Note 7, Pierce Egan And George W.M. Reynolds


R.E. Prindle

I think there can be but little doubt that George W. M. Reynolds read and was influenced by Pierce Egan’s 1922 rambling Life In London and Real Life In London, perhaps even to Egan’s Finish To The Adventures Of Tom And Jerry.  There certainly seems to be a strong influence.

Pierce Egan was born in London, lived there all his life.  His years were 1772 to1849. One wonder if Reynolds met him.  He began his life as a compositor for a printer.  He was also a rambler who was soon attracted to the sporting life, especially boxing.  In the printing business he took up sports, that is boxing, writing.  He composed a multi-volume history of boxing in Britain titled Boxiana.  It was a success and to some extent still is.  From there he turned to write as a social critic and expositor.  He then established a monthly magazine titled Life In London in 1920 that was a major success and from which evolved his great book successes Life In London and Real Life In London.

Egan’s style is discursive.  The sub-title to Life In London is: The Day And Night Scenes Of Jerry Hawthorne, Esq.’ And His Elegant Friend Corinthian Tom; that of Real Life In London: The Further Rambles and Adventures Of BobTallyho  And His Cousin, The Hon. Tom Dashall.  Both books were culled from his magazine writings.

The general idea is that Corinthian Tom  introduces the country relative Jerry Hawthorne  and/or Tom Dashall, Bob Tallyho, to the delights of the great metropolis of London.  Life both high and low but mainly low.  On the one hand the books are a catalog of London sights and characters and on the other a dictionary of slang.  Egan professing that no Man of the world or Man About Town can be accomplished without knowing both. That is, only two mental states. The books were bibles for men hoping for those distinctions.

In those respects, Reynolds shows Egan’s influence most notably in his magnificent Mysteries Of London which is a more novelistic version of Life In London and Real Life.  Life In London is really a sort of tour book with Corinthian Tom as a guide.  Egan’s influence on Reynolds is most pronounced.

For myself, the value of Egan’s works is more historical than literary.  One might compare these books of Egan with the mid-twentieth century guide books of Jack Lait and Lee Mortimer’s Confidential series: New York Confidential, Chicago Confidential, etc., or even John Gunther’s Inside series:  Inside USA, Inside Europe etc.  Corinthian Tom and Tom Dashall are merely fictional guides to depictions of real life situations.

Hence, without a reader’s interest, that is, wishing a conductor for one’s own literary rambles, the books can get tedious.  As explanations about much of what Reynolds is writing about they are invaluable.

Pierce Egan, and somewhat with Reynolds, is an underworld character, perhaps not unlike the US chronicler of twenties era New York City, Damon Runyon.  Runyon took up his station in the heart of New York’s Satan’s Square Mile, 42nd and Broadway, where he hobnobbed with the actual criminals of New York even becoming an ex-officio member of the Mob.

In Egan’s and Reynold’s instance they chronicle to some extent the doings of London street gangs and characters  as a continuation of Duke Wharton’s gang called the Mohocks of the times of Queen Anne and George I.  Corinthian Tom, for instance, is an 1820’s example of Duke Wharton.

But, Egan is a very literate guy, in the knowledge of the Man About Town.  He knows his national English literature, art (that is pictures), the sporting world, entertainment and all the areas of London, most particularly the East End.  He knows of places and events that he considers essential knowledge for a Man About Town or Man of the World.  Ignorance of these informations would disqualify a would be Man About Town.  Only the most riotous and I might say, depraved, might need to know.

It would be one’s misfortune to be introduced to these sewers.

Reynolds may have thought so too as his character of Lady Saxondale from The Crimes Of Lady Saxondale, Series III of the Mysteries Of The Court Of London, is involuntarily made miserable by her unwilling introduction to such scenes of depravity.  Both Egan and Reynolds can casually present to the reader what is actually some pretty scary stuff, almost a species of horror fiction.  Damon Runyon was also expert at disguising the horror.


Egan as a rambler throughout London’s districts gives excellent accounts of the East End Slums as well as tours of notable buildings while identifying the many attractions of the city.  We read elsewhere of Vauxhall without ever having a detailed idea of what the attraction of the Vauxhall Gardens were.  The Gardens were an extensive amusement park comparable perhaps to an eighteenth and nineteenth century Disneyland.  Originally conceived as an elite amusement park it degraded over the decades into what amusement parks do, fairly low life places.

Egan provides a solution to the absence of our knowledge and if not the earliest to do so certainly near the top of the line.

A little later beginning in 1841 Charles Knight, who had been publishing in magazine form began issuing his six volumes of essays under the title: London.  By several hands, his volumes present extended essays on sites and customs.  For instance, in addition to Vauxhall, a nice essay on the history of the Spitalfields district and many others.  One imagines that Reynolds was familiar with the work while it might have provided much needed historical backgrounds to his seemingly profound knowledge of the sights and neighborhoods of London.

Another good source is the Peter Quennell edited volumes written by Henry Mayhew from 1851-62.  Rather late for Reynold’s use while by 1851 Reynolds’ personal knowledge of London and environs was nearly complete. In 1854 he would remove to Herne Bay in Kent thus losing close contact with London.

But as an example on what to expect at Vauxhall, this short quote taken from the Folio Society edition of Mayhews work, London, Characters And Crooks: page 280.  By the time this was written Vauxhall was no longer an elite retreat.


Both my girls are under eight years of age, and they do stilt waltzing and the oldest does the tight rope business as well.  Their mother was a tight rope dancer, and she does the same business as Madame Sayin used to appear on, such as the ascension on the rope in the midst of fireworks.  We had men in England who had done the ascension before Madame Sayin came out at Vauxhall, but I think she was the first woman that ever did it in this country.  I remember her well.  She lodged at a relative of mine during her engagement at the Gardens.  She was a ugly little woman, very diminutive, and tremendously pitted with the small-pox.  She was what may be called a horny woman, very tough and bony.  I remember my father and mother say she had 20 pounds a night at Vauxhall, and she did it three times a week; but I can’t vouch for this, as it was only hearsay.


There’s a fine little novel to be made of that.  Vauxhall perhaps might be compared to Disneyland.  You can see how popular Vauxhall was, even in decline, by Madame Sayins’ take of perhaps 60 pounds a week.  If she had kept that up for fifty-two weeks that would have been over 3,000 pounds a year.  She’d have been the envy of many a second or third son of the nobility.

And then, like Reynolds, influenced by Egan, explained the argot of the East End and all the scams and ploys to look out for.  I’ve read two dozen or more of Reynolds now but I don’t remember him ever discussing institutions such as the British Library or Somerset House with its display of paintings.

Egan was a little of the sycophant, not a criticism in his circumstances, dedicating his Life In London to King George IV. I’m sure the King would have enjoyed it with his predilictions Egan had been invited to an audience with the King George at Carlton House on an occasion.  He spends several pages lovingly describing what he considers the wonders of the palace.

George Reynolds, who wrote extensively on George IV in his Mysteries Of The Court Of London had never been in Carlton House, while George IV, who became king in 1820, died in 1830 when the young sixteen year old Reynolds running from the law escaped England for France.  Thus, he would have had to rely on histories and accounts such as Egan’s to portray the Regent and Regency.

I think if I were to choose a time to live it would be Regency England and the 1840s.  Only, however, if I were the first son of a Duke with 10,000 a year.  Egan’s Corinthian Tom, who was rich, had the right idea: see and observe but stay away from the gambling hells.  Egan doesn’t portray them nearly as much Reynolds.

Pierce Egan