The Atlantic Monthly/Volume 1/No. 1/Douglas Jerrold
|The Atlantic Monthly
My personal acquaintance with Douglas Jerrold began in the spring of 1851. I had always had a keen relish for his wit and fancy; I felt a peculiar interest in a man who, like myself, had started in life in the Navy; and one of the things poor Douglas prided himself on was his readiness to know and recognize young fellows fighting in his own profession. I shall not soon forget the dinner he gave at the Whittington Club that spring. St. Clement's had rung out a late chime before we parted; and it was a drizzly, misty small hour as he got into a cab for Putney, where he was then living. I had found him all I expected; and he did not disappoint, on further acquaintance, the promise of that first interview. It will be something to remember in afterlife, that one enjoyed the friendship of so brilliant a man; and if I can convey to my readers a truer, livelier picture of his genius and person than they have been able to form for themselves hitherto, I shall be delighted to think that I have done my duty to his memory. The last summer which he lived to see is now waning; let us gather, ere it goes, the "lilies" and "purple flowers" that are due to his grave.
Jerrold's Biography is still unwritten. The work is in the hands of his eldest son,--his successor in the editorship of "Lloyd's,"--and will be done with pious carefulness. Meanwhile I cannot do more than _sketch_ the narrative of his life; but so much, at all events, is necessary as shall enable the reader to understand the Genius and Character which I aspire to set before him.
Douglas William Jerrold was, I take it, of South-Saxon ancestry,--dashed with Scotch through his grandmother, whose maiden name was Douglas, and who is said to have been a woman of more than ordinary energy of character. As a Scot, I should like to trace him to that spreading family apostrophized by the old poet in such beautiful words,--
"O Douglas, O Douglas,
Tender and true!"
But I don't think he ever troubled himself on the subject; though he had none of that contempt for a good pedigree which is sometimes found in men of his school of politics. As regarded fortune, he owed every thing to nature and to himself; no man of our age had so thoroughly fought his own way; and no man of any age has had a much harder fight of it. To understand and appreciate him, it was, and is, necessary to bear this fact in mind. It colored him as the Syrian sun did the old crusading warrior. And hence, too, he was in a singular degree a representative man of his age; his age having set him to wrestle with it,--having tried his force in every way,--having left its mark on his entire surface. Jerrold and the century help to explain each other, and had found each other remarkably in earnest in all their dealings. This fact stamps on the man a kind of genuineness, visible in all his writings,--and giving them a peculiar force and raciness, such as those of persons with a less remarkable experience never possess. We are told, that, in selling yourself to the Devil, it is the proper traditionary practice to write the contract in your blood. Douglas, in binding himself against him, did the same thing. You see his blood in his ink,--and it gives a depth of tinge to it.
He was the son of a country manager named Samuel Jerrold, and was born in London on the 3d of January, 1803. His father was for a long time manager of the seaport theatres of Sheerness and Southend,--which stand opposite each other, just where the Thames becomes the sea. Douglas spent most of his boyhood, therefore, about the sea-coast, in the midst of a life that was doubly dramatic,--dramatic as real, and dramatic as theatrical. There were sea, ships, sailors, prisoners, the hum of war, the uproar of seaport life, on the one hand; on the other, the queer, rough, fairy world (to him at once fairy world and home world) of the theatre. It was a position to awaken precociously, one would think, the feelings of the quick-eyed, quick-hearted lad. No wonder he took the sea-fever to which all our blood is liable, and tried a bout of naval life. At eleven years of age he became a middy, and served a short time--not two years in all--in a vessel stationed in the North Sea. Naval life was a rough affair in those days. Jerrold's most remarkable experience seems to have been bringing over the wounded of Waterloo from Belgium; which stamped on his mind a sense of the horrors of war that never left him, but is marked on his writings everywhere, in spite of a certain combative turn and an admiration of heroes which also belonged to him. To the last, he had an interest in sea matters, and spoke with enthusiasm of Lord Nelson. But the literary use he made of his nautical experience ended with "Black-eyed Susan." He was a boy when he came ashore and threw himself on the very different sea of London; and it is the influence of London that is most perceptible in his mature works. Here his work was done, his battles fought, his mind formed; and you may observe in his writings a certain romantic and ideal way of speaking of the country, which shows that to him it was a place of retreat and luxury, rather than of sober, practical living. This is not uncommon with literary men whose lot has been cast in a great city, if they possess, as Jerrold did, that poetic temperament which is alive to natural beauty.
