LORD  BYRON  and  his  TIMES
Documents Biography Criticism

The Autobiography of William Jerdan
Ch. 2: Mr. Canning

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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Nobility of blood
Is but a glittering and fallacious good;
The nobleman is he whose noble mind
Is filled with inborn worth; unborrow’d from his kind.

I had been slightly acquainted with Mr. Canning for some years previous to the date at which my first volume closed, but various circumstances, deeply gratifying to me, conspired about this time to advance this condition into an intimacy which has been the delight and pride of my life. My residence was close at hand, and every Sunday after church I was expected at Gloucester Lodge. If the weather was fine, we walked for an hour or two in the garden; if wet, we sat and conversed in the library, of the aspect of which the Vignette (from a drawing by Mr. Fairholt) is now, perhaps, the only memorial, as the house has been recently taken down, and the materials sold, to make room for new buildings on the site and grounds made imperishably classic by the presence of a Canning, and the resort of the eminent persons who continually circled round this brilliant centre of attraction:—statesmen, poets, painters, philosophers, wits; men of all ranks and degrees, who had aught to recommend them to notice, and were invited to enjoy themselves in the light of his genius and the enchantment of his conversation.
Never was simplicity and playfulness more marvellously united with profundity and firmness. His tone of voice was sweetness itself; his manner most courteous, bland, and conciliating; yet, let a baseness affront his mind, and his eyes flashed with indignant fire, mingling, in a way not to be described, the expressions of detestation and contempt. With almost feminine softness of feeling he combined in the highest measure the punctilious honour of chivalry and the gigantic strength of heroism. His was a character to be studied in every symbol and development; and the more it was studied, the more to be admired and beloved. Seeing so much of him as I did, and enjoying so much of his confidence, is it to be wondered at that my attachment was unbounded? I solemnly declare that, had it been possible, in 1827, to add years to his life by taking them from mine, I would have made the sacrifice with heartfelt exultation.

That he penetrated this sentiment I cannot doubt; for I do not remember that I ever presumed to pay him a compliment, except where my opinions as a public journalist were stated in defending him from the attacks to which he was so much exposed, or justifying his policy and acts, which it was my good fortune to be able conscientiously to do throughout his whole career. Under such circumstances, utter sincerity was a natural and certain result; and out of this grew our bond of union and friendship. It might be chance or position which threw me in his way; but, however it happened, he entertained an idea that it was useful for a politician and a minister to learn as much as he could of the opinions of various classes of the community upon the measures of Government, and other subjects of interest to the country; and he was aware that I mixed much in the society of intelligent men of every description—literary, agricultural, mercantile, professional, busy and idle.
Founded on this was his desire to have such frank and candid colloquies with me; and which he nobly repaid me by equal unreserve and cordiality. Let any one imagine the happiness of this! I was flattered by the thought that I was rendering some service to the man I so dearly loved; and his communications to me in return exalted me into the consciousness of being one of the best-informed individuals in the empire. There were few things beyond the limits of cabinet secresy which were not freely confided to me. Who could help exulting in such intercourse? I look back upon it across the valley of the shadow of death, and yet it is bright with sunshine whose reflection warms my soul!

As a slight proof of the nature of our conferences, I may mention that on some occasion (I do not recollect what) I must have stated something unpalatable to Mr. Canning; for a day or two afterwards I met Mr. William Dundas, the member for Edinburgh, who took me to task for my plain-spokenness, after the fashion of Lear with Kent, and told me I had been too blunt. I defended myself on the plea of sincere regard and truth, which I was sure would be better liked than reserve or concealment; and his remark was, “Well, you at any rate use a privilege which I, though so near a relation, would not venture to extend so far, for fear of offence.” It struck me that I must have trespassed, and the matter had been spoken of to Mr. Dundas; which indeed it had been, but, as Mr. Canning was good enough shortly after to tell me, with praise of the spirit which had dictated my conduct in all I ever said or did with him.*

* As Lady Randolph rather strongly expresses it,—

Thou first of virtues, let no mortal leave
Thy onward path, although the earth should gape,
And from the gulf of hell, destruction cry
To take dissimulation’s winding way.


