|I am indebted to Barbie Handley
for the following account of Douglas Jerrold's life.
Sources referred to in the text:
(WJ): Douglas Jerrold Dramatist and Wit by Walter Jerrold (1914) Hodder & Stoughton
(WBJ): The Life of Douglas Jerrold ): William Blanchard Jerrold, Bradbury, Evans & Co., London, 1870.
(MS): Douglas Jerrold: A Life (1803-1857): Michael Slater, Duckworth 2001
DOUGLAS WILLIAM JERROLD
Douglas Jerrold was a leading playwright/ journalist and actor of his day, being a major contributor to Punch at its start. He was possibly the finest wit of his time and mixed with Thackeray and Dickens. He also coined the name of the ‘Crystal Palace’ of the Great Exhibition. In addition to Douglas’s literary skills he was a great social campaigner.
Douglas was born on 3rd January1803 in Greek Street, Soho and named after his maternal grandmother, whose maiden name was Douglas (WBJ). He was christened four years nine months later at St. Anne’s Soho (MS). He was the son of Samuel Jerrold, a strolling player and theatre manager and his third wife, Mary Reid.
Mrs Reid was a kind old soul who looked after Samuel and Mary’s children whilst their parents were occupied. She used to walk with Douglas around the town and was very strict, but tender, locking Douglas in his room when she was otherwise occupied. A Mr Wilkinson was engaged to teach reading and writing in 1807. He combined teaching with acting. Douglas was then sent to Mr Herbert’s school, the best in Sheerness with 100 pupils (WBJ).
As a child, Douglas appeared on his father’s stage several times most notably in the arms of Edmund Keane, the future superstar of Drury Lane (MS).
At the age of 10 in Douglas went to sea on 22nd December 1813 joining the guardship, Namur as volunteer of the first class, under the captaincy of Charles Austen, Jane’s brother (WBJ). He had been a patron of Samuel’s Southend Theatre. After Napoleon’s escape from Elba, Douglas was drafted onto the Ernest, which was used to return injured troops after the Battle of Waterloo. This affected Douglas significantly and he realised he was not cut out for naval life and he returned home on 21st October 1815 (WBJ).
In 1816 Douglas was apprenticed to a printer, Mr Sidney in Northumberland Street, and with his first earnings purchased the ingredients and prepared a beefsteak pie! Blanchard describes Samuel as ‘his poor weak father sitting in the chimney corner’ (WBJ). Douglas realised that he would like to contribute to literature and set out to further his education.
He married Mary Ann Swann, born in 1806/07 (MS), daughter of Thomas Swann originally from Wetherby, Yorkshire, at the church of St Giles in the Fields in Bloomsbury on 15th August 1824 and brought her back to live at Little Queen Street with his mother, sisters and grandmother. Thomas Swann, an Inland Letter Carrier in Soho Square, had died in 1812. Mary was said by her son to have been Douglas’s ‘boyhood love’. Mary was evidently well thought of as a thoughtful and considerate housewife. They moved to a house in Holborn with his mother, sisters and Mrs Reid (WBJ).
Sometime during 1827 Douglas moved his growing family to Seymour Street (now Eversholt Street), Somers Town in the parish of St. Pancras. By the end of 1829 Douglas had moved upmarket to 4, Augustus Square near Regent’s Park. During the winter of 1831/2 the family moved back to Seymour Street in the more desirable area of Little Chelsea (MS).
On 10th November 1831 Douglas became a freemason and was initiated into the Bank of England Lodge. Two of his most memorable plays were Black-eyed Susan and Rent Day. The curtain rose on the latter to the scene from David Wilkie’s very popular engraving of the time of the same name.
In 1832 Jerrold was the founding editor for the satirical magazine, Punch in London with crude woodcut illustrations at a cost one penny.
1834-35 He started to be troubled with eye problems attributed to some form of rheumatism. This was to recur for the rest of his life.
