Walter Jerrold.

Douglas Jerrold, dramatist and wit (Volume 1) online

. (page 11 of 24)
Online LibraryWalter JerroldDouglas Jerrold, dramatist and wit (Volume 1) → online text (page 11 of 24)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

for Mr. Cooke — I returned him my price, stipulating
that the money should be paid on delivery of the
manuscripts — this he refused to do, and here the
correspondence ended — of course I do not do the
piece. After the treatment I have received from
Elliston I am justified in any suspicion of his probity
— and I have no doubt, were I to send him a nautical
piece — (and the sailor I contemplated writing, was a
peculiar, and yet untouched character) — he might
hand over my suggestion to another writer, and
return me my MS. It is painful to have such an
opinion of any man — yet, when it is considered what
benefits have resulted to Elliston — indirectly and in
some measure from myself — the condition he was in
when Black-Eyed Susan came out — and of the return
he has made me, at a period when he was aware I
was struggling under difficulties, and those not the
effect of extravagance or bad principles — when all
these circumstances are taken into consideration I
must appear wholly justified in treating him as a
man incapable of the commonest principles of justice
— to put liberality out of the question. I have
been thus diffuse on the subject, as probably Mr.
Elliston may have given another version of the
causes of our rupture — however, what I have written
is the truth — a ' plain, unvarnished ' narrative of the
case. In a few days I trust to have surmounted my
present difficulties — when, having the offer of the
conduct of a Sunday paper, I shall resume my former
avocations, and in all probability, take a lengthened
leave of the drama — I have received few available
inducements to cultivate it. Begging to be remem-
bered, and with my best wishes to Mr. Cooke — and


trusting that yourself and little girl are quite well,
I remain,

" Yours truly,

" Douglas Jerrold."

The " paragraph in The Despatch " was
evidently the following (Weekly Dispatch,
March 7) : " Jerrold's nautical drama of Black-
Eyed Susan, notwithstanding the powerful
assistance afforded by the acting of T. P.
Cooke as William, has utterly failed in Dublin,
having been performed only five nights to
indifferent houses. T. P. Cooke has in conse-
quence returned to London." The writer of
theatrical gossip in The Dispatch appears to
have let slip no opportunity for a dig at the
dramatist about this period. During the earlier
part of the same year there had been : " Mr.
Jerrold's new musical drama of Sally in Our
Alley has been declined by the management
of Covent Garden Theatre and returned to
that gentleman, who, it appears, has prevailed
on Mr. Elliston to produce it forthwith at the
Surrey." Then came a chilling notice of the
piece and, a week later, " Mr. Jerrold has
contradicted the statement published in our
last that the opera of Sally in Our Alley had
been declined by the managers of Covent
Garden Theatre. We admit we were in that
respect wrong. Will he in the same spirit of
candour acknowledge the real cause which led
to the withdrawal of the piece from the house
in question ? " And in the following month :


41 Two celebrated dramatic authors are at the
moment incarcerated from an inability to meet
certain pecuniary considerations. The muse of
one has latterly been extremely prolific." A
few months later, however, the same journal
gave an enthusiastic notice of the Mutiny at
the Nore, declaring that no playgoer " no
matter where he may be located in this over-
built town should fail to go and see the piece
at the Pavilion." When another dramatist,
availing himself of the vogue of nautical
drama which Jerrold's most popular play had
established (and even borrowing from one of
Jerrold's titles), brought out Fifteen Years
of a Sailor's Life, the same paper declared
that it would rival Black-Eyed Susan — " being

Another letter to Mrs. T. P. Cooke is undated,
but apparently belongs to this period of struggle
and success. It was written from 4 Augustus
Square, Regent's Park :

" My dear Madam, — Circumstances of rather a

peculiar and pressing nature (in some measure

resulting from my late difficulties) induce me (in

the absence of Mr. T. P. Cooke) to solicit of you the

favour of the loan of £15 until the 17th instant, when

/ feel certain of the pleasure of returning the same.

I am at present employed on a piece, but as much

of the success in literary matters depends upon a

freedom from external annoyance, I have taken the

liberty of trespassing on your kindness.

" I remain, yours truly,

" Douglas Jerrold."
vol. i m


The play in question may have been that
which he was writing for production for T. P.
Cooke's benefit — The Press Gang — in which case
the quarrel must either have been temporarily
healed, or, as I think more likely, he wrote the
play for Cooke and not for Elliston.

