Being A General and True History of the Lives and Robberies of the Most Notorious Highwaymen, Rogues, Cheats, Murderers and Rebels of Every Description; Together with Examinations of Historical True Crime Literature, Penny Dreadfuls, and other Sorts of Pernicious Trash; Set Forth to Public View for the Common Benefit of Mankind
My previous post was about Thomas Miller’s continuation of G. W. M. Reynolds’ penny blood The Mysteries of London (Reynolds and Miller’s series were published between 1844 – 1848 and 1848 – 1849 respectively). I managed to track down a copy of it from a second-hand book store. But when I was busy scanning through the images I realised that it also contained Edward L. Blanchard’s The Mysteries of London which was serialised between 1849 and 1850. Two rare books for the price of one is a good bargain.[i]
Blanchard (1820 – 1889) was a journalist and a playwright. He is not particularly distinguished in the annals of Victorian literature, and I had only heard of him in passing before becoming acquainted with his book. The magazines he contributed to include Fun, The Illustrated Times, The EraAlmanack and Annual, The Observer, and The Era. He also served as the editor of Chambers’ London Journal (1841) and the New London Magazine (1845). The plays that he wrote include unremarkable pieces such as See Saw Margery Daw, or, Harlequin Holiday and the Island of Ups and Downs (1856). Of the literary works he penned, The Oxford Dictionary of National Biography says that they were mostly ‘unmemorable novels’.[ii]
The ODNB further records that he was pretty inoffensive, and there is nothing to suggest that he shared either Reynolds’ republican sympathies or Miller’s Chartist sentiments. Indeed, the illustrations accompanying Blanchard’s Mysteries are not as violent or as racy as those of Reynolds, and there is certainly no nudity in any of them unlike there was in Reynolds’ first series. In fact, the illustrations seem a lot more ‘domesticated’ than the previous serials. Perhaps the series had been running so long by the time Blanchard was writing that it had ceased to be sensational.
There are actually two books in Blanchard’s version of the Mysteries, and each tells a different story (having only got the books a week ago, I have only skim read the books thus far). The first follows Reynolds and Miller by telling a story of vice and crime in Victorian high and low life. So I’m guessing that The Mysteries of London was like the modern day television show American Horror Story: an anthology series which with different cast and characters in each series, as evident in the introduction:
Again the curtain has descended on the characters that have figured in our former histories, and again we raise it to disclose others that have yet to appear before the eyes of those who watch our onward progress
Curiously, the second book is actually set during the late eighteenth century and the Regency. As you will see from the gallery below, the second set of images depicts men and women in eighteenth-century and Regency style clothing.
Enjoy the images – as far as I can ascertain this version of The Mysteries of London has not yet been digitised by any university library.
[ii] Jane W. Stedman, ‘Blanchard, Edward Litt Leman (1820–1889)’ in The Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004; Online Edn. Jan 2011) [http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/2602 Accessed 16 Dec 2016]. Other biographical works on Blanchard include Scott Clement and Cecil Howard, The Life and Reminisces of E. L. Blanchard (London: Hutchison, 1891).
Thomas Miller’s The Mysteries of London; or, The Lights and Shadows of London Life (1849) is a continuation of G. W. M. Reynolds’ eponymous penny blood serialised novel published between 1844 and 1848 (Reynolds had been inspired by an earlier French serial entitled The Mysteries of Paris published in 1844 by Eugene Sue). Reynolds decided to quit writing the Mysteriesfor two reasons: he had not only grown tired of writing it but had also fallen out with his publisher.[i] Miller, who was a skilled novelist, was chosen by the publisher, George Vickers, to continue the very popular serial. The Mysteries of London, in fact, was the biggest-selling novel of the Victorian era.
I have only recently tracked down a copy of Miller’s continuation of the Mysteries and have not had time to read it as yet. Like Reynolds’ first and second volume of the Mysteries, it does not yet appear to have been digitised by Nineteenth-Century Collections Online or the British Library, and is quite rare.[ii] Furthermore, it has not, thus far, been subjected to critical analysis.
