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Saracenic tongue enriched with but one poor word
of English, Gilbert — my father's name — (he had
taught her to breathe the syllables, blithe music in
his late captivity) — she found herself in London.
Yet, how to find my father ? With untired feet,
from morn till darkness, she would thread each street
and suburb ; and, at every step, as the dove broods
in one note o'er its hopes, — so with her one word
of English — ' Gilbert ' — would she tell her story.


1 Gilbert ! ' ' Gilbert ! ' fell from her lip, as down a
coral shelf drop follows drop. A cherub heard the
word and bore it to my father. Angels sang when
they did marry. Say not again woman hath no
constancy ! "

In the third act we have the King in council
at Clarendon, when the quarrel between him
and Becket becomes sharply defined, and the
Archbishop, refusing to allow Philip de Brois
to be tried by the secular court, and refusing
to return moneys of which he had been ab-
solved, pronounces the Church's ban on Lucia
for cleaving to her husband. In the fourth
act King and Archbishop are both in France,
and from his late servants and others at home
it is shown that the Churchman is in lowest
disgrace, his supporters banished.

Then Idonea, a nun — the only woman besides
Lucia in the play — comes on as bearer of
letters of excommunication from Becket to the
Bishop of London and his fellows, and dialogue
between her and Swart (who proves to be her
brother) contrasts the " softest wax, moulded
by the hand of craft and superstition " and
the critical spirit which has arisen against
the dominance of the Churchman. Then
comes announcement of the unexpectedly
dramatic return of Becket. The fifth act
opens with the foolish Snipe and a fellow
hurrying " like fowls to barley to welcome "
Becket. We see Becket deeply hurt but
dignified at his repudiation by the prince
whom he had brought up, and Philip de Brois


pressing his malevolent designs against Lucia,
whom he has seized. A brief scene shows the
knights who have hastened over from France
that they may act on King Henry's hasty
words, " Am I so beset with cowards, that
none will revenge me of this turbulent priest ? "
An interview between Lucia and Becket — " at
the hour of vespers, on the sacred altar pledge
me the oath and you are free ! " — hastens
the play to its tragic close in Canterbury

There is a largeness of purpose, skilful,
pregnant dialogue — Becket's own speeches
suggest that the author designed to use blank
verse — and a sufficiency of action to make this
a really impressive example of the historical

The Epilogue, which was spoken by Miss
Scott — the Lucia of the play and the creator
of the part of Black-Eyed Susan — was written
by Cornelius Webbe, who in the course of
it re-emphasized the fact that it was a native
drama — not as the dramatist said of the work
of one of his contemporary adapters the pro-
duct of a steal pen —

" Come, Sirs, your verdict ! Remember the offender
Is by no means an old one — so be tender !
' Guilty ' he pleads to this most grave offence —
Of writing a new play — in every sense
Of English birth and growth ; which, in our time,
When not to steal is held a losing crime —
When more than half our plays, like half our fleet,
Are taken ' from the French ' — when not discreet,



But, in our author, you will sure forgive
His British bravery, and let him live."

Cordial, however, as was the reception of the
work, it ran but for six nights, when it was
withdrawn in favour of more popular, if less
literary, fare. The play, according to one
dramatic critic of the day, was " well got up,
but indifferently acted," though George Daniel
— the familiar " D — G " of theatrical criticism
— recorded an opposite opinion. If the play
did not gain the continued support of the many
who award the fruits of immediate success it
won the suffrage of the still more important
few. Winning the popular ear had not proved
especially profitable to Douglas Jerrold, much
as it had done for his employer, but that
sweet acknowledgment of his powers which is
always dear to the heart of the earnest worker
was now accorded to the young writer by a
number of men of letters who had already
won their position. A friend congratulating
him on Thomas a Becket said, " You'll be the
Surrey Shakespeare." " The sorry Shake-
speare, you mean," replied Jerrold, as ready to
utter a jest against himself as against another.
Men of letters must be taken in its wider
sense as including women, for among the
earliest letters to Douglas Jerrold which I have
is the following from Mary Russell Mitford,
the bright, vivacious author of Our Village and
of a number of plays. The " interlined and
blotted note, so very untidy and unladylike,"
runs :


" Three Mile Cross, near Reading,

" Saturday evening, December lAth, 1829.