For something less than twelve months had
Jerrold continued as dramatic writer to Ellis-
ton's establishment. The exacting, autocratic
manager was not very likely to get along well
with the ardent, impulsive young author. No
further particulars of the quarrel are now
obtainable than are contained in the above
letters, but the misunderstanding was evidently
a serious one, for the author of Black-Eyed Susan
was no longer represented on the boards of the
Surrey Theatre except on two occasions, once
later in the same year, and once in 1831 after
Elliston's death. Despite the " few available
inducements " to cultivate the drama the
writer did not take a lengthened leave of the
stage; so far from it, indeed, that within the
next five years he was to write close upon a
score of plays, some of which have taken their
place as among the best appreciated of his
work and as distinct contributions to the
dramatic literature of the century.

The success which Black-Eyed Susan had
achieved was very naturally an inducement to
the author to make further essays with the
nautical drama. Just a year after Susan and
William had first gladdened the hearts of
thousands of theatre-goers The Mutiny at the
Nore was produced (June 7, 1830) at the


Pavilion Theatre, and was " well acted and
popular." It dealt with a historical incident
well within the memory of middle-aged mem-
bers of the audience, and enjoyed considerable
popularity, such popularity indeed that during
the second half of 1830 it was given at three
different London houses, the Pavilion, where
it began — and also at the Coburg and Tottenham
Street Theatres.

It was but thirty-three years earlier, in 1797,
that there had been a serious outbreak of
mutiny in the Royal Navy at the Nore and
also at Portsmouth, and therefore it must have
been " like stirring living embers " to make of
the theme a theatrical display. The dramatist
introduces a romantic story which shows
Richard Parker, the ringleader of the muti-
neers, as having married a woman to whom
his captain was a rival suitor. That captain
has submitted Parker to indignities which so
rankle that, when the mutiny comes to an end,
rather than surrender to him Parker shoots his
officer and then submits to being taken. The
play closes with his execution on board H.M.S.
Sandwich — history had made such a happy
ending as that of Black-Eyed Susan impossible.
It is a spirited play in which the grievances
which gave rise to the mutiny are set out with
sympathy, and with knowledge which the
dramatist had doubtless gathered during his
boyish experiences in the Navy from men who
may well have been concerned in the troubles
of 1797.

A month after this piece had started on its


popular course the author had another nautical
drama ready for the boards, and under the
title of The Press Gang ; or, Archibald of the
Wreck, it was produced at the Surrey Theatre
on July 5, with T. P. Cooke, the famous
William, in the role of the hero. There remains
nothing beyond the scanty press notices of the
period to indicate its character; one such thus
presents the plot :

" The story may be thus described : Arthur
Granby, when at a very early age, was pressed on
board a man-of-war, from which he deserted and
joined a merchant's crew. On his return from a
long voyage, he is married to the long-wished-for
object of his affection, with which incident the
drama commences. As the happy pair are leaving
the church, a press gang enter and capture the
despairing husband, and carry him to their ship,
which proves to be the identical one that he had
deserted from many years before. Arthur is con-
demned to undergo the usual punishment of a deserter ;
when, just as it is going to be inflicted, it is discovered
that Granby, who had been kidnapped from his
parents when a child, is a peer of the realm, and
therefore not liable to be pressed. This drama is
written by a very superior minor dramatist, Mr.
Jerrold, and the incidents are truly dramatic, and
wrought up so artfully, as to produce the deepest
sympathy and attention. The plot is rather irregular,
and we cannot speak very highly of the denouement,
which is far too abrupt and improbable."

This was presumably the benefit piece of
which the author had written to the actor's


wife, and a truce appears to have been made
with Elliston.

These earlier years of Douglas Jerrold's
career as writer, when he was beginning to
win an acknowledged position for himself
among the dramatists and journalists of the
day, are chiefly marked, so far as anything
is now ascertainable, by the production of
new plays. Letters of any interest and other
materials are very scanty during this period.
Jerrold was working hard both as journalist
and playwright on his way to an accredited

On December 16, 1830, a new piece by
Douglas Jerrold — " a gentleman who has dis-
tinguished himself by writing for the minor
theatres in a style far superior to any they have
of late years been honoured with " x — was pro-
duced at the Adelphi Theatre, in the form of
a romantic drama in two acts entitled The
DeviVs Ducat ; or, the Gift of Mammon. This
was new in more ways than one ; it is written
in blank verse and is more ambitious in scope
and treatment than the general run of the
dramas written for the audiences of the Coburg
and Surrey Theatres; is, indeed, on quite
different lines, and in its differing way no less
ambitious a dramatic venture than the Thomas
a Becket of twelve months earlier.

