Newgate Calendar
Posted: 29 April 2007 10:40 PM   [ Ignore ]
Total Posts:  155
Joined  2007-01-28

Looking for the line in Shakespeare, “I’m undone!”, I came across this from “The Complete Newgate Calendar” about a rogue named Tracey, offered by the University of Texas at Austin.

Of course for all the Right-Pondians it doesn’t come across as remarkable. The question is, what was the Newgate Calendar? Did people take it seriously? I think there may have been some early modernistic trends in there, specifically, poking fun at literary predecessors, not to mention an unwholsome fascination with gory details.

Ben Jonson had been down in Buckinghamshire to trans- act some business, but in returning to London happened to meet with Tracey, who, knowing the poet, bid him stand and deliver his money. But Ben, putting on a courageous look, spoke to him thus:

“Fly, villain, hence, or by thy coat of steel
I’ll make thy heart my leaden bullet feel,
And send that thrice as thievish soul of thine
To Hell, to wean the devil’s valentine.”

Upon which Tracey made this answer:

“Art thou great Ben ? or the revived ghost
Of famous Shakespeare ? or some drunken host
Who, being tipsy with thy muddy beer,
Dost think thy rhymes will daunt my soul with fear ?
Nay, know, base slave, that I am one of those
Can take a purse, as well in verse, as prose,
And when thou art dead write this upon thy hearse,
‘ Here lies a poet who was robbed in verse.’ “

These words alarmed Jonson, who found he had met with a resolute fellow: he endeavoured to save his money, but to no purpose, and was obliged to give our adventurer ten jacobuses. But the loss of these was not the only mis- fortune he met with in this journey; for, coming within two or three miles of London, it was his ill chance to fall into the hands of worse rogue, who knocked him off his horse, stripped him, and tied him neck and heels in a field, wherein some other passengers were enduring the same hard fate, having been also robbed. One of them cried out that he, his wife and children were all undone, while another who was bound, overhearing, said, “Pray, if you are all of you undone, come and undo me.” This made Ben, though under his misfortunes, burst out into a loud laugh, who, being delivered in the morning from his bands by some reapers, made the following verses:

“ Both robbed and bound as I one night did ride,
With two men more, their arms behind them tied,
The one lamenting what did them befall,
Cried, ‘ I’m undone, my wife and children all ‘;
The other hearing it, aloud did cry,
‘ Undo me then, let me no longer lie ‘;
But to be plain, those men laid on the ground
Were both undone, indeed, but both fast bound.”

[ Edited: 29 April 2007 11:42 PM by foolscap ]
Posted: 30 April 2007 05:54 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]
Total Posts:  2751
Joined  2007-01-30

Wonderful! There were several legends which clustered around Shakespeare and Jonson, including the drinking bout they indulged in one night on an occasion when Ben visited Stratford. Will got so drunk he passed out beneath a tree, catching thereby a chill of which he died! There’s also the tale involving Richard Burbank, Shakespeare’s fellow actor and the man who first played Hamlet, Othello, Macbeth and many other of the Bard’s leading roles. On one occasion, when they were staging Richard III, both men were enamoured of the same wench. Burbank crept up to her window at night and stealthily opened it, only to hear a familiar voice from within. “Get ye gone, Dick! Know ye not that William the Conqueror came before Richard the Third?”

Posted: 30 April 2007 07:49 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]
Total Posts:  32
Joined  2007-04-08

The Newgate Calendar (1771 or 1773) derived its name from Newgate, the chief prison in London in the 18th century, itself an annex of the Old Bailey.  It drew its material from two sources: the Sessions papers of trials held at the Old Bailey (called ‘the calendar’), which provided complete records of all the legal proceedings; and an account of the character and behaviour of the criminal in prison and his confessions and last words as recorded by the prison chaplains—the Ordinaries of Newgate.  Its publication was actually anticipated by earlier similar volumes, and by the ballads and broadsides which were so hugely popular at the time.  The first such collection was ‘Tyburn Calendar, or Malefactor’s Bloody Register’ published shortly after 1700 by George Swindell’s of Hanging Bridge (yes, Hanging Bridge).  Tyburn was about two miles from Newgate and was the traditional place of execution in London.

Authorship is not certain, but the evidence certainly points to the Ordinaries, who sought anonymity for obvious reasons.  The tone of the narratives is overwhelmingly moral, and the intent seems to have been to keep the young person from turning to a life of crime and a similar fate.  Indeed, the first publication of the Newgate Calendar had as its frontispiece a young woman holding a copy of the book in her hand, reading to her (likely) son and pointing out the window at a gallows, from which dangled the lifeless body of a criminal.

These narratives were certainly taken seriously at the time, and their popularity was due in no small measure as well to the general fascination with crime and criminals.  The only public holidays at the time were Christmas, Easter and Execution Days.  The general populace would come out in full force and line the route from Newgate to Tyburn (called the Procession to Tyburn, it was outlawed in 1783, after which executions took place outside the Old Bailey); many flat-dwellers along the route would rent out window or roof space to spectators.

While the whole work is rather daunting (five volumes in its original), there have been numerous collections published over the years, and if you can get your hands on one, I highly recommend it.


Fregt mikh bekheyrem!
~ Shmegege

Posted: 30 April 2007 08:17 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]
Total Posts:  2751
Joined  2007-01-30

The complete Newgate Calendar is available online here.

God bless the World Wide Web!

‹‹ granularity      Costermongers' slang ››