The class of literature which James Catnach made historical comprised children's farthing and ha'penny Nursery Rhymes. Their titles could be enumerated by scores, introduced to the public in an endless variety of styles. Thus: "Here you have just print-ed and publish-ed, and adorn-ed with ten beau-ti-ful and ele-gant-ly engrav-ed embellish-ments, all for the—low charge of—one farden—Yes! One far-den buys." The Nursery Rhymes thus advertised are ten in number, each ornamented with cuts of the most laughable description, fac-similes of those used by Catnach fifty years ago. The same notification applies to "Old Mother Hubbard and Her Dog," in which there are fifteen illustrations. The "London Cries" and "Old Mother Hubbard" are rude sketches, but wonderfully expressive, which was of course Catnach's aim—"to make 'em sell."
As Catnach's stock of type increased, he produced more ambitious works—"Robinson Crusoe," "The Butchery and Bloody Deeds of Jack the Giant Killer," "The Treacherous and Inveterate Hatred that Lingered in the Bosom of Blue Beard," "The Touching and Heartrending Account as portrayed in the Story of the Babes in the Wood," all of which had immense sales.
The battle of Waterloo, on the 18th June, 1815, was a perfect godsend to the Catnach press, from which teemed poetical effusions of exalted character. Mr Hindley states that Waterloo was the fifteenth decisive battle which Napoleon fought. As specimens, we quote the following, which contained eighteen stanzas:—
THE BATTLE OF WATERLOOThe death of the Princess Charlotte was another popular theme and everything pathetic seems to have taken best with Jemmy's supporters. Catnach composed the following lines "out of his own head":
At ten o'clock on Sunday the bloody fray begun,
It raged hot from that moment till the setting of the sun;
My pen, I'm sure, can't half relate the glory of that day;
We fought the French at Waterloo and made 'em run away.
On the 18th day of June, eighteen hundred and fifteen,
Both horse and foot they did advance, most glorious to be seen;
Both horse and foot they did advance, and the bugle horn did blow;
The sons of France were made to dance on the plains of Waterloo.
Napoleon like a fighting cock was mounted on a car,
He did much wish to represent great Mars, the god of war;
On a high platform he did stand, and loudly he did crow,
But he dropp'd his wings, and turned his tail to us at Waterloo.
________________—"And the wonder grew
How one small head could carry all he knew."
____She is gone! sweet Charlotte's gone,
______Gone to the silent bourne;
____She is gone, she's gone for evermore,
______She never can return.
____She is gone with her joy—her darling Boy,
______The son Leopold, blythe and keen;
____She died on the sixth of November,
______Eighteen Hundred and Seven-teen.
Ye Britons all, both great and small,Catnach (says Mr Hindley) made a great hit with a piece entitled "Oh! Britons, Remember your Queen's Happy Days," together with the "Leading Events in the Queen's Life," adorned with twelve splendid illustrations. Copies are preserved of these in the British Museum. An "Elegy on the Queen's Death" commences thus:—
__Come listen to my ditty;
Your noble Queen, fair Caroline,
__Does well deserve your pity.
Like harmless lamb that sucks its dam,
__Amongst the flowery thyme,
One turtle dove that's given to love—
__And that's her only crime.
Ye powers above, who virtue love,
__Protect her from despair,
And soon her free from calumny,
__Is every true man's prayer.
Curs'd be the hour when on the British Shore,"Yes, Sir," said John Morgan to Mr Hindley, one of Catnach's poetmasters, "We went in a run 'un for the Queen, Alderman Wood and the People, Sir. Yes, Sir, many's the good bellyful of food, nailed and pelted boots, hats, coats, trousers and waistcoats, as was got out of Queen Caroline's case, Sir. Ah! those was the days and nights, too, for the flying stationers and standing patterers, Sir. Those was the times when old Jemmy Catnach, as you're a-talking of, made his money, Sir."
She set her foot—whose loss we now deplore;
For, from that hour she pass'd a life of woe,
And underwent what few could undergo.
