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Echo. Bravo ! what ass has bought it ?

Chrys. (Advancing and bowing). The ass before

Echo. Ten million pardons ! I — I — My dear sir, if
'twill be any satisfaction, you may call me an ass in

Chrys. Sir, it is quite unnecessary. Though, were
I to retaliate, I should rather call you a zebra !

Echo. Why a zebra ?

Chrys. (Coolly surveying him.) A mere ass in a fine

Echo. Ha ! ha ! Why, as his lordship says, this is
the age of coats. We have had the age of gold, the
age of silver, and other substantial ages : they are
obsolete : people care not for the reality, so they can
secure the show. The present age is the age of — of
— in fact, it wants a comprehensive title.

VOL. I p


Chrys. "lis easily found. For when men, making
a sign of wealth the highest standard of opinion, gull
each other with a show of substance : — when, to keep
up the general trick, folly and vice strike hands, and
misery too often seals the compact; — when men sell
their hearts for tinsel ; — when they honour not so
much the mind's nobility as jingling syllables ; —
when 'tis not asked, ' what can a man do ? ' — but
' what seems he to possess ? ' — not ' what does he
know ? ' but ' where does he live ? ' — and when this
passion for appearance stays not with some hundred
gilded nondescripts, but like one general social blight
is at this moment found in every rank, in every walk,
— for a verity we may not call the present age the
age of gold or of silver; but, of all ages else, the


Echo. That's satire; confess — isn't it satire?
Chrys. It may be; for fools and rascals give that
name to truth."

Other passages may be noted — " An im-
postor ! why how can there be a rich impostor ?
The wolf who killed in sheep's clothing would
never have been hanged had he masqueraded
in a golden fleece."

" A humble jackdaw out of debt is much
better than a peacock that owes for its

" I'm sure, talk of taxes— the greatest tax
of all is the tax of appearance."

" Oh, sir, I know what a writ is," says
Pinchbeck's poor servant Rags to the bene-
factor Chrystal, and then he immediately goes
on to define it as follows in words, as it has
been said, about as complimentary as Johnson's


famous definition of an exciseman : " What is
it not, sir ? It's a rope to bind a man's hands,
and then a tongue that tells him to work when
bound ; it's a curious and learned invention to
squeeze blood from a stone; horrible words,
writ on the devil's skin to conjure with; an
undertaker that buries alive; a cannibal that
swallows whole; a thing to take away the use
of legs; a stake, driven through the body of a
live man to hold him to one place ; a great cage
with invisible bars ; a monster that eats wives
and babes ; a — a honey sop for rascals, a deadly
drug for honest folks ! "

The Golden Calf was successful, if not so
generally popular as some of the author's
earlier and less-finished pieces, and Douglas
Jerrold, while continuing his work as journalist
and contributor to periodicals, turned his
attention to yet another play for the stage of
Old Drury. The Rent Day had proved so
popular a few months earlier that it was
resolved that the new piece should also be of
that class of " domestic drama " which Jerrold
called " a poor thing, but mine own." On
October 6, the play was duly produced under
the title of The Factory Girl. From the
accounts given in the contemporary press it
appears to have been most unjustly and
inexplicably condemned, but so effectually
that the management did not venture beyond
a second representation.

Said Figaro in London, a paper by no means
uniformly laudatory of Jerrold's work :


" A new domestic drama by Mr. Jerrold, the
talented author of The Rent Bay, was produced under
the title of The Factory Girl, on Saturday last at
Drury Lane Theatre. Writers like Mr. Jerrold deserve
our gratitude as well as our admiration, for their
aim is not merely to amuse, but to plead, through the
medium of the stage, the cause of the poor and
oppressed classes of society. Such is the author's
object in The Factory Girl, in which he has drawn
with lamentable truth the picture of a weaver's lot,
which is to be the slave of the inhuman system of
overworking in English factories and too often a
victim of the petty tyranny of those who are placed in
authority over him. We are not fond of detailing
plots, and we therefore give none in the present
instance : the story has interest and incident which
would with the general good writing through the
piece and the quaint satirical humour of Harley's
part, have carried off The Factory Girl triumphantly
had it not been in some degree marred by the de-
nouement, in which letters were pulled out of bosoms,
a labourer finds a brother in a rich merchant, and
an extensive relationship is discovered among the
principal characters. This comfortable arrangement
for a happy ending naturally excited a smile which
gave to the ill-natured a plea for sending forth
their venomous breath in loud blackguard shouts
of ' off ' — when Harley announced the piece for
repetition ; this uncalled-for opposition is always
caught up eagerly by the gang of disappointed
would-be writers for the stage who rush in by shoals
at half-price for a damn into the two or one shilling
gallery. The poor half -starved dirty devils mus-
tered rather strong on Saturday night, and the hoot
of the hungry and splenetic writers was for a few
moments audible. Some lovers of justice among the


