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Tom & Jerry’s Life in London

March 28, 2012
by the gentle author

This frontispiece was intended to illustrate the varieties of “Life in London,” from the king on his throne at the top of the column to the lowest members of society at the base. At the centre are the protagonists of the tale, Tom, Jerry & Logic, three men about town. Authored by Pierce Egan, their adventures proved best sellers in serial form and were collected into a book in 1820, remaining in print for the rest of the century, spawning no less than five stage versions, and delineating a social landscape that was to prove the territory for both the fictions of Charles Dickens and the commentaries of Henry Mayhew.

Accounts of the urban poor and of life in the East of London are scarce before the nineteenth century, and what makes “Life in London” unique is that it portrays and contrasts the society of the rich and the poor in the metropolis at this time. And, although fictional in form, there is enough detail throughout to encourage the belief that this is an authentic social picture.

The characters of Tom, Jerry & Logic were loosely based upon the brothers who collaborated upon the illustrations, Isaac Richard & George Cruickshank, and the writer Pierce Egan, all relishing this opportunity to dramatise their own escapades for popular effect. Isaac Richard  & George’s father had enjoyed a successful career as a political cartoonist in the seventeen-nineties and it was his sons’ work upon “Life in London” that brought the family name back into prominence in the nineteenth century, leading to George Cruikshank’s long term collaboration with Charles Dickens.

Jerry Hawthorn comes up from the country to enjoy a career of pleasure and fashion with Corinthian Tom, yet as well as savouring the conventional masquerades, exhibitions and society events, they visit boxing matches, cockpits, prisons and bars where the poor entertain themselves, with the intention to “see a ‘bit of life.” It is when they grow weary of fashionable society, that the idea arises to see a “bit of Life” at the East End of the Town.” And at “All Max,” an East End boozer, they discover a diverse crowd, or as Egan describes it, “every cove that put in an appearance was quite welcome, colour or country considered no obstacle… The group was motley indeed – Lascars, blacks, jack-tars, coal-heavers, dustmen, women of colour, old and young, and a sprinkling of the remnants of once fine girls, and all jigging together.” In the Cruikshanks’ picture, Logic has Black Sall on one knee and Flashy Nance upon the other while Jerry pours gin into the fiddler and Tom carouses with Mrs Mace, the hostess, all revealing an unexpectedly casual multiracial society in which those of different social classes can apparently mix with ease.

Situated somewhere between the romps of Fielding, Smollet and Sterne and prefiguring Dickens’ catalogue of comic grotesques in “Pickwick Papers,” the humour of “Life in London,” spoke vividly to its time, yet appears merely curious two centuries later. By the end of the nineteenth century, the comedy had gone out of date, as Thackeray admitted even as he confessed a lingering affection for the work. “As to the literary contents of the book, they have passed clean away…” he wrote, reserving his enthusiasm for the illustrations by the Cruikshank brothers – which you see below – declaring,“But the pictures! Oh! The pictures are noble still!”

Lowest life in London – Tom, Jerry & Logic amongst the unsophisticated sons & daughters of nature in the East.

The Royal Exchange – Tom pointing out to Jerry a few of the primest features of life in London.

A Whistling Shop – Tom & Jerry visiting Logic “on board the fleet.”

Tom, Jerry & Logic “tasting” wine in the wood at the London Dock.

White Horse Cellar, Picadilly – Tom & Logic bidding Jerry “Good bye.”

Jerry “beat to a standstill” Dr Please’ems’ prescription.

Tom & Jerry “masquerading it” among the cadgers in the back slums.

“A shilling well laid out” – Tom & Jerry at the exhibition of pictures at the Royal Academy.

Tom, Jerry & Logic backing Tommy, the ‘sweep at the Royal Cockpit.

Tom, Jerry & Logic in characters at the Grand Carnival.

Symptoms of the finish of “some sorts of life” – Tom, Jerry & Logic in the Press Yard at Newgate.

Life in London – Peep ‘o day boys, a street row. the author losing his “reader.” Tom & Jerry showing fight and Logic floored.

The “ne plus ultra” of Life in London – Kate, Sue, Tom, Jerry & Logic viewing the throne room at Carlton Palace.

Tom & Jerry catching Kate & Sue on the sly, having their fortunes told.

Jerry’s admiration of Tom in an “assault” with Mr O’Shannessy at the rooms in St James’ St.

Tom introducing Jerry & Logic to the champion of England.

The art of self-defence – Tom & Jerry receiving instruction from Mr Jackson.

