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it by mounting an imitation ! Whether the

1 Another of the journals of the day, The Theatrical
Observer, recorded that The Rent Day was partly accepted
at the Adelphi, but withdrawn by the author on account
of some caprice of the manager, or his wife, and proved to
Drury Lane " a great card " ; while another said, " The
managers of the Adelphi, with an acumen which argues
well for their sagacity, could see but little merit in this
piece, and actually allowed the author to withdraw it
from their house, because, with the spirit which becomes
a man of genius, he would not consent for the sake of a
few paltry pounds to have his piece hacked about to suit
the whims and fancies of one of the major mountebanks
of this most magisterial minor."


writer of the paragraph had confused Farren's
defection at the last moment from the cast
of The Bride of Ludgate, or whether the actor
really struck for a second time, cannot be
decided. Certainly he did not appear in either
of Jerrold's plays.

When The Rent Day was sent to George
Colman as Examiner of Plays, the following
communication was returned — two days before
the first performance :

" January 23, 1832.
' Please to omit the following underlined words in
the representation of the drama called The Rent Day.

Act I

Scene I. ' The blessed little babes, God bless 'em ! '

Scene III. ' Heaven be kind to us, for I've almost
lost all other hope.'

Ditto. ' Damn him .'

Scene IV. ' Damn business.' ' No, don't damn
business ; I'm very drunk, but I can't damn business —
it's profane. '

Ditto. ' Isn't that an angel ? ' ' I can't tell ; I've

not been used to such company.'

Scene V. ' Oh, Martin, husband, for the love of
heaven ! '

Ditto. ' Heaven help us, heaven help us ! '

Act II
Scene III. ' Heaven forg ive you, can you speak of
it ? ' ' I leave you, and may heaven par don and
protect you ! '

tol. i o


Scene last. ' Farmer, neighbours, heaven bless you
— let the landlord take all the rest.'

Ditto. 'They have now the money, and heaven

prosper it with them.'

" G. Colman.

" To the Manager, Theatre Royal, Drury Lane."

And George Colman — before his official
appointment — had a reputation as a humorist !
Apropos of this it may be mentioned that the
Examiner had struck out all the " Damme's "
that occurred in a play called Married and
Single before endorsing it for performance,
" because such language was immoral."
Elliston, acknowledging the licence, wrote :

" Dear Colman, — ' Damn me, if it isn't the brazier.'
4 Damn the traveller do I see coming to the Red Cow.'
' Damn this fellow.' ' Sooner be damned than dig.'

" Yours,

" R. W. Elliston."

The point of this was, I believe, that all these
expletive sentences were taken from Column's
own dramatic writings ! 1

When The Rent Day— in which John Pritt
Harley, who had made his debut in Samuel
Jerrold's little Cranbrook theatre in 1806,
had a notable part — was in active rehearsal at
Drury Lane, the author one day had a pleasant
surprise on going behind the scenes at the

1 I have the licence granted to William Robert Copeland
in 1855 to perform a three-act drama Our Victories in the
Crimea, but it is carefully endorsed by the then Examiner,
William Bodham Donne, " Omit all oaths in representation
and the words ' Lord,' ' God,' etc. " !


theatre, for there he met once more Clarkson
Stanfield, the painter, whom he had not seen
since they parted, nearly twenty years earlier,
on board the Namu?\ the one a boy officer,
the other a " foremast man." The meeting
again was the renewing of a close friendship
which lasted throughout life. Stanfield was
at the time engaged in preparing scenery for
his whilom shipmate's new " domestic drama."
The play met with rapturous applause, the
clever setting of the opening scene as an exact
reproduction of Wilkie's popular picture being
greeted with considerable enthusiasm. In con-
nection with this it may not be inappropriate
to quote the late W. P. Frith, the popular
painter of " The Derby," who wrote :

" Wilkie's ' Rent Day ' was said to have inspired
the play of that name by Douglas Jerrold ; however
that may have been, it is certain that the famous
picture was represented by living actors on the stage
at a special moment [the raising of the curtain on
the first act] during the performance of the piece.
Mulready, always Wilkie's intimate friend, told me
of the glee with which the artist informed him of the
compliment to be paid to his picture.