gods, seeing the object of the envious opponents
of the piece, thought right partially to clear the
gallery for a division, and the gang of would-be
Shakespeares or Sheridans were speedily deposited
extra the theatre."

No more of the piece is known than is given
in newspaper passages such as this, the lack
of invention apparently shown in the denoue-
ment, added to the factious opposition, was
sufficient effectually to damn the piece, and
after a couple of successes, the sensitive
dramatist suffered his second repulse within
the walls of Drury. He could, however, point
to the triumph achieved by The Bent Day, with
the full confidence that he could and would
yet do better still.

Another contemporary critic may, however,
fittingly be heard in defence of this play written
with a high purpose. The critic, like the
dramatist, was considerably in advance of his
particular generation, and recognized that the
stage might well be a true civilizing and
moral agent :

' ' We are gratified,' says the anonymous author,
' at perceiving that the choice of this powerful
dramatist's subjects invariably involves some prin-
ciple or system. In his Rent Day the mischievous
effects of absenteeism were strikingly developed ; and
disfigure our manufacturing system are portrayed
with all the force and skill of a masterly hand. If
all authors had the same object in view, the stage
would, in comparison to the pulpit, as a director of


morals, be what practice is to theory. With the
highest veneration and regard to that venerable
body, we should then be enabled to dispense with
the whole bench of Bishops without feeling it as a
national calamity.' "

Before taking leave of The Factory Girl, we
may glance at the following note appended by
Douglas Jerrold to a sketch of The Factory
Child, written a few years later :

" It is now six years since the writer of this paper
essayed a drama, the purpose of which was an appeal
to public sympathy in the cause of the Factory
Children : the drama was very summarily condemned ;
cruelly maimed the first night, and mortally killed
on its second representation. The subject of the
piece ' was low, distressing.' The truth is, it was
not then la mode to affect an interest for the ' coarse
and vulgar ' details of human life ; and the author
suffered because he was two or three years before the
fashion. This circumstance, however, is only now
alluded to, that the writer of the present paper may
not be supposed to have unseemingly entered upon
ground taken within these few days by a lady writer,
but as only claiming the right to return to a subject
he had before, in adverse times, adventured on."

In his next dramatic essay — Nell Gwynne —
" perhaps the most delightful play he ever
penned " — Douglas Jerrold wrote the first of
those brilliant comedies of dialogue which are
preserved in his collected works. The Golden
Calf was an attempt in the same line of writing,
but despite the many good points in it it was


not so uniformly successful as the historical
comedy in two acts which, after being declined
by Madame Vestris for the Haymarket, was
produced at Covent Garden Theatre on Jan-
uary 9, 1853, under the title of Nell Gwynne ;
or, The Prologue. A chance perusal of the
valuable Roscius Anglicanus by " old Downes
the prompter," the author acknowledges, first
suggested the comedy. A few months after
the production of the piece, when issuing it in
printed form, he wrote an introduction, in
which he sketched the life of Nell Gwynne and
printed that curious document, her will. From
this introduction the following passages will
show the motive of the dramatist, and justify
the view which he took of the character of the
notorious Nell :

