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curious fate may best be given in Wilkinson's
own words :

" In 1818 (his fifteenth year x ), I presume he wrote
his first piece. It was sent in to Mr. Arnold of the
English Opera House, and it remained in the theatre
for two years. It was probably never read. After
some difficulty he got it back. In the year 1821
Mr. Egerton of Covent Garden Theatre, becoming
manager of Sadler's Wells Theatre, and I having
a short time to spare between the closing of the
Adelphi and the opening of the Lyceum, he wished
me to engage with him for a few weeks, which I did,
but on condition of his purchasing the farce which
had been returned from the English Opera House,
and producing it on the first night of my engagement,
giving me the character intended for me. The
original title of the piece was The Duellists — a weak
title I thought for Sadler's Wells; so I rechristened
it, calling it More Frightened Than Hurt. It was
performed for the first time on Monday, April 30,

1 Should be sixteenth.


1821, in its author's eighteenth x year. It was highly
successful, and, however meanly the author may
have thought of it in after days, it had merit enough
to be translated and acted on the French stage;
Mr. Kenney being in Paris, saw it played there, and
not knowing its history, thought it worth his while
to retranslate it; and he actually brought it out at
Madame Vestris's Olympic Theatre under the name
of Fighting by Proxy, Mr. Liston sustaining the part
originally performed by me."

This performance, however, was not until
1821, and about 1819, owing to the failure of
his employer, Douglas Jerrold had been trans-
ferred from the printing office in Northumber-
land Street to the one in Lombard Street from
which was issued the Sunday Monitor. For a
short time, too, he is said to have been printers'
reader at Messrs. Cox & Wy man's printing
office in Great Queen Street, Lincoln's Inn,
possibly after leaving the Sunday Monitor.

While he was a youth of about sixteen
Douglas Jerrold left his father's home for a
brief time, thinking perhaps by living alone
to have a prouder feeling of independence.
The experiment was, however, soon given up,
and he returned to his parents' house, and
continued that severe routine of self-improve-
ment which he had resolutely marked out
for himself. Early in 1820, either the day
before or the day after the death of George III
(on January 29), Samuel Jerrold died, and
somewhere about this time the family re-
1 Should be nineteenth.


moved to a new home in Little Queen Street,
Holborn — the street in which Charles Lamb
had lived through his tragedy a quarter of a
century earlier.

Very little more than a year after the death
of the old actor-manager, his son was for the first
time to taste of the sweets of popular applause
on the production of his earliest dramatic
venture. The Duellists had at length been
recovered from the English Opera House, and
the Jerrolds' very good friend Wilkinson was
about to fulfil a short engagement at Sadler's
Wells Theatre. The actor, as we have already
seen, made it an article in his agreement that
his boy friend's farcical comedy — renamed
More Frightened Than Hurt — should be pro-
duced and that he should be cast for the part
specially written for him. The piece was duly
presented to the public on the last day of April
and enjoyed considerable success, including,
as has been seen, the double compliment of
translation into French and retranslation into

The story of the play is distinctly comical,
and the action and dialogue both partake
more of the nature of " screaming farce " than
of that pure comedy with which Jerrold after-
wards became more notably associated. There
are but seven characters. One, Easy by name,
a gentleman at Cambridge, father of two girls
of marriageable age, has invited to his place
the son of a London butcher and a swaggering
soldier who has never seen action, thinking


that in them he may find fitting mates for
Matilda and Maria. The girls, however, think
otherwise, for they have already chosen their
future husbands, and, of course, in the end
they get their own way. The fun is mainly
got out of the two unsatisfactory suitors, each
of whom is led to believe that he is responsible
for the murder of the other. Although the
piece is farcical and abounds in blunt badinage,
yet there are not wanting strokes of that wit
which was to be manifested by the author
during his maturer years.

Says the swaggering Hector to the young
butcher, who has twitted him for being a
lieutenant on half -pay, " Half -pay ! I know
you to be a calf -killing rascal ! "

" Don't put yourself in my hands, then," is
the immediate retort.

" Who's afraid ? " says Popeseye, who has
threatened him, at the same time doubling up
his fists.

" No, sir," says Hector, " I have a sword at
my side."

" And it seems you'll keep it there," readily
answers the butcher, who appears to have a
wit as sharp as his knife.

