Jerome K Jerome

Jerome Klapka Jerome

36 Newman Street, London, Middlesex


Relation to Head of Family

Condition as to Marriage

Age last birthday

Rank, profession or occupation

Where born

George Crippin




Equestrian Performer

London, Middlesex

Annie Crippin





London, Middlesex

Francis Crippin





Brussels, Belgium (B.S.)

Edith Crippin





Plymouth, Devon

Adela Crippin





Plymouth, Devon

Jerome Klapka Jerome




Shorthand Writer to Solicitors etc.

Walsall, Staffs

The dreamer sits at his table, idly knocking out copy. In the house, the conversation is all about the circus, the lights, the crack of the whip. But he's bored. Twenty-one, and a clerk, marooned in an office with only the opportunity for a wry remark. He hasn't lived, even if he has at least tried the greasepaint. He wants to turn a word as skilfully as George Crippin can turn a somersault. There must be a publisher somewhere who will take his pieces.

Jerome Klapka Jerome - in later life known as 'JKJ' to his friends - wasn't exactly born with that name. But it isn't the palindromic symmetry of his name which is incorrect. His real middle name was, more mundanely, Clapp. At the time of JKJ's birth, on May 2nd, 1859, his father was also Jerome Clapp Jerome, but this too was an untruth. His father had been born plain Jerome Clapp, and had been mostly known as Clapp, a common Devonian surname. JKJ was the fourth child; he had two much elder sisters, both of them born with the surname Clapp, although their first names had the characteristic extravagance of parents who liked nothing better than to rifle through descriptions of minor saints and martyrs. Jerome Clapp had married Marguerite Maine Jones in 1842; her father had been a Swansea draper, his a silversmith in Bath; the couple married in Bideford, in North Devon. Their first daughter was Paulina Deodata Clapp, born in 1845; their second, born in 1848, was Blandina Dominica Clapp. They saved up something even more spectacular for their third child, a son born in 1855, and given the alliterative double-whammy of Milton Melancthon Clapp.

When Jerome the younger was an infant, the story goes, the family had a lodger, a Hungarian general called Gy?rgy Klapka, who was busy writing his memoirs. It is not known how a veteran of the Hungarian rising in the late 1840s came to be living in Walsall; but his name was supposedly snaffled by Jerome the elder and Marguerite, and grafted over their last son's middle C. Quite how much of this the future author of Three Men In A Boat knew about all this is unclear. However, since Klapka's memoirs were written well before JKJ's birth, it is surely one of the many fictions JKJ left in his wake. He seems to have adopted the Klapka much later in life. In his childhood, his parents had already begun to distinguish between the two Jerome sons by calling the younger one "Luther", or "Lu" for short. (Martin Luther's closest sixteenth-century colleague was Philipp Melancthon. Melancthon and Luther. It was a cumbersome, non-conformist joke.)

In later life, Jerome K. Jerome was claimed by Walsall as their favourite son, but it was a close run thing. His father was an architect by profession who had devoted himself to an itinerant vocation as an independent (and popular) Congregationalist minister, progressing by stages from Marlborough to Cirencester; to Appledore in North Devon; and only then to the Midlands. His wife's inheritance smoothed his way, but Jerome the elder now wrecked the family finances twice over. His first venture was a barely profitable iron works; his second was to purchase two colliery shafts, which never reached the stage of producing coal, and which emptied the Jerome account. He broke the news to his wife on JKJ's first birthday. While the family moved to a smaller house in Stourbridge, JKJ's father set off for London to repair the financial damage. He started a wholesale ironmongery business at Limehouse; while he was away, his son Milton died, aged 6, of croup (and was buried as Milton Jerome). Only now did Marguerite discover the dire circumstances in which her husband was working; she upped sticks, and, aged four, Walsall's future jewel was heading for the rougher end of Poplar with his mother and teenage sisters. The pit - which retained the name Jerome itself - subsequently proved to be highly lucrative.

Jerome grew up in a pious, straitened family, in an area he later recalled with quiet horror:

about the East End of London there is a menace, a haunting terror that is found nowhere else. The awful silence of its weary streets. The ashen faces, with their lifeless eyes that rise out of the shadows and are lost.

Paulina - known as Pauline - married in 1866, incidentally as Pauline Clapp; Blandina, who took the new surname, became a governess. Jerome - Luther - passed an entrance test to a school in Marylebone, which involved a two-hour trip in each direction. He hated school; but the journey gave him a season ticket with which he could wander in the holidays. On one trip through Victoria Park, aged ten or eleven, Jerome met Charles Dickens, or so he believed: Dickens did not divulge his name. After admitting that he wished to write, and being advised to "write his best", the gentleman he had met asked what he thought of "Mr. Dickens". Jerome admitted to admiring the comedy best - as in Pickwick. "Oh damn Mr. Pickwick!" retorted the famous writer, before melting into the evening.

