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The Autobiography of William Jerdan
Debrett’s Peerage

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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G. page 102.
June 1st, 1820.


“Is Debrett’s Peerage the most accurate record we have of the present state of the nobility of the kingdom? If it be, the peerage, I must say is most miserably recorded. I have just been looking over his list of the Irish peers (in the eleventh edition, considerably improved, printed in 1817), and I do not think I overstep the modesty of calculation, when I assert that it contains at least as many errors as there are articles. It would take a little too much room to prove this assertion at length; but I shall give a couple of examples, selected almost at random.

“Vol. II. p. 989. We are informed that Thomas, 27th baron Howth, married in 1750, Isabella, the Earl of Kingston’s sister, who died in 1794: and that his second son, Thomas, was born in 1795. This, is I think, an important fact in midwifery. But let that pass. This son Thomas is at present bishop of Cork and Ross; and if the above date of his birth be correct, he must have made good use of his time. A bishop and doctor of divinity long before twenty, he may almost rival the most striking examples of precocity or nepotism; but when we find (p. 990) that he has eight children, one married in 1805, con-
sequently when her father was only ten years of age, and another (a clergyman too) in 1816, in his father’s twenty-first year, we must confess that miracles have not yet ceased. Again we are told (p. 990), that Lord Howth’s eldest daughter, Isabella, was married in 1773 to Lord Sidney, who died in 1744 without issue, which last circumstance I do not much wonder at, as he did not think proper to marry until twenty-nine years after his death. Her mother, I confess, as we have seen already, had a son a year after her decease: this, however, being I imagine a rare case, ought not to be drawn into a precedent. But this family seems to have a fancy for marriage after death, as we find (p. 990) the next daughter, Elizabeth, married in 1806, to Sir P. A. Irving, although the same grave authority informs us she died in 1799. This is a very authentic history; and I can assure your readers it would not be hard to find other tales as astonishing.

“Let us turn to Lord Clarina. There we learn (p. 1267) that Nathaniel William, the 2nd Lord, was born in 1796, married Penelope, daughter of M. R. Nertropp, Esq., had a daughter in 1797, and a son, (the present Lord Clarina) in 1798, beside other children, and died a Lieutenant-General in 1810, aged of course fourteen years. This is rapid promotion, and beats the old story of the captain crying for his pap. Besides, he thinks fit to inform us that Penelope, Baroness Clarina, died in 1815. This I am happy to contradict; her ladyship is still in the precincts of this world, and if health, good humour, and good looks, give any reason to expect a long life, I know nobody more likely to bid fair for it.

“Is not this scandalous carelessness? I have taken but two cases; but I could increase the list a hundred-fold with ease. It certainly is treating the purchasers very cavalierly, and I hope that the editors will take a little more pains with the next edition.

“I am, Sir, yours, &c,

P. P. P.
“July 12, 1820.


“Observing in one of your late numbers, various errata pointed out in Debrett’s account of the Peerage of Ireland, and feeling the same sort of interest in the Scots Peerage that your correspondent appears to do in the Irish, I am induced to submit to you the following list, which I found in the course of a few minutes, and in turning over merely a few pages. They are taken from the tenth edition, published in 1816. I have since compared them with the corresponding passages in the ‘thirteenth edition, considerably improved,’ printed in 1820; and shall add the result in each case.

“In the article, ‘Marquis of Tweeddale,’ we find it recorded, that George, seventh marquis, was married in 1785, and yet his fourth son, William, died in 1778. In 1820, this young nobleman is brought to life, and promoted to the rank of captain in the Rifle Brigade!

“‘Earl of Eglinton.’ In the account of this distinguished family, Archibald, Lord Montgomerie, is stated to have married Lady Mary Montgomery, daughter of Archibald, eleventh Earl of Eglinton, and sister of Jane, Countess of Crawford. Now every one who knows anything of the peerage of Scotland, could have informed the editor, that Lady Montgomery had only one sister, Lady Susan, who died unmarried; and that the late Countess of Crawford was sister to Lord Montgomery’s mother. This error is copied verbatim into the ‘considerably improved’ edition of 1820.

“‘Earl of Cassillis.’ Archibald, Lord Kennedy, born 1804, married 1814—date of his birth left out in the new edition (really 1794).