In December 1836 Douglas had to flee to Paris with his wife and baby daughter, leaving the other children in the care of Mrs Reid. His generous nature in backing a bill for an acquaintance which was not honoured left him financially embarrassed. During his stay in Paris he was kept entertained by William Makepiece Thackeray and also Henry Mayhew who would later marry his daughter (had son, Athol).
In 1836 Douglas went into partnership with his brother-in-law, William John Hammond in taking over the lease of the New Strand Theatre (see under William John Hammond). Later that year he became involved with Thackeray and Laman Blanchard in starting a new radical newspaper. (It would seem that he was involved in the start up of several papers and magazines.)
In 1837 Dickens visited Douglas in Chelsea and thus started their close friendship. They both had similar political and socialist views. Together with Thackeray they were seen by contemporary readers and critics as forming the supreme triad of English comic and satiric writing. Dickens and Douglas were a little uneasy with Thackeray however, possibly due to his having been born ‘a gentleman’. Dickens described his first meeting:
I remember very well that when I first saw him….when I went into his sick room….and found him propped up in a great chair, bright-eyed, and quick, and eager in spirit, but very lame in body; he gave me an impression of tenderness. It never became dissociated from him. There was nothing cynical or sour in his heart, as I knew it.
However, despite this meeting the two writers did not work together for another nine years. Jerrold and Dickens shared the same general outlook on life but were to fall out in November 1849 over the issue of public hanging. Douglas was passionately opposed to capital punishment in any form but Dickens was prepared to compromise by opposing only public executions. This was to lead to a temporary estrangement between the two friends. They were friends again by 1855 after Douglas pleaded for an end to hostilities. His relationship with Thackeray was more complex with differences in temperament and social background, artistic beliefs and outlook on life. Wilkie Collins was also a friend of Douglas describing him as ‘one of the dearest of my literary friends’.
Early in 1837 the family moved into a market gardener’s cottage at Sinton’s Nursery on Haverstock Hill in Hampstead. In 1838 the family holidayed in France in order to settle his two older boys at M. Bonnefoy’s boarding school in Boulogne. In the autumn they moved yet again to Kentish Town, a new suburb.
In late May 1841 Douglas and Mary, accompanied by a maid servant, returned to Boulogne to be close to all their children who were then at school there (the boys, Thomas being about nine, with M. Bonnefoy and the girls at the Dames Frévilliez). They rented firstly a cottage and then a villa in the suburb of Capecure, a desirable spot in Boulogne. It was during this visit that the first edition of Punch appeared on 17th July, priced at 3d. The engraver, Ebenezer Landells, Henry Mayhew, Mark Lemon and printer Joseph Last got together to produce a London equivalent of the hugely successful Parisian satirical paper, Le Charivari. They immediately turned to Douglas with his reputation for caustic wit directed at the nation’s leaders. He had no article ready for the first edition but his first contribution appeared in the second number on 21st July (WBJ) as a dialogue between naïve reader and ‘Mr Punch’. His fourth contribution in the ninth number of 11th September was signed, ‘Q’, the first of the famous Q papers that he wrote over the next four years (MS).
On Douglas’s return from Boulogne he lodged at Essex Street with William and Jane Hammond (MS). In 1843 Douglas tried the water cure of Dr James Gully in Malvern (MS). Charles Darwin was also to partake in this treatment.
In the autumn of 1844 the Jerrolds (Douglas, Mary, William Blanchard, Douglas Edmund, Thomas Serle and thirteen year old ‘Polly’) were to move once more, this time to West Lodge, Putney Common. This was a pleasant, white-walled rambling structure surrounded by common land. The site is now covered by Putney Hospital. They were to live there for nine years (WBJ).
By 1844 Douglas was at the height of his success and from January started his hugely popular series of ‘Mrs Caudle’s Curtain Lectures’ in Punch. He also edited his own monthly journal, Douglas Jerrold’s Shilling Magazine and became sub-editor and leader writer for The Daily News with Dickens as editor. Sadly, in February, his dearest friend Laman Blanchard committed suicide after the death of his wife. Douglas was devastated.