There was a happier interlude. Pauline's husband was a Robert Shorland (their son Frank was later a famous bicyclist, and Jerome enjoyed the kudos of being "Shorland's uncle"), and now the Shorlands moved four miles out to the countryside, to Colney Hatch (best known at the time, as it happens, for its lunatic asylum). Jerome's family followed. JKJ came alive. But his father, who had been ailing, finally succumbed. It was 1871. Only by the deathbed did JKJ realise his father had worn a black wig. Three years later, his mother also died. He was sixteen; he was alone with her when it happened, Blandina having taken a job in Norfolk, with a wealthy family called Brown.

JKJ shifted from occupation to occupation, restless and ill-at-ease, beginning to use his spare time to send off (and receive back) countless stories. Living in a succession of cheap lodgings, he had, in turn, spells as a railway clerk; a factotum in Euston's advertising department; a sudden and exciting shift into the shabby world of the theatre, which lasted two years; a spell as as a penny-a-liner, a freelance journalism that consisted of accumulating as much trivia as possible for insertion in a local newspaper. He did well, driven by fear of the destitution he had witnessed (he had had a fair spell in the doss-houses before turning to this quickfire writing). He taught at a school for a term; kept the accounts for an illiterate builder; worked as a commission agent; as a parliamentary agent; and, by 1881, had wound up at a solicitor's office. He enjoyed the absurdity of the ancient papers and obscure claims, and loathed the drudgery. At the time of the census, he was lodging with a circus artist (Crippin) who performed as George Delevanti, a tumbler who was famous for leaping through a series of hoops, and performing flips on horseback. At the time, Crippin was performing with Hengler's Circus. The contrast between the scratch of the solicitor's quill and the roar of Delevanti's applause must have seemed considerable.

Jerome K. Jerome in the 1880s

But within a few years, JKJ's fortunes had themselves somersaulted into success. After a tediously persistent stream of rejections, a story he had written was accepted by a magazine,The Lamp. He had made friends, too, in some new, nearby digs with George Wingrave, a banker's clerk with whom he shared a room, and with whom he was soon to share a boat, in fact as in fiction. His break came with the acceptance of some short, comic pieces about the theatre, which were accepted by a new magazine called The Play (he sold them for the first fiver he'd ever seen), and, in 1885, published in book form by Field & Tuer. A year later, a sequence of articles on "idling", light, cheeky pieces about doing nothing with panache, were published as The Idle Thoughts Of An Idle Fellow. The good news was that it quickly sold 15,000 copies; in America, it sold in six figures. The bad news was that he only received £150, and nothing for the many American editions which were pirated (although he continued throughout his life to receive royalties from his official American publisher). Nevertheless, his name was prospering. He had a circle of friends which included JM Barrie and Carl Henstschel, the latter to be the Third Man in the Boat. JKJ was no longer lying when he wrote to his sisters that he was doing well. In about 1883 or 1884, he also fell in love - with a married woman, Georgina "Ettie" Marris, the daughter of a Spanish officer called Nesza, and the wife of a London chemist. Ettie had a daughter, too, a five-year-old called Elsie. Nine days after her divorce came through - she had filed it - JKJ married her. He never referred in print to her previous marriage. At about the same time, he took another plunge - he left the clerical life to become a full-time writer. He thought there might be a book in describing a trip up the Thames with George and Carl ("Harris").

Three Men In A Boat cemented the reputation of JKJ - by now known in the trade as 'Arry K 'Arry. Its success owes much to its editor; JKJ's original plan was to write a historical account of the river, The Story Of The Thames, but the editor of the magazine, Home Chimes, in which it was serialised, filleted the material brilliantly. It sold and sold and sold; it out-did the various, forgettable plays he wrote at the same time. It was sniped at by the critics, too. For the rest of his career, he was damned as a humorist if he tried to write a serious novel (his main aim), or belittled as a jobbing journalist if he produced the cheery, lightweight classics which were his forte.