And lest she should a tranquil hour know,
Against her peace was struck a deadly blow—
A separation hardly to be borne,
Her only daughter from her arm was torn!
And next discarded—driven from her home,
An unprotected Wanderer to roam.
STANZA ON THE INJURED QUEEN'S DEATH.
Beneath this cold marble the Wanderer lies,
__Here shall she rest till "the Heavens be no more,"
'Till the Trumpet shall Sound, and the Dead shall Arise,
__Then the Perjurer unmask'd will his sentence deplore.
Ah! what will avail then, Pomp, Titles, and Birth!
__Those empty distinctions all levelled will be,
For the King shall be judg'd with the poor of the earth,
__And, perhaps, the Poor Man will be greater than he.
Until that day we leave Caroline's wrongs,
__Meantime, may "Repentance" her foes overtake;
O grant it, Kind POWER, to whom it belongs.
__AMEN! Here an End of this History we make.
_______________________JAS C—T—N—H, Dec. 10th, 1821.
Mr Hindley devotes about 30 pages to Pierce Egan's "Life in London," "Boxiana," "Tom and Jerry," &c., and the furore created by the production of these pieces on the stage in London and the country. Their reproduction, however, would be uninteresting without the inimitable pictorial cuts. Suffice it to say that expensive books were issued by Pierce Egan and others, enriched in the best style by the brothers Cruickshank, &c., but within twelve hours, Catnach was abroad with a pirated edition for twopence. Egan denounced the "Mob of Literary Pirates as Sappers and Miners—Pickers and Stealers—not exactly Pickpockets, yet thieves to all intents and purposes, and Robbers of the most unprincipled description—a set of Vampires, living upon the brains of others." Catnach was untouched by these appeals, and blazoned before the public gaze broadsides with twelve woodcuts, and poetical effusions attached to each, for twopence.
"Such was his genius, like the quick eye's wink,This "Life of London," by Catnach, is exceedingly rare, and even Mr Hindley has only met with one copy, illustrated.
He could write sooner than others think."
A good story is told of a Cadger who was taken before the Mendicity Society—the terror of beggars and impostors. "I say, my lads, I was carried up afore the—the—vot d'ye call it?—Mendikcity Sissiety, and vot do you think they did? Vy, they slapped a pick into one of my mauleys, and a shovel into the t'other, and told me to—vork. I said, gemmen, says I—I can't vork—'cause vy, I vas too veak. So I bolted off, an' in sich a 'urry, that I left both my crutches behind, so as now I ain't got no tools to vork vith."
__CADGER'S SONG IN THE HOLY LANDThis mendicant song is in strict accordance with Theodore Hook's opinion—
__Come let us Dance and Sing,
____While fam'd St. Giles' bells shall Ring
__Black Billy Scrapes the fiddle String,
______Little Jemmy fills the Chair.
Fish away, let's be gay,
This is Cadger's holiday,
While knaves are thinking, we are drinking,
______Bring in more gin and beer,
____________Come let us dance &c.
Now merry, merry, let us be,
There's none more happier sure than we,
For what we get we spend it free—
________All must understand.—Chorus.
______Now he that would merry be,
________Let him drink and sing as we,
______In fine places you shall not see,
________Such happiness as here.
Then boose about, our cash aint out.
Here's a sixpence in a dirty clout,
Come, landlord, bring us in more stout,
______Our pension-time draws near.—Chorus.
"Then why should we quarrel for riches,The murder of Mr Weare by Thurtell, Hunt, and Probert, on the 24th Oct., 1823, was "a great go" for Catnach. Working night and day, Jemmy's pressmen knocked off 250,000 copies to begin with. The trial doubled the number; and every night and morning, large parcels were despatched to the large towns in the provinces. Old Jemmy generally tinted his verses with cant religious phrases, thus:
Or any such glittering toys?
With light heart and a thin pair of breeches,
How pleasant life passes, my boys."