1847: DJ wrote to his sister, Elizabeth Copeland proposing to visit Chester Races and then a few days in Wales, in which case he would visit them. He says that Hammond ‘tells me you are flourishing’ (WJ).
By 1848 Douglas’s Shilling Magazine had folded and Douglas Jerrold’s Weekly Newspaper was failing. However the latter magazine was responsible for the realisation of one of Douglas’s dream, the establishment of an institution in central London serving as a club for clerks and city workers, giving access to library and reading rooms, lectures and meals. This was the Whittington club and Douglas was the first president. What made the club original was the admission of women as full members.
By 1849 Douglas was described to as the wittiest man in London (WJ). In that year Douglas visited Joseph Paxton at Chatsworth where his son, Tom was working. He composed a little rhyme for Paxton’s daughter, Annie, who was placed on one of the giant leaves of the huge ‘Victoria Regia’ water lily, flowering for the first time in England:
On unbent leaf, in fairy guise,
Reflected in the water,
Beloved, admired by hearts and eyes,
Stands Annie, Paxton’s daughter.
Whilst at Chatsworth Douglas obviously went shooting for he wrote in a letter that ‘I have committed bloodshed on the moors’! In May Douglas attended a celebratory dinner given by Dickens to mark the start of the publication of David Copperfield. Those present included, Carlyle, Thackeray and Mrs Gaskell. In this year Douglas’s opposition to the death penalty caused a slight falling out with Dickens. Douglas was anti death penalty in any form whereas Dickens opposed only public executions (WJ).
By 1850 Douglas was having trouble placing his sons in the world. The eldest, William Blanchard was married and working as a journalist and writer of books having first started as an artist (contributing several drawings to the Illuminated Magazine). His second son, Douglas Edmund (Edmund) was nearly 22 and it was thought that he would be best in the Civil Service or in the colonies, preferably New Zealand (WJ). Douglas’s youngest son, Thomas Serle was placed under Paxton at Chatsworth and Douglas referred to Paxton’s ‘Glass Palace’ (WJ). In 1850 Douglas visited Harriet Martineau in the Lake District completing a four day tour based on her book, The Complete Guide to the Lakes.
1850 saw perhaps Douglas’s most enduring comment in Punch (13th July 1850) where he mocks the forthcoming Great Exhibition Hall. In the series the comic Mrs Amelia Mouser, a proto-feminist objects to the fact that the exhibition is being planned entirely by men. She describes a dream of the exhibition housed in ‘a palace of very crystal, the sky looking in through every bit of the roof.’ It was written just a week after Joseph Paxton’s engraving of the future Crystal Palace was published and well before his proposal was officially accepted. Jerrold’s term was so frequently quoted in the newspapers that by the autumn the need for quotation marks was removed. Thus the name of the Crystal Palace was born!
In 1851 Douglas played with Dickens before Queen Victoria who described ‘Dr Jerrold’ as ‘a funny little man who writes in Punch extremely well’.
In 1852 Douglas was asked to edit the popular Lloyds Weekly Newspaper on a salary of £1000 per annum. Both Blanchard and Edmund were to join him as journalists. In that year a tender was announced for the building of a mansion at Barnes for Douglas Jerrold so his financial state must have been more secure than in the past. However he never built the house, needing accommodation more quickly so in October he moved to a pretty semi-detached villa at 26 Circus Road, St John’s Wood.
In 1803 Jerrold celebrated his 50th birthday with a party in their new home. One of the guests, sculptor Edward Hodges Baily, decided to make a marble bust of Douglas. This now resides in the National Portrait Gallery.
In 1855: Douglas continued to worry over the placement of his youngest son, Thomas, now 22. He had been with Paxton at Chatsworth learning horticulture, where he acquired a taste for the open air. He decided to take up farming and went to spend a year with farmer, Mr. Longton some miles from Liverpool and arranged by Elizabeth, with whom Tom was visiting. Douglas, writing to Elizabeth inquired into the health of Jane and Polly; it sounded as if Jane had been ill. Jane and Polly were presumed to be the only two of the five Copeland daughters remaining at home. Tom married Jane in about 1859 (WJ).
