Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Jerrold, Douglas William
JERROLD, DOUGLAS WILLIAM (1803–1857), man of letters, youngest son of Samuel Jerrold, an actor, by his second wife, a Miss Reid, was born in London, 3 Jan. 1803. He was brought up at first at Wilsby, near Cranbrook, in Kent. The family moved in 1807 to Sheerness, where the father had taken a lease of the theatre. On several occasions the boy was brought upon the stage when a child was needed in the ‘Stranger’ and other plays, but, although he acted for a short time in the ‘Painter of Ghent’ in 1836, and appeared as Master Stephen in Jonson's ‘Every Man in his Humour’ in 1845, he never contracted any real taste for acting. He learnt to read and write from one of the members of the company, and was always an ardent lover of books. Before he reached middle life he had taught himself Latin, French, and Italian, and was deeply read in English dramatic literature. Subsequently he was put to school with a Mr. Herbert in Sheerness, until in December 1813, through the influence of Captain Austen, he was sent to the guardship Namur off the Nore, as a midshipman in the royal navy. On board this ship he first became intimate with Clarkson Stanfield, then a foremast-man, with whom he got up theatricals on board. On 24 April 1815 he was transferred to the brig Ernest. This ship convoyed transports to Ostend on the eve of Waterloo, cruised to Heligoland and Cuxhaven, and brought back wounded soldiers from Belgium to Sheerness in July. She was then paid off, and on 21 Oct. Jerrold quitted the service, with a vivid memory of his experiences, which he afterwards turned to account in ‘Jack Runnymede,’ and a lifelong detestation of the cruelty of flogging with the ‘cat.’ He was always sailor-like in generosity and imprudence, energy and combativeness, enthusiastic sensibility and irritable temper.
His father, an old man, was now in difficulties. Sheerness after the peace was a bad place for a theatre, and he was compelled to remove in poverty to London in January 1816. The family lived in Broad Court, Bow Street, principally supported by the father's earnings on the stage and Douglas's wages as apprentice to a printer named Sidney in Northumberland Street, Strand. He continued to read and study, and to write occasional verses, which were first printed in ‘Arliss's Magazine.’ One of his first contributions to journalism was a notice of Weber's ‘Der Freischutz.’ ‘I understood nothing about it scientifically,’ he said, ‘but I wrote as I felt, and the notice was a success. It brought me many a commission from the paper to which I sent it’ (Willert Beale, Light of Other Days, 1890). In 1818 he wrote a play, ‘The Duellists,’ which was rejected by Arnold of the English Opera House. It was rechristened ‘More Frightened than Hurt,’ was played at the Sadler's Wells Theatre 30 April 1821, was afterwards translated into French, played in Paris, retranslated by Mr. Kenney, and played at the Olympic as ‘Fighting by Proxy.’ It contained much sparkling dialogue and a good plot of the low-comedy kind. At the age of sixteen he entered the service of a printer named Bigg in Lombard Street, printer of the ‘Sunday Monitor,’ for which paper he soon began to write. He afterwards became a regular contributor to the magazines. The hardships of these early years, and the literary radicalism of the writers whom he most admired, generated his characteristic mood of righteous, but rather indiscriminate and unpractical, indignation against shams, abuses, and inequalities. In 1823 he and his friend Samuel Laman Blanchard seriously thought of joining the Greek insurgents. He was already engaged to Mary, daughter of Thomas Swann of Wetherby in Yorkshire, and married her in 1824, but continued to live with his mother and sisters in constant occupation as printer, writer, and student. In 1825, to provide for the growing wants of his family, he engaged himself at a small salary to write all kinds of dramatic pieces for Davidge, manager of the Coburg Theatre, who proved a harsh employer. He was also contributing to the ‘Weekly Times,’ ‘The Ballot,’ and other papers, sometimes in his own name, sometimes as Henry Brownrigg. He was also part proprietor, with Dr. Crucifix, of a Sunday newspaper. Quarrelling bitterly with Davidge, he took his comedy ‘Black-eyed Susan, or All in the Downs,’ to Elliston at the Surrey Theatre, and was engaged by him as dramatic author at 5l. a week. This piece was his first great success. It was produced 8 June 1829, with T. P. Cooke as William, and drew crowds to the theatre. It ran for three hundred nights, and was eventually, in 1835, played at Drury Lane. It was played four hundred times in all in 1829. Many fortunes were made out of it; but Jerrold only received 60l. His fame as a playwright, however, brought him profit, and he produced three more plays before the end of the year. Introduction to the patent theatres was now open to him, and having produced ‘The Devil's Ducat, or the Gift of Mammon,’ on 16 Dec. 1830 at the Adelphi, he at length had his ‘Bride of Ludgate’ acted at Drury Lane on 8 Dec. 1831. He continued writing plays till 1835, his most successful dramatic year. He unfortunately undertook in 1836 the management of the Strand Theatre with his brother-in-law, W. J. Hammond. He wrote several pieces for this theatre, and appeared as Roderick in his one-act tragedy, ‘The Painter of Ghent,’ for a few nights without success.