JKJ's next career move was to accept the editorship of a mildly satirical monthly. JKJ suggested The Idler as a title. His wit and personality infused it, and drew writers to it, including Conan Doyle; he turned out to be an astute talent-spotter, and, by the time he had begun, concurrently, to edit - and own - another magazine, To-Day, his list of contributors was stellar. Kipling. Hardy. Anthony Hope. Gissing. Ambrose Bierce. The Jeromes, who had moved to Alpha Place in St. John's Wood, numbered W.S. Gilbert and H.G. Wells, Eden Philpotts and Rider Haggard amongst their visitors. Soon the Jeromes advanced, Monopoly-like, to Mayfair. At which point, a sort of nemesis arrived in the form of a libel law-suit against To-day's business column. As with modern Private Eye cases, the lawyers must have rubbed their thumbs and fingers in delight. The businessman who felt he had been libelled, Samson Fox, won a pyrrhic victory - one farthing. But both sides had costs to pay, and Jerome's were a ruinous £9,000. He had to sell his interests in both magazines. Jerome was to spend most of the rest of his career recouping the loss. He had been lucky to have established his popularity so quickly. And by now, he had a daughter of his own, Rowena (born in 1890).

JKJ continued to produce novels, articles, lectures - including three trips to America - and plays, one of which, The Passing of the Third Floor Back (1910), survived the usual critical pasting to be revived regularly over the next twenty years. In this and other plays, his daughter Rowena made appearances as an actress. He published an autobiographical novel,Paul Kelver, to some critical acclaim. In World War I, Jerome, at the age of fifty-five, signed up with the French army as an ambulance driver; after a year, he returned, and spoke out against the conflict ("Those who talk about war being a game ought to be made to go out and play it"). He was equally vociferous in his attacks on the violent racism he witnessed in the USA.

During the 1920s, JKJ divided his time between London and the country, continuing to rise at 6.30 and write. He produced his autobiography in 1926, and succumbed to the blandishments of Walsall's civic dignitaries, finally returning in February 1927 for "Jerome Day", in which the town came to a happy standstill to welcome their only famous son. Within four months, after driving happily - he enjoyed driving - from London to Devon, Devon to Gloucestershire, and then to a Northampton hotel, where he had a stroke from which he never recovered. He lingered lucidly for a fortnight in Northampton's General Hospital; and died on June 14th 1927, at the age of sixty-eight.

Long before his death, JKJ had purchased a burial plot in Ewelme, Oxfordshire, by the Thames, and his sister Blandina had been buried there as far back as 1904; his stepdaughter Elsie had died in 1921, and was buried there with her husband. Among those at his funeral were George and Carl, the other two men on the boat (not to mention the dog - because Montmorency was a fiction). One by one the other family members - Ettie and Elsie and Blandina were also buried there. Rowena died in 1966, unmarried, in Chichester.

Jerome K. Jerome was painted in the 1880s by Solomon J. Solomon, who also died in 1927, at about the same age. The portrait hangs in the National Portrait Gallery. Solomon's name is not an invention.


Jerome wrote seven novels, twenty-five plays, seventeen collections of short stories or articles, besides other uncollected essays and his autobiography. In his autobiography, he suggests that his mother's father was a prosperous Swansea solicitor. This wasn't the case. It may be that the wealth came from a generation further back, or perhaps an uncle. As the youngest child, he seems to have been confused about his parents. Nor is it clear on what date Klapka replaced Clapp as the middle name - the 1871 census shows him clearly as Jerome C. Jerome, as does his mother's death certificate.

Names are a source of particular complication in the Jerome K. Jerome story. Quite apart from the uncertain provenance of the middle name, Klapka, in his own name, there is something of a mystery surrounding Ettie's father's surname, Nesza, which looks like a contrivance. Nothing is known of what became of her parents, although she is listed in the 1861 census as the niece of a highly respected opera singer, Ayrshire-born John Templeton, and Templeton's wife Letitia, nee Ireland (and also Irish). Even Elsie's eventual husband, Thomas Riggs-Miller, was born Ryan, and obliged to change his name to receive an inheritance.

Still more remarkable is the web of Clapp/ Jerome family connections. JKJ's father had two siblings, Sarah and William, each of whom who married into the Shorland family in the 1820s. Sarah Clapp's sixth child, Robert Shorland, was Paulina's husband - that's to say, Paulina married her cousin. Just to complicate matters further, William Clapp's fourth child, Marianna, married Joseph Marris - the father of Ettie's first husband. So JKJ married his second cousin's ex-wife. For good measure: Ettie's three uncles, Marianna's brothers, were given the middle name Woodforde. All three, who were doctors, dropped the name Clapp in favour of Woodforde.