Miller will be familiar to readers of this blog as the man who authored the Robin Hood novel, Royston Gower; or, The Days of King John (1838). Interestingly, from my own position as a Robin Hood researcher, the principal aristocratic villains of Miller’s Mysteries has the same surname of De Marchmont, the same name as one of the cruel Norman antagonists in Miller’s Robin Hood story. Furthermore, one of the principal female protagonists in Miller’s novel is named Marian, and she has travelled from a village near Sherwood to seek her fortune in London. Given that Miller’s Mysteries was written partially to highlight the abuses and corruption of the aristocracy, perhaps he was trying to incorporate the world of the Mysteries into the Robin Hood universe, in order to show that, even from the medieval period, aristocrats are villainous, self-serving, and corrupt.[iii]
Once I have read the novel in full an analysis and commentary will follow. This post is only to highlight some of the pictures that appeared in the serial. Permission is freely granted to use the pictures, should anybody wish to do so – a citation to the website is all that is asked as it does take a lot of time to scan these images in and upload them on the website (I had a recent twitter spat with a certain popular history magazine after they used one of my images).
See also my post on E L Blanchard’s Mysteriessequel.
[i] Anne Humpherys, ‘An Introduction to G. W. M. Reynolds’ “Encyclopedia of Tales”’ in G. W. M. Reynolds: Nineteenth-Century Fiction, Politics, and the Press ed. by Anne Humpherys & Louis James (Ashgate, 2008), p.125.
[ii] See listings on Price One Penny database: copies are available in Bishopsgate Library, British Library, Bodleian Library, Cambridge University Library, Kansas University Library, Uni. California, Senate House, and Minneapolis Central Library www.priceonepenny.info
[iii] Stephen Knight, Reading Robin Hood: Content, Form and Reception in the Outlaw Myth (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2015), p.155; Knight says that Miller was ‘a serious radical’ and ‘a dedicated Chartist’. While there is sympathy for the Chartist cause in his work, I can find no overt reference in either Miller’s writings or those of Chartist historians to suggest that he played a role in the movement. His main association with Chartism seems to have come from the fact that he was friends with Thomas Cooper throughout his life.
There is now before us such a veritable mountain of pernicious trash, mostly in paper covers, and “Price One Penny”; so-called novelettes, tales, stories of adventure, mystery and crime; pictures of school life hideously unlike reality; exploits of robbers, cut-throats, prostitutes, and rogues, that, but for its actual presence, it would seem incredible.
The citation above denouncing penny dreadfuls as pernicious trash brilliantly encapsulates mid-to-late Victorian moralists’ views of popular reading matter. As previous posts on this website have shown, Robin Hood stories formed a staple of the penny dreadful publishing industry. Much like graphic novels today, penny dreadfuls were popular with both younger and more mature readers. Criminals such as Jack Sheppard (1702-1724) and Dick Turpin (1705-1739) usually featured as their heroes. Sometimes they were issued as standalone periodicals, but more often than not a few chapters per week were featured in magazines such as The Boys of England. It was in The Boys of England that a long-running serial entitled The Prince of Archers, or, The Boyhood Days of Robin Hood first appeared in 1883.
As the title suggests it is the story of Robin’s youth. But the influence of Walter Scott’s Ivanhoe (1819) can be seen from the start. Robin and his father live on the Huntingdon estate, but the political rival of the Lord of Huntingdon is the Lord of Torilstone who lives not far from the Huntingdons. Readers familiar with Scott’s work will immediately recognise the not-so-subtle reference to Torquilstone in Ivanhoe. One of the key villains is Sir Front de Boeuf. There is also the usual Anglo-Saxon versus Norman theme that is usual in Victorian Robin Hood narratives.
The actual story is relatively unremarkable and lacks the democratic political sentiments found in Pierce Egan’s Robin Hood and Little John, or, The Merry Men of Sherwood Forest(1838-40) and the anonymous Little John and Will Scarlet(1865). After Robin’s estates are confiscated by Prince John, Robin and Little John are forced to seek shelter in Sherwood Forest. They come across some outlaws and, upon learning that he is of noble birth they ask him to become their leader. Instead of being elected as leader of the outlaws in Egan’s novel, Robin is
Appointed King of Sherwood.
