Pierce Egan


Life
1772-1849; best-known as author of Life in London; attacked the Prince Regent and Mrs. Robinson [?Mrs Fitzherbert] in The Mistress of Royalty, or the Loves of Florizel and Perdita (1814); Boxiana, or Sketches of Modern Pugilism, a monthly serial (1818-24); Life in London, or The Day and Night Scenes of Jerry Hawthorn [...] and [...] Corinthian Bob, accompanied by Bob Logic, in monthly numbers from 1821;
 
a didactic sequel (1828); furnished slang phrases for Francis Grose’s Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue (1796; rev. 1823); a weekly newspaper, Pierce Egan’s Life in London and Sporting Guide (1824); Pierce Egan’s Book of Sport’s and Mirror of Life (1832); The Pilgrims of the Thames in Search of the National (1838), dedicated to Queen Victoria; there is an allusion to Egan in Finnegans Wake. ODNB PI RAF OCEL OCIL

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Works
Life in London (1820 & edns.) ill. by George & Robert Cruikshank; Real Life in Ireland, or the Day and Night Scenes, roving rambles, sprees, bulls, blunders, bodderation and blarney of Brian BORU, Esq. and his elegant friend Sir Shawn O’Dogherty [...] high and low life in Dublin and various parts of Ireland ... by a real Paddy (London 1821); Life in Dublin, or Tom, Jerry and Logic on their Travels, unpubl. com. (1834); also The Life of an Actor; The Poetical Descriptions by T. Greenwood, Esq. (London: C. S. Arnold 1825) [Harrington Bks., 2005.].

Reprints, John Marriott, ed., Unknown London: Early Modernist Visions of the Metropolis 1815-45, 6 vols. (London: Pickering & Chatto 2001), 495pp.

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Criticism
J. C. Reid, Bucks and Bruisers, Pierce Egan and Regency England (London: Routledge 1971), 253pp., 10 pls., bibl. See also Louis James, review of John Marriott, ed., Unknown London: Early Modernist Visions of the Metropolis 1815-45, 6 vols. (London: Pickering & Chatto) [infra].

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Commentary
Eric Partridge, Adventuring Among Words [The Language Library] (London: André Deutsch 1961), ‘Not Entirely “Phoney”’ [pp.13-15]: ‘[...] The spelling forney and pronunciation fawney should have put the lexicographers on the right track, especially as Pierce Egan, in Finish of Tom, Jerg, and Logic, 1828, very considerately provided a most serviceable key when he wrote, ‘He sports a diamond forney on his little finger’ and as, in The Life of Samuel Denmore Hayward, the Modern Macheath, 1822, he used forney for a finger-ring. There, indeed, was the key: forney, a ring, should have reminded the scholars editing The Oxford and Webster that the fawney rig, a ring-dropping confidence trick beloved of the underworld, and fawney, a finger-ring, are, in sober fact, recorded in the former dictionary as fawney. That the fawney rig signified, literally, ‘the ring trick’ might well have insinuated a suspicion that, Irishmen being masters of the art and Irish confidence tricksters having invaded England, especially London, long before 1781, the origin of fawney lay in Ireland. In Ireland it lies. As so often before and since, Ireland was notably contributing to the gaiety of nations. The Irish word - that is, an Erse, not an Anglo-Irish, word – for a finger-ring is fainne, pronounced, at least approximately, fawney. The great Irish potato famine of 1845 drove many honest Irish people to the United States during the decade immediately following; with them, doubtless, went a number of less honest persons, including confidence men. [...]’ (p.15; for full text, see RICORSO Library, Criticism > International, via index, or direct.)

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Louis James, review of John Marriott, ed., Unknown London: Early Modernist Visions of the Metropolis 1815-45, 6 vols. (London: Pickering & Chatto) in Times Literary Supplement (28 Dec. 2001): notes tht ‘Regency life survives deep into the Victorian period. ‘Like Dickens’s Pickwick Papers, the literary sensation of the following decade with which it shares significant features, Life in London was conceived from the beginning as text to a series of illustrations. Robert Cruikshank showed a brother-in-law, newly returned from India, around the sights of the city, and was so intrigued that he joined with George his elder brother to make a set of prints of London life. They enlisted Pierce Egan to add a commentary. Egan, a popular journalist of Irish extraction, had an unrivalled knowledge of the city fast set, with its links to an underworld of bare-knuckled boxing, cock-fighting, crime and prostitution, and so was an ideal guide.’ [I]n their forays, it is said that the trio had begun to take on fictional identities. Robert Cruikshank became and ingénu from the country, Jerry Hawthorne; George, older, streetwise and raffish, became “Corinthian Tom” , while Pierce Egan as scribe gently satirised himself as the green-spectacled Bob Logic. Egan wrote an introductory section, filling out the background of the story and characters, and creating a narrative, which was published in parts the following year. / The resulting Life in London was the success of the day.’ James writes that Unknown London reprints the text and illustrations alongside a substantial selection of related prose, drama and etchings which ‘sets the stage for reassessment’. His account focuses on the linguistic features of the text and sees Egan - whose ‘love of flourish betrays his Tipperary roots’ - as one who saw London as a city of dialects: ‘His prose, moderated by Harrison Ainsworth, Bulwer Lytton and above all by Charles Dickens, helped to modernise the literary use of English.’ [Cont.]

