The Newgate Calendar
The Newgate Calendar was one of those books, along with a Bible, Foxe's Book of Martyrs and the Pilgrim's Progress, most likely to be found in any English home between 1750 and 1850. Children were encouraged to read it because it was believed to inculcate principles of right living -- by fear of punishment if not by the dull and earnest morals appended to the stories of highwaymen and other felons. The editors of one version even included as a frontispiece a picture of a devoted mother giving a copy to her son (who seems to be about eight years of age) while pointing out the window at a body hanging on a gibbet. They waxed lyrical on this theme, as follows:
The anxious Mother with a Parents Care,
Presents our Labours to her future Heir
"The Wise, the Brave, the temperate and the Just,
Who love their neighbour, and in God who trust
Safe through the Dang'rous paths of Life may Steer,
Nor dread those Evils we exhibit Here".
Thus most writers, like most literate people of any occupation, would have read it as children. And whatever the moral effects, it certainly provided them with plenty of material. Charles Dickens's Barnaby Rudge, Bulwer Lytton's Eugene Aram, Henry Fielding's Jonathan Wild and Gerald Griffin's The Collegians are only a few of the many novels directly based on stories in the Newgate Calendar. Even the illiterate would have seen stage versions of the stories, which were a staple of the popular drama of the time. Many of Sam Weller's comments of the "as the -- said ven --" type are derived from such plays. Some of them - e.g. Dick Turpin, Sawney Bean, Captain Kidd -- are seen even today in pantomimes. There is, or any rate was in 1995, a restaurant in Dumfries called Sawney Bean's(!!)
Although editions of the Newgate Calendar are still published from time to time they tend to be very incomplete versions -- less than 10% of the original (see Bibliographic Details) -- so this ex-classics version will, we hope, be useful to students and scholars as well as the general reading public.
The Innocent wrongly accused