LORD  BYRON  and  his  TIMES
Documents Biography Criticism

The Autobiography of William Jerdan
Geographical Society

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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H. page 212.

Considering that the original projectors of this important Society have hardly received the credit due to them for their exertions in bringing it to the point when it was publicly adopted and organised on their basis, I deem it an act of justice to print the following statement and data. The first suggestion was conveyed to me by the letter signed A. C. C—— (a clerk or librarian in the India House), and its substance noticed in the “Literary Gazette” of 24th May, 1828. The annexed is the letter, which I did think it requisite to publish entirely:—


Sir,—Few occurrences in the literary world are, I think, calculated to produce greater pleasure than the establishment of the Asiatic Translation Fund, which has just taken place. As a whole its regulations are excellent, but there is one to which I wish to call attention by the medium of your paper, which has, I know, been pretty generally disapproved of. This is the proposal to publish certain translations in the French language. Far be it from me to depreciate that language or to undervalue its excellences, which all must acknowledge to be great: but still at a time, when our own tongue is advancing into popularity on the continent, and when it is in fact commencing a struggle for supremacy with the French, it must be owned to be unwise to play into the enemy’s hands in this manner. Nothing more contributed to the universal spread of our antagonist’s arms than the universal spread of her language, and nothing has more contributed to the universal spread of her language than the custom prevalent amongst too many of our authors of taking for granted an acquaintance with that language, and thus, in a manner, enforcing the acquisition of it. Let us hope that this want of generalship will soon be amended, that our future fashionable novels will not like Almacks be written half in one
language and half in another, and our future Oriental scholars will not like ‘
Sir William Jones, translate into French or English as indifferently,’ to quote the deemster’s oath in the Isle of Man, ‘as the herring’s backbone doth lie in the body of the fish.’

“Having thus given vent to my patriotic feelings on this subject, you will allow me to inquire in what manner the Fund means to proceed with such translations from the Sanscrit, as are executed by foreign writers. It is to be hoped that the English translation of these will be superintended by some one acquainted with the original (the foreign translator if possible), or otherwise it is to be feared that much of the spirit of the Sanscrit will be suffered to evaporate in this complicated process. I am glad to observe that such numbers of learned foreigners have come forward on this occasion.

“This Society has certainly filled up one great hiatus in the list of the English literary associations; but there is another almost equally important to supply, which no steps appear to be taking. I allude to the want of a Geographical Society—a want which is the more singular, as our nation has always been, and still is, the very foremost in promoting geographical discoveries. The establishment of a society would of course do little if anything towards the augmentation of our spirit of enterprise, because it is already at the greatest height it can be supposed possible to attain to, but still it would furnish a point of union to travellers and scientific men, and a depository for geographical information, which it is shameful that we should want. I am convinced that if such an association were now to be formed it would in a few years become even more eminent and more eminently useful than the famous society of Paris. A library would soon be formed, for it cannot be conceived that the travellers who have shown themselves so eager to present their works to our continental rivals would be backward in paying the same compliment to us. Few things could be conceived more interesting than an evening party (what our neighbours would call a soirée) at the rooms of the Society, after the return of some distinguished traveller, his drawings, maps, curiosities, &c. lying on the tables, and himself in the centre of a circle of busy inquirers, anxious ever to catch a glance at the celebrated man.


“With the earnest wish that these hurried remarks and suggestions may, by their insertion in your journal, attract the attention of some one of influence in these matters,

“I remain, sir, yours, &c.

“A. C. C.
“May 19th, 1828.

“P.S. I am irresistibly induced to make this rambling letter yet more rambling by inquiring whether Sir Walter Scott is yet in town, and what is his residence. I would keep watch at his door for four and twenty hours, were it only to catch a momentary glimpse of the wizard of the North. Please to answer this in your next.”

On the 20th of September, Mr. Huttmann’s letter (in my text) kept the subject partially alive, but 1829 passed away without any very strenuous efforts in private, and the proposal seemed to be all but asleep.

On the 8th of May, 1830, however, appeared the observations also given in my text, and embodying the steps which had then recently been adopted to revive the scheme, which was acknowledged in a letter of the 18th, from Mr. Britton, and farther particulars of the progress made, promised; but I do not find any published trace of the communication, and presume it was superseded by the meeting under Mr. Barrow, on the 24th of the same month. But Mr. Britton had previously addressed the gist of what had been concerted in the following letter to Mr. Davies Gilbert, and the prospectus which I have specified was issued.

“It appears, from what has come to my knowledge, that several gentlemen, wholly unconnected, both in London and in various parts of the country, have meditated on the formation of a Geographical Society, some of whom have their favourite schemes, some have vague and crude theories, some have made collections on the subject, and others, a large majority, are ready to co-operate in any judicious plan that may be calculated to promote the science by means of a respectable and effective institution. Hence it is evident that the friends to the cause are numerous and ardent, and in my own estimation it is equally evident that, as soon as an efficient committee be formed, and ‘a local habitation and a name’ be obtained, that the accession of members will be rapid, and of the most
respectable class. I have been induced, and without the slightest feelings of arrogance or presumption, to take an active interest in the cause, and venture to place my name in the front ranks, from a conviction that unless one person volunteers his services and even makes a sacrifice of some private comforts to attain a public object, it never will be effected. Some years have passed away since a Geographical Society was first suggested, and wished-for; and we know more would be likely to expire, were not some individual to undertake the unenviable task of bearing at once the brunt and slavery of business. ‘I will gladly aid in the cause,’ say A.B.C., and nearly all the capital letters of the alphabet, ‘but do not expect me to work.’ Unless, therefore, some of the smaller letters either volunteer their services, or consent to labour, we shall find that the Geographical Society, like the perpetual theme of ‘reform in Parliament,’ will continue to be long talked of, without being effected at last.

