Mrs. Caudle's curtain lectures/Bibliographical note

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Mrs. Caudle's curtain lectures by Douglas William Jerrold
Bibliographical Note


That Douglas Jerrold in creating the literary fiction of Mrs. Caudle gave us a portrait of one who in every generation has many incarnations there can, I think, be little doubt. Proof—if proof be required—is to be found in the way in which the wife of the toy-dealer of the "forties" has become a household word. She is the literary presentation of an immortal type—immortal as that other represented by the wit of the 18th century in Mrs. Malaprop. We will not go so far as to admit the truth of the hint which the author lets fall as to every woman having in her a drop of the Caudle—it might be unsafe to do so, even if it were not contrary to experience. Still I am credibly informed that there is no fear of the race dying out—from some Job Caudles of the day I have gathered as much. This being so, there can be no apology necessary for adding yet another to the many editions of the Lectures which have been used up since they appeared week by week in the pages of Punch for the entertainment of our grandparents.

Over half a century has passed since then, and it has seemed not altogether inappropriate to preface this new issue with a short history of Douglas Jerrold's most widely popular contribution to literature, and I may begin with a "prophecy" made by a friend a couple of years before "Mrs. Caudle's Curtain Lectures" began their weekly appearance. The account is given by Ebenezer Landells, so closely identified with the beginnings of Punch. "One evening at the Punch Club there had been more than the usual amount of chaff going on between Henry Baylis and Douglas Jerrold, when the former suddenly said, 'If you will give me a pen and ink I will make a prophecy that shall be fulfilled within two years. It shall be sealed up and given to Daddy Longlegs [myself] upon his undertaking not to open it before the expiration of that time.' The paper was handed to me, and carefully put by. Time passed, and I had forgotten the circumstance altogether, when some years afterwards, looking over some old pocket-books, I found a sealed letter addressed to 'Daddy Longlegs, Esq.—to be opened two years after date.' On breaking the seal I found the following: 'I, Henry Baylis, do hereby prophesy that within two years from this date, Douglas Jerrold will write something that shall be as popular as anything that Charles Dickens ever wrote.'" Within those two years, as Mr. Spielmann[1] points out, the "Caudle Lectures" had been produced, and Baylis's prophecy fulfilled.

The first page of the first number of the eighth volume of Punch, the number dated January 4, 1845, contained the opening passages of the "Introduction" to "Mrs. Caudle's Curtain Lectures," and in the next number was given the first lecture. Henceforward they appeared with occasional intermissions up to November 8, when the thirty-sixth and "last" was printed with Doyle's pathetic little black-bordered "cut" of a weeping cupid extinguishing a candle. The success of the lectures was instant and sustained, although Punch's rival publications sought to belittle the popularity of the talkative woman, and to hint that the public had had enough of her long before the author recorded "the tragedy of thin shoes." The articles gave a wonderful fillip to Punch, sending up his sales, it has been recorded, by "leaps and bounds." In 1845, says the historian of Punch, "'Mrs. Caudle' burst upon the town. In common with a few other things achieved by Punch, it created a national furore, and set the whole country laughing and talking. Other nations soon took up the conversation and the laughter, and 'Mrs. Caudle' passed into the popular mind and took a permanent place in the language in an incredibly short space of time."[2]

Another writer in recording the success of "Mrs. Caudle," has hinted at a reason for their popularity. The lectures "were welcomed by laughing thousands. They appealed to English domesticity. They were drolleries to be enjoyed over tea and toast—(some of them written to dictation on a bed of sickness, racked by rheumatism)—as understandable in the kitchen as in the drawing-room—by the mechanic's wife as by her grace, slumbering under the shadow of her ducal coronet. Husbands poked the points at their wives, and wives read and laughed, vowing that Mrs. Caudle was very like Mrs. ——. Every married lady throughout these pleasant realms saw a likeness here; but to none was the page a looking-glass. A vast secret this for a popular subject. . . . Mrs. Caudle was the next-door neighbour of every married woman in England."[3]