' My dear Sir, — I have just received from Mr.
Willey your very kind and gratifying note. The
plays which you have been so good as to send me are
not yet arrived; but fearing from Mr. Willey 's letter
that it may be some days before I receive them, I
do not delay writing to acknowledge your polite
attention. I have as yet read neither of them, but
I know that I shall be greatly delighted by the merits
which I shall find in both — in the first, by that truth
of the touch which has commanded a popularity
quite unrivalled in our day; in the second by the
higher and prouder qualities of the tragic poet. The
subject of Thomas a Becket interests me particularly,
as I had at one time a design to write a tragedy called
Henry the Second, in which his saintship would have
played a considerable part. My scheme was full of
license and anachronism, embracing the apocryphal
story of Rosamond and Eleanor, the rebellious sons —
not the hackneyed John and Richard, but the best
and worst of the four — Henry and Geoffrey, linking
the scenes together as best I might, and ending with
the really dramatic catastrophe of Prince Henry. I
do not at all know how the public would have tolerated
a play so full of faults, and it is well replaced by your
more classical and regular drama. I was greatly
interested by the account of the enthusiastic reception
given by the old admirers of Black-Eyed Susan to a
successor rather above their sphere. R was hearty,
genial, English — much like the cheering which an
election mob might have bestowed on some speech
of Pitt, or Burke, or Sheridan, which they were sure
was fine, although they hardly understood it.

' If I had a single copy of Rienzi at hand this should
not go unaccompanied. I have written to Mr. Willey


to procure me some and hope soon to have the
pleasure of requesting your acceptance of one. In
the meantime I pray you to pardon this interlined
and blotted note, so very untidy and unladylike, but
which I never can help, and to excuse the wafer, and
the absence of the Christian name. I am sending a
frankful of letters to town and am afraid of over-
weight. My father begs his best compliments and I
am, with every good wish,

" Very sincerely yours,

" M. R. MlTFORD."

The plays which the young dramatist had
sent to Miss Mitford in her Berkshire retire-
ment were evidently Black-Eyed Susan and
Thomas a Becket, though I have not come
across so early an edition of the former.
That such kindly recognition of his work as
is shown in this friendly letter was well appre-
ciated is evidenced by the care with which
the recipient kept it. Indeed to-day, but for
a slight staining of the paper, the treasured
letter is as fresh as when it left its writer's
hand more than eighty years ago. The follow-
ing reply, from 4 Augustus Square, Regent's
Park, is undated, but was evidently written
at the beginning of 1830, for the condolence
which the writer offers was occasioned by the
death of Miss Mitford's mother on the first day
of that year.

" My dear Madam, — May I be allowed to offer my
sincere expressions of condolence for the loss you
have so recently sustained, and to venture a hope of


your timely recovery from the effects of so afflicting
a visitation.

" That the dramas, which I have taken the liberty
of intruding upon your notice, receive your commenda-
tion is to me a subject of pride and pleasure : for
wanting the suffrage of the few, popular success is as
empty as it is frequently immediate.

" Long before I could hope that any effort of mine
would receive the attention of Mr. Talfourd, I had
admired the active, liberal and dispassionate tone
of that gentleman's criticisms ; consequently I felt
additional gratification from his praise in this month's
New Monthly. At the present ebb of dramatic
criticism, when ipse dixit, not analysis, decides on the
faults or merits of writers, it is most encouraging,
especially to the young beginner, to know there is
at least one publication where he may meet with
fair and gentlemanly treatment. There is, too,
another satisfaction to the dramatist, who, at the
outset, encounters the prejudice and ignorance of
what is termed ' daily and weekly criticism.' He has
but to make two or three fortunate hits — no matter
whether borrowed from Messrs. Scribe or Mr. Colburn
— to change unthinking abuse into equally ignorant
encomium. With such critics how short the pause
from a hiss to a huzza !

"My Witchfinder at Drury Lane was a decided
failure. The subject was ill chosen ; for few who
condemned it were aware that they were judging an
attempted representation of historical character, but
condemned it as a monstrous fiction. Neither had
the piece one intrinsic advantage. Mr. Farren first
injured it by his extravagant praise, and then made
the mischief complete by his utter misconception of
the part. Then came the learning, the intelligence,
and the liberality of the newspapers. In the present


day a moderately gifted dramatist has a pretty time
of it : if he succeed his piece has the immortality of
a month — if he fail, his name is gibbeted in every
journal as a dullard or a coxcomb. French melo-
dramas have ruined us.