Come, all good Christians, praise the Lord,To Mr Henry Mayhew, an old hand of Catnach's said, "This was just Jemmy's favourite style, but the March of Intellect put it out of doors!" Thurtell's trial was on 5th Jan., 1824. He was hung at Hertford, 19th Jan., 1824, and confessed his crimes. Catnach cleared £500 by this event, and was loath to leave it. About a fortnight after Thurtell was executed, a wag put Jemmy up to a ruse, showing him how to keep the subject afloat. The compositor put a very thin space between the words "we" and "are" so that they read—"WEARE ALIVE AGAIN." Many thousands were bought by the gullible public, but the majority denounced the trick as vile, and styled it a "catch penny," which was the origin of this peculiar term.
__And trust to Him in Hope.
God, in his Mercy, John Thurtell sent
__To Hang from Hertford Gallows Rope.
Poor Weare's Murder the Lord disclosed—
__Be Glory to his name :
And Thurtell, Hunt, and Probert, too
__Were brought to Grief and Shame.
The Fauntleroy forgery for about £200,000 was another grand field, on the 10th Sept. 1824. Fauntleroy was a hoaxer, moved amongst the highest classes, and this gave greater zest to the points. Every incident in Fauntleroy's character, history, adn actions was depicted by Catnach; his sheets were read by high and low, in marble halls and gilded saloons in town and country. Fauntleroy was hunt at the Old Bailey, on the 24th Nov., 1824, when one hundred thousand people were assembled. The following is Catnach's tail-piece to Fauntleroy's last dying speech and confession:—
Come all you handsome London gents together, man and boy,During Catnach's reign at the Seven Dials, the Rev Mr Cotton was chaplain of Newgate, and it was a common saying that the poets always made the criminals leave this world with their ears (at least) "well stuffed with Cotton," an allusion to the religious consolation imparted, whilst there was invariably a moral to their rhymes, that—
And hear the tale I tell of Henry Fauntleroy,
A gentleman of high renown, and handsome too, was he,
But with the money if his friends he made by far too free.
He fell in love a short time since with a lady fair,
And after they were mar-ri-ed, they went for change of air,
To spend the honey-moon away from England's shores—with a dash,
And this was done, as we are told, with other people's cash.
As time wore on he got in debt; he gambled, won and lost,
And then committed for-ger-y, to his ruin and cost.
Arrested, tried, and guilty found, condemned he was to die
A felon on the gallows tree, and my tale now tells for why.
So all young men who read these lines, to lead a life of joy,
Take warning by the awful fate of Henry Fauntleroy.
"There is some soul of goodness in things evil,By way of showing that the Catnachian school were not confined to one theme, we will give an extract on Fistiana. Jack Randall was the nonpareil of the prize ring, and kept the Hole-in-the-Wall in Chancery Lane. The emphasised words in italics are as per copy:—
Would me observingly distil it out."
Alas! poor Jack lies on his backSo interminable and various are the subjects gathered by Mr Hindley, that we must forbear further examples, and refer those interested to the invaluable record itself.