Yet, in those days of many new plays and
constant changing of the theatrical bills a
fresh piece was quite likely to be overlooked
1 The Dramatic Gazette, December 1830.


whatever its merits, for in a periodical of the
time (The Taller) George Daniel apologized for
not having noticed its production, having
concluded it to be " one of the flaring Bartholo-
mew Fair things that are so common at the
minor theatres." However, after visiting the
Adelphi he made ample amends in the warmth
of his encomium and incidentally referred to
the legend on which the dramatist based his
story. The author thus replied to the refer-
ence :

" Mr. Tatler, — ' Pases,' in whose birth, parentage
and education, you have shown so kind an interest,
is really, as you surmise, to be found in the Latinity
of Erasmus. Le Clerk gives his authority (omitted
in the bill) as follows — Erasmus in Adagiis Suidas.

" I fear I cannot honestly receive the praise for
much invention in the incident of Grillo's robbing
Nibbio in the confession scene — that circumstance
having been suggested to me by Robertson, who in
his History of Charles V, speaks of Petzel, a Dominican,
sent forth to all ' indulgences ' vending an absolution
of theft to a couple of marauders, who afterwards
(doubtless to try the virtues of the document) emptied
the pockets of their spiritual physician.

" I have thought it but candid to say thus much,
leaving it to your judgment whether it be of sufficient
importance to interest the readers of The Tatler.

" I am, yours,

" Respectfully,

" Douglas Jerrold."

After giving this letter the critic commented :
" Mr. Jerrold ought not to suffer for his


modesty, in speaking as he does of the scene
in question. The idea is borrowed; but the
pleasant details are his own ; and the humorous
impudence of the theft, openly and at the same
instant committed upon the absolver, beats
the after- thought of the two marauders. It
puts a new zest upon the old joke of Autolycus."
The idea of this romantic drama is taken
from a story of Pases, an ancient magician who
made for himself a coin that whenever it was
spent returned to him, and in the play it is
shown how such a boomerang-like disk returns
but to damage its unfortunate possessor. When
the play was printed, three or four months
after its production, in Cumberland's edition
of acting plays, it was " embellished " with a
portrait of Mr. O. Smith in the character of
Mammon in kingly costume, and was prefaced
by George Daniel who, ever ready to acknow-
ledge the originality of the dramatist, has a
pretty severe hit at the dramatic depredators
who in the varying capacities of translator,
adapter and poacher, were flourishing at the
time. " Mr. Jerrold," said the critic, " does
not borrow from the French — neither does he
poach in the unfrequented fields of the drama
and realize the fable of the ass in the lion's
skin. A hint from an old ballad or book is
sufficient — he is content with an apple, without
stripping the whole tree." Another critic said :
" He is not one of those * recreant bards '
who glean the vile refuse of a Gallic stage.
All his dramas are true English, from top to


toe: so that his very failures are entitled to

The DeviVs Ducat is an ambitious effort
and it is so both in its conception and in
its style. It aims at bringing home to those
who witness its performance some shrewd
lessons as to the value of the possession
of ill-gotten wealth. There is something
fascinating about the possession of a coin
which, use it as often as we may for the
purpose of purchasing that which we desire,
is yet never actually spent. This drama is
notable as being the only acted one by Douglas
Jerrold written in blank verse. He was a
great reader of the Elizabethan dramatists,
whose rich stores during his early manhood
were being drawn attention to by the loving
ministrations of Charles Lamb.

The scene opens in the country near Naples,
and two brothers, Astolfo and Leandro, are
discovered. They have been robbed of all their
wealth by a rascally old lawyer, one Nibbio,
who, not content with ruining them, is also
anxious to gain as his wife the beautiful young
Sabina, who is plighted to Astolfo. Of the
two brothers Astolfo is passionate, rebellious,
while Leandro, with something of Christian
fortitude, having been robbed of his patrimony,
consoles himself philosophically by saying :

" Truly, contentment is the poor man's bank.
Old Nibbio hath robbed us of our land —
What then ? will sour looks bring it back again ?

Astolfo. Brother,


In this world pleasures are not showered on us ;
They must be bought.

Leandro. Nay, but listen —

Astolfo. Silence, or thou'lt drive me mad — I tell
Robbed of our estate, we are made outcasts —
Thrown on the world to swell the train of those,
Who for ready smiles and subtle adulation,
Give raiment, food, and lodging.