In the autumn of 1856 Douglas moved yet again to a grander house built c 1820 at 11, Greville Place, Kilburn Priory in the borough of Marylebone. By this time Douglas was described as having the step of an elderly gentleman using a walking stick. His feet are unusually small. He had a warm heart and simplicity of character (WJ).
By 1857, however, Douglas’s health deteriorated severely. Dickens recalled that he’d been unwell for three or four days, putting it down to the smell of new paint from his study window. He was nauseous, weak and giddy and unable to retain any food. Dickens thought he looked extremely ill., but later in the evening appeared to have recovered somewhat. The next day he was seized with fits of vomiting and violent stomach pains and there followed a week of much suffering with periods of remission. Douglas by this stage knew he was dying and he died on Monday 15th June, 1857 at 12.30 p.m. at the age of 54. Dickens heard of the death from a fellow train passenger reading the his morning paper (The Times obituary on 17th June pointed out that ‘His place in English literature is vacant and we seek in vain for one worthy to stand in the breach’).
The funeral took place at Norwood Cemetery. The pall bearers were, William Makepiece Thakeray, Charles Dickens, Richard Monckton Milnes, John Forster, Sir Joseph Paxton, Mark Lemon, Charles Knight, Horace Mayhew, Hepworth Dixon and Shirley Brooks. A large stone memorial was put in place and his wife and descendants were later to follow him to Norwood.
Sadly Lambeth Council, in their attempts to cut time and costs in maintaining the cemetery decided to remove the Victorian memorials some time in 1986-87. This led to the formation of The Friends of Norwood Cemetery in 1989 to oppose this vandalism. At a consistory Court Action was brought against Lambeth Council and, in 1994 the Council was ordered to restore several listed memorials and money was raised in order to restore the Jerrold Memorial. This was completed by the end of 2004. In May of 2005 there was a re-dedication ceremony which many members of the Jerrold family, Friends of Norwood and Douglas’s biographer, Michael Slater attended on a stormy afternoon. Michael allowed us to imagine ourselves at Douglas’s funeral where anyone who was anyone in Victorian literature attended to honour his friend. However, in addition to the presence of all these literary greats the procession was followed by thousands and thousands of common people. There were so many that people struggled to get into the cemetery at all. They were there to honour the man who done so much to champion the cause of the common man. Jerrold, almost forgotten today was one of the best loved characters of his time.
Douglas died intestate although he did not leave his family penniless. Jerrold’s estate was actually valued at £3,500 although there were some debts to be paid. Within hours of hearing of his death Dickens and a number of other friends set about organising a program of public events in memory of his friend in order to raise funds for his widow and unmarried daughter, Polly, and £2000 was raised. Douglas’s widow, Mary died on 6th May 1859 at the age of 55. This money then passed to her daughter who, on her death on March 30th 1910 founded a scholarship at Christ College Oxford in memory of her father- ‘The Douglas Jerrold Scholarship in English Literature’ (WJ).
After Douglas’s death interest in him was maintained with the publication of Blanchard’s Life and Remains of Douglas Jerrold but by the 1920s and 1930s there was a slump in all things Victorian and Jerrold disappeared from view. However he continued to be revered by pacifists for his essay, The Folly of the Sword. In 1950 Mrs Caudle was again reprinted and again in 2000 (Prion Humour Classics Series). In 1970 Richard M. Kelly published an edition of Jerrold’s Punch contributions, The Best of Mr Punch. Jerrold is now remembered for a handful of bon mots, his naming of the Crystal Palace, Black-eyed Susan and Mrs Caudle’s Curtain Lectures. Some of his surviving bon mots are:
‘Religion’s in the heart, not in the knees.’
‘Love’s like the measles-all the worse when it comes late in life.’
‘Talk to him of Jacob’s ladder and he would ask the number of steps.’ (On a practical man).
‘That fellow would vulgarise the day of judgement.’ (On a comic author).