He now became an apprentice in a printing-office, and went through the ordinary course of a printer's life. He felt genius stirring in him, and he strove for the knowledge to give it nourishment, and the field to give it exercise. He read and wrote, as well as worked and talked. It would be a task for antiquarian research to recover his very earliest lucubrations scattered among the ephemeral periodicals of that day. Plays of his might be dug out, whose very names are unknown to his most intimate friends. He scattered his early fruit far and wide,--getting little from the world in exchange. Literature was then a harder struggle than in our days. Jerrold did not know the successful men who presided over it. He had no patrons; and he had few friends. The isolation and poverty in which he formed his mind and style deepened the _peculiarity_ which was a characteristic of these. They gave to his genius that intense and eccentric character which it has; and no doubt (for Fortune has a way of compensating) the chill they breathed on the fruits of his young nature enriched their ripeness, as a touch of frost does with plums. The grapes from which Tokay is made are left hanging even when the snow is on them;--all the better for Tokay!
His youth, then, was a long and hard struggle to get bread in exchange for wit;--a struggle like that of the poor girls who sell violets in the streets. He was wont to talk of those early days very freely,--passionately, even to tears, when he got excited,--and always bravely, heartily, and with the right "moral" to follow. When Diderot had passed a whole day without bread, he vowed that if he ever got prosperous, he would save any fellow-creature that he could from such suffering. Jerrold had learned the same lesson. Through life, he took the side of the poor and weak. It was the secret, at once, of his philosophy and his politics. He got endless abuse for his eternal tirades against the great and the "respectable,"--against big-wigs of every size and shape. But the critics who attacked him for this negative pole of his intellectual character overlooked the positive one. He had kindness and sympathy enough; but he always gave them first to those who wanted them most. And as humorist and satirist he had a natural tendency to attack power,--to play Pasquin against the world's Pope. In fact, his radicalism was that of a humorist. He never adopted the utilitarian, or, as it was called, "philosophical," radicalism which was so fashionable in his younger days;--not, indeed, the Continental radicalism held by a party in England;--but was an independent kind of warrior, fighting under his own banner, and always rather with the weapons of a man of letters than those of a politician. For the business aspect of politics he never showed any predilection from first to last.
Well, then,--picture him to yourself, reader, a small, delicate youth, with fair, prominent features,--long, thin hair,--keen, eager, large, blue eyes, glancing out from right to left, as he walks the streets of Babylon,--and seizing with a quick impulsiveness every feeling of the hour. Still young,--and very young,--he has married for love. He is living in a cottage or villakin on the outskirts of town, where there is just a peep of green to keep one's feelings fresh; and he is writing for the stage. It is hard work, and sometimes the dun is at the door, and contact is inevitable with men who don't understand the precious jewel he weareth in his head;--but the week's hard work is got through somehow; and on Sundays he sallies forth for rural air with a little knot of friends, and the talk is of art, and letters, and the world. So quick and keen a nature as his had immense buoyancy in it. Nay, for the very dun young Douglas had an epigram,--as bright, but not as welcome, as a sovereign. A saying of those early days has found its way into a comedy,--but not the less belongs to his authentic biography. A threatening attorney shakes his fist at the villakin where at the window the wit is parleying with him. "I'll put a man in the house, Sir!" "Couldn't you," says Douglas, (and of course the right-minded reader is shocked,) "couldn't you make it a woman?" What a scandalous way to treat a man of business! Between Douglas and the lawyers, for many years, there was open war. He was a kind of Robin Hood to these representatives of the Crown,--adopting the plucky and defiant gaiety of the old outlaw, and shooting keen arrows at them with a bow that never grew weak.