__As flat as any flounder;
Although he died of a bad inside,
__No heart was ever sounder.
The Hole-in-the-Wall was once his stall,
__His crib the Fancy name it;
A hole-in-the-ground he now has found,
__And no one else will claim it.
But too much luck man's strength will crush,
__And so found poor Jack Randall;
His fame, once bright as morning light,
__Now out—like a farthing candle.
Good bye, brave Jack! if each they track
__Would follow—barring drinking,
What a noble race would our country grace,
__Firm, loyal and unshrinking.
"Variety's the very spice of life,After giving quotations from the peripatetic bards of the Seven Dials, a few particulars concerning them will not, perhaps, be uninteresting. John Morgan, a man approaching four score years and still living, was one of the most active and useful to Catnach. "Ah! sir," said Morgan to Mr Hindley, "it was always a hard matter to get much out of Jemmy Catnach. He was at most times hard-fisted. Yet, sir, somehow or another, he wasn't such a bad sort, just where he took. A little bit rough and ready like, you know, sir. But still—he was—'a nipper.' That's just about the size of Jemmy Catnach." Then Morgan went on to relate that the price of an original ballad was one shilling, but that he had occasionally the good luck to screw half a crown out of Catnach—"when times were extra good." Tom Moore, in his "Real Life in London," says that a certain printer of ballads in the Seven Dials (no doubt Catnach) on finding that one of his bards was confined to Bedlam (and no wonder!) through overstraining his faculties for the pittance of fivepence three-farthings per week, met with another, who in gloomy weather fancied he saw an "apparition," on the "substance" of which he lived for a month; that he often made a good meal on a monster; but an out-and-out murder—if well-timed and worked-up—was "board, lodging, and washing, with a feast of nectared sweets for many a day!" Mr Mayhew received from a last-dying-speech merchant the following statement:—"Pegsworth stabbed a merchant tailor to whom he was owing money. Ah, yes! Pegsworth's murder as an out-and-out lot. I did tremendous with him, because it happened in London, down Ratcliffe Highway. That's a splendid quarter for working—there's plenty of feeling—but, bless you, some places you go and you can't get to move nohow. They've hearts like paving stones. They wouldn't have the papers if you'd give them to 'em—'specially when they knows your Greenacre didn't sell so well as might have been expected; but, you see, he came too close after Pegsworth, and that took the shine off Greenacre. Two murders together aint no good to nobody, sir." Nevertheless, Catnach sold one million six hundred and fifty thousand copies of Greenacre's execution, so that it must have been "a popular murder." Surely, as Squeers [in Nicholas Nickleby] said, "She's a run 'un, is Natur'. I should like to know how we should ever get on without her. Natur' is more easier conceived than described." Well may it be said that the human heart is a thing with divers corners.
That gives it all its flavour."
Throughout his career, Catnach never hesitated to lay claim to whatever might be turned to his own advantage. Neither was he too particular in abusive personalities. It was hardly to be expected that he would escape soot free in the turmoil of which he was the centre. Mr Pizzey, port butcher, was charged by the Catnachians with having "a number of human remains on his premises for conversion into sausages." For this impertinence he was prosecuted, and
"Six months in quod old Jemmy got,In the height of his prosperity, rival competitors were envious at his success and unsparing in their attacks. Example—
Because this shocking tale he started
About Pizzie, the butcher."
All the boys and girls aroundCatnach was, however, indifferent to virulent doggerel and impervious to slander. He had successfully triumphed, and was not to be thwarted by tickling with feathers. He launched out in the extension of his printing material plant, and as he hated "innowations," he stuck to buying old stocks, as being more adapted than new for combination with that he already possessed. Jemmy was a host in himself, and although he kept four presses in full work, his staff seldom exceeded that number of men. He occasionally officiated as designer and engraver upon pieces of old pewter spoons, such as highwayman with crape over his face, a dark lantern in one hand and pistol in the other, threatening to shoot, if purses of gold did not follow on his demand—in the vernacular, "your money or your life." In Jemmy's drawings, he invariably represented these heroes of the road as sporting top boots and prodigious swells—"gentlemen." In September 1873, the Press News chronicled the death of an old pressman in Clerkenwell Workhouse, who was one of the first of Catnach's workmen, and continued with him until his retirement in 1838. The News states Catnach to have been "a peculiar, dirty, ignorant, successful individual." Mr Hindley deems this assertion a gross libel, showing that the "dirtiness" of Jemmy was inevitable, owing to his officiating in every department as pressman, compositor, devil, &c., and being handy at all points. The writer of this sketch has had many conversations with the above-named jolly, garrulous old pressman, and can affirm that he had the greatest respect for Catnach, admired his inventive powers and talents, and was proud of his abilities and adaption to circumstances. But—
Who go out prigging rags and phials,
Know Jemmy Catnach well,
Who live in a back slum in the Dials.
He hangs out in Monmouth Court,
And wears a paid of blue-black breeches,
Where all the Polly Cox's crew do resort,
To chop their swag for badly-printed speeches.
"Men's minds are their opinions
Are as various as the size of onions."