My Life And Times, by Jerome K. Jerome, Hodder & Stoughton, 1926

Jerome K. Jerome: A Critical Biography, by Joseph Connolly, Orbis, 1982

Jerome K. Jerome, by Ruth Marie Faurot, Twayne, 1974

Jerome K. Jerome, by Alfred Moss, Selwyn & Blount, 1928

The Jerome K. Jerome Society

Frank Rodgers, the owner of Marguerite (Clapp) Jerome's diary, who has very kindly corrected many of the pardonable, and some of the unpardonable errors in the original version of this Lost Life, as well as patiently explaining the almost bewildering network of JKJ's family relationships. He has also contributed the piece below about Jerome's time in America, a period about which the biographies are in considerable confusion.

Jerome K. Jerome in America - by Frank Rodgers

Jerome K. Jerome devoted a chapter of My Life and Times to his three visits to America. He did not, however, give a chronological account of his journeys, but rather tried to convey his impressions of the young American nation, of the places he visited and the people he met. Writing many years after the events, his memory was often at fault. Moreover, he sometimes indulged in a skilful embellishment or exaggeration of fact, in the manner that made him such a successful comic artist. His humorous comparisons of the British and American way of life should not be taken too literally; but there are other occasions ? in his discussion of lynching, for example ? when he was deadly serious. Since the journeys were significant events in his life, it seems worth while to try to learn more about them. When did they occur? Where did he go? What did he do? How did the American public receive him?

Joseph Connolly, in Jerome K. Jerome: a Critical Biography chose to assign dates to Jerome's visits, and to specify which of the events described by Jerome took place on which occasion. One should, however, be aware that Connolly?s account is not to be trusted. He describes four visits rather than the three that occurred, and gives incorrect dates for all of them. It is obvious that Connolly did not undertake the elementary task of consulting the indexes to The Times and the New York Times, from which the broad parameters of the visits could easily be ascertained. He places the first journey early in 1908 and the second later in the same year. He lists a second lecturing tour in 1911; but all of the events that he associates with it took place on the first visit. Jerome's wartime visit he assigns to 1915.

Jerome's first visit was by far the most ambitious, lasting from early October 1905 to the end of April 1906, and most of the events described in his memoirs belong to this journey. On 29th September 1905, the evening before he sailed, W.W. Jacobs and Pett Ridge held a dinner at the Garrick Club for a dozen and a half of his friends -  to say au revoir. Primarily authors and artists, most prominent among them were Arthur Conan Doyle, H.G. Wells and J.M. Barrie. Also present were Carl Hentschel and George Wingrave, the originals for Harris and George in Three Men in a Boat.

His arrival in New York a week later was greeted so enthusiastically by the American press that, according to the New York Times, he was glad to escape in a cab with the manager of his tour. His first reading there, on the afternoon of 17th October, was reviewed by the press the following day. There is no further report on his activities in the New York Times until 26th April 1906, the day after he sailed back to England. To find out what he did in between, we must look for clues elsewhere - mainly in his own writings, and in local papers where his memoirs indicate a probable date. There is no sense of chronology in his account: it is not until near the end of his chapter, for example, that he mentions giving a reading in Albany just a few days after his arrival. Since he says that, a fortnight after he arrived, he cabled an urgent request for his wife to join him one must assume that he was back in New York to meet her.

An undated letter in my possession, from a hotel in Port Hope, Ontario, a small town east of Toronto mentioned his expecting to be in that city the next weekend. It seemed likely that this would occur while he was still in the northeastern part of the continent. A search of the Ottawa and Toronto papers revealed that he gave a reading in Ottawa on 1st November and readings in Toronto on 2nd November and 3rd November. And the Ottawa paper mentioned his already having given a reading in Boston.

We know that his wife was concerned about his heavy schedule and persuaded his manager to lighten the load by teaming him up with an American humorist, Charles Battell Loomis. But we do not know how soon this occurred. And where he travelled in the two months after the Toronto engagement remains undocumented. His claim that his tour ?took in every state in the Union together with Canada and British Columbia? is obviously suspect. But given the number of places he mentions, it was certainly extensive. After Toronto, a journey across the centre of the country seems likely, bringing him to Vancouver and the west coast in time to enjoy their milder winter climate.

Jerome makes a few references to events that could easily be dated, the most specific being "I was in San Francisco the week before the earthquake. My wife and I were the guests of Bancroft the historian." The great earthquake occurred on 18th April 1906. The fondness with which he describes the generous hospitality of Hubert Howe Bancroft and his wife leaves one unable to doubt that Jerome and his wife did indeed stay with them. But the San Francisco Chronicle in the period immediately preceding the earthquake not only had no mention of Jerome, but printed an article announcing that the Bancroft family was leaving on 14th April to spend the summer in Europe. It appears that Jerome's memory of the timing of his visit was at fault. In fact, a reading by Jerome and Loomis was given in San Francisco on 24th January. The following day's review noted that the couple would leave that afternoon for San Jose, return for an evening at Oakland, and then go to the southern part of California before returning to New York by way of Arizona, New Mexico and Texas.