The theatres were his regular sources of employment for many years, and he wrote dramas at a salary. Tradition and family connection must have led him chiefly to this walk; for though he had some of the most important qualities of a dramatist, very few of his dramas seem likely to live,--and even these are not equal to his works in other departments. The "Man made of Money" will outlast his best play. His most popular drama,--"Black-eyed Susan,"--though clever, pretty, and tender, is not, as a work of art, worthy of his genius; nor did he consider it so himself. In his dramas we find, I think, rather touches of character, than characters,--scenes, rather than plots,--_disjecta membra_ of dramatic genius, rather than harmonious creations of it. He could not separate himself from his work sufficiently for the purposes of the higher stage. As Johnson says of "Cato," "We pronounce the name of Cato, but we think on Addison,"--so one may say of any character of Jerrold's, that it suggests and refers us to its author. All the gold has his head on it. To be sure, there is plenty of gold; and I wish somebody would put his scores of plays, big and little, into a kind of wine-press and give us the wine. There is always the wit of the man, whether the play be "Gertrude's Cherries," or "The Smoked Mixer," or "Fifteen Years of a Drunkard's Life,"--or what not. _That_ quality never failed him. He dresses up all his characters in that brilliant livery. But dialogue is not enough for the stage, and compared with the attraction of an intense action is nothing. Besides, Jerrold found the modern taste for spectacle forming thirty years ago. In his prefaces he complains bitterly of the preference of the public for the mechanical over the higher attractions of the art. And the satirical war he waged against actors and managers showed that he looked back with little pleasure to the days when his life was chiefly occupied with them and their affairs. It may be mentioned here, that he was very shabbily treated by several people who owed fame and fortune to his genius. I have heard a curious story about his connection with Davidge, manager of the Surrey,--the original, as I take it, of his Bajazet Gay. They say that he had used Douglas very ill,--that Douglas invoked this curse upon him,--"that he might live to keep his carriage, and yet not be able to ride in it,"--and that it was fulfilled, curiously, to the letter. The ancient gods, we know, took the comic poet under their protection and avenged him. Was this a case of the kind,--or but a flying false anecdote? I would not be certain;--but at least, when Davidge died one evening, and Douglas was informed of the hour, he remarked, "I did not think he would have died before the half-price came in!" Sordid fellows are not safe from genius even in the grave. It spoils their sepulchral monuments,--as the old heralds tore the armorial blazonry from plebeian tombs.
His first fame and success, however, were owing to the Drama; and though his non-dramatic labors were greater and still more successful, he never altogether left the stage. I repeat, that I value his plays, most, because they helped to discipline him for his after-work; and I thank the theatre chiefly for ripening in its heat the philosophic humorist. That was the real character of the man. He tried many things, and he produced much; but the root of him was that he was a humorous thinker. He did not write first-rate plays, or first-rate novels, rich as he was in _the elements_ of playwright and novelist. He was not an artist. But he had a rare and original eye and soul,--and in a peculiar way he could pour out himself. In short, to be an Essayist was the bent of his nature and genius. English literature is rich in such men,--in men whose works are cherished for the individuality they reveal. What the Song is in poetry the Essay is in prose. The producer pours out himself in his own way, and cannot be separated even in thought from that which he has produced. Jerrold's characters in plays and novels are interesting to me because they are Jerrold in masquerade.
But none of us are just what we should like to be. Fortune has her say in the matter; and as Bacon observes, a man's fortune works on his nature, and his nature on his fortune. Many a play Jerrold no doubt wrote when he would rather have been writing something else,--and so on, as life rolled by, and the day that was passing over him required to be provided for. His fight for fame was long and hard; and his life was interrupted, like that of other men, by sickness and pain. In the stoop in his gait, in the lines in his face, you saw the man who had reached his Ithaca by no mere yachting over summer seas. And hence, no doubt, the utter absence in him of all that conventionalism which marks the man of quiet experience and habitual conformity to the world. In the streets, a stranger would have known Jerrold to be a remarkable man; you would have gone away speculating on him. In talk, he was still Jerrold;--not Douglas Jerrold, Esq., a successful gentleman, whose heart and soul you were expected to know nothing about, and with whom you were to eat your dinner peaceably, like any common man. No. He was at all times Douglas the peculiar and unique,--with his history in his face, and his genius on his tongue,--nay, and after a little, with his heart on his sleeve. This made him piquant; and the same character makes his writings piquant. Hence, too, he is often _quaint_,--a word which describes what no other word does,--always conveying a sense of originality, and of what, when we wish to be condemnatory, we call egotism, but which, when it belongs to genius, is delightful.
