|I am indebted to Barbie Handley
for the following:.
Douglas Jerrold, the man
Jerrold was a supremely well known and popular figure in Victorian times, mixing with many of the leading literary figures of the day, including Dickens, Thackeray, Tennyson and the painter, Edwin Landseer. Perhaps his most ultimate skill was his verbal wit. In 1867 it was written that he was ‘held to be the wittiest man in all England’ and by another that he was ‘one of the few who, in their conversation, entirely come up to their renown’. His appearance was described ‘a strange-looking, high-cheek-boned man, with long hair thrown carelessly away from his forehead, and a piercing eye, that seemed to laugh to scorn the lorgnon dangling from its ribbon. I have seen him so, his spare form leaning against the mantel, and he showering-yes showering is the word-arrowy bon mots and corruscating repartees around him’.
Elizabeth Gaskell loved his bon mots, which she thought she could remember but ‘they now have quite slipped out of my head’. Jerrold’s ‘quickness, terseness and unexpectedness’ was what was remembered. His jokes would do the rounds for a considerable time with Chinese Whisper developments! One of the contributing factors to his popularity was his life-story having risen from near the bottom of the social heap to become a recognised gentleman and one of the most famous and influential writers of the time, mixing and close friends with many of the most leading figures of the literary world. Douglas was a liberal-radical, but no revolutionary or even chartist and was a ‘powerful peoples’ advocate’.
His appearance was well known to the public, due to his caricatures in Punch rather than his portraits or the Bailey bust. A visitor meeting Douglas for the first time described him with ‘exceeding shortness of stature’ and a considerable stoop, probably not much more than five foot. He was not thin; he had a good stubby foot and a hand which wasn’t particularly small. He had no whiskers, a long upper lip, but well-formed mouth. His nose was aquiline and violet-blue eyes with bushy eyebrows. He had a ‘mass of brown hair, carelessly flung back’. As to character, he was ‘open, cordial and unaffected’ like an old friend and ‘not a particle of snob in him’. He was a real gentleman without trying (WJ).
At home Jerrold was warm and hospitable particularly to younger up and coming men. His table talk was lively with his enthusiasm for his garden and his black and tan terrier, Mouse, who accompanied him on all his walks and lay on the rug in the study whilst he worked. He kept open house on Sundays, sitting in a tent under a mulberry tree in the summer or in his snug study. The image is described of him ‘with a cigar, a flask of Rhine wine on the table, a cedar log on the fire and half a dozen literary youngsters round the board listening to his bright wit and his wisdom’. Some of his social gatherings seem to have been very lively according to his son, doing cartwheels over haycocks or games of leap-frog! He obviously liked a drink and on one occasion was so drunk that he was put in a cab with his address on a label around his neck!
Douglas was described as ‘a little spare figure with a stoop. He could never dance a step. In any active grace he was singularly deficient but merry.’ He was most helpless among men. His toilet was performed with his back to the glass. It mattered not to him that his handkerchief was awry. He was passionately fond of any new kind of preparation for shaving. Patent corkscrews, coffee pots, match boxes, knives and lamps delighted him. If he saw something new he must have it’ (WBJ).
A Mrs Cowden Clarke dedicated ‘Concordance to Shakespeare’ to ‘Douglas Jerrold the greatest wit of this present age, this book by the greatest wit of any age is dedicated by a woman of a certain age and no wit at all’. Hepworth Dixon describes his wit ‘His place among the wits of our time is clear enough………..his wit was all steel points and his talk was like lancers in evolution’. He had a rapid retort without a rival (WBJ).