Leandro. Astolfo, thou think'st too much of our
loss —
Gold doth not work such miracles.

Astolfo. Not ! look abroad —
Doth it not give honour to the worthless,
Strength to the weak, beauty to withered age,
And wisdom to the fool ? — As the world runs,
A devil with a purse wins more regard
Than angels empty handed."

To the brothers enters Grillo, a whilom thief,
and now servant to Sabina's father. He
delivers a note to Astolfo, in which the ruined
youth is told that he is to think no longer of
the girl as his affianced bride. Astolfo with
righteous indignation breaks out :

" Sabina ! — I remember nothing earlier
Than her sweet face — she, to whom next heaven,
I looked for hope, is barred me. — Why is this ?
What have I done ? — Is my name degraded ?
Is my blood tainted, my mind changed ? — Am I not
In heart and conscience the same Astolfo
As of yesterday ? — What, then, my fault ? 'tis this —
Far worse than sacrilege, or sudden leprosy —
I am a beggar !
Proclaim the wealthy knave, cut-throat and cheat,


Still crowds, as deaf as adders, crawl and bow

To him. Denounce him poor — as though the plague

Were at his bones, he stands alone."

The spirit of Mammon appears to the des-
perate man who has declared that he is one
who " dares be villain but dares not be poor."
Mammon comes as an old and haggard man,
with a face expressive of the most sullen apathy.
Astolf o recoils in horror from the dire apparition
with the exclamation, " What art thou ? "

" Mammon. Thine idol, come, bow to me.

Astolfo. Thou art a fiend, set on to snare my soul !
I do repent me.

Mammon. Fool !
Religion's in the heart, not in the knee !
Already thou hast worshipped me.

Astolfo. Thy name 1

Mammon. Mammon —
Thou dost smile. 'Tis a name that makes men laugh.
Though death be aiming at them. Thou'dst be mine ?

Astolfo. No : thy looks are terrible, thy words —

Mammon. So, then, we can change both.

(He casts away his mask and ragged clothing
and appears a mass of gold, with a golden
crown and sceptre.)
Start not, signor : I am earth's harlequin ;
I build up palaces, put slaves on thrones,
Erase the spots from treason's stained coat,
Manacle warm youth to shivering age,
Re-christen fools most wise and learned men,
And trumpet villains, honest."

Mammon presents Astolfo with the mar-
vellous unspendable ducat, and the young man


goes off and bargains with Nibbio and Botta
to win back his bride ; it costs him six thousand
ducats, but what of that — with Mammon at
his back it matters not how much he spends.
He is about to wed the willing Sabina when
Nibbio rushes in with his empty box, the
ducats having all disappeared. Mammon has
of course kept the word of promise to the ear
to break it to the hope and, his juggling with
the fiend made manifest, the wretched Astolfo
finds himself in a condition far worse than
that of poverty. The ducat is seized and
crossed by the monks, but returns at once to
its miserable owner. He is to be burnt for
his dealings with the unholy one ; but Mammon
is nothing if not a refined torturer, and he
rescues his dupe from prison. Astolfo, with
the faithful Sabina, would fly, but none will
take his money. He encounters Botta with a
bag of gold, and is struggling to possess himself
of it when Mammon comes on and kills the old
man, making Astolfo appear the murderer.
Astolfo has discovered the depth of the villainy
by which he and his brother have been cheated
of their all by Botta and Nibbio; and in the
closing scene strangles the latter before being
carried off by Mammon.

The play has marked lessons in it, lessons
which they who run can scarcely fail to read.
Here, as in other of his writings, the dramatist
is not sparing of scathing remarks on those who
live by litigation, and some of the best points
in the dialogue are directed against the grasping


lawyer, the hypocritical churchman. The old
man Nibbio, disappointed of a young bride,
becomes a Franciscan monk. Says Grillo : " I
always thought his knavery so great, nothing,
save a cowl, could cover it." Grillo, the old-
time pickpocket, meets Nibbio in his new
monkish garb, and salutes him :

" Grillo. Save you, father — will you give a poor
reprobate your blessing?

Nibbio. Bless thee, my son.

Grillo. Father, I — I — bless me again, good father.

Nibbio. What, Grillo ? Humph ! art thou sincere }
my son ?

Grillo. Sincere ! Could I jest with the wonder of
Naples ? Why thou hast been planted in a convent
only a few days, and thou art already a full-blown
saint. Bless me again !

Nibbio. There ! go thy ways — mend thy life : thou
hast been a knave — but the viler the rogue, the
lovelier the convert.

