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C.D. Warner, et al., comp. The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes. 1917.

Critical and Biographical Introduction

By Douglas William Jerrold (1803–1857)

THERE is a winning quality in Douglas Jerrold, whether as man or writer. Popularly known as a brilliant wit, and often regarded as a cynical one, he was a manly and big-hearted moralist, a hater of sham, a lover of lovely things,—one who did good while he gave pleasure.

He was born in London January 3d, 1803; his father, Samuel Jerrold, being actor and theatre lessee of the not too successful kind. Douglas William (the son’s full name) had no regular education: he learned to read and write from a member of a theatrical company, and being of a studious turn, got by his own exertions such knowledge of Latin, French, and Italian as should enable him to make the acquaintance of their dramatic literature. He acted occasionally as a boy and young man, but never cared for a player’s life. For the two years between 1813 and 1815 he served as midshipman in the navy: the episode was not ill suited to his careless, generous nature. He returned to London in 1816 and apprenticed himself to a printer. The family was poor, and Douglas eked out his actor-father’s income by doing journalistic work and articles for periodicals. Soon he began dramatic composition with the play ‘More Frightened than Hurt,’ which was produced in London in 1820; and although looked at askance by managers at first, was eventually translated into French, and twice retranslated into English and played under other names. His earliest genuine hit, however, was the lively comedy-farce ‘Black-Eyed Susan: or, All in the Downs’ (1829), which was brought out at the Surrey Theatre, and was acted four hundred times that year. From this encouragement Jerrold made forty plays during twenty-odd years, many of the dramas scoring successes. Other well-known pieces are ‘The Rent Day,’ ‘Nell Gwynne,’ ‘Time Works Wonders,’ and ‘The Bubbles of the Day.’ In 1836 he managed the Strand Theatre, which proved a bad venture.

All this dramatic activity, even, does not represent Jerrold’s best work; nor did it call out his most typical and welcome powers. He continued to do other literary work, and his journalistic career was strenuous. He contributed to leading papers like the Athenæum and Blackwood’s, and edited various periodicals, such as the Illuminated Magazine, the Shilling Magazine, and the Heads of the People,—in most cases with a disastrous financial result. He made a success, however, of Lloyd’s Weekly Newspaper, for which he wrote in each number three columns of leaders and did literary reviews, receiving £1,000 salary.

When Punch was founded in 1841, Jerrold’s happiest vein sought an outlet. He at once became a contributor, and continued to be one for the rest of his life, some sixteen years. His articles, signed Q., were one of the features of that famous purveyor of representative British fun, pictorial and literary. The series of Punch papers perhaps most familiar to the general public appeared as a book in 1846, under the title ‘Mrs. Caudle’s Curtain Lectures.’ ‘Punch’s Letters to his Son’ and ‘Cakes and Ale’ are also widely known. Jerrold himself cared most for his writings in which his serious views and deeper purpose came out: the ‘Chronicles of Clovernook,’ his pet book, is an example. Indeed, the fact that he was an advanced thinker, a broad-minded humanitarian preacher, is illustrated in such a moral allegory as that here selected. Jerrold’s reputation as a wit has naturally enough deflected attention from this aspect of his work, which well deserves appreciation. A collective edition of his works in eight volumes appeared in 1851–4; and in 1888 his son, William Blanchard Jerrold, edited in book form the ‘Wit and Wisdom of Douglas Jerrold.’

Jerrold was short and stocky in person, with clear-cut features, blue eyes, and in his later years picturesque gray hair. He was of a social nature; fond of music, a good singer himself; impulsive, fiery, hasty often in letting loose the arrows of his wit,—but simple, almost boyish in manner, and a warm-hearted man whose interest in the right was intense. Always impractical, he left his affairs in a complicated condition. In short, his was a character whose faults are palpable but which is withal very lovable.