As he became better known, he wrote in higher quarters. "Men of Character" appeared in "Blackwood,"--a curious collection of philosophical stories;--for artist he was not; he was always a thinker. He had a way of dressing up a bit of philosophical observation into a story very happily. He had much feeling for symbol, and, like the old architects, would fill all things, pretty or ugly, with meaning. When one reads these stories, one does not feel as if it were the writer's vocation to be a story-teller, but as if he were using the story as a philosophical toy. And it was fortunate for him that he fell on an age of periodicals, a class of works which just suited his genius. He and the modern development of periodical literature grew up together, and grew prosperous together. He was never completely known in England till after the establishment of "Punch." An independent and original organ just suited him, above all; for there he had the full play which he required as a humorist, and as a self-formed man with a peculiar style and experience. "Punch" was the "Argo" which conveyed him to the Golden Fleece.
Up to the time of the appearance of this journal, Jerrold had scattered himself very freely over periodical literature. He had conquered a position. He had formed his mind. He had seen the world in many phases, and besides his knowledge of London, had varied his experience of that city by a lengthened residence in France. Still, he had not yet caught _the nation_,--there being many degrees of celebrity below _that_ stage of it; and now, in middle life, his best and crowning success was to begin.
I believe that Jerrold had long desiderated a "Punch"; but it is certain that the present famous periodical of that name was started by his son-in-law, Mr. Henry Mayhew. For a while it had no great success, and the copyright was sold for a small sum to Messrs. Bradbury and Evans. Success came, and such a success that "Punch" must always last as part of the comic literature of England. That literature is rich in political as well as other forms of satire; and from various causes, about the time of "Punch," political satire was at a low ebb. The newspapers no longer published squibs as they once had done. The days of the Hooks and Moores had gone by; there was nobody to do with the pen what H. B. did with the pencil. So "Punch" was at once a novelty and a necessity,--from its width of scope, its joint pictorial and literary character, and its exclusive devotion to the comic features of the age. "Figaro" (a satirical predecessor, by Mr. à Beckett) had been very clever, but wanted many of "Punch's" features, and was, above all, not so calculated to hit "society" and get into families.
Jerrold's first papers of mark in "Punch" were those signed "Q." His style was now formed, as his mind was, and these papers bear the stamp of his peculiar way of thinking and writing. Assuredly, his is a _peculiar_ style in the strict sense; and as marked as that of Carlyle or Dickens. You see the self-made man in it,--a something _sui generis_,--not formed on the "classical models," but which has grown up with a kind of twist in it, like a tree that has had to force its way up surrounded by awkward environments. Fundamentally, the man is a thinking humorist; but his mode of expression is strange. The perpetual inversions, the habitual irony, the mingled tenderness and mockery, give a kind of gnarled surface to the style, which is pleasant when you get familiar with it, but which repels the stranger, and to some people even remains permanently disagreeable. I think it was his continual irony which at last brought him to writing as if under a mask; whereas it would have been better to write out flowingly, musically, and lucidly. His mixture of satire and kindliness always reminds me of those lanes near Beyrout in which you ride with the prickly-pear bristling alongside of you, and yet can pluck the grapes which force themselves among it from the fields. Inveterately satirical as Jerrold is, he is even "spoonily" tender at the same time; and it lay deep in his character; for this wit and _bon-vivant_, the merriest and wittiest man of the company, would cry like a child, as the night drew on, and the talk grew serious. No theory could be more false than that he was a cold-blooded satirist,--sharp as steel is sharp, from being hard. The basis of his nature was sensitiveness and impulsiveness. His wit is not of the head only, but of the heart,--often sentimental, and constantly _fanciful_, that is, dependent on a quality which imperatively requires a sympathetic nature to give it full play. Take those "Punch" papers which soon helped to make "Punch" famous, and Jerrold himself better known. Take the "Story of a Feather," as a good expression of his more earnest and tender mood. How delicately all the part about the poor actress is worked up! How moral, how stoical, the feeling that pervades it! The bitterness is healthy,--healthy as bark. We cannot always be
"Seeing only what is fair, Sipping only what is sweet,"
in the presence of such phenomena as are to be seen in London alongside of our civilization. If any feeling of Jerrold's was intense, it was his feeling of sympathy with the poor. I shall not soon forget the energy and tenderness with which he would quote these lines of his favorite Hood:--
"Poor Peggy sells flowers from street to street, And--think of that, ye who find life sweet!-- She hates the smell of roses."
