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BOOK REVIEWS 471 Susan Matoff. Conflicted Life: William Jerdan, 1782—18617. London Editor, Au­ thor and Critic. Brighton: Sussex Academic Press, 2011. Pp. 659. £6$. Williamjerdan is largely forgotten today. Ifhe is known, it is mainly as the lover of Letitia Landon with whom he had three children, as Cynthia Lawford demonstrated some years ago. But in her prodigiously detailed and impressively well-researched study, Susan Matoff argues convincingly that, especially as the long-serving editor of the Literary Gazette, “he was a vital facilitator and promoter of aspirants to literature and many other cultural endeavours.” Matoff observes in her useful “Epilogue” that Jerdan’s multi­ farious writings are “used in studies on art, crime, antiquarianism, photog­ raphy, electricity, gas lighting and animals.” As a literary figure, he seems at times like a much less talented version of Leigh Hunt, with whom he shared financial incompetence, extraordinary industry, a beliefin the diffu­ sion of ideas, and a wish to promote the work of others. Hunt and Jerdan had a falling-out, in fact, after the Literary Gazette trashed Charles Lamb’s Album Verses in a slashing review that Matoffagrees may have been written by Landon. Hunt’s Tatler amused itself with rhyming abuse, arguing that a previous lampoon “conferred an / Honour unmerited on jerdan, / Saying his intellect was small; / ’Twas thought that he had none at all.” Jerdan the dunce enjoyed a briefvogue, but he played other roles in his long and busy life. He had a way of being present at occasion and event. He detained the assassin ofthe Prime Minister Spencer Perceval in 1812, “a feat not too heroic,” as Matoff comments with the judicious dryness that is a welcome feature of the book, “as by this time Bellingham was sitting quietly on a bench, offering no resistance.” He befriended many writers, including Edward Bulwer-Lytton and Charles Dickens, reprinting (with­ out permission) the latter’s story of Sam Weller from the first installment of The Pickwick Papers, but helping the young novelist by advising him “to de­ velop Sam Weller’s character ‘largely—to the utmost.’ ” Later he would bring the work of Hans Christian Andersen to the attention of his readers, and he effected a meeting between Andersen and Dickens. He helped found the Royal Society of Literature, throwing himselfwith gusto into a scheme intended to help indigent writers. More generally, a product of Scottish Enlightenment culture (he grew up and was schooled in Kelso), welcomed into George Canning’s circle, networking, dining, and toasting, Jerdan dealt with and hovered round the great, the bad, and the good of literary London for many decades. His career involved Micawber-like risings and fallings, minor triumphs and considerable adversities, huge amounts ofwork, quarrels with rival pe­ riodical editors and owners, financial disaster, and the running of three sep­ arate families. Apart from his three children with Landon, he had six chilSiR , 53 (Fall 2014) 472 BOOK REVIEWS dren who survived infancy with his wife Frances Jerdan, and “a large family” with another woman, Mary Maxwell, with whom he began an af­ fair in the 1830s. Matoff allows facts to accumulate towards characterization rather than writes with much overt display ofinward feeling for her subject. This pro­ cedure leads to uniformity of tone and cautiousness, in places, but it also means that her readers are in possession of the evidence they need to arrive atjudgments. Hers is not a book that dazzles with novelist-like perceptions, but it possesses the historian’s less flamboyant virtues of care for detail and patient accuracy. Tall, angular and convivial, Jerdan comes across as dif­ fusely energetic to the point of near self-cancellation, likeable, slightly ba­ nal, warm-hearted, capable ofimpressiveness. In the first volume ofhis Au­ tobiography (1852) he writes, as Matoff notes, about “the difficulty of writing about the ‘Self,’ ” and if this makes him sound, for a faintly absurd moment, like a proto-deconstructive post-Romantic, the truth seems to be more that Jerdan’s inner core was his outer shell, or, to put it more gener­ ously, with Madame Merle in mind, from Henry James’s The Portrait of a Lady, “the whole envelope of [his] circumstances.” His...

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Additional Information

ISSN
2330-118X
Print ISSN
0039-3762
Pages
pp. 471-474
Launched on MUSE
2020-03-19
Open Access
No
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