Sunday, May 11, 2008

Penny Bloods

According to every article written on the subject the term “penny bloods” was in use to describe the penny parts works published in the forties and fifties by publishers like Edward Lloyd such as “Varney the Vampire” and “The String of Pearls.” Odd then that I have never come across the term in any contemporary article or news account of these sanguinary works. They were ‘highwayman literature,” “gallows literature,” “thieves literature,” “criminal literature,” “felon literature,” “foul literature,” “kitchen literature,” “obscene literature,” and “literature of the lower orders,” but never - never have I come across the term “penny bloods” before 1892, (the term “penny dreadfuls” came into use about 1867) and when it was used then it referred to the reprints of American dime novels published in London by the Aldine Company.

A typical article on the Aldine penny bloods follows. The work discussed was Wild Ivan!: and Old Avalanche the Great Scout from Aldine Boys’ First-rate Pocket Library no. 37, published in London by the Aldine Publishing Company. The story was originally published in New York by Beadle and Adams as Wild Ivan, the Boy Claude Duval or the Brotherhood of Death in Beadles Half-dime Library no. 35 in 1878, which was No. 4 of the “Deadwood Dick Romances.’ >

Penny “Bloods” October 5, 1895

A Scene from “Wild Ivan”

“Penny bloods” is the trade name for penny dreadfuls. We have selected half a dozen of these Bloods at random from larger piles of other Bloods, and endeavoured to distil, as it were, a sort of essence of gore from their somewhat coagulated pages. It is interesting to know what literary influences are working in the mind of Young England, and judging from the circulation of the Blood, which is enormous, the scarlet pennyworth is the chief factor at work.

Here is some of the pure blood mixture from “Wild Ivan.” It is not an edifying scene.

“And I’ll murder you by inches!” hissed the colonel, savagely, bending over the helpless girl, and glaring at her with the ferocity of some enraged beast. “I’ll have you cut to pieces and strung on a rope for public exhibition before you shall cheat me out of that treasure!”

“You may do all of that and more!” replied Red Kit’s girl firmly, “but I shall never -- never -- never tell you, nor any of your band, where to find the treasure!”

“We’ll see!” said Blood grimly, straightening up - “we’ll see. Blue Bob, you generally are a pretty fair carver, and carry sharp tools. Cut off the little finger of that girl’s left hand!”

As this order came from the chief’s lips, all eyes were centred upon Blue Bob. He was known to be a cruel, heartless instrument of torture in the hands of the Brotherhood, and was never known to shirk a duty. But the old man hesitated now, and his hand sought his belt slowly and reluctantly.

“Go on, you old devil!” yelled Colonel Bill, grasping a revolver from Sandusky’s belt, and cocking it -- “go on, or I’ll bore a hole through your thick skull, and throw you into yonder stream!”

Apparently frightened at his superior’s harsh language, Blue Bob crawled forward and dropped upon his knees by the side of the fair prisoner.

“Off with the little finger of her left hand!” repeated the colonel, sharply. “no flinching, you old buzzard but off with it, I say!”

Blue Bob bent forward, and then there was a piercing shriek of pain, a grating, crunching sound, after which the old ruffian leaped to his feet, holding aloft a severed white finger from Alice La Rue’s hand.

“Good! Now, will you tell us the hiding-place of the treasure?” demanded Colonel Bill, with a grin of exultance.

“No! no!” almost screamed the girl, her blue eyes flashing darkly. “You can cut off every finger I have, and then my head, but I’ll not tell!”

“We’ll see you young she-cat -- we’ll see about that. I’ve handled worse cases than that. You, Blue Bob, cut off and unjoint her foot at the ankle -- the left foot!’

A murmur of horror escaped the outlaws’ lips. This was even beyond their limit to horror.

Blue Bob knelt again, knife in hand, and was preparing for the terrible deed, when suddenly the whole heavens were illuminated with a blaze of fire, there was a frightful clap of thunder, and a fresh deluge of rain.

Involuntarily the ruffian started forward with a cry of alarm, for they saw Colonel Blood totter away and fall in a heap upon the bank of the stream, blood streaming from a hole in his forehead.

And ere they could reach him the flood with restless fury had swept his corpse away.

“Heaven’s hand!” a wild voice cried, and turning, the startled ruffians beheld a youthful figure standing in the light of their camp-fire. “Such is the vengeance He had meted out to your captain, with His fiery hand.”

* * *

Here at last is retribution, you exclaim. Surely the youthful figure will protect Red Kit’s girl, and win the Brotherhood of Death to better ways. But the new-comer is really a shade worse than the deceased Colonel. This is how he introduces himself :-

“I am an outcast, murderer, swindler, thief, rogue and blackleg, just whichever suits you best. I have all the peculiarities of a fiend -- as the Boy Fiend I am widely known in some parts of the West. I heard of this Brotherhood of Death, and came to join it; but seeing as Death has been too much for the chief of your brotherhood, I wouldn’t mind filling the position just vacated by Colonel Bill Blood!”

* * *

The Brotherhood, much impressed with this announcement, tell him that he may be their leader on one condition. He must drink a cup of human blood. “A silver cupful of something whose odour proclaimed it to be indeed blood” is handed to the mysterious youth. There and then, amid the awful roar and din of that pouring night the Boy Fiend raised the cup of blood to his lips and drained it at a single draught.

This is a height which cannot be kept up all through.

*The illustration at the top of the page is from "Mike's Library" in Chatterbox, Oct. 19, 1871. This was published in London and had nothing to do with Frank Leslie's Chatterbox which was published in New York.

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