Up to the time of the appearance of this journal, Jerrold had scattered himself very freely over periodical literature. He had conquered a position. He had formed his mind. He had seen the world in many phases, and besides his knowledge of London, had varied his experience of that city by a lengthened residence in France. Still, he had not yet caught the nation, — there being many degrees of celebrity below that stage of it; and now, in middle life, his best and crowning success was to begin.
I believe that Jerrold had long desiderated a “Punch”; but it is certain that the present famous periodical of that name was started by his son-in-law, Mr. Henry Mayhew. For a while it had no great success, and the copyright was sold for a small sum to Messrs. Bradbury and Evans. Success came, and such a success that “Punch” must always last as part of the comic literature of England. That literature is rich in political as well as other forms of satire; and from various causes, about the time of “Punch,” political satire was at a low ebb. The newspapers no longer published squibs as they once had done. The days of the Hooks and Moores had gone by; there was nobody to do with the pen what H. B. did with the pencil. So “Punch” was at once a novelty and a necessity, — from its width of scope, its joint pictorial and literary character, and its exclusive devotion to the comic features of the age. “Figaro” (a satirical predecessor, by Mr. à Beckett) had been very clever, but wanted many of “Punch’s” features, and was, above all, not so calculated to hit “society” and get into families.
Jerrold’s first papers of mark in “Punch” were those signed “Q.” His style was now formed, as his mind was, and these papers bear the stamp of his peculiar way of thinking and writing. Assuredly, his is a peculiar style in the strict sense; and as marked as that of Carlyle or Dickens. You see the self-made man in it, — a something sui generis, — not formed on the “classical models,” but which has grown up with a kind of twist in it, like a tree that has had to force its way up surrounded by awkward environments. Fundamentally, the man is a thinking humorist; but his mode of expression is strange. The perpetual inversions, the habitual irony, the mingled tenderness and mockery, give a kind of gnarled surface to the style, which is pleasant when you get familiar with it, but which repels the stranger, and to some people even remains permanently disagreeable. I think it was his continual irony which at last brought him to writing as if under a mask; whereas it would have been better to write out flowingly, musically, and lucidly. His mixture of satire and kindliness always reminds me of those lanes near Beyrout in which you ride with the prickly-pear bristling alongside of you, and yet can pluck the grapes which force themselves among it from the fields. Inveterately satirical as Jerrold is, he is even “spoonily” tender at the same time; and it lay deep in his character; for this wit and bon-vivant, the merriest and wittiest man of the company, would cry like a child, as the night drew on, and the talk grew serious. No theory could be more false than that he was a cold-blooded satirist, — sharp as steel is sharp, from being hard. The basis of his nature was sensitiveness and impulsiveness. His wit is not of the head only, but of the heart, — often sentimental, and constantly fanciful, that is, dependent on a quality which imperatively requires a sympathetic nature to give it full play. Take those “Punch” papers which soon helped to make “Punch” famous, and Jerrold himself better known. Take the “Story of a Feather,” as a good expression of his more earnest and tender mood. How delicately all the part about the poor actress is worked up! How moral, how stoical, the feeling that pervades it! The bitterness is healthy, — healthy as bark. We cannot always be
Seeing only what is fair,
Sipping only what is sweet,
in the presence of such phenomena as are to be seen in London alongside of our civilization. If any feeling of Jerrold’s was intense, it was his feeling of sympathy with the poor. I shall not soon forget the energy and tenderness with which he would quote these lines of his favorite Hood: —
Poor Peggy sells flowers from street to street,
And—think of that, ye who find life sweet!—
She hates the smell of roses.
He was, therefore, to be pardoned when he looked with extreme suspicion and severity on the failings of the rich. They at least, he knew, were free from those terrible temptations which beset the unfortunate. They could protect themselves. They needed to be reminded of their duties. Such was his view, though I don’t think he ever carried it so far as he was accused of doing. Nay, I think he sometimes had to prick up his zeal before assuming the flagellum. For a successful, brilliant man like himself, — full of humor and wit, — eminently convivial, and sensitive to pleasure, — the temptation rather was to adopt the easy philosophy that every thing was all right, — that the rich were wise to enjoy themselves with as little trouble as possible, — and that the poor (good fellows, no doubt) must help themselves on according as they got a chance. It was to Douglas’s credit that he always felt the want of a deeper and holier theory, and that, with all his gaiety, he felt it incumbent on him to use his pen as an implement of what he thought reform. Indeed, it was a well-known characteristic of his, that he disliked being talked of as “a wit.” He thought (with justice) that he had something better in him than most wits, and he sacredly cherished high aspirations. To him buffoonery was pollution. He attached to salt something of the sacredness which it bears in the East. He was fuller of repartee than any man in England, and yet was about the last man that would have condescended to be what is called a “diner-out.” It is a fact which illustrates his mind, his character, and biography.