" ' We'll just go together the first night, ye know;
I've been at the playhouse putting the people in the
positions, and it's just wonderfully like ma picture.'
' The two painters secured central places in the
dress circle; the curtain was drawn up, and an
exact representation of the picture disclosed. 1

1 The fifth scene of the first act similarly disclosed
a representation of Wilkie's companion picture, " Dis-
training for Rent."


" ' Not only,' said Mulready to me, ' did they get
the groups right, but they had managed to select
people really like those in the picture. I was de-
lighted,' said he, ' and turning to Wilkie to express
my pleasure, I saw the tears running down his face.
" What's the matter ? Why, it's admirable ! Surely
you are satisfied? "

" ' Well, ye see,' said Wilkie, ' I feel it's such an
honour, it's just quite overcome me to think that a
picture of mine should be treated like that ; and did
ye hear how the people clapped, man ? It's varra
gratifying.' " x

The announcement that Jerrold's play was
suggested by Wilkie's picture did not by any
means enlist the sympathies of the critics on
its behalf. The dramatist was told, by those
kind friends on the press who are ever ready
to offer advice, that he might easily have found
a better subject on which to employ his talents.
" When hackneyed engravings are taken for the
groundwork of pieces at our national theatres
it is high time for some kind of reform in the
drama." Gilbert Abbot a Beckett, who thus
found fault with the play before its production,
was among its most hearty supporters when he
had witnessed the performance. So consider-
able was the success that Morris, the manager
of the Haymarket, coolly appropriated it, his
theatre being then in a bad way, and the loose
system of dramatic copyright, or no-copyright,
permitting such piracy. Imitation, a popular
proverb tells us, is the sincerest form of

1 Further Reminiscences, by W. P. Frith.


flattery, and Jerrold's drama was duly flattered
by dramatists with a plentiful lack of origin-
ality. The opening scene of the play was
received with such rapturous applause that
Buckstone, more successful as a play actor
than as a playwright, modelled a piece which
he called The Forgery on two other of Wilkie's
paintings, "Reading the Will" and "The
Village Politicians." Beyond the great success
of The Rent Day these early " living pictures "
did not meet with any sustained popular
approbation. At the time that it was pro-
duced it may be added the same author's
dramas of Martha Willis and Ambrose Gwinett
were drawing " good houses " in Paris.

Described as a domestic drama in two
acts, this play may well have been suggested
by the popular painting by David Wilkie of
the same name — the painting which was
utilized as the setting for the opening scene.
Though described as a domestic drama it is
also something of a social satire on the times
when landlords revelled in London gaming-
houses on wealth wrung by harsh or unjust
stewards from a suffering tenantry. The
steward of one, Grantley, is an ex-convict who,
having feathered his nest, is preparing to
decamp. The ill-used tenant is Martin Hey-
wood, whose father and grandfather had for
sixty years been regular with rent, tax and
tithe, but Martin has fallen on evil days, and
cannot face " Rent Day " with the imper-
turbability of full pockets. Grantley, having


written to his steward for more money, visits
his estate incognito to see how it will be raised,
and is thus able to unmask the villainy of
Crumbs and to ensure the happy ending
demanded. I

Says one of the characters : " Fault !
poverty's no crime; " to be countered with
" Isn't it ? well, it's so like I don't know the
difference." When the bailiff says he'll have
the law of Toby for slander he is told, " The
character that needs law to mend it is hardly
worth the tinkering," and on being threatened
with violence if he doesn't go he says, " I give
you warning ! Remember I'm a sworn ap-
praiser," to receive the retort, " You're the
better judge for what you ought to be knocked
down." With its ready dialogue, and its
touches of social satire, The Rent Day has also
a tender story of love and misunderstanding,
with highly dramatic situations, where the
distracted farmer finds— thanks to the villainy
of a couple of scoundrels — his wife in a
seemingly compromising position and where,
struggling with the broker for possession of
his grandfather's chair, Martin discovers in
that piece of furniture a hoard that suffices
to make him stand clear again with the world,
while Grantley appears on the scene in his
proper person to straighten the other matter,
to dismiss the scoundrel steward — who has
but been seeking vengeance for an earlier
wrong — and to present Martin with the free-
hold of the farm.