At this period the arrangements for Mr. Canning’s mission to Lisbon, after the approaching prorogation of Parliament, were entered into, and underwent several modifications, both on family reasons and political grounds. The delicate health of his son rendered a sojourn in a warm climate desirable, and the uncertainty of the relations between the Brazils and Portugal caused a difficulty as to the official character in which the appointment to the Court should be made out. These points furnished plenty of topics for the Opposition press to inveigh against the embassy and the ambassador, or plenipotentiary, or whatever the name might be, and his allowances. The powers of eloquence, withering sarcasm, and hardly more tolerable ridicule, with which his speeches in the House of Commons abounded, were not easily to be forgotten or forgiven by those upon whom they were inflicted; and no opportunity was ever lost of assailing him with bitter hostility. Gross misrepresentations were also employed to swell the list of his offences; and thus the Lisbon mission served its purpose for a prolonged series of attacks, which were, indeed, continued till after his return, and the debate on the subject. Connected with this it will be appropriate to mention here (rather than a year hence, in the order of time) that, from the wording of the notice, it could not be foreknown whether the general policy of the measure or the personal conduct of the individual was to be censured; and it was agreed that, in the former case, Lord Castlereagh, in the latter, Mr. Canning, was to answer the mover, Mr. Whitbread. I was asked to hear and make notes of the debate, which I did; and went home, after it was over, to Old Brompton with Mr. Canning, who assured me that the votes of Sir James Macintosh and Mr. (Conversation) Sharpe gave him greater pain than all the rest of the votes of the minority put together. I never could
gather what was the cause of this extreme sensibility; and could only infer that he had, in some bygone days, laid these two gentlemen under obligations, and was stung by a sense of their ingratitude, without making the allowance to which every one has a right if he acts upon his proper convictions. But, as I have observed, the chivalrous was a marked feature in the temperament of Mr. Canning, which will supply the most probable explanation of the whole of his proceedings in regard to the
Princess of Wales (into an early account of which I have now partly to enter), as well as his anxious provision for his political friends before he would accept the Portuguese embassy.

It will be remembered, that in May 1814, the Princess of Wales was forbidden to present herself at the Queen’s drawing-room, in consequence of an objection from the Prince Regent, who must of necessity be there, and refused to meet his wife “for reasons of which he alone could be the judge.” The Queen was thereupon placed in a dilemma, and obliged to communicate the unwelcome intelligence to her Royal Highness, who acquiesced in the decision “out of personal consideration for her Majesty,” but peremptorily insisted on the fact, that as she had been pronounced innocent on the investigation against her, she would not be treated as guilty, and demanded of the Queen to state this to the distinguished visitors who attended. From this public outbreak, the Princess became more than ever a political engine in the hands of the Opposition to gall and depreciate the Regent. It was endeavoured to increase her popularity, and in the same degree diminish that of her husband; and the country was in a favourable condition for the diffusion and adoption of these views. The question therefore assumed a prominence of State importance, which was but too well calculated to agitate, and, I may add, demoralise the population, though
not then to the extent it did at a later period. When
Lord Castlereagh proposed a provision of 50,000l. a-year, Mr. Whitbread unexpectedly produced a letter from her Royal Highness, declaring that 35,000l. was all she would accept from an overburthened people, and acknowleged that he was her adviser in this step for popularity. The matrimonial quarrel thus became a national business, and party was armed with a powerful instrument to work its way either for the gratification of revenge or ambition. That the Princess suffered much we can confidently affirm, both from the hostility of the Prince, and the pain of being made a tool for factious ends. She felt that she was forsaken where she had a right to expect support; and that she was supported elsewhere, not for her own sake, but as the means of annoyance to her husband, respecting whom, if she had no cause to care for his welfare, it was at any rate despicable to be employed as a thorn in his side. In this situation it was not surprising that she should soon become a frequent visitor to Gloucester Lodge, and seek from the loyal friendship of Mr. Canning that counsel and aid which no other quarter offered to her pitiable case. To his sympathy the unfortunate Princess could not appeal in vain, and like the illustrious Knight without fear and without reproach, he undertook her cause, reconciled her to herself, and brought the sad affair to as auspicious an issue as was then within the compass of human exertion. The nature of their conferences may be surmised from the circumstances I am about to relate. On going to the Lodge on a Sunday afternoon as customary, I observed the Princess’s carriage at the door; and was hesitating whether I should go in or not, when Mr. Canning led her out and handed her to her seat, beckoning me to enter by another passage. A glance informed me that something of unusual interest
had taken place, for the Princess appeared flushed to crimson, and Mr. Canning exceedingly moved. I proceeded into the room, and walking up to the fire-place, stood leaning my arm on the chimney-piece, when the latter returned in a state of extreme excitement and agitation, exclaiming (in a manner more resembling a stage effect than a transaction in real life), “Take care, sir, what you do! Your arm is bathing in the tears of a Princess!” I immediately perceived that this was the truth, for her Royal Highness had been weeping plenteously over the very marble spot on which I rested; and it was on this day that she came to the resolution to leave England. Poor lady, many a flood of tears she shed; and in her affliction was wont to exclaim, “God bless the good old King, and (pausing) I ought also to pray God bless Mr. Canning!” By his advice, and the advice of
Lord Leveson Gower, she now determined to travel from the land where her position was so distressing. In so doing she gave much offence to Mr. Whitbread and the party who had espoused her cause, and was loudly blamed by them for her desertion. But when we look upon her unhappy condition in every respect, I think there can be only one opinion, that the severance from them and the inhospitable soil, was the only course she could pursue suited to her own dignity and comparative peace of mind. The Jason frigate, the Hon. Captain King, having been ordered for the service, with the Rosario sloop, Captain Peake, in attendance, she sailed on the 9th of August, landed at Cuxhaven on the 15th, on her way to Brunswick, having in her suite Lady E. Forbes, Lady C. Lindsay, Sir William Gell, Colonel St. Leger, Mr. Craven, Capt. Hess, and Dr. Holland. The accounts at the time described her as considerably distressed, even to fainting, on quitting the English shore; but she was constitutionally
blessed with high spirits, and rallied so speedily that on the 12th, the Prince’s birthday, she toasted his health, and before the vessel reached Cuxhaven joined in the dance on the deck with Sir William Gell and her cheerful companions. The toiled bird had been liberated from its cage; and the reaction was naturally immediate as it skimmed the blue sea in beautiful weather, free upon the wing!