Yet once more, when the soldier is threatened
with a duel, he betrays his true cowardice ; his
would-be second remonstrates with him, saying,
" Being a soldier, I should have thought you
would have been prepared."

" Not at all ! We more frequently draw
upon the banker than the foe."


Again, when his prospective father-in-law
says, You have partaken of the vices of the
army as well as its glories."

Hector replies, " The vices, sir, no. I have
them all — under my command. My friend
Popeseye was speaking of danger; it's in that
I have had experience. Since you force me to
publish my valour, learn, sir, that I have had
the honour of galloping through columns of
fire, warding off cannon-balls with my elbows,
then swam through a river to the enemy's
fort, forced the pass, mounted the battery,
spiked the guns, and waded back to my general
with the colours in my mouth, and foreign
princes' heads upon a string like a row of
beads ! ' This might well have inspired some
of the " tremendous adventures " of Major
Gahagan, which Thackeray was to record a
good many years later.

Of Wilkinson's performance, in the part of

the butcher, with which the youthful author

had " fitted " him, an admiring critic said :

44 Mr. Wilkinson, of the English Opera, than

whom —

" ' a merrier man
Within the limits of becoming mirth
We never spend an hour's talk withal,'

has appeared in the character of Popeseye in a
burletta entitled More Frightened Than Hurt,
with the highest comic effect."

The success of More Frightened Than Hurt
must have been highly gratifying to the young
author, for it was such that he was early



permitted to follow it with another attempt,
and in July there was produced The Chief-
tain's Oath, or the Rival Clans, described by a
contemporary critic in a way that suggests
that it was mainly spectacular. " A splendid
piece has been produced under the title of
The Chieftain's Oath, or the Rival Clans, founded
on the old melodrama of Oscar and Malvinia,
in which the whole strength of the company
exerted themselves to the highest degree. . . .
Mr. Phillips as Glenall was very effective, and
the Maclean and Campbell was a highly
finished performance. G. Smith sung a battle
song in excellent style, and Keeley was truly
comic in Rundy Ramble : Miss E. Scott
sustained the part of Matilda with much
feeling. Elliott as Dalkeith, and Hartland as
Donald, both played with their usual ability.
The scenery by Greenwood is of the most
magnificent description. The last scene, a
spacious lake of real water and the destruction
of Maclean's camp by fire, was grand in the

About a month later, and another play of
Douglas Jerrold's was produced at Sadler's
Wells. This time it was the " Gipsey of Dern-
cleugh, a melodrama in three acts adapted to
stage representation from the novel of Guy
Mannering." A strange feature of the drama
of those days was that as soon as a piece
caught on at one theatre its subject was
promptly taken as a theme by the dramatist-
of-all-work at another playhouse, leading to


a duplication of titles somewhat confusing to
the historian. The successive triumphs of
the Wizard of the North made him a fruitful
provider of materials for the playwrights, and
one or more versions of Guy Mannering were
already staged (there had been one at Covent
Garden — a musical play by Daniel Terry — in
1816) when it was evidently suggested that
Jerrold should turn his hand to the same
theme. There was certainly already The Witch
of Derncleugh at the English Opera House — in
which piece Mrs. Samuel Jerrold probably acted
— when Jerrold duly followed with the Gipsey of
Derncleugh at Sadler's Wells, to be followed in
his turn by Dick Hatter aick, the Dutch Smuggler,
or the Gipsey of Derncleugh at the Coburg.

It was a strange state of copyright which
permitted such things, but a young man of
eighteen may have been well content to take
the law as he found it and to turn his know-
ledge of Scott to such good account. The
melodrama has little in it that is remarkable,
and the inconsequent way in which the char-
acters broke off their dialogue to sing songs,
only slightly led up to, appears to-day somewhat
ludicrous, but was then necessary as a means
of evading the Act establishing the monopoly
of the Patent Houses. Another amusing
method of evasion had been adopted in 1813
at the Pantheon, which was only licensed for
music and dancing — the dialogue of the pieces
played there being accompanied " by the
touch of a single note on the piano " !