He was, therefore, to be pardoned when he looked with extreme suspicion and severity on the failings of the rich. _They_ at least, he knew, were free from those terrible temptations which beset the unfortunate. They could protect themselves. They needed to be reminded of their duties. Such was his view, though I don't think he ever carried it so far as he was accused of doing. Nay, I think he sometimes had to prick up his zeal before assuming the _flagellum_. For a successful, brilliant man like himself,--full of humor and wit,--eminently convivial, and sensitive to pleasure,--the temptation rather was to adopt the easy philosophy that every thing was all right,--that the rich were wise to enjoy themselves with as little trouble as possible,--and that the poor (good fellows, no doubt) must help themselves on according as they got a chance. It was to Douglas's credit that he always felt the want of a deeper and holier theory, and that, with all his gaiety, he felt it incumbent on him to use his pen as an implement of what he thought reform. Indeed, it was a well-known characteristic of his, that he disliked being talked of as "a wit." He thought (with justice) that he had something better in him than most wits, and he sacredly cherished high aspirations. To him buffoonery was pollution. He attached to _salt_ something of the sacredness which it bears in the East. He was fuller of repartee than any man in England, and yet was about the last man that would have condescended to be what is called a "diner-out". It is a fact which illustrates his mind, his character, and biography.
The "Q." papers, I say, were the first essays which attracted attention in "Punch." In due time followed his "Punch's Letters to his Son," and "Complete Letter-Writer," with the "Story of a Feather", mentioned above. A basis of philosophical observation, tinged with tenderness, and a dry, ironical humor,--all, like the Scottish lion in heraldry, "within a double tressure-fleury and counter-fleury" of wit and fancy,--such is a Jerroldian paper of the best class in "Punch." It stands out by itself from all the others,--the sharp, critical knowingness, sparkling with puns, of à Beckett,--the inimitable, wise, easy, playful, worldly, social sketch of Thackeray. In imagery he had no rivals there; for his mind had a very marked tendency to the ornamental and illustrative,--even to the grotesque. In satire, again, he had fewer competitors than in humor;--sarcasms lurk under his similes, like wasps in fruit or flowers. I will just quote one specimen from a casual article of his, because it happens to occur to my memory, and because it illustrates his manner. The "Chronicle" had been attacking some artists in whom he took an interest. In replying, he set out by telling how in some vine countries they repress the too luxuriant growths by sending in asses to crop the shoots. Then he remarked gravely, that young artists required pruning, and added, "How thankful we ought all to be that the 'Chronicle' keeps a donkey!" This is an average specimen of his playful way of ridiculing. In sterner moods he was grander. Of a Jew money-lender he said, that "he might die like Judas, but that he had no bowels to gush out";--also, that "he would have sold our Saviour for _more money_." An imaginative color distinguished his best satire, and it had the deadly and wild glitter of war-rockets. This was the most original quality, too, of his satire, and just the quality which is least common in our present satirical literature. He had read the old writers,--Browne, Donne, Fuller, and Cowley,--and was tinged with that richer and quainter vein which so emphatically distinguishes them from the prosaic wits of our day. His weapons reminded you of Damascus rather than Birmingham.
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. He began now to be a Power in popular literature; and coming to be associated with the _liberal_ side of "Punch," especially, the Radicals throughout Britain hailed him as a chief. Hence, in due course, his newspaper and his magazine,--both of which might have been permanently successful establishments, had his genius for business borne any proportion to his genius for literature.
This, however, was by no manner of means the case. His nature was altogether that of a literary man and artist. He could not speak in public. He could not manage money matters. He could only write and talk,--and these rather as a kind of _improvvisatore_, than as a steady, reading, bookish man, like a Mackintosh or a Macaulay. His politics partook of this character, and I always used to think that it was a queer destiny which made him a Radical teacher. The Radical literature of England is, with few exceptions, of a prosaic character. The most famous school of radicalism is utilitarian and systematic. Douglas was, emphatically, neither. He was impulsive, epigrammatic, sentimental. He dashed gaily against an institution, like a _picador_ at a bull. He never sat down, like the regular workers of his party, to calculate the expenses of monarchy or the extravagance of the civil list. He had no notion of any sort of "economy." I don't know that he had ever taken up political science seriously, or that he had any preference for one kind or form of government over another. I repeat,--his radicalism was that of a humorist. He despised big-wigs, and pomp of all sorts, and, above all, humbug and formalism. But his radicalism was important as a sign that our institutions are ceasing to be picturesque; of which, if you consider his nature, you will see that his radicalism was a sign. And he did service to his cause. Not an abuse, whether from the corruption of something old, or the injustice of something new, but Douglas was out against it with his sling. He threw his thought into some epigram which stuck. Praising journalism once, he said, "When Luther wanted to crush the Devil, didn't he throw _ink_ at him?" Recommending Australia, he wrote, "Earth is so kindly there, that, tickle her with a hoe, and she laughs with a harvest." The last of these sayings is in his best manner, and would be hard to match anywhere for grace and neatness. Here was a man to serve his cause, for he embodied its truths in forms of beauty. His use to his party could not be measured like that of commoner men, because of the rarity and attractive nature of the gifts which he brought to its service. They had a kind of incalculable value, like that of a fine day, or of starlight.