Ebenezer Landells, whose record of Baylis's prophecy I have already quoted, says further in his autobiographical papers made use of by Mr. Spielmann: "After I had ceased my connection with Punch, I met Douglas Jerrold at the corner of Essex Street in the Strand. It was the time when the first number of the 'Caudle Curtain Lectures' appeared. In the course of conversation I remarked that I did not read Punch regularly, but I had by chance perused the opening chapter of his new subject, and I thought, if he followed up the series in the spirit he had begun, they would be the most popular that have ever appeared in its pages. He laughed heartily and replied—' It just shows what stuff the people will swallow. I could write such rubbish as that by the yard;' and he added, 'I have before said, the public will always pay to be amused, but they will never pay to be instructed.' The Caudle Lectures did more than any series of papers for the universal popularity of Punch, and there is no doubt but they added greatly to Jerrold's reputation, although he always affected not to think so."[4]

Charles Knight has recorded, in an account of his first seeing Douglas Jerrold, something of the contemporary appreciation of "Mrs. Caudle's Curtain Lectures." "Punch, out of a not very promising commencement in 1841, had in four years risen into an unequalled popularity. Jerrold was, however, one of its earliest contributors, a paper of his appearing in the second number. As the publication went on we may every now and then trace some of those flashes of merriment, that biting satire, and those pleadings for the wretched, which characterised his avowed writings. 'The Story of a Feather,' which commenced in 1843, and 'Mrs. Caudle's Curtain Lectures,' with which the volume for 1845 opened raised the reputation of Punch to a height which showed how, in a periodical work, the happy direction and the peculiar genius of one man may carry it far beyond the reach of ordinary competition. I described in 'Half Hours' the 'Caudle Lectures' as 'admirable examples of the skill with which character can be preserved in every possible variety of circumstances.'"

James Hannay, the one-time popular author of "Singleton Fontenoy" and other stories, writing anonymously in the first number of the Atlantic Monthly, said: "A wit with a mission,— this was the position of Douglas in the last years of his life. Accordingly he was a little ashamed of the immense success of the 'Caudle Lectures,'—the fame of which I remember being bruited about the Mediterranean in 1845, and which as social drolleries set nations laughing. Douglas took their celebrity rather sulkily. He did not like to be talked of as a funny man. However, they just hit the reading English—always domestic in their literary as in their other tastes,—and so helped to establish Punch and to diffuse Jerrold's name."[5]

Another note from a contemporary writer may well be quoted as helping to show the varied ways in which the Lectures were received by the reading public of '45: "It was while the 'Caudle Lectures' were appearing in Punch, that one summer day my mother and I were invited to a friendly midday dinner at the Jerrolds, who were then residing in a pleasant country house at Putney. Towards the close of the meal a packet arrived—proofs, I fancy—at any rate, Douglas Jerrold opened a letter which visibly disturbed him. 'Hark at this,' he said, after a little while, and then he proceeded to read a really pathetic, though not very well-expressed letter from an aggrieved matron, who appealed to him to discontinue or modify the 'Caudle Lectures.' She declared they were bringing discord into families, and making a multitude of women miserable."[6]

In May, 1845, while the "Caudle Lectures" were "sending up Punch's circulation at a rapid rate," their author delivered one of his very few public speeches at the annual conversazione of the Birmingham Polytechnic Institution. As might have been anticipated, one of the speakers touched upon the highly-popular Curtain Lectures, and in the course of his nervously brief reply Douglas Jerrold said:—"Mrs. Caudle! Your honourable member has said he does not believe there is a Mrs. Caudle in all Birmingham. I will even venture to go further than he: I do not think there is a Mrs. Caudle in the whole world. I really think the whole matter is a fiction—a wicked fiction, intended merely to throw into finer contrast the trustingness, the beauty, the confidence, and the taciturnity of the sex."

On August 9, 1845, Mrs. Caudle was drawn upon—on a happy suggestion of Thackeray's—for the purpose of the Punch cartoon, in which Lord Brougham figured as Mrs. Caudle, and Lord Chancellor Lyndhurst as the long-suffering Job. The legend beneath ran as follows: "What do you say? Thank heaven! You're going to enjoy the recess—and you'll be rid of me for some months. Never mind. Depend upon it, when you come back you shall have it again. No; I don't raise the house, and set everybody in it by the ears; but I'm not going to give up every little privilege; though it's seldom I open my lips, goodness knows!"—"Caudle Lectures (improved)." The artist was John Leech, and it was a capital cartoon. Forty years later another cartoonist, in making an illustration, apologised to the shade of Mrs. Caudle, but the apology was wholly unnecessary, for his model was not taken from that good lady's lectures at all, but from that china group which used some years ago to be familiar on cottage chimney-pieces, representing an elderly couple getting into bed from opposite sides, with the words "The last in bed to put the light out." In this instance the "couple" were Lord Salisbury and Mr. Chamberlain, and the "light" was named "Home Rule."