" I have, Madam, to apologize for inflicting so long
a letter on your patience, and again repeating my
wishes for your convalescence, and my acknow-
ledgements of the honour which you have done me
in the notice taken of my dramas (which, unless they
be followed by much worthier things, I had rather
had never been), I remain, my dear Madam,

" Ever truly and obliged,

" Douglas Jerrold."

" French melodramas have ruined us " —
this expressed a lasting grievance with Douglas
Jerrold. Against adaptation and translation
he sternly set his face. When it was proposed
to him that he should adapt a piece for Drury
Lane he replied, emphatically, " I will come
into this theatre as an original dramatist or
not at all." But it was not only the rivalry
of the easy-going adapters from which play-
wrights suffered. Having written their work
they found it, owing to the monopoly of the
patent houses and the state of the law with
regard to what Thomas Hood termed " copy-
right and copy wrong," impossible to claim any
protection for it as property. In a note to the
preface to Thomas a Becket the author wrote :
" It must, unfortunately, be allowed that the
present period is not the most auspicious to
the production of original dramas : when


every other species of literature, save that of
the theatre, is protected by legislative enact-
ments from unprincipled piracy, it is not to
be expected that many writers will be found to
expose their plays, as Alfred hung up his
golden bracelets, in sheer contempt of robbers.
In England, the bantlings of the dramatist
are a proscribed race ; they come under a kind
of outlawry ; — ' whoso findeth them, may slay
them.' Whilst such is the case, it will be in
vain to hope for a rapid improvement in the
modern drama."

Before the close of the year in which the
minor-theatre popularity that had been won
by earlier plays had widened by the great
success of Black-Eyed Susan, Douglas Jerrold
was given the opportunity of writing for both
Drury Lane and Co vent Garden. It was on
December 19 that he made his appearance —
with an English play on an English theme, as
he had said — at Drury Lane, and it proved a
disastrous attempt to win the ear of the
" patent " theatre audience. The play was
The Witchfinder, and as the author said in his
letter to Mary Russell Mitford, it was " a
decided failure," the performance not being
repeated. Jerrold's own explanation of the
causes of the failure are borne out by some
of the contemporary criticism, for the piece
is described as not having been dealt with
fairly by the management, and as having been
inadequately acted, and as a consequence, said
one critic, it " met with a most uncourteous


reception ; for great part of the second act was
merely dumb show."

This was a melodrama founded on a novel
of the same name (published in 1824), dealing
with the life of the notorious Matthew Hopkins,
by the author of The Lollards. I have found
the following summary of the story among the
notices which the piece received : Judith, a
young maiden residing under the guardianship
of John Sterne, is wooed by Justice Beril,
who, finding that his suit does not proceed
so prosperously as he could wish, employs
Matthew Hopkins, the Witch Finder, to plead
his cause. Matthew, however, has had an
eye to the maiden himself, and takes this
opportunity of disclosing his passion. Judith
rejects his love with indignation and horror
(for her heart is already bestowed on Evelyn).
Hopkins, in revenge, denounces her for a
witch; and when she is on the point of being
torn to pieces by the ignorant mob, her lover
rushes in and rescues her.

Very naturally the author felt somewhat
chagrined over this failure of his first attempt
to make good a position as something other
than a writer of minor drama. The " minor '
dramatist of those days was not in a fortunate
position, the mere fact that he was writing for
the unpatented houses was sufficient to ensure
his works being almost wholly ignored by the
critics or, if they were mentioned, sufficient to
ensure his name being withheld from the


About three weeks after The Witchfinder
made its ill-starred appearance at Drury Lane
a new piece from Jerrold's pen was produced
at the Surrey Theatre. This was Sally in
Our Alley, which had been written for Covent
Garden, but in consequence of the fate of The
Witchfinder the author wisely decided to " trans-
plant his offspring to a nursery more suitable
to its unassuming merits."