Tom & Jerry larking at a masquerade supper at the Opera House.

Tom & Jerry in trouble after a spree.

Jerry in training for a “swell.”

Tom & Jerry taking blue ruin after the spell is broke up.

Images courtesy © Bishopsgate Insitute

You may like to look at these other sets of pictures by George Cruikshank

Joseph Grimaldi, Clown

Jack Sheppard, Thief, Highwayman & Escapologist

The Bloody Romance of the Tower

Henry Mayhew’s Punch & Judy Man

9 Responses leave one →
  1. TokyoDon permalink
    March 28, 2012


    Catch it while you can!

  2. Marina B permalink
    March 28, 2012


  3. Ali permalink
    March 28, 2012

    Great post, as always. Just thought I’d point out that today is the 150th anniversary of the creation of the Peabody Housing Trust. The first estate was built in Spitalfields soon after.

  4. Teresa Stokes permalink
    March 28, 2012

    Don’t forget the tiny drawings down the right hand side – I love them! Who did those?

  5. March 28, 2012

    Dear Mr/s GA
    Do you know ‘The London Spy’, by Ned Ward, published in 1703? Ned Ward was the landlord of the Kings Head Tavern next to Gray’s Inn.
    It is in a similar vein to Tom and Jerry’s adventures, purporting to be the journal of a naive countryman visiting various sights of London such as Billingsgate, coffee houses, and Bartholomew Fair. The journal ostensibly points out and condemns the vice and impiety it finds in London in the late C17th, but it does so, according to the introduction to the Folio Society edition of 1955, ‘with such gusto that one may be pardoned for sometimes doubting the sincerity of his strictures upon those whom he scourges’. It’s a very jolly read, about a period during which London was changing dramatically, at the birth of the modern age. I’d also value your thoughts on The Tatler and the Spectator, both of which provide fascinating insights into life in and around the city of London in the first and second decades of the C18th.
    Best wishes

  6. March 29, 2012

    Following on from Jay Derrick’s reference to Ned Ward, there is also his contemporary Thomas Brown. Like Ward, Brown wandered London’s high and low life and wrote it up his satirical take on the Metropolis: Amusements Serious and Comical (1700). Jonathan Swift hated both Ward and Brown: in the pamphlet of 1713 in which he put forward plans to establish an English Academy he attributed much of what he saw as slovenly modern speech to ‘monstrous productions, which, under the name of Trips, Spies, Amusements, and other conceited appellations, have overrun us for some years past. To this we owe that strange Race of Wits, who tell us they write to the Humour of the Age.’

  7. March 29, 2012

    Pierce Egan (1772-1849) was born in the London suburbs, where he spent his life. By 1812 he had established himself as the country’s leading ‘reporter of sporting events’, which at the time meant mainly prize-fights and horse-races. In the words of the modern journalist A.J. Liebling, his spiritual if not actual successor, ‘Egan […] belonged to London, and no man has ever presented a more enthusiastic picture of all aspects of its life except the genteel. He was a hack journalist, a song writer, and conductor of puff-sheets and, I am inclined to suspect, a shake-down man.’ Most important for Liebling, who wrote for the New Yorker on boxing among much else, was that ‘In 1812 he got out the first paperbound instalment of Boxiana; or Sketches of Ancient and Modern Pugilism; from the days of Brougham and Slack to the Heroes of the Present Milling Aera.’ The journal lasted until 1828, its fifth volume, and established its editor as the foremost authority on what in the fourth volume (1824) was termed ‘the Sweet Science of Bruising.’

    As John Camden Hotten put it, writing the introduction to his 1869 reprint of Egan’s ‘novel’ Life in London (1821) ‘In his particular line, he was the greatest man in England. […] His peculiar phraseology, and his superior knowledge of the business, soon rendered him eminent beyond all rivalry and competition. He was flattered and petted by pugilists and peers: his patronage and countenance were sought for by all who considered the road to a prizefight the road to reputation and honor. Sixty years ago, his presence was understood to convey respectability on any meeting convened for the furtherance of bull-baiting, cock-fighting, cudgelling, wrestling, boxing, and all that comes within the category of “manly sports”.’