There can be no doubt that in this affair Mr. Canning was partly influenced by political considerations, involving the tranquillity of the country, the removal of a serious source of injurious scandal, and the contentment of the reigning sovereign, so long harassed by the conflict; in whose breast, as I shall have occasion to relate in a future page of this Memoir, he implanted a grateful memory which was not impaired by his noble refusal to take any part in the accusations and bill of pains and penalties afterwards brought against the Queen, over whom, as Princess, he had thus thrown the shield of his affectionate sympathy and manly protection.

Preparing for his voyage to Portugal, with the intention of remaining a year in that country, it was a great relief to him when he had so satisfactorily accomplished this object. It seemed as if a weight had been taken off his head and heart; his conversation resumed its usual cheerfulness and vivacity; and the trying scenes of misery and grief were happily banished from Gloucester Lodge.

At this time I had experienced a peculiar trait of Mr. Canning, which it may be amusing to record, and deemed somewhat characteristic. Near the beginning of our acquaintance, when we met in the Old Brompton lanes, he used, on giving me his hand, to place in mine only one, or occasionally two, of his fingers, and this I have reason to know was his general habit with those with whom he was
not on more intimate terms; for
Mr. Dundas, of whom I have spoken hefore, observed to me that I was becoming a great favourite, and had already got to three fingers! Such had been the case till now; when, having found out the value of the prize, I was not a little delighted to have the whole hand of the man I so esteemed shaken with mine. I assure you I was proud enough of the distinction; which few shared, except the Huskissons, the Freres, the Ellises, the Backhouses, and other faithful and attached friends, the associates of his unreserved and confidential hours, and companions of those social enjoyments, the charms of which no words can paint.

Although five years in advance, I will conclude this chapter with a personal proof of this great man’s regard for so humble an individual as myself. I had asked him to stand godfather to an infant son of mine (now the bearer of his name, “George Canning,” in Bengal), and was in painful suspense at having no answer, when I received the following letter, which converted my annoying uncertainty into pleasure:—

“Gloucester Lodge, Aug. 5, 1819.
“Dear Sir,

“I am quite shocked, on looking over your letter of the 31st to see that I omitted, in our conversation yesterday, to advert to its more immediate object.

“The truth is, that I put your letter by, intending to read it over again before I should see you, and that I had unluckily left it among my papers in town, when you called upon you [me] yesterday.

“I hope you have understood silence to mean consent, so far as my consent was necessary; and that you will have the goodness to signify so much to me, and to accept my best wishes on behalf of my young godson.


“I again beg you to believe that I am most truly sorry for my inadvertence, and that I am, dear Sir,

“Your very sincere and faithful servant,
Geo. Canning.”

As a farther proof of the fine feeling and goodness of the writer of this gratifying letter, I have to add, that he went to Kensington Church himself, in order to authorise the baptismal name to be properly registered in the parochial book.

* It is sometimes difficult, in cases of baptismal mistake, to induce straightlaced clergymen to correct the errors. Thus I heard, whilst writing this chapter, an anecdote of a baby whose parents were desirous that he should hear the name of their friend, Mr. Peto. But the minister did not hear it distinctly, and christened the child Peter; nor could all the persuasions afterwards urged in the vestry, when filling in the register, induce him to alter the fiat. Peter he had baptised him, Peter he was, Peter he must remain, and Peter he is to this day.