LORD  BYRON  and  his  TIMES
Documents Biography Criticism

The Autobiography of William Jerdan
Ch. 9: Ingratitude

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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The Wheel of Life is turning quickly round,
And in one place is very seldom found;
The Midwife wheels us in, and Death wheels us out,
Good lack-a-day! how we are wheeled about!—Old Ballad.

The words with which the preceding chapter is concluded, give rise to a train of reflections, in which I will adventure to indulge for a brief space; as the result of a very extended and comprehensive experience. I am sorry to say that they do not, on the whole, tend to excite a very flattering opinion of mankind, nor of the world as it is in our living day. The quaint adage, “no more pipe, no more dance,” I have found far too widely true and applicable to the transactions of human intercourse. That there are multitudes of noble and right minded exceptions, no one can state with more delight than I do; were it not so, the world would be a cold and hideous wilderness.

But in referring (very imperfectly) to what has been preserved of my voluminous correspondence scattered over so many active years, I have been sadly struck with the difference of the language and tone which they exhibit as relative circumstances happened to vary. The individual letters addressed to the same man in prosperity and adversity,
appear as if they were written to two persons, not only not identical, but as if there were no resemblance whatever between them. And the very writers themselves are equally changed; like Bottom the weaver they have been “metamorphosed.” I have a thousand letters, for example, begging favours; they are so prettily expressed it is quite a pleasure to read them. They are so kind, so complimentary, so flattering, that you are almost inclined to fancy yourself a demi-god. But let the power of granting such requests cease, and it is wonderful how the expressions are cooled, the compliments abbreviated, and the flatteries abridged. You are restored to your mere human shape again—and hardly that.

Then again, and it is infinitely more to be deplored, when you have rendered essential services to the establishment of fortune, and even to the preservation of life, and are distressed with the overpourings of never-ending remembrance and eternal gratitude; it is melancholy to see, after no very long time has elapsed—the fortune having continued to smile, and the life having become easy and comfortable—it is very melancholy to discover that the acknowledged services are apt to be disowned, and the everlasting gratitude forgotten or “repudiated.” I could state not a few cases of this description so base, that the feeling of indignation it might be supposed they are likely to generate, would be lost in the stronger feeling of utter contempt; selfishness, and self-illusion will naturally account for a great deal of this, but what can account for the more odious feature, too prevalent to escape philosophical remark, which often returns evil for good, and strives by every detestable means to injure a benefactor.

In the former case, pride, vanity, the idea of your own superior merits, and other causes and motives may lead,
without much dereliction of principle, to the disreputable change; whilst in the latter, nothing but a thoroughly bad heart and malevolent disposition, can afford a clue to the diabolical phenomena of requiting the greatest benefits by the darkest revenge!

I may, hereafter, devote a few pages to the selfish character of the age—perhaps a more material source of misery than indulgence in the worst passions, for apathy is more prevalent for evil than malignity, and occasions far more extended sufferings; but having, for the present, rather intimated than discussed ideas, which have been pressed upon my mind and run continually in my thoughts since I began this work, I shall now proceed with my personal narrative, and, at any rate, defer this theme and its personal illustrations.

As far as distraction from the proper performance of my duty, and a sense of the inevitable destruction of the property in which I had embarked my talents (such as they were), and my views which were sanguine enough, were concerned, I was in no enviable situation. The feud grew from bad to worse, was almost a daily torment to me, and a plague to every soul who knew Mr. Taylor or myself. I am not exaggerating when I say, that he got quite “demented” and went to extremities, which not even my original disregard of the folly, and later patience with the mischievous ebullitions, could endure. The ruinous consequences which had all along been threatened, became inevitable and imminent. Of course, I daresay I was often in a state of angry provocation and contradiction; and I find, curiously enough, among my papers a contribution of Taylor’s, which I rejected, on grounds the sufficiency of which I cannot now make out, and which led to a furious onslaught. I believe it is the only poetical holograph of my then most hostile partner which I possess, and as a
great many worse things both of his and my own were suffered to appear in the paper, I have some small satisfaction in copying it here:—