One great theatrical " hit " now means far
more profit to a playwriter than did fifty
such successes in the first half of the nineteenth
century. In illustration of the small returns
which were made then it is worth mentioning
that I possess the document, dated March 8,
1832, in which for the magnificent sum of ten
pounds Douglas Jerrold disposed of " the
perpetual copyright of The Rent Day, a domestic
drama " to one, Mr. C. Chappie. 1 Of course,
the dramatist had reaped the profit of the
play's successful first run, which, as runs went
then, was a long one. If, however, the author
did not make any large amount of pecuniary
gain out of his successful piece it certainly
added to his fame as an original writer. The
nature of the success may be gauged from the
wording of the Drury Lane programme for
February 2. It is headed " Fifth Night of
the New Drama," and after the cast of The

1 Chappie duly published it at three shillings, and a
second edition was immediately called for at the same
price. Later the author appears to have re-acquired his
interest in the published play, for I have seen a letter
addressed to Mitchell of Drury Lane, dated, presumably
from the publisher's.

" October 18,
" Henrietta Street, Covent Garden.

" Dear Sir, — If you play The Rent Day again, it will
much oblige me if you will let the subjoined paragraph
appear in the bill.

" Yours truly,

"D. Jerrold.

" A new Edition of the drama of The Rent Day (price
one shilling) is published and may be had of J. Miller,
Henrietta Street, Covent Garden, and at the Theatre."


Rent Day, and the following farce, and before
particulars of the Pantomime, is an inter-
polated passage printed in red with a typo-
graphical digit pointing to the words :

" A Complete Overflow ! The Rent Day ! Having
been stamped, by the judgment of the public, as one
of the best productions on the list of the acting
Drama, and the intense interest its different scenes
develop, being nightly received with the greatest
applause, by crowded and fashionable audiences,
will be performed this Evening, on Saturday, Tuesday
and Wednesday next; and four times a week until
further notice."




For nearly a dozen years — during which he
had produced about three dozen plays — Douglas
Jerrold had now been a dramatist, and the
rewards of the profession were by no means
encouraging. He found it necessary to double
the parts of journalist and writer for the
magazines with that of playwright, and that
doubling of parts gave him opportunities for
saying what he thought, for delivering himself
of what he felt to be truth on many questions,
and incidentally for standing forth boldly
and claiming the " rights " which belonged to
him and his colleagues as dramatists. In the
following May his indignation at the wrongs of
the writer for the English stage found vent in
a bitter essay, in which he pointed out what
those wrongs were, and how they might be
ameliorated. Jerrold had unquestionably suf-
fered in more ways than one over the miserable
condition of things which then obtained. He
had been underpaid by Davidge and Elliston,
he had had his pieces " pirated " or " borrowed "
in the most open manner, and had no redress.



All that he could do was to express with bitter
sarcasm some of the wrath that he felt, and
thus it was that he wrote :

" Were we asked what profession promised, with
the greatest show of success, to form a practical
philosopher, we should on the instant make reply,
4 The calling of an English dramatist.' There is in
his case such a fine adaptation of the means to the
end that we cannot conceive how, especially if he be
very successful, the dramatist can avoid becoming a
first form scholar in the academy of the stoics. The
daily lessons set for him to con are decked with that
' consummate flavour ' of wisdom, patience ; they
preach to him meekness under indigence ; continual
labour with scanty and uncertain reward ; quiescence
under open spoliation ; satisfaction to see others
garner the harvest he has sown; with at least the
glorious certainty of that noble indigence lauded by
philosophers and practised by the saints — poverty,
stark-naked poverty, with grey hairs; an old age
exulting in its forlornness ! If, after these goodly
lessons, whipped into him with daily birch, he
become no philosopher, then is all stoicism the fraud
of knaves, and even patience but a word of two
syllables. But we are convinced of the efficacy of
the system. English dramatists are stoics, and not
in a speculative sense, but in the hard practical
meaning of the term. Time has hallowed their
claim to the proud distinction, it is consecrated to
them by the base coats of their prime, and the tatters
of their old age ; not only endured without complaint,
but enjoyed as ' their charter.' " x

1 New Monthly Magazine, May 1832, the article being
in part a review of a pamphlet On Theatrical Emancipation
and the Rights of Dramatists, by Thomas James Thackeray.