Samuel Jerrold, as has been said, had died
a year or so before his youngest child added to
the family's association with the theatre in
this new fashion; and that the old strolling
player had justified the proverb which says
that the rolling stone gathers no moss — in
that monetary sense in which the proverb is
generally interpreted — may be guessed from
the fact that his widow then, or at some later
date, was granted an annual pension of thirty
pounds on the General Theatrical Fund. Mrs.
Samuel Jerrold was probably already a member
of the stock company of the Royal English
Opera House — though the earliest mention of
her as such that I have found was in September
1821 * — and there she continued for some years.

According to the biographers of Samuel
Phelps, that great tragedian left his native
Plymouth early in 1821 and journeyed to
London, where he became reader successively
in the printing offices of the Globe and the
Sun, and where he early came in touch with
Douglas Jerrold — but one year his elder. To
quote Phelps's biographers : " Whilst in these

1 The playbills that I have been able to consult show
that at this theatre Mrs. Jerrold appeared in the following :
the Dame in The Miller's Maid (melodrama), September
1821 ; the Cook in Free and Easy (comic opera), November
1822 and July 1827; Dame Bawbie in Gordon the Gipsy
(melodrama), July 1823; a minor part in Der Frieschutz
(opera), September 1824; Dorcas in Rosine (opera),
July 1825; Margery in The Spoiled Child (farce), August
1825; the Female Friend in Not for Me (ballad opera),
August 1828 ; Madame Lafonde in The Quartette, September
1830; and the Portress in Raymond and Agnes, or The
Bleeding Nun of Lindenburg.


capacities he made the acquaintance of the late
Douglas Jerrold and W. E. Love (polyphonist),
who were both with him on these journals,
and they were all three for nearly the whole of
the five years the principal members of an
amateur theatrical company who gave from
one to three performances a week at a small
private theatre in Rawstone Street, Islington." *
It may well be wondered how Jerrold, engaged
during the day in a printing office, energetically
completing his education in his spare time and
turning his attention to dramatic writing as
well, could have found time also for such work
as is suggested by an amateur dramatic com-
pany that gave from one to three performances
a week for five years. The extent of the per-
formances may possibly have become exagger-
ated by memory. There were a number of
such amateur companies performing at private
theatres in the 'twenties, but the performances
received only occasional paragraphs in the
dramatic periodicals of the day, and of this
particular company I have found but bare
mention. It may well be that it was in
these early appearances Jerrold learned some-
thing of that actor's art which he showed
with considerable effect many years later as
member of a more famous amateur company,
though it was as writer that his name was to
be associated with the stage.

1 Should be Rawstorne Street. The brief notices of
such performances in the theatrical ephemerae rarely
name the performers.


Phelps, who seems to have joined with
Jerrold in those efforts at self-improvement
which were to take them far from their printing-
office stools, used to tell the following story of
how it was they were started on French and
Latin :

" Turning round on his stool one day in the office
of the newspaper where both were engaged, Douglas
Jerrold said to Phelps rather abruptly —

" ' What have your godfathers and godmothers
done for you ? '

" ' What do you mean ? '

" ' Well, what have you been taught ? What do
you know ? '

" This led to a comparing of notes, and it turned
out that neither in French nor in Latin was either
of them at that moment prepared to undergo an
examination. Like wise men, they set about at once
redeeming the time. An old Dutch gentleman
became their tutor, and they very soon made good
their deficiencies in the languages named." 1

It was while a member of this amateur
company that young Samuel Phelps appeared
as a " gentleman amateur " at the Olympic
Theatre on the benefit of one of the actors
who had been struck by his performance at
the private theatre in Islington. In his age
the great tragedian recalled with amusement
how, having been anxious that Douglas Jerrold
should see him, he was a little hurt on the
following day when his friend refrained from

1 The Life and Life-work of Samuel Phelps. By
W. May Phelps and John Forbes-Robertson.


comment on the previous evening's perform-
ance. At length he broke out with:

" Well, what did you think of my acting ?
I saw you were there."

Jerrold turned leisurely round and said,
"It is my very decided opinion that, if you
persevere, you may eventually make a good
Walking Gentleman, and get your five and
twenty shillings a week; but you must stick
to it, remember." That he was ready to laugh
at his own prophecy was to be shown when
they met as successful men nearly twenty
years later.