Robin does steal from the rich and give to the poor, but this is done by the outlaws more out of a sense of Christian charity, rather than a desire to improve the lot of the commoners of England through political activism, as he does in Thomas Miller’s Royston Gower, or, the Days of King John (1838).
But before we assume that this story was considered as respectable reading for youths, it should be noted that the narrative is filled with graphic descriptions and illustrations of violence. Here is an example of the cruelty of one of the Norman Barons to their own soldiers:
“Base Slave!” thundered the Baron; and then with all the force of his muscular arm, he brought down the heavy drinking cup upon the skull of the soldier who stood uncovered before him. The wretched man fell to the ground and lay senseless, bleeding from a terrible scalp wound; the tankard was crushed and bent out of shape by the force of the blow.
There is also an attempted rape upon the sweetheart of Allen-a-Dale. The outrages of the Normans are met with an equally violent response by the outlaws. Robin and his men do not hesitate to resort to violence. This is the description of Robin shooting one of Baron Torilstone’s retainers through the eye:
The missile flew true to its mark, its steel point entering the man’s eye, pierced his brain, and he fell headlong to the ground.
While the Victorians in general loved violent entertainment, it was the violence contained in The Boys of England that led to it being widely condemned in the press as an example of the pernicious reading that was used as a scapegoat for juvenile crime.
Individual stories from The Boys of England were rarely picked up on, but there were many instances in court when the magazine appeared in the dock. For example, in 1872 thirteen-year-old Samuel Hoy was indicted for poisoning his stepmother with arsenic. At his trial it was said that amongst his possessions were copies of The Boys of England. And the press usually made sure to point out whether a particular juvenile offender had on his person at the time of his arrest a copy of a penny dreadful. When thirteen-year-old Alfred Saunders was arrested for stealing £7 from his father, The Times reported that:
His pockets were crammed with copies of The Pirates League, or The Seagull, the Young Briton, Sons of Britannia and The Boys of England.
The hero in these periodicals, read openly in the streets, devoured, I should say, by the thousands of errand and work boys, is he who defies his governors, teachers, spiritual pastors and masters, and is the leader of the most outrageous acts.
It is doubtful whether those who complained about penny dreadfuls ever actually took the time to read them, The genre as a whole was often condemned in blanket statements such as those seen above, while picking on one or two titles in particular.
It is not the intention here to discuss whether these magazines actually drove youths to crime or not. The supposed links between violent entertainment and criminal acts have raged since Victorian times. But I think the study of penny dreadfuls highlights some of the problems associated with Robin Hood scholars’ ideas of ‘gentrification’. A gentrified Robin Hood text is any text in which Robin is the Earl of Huntingdon. Scholars tend to assume, as in the case of Anthony Munday’s sixteenth-century plays, that if Robin is a lord then he is also a highly moral character. Yet surely this idea of gentrification is complicated if the vehicle in which these stories appeared was widely condemned in the press? Contemporaries did not view these tales as gentrified, and denounced them as ‘pernicious trash’. In light of this, are such tales really gentrified?
 Anon cited in Juvenile Literature and British Society: The Age of Adolescence, 1850-1950 ed. by Charles Ferrall & Anna Jackson (London: Routledge, 2010), p. 12.
 ‘The Prince of Archers, or, The Boyhood Days of Robin Hood’ The Boys of England 9 March 1883, p.25.
 ‘The Prince of Archers, or, The Boyhood Days of Robin Hood’ The Boys of England 13 April 1883, p.105.
 ‘The Prince of Archers, or, The Boyhood Days of Robin Hood’ The Boys of England 11 May 1883, p.171.
 ‘The Prince of Archers, or, The Boyhood Days of Robin Hood’ The Boys of England 20 April 1883, p.122.
 ‘The Prince of Archers, or, The Boyhood Days of Robin Hood’ The Boys of England 8 June 1883, p.233.
 ‘The Prince of Archers, or, The Boyhood Days of Robin Hood’ The Boys of England 23 March 1883, p.57.
 Rosalind Crone, Violent Victorians: Popular Entertainment in Nineteenth-Century London (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2012).