" Whilst we may safely reject as unfounded gossip
many of the stories associated with the name of
Nell Gwynne, we cannot refuse belief to the various
proofs of kindheartedness, liberality and — taking
into consideration her subsequent power to do harm
— absolute goodness of a woman mingling — (if we may
believe a passage in Pepys) — from her earliest years
in the most depraved scenes of a most dissolute age.
The life of Nell Gwynne, from the time of her con-
nection with Charles the Second, to that of her death,
proved that error had been forced upon her by
circumstances, rather than indulged from choice.
It was under this impression that the present little
comedy was undertaken : under this conviction an
attempt has been made to show some glimpses of
the ' silver lining ' of a character, to whose influence
over an unprincipled voluptuary, we owe a national


asylum for veteran soldiers, and whose brightness
shines with the most amiable lustre in many
actions of her life, and in the last disposal of her
worldly effects. . . . All the characters in the comedy,
with but two exceptions, and allowing the story that
the first lover of Nell was really an old lawyer, figured
in the time of Charles the Second. For the intro-
duction of Orange Moll (so inimitably acted by Mr.
Keeley) the author pleads the authority of Pepys. . . .
The incident of the king supping at a tavern with Nell,
and finding himself without money to defray the
bill, is variously related in the Chroniques Scandaleuses
of his ' merry ' and selfish days."

The story is that Nell, persecuted by an old
lawyer, runs away and tries to get on to the
stage. She has an interview with Betterton
of the Duke's Theatre, but is not approved,
and in despair determines to sell oranges about
Drury Lane Theatre. There her pretty face
and ready wit soon attract custom away from
" Orange Moll," and other rival sellers. There,
too, Nell encounters again the King (incognito)
and his boon companion Berkeley, and is also
seen by the managers, who invite her to go
on the stage that evening and speak the
prologue in a great hat — larger than that
attracting attention at the opposition house.

In one of the various encounters between
Nell and King Charles (who is masquerading
as a City mercer), she tells him of a dream
in which a forecast is given of her future life,
and in the course of the dialogue sings one
of those graceful little lyrics which are intro-


duced here and there in Jerrold's dramatic
writings :

" Nell. Now or never ; listen. — I dreamt that I
was riding in a fine golden coach with the king.
Charles. With the king !

Nell. You know, we do dream such strange things
— with the king. Well, the coach stopped : when
there came up a poor soldier without any legs and

arms, and of a sudden he held out his hand

Charles. What ! without any arms ?
Nell. You know it was only in a dream.
Charles. Yes, Nelly; but you ought to dream
according to anatomy.

Nell. I say, he held out his hand ; and, telling us
that he had no place to lay his old gray head upon,
not a morsel of bread to put into his mouth, he begged
for charity, while the tears came peeping into the
corners of his eyes.
Charles. Well?

Nell. I turned round to the king — for, bless you, I
was altogether at my ease, no more afraid of him

than I am of you — and I said, ' Charles ! '

Charles. Charles !

Nell. ' Is it not a shame to let your old soldiers
carry about their scars as witnesses of their king's
forgetf ulness ? — is it not cruel that those who for

your sake '

(Unconsciously laying her hand upon the
arm of Charles.)
Charles. For my sake ?

Nell. You know, I am supposing you the king.
Charles. Oh, aye, aye !

Nell. ( Who for your sake have left some of their
limbs in a strange country, should have no resting-
place for the limbs they have in their own ? '


Charles. I see the end : the king relieved the soldier,
and then you awoke ?

Nell. No, I didn't; for I thought the coach went
on towards Chelsea, and there

Charles. Well, what happened at Chelsea ?

Nell. There, I thought I saw a beautiful building
suddenly grow up from the earth; and going in
and coming out of it, just like so many bees, heaps
of old soldiers, with their long red coats, and
three-corner hats, and some with their dear wooden
legs, and all with their rough faces looking so happy
and contented — that, when I looked and thought it
was all my work, I felt as if I could have kissed every
one of 'em round !

Charles. When it came to that of course you
awoke ?

Nell. No, I didn't — not until I saw a place with my
picture hanging out for a sign. My head for a sign !
what do you think of that?

Charles. Think? — I can't think of the sign with
the living lips before me. (She avoids him.) Nay,
thou'rt a wild and beautiful bird.

Nell. Aye, he must be a cunning fowler who cages

Charles. I can make the bars of gold.

Nell. If you'd hold the surer, better bend one of
the gold bars into a ring. No other cage, no other
net; a little fable hath taught me wisdom. You
shall hear it.

" ' Little bird, little bird, have a care ; '
Thus whisper'd a lark to her child ;

' See the fowler is spreading his snare,
What makes ye thus noisy and wild ? '

' Good mother,' the silly one cried,
Conceitedly trimming its wing, —


I've beauty and youth on my side, —
Hang fowlers ! I'll gambol and sing,

Good mother,
Hang fowlers ! I'll gambol and sing.'

