Yes, I mean the cartoon cat and mouse. No, the Regency did not have cartoons, not as we know them, even though Peter Mark Roget, of Thesaurus fame, did present a paper entitled Explanation of an optical deception in the appearance of the spokes of a wheel when seen through vertical apertures, in 1824, which ultimately led to the invention of the Zoetrope and similar devices which were the antecedents of the film industry. Three years before Dr. Roget presented his paper, Pierce Egan, a successful Regency-era journalist, published the first number of his new urban sporting journal called Life in London.
Not only do we have Pierce Egan to thank, if that is the correct word, for the animated Tom & Jerry, but also in part for The Nonesuch, The Corinthian, Faro’s Daughter, Arabella, Friday’s Child, Bath Tangle, Cotillion, Regency Buck …
On Sunday, 15 July 1821, the first monthly issue 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 was available from booksellers across London at the price of a shilling. It is rather ironic that the first day of sale for this periodical was Sunday, as for the duration of its seven-year run it was filled with various narratives of nearly every kind of debauchery in which its characters could engage. It was all about the fast life in London, as lived by the quintessential man-about-town, Corinthian Tom, and his country cousin, the gullible yokel, Jerry Hawthorne. Though touted as a "sporting" journal written and published by a "sporting" man, and there were stories about riding to hounds, Tom’s bout with Gentleman John Jackson and a fencing lesson with Mr. O’Shaunessy, the majority of the tales were about gambling, drinking, whoring, cock-fighting, brawling and other forms of riotous living.
Each issue was written by Pierce Egan and contained colored illustrations of his stories by the brothers George and Isaac Robert Cruikshank. When he was approached by Egan, George Cruikshank had been a political caricaturist, succeeding the artists James Gillray and Thomas Rowlandson, drawing most of the prominent political figures of the day and satirizing the excesses of English fashion. His work for Egan only served to increase his fame. It is interesting to note that each of the illustrations in Life in London bore the signatures of both brothers. Yet later in his life, when he had given up his heavy drinking and was supporting a number of temperance organizations, George put it about that he had had serious doubts about the morality of Egan’s publication, and that he had therefore left more than two-thirds of the illustrations to be done solely by his older brother, Isaac Robert.
Dedicated to the newly-crowned George IV, Life in London was a great success from its very first issue, in spite of, or perhaps because of, its bawdy subject matter. It was considered to be the definitive guide to the most elegant haunts and pursuits of the fashionable English gentleman, and many lived the life vicariously through the tales in this journal. As with numerous works of fiction published during that time, many readers believed they could identify the real-life models for each of the three main characters, though there is no evidence that Tom, Jerry or Bob had real-world counterparts. Pierce Egan was a master of the slang of the period, and cant peppered every story. In fact, two years after Life in London debuted, he supplied the slang phrases for the 1823 edition of the Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue, published by Francis Grose. Egan was blamed by some critics, particularly religious groups, for encouraging and expanding the use of cant in the language of the England with his monthly "sporting" journal.
Life in London was wildly popular for the duration of its run. Imitations went into print almost as soon as the first issue hit the streets. Copyright laws of the time afforded little protection, so there was nothing Egan could do to stop these knock-offs. He considered the most significant of the imitations to be Real Life in London, or, the Rambles and Adventures of Bob Tallyho, Esq. and his cousin, the Hon. Tom Dashall, through the Metropolis; exhibiting a living picture of fashionable characters, manners, and amusements in high and low life, which appeared in 1821. This imitation undercut the price of Egan’s periodical, selling for six pennies per issue. It was also less risqué than the original and the author appears to have had a broader knowledge of London than did Egan. It was published anonymously, though many thought Egan wrote it. Now it is attributed to John Badcock, though this attribution is by no means certain. The original Life in London was translated into French, and soon there were also French imitations. The best known is Life in Paris: The Rambles of Dick Wildfire, which was also first issued in 1821. In all, there were more than sixty-five imitations or variations of Egan’s original periodical published just during the reign of George IV.
Several plays were written and produced, based on the adventures of the main characters in Life in London. In 1822, there were ten of them, all playing in various theaters in and around the Metropolis. All of these plays had good runs, most of them playing for at least a year. Egan produced his own dramatic adaption of the adventures of Tom and Jerry in 1822, which played at Astely’s Amphitheatre. With the exception of a spirited pony-race around the ring of the amphitheatre, Egan’s own version was not a great success. However, all the many other stage adaptations were very popular and well attended. So popular that there were numerous revivals and re-adaptations of Tom and Jerry, or Life in London right through the remainder of the nineteenth century and well into the twentieth, in both England and America. These later versions were not necessarily true to the original stories, but they always retained the names Tom and Jerry for the main characters, and various kinds of hi-jinks inevitably ensued in each play. Ultimately, a hundred and twenty years after Pierce Egan first published Life in London, this on-going popularity was continued by William Hanna and Joseph Barbera, when, in 1941, their first Tom and Jerry short, The Midnight Snack, was released to theatres.
In 1828, Egan decided to end the publication of Life in London. However, the separate issues were re-published together in book format, and that book has been reprinted several times in the decades since. The numbers of Real Life in London were also published in book form and has also been reprinted a couple of times. It is known that Georgette Heyer had a copy of Pierce Egan’s Life in London in her personal library. It was within those pages that she found the details of the life of a fashionable young buck about town in Regency London. It was also here that she found many of the cant words and phrases which were in vogue during the Regency. The survival of Pierce Egan’s work enabled Georgette Heyer to give her Regency novels such an accurate flavor of that decade.
Both Life in London and its most significant imitation, Real Life in London, can now be found online. If you would like to read about some real Regency bad boys, and their various misadventures in Regency London, they are only a click away. The 1904 reprint of Pierce Egan’s Life in London, can be found online at Google Books. The 1905 edition of the best imitation, Real Life in London can be found at Project Gutenberg. Reprints of both Life in London and Real Life in London are also available for purchase online, for those who prefer reading real books.
All of us who love Regency romance novels owe a debt, not only to Georgette Heyer, but also to Pierce Egan. For though it it unlikely he would enjoy such novels, it is in part due to the tales he left of the high life in Regency London that Georgette Heyer was able to so meticulously recreate that world as a setting for her novels. And those novels were so popular that she inadvertently created a complete sub-genre of romance novels which continues in popularity to this day. I will leave it to you to decide if Mr. Egan should also recieve our thanks for the advent of the animated Tom and Jerry cartoons.