1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Jerrold, Douglas William
JERROLD, DOUGLAS WILLIAM (1803–1857), English dramatist and man of letters, was born in London on the 3rd of January 1803. His father, Samuel Jerrold, actor, was at that time lessee of the little theatre of Wilsby near Cranbrook in Kent, but in 1807 he removed to Sheerness. There, among the bluejackets who swarmed in the port during the war with France, Douglas grew into boyhood. He occasionally took a child’s part on the stage, but his father’s profession had little attraction for the boy. In December 1813 he joined the guardship “Namur,” where he had Jane Austen’s brother as captain, and he served as a midshipman until the peace of 1815. He saw nothing of the war save a number of wounded soldiers from Waterloo; but till his dying day there lingered traces of his early passion for the sea. The peace of 1815 ruined Samuel Jerrold; there was no more prize money. On the 1st of January 1816 he removed with his family to London, where the ex-midshipman began the world again as a printer’s apprentice, and in 1819 became a compositor in the printing-office of the Sunday Monitor. Several short papers and copies of verses by him had already appeared in the sixpenny magazines, and one evening he dropped into the editor’s box a criticism of the opera Der Freischütz. Next morning he received his own copy to set up, together with a flattering note from the editor, requesting further contributions from the anonymous author. Thenceforward Jerrold was engaged in journalism. In 1821 a comedy that he had composed in his fifteenth year was brought out at Sadler’s Wells theatre, under the title More Frightened than Hurt. Other pieces followed, and in 1825 he was engaged for a few pounds weekly to produce dramas and farces to the order of Davidge of the Coburg theatre. In the autumn of 1824 the “little Shakespeare in a camlet cloak,” as he was called, married Mary Swann; and, while he was engaged with the drama at night, he was steadily pushing his way as a journalist. For a short while he was part proprietor of a small Sunday newspaper. In 1829, through a quarrel with the exacting Davidge, Jerrold left the Coburg; and his three-act melodrama, Black-eyed Susan; or, All in the Downs, was brought out by R. W. Elliston at the Surrey theatre. The success of the piece was enormous. With its free gallant sea-flavour, it took the town by storm, and “all London went over the water to see it.” Elliston made a fortune by the piece; T. P. Cooke, who played William, made his reputation; Jerrold received about £60 and was engaged as dramatic author at five pounds a week. But his fame as a dramatist was achieved. In 1830 it was proposed that he should adapt something from the French for Drury Lane. “No,” was his reply, “I shall come into this theatre as an original dramatist or not at all.” The Bride of Ludgate (December 8, 1831) was the first of a number of his plays produced at Drury Lane. The other patent houses threw their doors open to him also (the Adelphi had already done so); and in 1836 Jerrold became co-manager of the Strand theatre with W. J. Hammond, his brother-in-law. The venture was not successful, and the partnership was dissolved. While it lasted Jerrold wrote his only tragedy, The Painter of Ghent, and himself appeared in the title-rôle, without any very marked success. He continued to write sparkling comedies till 1854, the date of his last piece, The Heart of Gold.
Meanwhile he had won his way to the pages of numerous periodicals—before 1830 of the second-rate magazines only, but after that to those of more importance. He was a contributor to the Monthly Magazine, Blackwood’s, the New Monthly, and the Athenaeum. To Punch, the publication which of all others is associated with his name, he contributed from its second number in 1841 till within a few days of his death. He founded and edited for some time, though with indifferent success, the Illuminated Magazine, Jerrold’s Shilling Magazine, and Douglas Jerrold’s Weekly Newspaper ; and under his editorship Lloyd’s Weekly Newspaper rose from almost nonentity to a circulation of 182,000. The history of his later years is little more than a catalogue of his literary productions, interrupted now and again by brief visits to the Continent or to the country. Douglas Jerrold died at his house, Kilburn Priory, in London, on the 8th of June 1857.