This is a two-act drama owing nothing more
than its title to Henry Carey's popular ballad,
but, by the very use of that title, as a contem-
porary critic put it, charming away all critical
bile. The scene is laid at Putney, and the
story of the piece has been thus racily sum-
marized —

" A gibbet is the surest sign of a country's civiliza-
tion, for to a certainty there are laws, and so sure as
we see neighbours set together by the ears, there is
a lawyer not far afield ! One Isaac Perch — a piscator
and pedagogue, whenever he would hook a trout,
gives his urchins a holiday, and the grateful young
rogues supply him with artificial flies manufactured
from the wing feathers of Farmer Hurdle's fowls and
the resplendent tail of Sir John Flambeau's pet
peacock. This, in the hands of Mr. Attorney Claws,
is capital larceny — and, with a trespass committed
by one old woman's ducks on the grounds of another
old woman — an indictment for a nuisance by a ham-
mering brazier against an everlasting opera singer —
and a humble petition from Tom Crowbar, the ' in-
corrigible housebreaker ' — promise to bring grist to
his mill. But ' it never rains but it pours ' ; Perch
has hooked a solitary chub in the private fishpond


of Sir John Flambeau; and having been dogged to
the cottage of old Frank, the father of Sally, is pounced
upon by the hungry attorney, and carried off in
custody. Now Sir John, though a retired tallow-
chandler, and well-to-do in the world, has none of
the vulgar aristocracy of wealth. He desires not to
be the Dragon of Putney; and reproves Mr. Claws
for his officiousness. But Claws has a friend at
court in the person of my lady, a low-lived piece of
city pride ; who, because Sir John has spoken in civil
terms to poor Sally, becomes furiously jealous; and,
with the assistance of one, Captain Harpoon, whom
she deceives by false representations, enters into a
plot to ship her off to Russia. The Captain, an honest
blunt sailor, offers her his hand and heart ; and finding
them pre-engaged, he enters into an explanation with
old Frank, which completely discloses her ladyship's
perfidy. Many years since, Frank had lost an only
son at sea ; the son, who was drowned in sight of port,
had placed two hundred pounds of prize money in
the hands of the (then) navy agent, Claws, with orders
to pay it over to his poor parents. To this his friend
and fellow-seaman Harpoon was witness : and hap-
pening unexpectedly to encounter the attorney, the
question naturally is, has he paid it according to
order ? The man of law has embezzled it ; and being
called upon to refund principal and interest, Harry
Bloom has her father's consent (for old Frank had
vowed never to wed his daughter to squalid poverty)
to take to wife Sally in our Alley. Mr. Jerrold has
introduced some shrewd remarks on the oppression
of the rich against the poor ; on the power which wealth
gives to do good and evil ; and how much the latter
preponderates. The characters of Claws, the mis-
chief-making pettifogger, and Lady Flambeau, the
high-dumptiness of dripping personified, are not


exaggerated. Perch, the rattling piscator, is pleasantly
drawn — his resolution to join Captain Harpoon in
a whale-fishing expedition is ultra- Waltonian. The
design of this piece is to beat down pride, inhumanity,
and presumption ; to show that ' a man's a man for
a' that ' however low his estate." x

Isaac Perch's defence of the " brave science "
of angling is worthy of so ardent a disciple of
old Walton. " Idle ! talk not of the idleness
which is full of health and quiet thoughts.
Is it idle to be up with the day — to feel the
balmy coolness of a rich May dew — to catch
the coming splendour of the sun — to see the
young lambs leap — to hear singing a mile
above us the strong-throated lark, the spirit
of the scene ! Is this idle ? Yes, by some 'tis
called so. The sluggard who wakes half the
night to lay lime-twigs for poor honesty the
next day — the varlet who acknowledges no
villainy on the safe side of an act of parliament
— he calls me a loiterer and a time killer. Be
it so, it does not spoil my fishing. Idle ! why
angling is in itself a system of morality ! "

** The morality of jagging a hook through a
fly ! " breaks in the schoolmaster's companion.

" No," he retorts, " but of seeing how great
and golden a fish may be ensnared by glittering
deceit. What is the world's ceremony but
a gaudy fly, made of silks and feathers — what
mankind but the poor silly fish biting and
nibbling at it ? Angling ! its very implements
teach us lessons of morality; the rod is the

1 George Daniel,


type of rectitude; the angler's constant com-
panion and sermon — a box of worms."