He was now immersed in literary activity. He had all kinds of work on hand. He brought out occasionally a five-act comedy, full as usual of wit. He wrote in "Punch,"--started a newspaper,--started a magazine,--published a romance,--all within a few years of each other. The romance was "A Man made of Money," which bids fair, I think, to be read longer than any of his works. It is one of those fictions in which, as in "Zanoni," "Peter Schlemil," and others, the supernatural appears as an element, and yet is made to conform itself in action to real and every-day life, in such a way that the understanding is not shocked, because it reassures itself by referring the supernatural to the regions of allegory. Shall we call this a kind of bastard-allegory? Jericho, when he first appears, is a common man of the common world. He is a money-making, grasping man, yet with a bitter savour of satire about him which raises him out of the common place. Presently it turns out, that by putting his hand to his heart he can draw away bank-notes,--only that it is his life he is drawing away. The conception is fine and imaginative, and ought to rank with the best of those philosophical stories so fashionable in the last century. Its working-out in the every-day part is brilliant and pungent; and much ingenuity is shown in connecting the tragic and mysterious element in Jericho's life with the ordinary, vain, worldly existence of his wife and daughters. It is startling to find ourselves in the regions of the impossible, just as we are beginning to know the persons of the fable. But the mind reassures itself. This Jericho, with his mysterious fate,--is not he, in this twilight of fiction, shadowing to us the real destiny of real money-grubbers whom we may see any day about our doors? Has not the money become the very life of many such? And so feeling, the reader goes pleasantly on,--just excited a little, and raised out of the ordinary temperature in which fiction is read, by the mystic atmosphere through which he sees things,--and ends, acknowledging that with much pleasure he has also gathered a good moral. For his mere amusement the best fireworks have been cracking round him on his journey. In short, I esteem this Jerrold's best book,--the one which contains most of his mind. Certain aspects of his mind, indeed, may be seen even to better advantage in others of his works; his sentimental side, for instance, in "Clovernook," where he has let his fancy run riot like honeysuckle, and overgrow every thing; his wit in "Time works Wonders," which blazes with epigrams like Vauxhall with lamps. But "A Man made of Money" is the completest of his books as a creation, and the most characteristic in point of style,--is based on a principle which predominated in his mind,--is the most original in imaginativeness, and the best sustained in point and neatness, of the works he has left.
During the years of which I have just been speaking, Jerrold lived chiefly in a villa at Putney, and afterwards at St. John's Wood,--the mention of which fact leads me to enter on a description of him in his private, social, and friendly relations. Now-a-days it is happily expected of every man who writes of another to recognize his humanity,--not to treat him as a machine for the production of this or that--scientific, or literary, or other--material. _Homo sum_ is the motto of the biographer, and so of the humbler biographic sketcher. Jerrold is just one of those who require and reward this kind of personal sympathy and attention;--so radiant was the man of all that he put into his books!--so quick, so warm, so full of light and life, wit and impulse! He was one of the few who in their conversation entirely come up to their renown. He sparkled wherever you touched him, like the sea at night.
