for not dousing my glim when the signal was given by the serjeant-at-arms. I nevertheless, read on, throughout the night, though sometimes diverted to the study of natural
history by seeing a train of rats descend the cords by which my bed was suspended, and betake themselves to their gambols, as if nobody belonging to the vessel was there to prevent them, or at any rate no one bearing a commission to authorise interference. The time passed agreeably enough, the scenes were new, and I began to gather strength again. The dreaded
Admiral Coffin possessed no terrors for me, and the Lieutenant of the Dockyard, John Price, (gratefully honoured be his name!) became my staunchest and dearest friend. He was a glorious fellow, and every inch what a sailor ought to be, and is painted in the songs of Dibdin or the writings of Marryat. Open-hearted, generous, frank, energetic, and a master of nautical requirements, it was a pleasure to see him get through his arduous duties; satisfying all, praised by his superiors, loved by his inferiors in rank. In his taut Dockyard-boat, assisted by an invalid young middy, I used to cruise between Portsmouth and Ryde, round the Royal William moored midway, and back again, latterly without fear and in every kind of weather; which, with a less perfect craft, would often have been far from safe. The sea breezes were delicious, and to inhale them,
While shoreward now the bounding vessel flies,
was like drawing in draughts of life. The heart too bounded with the freedom of the motion, and all the spiritual functions of the brain were renovated and enlarged. In other respects my time was not unprofitably spent. There was much to see and learn, and though the information acquired was of an exceedingly miscellaneous nature, still it was knowledge; and in after years very useful in assisting me to view the various topics upon which I was forced, from my editorial position, frequently to give an immediate public opinion. Like taking
care of all sorts of odds and ends, as the old ladies declare that a time will come when you will find them needful; so is it good to be always learning something or other, in the expectation that the time may come when you will find the possession advantageous.

There were matters which struck me with surprise, awakened feelings of intense interest, shocked and pained me, and in other ways acted strongly on my observant mind. The trial of Admiral Calder by a court-martial was a solemn and affecting sight, which I could not reconcile to my sense of right. The noble presence of the accused, a splendid old gentleman with grey hairs, the obvious uneasiness and regret of his judges, the calm of the dismal proceedings, and the memory of the political murder of Byng haunting the imagination, the impression of the spectacle was altogether of a distressing order.

Then came home a division of the victorious fleet from Trafalgar: the Victory with the precious freight of Nelson’s corpse; the Téméraire, the Mars, the Tonant, and other bullet-riddled ships; whose wooden walls and wounded or missing masts, bore witness to the gallant share they had in the brunt of that immortal battle. The inspection of these vessels was very interesting, and many of the individual yarns of the seamen deserving of being noted for posterity. But I have forgotten such as were told to me, except one of a boatswain’s mate, I think, who was pointed out to me as the hero of a marvellous exploit. The Téméraire was so closely engaged with an enemy on each side, that the guns could not be run out to fire, without their muzzles absolutely coming against the side of the ship for which the compliment of the discharge was intended. At the station of our mate, two portholes had been knocked into one aperture, and the guns disabled; but not to be idle at such
a crisis, he seized a boat-hook, and covering himself as well as he could behind a bulkhead, he watched the running out of the adverse cannon, and as the foe stepped forward with the tackle, within his reach, he hooked the luckless wretches one after another, pulled them off their deck, and, giving his weapon a handy twist, dropt them into the sea between the two vessels, never to emerge again. I was assured that he slew half a score of the combatants in this manner, and he was an amazingly stout fellow, likely, if any man, to do the business.

Of the extraordinary force of cannon shot, there was a remarkable example in the Tonant (I think). The ball had entered the end of a solid beam of wood, and penetrated it so deeply that it could only be reached by a boarding pike, pushed at nearly arm’s length into the splintered breach.

Of the painful circumstances to which I have alluded, I may enumerate my witnessing the wreck of a boat with eight or ten on board, and the finding of two of their dead bodies a few days after in a walk along the shore. There was also a man flogged through the fleet, a spectacle of horror and disgust. The unhappy criminal was taken in a boat, fitted up for his punishment, alongside of every ship, the crews of which were mustered to witness the laceration; and at each received a certain number of lashes, till the surgeon who attended, declared that human nature could endure no more. He was then carried to the hospital to be cured, for receiving the remainder of his sentence; but this barbarity was mercifully spared. Since that day, I never could read a proposition for ameliorating the condition of the navy (or army either) in respect to corporal punishment, nor hear of an improvement in the system, without feeling an ardent desire to wield my pen in support of the former, and
rejoicing in every step adopted for the promotion of the latter. Happily, much has been done, and such a scene as I have described can never degrade the service, nor torture a British sailor more.

Were it possible to tolerate the ever-ready application of the lash to a fellow-man, there was a strange being, one of my shipmates in the Gladiator, who might have induced us to fancy it was rather agreeable than otherwise. He was a raw-boned, sturdy Irishman, of the name of Conolly—a namesake, by-the-by, of the Captain; but far from being a favourite with him. His appetite for drink was irrepressible. If he was sent ashore he deserted the boat, at Point or Common Hard, and got drunk. If he was kept on board, he contrived to smuggle liquor somehow or other and got drunk—sometimes, as he averred in stay of punishment on his allowance of swipes! But the fact was that Conolly was always in trouble and irons, and so used to a dozen or two of lashes every ten days or a fortnight, that his life was literally spent between tippling and flogging; to the latter of which he was at last so accustomed that a sigh and hitch of his trousers were all the signs of dislike he gave when his unfortunate back was bared for the sad and disgraceful reckoning he was doomed to pay. Such a man would now be discharged, and the demoralising influence of such revolting scenes avoided.

A convict ship, moored near the Gladiator, was another source of painful remark. The general aspect of the black hulk and gloomy looks of its fettered inmates were always bad enough; but frequent mutinies, desperate struggles, suicidal casualties, and severe punishments, rendered the whole a hell, in the neighbourhood of which it was dismal to be located.

These drawbacks, however, did not particularly affect me.
Through Price’s introduction, I enjoyed the pleasant society of several families in Gosport. Haslar Hospital ministered to my still undiminished predilection for medical and surgical science, in the latter of which the surgeons were justly famous; and, above all, I made my first appearance as a poet in print, in the Portsmouth paper.