Friend Chalmers, ’tis a noble treat
At Thomson’s hallow’d board to meet—
The Bard of Nature’s Sphere;
The Bard who, long as ages roll,
And Nature animates the whole,
Taste, virtue, will revere.
’Tis surely form’d of Britain’s Oak,
That bears her Thunder’s dreadful stroke
O’er all her subject main:
For lo! Britannia’s* sacred laws,
And Liberty’s* congenial cause,
Inspired his patriot strain.
Not Arthur’s, with his Knights around,
By fond Tradition long renown’d,
Should equal thine in fame;
Nor that where plates the Trojan’s ate,
Portentous of a happier fate,
Though graved with Virgil’s name.
The Poet’s Goblets too are thine,
With votive bumpers let them shine,
In Thomson’s praise to ring;
Whose works, through Summer’s parching glow,
Sear’d Autumn, Winter’s blighting snow,
Will bloom in endless Spring.

George Chalmers, to whom this piece is inscribed, was one of the most respectable and most comfortable of publisher’s drudges. He was able, laborious, good-humoured, and had a thorough enjoyment of the good things of social life, to which his conversation contributed the appendages of pleasurable intelligence and instruction.

* Poems by Thomson.

He was altogether an extremely well-informed and very agreeable companion, and consequently moved in the best literary society. In those times general good fellowship was more in fashion than now; and sometimes among publishers, booksellers, authors and patrons, there was a nearer alliance to junkettings than in our refined day! I often met Mr. Chalmers, and liked him much. He was a fine example of a rubicund Scotchman; fattened and roseated in London; and in his time did valuable service to literature, whilst he uprightly and honourably sustained the character of a Literary Man.

But to return to my dog-like treat. Law proceedings and law expenses, and law contradictions and law disappointments, flowed in to fill the cup of trouble. The best point I could make in my New Year’s gratulatory address for 1816, was, that “a more systematic and enlarged attention should be paid to literary subjects” than the turmoils of war and politics had allowed, though upwards of a hundred reviews had been given in the preceding year. But the spirit of the editor was dulled; his expectations quashed. The “Sun” had fallen off in light. Its splendour was gone. There was more trashy poetry than ever; the little blemishes had become staple commodities, and the witticisms were multiplied, and nearly all under the regulation, i. e. tolerable, standard. In short, the fatal blow had been struck at its continuing to prosper in my hands; and the undermining within prevailed with more deplorable spectacles of monomania than ever. All I could do was to keep my public place, and endeavour to do my duty. But the buoyancy was gone; and my Soul and the “Sun” were too heavily weighted for a bright career over Terra or through Æther.

The concern could not have gone on at all, but for my obtaining an injunction in Chancery, to prevent any more
direct interference with the editor than consisted with what could not he restrained—the most childish and pettish interruptions during the whole forenoon I was engaged in the business in the front room, and my Partner was ruminating and contriving in the back room how to annoy me. The injunction is a curiosity in newspaper warfare, and here it is:—


After reciting the whole affidavit of complaint.

“To be relieved wherein and for an injunction the Complainant had exhibited his bill against you, the said Defendant, to which you had appeared, but had not then put in your answer.

“We therefore, in consideration of the premises, do hereby strictly enjoin and restrain you the said Defendant, John Taylor, under the penalty of Five Thousand Pounds, to be levied upon your lands, goods, and chattels to our use, from inserting or causing to be inserted in any future number of the newspaper called ‘The Sun,’ any articles or article whatsoever without the consent of the said Complainant previously obtained, and from altering or causing to be altered, and from rejecting or causing to be rejected, any articles or article which the said Complainant has directed or consented or may direct or consent to be inserted in any future number of the said newspaper, and from giving any direction or order to any of the printers or workmen now employed or at any future time to be employed in printing or publishing the said newspaper, in opposition or contrary to any direction or order which the said Complainant has given or may give to such printers or workmen or any of them respecting the conduct and management of the said newspaper, or so as to prevent
the direction or order of the said Complainant from being obeyed, and from discharging such printers or workmen or any of them or keeping back or diminishing their wages for obeying the orders of the said Complainant, and from interfering in any manner in the conduct or management of the said newspaper, and an editor thereof, or preventing the said Complainant from having the complete and absolute control over and the sole direction of the said newspaper as the editor thereof, until you the said Defendant shall fully answer the Complainant’s bill, or our said Court make other order to the contrary.