During this year a Select Committee of the
House of Commons inquired into the subject
of dramatic literature, and Douglas Jerrold
was examined as a witness before it on June
29, a position which we may be sure he took
with considerable pleasure. In a footnote to
the preface of the first edition of Thomas a
Becket he had written :

" 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 enactments from unprin-
cipled 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 — ' whosoever findeth them may slay them.'
Whilst such is the case, it will be in vain to hope for
an improvement in the modern drama."

The Select Committee consisted of twenty-
four members of Parliament — including Lord
John Russell, Lytton Bulwer and Alderman
Waithman — sat from June 13 to July 12, and
duly presented its report during the latter

Davidge in his evidence said : " Authors
who have been successful at the patent
theatres are the authors at the minor theatres.
The author of The Rent Day, which has been
instanced as the most profitable production
at Drury Lane, was the author of a number


of pieces at the Coburg." He also said that
the largest sum he had ever given to an
author for a new piece was fifty pounds — his
average price was twenty !

Jerrold in his replies to the questions ad-
dressed to him said that his Black-Eyed Susan
had been acted over 400 nights during its first
year — 150 nights at the Surrey, 100 at Sadlers'
Wells, 100 at the Pavilion, 30 nights at Covent
Garden and at other houses such as the West
London and the Olympic; and that all that
he had received was £50 from the Surrey
manager and £10 by selling the copyright of
the play — together precisely the amount which
T. P. Cooke had received for six nights' acting
at Covent Garden. He further explained that
the selling of the copyright for what it would
fetch was rendered necessary as there was a
dealer in new plays who provided provincial
managers with copies of London successes at
two pounds a play, by means of which, as he
said, the authors were represented by mere
skeletons of their dramas, and were, in fact, not
only robbed, but murdered. His payment for
The Rent Day, he said, was £150 paid on the
twenty-fifth night of performance. When
asked as to what remedy he would propose, he
suggested that plays should be placed under
the ordinary copyright law (which then pro-
tected an author's work for but twenty-
eight years), and that no manager should be
free to represent any piece without its author's
consent. As he said, had he received but


"the humble terms of five shillings a night "
for every performance of Black-Eyed Susan
throughout the country, it would have amounted
to a great sum to him.

Jerrold had indeed had several quarrels
with actors and managers, his quick impulsive
spirit could but ill brook the condescending
attention of men who were greatly profiting
by his work. With Davidge and Elliston he
had quarrelled, and with good cause; personal
pique on the part of a principal performer was
mainly instrumental in wrecking the promise
of his first appearance in the national theatre ;
when a drama of his was successful at one
house it was coolly appropriated at another
(and by a manager who refused his original
work !). Yet again had he cause of com-
plaint, as we find in the following very emphatic
letter written somewhere about this period to
T. P. Cooke. It was addressed from 6,
Seymour Terrace, Little Chelsea, whither the
Jerrold family had removed some time after
September 21, 1831, for when on that date
Mary Ann Jerrold was born the home was still
Augustus Square.

" Dear Sir, — I saw Mr. Davidge last night. His
statement ran as follows : He had no idea of playing
Jack Dolphin until suggested by you, who handed
him over a list of pieces (which he showed me) with
that drama among them. That you informed him
the piece was Mr. FarrelVs, and took upon yourself
to ask Mr. F.'s permission to act it. Moreover,
Mr. Davidge informed me that he had seen bills of


the Southampton and Portsmouth theatres, in which
the piece (acted in by you) was advertised. If all
this be true, I quite acquit Mr. Davidge. In my
letter to Mr. Hammond, 1 in answer to a wish expressed
by you to have the piece to play in your provincial
circuit, I stated as definitely and as impressively as
my imperfect powers of language enabled me, that if
the drama were acted by you (for there was then no
other MS. save that in the possession of Mr. Hammond)
I expected a due remuneration. I expect so still. I
have written quite enough for the high profits and
popularity of others, with but the most paltry
pecuniary advantages to myself. (I got sixty pounds
by Black-Eyed Susan !)