The third of the trio of printing-house
actors, William Edward Love, the wonderful
" polyphonist," came to be a very popular
entertainer on both sides of the Atlantic. He
discovered his remarkable ventriloquial gift
when he was a boy about ten years of age at
school. As he was born in 1806, he would
have been only fifteen or sixteen at the time
to which Phelps refers, and was then pre-
sumably a printer's apprentice. As he is
to-day but little known, the following anecdote
from an old pamphlet on his performances may
be given. At the age of fifteen he is said to
have journeyed from London to visit a relative
in Dorset and to have diversified his journey
by making use of his " polyphony " :

His vocal organs, which were seldom at
rest, were put in motion at the expense of the
guard of the mail coach, the driver thereof and
several of the passengers. The vehicle having


quitted Salisbury, Love, finding his fellow-
travellers taciturn and unsociable, resigned his
inside seat, and mounted the box by the side
of the coachman, on pretence of viewing the
surrounding scenery, leaving a deaf old gentle-
man and his " better half " in possession of
the interior of the coach. They had not pro-
ceeded far, when a voice, apparently from
within, exclaimed, " Stop the coach— stop the
coach— I'm taken very unwell— for mercy's
sake, stop the coach ! "

The horses were pulled up— the guard was
on the ground, and the door of the carriage
open in less than a second.

"What's wanted, sir?" says the guard,
touching his hat.

" Eh, what, what ? " says the deaf old gentle-
man, placing his acoustic trumpet to his

"Are you ill, sir?" inquired his inter-

" Oh ! we're at Ilchester, are we ? Then,
d'ye hear, take my baggage to the King's
Arms; you'll find a portmanteau, two band-
boxes, a carpet-bag "

" I thought," says the guard, straining his
voice to the highest pitch— his vehemence
imparting to his face the scarlet hue of his
coat— " I thought you said c Stop the coach.' "

" On the top of the coach !— Psha ! non-
sense !— it's in the front boot ; you put it
there yourself before we started. I declare
these blockheads are as stupid as "


" You mistake altogether, sir, I "

" Must you take it altogether ? Certainly !
You wouldn't leave anything behind, would
you ?— Zounds ! fellow, if you are not able to
carry it yourself, get a porter to help you "

The guard, whose stock of patience had by
this time completely evaporated, slammed the
coach door in the traveller's face ; and, cursing
him for an antiquated old fool, mounted his
seat, and left the lady to explain the matter
to her bewildered spouse in the best manner
she could. In a few minutes the voice inside
was repeated, exclaiming, in still more dolorous
accents than before, " Coachman, stop — oh,
I'm dying ! "

" Jist hold the reins a bit, sir," said the
coachman ; " there he goes again — blow me if
he isn't as mad as a March hare. It's a mortal
shame to let such kracters loose, without some-
body to take proper care on 'em, isn't it,

Love, having acquiesced in coachee's opinion
as to the enormity of the neglect, Jehu jumped
off the box; and, on opening the door, was
more than a little astounded to find the old
gentleman and his rib enjoying a comfortable
sleep. The man of the whip, believing, how-
ever, that his passenger was quizzing him, cut
short his dreams by slapping him smartly on
the shoulder —

" Come, I say, old gem'man, this is vot I
calls carrying the joke rayther too far; vy,
ve shall be an hour behind time; — you knows


you're no more asleep than I am." (Another
electrifying slap on the shoulder.)

The unhappy old gentleman, awaking in a
fright, rubbing his aching limb, exclaimed, with
a face of rueful length —

" Eh, what's that ? — Well, coachman, what

in the d l's name do you want ? — I declare

these fellows are all as drunk as "

" If anybody's drunk, it's yourself," says
coachee, " for I'll swear you called out this
wery moment, ' Stop the coach ! ' " The out-
side passengers being appealed to, distinctly
corroborated the coachman's assertion, and
whispered their belief that the unfortunate
gentleman was, assuredly, non compos ; while
he, on his part, returned the compliment, by
declaring that coachman, guard and passengers,
were one and all in a shameful state of intoxi-
cation !