“Witness ourself at Westminster, the fourteenth day of December, in the fifty-sixth year of our reign.


This, like the writ attempted to be served on Martin in Galway, incensed the turmoil for a worser outbreak.*

Instead of writing what might be eligible for the paper, I was, nevertheless, still exposed to, and worn out by, the

* It is an old story in a Chancery suit, where every particular must be literally sworn to, and the servitor in this case made oath that when he approached Martin’s stronghold (now, strangely enough, the property by purchase of a Law Assurance Association!) to serve the writ, the Deft, (defendant) looked from a window or loophole down upon Dept. (deponent), with a gun or blunderbuss pointed directly at him, and swore by J——, that if he, the said Dept., advanced another step, he would blow his * * * soul to h—ll. All which he, the said Dept., verily believes, if he, said Dept., had advanced another step, he, the said Deft., would have done.

Dick Martin was an amusing companion, and as soft as milk in his manners, notwithstanding his pugnacious propensities and partiality for duelling. He once showed me the cicatrices of several bullet-wounds he had received in some of his score of encounters, and gave a very naive description of the occasions, and always the intolerable provocation he had put up with before resorting to the ultima ratio Hiberniæ. In proof of his-extraordinary forbearance, he told me that on the very night before, when he was speaking in the House on the Cruelty to Animals Bill, he was interrupted and insulted by some one crying “Hare! hare!” (hear,

petty vexations to which I have alluded; and which are so truly and fully expressed in a letter I sent to
Mr. Taylor at this time, that I repeat it here.

“Little Chelsea, 8th February, 1816.

Mr. Carstairs [the printer, and a sorely troubled one] and others, bringing numerous verbal messages, and communications of various kinds from you to me, to my great annoyance and interruption, I think it right to state to you explicitly that, receiving the treatment I have received and am daily experiencing from you, I feel no inclination either to submit to your caprices, or to relax one iota from the privilege I possess as editor of the ‘Sun,’ in order to insert things merely agreeable to your personal connections. Provoked as I am, I have chalked out for myself a course, the basis of which is to have no intercourse with you which I can possibly avoid. This want of concert you have forced by bitter persecution and continued ill-usage; and if you feel its effects, you know where the blame lies. You one day tell me that such a man abhors me, and glory in having caused him so to do, and the next ask me to insert some puff of this very person in the ‘Sun.’ Yourself abuse and calumniate me grossly, and yet you come to me to give place to matters in which you alone are interested. What opinion have you of human nature, to suppose that insult and enmity are to beget a return of courtesy and friendship? Once for all, I will not be so sported with,

hear) when there was no occasion. So, when he had finished his speech, he went across the flure to ascertain who had affronted him in this fashion, and Alderman ——— was pointed out as the party. “Upon which,” said Dick, “as it was only an alderman, it was impossible for a gentleman to resent it; and so I just gave the poor devil a look, and tauld him he had better never cry ‘hare, hare,’ again when I was addressing the cheair.”

and to put an end to the teazing repetition of messages on such subjects, whatever I find objectionable I will instantly destroy, and insert only what appears to me to be for the good of the concern; so now you know under what terms you send anything ‘For the Sun.’