When Isaac Perch is told that all his pupils
have been taken away and put to a new
master because he himself is too lively he says,
" I suppose my successor is one of those fellows
who dive into the well for truth, and croak
only with the frogs at the bottom."

Sally in Our Alley at the Surrey enjoyed
considerable success and was followed just a
fortnight later by another piece — presumably
but a brief " curtain raiser " — entitled Gervase
Skinner, founded upon Theodore Hook's story
Penny Wise and Pound Foolish. Particulars
of this play and of its reception do not seem
now recoverable, but the time of its appearance
seems to have synchronized more or less closely
with a quarrel between Jerrold and Elliston.
Of the nature of the quarrel there is nothing
known, but it may well be that the author of
Black-Eyed Susan had come to regard his work
as of the value of something more than five
pounds a week, and that he chafed at the
dictatorial ways of the great Lessee.

All that we know of the quarrel is as much
as is given in the following letters written to
Mrs. T. P. Cooke. The address from which
the letters were dated was 2 Great Union
Street, Borough. Somewhere about this period
Douglas Jerrold was in money difficulties owing,
it is believed, to his connection with a Sunday
paper, presumably the Weekly Times, in which
he had been interested. The first of the letters,


which is undated, but evidently belongs to this
period, runs as follows —

" My dear Madam, — On Monday last I received,
in the King's Bench, a most arrogant letter from
Mr. Elliston— he, however, knew to what place he
was directing, and thought he could impose what
terms he pleased. I very summarily undeceived him.
He demanded that I should write the Whitsuntide
piece, as coming in my present engagement — this, as
I before stated, I did not conceive myself entitled to
do, — and consequently refused to address myself to
that drama, until Mr. Elliston stated what proposal
he might have to make to me subsequently to Whit-
suntide. I have no doubt that it was his wish to
get the piece of me, and then bow me out of his
Treasury — I receiving no recompense after its pro-
duction. I added, in my letter to Mr. Elliston, that
it was to me a matter of perfect indifference, whether
I ever wrote another line for the Surrey Theatre —
this answer he scarcely expected from the King's
Bench. I met him on Friday, and he was then all
smiles and affability — his professions of friendship if
possible more contemptible than his previous attempt
at injustice. He is to call upon me, in the course
of this week, and to settle with me for another twelve
month, when, the agreement completed, I shall look
practically to Mr. Cooke's drama for Whitsuntide.
I never had the most glowing opinion of the principle
— to put feeling and liberality quite out of the ques-
tion — of Mr. Elliston — but within these few days he
has, with me, proved himself worthy of whatever
rumour may have attached to him. Indeed, I fear
a few days in a prison yield us a right estimation of
the motives and characters of most people. Begging


you to give my compliments to Mr. C. and trusting
that you are fast recovering from the effects of your
late bereavement,

" Believe me, ever truly,

" D. Jerrold."

The second letter is as follows —

" My dear Madam, — I have heard of the paragraph
in The Despatch, but had so frequently had cause to
feel a contempt for the ignorant and petty spirit of
that journal — that, as it appears, I was justified in
treating the account of the failure of the piece in
Dublin as one of the numerous falsehoods which have
of late been directly or indirectly levelled at me.
I am most happy to hear of Mr. C.'s success, and
trust he encounters his fatigues with good health.
I suppose you have heard that Elliston and I are
' wide as the poles asunder.' Subsequently to my
last letter, I had an interview with him when he
demanded of me a piece for Easter, and a piece for
Mr. C. — refusing to come to any specific engagement
after Whitsuntide. I at once expressed my deter-
mination to write neither piece on such an uncertain
tenure, when Mr. E. (just and literal soul !) declared
the engagement at an end, and from that period
(about a month since) stopped my salary. Nay, more,
he had the unblushing effrontery to tell me that I had
for some time received money without making any
adequate return — that he had made scarcely anything
by Black-Eyed Susan — that other pieces of mine,
Law and Lions, John Overy, etc., had kept money
out of the house, and that he had gratified my vanity
at the cost of £300 by the production of Thomas a
Becket. The silence of contempt was the only fitting


answer to such assertions ; and we parted. Since
that period, he wrote to me, inquiring my terms for
two pieces (the Whitsuntide and the benefit piece)

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Online LibraryWalter JerroldDouglas Jerrold, dramatist and wit (Volume 1) → online text (page 10 of 24)