While yet the Lectures were appearing week by week in the pages of Punch, they were seized upon by dramatic adaptors, and the familiar couple were soon appearing both in the metropolitan and provincial theatres. Edward Stirling, most constant of. those writers who were ever ready on the shortest notice to "borrow" a popular creation for stage representation, prepared a version for the Lyceum Theatre, and this is the only one of which I have been able to obtain a copy. Its title page runs: "Mrs. Caudle's Curtain Lecture! an apropos Bagatelle, in One Act, founded on and taken from the Articles in Punch, by Edward Stirling, Esq." Mr. Spielmann says that "Mrs. Keeley made a life-like Mrs. Caudle at the Lyceum—only perhaps a little too fresh and charming," but the list of dramatis personæ in the tattered little copy of the "bagatelle" which I rescued from some "penny box," says that the character of Mrs. Caudle was impersonated by Mr. Keeley. The slight piece was produced in July, 1845, and enjoyed a considerable measure of popularity.

Nor was it only to the stage that Mrs. Caudle found her way. The "Caudle Duet" was "versified from Punch by B. Nathan; "John Leech made lithograph portraits of the husband and wife; another coloured lithograph represented "Mrs. Caudle's Changeable Faces;" while penny portraits of Margaret and Job Caudle were hawked about the streets. All this in 1845, but even in 1860 yet another brochure appeared, "Mrs. Caudle in Crinoline," with coloured plates.

In 1847, Charles Dickens, Douglas Jerrold, and their fellow "splendid strollers" played at Manchester and Liverpool to raise a fund for a charitable purpose, and Dickens afterwards designed a small work to be sold for the benefit of the same fund. In this work, Mrs. Gamp was to be supposed to have accompanied the players and to have written her account of them and their goings on. The project fell through after Dickens had written but a part of the small skit, but that part is given in Forster's biography of the novelist, and from it I will extract the bit which concerns the history of Mrs. Caudle. Mrs. Gamp is supposed to have come across the strollers on a railway platform:—

"I was a-wondering wot Mr. Wilson meant, wen he says, 'There's Dougladge, Mrs. Gamp!' he says. 'There's him as wrote the life of Mrs. Caudle!'

"Mrs. Harris, wen I see that little willain bodily before me, it give me such a turn that I was all in a tremble. If I hadn't lost my umbereller in the cab, I must have done him an injury with it! Oh the bragian little traitor! right among the ladies, Mrs. Harris; looking his wickedest and deceitfullest of eyes while he was a-talking to 'em; laughing at his own jokes as loud as you please; holding his hat in one hand to cool his-sef, and tossing back his iron-grey mop of a head of hair with the other, as if it was so much shavings—there, Mrs. Harris, I see him getting encouragement from the pretty delooded creeturs, which never know'd that sweet saint, Mrs. C, as I did, and being treated with as much confidence as if he'd never wiolated none of the domestic ties, and never showed up nothing! Oh the aggrawation of that Dougladge! Mrs. Harris, if I hadn't apologiged to Mr. Wilson, and put a little bottle to my lips which was in my pocket for the journey, and which it is very rare indeed I have about me, I could not have abared the sight of him— there, Mrs. Harris! I could not!—I must have tore him, or have give way and fainted."[7]