“The gradual fall of the paper, in spite of my incessant labour at a task too heavy for one person, the advantage taken to throw a burthen upon me individually, wherever I have endeavoured to promote the general benefit, the insidious and despicable misrepresentations to which my best exertions are liable, have left me but one line of conduct, viz., to steer as clear as I can of you, to continue to do my duty diligently and faithfully, and to witness with regret that ruin of the ‘Sun’ which existing circumstances render inevitable. You were originally abundantly forewarned of the consequence of your laborious exertions to injure a person whose situation rendered it so necessary to your interests that you should have pursued an opposite course, but malice and folly combined mastered the good advice; you now feel a part of the result. Be warned once more; it may be yet time to redeem a little, and save from utter wreck. Could you reverse the injunction in Chancery, it will destroy the ‘Sun’ in a fortnight. Should any one of your causes come on, remember I have told you candidly, your short-hand writer may give a dangerous publicity to some falsehoods put into the mouth of counsel, and thus gratify your pique, but statements will be brought to light which will give a death-blow to the ‘Sun.’ Should you publish one line injurious to me, it shall be met by a notice under which the ‘Sun’ must sink. In brief, I will not permit you to ruin or attempt to ruin me without your reward; and therefore, if you regard the concern in which you have embarked a large property for a man in your
circumstances (I believe not far short of 1400l.), I again advise you to press no further on one who has hitherto, in the hope of a return to reason and justice, been more passive than he will ever be hereafter. Think of the advice, and not of the adviser.

“W. J.”

Such were my grievances, but there was no stopping the “vult perdere.” I was reviled and slandered to such a pitch, that I sought legal means to obtain redress, and the punishment of the offender. It is something in a man’s life, that if he is at any time well maligned, it is no matter how untruly and how unjustly, or how met and refuted, some of the dirt will stick to him for ever. Forgetting all else, even good-natured and well-meaning people are prone to say, “Oh, So-and-So; I did not know him, but I remember there was something talked of about him that was disparaging, and I have always had an impression that he was not altogether the right thing!” The stigma, after all, is unimportant to the man of conscious rectitude, but it has a vague effect, and though he does not feel the sting, it may operate to his prejudice during all his life, and in quarters that he could never dream of. Such occurrences have frequently come within my cognisance. I have known the prospects of very worthy men quite blasted, and those of others blighted till too late to be of the value they would have been, by obstacles of no other foundation than some calumnious rumour, which had just met the careless ear, and left the “I would rather not” impression behind. The fight between the sweep and baker is far more detrimental to the baker than the sweep; but both are repugnantly marked, and lose caste by the conflict.

Sequitur. Before going farther, backwards or forwards,
I add three documents to my Autobiography. The first is a letter from my much-esteemed friend, my solicitor then, and my endeared companion for many an after year, whose very recent death I have truly lamented; and the other the opinion of Counsel on the deplorable case of one who did not know whither to turn or what to do.

Dear Sir,

“Underneath I send you a copy of Mr. Marryat’s opinion, from which it appears, upon the whole, that it would be better to drop the idea of any action or indictment.

“I have read your case as drawn by yourself, and think it exceedingly well put together; so much so, that it will be laid entire before the counsel this evening, to draw the bill in equity. I have added but a line or two on one occasion, where I thought it was required, and I will hasten the gentleman who has the framing the bill every moment I possibly can. Mr. Marryat had some personal knowledge of Mr. Taylor, but spoke very loudly in his disfavour; however, he desired it might not be repeated to Taylor. I go to Oxford to-morrow morning early, and do not return till Saturday evening, but in the meantime your papers will be before counsel.

“Yours truly,

“I am of opinion that the terms used in the letter to Mr. Stuart* are not so distinctly libellous in point of law (though ‘very analogous’ to a libel) as to sustain either

* The present eminent Chancery barrister, ex-member for Newark, and I rejoice to add member for Bury St. Edmunds, which could not have a more able or honourable representative, and one of my oldest and dearest friends, to whom Taylor had addressed one of his abusive epistles.

an indictment or an action. No criminal prosecution can be supported for the mere verbal slanders. And of all the words stated in this case to have been used by
Mr. Taylor (with the addition mentioned in the note of the 13th instant), that of ‘thief’ alone is actionable. Even this expression if explained by the accompanying conversation, or by the witness to it, as not meant to convey an imputation of felony, would not be a legal ground of action, and as it is stated to have been mixed with a variety of other abuse, it was probably introduced as mere general declamation or invective, and I therefore discourage any proceeding on that account.