“‘Earl of Haddington.’ We find it recorded that this nobleman married in 1799, and that his son, Lord Binning, followed his example in 1802; the real date of Lord Haddington’s marriage was 1779; but the blunder is faithfully copied into the new edition.

“‘Earl of Dysart.’ In the account of this noble family, a remarkable circumstance is stated, viz. that Frances, daughter
of Lionel, third earl, died in 1707—the year before her father was born!—Copied faithfully into the new edition.

“‘Earl of Northesk.’ George, fourth earl, married in 1748, his eldest son was born in 1749, and his fourth in 1733. Repeated in the new edition.

“The above, Mr. Editor, I give, merely as a specimen of what is to be found in almost every page, nor is the new edition more free from errors than the preceding ones. In one case I find the real heir to an earldom, a gentleman married and having a numerous family, altogether omitted, and the reversion of the title bestowed on his uncle; while in another page, I find a nobleman’s brothers and sisters stated to be his children. I really feel it a duty to expose this extreme carelessness, most inexcusable certainly in a work of this kind, which is only valuable in proportion to its accuracy; and I am satisfied that your giving publicity to this statement will have the effect of rendering the fourteenth edition more accurate.

“I am, Sir,
“Your very obedient Servant,

“J. M.”
“29, Fetter Lane.


“Having given insertion to the two articles of P. P. and J. M. and thus afforded the writers, or rather the Writer, an opportunity of assailing the Peerage in its literal errors, I am induced to hope you will give insertion to my reply; which, as it is composed with more temper, cannot be less creditable to the columns of a Journal building its hopes for reputation on candour and consequent impartiality. I have said writer, because, if similarity of style can ever lead to identity, it is very evident in the present instance; and I may reasonably conclude that the next attack will be on the Peerage of England! thus perfecting the Tria Juncta in uno.

“To attempt perfection in a work crowded by so many difficulties, impediments continually obtruding, changes continually defeating, would be idle; so would my defence, did I seek more than in support of my claim to diligence, and unwearied and
incessant attention: on these points I may claim to justify myself. It was by these efforts my Peerage has obtained unrivalled patronage and support: I owe all that gratitude can urge, and future diligence secure.

“But it is not by diligence alone that the Peerage can arrive at accuracy; it must be assisted by occasional corrections from noble and other correspondents. Sir William Dugdale, Garter King of Arms, the learned author of the admirable History of Warwickshire, the History of St. Paul’s, and other works of the first order of merit—works, the splendid monument of his learning and talents;—he felt the almost insuperable difficulties of a Peerage; and, hopeless of accuracy, confessed his deficiency. Where a Dugdale failed, I could hardly hope for complete success. My efforts were an approach to accuracy; and, I may confidently and without vanity assert, that I have done more than any of my predecessors. Your correspondent P. P. says, ‘I do not think I overstep the modesty of calculation, when I assert, that it contains at least as many errors as there are articles.’ I shall not stop to enquire into the quantum of your correspondent’s modesty, of his accuracy in calculation, or whether there is more of malignity in his assertion than of candour in investigation. I can only reply that most of the errors he has so vauntingly detected might have been easily remedied by the introduction of a figure—mere errors of the compositor, or the dropping of a letter at press. These, Sir, are errors which candour would have supplied. In another part of the article of your correspondent, he charges me with scandalous negligence. Let me ask of your correspondent Sir, whether I may not, with more propriety, and without the loss of temper, charge him with scandalous meanness, in an assertion so wanton and unprovoked. With regard to the playfulness of his satire, I would fain remind him, that he becomes very serious when he would be amusing, and very amusing when he would be serious. To conclude, Sir, as I have never aimed at perfection, never hoping to accomplish it, let me request your correspondent’s attention to the following quotation from the Baronetage; and let me press upon his attention, that, as I have always invited and solicited corrections of the press, his corrections would have been attended to with more pleasure if they had been pointed out with a more liberal feeling:—


“‘Of his labours and industry in the pursuit, he would wish to say little. He has been abundantly recompensed for the time occupied in his very numerous personal applications, by the politeness and attention with which those applications have been honoured, and by the extensive aids which he has derived from them. The only regret which he feels in offering this result of his endeavours to the public, arises from a dread of too frequent error in treating on subjects, with regard to which perfect correctness is absolutely unattainable.’