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Louis James (review of Unknown London, in Times Literary Supplement, 28 Dec. 2001) - cont.: ‘Egan was the first to look at London as a book, and to write a book as London’s simulacrum. For him the city was “a compete CYCLOPAEDIA, where every man of the most religious or moral habits, attached to any sect, may find something to please his palate [...]” ; “there is not a street in London but may be compared to a large or small volume of intelligence, abounding with anecdote, incident and peculiarities. A court or alley most be obscure indeed, if it does not afford some remarks [...]”. “the EXTREMES, in every point of view, are daily to be met with in the Metropolis”. James writes, ‘Tom and Jerry dominated London and the provincial theatre across the decade, prompting the disgusted Thomas Carlyle to note in 1828 that “no play had every enjoyed such currency on the English stage as this most classic performance.” James remarks that it became a marker in English theatrical history breaking with Romantic moulds and introducing a vogue for “realistic” settings; sees Gay’s Beggar’s Opera as standing behind Egan’s work; quotes from a text ‘regrettably absent from the volume [viz., Renton Nicholson’s The Town, Ser. 1, 1837-42] which claimed to be “one of the most racy, spicy and figging [light-fingered] specimens of literature ever produced”, which would represent the hidden pornographic underbelly of London.’ (, pp.4-5.)

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References
D. J. O’Donoghue, The Poets of Ireland: A Biographical Dictionary (Dublin: Hodges Figgis & Co 1912); Irish origin, perhaps born in Ireland; in London, Tom and Jerry, burlesque songs and parodies (Lon. 1822); founded Bell’s Life (sporting). Other works were comic poems, The Show Folks (1831) and Mathew’s Comic Annual, or The Snuff-Box and the Little Bird (1831). FURTHER, A son, Pierce (1814-1880), ‘a clever novelist’, did etchings for Pilgrims, and published novels on feudal period; ed. Home Circle (1849-51), contrib. London Journal. Works incl. Eve, or the Angel of Innocence (1867) and The Poor Girl (1862-3); pioneer of cheap literature.

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Margaret Drabble, ed., Oxford Companion of English Literature (OUP: 1985), lists The Elder, 1772-1849; Life in London, or the Day and Night Scenes of Jerry Hawthorn Esq., and Corintian Tom, issued in monthly nos. from 1820 and complete in 1821, interesting for the light it throws on manners and slang phrases of the period; Pierce Egan’s Life in London and Sporting Guide, 1824, developed into Bell’s Life in London [mag.]; a son and namesake (1814-80) wrote a vast number of novels.

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Patrick Rafroidi, Irish Literature in English, The Romantic Period, 1789-1850, Vol 1 (1980), lists Pierce Egan, Real Life in Ireland, or the Day and Night Scenes [&c] by a Real Paddy and refers to his incredible stage-Irishman in that text, quoting: ‘Fam’d for potatoes, love, and whiskey,/For men so brave, and girls so frisky,/For ease, for elegance, and grace,/With matchless impudence of face,/An isle there lies, ’tis close to hand,/Good humour calls it “Paddy’s Land”, ... ’Tis numbered amongst the worldly wonders,/The fountain-head of bulls and blunders.’ (pp.5-6).

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Private library: A copy of Life in London was in the possession of Mary Campbell (Green Rd., Blackrock, Co. Dublin) in 1990.

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Booksellers
Richard Beaton (Lewes, S. Sussex), lists for Pierce Egan (The Younger)
Edward the Black Prince; A Tale of Feudal Times [1855]
Quintin Matsys, The Blacksmith of Antwerp [1839]
Fair Rosamond, An Historical Romance [1844]

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Notes
Lots of fun: There is an allusion to Pierce Egan in James Joyce’s Finnegans Wake (1939): ‘Compost of Dufblin by Pierce Egan with the baugh of Baughkley of Fino Ralli. Explain why there is such a number of orders of religion in Asea!’ (447.23).

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