 John Springhall, ‘Pernicious Reading? The Penny Dreadful as Scapegoat for Late-Victorian Juvenile Crime’ Victorian Periodicals Review 27: 4 (1994), pp.326-349.
 Robert J. Kirkpatrick, Children’s Books History Society, Occasional Paper XI: Wild Boys in the Dock – Victorian Juvenile Literature and Juvenile Crime (London: Children’s Books History Society, 2013), p.17.
 Kirkpatrick, Wild Boys in the Dock, p.9.
 Kirkpatrick, Wild Boys in the Dock, p.25.
During the 18th century there was a thriving trade in the publication of criminal biographies. In 1714 Alexander Smith published A History of the Most Noted Highwaymen, which was intended to serve as a warning to readers to avoid leading a vicious and licentious life, in order that he, or she, would not end up on the scaffold like to criminal they were reading about. Similar publications followed, such as Charles Johnson’s Lives of the Most Remarkable Criminals (1735). Standalone biographies of criminals were also released, such as The History of the Remarkable Life of John Sheppard (1724), whilst novelists such as Henry Fielding (1707-1754) wrote novels such as The Life of Mr. Jonathan Wild, the Great (1743). Also published during the 17th and 18th centuries were a number of ‘Last Dying Speeches’ broadsides which told of the life, trial and execution of a prisoner before he or she was hanged. The fascination with the lives of criminals mirrored Georgian society’s anxieties over the perceived increase in crime.
Many of these stories and ‘Last Dying Speeches’ were compiled in 1773 and published under the title of The Newgate Calendar; or, the Malefactors Bloody Register – named after London’s notorious prison: Newgate Gaol. It was a moralistic work, evident by the verse which appeared underneath the frontispiece showing a mother handing a copy of the book to her son, whilst pointing to a gibbet outside the window:
The anxious Mother with a Parents Care,
Presents our Labours to her future Heir
“The Wise, the Brave, the temperate and the Just,
Who love their neighbour, and in God who trust
Safe through the Dang’rous paths of Life may Steer,
Nor dread those Evils we exhibit Here”.
The Bible, Foxe’s Book of Martyrs, and The Newgate Calendar, were the books that were most likely to be found in the middle-class Georgian home. A further collected edition was published in 1824 by two lawyers, Andrew Knapp and William Baldwin, under the title of The New Newgate Calendar, and re-issued again in 1826. The moralising theme was present again in these works.
A new, distinct, publication appeared again in 1863: The New Newgate Calendar. This was different to the other Calendars which had come before. The 1863 version was a penny dreadful, published in weekly parts and sold, as the name suggests, for a penny. The accounts of crime in the penny dreadful version of The New Newgate Calendar expanded and revised many of the former accounts of the lives of criminals which had been published in previous Calendars (which were very “legal” in tone) by turning them into prose accounts.
Images were also important in penny dreadfuls; in effect they were the prototypes of the American comic book. Scenes of the most sensational and sexual type were included for publication – torture scenes, nudity, and flagellation – with special editions colourised to appeal more to younger readers. It was their lurid content and images which sparked a moral panic amongst middle-class press commentators, and prosecutors were ever ready to ask juvenile offenders whether they had read penny dreadfuls, and if these publications had spurred them to commit crime. The prosecutors usually got the answers that they wanted; these pieces of ‘pernicious trash’ were partly responsible, they thought, for the rise in juvenile offending.
I have not undertaken a study of every single penny dreadful that was published during the Victorian era, but judging by the content in The New Newgate Calendar, the authorities’ fear of their content seems a little misplaced. Like its 18th-century forebear, The New Newgate Calendar was highly moralistic in tone, being highly critical of both the crime and the criminal, as was the case in its reporting of ‘The Railway Train Tragedy’ in the August 6th 1864 issue:
Certainly, of all the crimes committed within the last few years…none equals in horror the dreadful and mysterious assassination of the unfortunate Thomas Briggs, who, leaving his home well in health and with little thought of his near approach to death, was foully murdered in a railway carriage. Truly, “in the midst of life we are in death.” This is certainly one of the most daring an atrocious crimes ever perpetrated in this country.