The next is the opinion of Mr. Tindal, afterwards raised to the Bench, and, as the dicta of so great a lawyer, may be worth a guinea fee to some unfortunate readers, who may happen to have anything to do with libels, I hope their compatriots will put up with two pages of a 5s. book for their sake.

“I am of opinion that no action is maintainable by Mr. Jerdan against Mr. Taylor for the words spoken by the latter. No action will lie for words of the nature stated in the case, unless they either impute to the party of whom they are spoken the commission of some legal crime, or unless they are spoken of him with reference to a trade or profession which he carries on; and I think the words spoken by Mr. Taylor do not fall within either of those two classes. The word thief, indeed, in its strict literal sense, imports the legal offence of felony; but it is also a word of common vulgar abuse, without any very definite meaning; and when the question is left to the jury in what sense Mr. Taylor used those words, it would be impossible for
them to think that Mr. Taylor intended to accuse Mr. Jerdan of the commission of any felonious threat. As to the words spoken with reference to his fitness for conducting the paper, there is no sufficiently express reference to Mr. Jerdan’s situation as conductor; nor, indeed, do the slanderous words themselves apply to the situation which he holds. Mr. Jerdan, under the deed of partnership, is the sole editor of the paper, but he has no concern whatever with the money transactions arising out of it. Now the words spoken by Mr. Taylor seem not to apply to the ability or diligence of Mr. Jerdan, or to any other requisite which an editor is expected to furnish, but to honesty in money concerns, with which, as editor, he has no interference. I therefore think no action will lie for the words.

“With respect to the letter, I am of opinion that it may, in strictness, be made the subject of an indictment, because it certainly does appear to contain insinuations which are calculated to provoke Mr. Jerdan to a breach of the peace. But at the same time I must observe that it is but just within the law of libel. The allegation that Mr. Jerdan’s motives are those of a swindler, is very far from a direct allegation; and, indeed, the whole of the objectionable passage in the letter is so obscure as to be scarcely intelligible. I am of opinion that, in cases of this nature, it is the most prudent and politic course not to indict, unless the offence is so clearly defined, and so aggravated in its nature, that there can be no doubt of the event or the measure of the punishment; because an indictment begun and not carried through, or, if carried through with success, terminated at last by a slight punishment, is more a matter of triumph to the defendant than to the prosecutor. This point, however, I leave to the discretion of the prosecutor.

NICOLAS C. TINDAL, Inner Temple,”

As I wish to avoid fatiguing the reader with more of personal matter than is absolutely incumbent upon me, I will now close this chaper; still trusting that the statements it contains are of such general interest and application, as to take them out of the category of sheer Individuality.*

Even whilst writing it, I observe in the daily and weekly papers, reports of actions at law and cases of police (such as are ever occurring), in which individuals connected with the periodical Press appear in the agreeable and profitable predicament of plaintiffs and defendants, prosecutors and prosecuted, accusers and accused; and they almost invariably afford presumption of such a loose way of transacting business, as sorely to puzzle judges and magistrates. They are the farces of litigation, at which the public laugh, and by which neither party gains either benefit or satisfaction. I would therefore entreat my brethren of the quill to steer clear of Law and Police, and even of Justice, so called. None of them were framed for their cases; and consequently the first will punish, the second ridicule, and the last baulk them! From the three, separately or collectively, they have nothing to look for but suffering in purse, person, and hopes. And so I say again, “Beware of spring-guns and man-traps on these premises.”

* It is said that the English people like to witness a stand-up fight; and therefore I hope they will not dislike to read about one, at least as much as was necessary in self-defence for my Autobiography.—W. J.