Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Gentleman Jack

“Pull slowly and quietly,” said Dick.
The bucket came up to the surface, and then Claude stretched out his hand and got hold of it.”
“All’s right,” he said, “I have it.”
He drew it towards him, and then, in a rather odd voice, he said --
“The light, Jack.”
Jack picked up the lantern from the floor and held it over the bucket, and then they all three looked in silent horror at what it disclosed to them.
Floating in the water they had got up from the well was a portion of an infant’s hand and arm, and a large piece of a skull with hair still upon it.
The water itself had a shiny, oily look, and upon its surface floated fatty globules, and what appeared to be pieces of half decomposed flesh.
“Horrible!” said Claude.
Jack turned aside sick and faint at the sight.
“Good God!” said Dick.

That was Sixteen-string Jack (the Gentleman of the title,) Claude Duval, and Dick Turpin, the heroes of Gentleman Jack; or, Life on the Road, published by Edward Lloyd in 1842. It was published weekly in penny numbers for a total of 544 pages, Nos. 2, 3, & 4 Gratis with No. 1. The title-page enlarged on the title; Gentleman Jack; or, Life on the Road, a romance of interest abounding in hairbreadth escapes and of the most exciting character. The fanciful woodcut illustrations were by G. T. R. Bourne.

Nine years later, in 1851, Abel Heywood, a seller of cheap literature in Manchester told a House of Commons committee that his best selling penny weekly numbers were Claude Duval (550), Gentleman Jack (400), Paul Clifford (350), and Three-Fingered Jack (350). “Gentleman Jack” was pirated by New York publisher Robert M. De Witt who published the entire serial in 100 page installments at twenty-five cents a volume. From the looks of the De Witt cover below even the colorful Bourne woodcut was copied for the cover.

Gentleman Jack was anonymous but over time the authorship came to be attributed to Mrs. Elizabeth Caroline Grey (a hoax). More recently Helen Smith has attributed authorship of the Grey/Lloyd titles to James Malcolm Rymer. A good chunk of the De Witt piracy of Gentleman Jack (wrongly attributed to Edward Viles) is on Google Books HERE. James Malcolm Rymer’s Ada the Betrayed, and Jane Brightwell, HERE.

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