' Little bird, little bird, not so near ; '

In vain I ' Now too late you'll regret ;
For the poor little bird dead with fear,

A captive is ta'en in the net.
The mother then sighed forth this truth,

Her little one fast in the string, —
' In prisons, what's beauty and youth ?

Fear fowlers, nor gambol and sing.'

' Oh, mother ! '

' Fear fowlers, nor gambol and sing ! '

An amusing contretemps follows on Charles's
offer of " heaps of wealth " when the waiter
comes in with the bill and neither Charles nor
Berkeley has the wherewithal to meet it. The
play closes with a scene in the King's Theatre,
when Nell appears on the stage to speak
Dryden's prologue to the Conquest of Grenada.
She has not repeated a dozen lines of that
which she has to say when she recognizes in
the chief occupant of the Royal box the
whilom mercer, who has been philandering
with her. With this her recollection of the
prologue fails her, and she says :

' What he — the King ! — the words are flown.
For Dryden's syllables, pray take my own.

(Lets hat fall.)
First let me ask that niceness may not halt
With eager eyes, to scan out every fault ;
And miss, with venal look, those streaks of light ;
Which fortune only would not have more bright.


Of good and ill all character is made ;

The good accept — the rest cast into shade.

Of some we'd show (if so our hopes might draw)

The moral amber, with nor grub nor straw ;

Would take away th' unseemly gnats and flies,

And keep the prettiness that glads all eyes.

This our design : if granted, may I ask

Your hands and wishes for th' attempted task ? "

Douglas Jerrold succeeded in making a very
attractive heroine out of King Charles's notor-
ious mistress without any reference to her
further career other than the prophecy in the
passage quoted.

The play was highly successful. In the
Theatrical Observer for January 21, 1833, it
was announced : " We hear that M. Laporte
is so much elated with the attraction of Nell
Gwynne that he has commissioned Mr. Jerrold
to write a sequel in which Nell will be intro-
duced as la maitresse titree of the King, and
as forming one of the most attractive objects
of the voluptuous Court of Charles. . . . Nell
Gwynne was offered to Vestris for £100, which
she thought more than the lady was worth,
but Laporte, being a better judge of female
attractions, gave a higher price, and has gained
a great profit by his bargain; the receipts of
the last six nights have amounted to £2250."
The sequel play, it may be added, was never
written. 1

1 In the Casket, a periodical of the time, the plays of
the period were turned into stories and given week by
week. Jerrold 's Rent Day, DeviVs Ducat and Nell
Gwynne, were all flattered in this (to the author) unprofit-
able fashion.


Nell Gwynne was most cordially welcomed
by some of the leading literary critics of the
day. John Forster and Thomas Noon Talfourd
were at any rate among those who warmly
recognized the power and wit of the rising
dramatist. For it was with these comedies,
written in the first half of the 'thirties, that
Jerrold earned his right to the foremost
position among the writers for the English
stage for the next twenty years. Talfourd,
Mary Russell Mitford and Sheridan Knowles
were, it is true, then among the dramatists
of the day, but all of them together did not
produce so many successful pieces as did the
author of Nell Gwynne. Each of these writers
might be better in some one respect than their
younger colleague, but none was his equal
for sustained brilliancy of dialogue; Sheridan
Knowles was the only one who with Jerrold
might bear comparison with the writers for
the Restoration stage.

With all his work Douglas Jerrold was not
too busy to be at the service of others, and
his kindly offices were requisitioned by the
fine old veteran William Godwin, as the following
note from the famous author of Political Justice
and Caleb Williams sufficiently testifies.

" No. 13, New Palace Yard,

"Saturday, June 1 [1833].

' My dear Sir, — I was in great hope, after having
broken the ice in Gower Place, that we should be
favoured with a visit from you without ceremony.
You have, doubtless, heard of the revolution (whether


to call it for good or ill I scarcely know) which has
taken place in my fortune, and has brought me to
this spot. 1 At any rate we are considerably nearer
to each other. I am sure you have not forgotten
what passed between us respecting my poor son's
drama of The Sleeping Philosopher. 2 You con-
ceived you had provided a reception for it at the
Olympic next season, and were so good as to offer
to make a certain alteration in it. I and his mother
are both anxious about its fate, and to see some-
thing done respecting it. Could you spare an idle
hour to consult on the subject? And for that
purpose would you have the goodness early to take
a chop with us here? Say Tuesday next, if con-
venient to you, at four o'clock.