“The following will convey some idea of the extent of the objects contemplated by geography, with the variety and interest of their tendencies.”

The printed prospectus, dated May 16, was, when the proof was corrected, as follows:—


“Among the numerous societies of this vast metropolis, there is not one devoted to geography, yet it is generally admitted that this is a science of paramount consequence to the interests of a nation. It is also a lamentable fact, that the geographical writings of this, and indeed of other countries, are still very imperfect and defective. The Society founded at Paris for geographical purposes, in 1821, almost immediately enrolled the names of 300 members. By the activity of those members, by the éclat attached to their proceedings, and by the numerous prizes they confer, it may be presumed that both new inquiries have been excited, and useful results obtained. England, however, requires for itself a Geographical Society, and the present epoch may be considered favourable to its establishment. Profiting by the constitution and laws of its foreign precursor, and also by those of other institutions in London, if may be founded
on a basis of durability and utility; and produce many advantages.

“In order to show, at a glance, the beneficial and various inquiries which it is proposed to encourage, the leading divisions of the science may be arranged under the following heads:—


ABSOLUTE. Of the mass and form of the Globe; motions and intrinsic properties of the Globe; of effects from celestial causes.

PHYSICAL. Natural divisions and geological features of the world; mountains, plains, deserts, mines, and minerals; particulars of the animal and vegetable kingdoms; seas, lakes, rivers, and springs; currents, tides, hydrographical data; climate, winds, weather, and seasons; volcanoes, earthquakes, and other phenomena.

SPECIAL. Ancient and modern history of the earth; the distribution of races and languages; names, derivation, and revolutions of states and cities; latitudes and longitudes, astronomical and geodesical; the variation, dip, and other magnetic phenomena; determination of heights and distances; relative magnitude of all countries and nations.

POLITICAL. Population, division of the people, general statistics; artificial division of lands, agriculture, produce; commerce, manufactures, fisheries; government, manners, customs, laws, policy; canals, roads, mills, bridges, markets; religion, education, forces, arts.

“The object of the proposed society is to collect, register, and digest all the useful facts comprehended under the above titles; and it is considered that, with moderate funds, the following objects may be readily accomplished, viz.:—

“I. A convenient house, or chambers, for the members to meet in at stated times; to preserve their books, papers, and other property; and to which strangers and foreigners may be admitted.

“II. A library to contain all the best books on geography, with maps, charts, and plans, old and new.

“III. A correspondence to be formed with similar societies in different parts of the world, or with natives of foreign countries
engaged in geographical pursuits, and also with the most able British residents, who are stationed in remote settlements.

“IV. The society may be a depository for all the geographical knowledge that exists: from its books, maps, &c., the most exact information may be obtained by persons who propose to visit foreign countries; and our own travellers, who often collect much useful information that is never published, might deposit the results of their observations or inquiries in the library of this society.

“V. Were prizes occasionally offered, as in the Parisian society, for the determination of particular questions, many of our countrymen, who visit remote regions, would doubtless be stimulated to those diligent observations and enquiries which would extend our knowledge of geographical facts.

“VI. In a short time the society would possess a mass of materials and information which they would wish to communicate to the public; for the society, to be extensively useful, must impart its acquired knowledge to the world.

“VII. Instead of printing occasionally an expensive volume of transactions, accessible but to few persons, except members, it is thought that it will be more advisable to publish periodically, in a small and cheap form, all the original communications of approved merit, as well as the useful results at which the society arrives. Such a geographical journal, it is presumed, will be likely to find a sufficient number of purchasers to defray all its expenses, and even add something to the funds of the society.

“The preceding plan and remarks are committed to the press, and submitted to the consideration of a few literary and scientific gentlemen, merely to direct their attention to the subject; to call forth their opinions and suggestions for the furtherance of the object; and to solicit the advice and aid of those who are at once qualified and disposed to co-operate in the establishment of a British Geographical Society.

“The secretary arrogates no merit on the occasion but that of volunteering his services as a medium of communication between parties, and undertaking to act as an official adviser and agent till the system be matured, and the society be organised. He will then readily resign his post to any person who may be chosen by the body of subscribers; and further pledges himself to present some useful books, maps, &c.,
towards the formation of the library. It may not be irrelevant or impertinent for him to remark, that he has devoted nearly thirty years of his life to topographical and antiquarian literature, and that he has had some experience in the formation and delineation of maps and description of places. Knowing that obstacles are often thrown in the way of the best and most sincere plans, he hopes to obviate some by this declaration. He has, lastly, to observe, that he will speedily summon a meeting of gentlemen to adopt resolutions, name honorary officers, and carry forward the proposed society.

JOHN BRITTON, Hon. Sec., pro tem.
“17, Burton Street, May 18, 1830.”