“I am, Sir, yours, &c,

“Editor of the Peerage, Baronetage, and Imperial Calendar.”

“[Though unwilling to prolong the discussion on the errors in this useful publication, yet as we have admitted our correspondents (for we assure Mr. Debrett there are two) to be replied to, and as their answers are not only amusing from their humour, but calculated to produce a very desirable improvement in the future editions of the work, we trust that by doing so in the present instance, we shall confer a double benefit upon our readers— give them a good laugh, and cause the correction of a book, whose popularity is evinced by the number of editions through which it has gone.]

“August 10, 1820.


“I have perused with mingled feelings of mirth and compassion, the delectable epistle of Mr. John Debrett, Editor of the Peerage, Baronetage, and Imperial Calendar. Being a plain matter-of-fact man, I cannot hope to compete with that droll personage, in either wit or erudition, and must resign the field to him in those respects, without attempting to crack jokes or quote scraps of latin. Nor shall I take any notice of the personalities which that facetious chronicler has thought it necessary to have recourse to. Patient, however, of injuries as I am, I cannot consent to give up my personal identity. You, Mr. Editor, can assure Mr. Debrett that I, who glory in the signature of the triple P, am quite a different person from him of the bi-literal appellation of J. M. We are, I suspect, from different sides of the channel. Mr. Debrett has thus been affected in
a contrary way to the votaries of Bacchus, who are said to see every object double in their cups, whereas he has blended two people into one while pouring forth his indignation.

“Passing by all this buffoonery, let me call to Mr. Debrett’s recollection the true state of the case. I pointed out in his account of the noble families of Howth and Clarina, errors of the most palpable and ridiculous description; and I added that it was scandalously negligent to continue them in edition after edition, said to be carefully revised and corrected. In answer, he tells me, that it is very easy to rectify these errors (the existence of which he cannot deny), which, if true, renders his negligence in suffering them to remain unamended for so many years, still more inexcusable; and that I am a scandalously mean fellow, which, whether true or not, does not establish the correctness of his peerage.

“I confess, however, such is my obtuseness, that I cannot see wherein I am so scandalous. I gave for Mr. Debrett’s book four and twenty shillings under the impression that it was accurate. If not accurate, it is not worth as many pence: and every approach to inaccuracy, is a sensible, a calculable diminution of its value. And I re-assert that it contains as many errors as articles; but I must also repeat, that to prove the assertion at length, would occupy all your columns. If Mr. Debrett have the honesty to return me my twenty-four shillings, which I can assure him I regret parting with for his Peerage, I engage to forward him, by return of post four and twenty blunders as ridiculous as any already mentioned; but as he seems to wish for a farther exposé in public, I shall, with your permission, oblige him with a dozen specimens of his correctness, which I have collected in less than half-an-hour.

“1st. p. 54. We are told that the late Duke of Dorset was killed at Killarney in Ireland. Now his Grace met with the sad accident, that put an end to his life, above a hundred miles from Killarney, in a different province altogether. He might as well say that a gentleman killed in Norfolk, was killed in Cornwall. I confess I do not lay much stress on such blunders as these, because they are not very material. If I did I could glean a hundred of them by barely casting my eyes over his pages; but as we do not consult peerages for historical facts or
anecdotes, I shall only notice errors in what we principally do consult them for, that is, in dates.

“2nd. p. 73. George Paulett of Amport, twelfth Marquis of Winchester, married in 1812 Martha Ingoldsby, who died in 1796. In spite of this droll taste of marrying a woman sixteen years after her death, he had three children; and it is not the least wonderful circumstance, that he himself died in 1800, twelve years before his marriage. I have a dim recollection of reading in Mr. Lewis’s Tales of Wonder, an account of a ghost-wedding; but I did not know till now that he had such authentic warrant for the circumstance. I must farther remark, that it is rather scandalous in Mr. Debrett to assert that the noble lady of Sir Joseph Yorke was married twenty-seven years before her mother was united in the holy bonds of matrimony to her father; and that the late Marchioness of Winchester had a grandchild before she had a husband. I omit mentioning that he makes her son to be married a year after his mother. This is almost scandalum magnatum.