Jerrold now began to turn steadily to non-dramatic writing. During his busiest years as a playwright he contributed to the ‘Athenæum,’ the ‘Morning Herald,’ and the ‘Monthly Magazine.’ Money difficulties, occasioned by a lax and unheeding generosity, had obliged him to retire to Paris in the winter of 1835, when he began to write for ‘Blackwood's Magazine.’ He contributed to the ‘Freemasons' Quarterly’ and to various annuals. Selections from these papers were collected as ‘Men of Character,’ in three volumes, in 1838, with illustrations by Thackeray. Between 1842 and 1845 he wrote no play, but on 26 April 1845 he produced at the Haymarket a five-act comedy, full of epigram, ‘Time works Wonders,’ which ran for ninety nights.
The appearance of ‘Punch’ in 1841 introduced Jerrold to his most congenial sphere of work, and from No. 2 till ten days before his death he was a constant contributor. His first article, signed Q., appeared 12 Sept. 1841, and his Q. papers first attracted attention to ‘Punch.’ Subsequently he wrote ‘Punch's Letters to his Son,’ republished in 1843, and ‘Punch's Complete Letter-writer,’ republished in 1845. His greatest success of all was ‘Mrs. Caudle's Curtain Lectures,’ republished first from ‘Punch’ in 1846. It has been reprinted and translated times without number, but Jerrold was undesirous of being estimated simply as a ‘wit’ or a farcical writer. He valued most highly his more serious writings, ‘The Story of a Feather,’ 1844, ‘The Chronicles of Clovernook,’ 1846, and ‘A Man made of Money,’ published in 1849. In 1847 he was, together with the other chief contributors to ‘Punch,’ Mark Lemon and Gilbert à Beckett, the subject of a very bitter attack in Bunn's well-known ‘A Word with Punch,’ in which Jerrold himself appeared as ‘Wronghead’ [see Bunn, Alfred, 1796–1860].
For some time he had been busy with journalistic speculations, many of which turned out disastrously. In 1843 the ‘Illuminated Magazine’ was founded, and he became editor, but after two years the magazine died. In 1845, having just removed from Regent's Park to Putney, he started ‘Douglas Jerrold's Shilling Magazine,’ in which he published his novel, ‘St. Giles and St. James.’ In 1846 appeared ‘Douglas Jerrold's Weekly Newspaper,' of which he was editor and part proprietor. After six months it grew unprofitable, and finally, changing its name, passed out of his hands. From 1852 till his death he edited 'Lloyd's Weekly Newspaper' at a salary at 1,000l. per annum. One of his chief supporters in the new venture was Thomas Cooper, the Chartist, whose lasting friendship Jerrold had secured by finding a publisher for the 'Purgatory of Suicides,' after the author had appealed in vain to Disraeli, Forster, and Harrison Ainsworth. The paper's circulation increased slowly, until its reports of the death and funeral of the Duke of Wellington established it permanently in public favour. He contributed three columns of leaders each week, as well as literary reviews. In his last years he restricted himself to this work, he gave up writing for the stage in 1864, and in the same year a projected tour in Italy was abandoned in consequence of the issue by the Austrian government of orders that he should not be admitted to Austrian territory. In 1856 he removed from St. John's Wood to Kilburn Priory. He had long suffered from sciatica and rheumatism, and had written some of his most brilliant work while prostrate with pain. On 8 June 1857 he died, and was buried on the 14th at Norwood cemetery. His circumstances were unfortunately involved. After his death performances, both in town and country, were organised by Charles Dickens, and 3,000l. was thus secured for his family. His son, William Blanchard Jerrold is separately noticed.
In person Jerrold was short and sturdy; his profile was strikingly sharp and classical, his eyes blue, his grey hair falling in profuse masses about his forehead. An engraving from a bust of him by E. H. Bailey, R.A., is prefixed to the biography by Blanchard Jerrold, and there is a portrait in the National Portrait Gallery by Sir Daniel Macnee dated 1853. In manner he was to the last conspicuously vivacious, simple, and boyish, but was singularly clumsy in his movements. He sang well, and was fond of music. He was in temperament impulsive and fiery, rarely pausing to think whether his acrid wit would give pain to friends or foes, but overflowing with scorn of meanness, and indignation at injustice. In politics he was a radical, but cared nothing for philosophic utilitarianism. Though on one or two occasions he spoke well, notably in presenting the Shakespeare testimonial to Kossuth, he always disliked public speaking, and more than once broke down in the middle of his addresses. He had great social gifts, and was the founder of numerous literary clubs which attained some celebrity, 'The Mulberries' in 1824, the 'Museum' in 1847, the 'Whittington,' 'Our Club' (see Willert Beale, Light of Other Days, vol. i. ch. vi.; T. Sydney Cooper, My Life, ii. 32), and others. His reputation as a brilliant wit, for which he himself had anything but an affection, has overshadowed his literary fame. His brightly-written essays always repay perusal, but his plays have not held the stage, and his novels are little read. Jerrold's 'Works' were published in a collective edition, 8 vols. 1851-4. They include, besides those already mentioned:
- 'The Smoked Miser,' a one-act interlude, produced at Sadler's Wells, and published in 1833.
