jERDAN'S AUTOBIOGRAPHY. * THERE is a solid and sustained interest about
these biographical reminiscences, which was hardly to be looked for from a man whose life had been passed in the various and desultory occupations of the daily and weekly press ; and they are very well written. The style is easy, without any straining after trivial points and pretta- nesses. The treatment is somewhat discursive ; but as the re- mmiscences are social, political, and personal, as well as autobio- graphical, this trait is necessary, and does not interfere with read- ableness. Mere literary merit without matter goes a very little way in a long work ; but The Autobiography of William ferdan has a good deal of matter. The author has not only looked upon • The Autobiography of William Jerdan, M.R.S.L., Corresponding Member of the Real Academia de la Historia of Spain, &c. &c. With his Literary, Political, and Social Reminiscences and Correspondence, during the last Fifty Years. Volume I. Published by Hall and Virtue.
the world. for fifty years, but mingled in it. He began life on the Scottish Border when country manners were very different from what they are now. He came early to London, to try his hand
merchant's countinghouse and, by means of respectable connexions, as well as a genik disposition, saw a good deal of the upper class of middle life at the opening of the century. A severe attack of illness sent him back ' to the Border; conva- lescence led to a residence in Edinburgh, to study the law; but parties, pleasure, and volunteering, then in its heyday, had more attractions than Themis. Young Jerdan led as gay a life in Edin- burgh as in London, if not a gayer, and in a higher class of society. When he gave up the law, and started for London to seek his for- tune, an uncle, a surgeon in the Navy, gave him an opportunity of seeing a little nautical life, by enrolling him as surgeon's clerk of M. M. ship Gladiator. Soon lifter his discharge, in February 1806, Mr. Jerdan commenced that connexion with the periodical press which was to continue for so many years. The present volume of the Autobiography closes with a professional trip to Paris in 1814, on the triumphant entrance of the Allies, and the London visit of the Sovereigns. In the interval, Mr. Jerdan had served as re- porter, assistant, or editor, on various papers, among which the Morning Post and the Sun are the most conspicuous if not the only survivors. Before he first started for London, the accident of a country tour introduced Mr. Jerdan to the Pollock family ; of whom the eldest, David, died Chief Justice of Bombay, and Frederick is now Lord Chief Baron of the Exchequer. "Young" Wilde, now Lord Truro, was another of his intimates ; and the accidents of life introduced him to many persons of subsequent mark or distinguished oddity ; among whom were the present Solicitor-General, Sir Fitzroy Kelly, as a youth, and his younger brother, who went upon "the boards," failed as a histrio, and died "prematurely of an almost broken heart." Mr. Terdan's activity, zeal, and peculiar position in his connexion with the press, introduced him to many persons, among others to the notorieties Mrs. Mary Ann Clarke and Lady Hamil- ton; his strong Tory politics with the editorship of Government "organs" brought him into relations with Ministers or their sub- ordinates. It will therefore be seen that this Autobiography is likely to contain plenty of striking names, curious characters, and telling anecdotes.
Dr. Johnson, arguing once with Boswell, defended the practice of a man dropping his friends as he advanced in life, because they were apt to allude unpleasantly to his early career—to "rip up old stories." In the case of an author, to drop him may possibly bring the stories before a wider circle. Here are some anecdotes of Lord Truro's early career, one of which places him on a level with Demosthenes, both as regards the impediment of speech and the resolution which overcame it.
"I have noticed that he had much greater difficulties to contend against than his schoolfellow, F. Pollock; because, in the first place, his father did not move in so respectable a circle ; in the second place, he had not the ad- vantage of a university education ; in the third place, he began with a lower branch of legal practice ; and in the last place, he was affected by an impedi- ment in his speech. 'Wilde senior was an attorney in a limited sphere, with a still inferior partner, and resided in one of the small houses in War- wick Square, Newgate Market, and had a rural retreat in one still smaller at Holloway, at the foot of Highgate Hill. There was one window in the par- lour and two on the first floor, which by courtesy we will call the drawing- room. Yet thither have the Lord Chancellor Truro, the Lord Chief Baron, and I, been well pleased to repair for recreation on a summer Sunday, and regale ourselves on the be-knighted joint of prime roast beef, which was a Sir long, long before any of those who ate of it could dream that similar and greater honours awaited their onward triumph in the grand competition of English
"Of Wilde's energy there were many striking proofs even in his younger days ; and the character bore him through every obstacle. His dogged resolution to overcome the impediment in his speech, and his success in doing BO, afforded a remarkable instance of this quality. He would stand silent till he had composed the organs of sound for the distinct articulation of what he desired to say ; and by the skilful and constant application of this inviolable resolution, he, by his own unaided and untaught efforts, conquered the an- noying affection. I remember his taking me to some dark office in the Inner Temple Lane, to show one Bloomfield, the author of The Farmer's Boy,' 'who, through the interest of Capel Lofft, had been appointed to a situation for some distribution of law forms administered there. The excitement caused a fit of stammering to come on ; and there he stood, dumb as a sta- tue for several minutes, till he had forced his organization, by the effort of 'will over physical defect, to perform the duty he demanded, and give utter- ance to well-delivered and well-rounded periods. Such a self-cure is ex- tremely rare, and in this case was nearly perfect ; for the only remains that ever appeared in after years, was a slight occasional and hardly observable hesitation when pleading at the bar."
The distinguished characters as yet introduced are not nu- merous, and those generally seen from a distance : here is a pass- ing sketch of four famous conversationists.