“3rd. p.231. Here is more scandal. Bennet, third Earl of Harborough, married, according to this authentic register, in 1748, having had children by his lady in 1739, 1741, 1743, and 1744. What follows is almost as bad. This Earl had a daughter Frances, married to Colonel Morgan in 1776, six years after her father’s death, which occurred in 1770; and yet we are told he left no surviving issue. What is the meaning of this? Does Mr. Debrett mean to insinuate that Lady Frances, though the Earl’s daughter, was not his child?

“4th. p. 986. Here we have scandal against a living lady. The Earl of Mexborough, he says, was married to his Countess, September 25th, 1782, and their daughter Eliza came into the world on the 20th of June preceding. Upon my word Mr. Debrett, this is taking a shocking liberty with Lady Mexborough’s character!

“5th. p. 1248. Again to it! William Townshend, eldest son of Lord Ventry, marries Miss Jones in 1797; but her son by him was born in 1793. On the part of the Hon. Mrs. Mullens, I must take upon me to contradict this calumny, and to expostulate warmly with Mr. Debrett for treating her in this manner, in his scandalous chronicle.


“6th. p. 375. Catherine, wife of Edward Devereux, eleventh Viscount Hereford, dies February 2nd, 1741, yet has a son on the 19th of the same month, and a daughter in 1743!

“7th. p. 1045. This fashion of Lady Hereford’s appears to have been adopted about the same time in Ireland; for we find that the mother of the first Viscount O’Neil died in 1742, and had her eldest son, the viscount, in 1748, six years after. It appears to me, however, that he is rather unfairly counted her eldest son, as her second son is born in 1746, which, I submit, is an earlier date. But that is a bagatelle here.

“8th. p. 980. We have another post-obit birth—a circumstance, I suspect, rather more frequent in this Peerage than in the Lying-in Hospital—in the case of Catherine, wife of the second Earl of Arran, who dies in 1770, and, according to custom, has a son in 1774, and daughters in 1775 and 1776. This would have been a valuable woman in a new colony.

“9th. p. 584. William Brabazon, Baron Ponsonby of Imokilly, was born in 1744, and married in 1726, only eighteen years before his birth. He had three children nevertheless, one of whom Mr. Debrett makes Knight of the Shire for Cork in 1817, though the gentleman at that time was not in parliament at all; and I perceive that the error is repeated in the revised and corrected edition for 1820. If an edition be published in 1850, I suppose he will still figure as M.P.

“10th. p. 899. Robert Fitzgerald, nineteenth Earl of Kildare, marries in March, 1708, Lady Mary O’Brien, who died in the February preceding. As usual, this hopeful marriage produces eleven children!

“11th. p. 966. Rev. Pierce Butler, third son of the second Earl of Carrick, dies in 1803, and as usual here, marries in 1806. His lady, I see, took a second husband. I hope her second match was more auspicious than her first. It must have been rather unpleasant to be married to a man who had been three years dead.

“12th. p. 1271-2. In the former of these pages, we are told that Richard Handcock was member for Athlone in 1800, and in the latter, that William Handcock, first Lord Castlemaine, represented that town from 1783 to 1801. Now William represented it until 1804, and I believe Richard never at all.
I should be obliged to
Mr. Debrett if he would tell me where he learned that the two Messrs. Handcock sat together for Athlone in 1800?

“There is my dozen for you. It will be in vain for Mr. Debrett to shift these errors on his pressmen. They arise from scandalous negligence somewhere; and it is little matter to the people who like me are out of pocket for Mr. Debrett’s bundle of inaccuracies, whether it is master or man that is to blame for them. I could not help laughing at the suggestion of the worthy editor, that I ought rather to have sent my corrections to him in a private letter, when I recollected how carefully he adds in his advertisement, prefixed to his worthy work, that all correspondence to him on the subject of the Peerage, should be post paid. This is, I suppose what he calls soliciting corrections; but the plain English of it is this—you have lost one pound four shillings by me, and now to enable me to make another edition more correct, you ought to throw away a few additional shillings in postage.

“I believe I take leave of Mr. Debrett here. He refers me to his Baronetage: I have seen that book. Does he wish to have my opinion on it? If so, let him say the word, and I am ready for it, in public or in private.

“I remain, Sir,
“Your humble Servant,

P. P. P.

“P.S. The pages refer to the edition of 1817; but the errors exist as well in the edition of 1820 as in the former one, not a single inaccuracy being corrected.”