- 'The Witch of Derncleugh,' a version of 'Guy Mannering,' produced about 1823.
- 'Beau Nash,' a three-act comedy in prose, produced at the Haymarket, and published in 1625.
- 'Wives by Advertisement,' a comedy, produced about 1825.
- 'Sally in our Alley,' a comedy, produced about 1826.
- 'Ambrose Gwinett, or a Seaside Story,' a three-act melodrama in prose, published in 1828.
- 'Fifteen Years of a Drunkard's Life,' the earliest of his domestic dramas, a three-act melodrama, published about 1828.
- 'Law and Lions,' a two-act prose farce, published about 1828.
- 'John Overy,' a three-act prose drama, published in 1828.
- 'Martha Willis,' a domestic drama in two acts, published in 1828.
- 'The Flying Dutchman,' a play produced in 1829.
- 'Thomas à Becket,' a five-act historic play, published in 1829.
- 'The Tower of Lochlain,' a three-act prose melodrama.
- 'Vidocq,' a play, published in 1829.
- 'The Mutiny at the Nore,' a two-act nautical drama in prose, 1830.
- 'The Golden Calf,' a three-act prose comedy, produced in 1832.
- 'The Rent Day,'a two-act domestic prose drama, published in 1832.
- 'The Housekeeper,' a three-act prose drama, produced at the Haymarket,and published in 1833.
- 'Nell Gwynne,' a two-act prose comedy, produced at Covent Garden, and published in 1833.
- 'The Wedding-gown,' two-act prose comedy, published in 1834.
- 'Doves in a Cage,' produced at the Adelphi, and published in 1835.
- 'The Hazard of the Die,' a two-act tragic prose drama, produced at Drury Lane, and published in 1835.
- 'The Man's an Ass,' produced at the Olympic Theatre in 1835.
- 'The Schoolfellows,' a two-act comedy, produced at the Queens Theatre, and published in 1835.
- 'The Bill-Sticker,' a play produced at the Strand Theatre in 1836.
- 'Hercules, King of Clubs,' a play produced at the Strand Theatre in 1836.
- 'The Peril of Pippins,’ a four-set drama, produced at the Strand Theatre, and published in 1836.
- ‘The White Milliner,’ a two-act comedy in prose, produced at Covent Garden, and published in 1841.
- ‘Bubbles of the Day,’ a five-act comedy in prose, produced at Covent Garden, and published in 1842.
- ‘Cakes and Ale,’ a series of stories.
- ‘Gertrude's Cherries,’ a two-act prose comedy, published in 1842.
- ‘Jimmy Green's Tour,’ a comic song contributed in 1842 to ‘Tom and Jerry in France,’ a three-act musical entertainment.
- ‘The Prisoner of War,’ a two-act comedy, produced at Drury Lane, and published in 1842.
- ‘The Catspaw,’ a five-act comedy in prose, published in 1850.
- ‘Retired from Business,’ a three-act prose comedy, published in 1851.
- ‘Heads of the People,’ a series of sketches, published in 1840–1, edited and in part written by Jerrold.
- ‘Other Times,’ leading articles collected from ‘Lloyd's Weekly Paper,’ and published in 1868.
- ‘Paul Pry,’ a three-act comedy.
- ‘St. Cupid,’ a three-act comedy in prose, published in 1853.
- ‘A Heart of Gold,’ a three-act drama, published in 1854.
- ‘The Brownrigg Papers,’ a collection of essays and sketches published in 1860.
- ‘The Barber's Chair and Hedgehog Letters,’ reprinted in 1874 from his ‘Weekly Newspaper.’
[The biography by his son Blanchard Jerrold, 1859; Walter Jerrold's article in Chambers's Encyclopædia, ed. 1890, vol. vi.; the collected edition of Jerrold's Works; Forster's Life of Dickens; The Life of Thomas Cooper, written by himself; T. Catling in Pall Mall Gazette, 15 April 1890; Gent. Mag. 1876, pt. ii.; Atlantic Monthly Mag. November 1857; Athenæum, 1858; Lester Wallack's Memories, p. 74 (with steel vignette); Brit. Mus. Cat.]