Grillo. In truth, father, I would ease my conscience.
I would tell thee all my sins.

Nibbio. All !

Grillo. Nay, there's time 'tween this and midnight.
Oh, I've been a horrid knave ! Had every one of
my sins a neck, Italy would want rope to hang 'em.
But I'll tell thee a few of my lighter faults. In
Venice, I killed a merchant —

Nibbio. Well.

Grillo. In Padua, I set fire to a house —

Nibbio. Well.

Grillo. In Venice, I broke the hearts of three widows,
and robbed sixteen orphans —

Nibbio. Well, well, if thou'rt contrite, there's hope.


Grillo. In Verona, I ruined a lawyer — no, that
comes by-and-by, among my good acts. In Genoa,
I turned Jew ; in Bologna, I eat pork again ! In
Palermo, I broke a bank; and at Leghorn I sank a
ship, with her crew and passengers. Is there hope

Nibbio. Go on, go on. Thou mayst not yet despair.

Grillo. Here, in Naples, I stole three peaches from
a convent garden.

Nibbio. Horrible, horrible.

Grillo. (Sidling close to Nibbio) I have done worse
than that.

Nibbio. Impossible ! it cannot be.

Grillo. Yes ; it's my last crime.

Nibbio. I tremble to listen — what was thy last
crime ?

Grillo. (Stealing a bag of money from Nibbio's
girdle) My last crime ?

Nibbio. Ay ; thy last crime.

Grillo. I stole some money from a monk.

Nibbio. Thou'rt a lost wretch — no hope — a lost
wretch !

Grillo. I would even now return some part of the
gold to the church.

Nibbio. Tis the only way to whiten thyself. How
many pieces didst thou steal ?

Grillo. At a rough guess— for gentlemen of my trade
rarely count — (glancing at the bag) some fifty pieces.

Nibbio. I would not lose a soul : bring me twenty,
and thou shalt have my prayers.

Grillo. Twenty !

Nibbio. To mend thy conscience.

Grillo. Mend it ! Some of thy brethren would sell
me a new one for half the money.

Nibbio. Well, well ; if thou dost really repent, ten
may serve.


Grillo. Say five, and it's a bargain. Come, or I'll
take my custom to another workman. Tinker my
conscience well, and I'll give five.

Nibbio. I do almost commit a sin, letting thee off
so cheaply. Say six — well, well, five !

Grillo. (Taking money from the bag unseen by
Nibbio, and presenting it to him) There's thy money.

Nibbio. And there's my blessing !

Grillo. Now, thou dost pardon me the theft ?

Nibbio. I do, I do.

Grillo. As for the man I robbed —

Nibbio. The loss will exercise his patience. Thou
hast told me all thy crimes ?

Grillo. All I can remember. Now for my virtues —
nay, I'll soon despatch them : marriage is a virtue —

Nibbio. It may be.

Grillo. Then I am virtuous : I've married six wives,
and am promised to five more."

How excellently in this scene the confessed
rogue works upon the cupidity of the notary
monk, and how ready we are to forgive him
his sins for the golden humour with which he
tells of them, and for the delicious way in which
he plays upon the would-be clever Nibbio.
The Devil's Ducat " passed current in London,
stamped with general applause " — O. Smith as
Mammon, and Buckstone as Grillo meeting
with special approval.

An undated letter addressed to a friend
named H. Whittle — an actor or manager —
appears to belong to this year. It may have
been written in the early part of it, when the
quarrel with Elliston was in progress, though
the reference to the DeviVs Ducat suggests


that it might have been written later. If, as
is indicated, the arrangement with Elliston was
still in force when the letter was written, then
the DeviVs Ducat must have been completed
many months before it was staged. The letter
runs as follows :

" My dear Whittle, — I yesterday saw Mr.
E[lliston]'s factotum, and, as I wished if possible to
do the business relative to the MS. smoothly, sounded
him as to Mr. E.'s disposition should it be done else-
where. His opinion was that he would instantly
litigate, and as this might embroil you and myself in
disagreeable proceedings it will probably be as well
to defer the piece until your next Ben., by which time
I may be enabled to obtain amicably what might
now only lead to annoyance. Besides, his daughter
died but two days ago, and — although I owe him
nothing in point of courtesy — I shouldn't like to
create him new uneasiness at such a period. With

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 11 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24

Online LibraryWalter JerroldDouglas Jerrold, dramatist and wit (Volume 1) → online text (page 11 of 24)