The three young men — Love was still in his
teens, and Jerrold and Phelps but little over
twenty — were all to break away from the
printing office on their several paths in the
mid-'twenties, but while there were, as the
familiar illustration puts it, " trying their
wings." Douglas Jerrold, while still in his
nineteenth year, had had three plays produced
in rapid succession, and during the same year
was to utter a protest by means of a letter
to the press that is the earliest recognizable
piece of his writing — other than dramatic.
This was a letter to the editor of the Sunday
Monitor, wherein he deplored the custom


which then obtained of hawking the " dying
speeches " of criminals through the streets
on the day of their execution. On November
21, 1821, no fewer than eight men were publicly
hanged outside the Old Bailey; four of them
for uttering forged five-pound notes, one for
theft from a dwelling-house, one for sheep-
stealing, and two for highway robbery. No
sooner was the ghastly travesty of justice
enacted than the streets were made hideous
by the bawling of disgusting prints, purporting
to be the last dying confessions of the executed
malefactors. Young Jerrold wrote in this
letter to the editor of the paper on which he
was employed : " Amongst the many prevalent
nuisances which call for a speedy redress,
none, I think, are more conspicuous than the
disgusting and I may say inhuman practice
followed on every melancholy occasion when
justice and the public welfare demand as an
awful example the life of a fellow being — I
advert to the custom of reading what are
termed Dying Speeches." But few years were
to pass before this custom was done away with,
as also was the custom of hanging men for
robbery, forgery and similar offences, and in a
few more years the ghastly parade of public
hanging was also to become a thing of the
past. This last reform Douglas Jerrold strongly
opposed, thinking that it would tend to defer
the day to which he looked forward, when
capital punishment itself should be abolished,
and it may well be believed that such has been


its effect. The letter is interesting not only
as being the first of Jerrold's identifiable con-
tributions to the press, but as an early indica-
tion of the reforming zeal which was later to
characterize his work as a journalist.

How long he continued to double the parts
of writer and compositor — when he left the
compositor's case entirely for the desk, cannot
now be ascertained. Before he finally gave up
the composing-stick he is said for a time to
have acted as dramatic critic and compositor
on the same journal. He was gradually work-
ing his way, but he was doing it earnestly,
vigorously, stubbornly; slight pieces of prose
and verse were offered to the editors of the
current magazines and journals, and great was
the delight when he could rush into the room
at home, crying to his mother or sister, " It's
in, it's in ! " He was working, he was writing,
and he was continuing that rigorous self-
education which he began soon after the arrival
in London. He was beginning, too, to make a
circle of friends among young men similarly
circumstanced and similarly ambitious. Two
such friends have been glanced at. Another,
and more important one, was Samuel Laman
Blanchard, who was engaged as a printers'
reader, but, like Douglas Jerrold, was dream-
ing of literary fame and working towards it.
Blanchard, who was a year or so the younger,
had started life as a clerk to a proctor in
Doctors' Commons, and had had a short turn
as member of a travelling theatrical company


before becoming a London proof-reader. He,
too, was a contributor to some of those dramatic
ephemerae for which the reading public of
nearly a century ago appears to have had a
goodly appetite, and was already known to his
friends as a writer of graceful verse. In 1823,
fired with admiration for Lord Byron, he and
Jerrold discussed the project of going to
Greece that they might enlist themselves under
the banner of the poet and fight for Greek
independence. They were earnestly talking of
this dream while sheltering from a shower
under a Holborn doorway, when suddenly the
talk was broken off by Jerrold with, " Come,
Sam, if we're going to Greece we mustn't be
afraid of a shower of rain." Repeating the
story many years afterwards Jerrold added,
" I fear the rain washed all the Greece out of
us." It was probably nothing more than one of
the generous dreams of youth, for neither was in
a position then to make of the dream a reality. 1
Yet a further step forward was made when
in 1823 Douglas Jerrold began to contribute
papers to the Mirror of the Stage over the
signature of " «?." Chief among these was a
series of Minor-ies, which described and criti-
cized sundry of the " stars " of the minor
theatres ; short sketches which contained here
and there touches indicative of their writer's

1 When Byron died in April 1824, Jerrold wrote in his
volume of the poet's works —

" God, wanting fire to give a million birth
Took Byron's soul to animate their earth."


later style, as also did other of the pieces
which he furnished to the same periodical over

Online LibraryWalter JerroldDouglas Jerrold, dramatist and wit (Volume 1) → online text (page 4 of 24)