There were other continuities with the 18th-century version of the Calendar, such as the insistence on telling the tale of the criminal from birth, early life, descent into crime, and death. The narratives in the 18th century were structured in such a way in order to illustrate that anyone, regardless of social status, could become a criminal. This is why the tales of aristocrats who committed crimes were told in the same manner as those from lower down the social scale; it was sin, and not social class, which determined whether a person became a criminal. All someone had to do to become a criminal in the 18th century was to succumb to temptation; this might start with a petty offence of thieving of apples from an orchard, which then, because sin was viewed as “addictive and progressive” in the 18th century (according to Andrea McKenzie), they were led on to bolder offences; much like our thinking regarding the use of drugs today (as in one “weak” drug leads a person onto “harder” drugs).
This aspect of continuity with the 18th century conceptualisation of the causes of crime makes The New Newgate Calendar penny dreadful unique among other types of crime literature. This is because by the mid-Victorian period the causes of crime had begun to be ascribed to social class rather than original sin. Reformers such as Henry Mayhew spoke of a “criminal class” which existed beneath respectable society and was responsible for the major part of crime.
Henry Boulter was a native of Alford, about two or three miles from Box…the commencement of his depredations was on the road to the coal pits, when he picked the pocket of his young master, who was asleep in the cart, of half a guinea…his propensity to evil practices became predominant.
Mr Boulter cannot help himself; he has to commit crime, it is almost as though it were an addiction which gets stronger with every offence he commits.
It’s probably not surprising that these penny dreadfuls should continue to push an 18th-century view of criminality – they were after all emulating the famous 18th-century publication. But it is surprising that it was not adapted during the Victorian period, when other writers such as Dickens, Mayhew, and G. W. M. Reynolds held to a sociological, not theological, view of the causes of crime. In effect, it is the later, Victorian, conceptualisation of crime which we still hold today; crime, most people like to think, is endemic only to “deprived areas” and so-called “sink estates.” But as can be seen, the Georgians, and if The New Newgate Calendar is anything to go by, some Victorians at least, had a more “egalitarian” view of the causes of crime: anyone might become a criminal through bad choices.
The last major edition of The Newgate Calendar came in 1891 with the publication of The Chronicles of Crime; or, The New Newgate Calendar, by Camden Pelham, Esq. This was a completely revised and edited version of the original 18th century narratives. Again, this publication held to the eighteenth-century view of the causes of crime: sin and temptation. But Pelham had one clear aim in mind: to demonstrate that a useful moral could be taken from reading the accounts of criminals but also to show that the history of crime and punishment in England was essentially one of progress:
The comparison of the offences, and of the punishment of the last century, with those of more recent date, will exhibit a marked distinction between the two periods, both as to the atrocity of the one, and the severity of the other…it cannot be denied that the general aspect of the state of crime in this country is now infinitely less alarming than the former.
– Camden Pelham, Esq. The Chronicles of Crime, or the New Newgate Calendar (1891)
However, by the 1890s, the image of the criminal as a hero – or at least as the focus of the story – had well and truly declined. The reasons for this decline are two-fold; firstly, Pelham felt the need to “edit” the accounts contained in 18th-century criminal narratives to make them “acceptable to readers.”
Secondly, the Victorians still read the popular literature of crime, but the focus had shifted from the criminal to the detective (think Sherlock Holmes stories, etc.). Indeed, this shift can be seen beginning to emerge in The New Newgate Calendar, as in the final months of its print run it ran a series of stories – entirely without precedent in the 18th-century version – entitled ‘The Diary of a Bow Street Runner.’ Bow Street Runners were the detective agency of 18th-century London, founded by Henry and John Fielding in the 1750s. Thus as Lucy Moore says, the focus shifted from the criminal to the man pursuing him, and this is a theme of most modern TV crime dramas. The heroes are now the detectives and the policemen, not the offenders.
Major Published Editions of The Newgate Calendar
William Jackson, ed. The New and Complete Newgate Calendar; or, Villainy Displayed in all its Branches, Vol. 1-5 (London: Alex Hood, 1774).
Andrew Knapp and William Baldwin, eds. The New Newgate Calendar (London: J. Robins, 1824).