In proof, we present Mr Hindley's summary of Mr Catnach's character, as a reverse picture of that of the News—
"There can be little doubt that Catnach justly earned the distinction of being one of the great pioneers in the cause of promoting cheap literature. We do not pretend to say that the productions which emanated from his establishment contained much that was likely to enlighten the intellect, or sharpen the taste of the ordinary reader; but, to a great extent, they served well in creating an impetus in the minds of many to soar after things of a higher and more ennobling description. Whilst, for the little folk, his store was like a conjurer's bag—inexhaustible. He catered to the taste and fancies of all, and it is marvelous, even in those days of a cheap press, to look upon the times when this enterprising man was by a steady course of action, so paving the way for the bright day in the annals of Britain's history, when every child in the land should be educated."
Although Catnach pandered to popular taste with ballad trivialities and dismal criminalities, it was in juvenile literature that he rejoiced, and felt that he had done the State some service. The quickness with which Catnach and his assistants transformed the news of the day into Catnachian habiliments was wonderful. In a few hours after any startling event appeared in the daily newspapers, it was transmogrified into poetical lingo and was on sale by thousands. Criminals being unable to read or write was no obstacle. Love-letters, farewells to parents, sorrowful confessions of deeds done and undone, were said to be "from the depths of the condemned cell, written with the condemned pen, ink and paper." Occasionally these lubrications were plamed off upon Sisters of Mercy, Eliza Cook, Tom Hood, or other popular authors. "The style" was a sufficient guarantee that no writer of eminence would be at the trouble to contradict the soft impeachment.
When in the social circle, Catnach laughed (with others) at the feats performed in "educating" the public into the mysteries of crime. In manners, Catnach was of the rough-and-ready sort. he had a queer lot to deal with, and thoroughly understood their peculiarities. Like Mister Bumble, he had an eye for business. It was such an eye as never failed, with paupers, poets, and patterers. He was what Cockneys term "a wide-awake cove, and up to a trick or two." In business transactions he was a man of few words. he was one of those "that therefore only are reputed wise for saying nothing" imperious, and an oracle amongst the minions with whom he dealt. He was tenaciously fond of money, and he worked, grubbed, and grabbed for a quarter of a century, ambitious to luxuriate in "fresh fields and pastures new." Though not assuming to be a philanthropist, his friends at Alnwick can testify that Catnach was not particular to dispensing a £5 note when any object took his taste. He lived and died a bachelor. He retired from his establishment in the Seven Dials in 1838, leaving his stock-in-trade and business to Mrs Ann Ryle, his niece, chargeable with £1,000, to be paid to Marion Ryle, another niece, after his death.
Catnach then purchased some freehold property and a farm at Dancer's Hill, Barnet, Middlesex. Imagination had long dwelt upon the delights in store after the turmoils of his life were over. Fourth-fifths of his life had been passed in accumulating a competency, and now true happiness was more than ever distant. He was discontented with his new home, denounced his venturesome speculation, sighed for the company of old associates, bemoaned his severance from activity, the quietude of the scenes around became irksome, and he found that "a mind quite vacant is a mind distressed." He was altogether out of his element, and the now disappointed rich man proposed to Mrs Ryle to re-purchase his old plant, and begin life in Monmouth Street once more. To this his niece declined to accede. Strange though it may seem, it is nevertheless true, that Catnach hired a dilapidated tenement immediately opposite his former domicile. From the window of this slum he gazed with longing looks and heavy heart, or listlessly wandered through streets and alleys; turned morose, peevish, fretful, and
"Became like a hedgehog rolled up the wrong way,He essayed to drown his sorrows in potations of whisky, his stomach and liver were disordered, jaundice succeeded, and this Light of other days died on the 1st of Feb., 1841, aged 49. Catnach left a fortune, variously estimated at from £10,000 or upwards. He was buried in Highgate Cemetery. Surely the words of Jean Paul Richter may be applied to Catnach—"He made as much out of himself as could be made out of the stuff, and no man should require more."
Tormenting himself with this prickles."