Jerrold’s figure was small and spare, and in later years bowed almost to deformity. His features were strongly marked and expressive from the thin humorous lips to the keen blue eyes gleaming from beneath the shaggy eyebrows. He was brisk and active, with the careless bluffness of a sailor. Open and sincere, he concealed neither his anger nor his pleasure; to his simple frankness all polite duplicity was distasteful. The cynical side of his nature he kept for his writings; in private life his hand was always open. In politics Jerrold was a Liberal, and he gave eager sympathy to Kossuth, Mazzini and Louis Blanc. In social politics especially he took an eager part; he never tired of declaiming against the horrors of war, the luxury of bishops, and the iniquity of capital punishment.
Douglas Jerrold is now perhaps better known from his reputation as a brilliant wit in conversation than from his writings. As a dramatist he was very popular, though his plays have not kept the stage. He dealt with rather humbler forms of social life than had commonly been represented on the boards. He was one of the first and certainly one of the most successful of those who in defence of the native English drama endeavoured to stem the tide of translation from the French, which threatened early in the 19th century altogether to drown original native talent. His skill in construction and his mastery of epigram and brilliant dialogue are well exemplified in his comedy, Time Works Wonders (Haymarket, April 26, 1845). The tales and sketches which form the bulk of Jerrold’s collected works vary much in skill and interest; but, although there are evident traces of their having been composed from week to week, they are always marked by keen satirical observation and pungent wit.
Among the best known of his numerous works are: Men of Character (1838), including “Job Pippin: The man who couldn’t help it,” and other sketches of the same kind; Cakes and Ale (2 vols., 1842), a collection of short papers and whimsical stories; some more serious novels—The Story of a Feather (1844), The Chronicles of Clovernook (1846), A Man made of Money (1849), and St Giles and St James (1851); and various series of papers reprinted from Punch—Punch’s Letters to his Son (1843), Punch’s Complete Letter-writer (1845), and the famous Mrs Caudle’s Curtain Lectures (1846).
See W. B. Jerrold, Life and Remains of Douglas Jerrold (1859). A collected edition of his writings appeared in 1851–1854, and The Works of Douglas Jerrold, with a memoir by his son, W. B. Jerrold, in 1863–1864; but neither is complete. Among the numerous selections from his tales and witticisms are two edited by his grandson, Walter Jerrold, Bons Mots of Charles Dickens and Douglas Jerrold (new ed. 1904), and The Essays of Douglas Jerrold (1903), illustrated by H. M. Brock. See also The Wit and Opinions of Douglas Jerrold (1858), edited by W. B. Jerrold.
His eldest son, William Blanchard Jerrold (1826–1884), English journalist and author, was born in London on the 23rd of December 1826, and abandoning the artistic career for which he was educated, began newspaper work at an early age there. He was appointed Crystal Palace commissioner to Sweden in 1853, and wrote A Brage-Beaker with the Swedes (1854) on his return. In 1855 he was sent to the Paris exhibition as correspondent for several London papers, and from that time he lived much in Paris. In 1857 he succeeded his father as editor of Lloyd’s Weekly Newspaper, a post which he held for twenty-six years. During the Civil War in America he strongly supported the North, and several of his leading articles were reprinted and placarded in New York by the federal government. He was the founder and president of the English branch of the international literary association for the assimilation of copyright laws. Four of his plays were successfully produced on the London stage, the popular farce Cool as a Cucumber (Lyceum 1851) being the best known. His French experiences resulted in a number of books, most important of which is his Life of Napoleon III. (1874). He was occupied in writing the biography of Gustave Doré, who had illustrated several of his books, when he died on the 10th of March 1884.
Among his books are A Story of Social Distinction (1848), Life and Remains of Douglas Jerrold (1859), Up and Down in the World (1863), The Children of Lutetia (1864), Cent per Cent (1871), At Home in Paris (1871), The Best of all Good Company (1871–1873), and The Life of George Cruikshank (1882).