The first thing I have to remark, in treating of Jerrold the man, is the entire harmony between that figure and Jerrold the writer. He talked very much as he wrote, and he acted in life on the principles which he advocated in literature. He united, remarkably, simplicity of character with brilliancy of talk. For instance, with all his success, he never sought higher society than that which he found himself gradually and by a natural momentum borne into, as he advanced. He never suppressed a flash of indignant sarcasm for fear of startling the "genteel" classes and Mrs. Grundy. He never aped aristocracy in his household. He would go to a tavern for his oysters and a glass of punches simply as they did in Ben Jonson's days; and I have heard of his doing so from a sensation of boredom at a very great house indeed,--a house for the sake of an admission to which, half Bayswater would sell their grandmothers' bones to a surgeon. This kind of thing stamped him in our polite days as one of the old school, and was exceedingly refreshing to observe in an age when the anxious endeavour of the English middle classes is to hide their plebeian origin under a mockery of patrician elegance. He had none of the airs of success or reputation,--none of the affectations, either personal or social, which are rife everywhere. He was manly and natural,--free and off-handed to the verge of eccentricity. Independence and marked character seemed to breathe from the little, rather bowed figure, crowned with a lion-like head and falling light hair,--to glow in the keen, eager, blue eyes glancing on either side as he walked along. Nothing could be less commonplace, nothing less conventional, than his appearance in a room or in the streets.
His quick, impulsive nature made him a great talker, and conspicuously convivial,--yea, convivial, at times, up to heights of vinous glory which the Currans and Sheridans shrank not from, but which a respectable age discourages. And here I must undertake the task of saying something about his conversational wit,--so celebrated, yet so difficult (as is notoriously the case with all wits) to do justice to on paper.
The first thing that struck you was his extreme _readiness_ in conversation. He gave the electric spark whenever you put your knuckle to him. The first time I called on him in his house at Putney, I found him sipping claret. We talked of a certain dull fellow whose wealth made him prominent at that time. "Yes," said Jerrold, drawing his finger round the edge of his wineglass, "_that's_ the range of his intellect,--only it had never any thing half so good in it." I quote this merely as one of the average _bons-mots_ which made the small change of his ordinary conversation. He would pun, too, in talk, which he scarcely ever did in writing. Thus he extemporized as an epitaph for his friend Charles Knight, "GOOD NIGHT!"--When Mrs. Glover complained that her hair was turning gray,--from using essence of lavender (as she said),--he asked her "whether it wasn't essence of thyme?" On the occasion of starting a convivial club, (he was very fond of such clubs,) somebody proposed that it should consist of twelve members, and be called "The Zodiac,"--each member to be named after a sign. "And what shall I be?" inquired a somewhat solemn man, who feared that they were filled up. "Oh, we'll bring you in as the weight in Libra," was the instant remark of Douglas. A noisy fellow had long interrupted a company in which he was. At last the bore said of a certain tune, "It carries me away with it." "For God's sake," said Jerrold, "let somebody whistle it."--Such _dicteria_, as the Romans called them, bristled over his talk. And he flashed them out with an eagerness, and a quiver of his large, somewhat coarse mouth, which it was quite dramatic to see. His intense chuckle showed how hearty was his gusto for satire, and that wit was a regular habit of his mind.
I shall set down here some _Jerroldiana_ current in London,--some heard by myself, or otherwise well authenticated. Remember how few we have of George Selwyn's, Hanbury Williams's, Hook's, or indeed any body's, and you will not wonder that my handful is not larger.
When the well-known "Letters" of Miss Martineau and Atkinson appeared, Jerrold observed that their creed was, "There is no God, and Miss Martineau is his prophet."
"I have had such a curious dinner!" said C. "Calves' tails."--"Extremes meet," Douglas said, instantly.
He admired Carlyle; but objected that he did not give definite suggestions for the improvement of the age which he rebuked. "Here," said he, "is a man who beats a big drum under my windows, and when I come running down stairs has nowhere for me to go."
A wild Republican said profanely, that Louis Blanc was "next to Jesus Christ"--"On which side?" asked the wit.
Pretty Miss ----, the actress, being mentioned, he praised her early beauty. "She was a lovely little thing," he said, "when she was a _bud_, and"--(a pause)--"before she was a _blowen'_."--This was in a very merry vein, and the serious reader must forgive me.
He called a small, thin London _littérateur_ of his acquaintance, "a pin without the head or the point."
When a plain, not to say ugly, gentleman intimated his intention of being godfather to somebody's child, Jerrold begged him not to give the youngster his "mug."
A dedication to him being spoken of,--"Ah!" said he, with mock gravity, "that's an awful power that ---- has in his hands!"