In the passage which I have quoted from James Hannay's memorial tribute to my grandfather, it is pointed out that Jerrold rather resented the being known mainly as the author of "Mrs. Caudle's Curtain Lectures" and "Black-Eyed Susan"—conscious as he was of having done far better work in fiction than he gave in the former, and of having written at least a dozen plays superior, from a literary point of view, to the latter. But popularity is gained by different means, and in these two instances the domestic humour of the one and the sentiment of the other proved—and still prove—irresistible when put before the people of this country—a nation which combines domesticity and sentimentality in a way that none other does. Something of his resentment to the idea that Mrs. Caudle was a slander on the sex, and that he was a literary evil-doer, I find in a characteristic letter which he wrote, apparently about this time, to Miss Sabilla Novello. He mentioned being engaged on a new play:—"In this comedy I do contemplate such a heroine as a set-off to the many sins imputed to me as committed against woman, whom I have always considered to be an admirable idea imperfectly worked out." Then, too, either inspired by the great success of Mrs. Caudle, or else in deference to protesting correspondents, Douglas Jerrold appended the following postscript to "Lecture the Last":—"There are other Caudle Papers extant. Some of these may, possibly, be presented to the universe in our next volume. From these documents the world will then learn, in the words of bis wronged wife, 'what an aggravating man Caudle really was!' Yes; the world will, at last, know him as well as she did."[8]

The promise was very soon fulfilled, for in the Punch's Almanack for 1846, "Mr. Caudle's Breakfast Talk" was given in a dozen brief chapters—one for each month. The talk is but an echo of the lectures—the manner, the very phrasing is the same; the relations of the dramatis personæ are merely reversed. Mr. Caudle having made Miss Prettyman Mrs. Caudle number two shows himself to have been an apt imitator of the "sainted" wife whose lectures he had suffered. The "talk" is not particularly happy, and the author was doubtless well advised in putting it in the Almanack instead of making a fresh serial of it. The twelfth chapter may be quoted as showing how the author accounted for Mr. Caudle's rapid change of demeanour from that of silent sufferer to nagging bully:—"Mr. Caudle, ere he left this world, had much more 'Breakfast Talk' with his unfortunate wife, but it is believed that we have given the principal heads of his discourses: for his topics were like the church bells, they nearly always rang the same morning peal. To the reader who believed in the declaration of the first Mrs. Caudle that her husband 'was really an aggravating man,' with her prophecy that 'the world would at last know him as well as she did,' the conduct of the individual towards the ensnared and unfortunate Miss Prettyman may not afford surprise. Caudle himself, however, set up an ingenious if not a credible defence. Prettyman, his brother-in-law, had now and then remonstrated with him. 'I don't mean it—upon my life I mean nothing. I'm very fond of your sister—extremely fond; it's only a habit, my ill-treatment—nothing but a habit'

"'A habit!' cried Prettyman, 'why that's what we complain of! That's what we want you to get rid of.'

'Impossible, my dear boy—quite impossible. Having lived twenty years[9] with the late Mrs. Caudle—though I believe her to be a sainted woman notwithstanding— how was it to be expected that I shouldn't make a natural use of my liberty. You don't suppose I was going to suffer Mrs. Caudle the second to be only another Mrs. Caudle the first,—so you see I bent the bar the other way.'

"'And this is your defence?' cried Prettyman.

"'My excellent friend,' said Caudle, 'bad temper's catching. Therefore, let folks beware how they come together. If I've been a little bit of a tyrant in my second marriage 'tis only because I was a slave in the first; and all tyrants, my dear boy, are slaves turned inside out.'

"'I can make nothing of that figure,' said Prettyman, 'but this: that in most marriages there are faults of both sides.'

"'Exactly so,' answered Caudle, 'and both I've known.'"

The "Breakfast Talk" so far as I am aware has not been reprinted in England, although it was issued with other of Douglas Jerrold's miscellaneous writings in America. (See Bibliography.)

Much idle gossip and conjecture has been written as to the "original" that Douglas Jerrold had in his mind's eye when he set about writing these Lectures—his own preface to them in collected form happily illustrates the inconsequent fashion in which an author comes upon his happy thoughts.


  1. "The History of Punch," by M. H. Spielmann, p. 97.
  2. "[The History of Punch]]," by M. H. Spielmann, p. 291.
  3. "The Life and Remains of Douglas Jerrold," by his son Blanchard Jerrold, p. 219.
  4. "The History of Punch," by M. H. Spielmann, p. 291.
  5. The Atlantic Monthly, vol. i., p. 7.
  6. "Landmarks of a Literary Life," by Mrs. Newton Croland.
  7. "Life of Charles Dickens." by John Forster, bk. vi., ch. i,
  8. Punch, vol. ix., p. 199.
  9. In the Introduction the author says it was thirty years.