    Egan’s journal mixed round-by-round reports of fights, with biographies of those who fought them, but as Liebling notes, as well as these unsurpassed technical skills what Egan achieved was to portray the links that held together the Fancy – its ‘trulls and lushes, toffs and toddlers’ – and its world of flash. ‘He also saw the ring as a juicy chunk of English life, in no way separable from the rest. His accounts of the extra-annular lives of the Heroes, coal-heavers, watermen, and butchers’ boys, are a panorama of low, dirty, happy, brutal, sentimental Regency England that you’ll never get from Jane Austen. The fighter’s relations with their patrons, the Swells, present that curious pattern of good fellowship and snobbery, not mutually exclusive, that has always existed between Gentleman and Player in England.’

    Like Tom Moore’s satire, Boxiana was a showcase of ‘Fancy slang’. As the writer Don Atyeo has explained, ‘“Ogles” were blackened, “peepers” plunged into darkness, “tripe-shops” received “staggerers”, “ivories” were cracked, “domino boxes” shattered, and “claret” flowed in a steady stream’. Egan’s synonymy made him the father of every sportswriter who has followed.

    In 1821 he announced the publication of a regular journal: Life in London, to appear monthly at a shilling a time. It was to be illustrated by George Cruikshank (1792-1878), who had succeeded Hogarth and Rowlandson as London’s leading satirist of urban life. The journal was dedicated to the King, George IV, who at one time had received Egan at court. The first edition of Life in London ‘or, the Day and Night Scenes of Jerry Hawthorn, esq., and his elegant friend, Corinthian Tom, accompanied by Bob Logic, the Oxonian, in their rambles and Sprees through the Metropolis’ appeared on 15 July. Egan’s creation was an enormous, instant success, with its circulation mounting every month. Pirate versions appeared, featuring such figures as ‘Bob Tallyho’, ‘Dick Wildfire’ and the like. Print-makers speedily knocked off cuts featuring the various ‘stars’ and the real-life public flocked to the ‘sporting’ addresses that Egan had his heroes frequent. There was a translation into French. At least six plays were based on Egan’s characters, contributing to yet more sales. One of these was exported to America, launching the ‘Tom and Jerry’ craze there. The version created by William Moncrieff, whose knowledge of London and of its slang, equalled Egan’s was cited, not without justification, as ‘The Beggar’s Opera of its day’. Moncrieff (1794-1857) was one of contemporary London’s most successful dramatists and theatrical managers. His production of Tom and Jerry, or, Life in London ran continuously at the Adelphi Theatre for two seasons; it was Moncrieff as much as Egan who, as the original DNB had it ‘introduced slang into the drawing room’. . And, à la Shadwell, some theatrical versions (of 1822 and 1823) felt it worth offering audiences a small glossary, mainly derived from the footnotes in Egan’s prose original. In all, Egan suggested in his follow-up The Finish to the Adventures of Tom, Jerry and Logic (1830) some 65 works were created on the back of his own. And added that, ‘We have been pirated, COPIED, traduced; but, unfortunately, not ENRICHED.’

    ‘We’ had also come to epitomise a whole world. The adjectival use of tom and jerry lasted into the mid-century. Young men went on ‘Tom-and-Jerry frolics’, which usually featured the picking of drunken fights and the destruction of property, and in 1853, in Surtees’ Mr Sponge’s Sporting Tour, the ageing rake Mr Puffington, ever-assuring his friends that, like Corinthian Tom, he could show them ‘Life’, can be found reminiscing and ‘[t]elling how Deuceace and he floored a Charley, or Blueun and he pitched a snob out of the boxes into the pit. This was in the old Tom-and-Jerry days, when fisticuffs were the fashion.’ There were tom-and-jerry shops, which were cheap, rough taverns, tom-and-jerry gangs of rowdy, hedonistic young men, and a verb use which mean to go out on a spree. By 1840 the names had come to christen a highly spiced punch, still being served up by Damon Runyon in ‘Dancing Dan’s Christmas’ a century later. At some stage it was adopted by London costermongers to mean a cherry in rhyming slang.

  8. November 1, 2013

    This is an interesting article (including the various comments) about this oft-neglected writer.

    A new book devotes attention to Egan’s metropolitan writing, as well as its principal subject; his prizefight reporting. The mixture of slang and sporting jargon overlaps.

    ‘Writing the Prizefight: Pierce Egan’s Boxiana World’ (Peter Lang Ltd: 2013)

  9. April 11, 2015

    Pierce Egan actually features as an important character in my forthcoming novel Death and Mr Pickwick – and I have scenes which show the creation of Life in London. I have also posted about Egan on the novel’s facebook page a number of times, at:

    Further information about my novel can be found at:

    Best wishes

    Stephen Jarvis

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