" Mr. Hammond informed me, in answer to my
letter, that you refused my offer of the MS. of Jack
Dolphin for ten pounds. Well and good. How did
the piece get to Portsmouth and Southampton?
And now the piece is introduced to the Coburg at
your express recommendation, backed by a state-
ment that it is Mr. FarrelVs property, when, but a
week or two previous to my leaving town, I had
stated that Mr. F. had, certainly, a right to play the
piece at his own theatre, but none whatever to
transfer that right to another. Mr. Farrell's testi-
mony, however, seems of a higher value than mine :
he purchased the right to play the piece, I only wrote
the drama.

" Even now, if a man may be indulged with even
the shadow of a direction over his own property, I
protest against the representation of Jack Dolphin
at the Coburg Theatre : and if it has been performed
on your introduction, and by you, at any provincial
theatre, save the Liver, I expect the sum of ten

1 His brother-in-law, W. J. Hammond.


pounds. I endeavour to write, as I feel on this
subject, strongly and unequivocally, putting aside
all false delicacy, in the assertion of my right to
the profits of my own labour, which, God knows',
have hitherto held a fearful disproportion to the
profits of those availing themselves of it. This (the
contemplated representation at the Coburg) is a
new infringement on the rights, or rather it is a new
addition to the wrongs of dramatists; on which I
shall not hesitate to descant more publicly and in
more set terms. I wish — though it matters little to
the question — that the drama was a little more
worthy of this discussion; for with all its lately
discovered capabilities, I cannot but think that that
which was so very contemptible in comparison to
the Blue Anchor some year or so ago, should now be
thought worthy of Portsmouth, Southampton, etc.
In conclusion, if you have performed this drama
(Jack Dolphin) at any other provincial theatre, or
contemplate so doing (I had much rather it was not
acted at all) I beg to press my claim of ten pounds.

" I am, etc., etc.,

" D. Jerrold."

Of the earlier and later fortunes of Jack
Dolphin I have not been able to ascertain

On the last day of June 1832, The Golden
Calf was produced at the New Strand Theatre,
and met with considerable success — " declined,
owing to strong family prejudices " by Morris
of the Hay market, it " drew an abundance of
worshippers to the Strand." Its chief motive
was an insistence upon much of the hollowness
of the life of the day, of the awful sacrifices


that were then (as now) made " to keep up

This was a comedy " ridiculing with pleasant
humour and caustic satire the blind homage
that wealth and high station receive from their
votaries," exposing that dangerous weakness
by which for every pound of his income a man
would lead the world to believe that he has
five. A young man, Mountney, has inherited
from his father, a retired tradesman, a com-
fortable fortune, but he falls in with the
thriftless Lord Tares and other expensive
companions, is led to card-playing and
runs rapidly through his patrimony. His
wife, taught by his example, has also taken
to play, and a dramatic scene shows us the
husband asking his wife to return to him the
diamonds he had given her on her wedding
day, for he had staked and lost even them.
The wife, in as desperate a strait as her husband,
has pledged the jewels to raise money where-
with to meet a " debt of honour " incurred at
the card table. But for this added complica-
tion the play may remind the reader somewhat
of some of the scenes in Sheridan's School
for Scandal, Mountney being another, but a
desponding instead of a buoyantly cheerful,
Charles Surface. The nearest likeness in the
two plays, a likeness that cannot fail to have
struck playgoers familiar with Sheridan's
masterpiece, is that like another uncle from
Calcutta an old friend of Mountney's turns
up and saves him from ruin after making plain


to him the villainy of Tares and the hollow
friendship of those who had gathered about
him as long as he could be made to serve their
selfish ends. The story of the comedy is
interesting, and some of the characters are
well defined, especially the grasping money-
lender Pinchbeck and his intolerable wife with
her perennial desire to get asked into " society."
The dialogue is sparkling throughout, as may
be gathered from the following passages;
Mountney, to raise money so that he may
keep up his London state a little longer, has
sold his father's country house, and the pur-
chaser, through Pinchbeck, is Chrystal, the
" little nabob " of The Golden Calf. *

" Pinch. I have sold Multiplication Lodge this

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Online LibraryWalter JerroldDouglas Jerrold, dramatist and wit (Volume 1) → online text (page 13 of 24)