"Besides what I may enumerate as constant resident neighbours, there was an occasional summer occupant of a retired cottage on the other side of Cromwell House from me, and nearer town, who had a frequent visitor whom it was no small gratification to meet in the privacy of a very limited, very confidential, and very social circle. The Amphytnon was Mr. Peake, the father of the humorous and facetious Dick, (whom much I esteemed,) and treasurer of Drury Lane Theatre ; and his guest was Richard Brinsley Sheri- dan, who, after business was got through somehow or other, or anyhow, turned about, and to Old Brompton, with renovated gusto, to pleasure. It 'was truly delectable ; but nobody could describe what it was. It was an abandonment of self, and a charm cast on all around. There was none of the prepared wit for which Moore gives him credit, but a natural overflow of racy conversation and anecdote. The most extraordinary conversation men whom I have known were Sheridan, Sydney Smith, Canning, and Theodore Rook; but they were all as dissimilar to each other as if the realm of wit and hunfour were peopled by quite different races, Black, White, Mulatto, and Malay,' who all spoke different languages, saw with different eyes, and fancied with different imaginations and peculiarities of mind. Sheridan charmed, Canning fascinated, Sydney Smith entertained, and Theodore Hook amazed you. Sheridan threw himself into year arms and upon your heart with such apparently boundless confidence, that you could not help consider- ing yourself, at once, a trusted friend ; and on many and many a trying °cos- aton did he reap the benefit of this implanted feeling."
At the time of the Duke of York's affair about Mrs. Clarke Mr. Jerdan was on the Morning Post • and he frankly admits that his extremely loyal " leaders " reduced the circulation of the paper— and as frankly that he became less violent, if not less loyal., after an acquaintance with Mary Ann. "Mrs. Clarke resided in a house in the King's Road, a short distance from' Sloane Square on my way to town • and as I happened to have been intro- duced to her al her sister's, Mrs. town; she thought our acquaintance inti- mate enough to excuse an invitation for me to call upon her. Such a chance, when all the world were crazy to have only a glance at the Leontie- of the day, was not to be thrown away; and accordingly I very soon waited upon the lady. Her object, as may be surmised, was to neutralize my pen, and the wiles to which she resorted would make a delicious chapter in the history of woman's ingenuity. I found myself as a bird, I suppose, may do when caught in a net; but the meshes were of many shapes and kinds, and reticulated with infinite skill and cunning. 'Wheedling, confidential secrets, allurements, prospects of advantage, piquant familiarities, recherclui treats, and lies. Never was a greater variety of artillery brought to bear upon a newspaper scribbler ; and, at least, Madame so far accomplished her wishes, that I did moderate my tone about her personal performances' and was de- barred from using other intelligence, lest it might be said thatI stole it from the enemy's camp."
Any work of much character owes a part of its character to its representing a class. The Autobiography of Mr. Jerdan repre- sents the class of litterateurs ; not of men like Southey, who looked to literature as the business of life and the means of living, aiming. at and producing books which may rank next to works that are the result of observation impregnated by genius," but of persons who, in addition of course to a natural term, are drawn to writing by circumstances, or a failure in vocations of drier and more sus- tained labour. Of that class of life we suspect this Autobiography will furnish a type. Mr. Jordan, looking back upon his career, regrets his own devotion to the pursuit of literature ; and, follow- ing Scott, advises the young to make letters subordinate to some other calling. "And here again would I earnestly advise every.enthusiastic thinker, every fair scholar, every ambitious author, every inspired poet, without in- dependent fortune, to fortify themselves also with a something more worldly to do. A living in the Church is not uncongenial with the pursuits of the thinker and scholar, the practice of medicine is not inconsistent with the labours of the author, and the chinking of fees in the law is almost in tuning with the harmony of the poet's verse. Let no man be bred to literature alone ; for, as has been far less truly said of another occupation, it will not' be bread to him. Fallacious hopes, bitter disappointments, uncertain re- wards, vile impositions, and censure and slander from the oppressors, are their lot, as sure as ever they put pen to paper for _publication or risk their' peace of mind on the black, black sea of printer's ink. With a fortune to sustain, or a profession to stand by, it may still be bad enough ; but without one or the other it is as foolish as alchemy, as desperate as suicide."
There is a mixture of truth and error here. Great geniuses engaged in affairs have produced great works ; but it has either been on subjects connected with their own pursuits where they put their experience as it were into their books—as Hunter in Surgery, or Coke in Law ; or where they took to science or his- tory when their professional life was suspended—as Clarendon, and in a lesser degree Bacon. Great poets have also been men engaged in active life—as 2Eschylus, Chaucer, Spencer, Shalcspere, though their pursuits were general, not special ; except Shak- spere, whose trade made him a dramatist, though it could not have made him a poet. Scott's profession, about which he and others talked so much, was that of holding places ; and we do not yet know his position with posterity. The pure belles lettres where the workmanship surpasses the material, seems, like other pur- suits, to require undivided attention—as in the cases of Virgil, Dryden, Pope. But the question, after all, is not fairly put. It is not the calling but the man that produces the success. A. suc- cessful professional career implies severe labour and steady perti- nacity—that sustained pursuit of one goal, no matter how long the road, which if not the rarest of qualities, is the most necessary to success of any kind, whether in private or public business, in lite- rature, in art, or in philosophy. The litterateur may not be alto- gether idle, but if he does not work when he pleases, he works upon a temporary stimulus, generally for short spells at a time, and very often neglects work for amusement, and amusements that leave headache or lassitude behind. The life which Mr. Jerdan describes himself as having led for some years in London and Edinburgh, would have been fatal in any profession, and knocked down any professional prospects or professional business. In his case, it prevented him even from acquiring the rudimentary knowledge either of commerce or law.