Themed Set: Selections from the Newgate Calendar

9 comments April 1st, 2009 Headsman

The popular crime chronicle The Newgate Calendar is a rich broth these pages dare indulge but sparingly.

Well, not too sparingly.

Though far less concerned with journalistic precision than with sermonizing — and, in their totality, largely repetitive templates of lurid voyeurism and moralistic hypocrisy — the stories can make colorful reads on their own.

Here is a harvest of halter-bound harlots, highwaymen, and housebreakers — another age’s criminal element, now long forgotten. (Only one of this series’ entrants would be recognizable today to one Englishman or -woman in a thousand.)

But the exploits of these petty criminals, scrabbling in a small corner of a world being violently reshaped by conquest, extermination and slavery — and the occasional catastrophic economic bubble — have a familiar feel. Ever is it thus.

Little Villains must submit to Fate,
That great Ones may enjoy the World in State.

And given a little latitude for time and place, even the particulars ring true.

This vichyssois of underclass bawd, middle-class anxiety, clerical flimflammery, popular legend, human foible and yellow journalism hustle could as well have been ripped from any evening’s cable news outrage du jour or any supermarket tabloid’s shrieking banner. The annals of Newgate compellingly meet this blog’s search for the scaffold’s part in the timeless human tragicomedy.

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