"Strange birds at times fluttered into our seclusion," wrote Fred Lewis Pattee, professor of American Literature at the Pennsylvania State College of the 9th March appearance there of Jerome and Loomis. Pattee found him a difficult guest, and considered his performance a failure. To the students both his accent and his style of humour were unfamiliar. But Loomis saved the day. They had come to State College from Dayton, Ohio; and Jerome was reported as speaking to the Beef-Steak Club of New York the following week.

On 22nd March the pair gave a reading in Boston, and William Dana Orcutt gave a dinner in Jerome?s honour. Since Mark Twain was visiting Boston at the time, he thought he had done well to include Twain among the guests. But Jerome, on hearing of this, was indignant, insisting that he be the guest of honour and saying that he had no intention of playing second fiddle to Twain. When Twain arrived, Orcutt took him aside and explained the situation, at which Twain discreetly withdrew.

When Jerome began thinking of turning his story The Passing of the Third Floor Back into a play, he wanted to write it for the American actor David Warfield and tells us that he discussed his ideas with Warfield?s manager, David Belasco, in a train between Washington and New York. The result was a contract signed in New York on 28th March.

Jerome gave a reading in Chattanooga on 9th April and it was on this occasion that he spoke out against lynching, in the light of a highly publicized lynching that had occurred there shortly beforehand. He vividly describes the ominous atmosphere and then the silent departure of his audience. However, the Chattanooga Times the following day reported that he was ?roundly applauded? by his mainly female audience at the conclusion of his comments.

Jerome recalled being at a press luncheon in Chicago with a man who had that morning published an angry leader about Maxim Gorky, who was in New York accompanied by a woman who turned out not to be his wife. Although Gorky arrived on 11th April, it was not until 15th April that the press revealed the scandal. Since Jerome was in Atlanta to visit Joel Chandler Harris on 20th April, it seems a little unlikely that he would have made the long journey back to Chicago between his Chattanooga reading and the Atlanta visit, those two cities being little more than a hundred miles apart. If he did, his manager had planned a very awkward itinerary! So perhaps he was in some other city at the time of the Gorky event (there is no reference to him in the Chicago Tribune during this period).

Jerome?s memoirs name many other places that he presumably visited during this tour, but without mentioning any events that would enable one to date them. He mentions a meeting with President Theodore Roosevelt, but there was no press coverage of this occasion. So we shall have to be satisfied with the few events and dates that I have given above.

Jerome?s second visit, in October 1907, was brief and clearly focused. His purpose was to produce Sylvia of the Letters, which he had written for Grace George. In an interview that appeared in the New York Times of 20th October, he reported having rehearsed Grace George and her company all day in a theatre in Waterbury, Connecticut. He gave no explanation for the fact that the play never enjoyed a normal London or New York run. It had a single daytime performance (perhaps just a reading) in London on 15th October for the purpose of establishing copyright; and Grace George appeared in it in Atlanta in November 1907.

It was on this journey, too, that Jerome read The Passing of the Third Floor Back to David Belasco and David Warfield. He tells us that they liked it and asked him to have sketches made for the characters on his return to England. While he was engaged on this task, he reports that, at more or less the same time, Forbes-Robertson expressed an interest in it and Belasco asked to be released from his contract. Belasco?s version of the story differs greatly. He claims that the 1906 contract called for the play to be finished in time for the opening of his new theatre in 1907, but that Jerome kept on asking for extensions of time. By the time Jerome brought the play in 1907, Belasco had been forced to disband the company assembled to play it, and to make plans to open his theatre with another play. He suggested deferring the opening of Jerome?s play until 1908, and they apparently parted with this understanding. But, clearly, negotiations broke down not long afterwards.

The 1914 visit was from 9th October to 14th November, and the apparent purpose was to ascertain the views of Americans on the war and attempt to influence them in favour of Britain. He gave a reading at the Cort Theatre the day before his return to England. No other details of this journey have emerged, though the press when he arrived indicated that his tour was to include St. Louis and a visit to Canada. But the highpoint of the journey was his meeting on 29th October with President Wilson, who gave a very reasoned statement on America's neutral position. And it is interesting to note, given that My Life and Times was published in 1926, long before Hitler's rise to power, Jerome's perceptive comment: "But for America, the war would have ended in stalemate. All Europe would have been convinced of the futility of war. 'Peace without victory'? - the only peace containing any possibility of permanence would have resulted."

[This appendix, for which I am very grateful, is the copyright of Frank Rodgers.]