Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Sweeney Todd Gallery

“Upon my word,” thought Tom, quickening his pace, “I don’t know what John will think has become of me. He’ll begin to be afraid I have strayed into one of those streets where the countrymen are murdered; and that I have been made meat-pies of, or some such horrible thing.” -- Martin Chuzzlewit, Jan 1843-July 1844.

The String of Pearls, a Romance, an anonymous serial written by James Malcolm Rymer, was serialized in Edward Lloyd's The People's Periodical in 18 installments between November 21, 1846, and March 20, 1847 (issues 7 to 24). Under the title of The String of Pearls; or, The Sailor’s Gift, this romance then appeared in 92 weekly penny numbers from Edward Lloyd. The story is believed to have been based on a French crime of the 15th century involving cannibalism and pastry. The perpetrators were Barnabé Cabard and his accomplice Pierre Miquelon, a barber and a pastry-maker. You can read the original String of Pearls serial HERE.

There is still a mystery remaining however. As shown in my quote above from Dickens, at least two years before Rymer’s People’s Periodical serial, there was already an on-going tradition in London of meat-pies containing human flesh. Dickens described "preparers of cannibalistic pastry, who are represented in many standard country legends as doing a lively retail business in the Metropolis." James Malcolm Rymer invented and named Sweeney Todd, but he used parts of the French stories, London cannibal legends, and elements of the old stage melodrama The Dog of Montargis.

The melodrama of The Dog of Montargis was written by Gilbert Pixerecourt in 1814. Here is a contemporary description from a Playbill advertising RIENZI and THE LANCERS and THE DOG OF MONTARGIS at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane, Monday 27 October 1828;

"To conclude with the popular Melo-Drama of The Forest of Bondy, or Dog of Montargis, with the original Music, Decorations, etc. The facts on which this Piece was founded rests on a circumstance during the reign of Charles XVth, and may be found among remarkable Instances of Sagacity in the Brute Creation. Macaire, the Murderer of Aubri, is discovered by the Dog, who returns to the Inn, and conveys the Hostess to the Spot where the horrid Deed has been perpetrated, and by a Chain of most wonderful Events, The Murderer is Detected And Pursued by the Dog, who [the murderer, not the dog] throws himself down the Precipice. A Pistol is dropped by the Assassin, which the Dog Seizes, and Fires after Him. The Dog of Montargis by Tiger."

In 1878 Charles Fox issued Sweeney Todd, the Demon Barber of Fleet Street in 48 12 page numbers. The British library credits Charlton Lea, pen-name of Alfred Sherrington Burrage. The illustrations may be by Harry Maguire.


  1. ....extraordinary!! I love Sweeney Todd, here I wrote about a spanish "pliego de cordel" (something similar to the british penny dreadful) that tells, with another names, the same tale of the killer barber and the human flesh pies: http://eldesvandelabuelito.blogspot.com/2008/05/la-verdad-sobre-sweeney-todd.html
    ...and I like Tod Slaughter too...

  2. Thank you so much for posting this (and the imagery too)! You have no idea how much this has helped to inspire me! :)

  3. I enjoyed (following your link)your anthropomorphic take on the old, old story, Leona. Very impressive artwork.