Carlyle and a much inferior man being coupled by some sapient review as "biographers,"--"Those two joined!" he exclaimed. "You can't plough with an ox and an ass."
"Is the legacy to be paid immediately?" inquired somebody,--_apropos_ of a will which made some noise.--"Yes, on the coffin-nail," answered he.
Being told that a recent play had been "done to order,"--he observed, that "it would be done to a good many 'orders,' he feared."
It may be honestly said that these are average specimens of the pleasantries which flowed from him in congenial society. His talk was full of such, among friends and acquaintance, and he certainly enjoyed the applause which they excited. But in his graver and tenderer moods, in the country walks and lounges of which he was fond, his range was higher and deeper. For a vein of natural poetry and piety ran through the man,--wit and satirist as he was,--and appeared in his speech, occasionally, as in his writings.
A long habit of indulgence in epigram had made him rather apt to quiz his friends. But we are to remember that he was encouraged in this, and that a self-indulgent man is only too liable to have the nicety of his sensitiveness spoiled. Certainly, he had a kind heart and good principles. He would lend any man money, or give any man help,--even to the extent of weakness and imprudence. This was one reason why he died no better off,--and one reason why his friends have so much exerted themselves to pay a tribute to his memory in the shape of an addition to the provision he had made for his family. The quickness of feeling which belonged to him made him somewhat ready to take offence. But if he was easily ruffled, he was easily smoothed. Of few men could you say, that their natural impulses were better, or that, given such a nature and such a fortune, they would have arrived at fifty-four years of age with so young a heart.
The last literary event of any magnitude in Jerrold's life was his assuming the editorship of "Lloyd's Newspaper." This journal, which before his connection with it had no position to brag of, rose under his hands to great circulation and celebrity. Every week, there you traced his hand at its old work of embroidering with queer and fanciful sarcasm some bit of what he thought timely and necessary truth. Against all tyrants, all big-wigged impostors, black, white, or gray, was his hammer ringing, and sparks of wit were flying about as ever under his hand. He was getting up in years; but still there seemed many to be hoped for him, yet. Though not so active in schemes as formerly, he still talked of works to be done; and at "Our Club," and such-like friendly little associations, the wit was all himself, and came to our stated meetings as punctually as a star to its place in the sky. He had suffered severely from illness, especially from rheumatism, at various periods of life; and he had lived freely and joyously, as was natural to a man of his peculiar gifts. But, _death_! We never thought of the brilliant and radiant Douglas in connection with the black river. He would have sunk Charon's boat with a shower of epigrams, one would have fancied, if the old fellow, with his squalid beard, had dared to ask him into the stern-sheets. To more than one man who knew him intimately the first announcement of his decease was made by the "Times."
On the evening of the 19th of May, I met him,--as I frequently did on Saturday evenings,--and on no evening do I remember him more lively and brilliant. Next Saturday, I believe, he was at the same kindly board; but some accident kept me away;--I never saw him again. Soon after, he was taken ill. There passed a week of much suffering. June had come, warm and rainy, but our friend was dying. The nature of the illness might be doubtful, but there could be no doubt that the end was near. He prepared himself to meet it. He sent friendly messages of farewell to those he loved, begging, too, that if what he had ever said had pained any one, he might now be forgiven. His mind was made up, and his children were all about him. On a fine evening in the first week of June, he was moved to the window, that he might see the sun setting. On Monday, the eighth of that month, being perfectly conscious almost till the very last, he died.
The time is not yet come to discuss what his ultimate place will be in the literature of his century. It will not be denied that he was a man of rare gifts, and of a remarkable experience in life; and his life and the popularity of his writings will by and by help posterity to understand this our generation. Meanwhile I shall leave him in his resting-place in Norwood, among the hills and fields of Surrey, near the grave of the friend of his youth, the gentle and gifted Laman Blanchard, where he was laid on the 15th of June, amidst a concourse of people not often assembled round the remains of one who has begun life as humbly as he did.
His death made a great impression; and the acuteness with which his friends felt it said more than could be said in a long dissertation for the kindly and love-inspiring qualities of the man. As soon as it appeared that his family were left in less prosperous circumstances than had been hoped, their interest took an active form. A committee met to organize a plan by which the genius of those who had known Jerrold might be employed in raising a provision for his family. The rest has been duly recorded in the newspapers, where the success of these benevolent exertions may be read.