' Meanwhile, believe me, dear Sir,
' Very sincerely yours,

" William Godwin."

The drama by William Godwin the Younger
does not seem to have been produced, despite
his friend's interest.

Jerrold's eldest son, William Blanchard, has
recorded how he vividly remembered— he was
but ten years of age when Godwin died —
accompanying his father to the dark rooms in
the New Palace Yard, which were occupied
by Godwin and his wife, whom he described
as "an old vivacious lady and an old gentle-
man " :

1 Godwin had been appointed by Lord Grey to the
sinecure post of yeoman usher of the Exchequer, a post
which was shortly after abolished, though Godwin was
permitted to retain it to the end of his life (April 7, 1836).

2 Godwin the Younger was one of Jerrold's friends of
the Mulberry Club (see p. 178).


' My father was most anxious that I should re-
member them; and I do remember well that he
appeared to bear a strong regard for them, and to
talk of them more warmly than he spoke of ordinary
men and women. One anecdote connected with them
he used to relate again and again with great unction.
I should first observe that my father was a very
skilled whistler — a skill which he would practise
frequently. He had always some ballad fresh in
his memory; and you might know when he was
stirring on summer mornings, by hearing his dressing-
room window drawn sharply up (he did everything
sharply) and a tender, small voice now pour forth,
evidently in the fulness of enjoyment —

" Sweet is the ship that under sail
Spreads her white bosom to the gale ;

and now break into a note clear as a lark's ; luxuriate
in rapid twists and turns of melody; then suddenly
stop, as the door was cast open, to cry aloud, ' Now,
boys, boys ! not up yet ? ' Well, one morning he
called on the Godwins, and was kept for some
minutes waiting in their drawing-room. It was
irresistible — he could never think of these things.
Whistle in a lady's drawing-room ! The languid eyes
of Belgravia turn upwards. Still he did whistle — not
only pianissimo but fortissimo, with variations enough
to satisfy the most ambitious of thrushes. Suddenly
good little Mrs. Godwin gently opened the door, paused
still — not seen by the performer — to catch the dying
notes of the air, and then, coming up to her visitor,
startled him with the request made in all seriousness,
1 You couldn't whistle that again, could you ? ' "

Dramas or comedies from the dramatist's
pen were being produced about this period at


the rate of two a year. In January, as we
have seen, Nell Gwynne made her bow at
Covent Garden. On July 17, a successor was
brought out at the Haymarket in the form
of a two-act comedy entitled the Housekeeper.
The author had by this time found his chief
strength as a dramatist to lie in comedy-
dialogue, and the new piece was a further
proof of his mastery of this form of dramatic
art. In plot and character, it is complained
by some critics, Douglas Jerrold was deficient
as a dramatist, and although the criticism
may be sound when applied to some of the
plays it is quite false as applied to the whole
body of his work for the stage. The House-
keeper is distinctly a proof of the contrary,
for the interest in the development of the
story is well sustained throughout, and the
characterization is particularly good. The
scene is set in the year 1722, at a time when
certain supporters of the Pretender hoped to
make an attempt in his cause that might be
favourable, while people were still suffering
from the shock of the bursting of the South
Sea Bubble. The conspiracy was, however,
crushed in embryo, but it led to the exiling
of Bishop Atterbury and to one Christopher
Layer, a barrister, being executed. Layer, as
the author pointed out, is the only real person
introduced into the comedy, " the other char-
acters, with the incidents in which they are
concerned, being the invention of the writer,
who has ' taken out ' the allowed dramatic


licence, to fix on an historical circumstance
as the means of developing imaginary events."
It is a pretty, romantic story that is revealed,
showing the way in which a studious recluse
in a quiet house near St. James's Park is to
be exploited for their own purposes by the
conspirators. This recluse, Sidney Maynard,
has a servant, a respectable middle-aged
woman, coming from the country. The sudden
prospect of matrimony makes that woman
stay in Derbyshire and send young Sophy
Hawes instead, while Sophy is persuaded by
Felicia (Maynard's cousin) to allow her to

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Online LibraryWalter JerroldDouglas Jerrold, dramatist and wit (Volume 1) → online text (page 14 of 24)