Last Updated on January 11, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1898
First published: 1821
Type of work: Novel
Type of plot: Picaresque romance
Time of work: Early nineteenth century
Corinthian Tom, a man of fashion
Jerry Hawthorn, his cousin
Bob Logic, their friend
Corinthian Tom, as he was later known, had been born into a rich family with loving parents, who watched after his welfare and provided for his every want. As he grew older, he was a little uneasy at their solicitude, for the carefree life in the capital appealed to him; and he would have liked to savor life without restrictions of any kind. Gradually, instances of the many different facets of London life came under his observation: the hungry man who counted the trees in St. James’s Park to while away the dinner hour; the rake who crossed the street to avoid his tailor; and the pawnshop customers. As Tom’s knowledge increased, his impatience to savor the whole of life became keener.
He became very friendly with Bob Logic, a one-time student at Oxford. A merry fellow with a comical face and an aptitude for puns, Bob was rich and had already been orphaned. With no strictures of purse or parents, Bob’s life was one long prank. For a time, Tom envied him.
Tom’s mother died first, and when his father also passed away, Tom’s grief was genuine. With rare tact, Bob left him to face his sorrow alone, but after a decent wait, he turned up again with his usual jests and puns. Tom then embarked on the life he most desired under Bob’s shrewd tutelage. In short order, Corinthian Tom was known at boxing matches, the society parades, the opera, and in slum dens. His career was crowned by the acquisition of the most desirable mistress in town, lovely and talented Catherine. As their connection became known, inevitably she was called Corinthian Kate.
His merry life was temporarily halted when Tom fell ill. He called in Doctor Pleas’em, a knowing doctor with the perfect approach for reckless young blades. Doctor Pleas’em prescribed a country rest for his weary patient. Searching through his invitations, Tom found one from an uncle who lived at Hawthorn Hall, and he set out to visit him immediately.
At the hall, Tom met his young cousin Jerry, a strong and quick lad who was dazzled by his city relative. Soon, country life worked its wonders, and on the last day of his stay, Tom accompanied Jerry on a twenty-six mile fox hunt. Both young men were in at the kill. That afternoon, when an agreeable party met to say their farewells to Tom, it was decided that Jerry should return to London with his cousin to acquire a city polish.
Jerry was impressed by the appointments of Corinthian House and was a willing pupil in learning social graces. The first step was to call in a good tailor. Tom’s man was Mr. Primefit, who was the most accomplished tailor in town. Mr. Primefit had built up his vast clientele by never pressing for a bill; in return, the young blades never questioned the amount of a bill when they finally paid it. In his new clothes, Jerry saw his first panorama of society when Tom took him riding in Rotten Row and Hyde Park.
With Tom and Bob as guides, Jerry saw the gambler, the tradesman, the sharper—all decked in finery well beyond their purses. The lively Lady Wanton and her sister, Miss Satire, were attracted by Jerry’s fresh face and manly bearing. When Miss Satire made an unkind remark about Jerry’s lack of polish, Lady Wanton warmly defended Jerry. The most beautiful woman they saw was the dazzling Duchess of Hearts. With his happy felicity for knowing everyone, Tom introduced Jerry to her. Jerry was struck dumb: her lovely face, her intelligent eyes, her warm heart were too much for him to comprehend.
Another person they met was Trifle, the thinnest and slightest dandy in London. To Jerry, he seemed an absolute oddity. Then a calm older woman, warm of smile and respectable of appearance, drove by with three bewitching girls. Jerry hoped for an introduction to the charming family, for they spoke to Bob. He learned that introductions, however, were not in order; the woman, madam of a select bawdy house, was advertising three of her most recent acquisitions.
Jerry’s rusticity wore off quickly. Every afternoon and evening Bob and Tom took him out. They attended gatherings of all sorts. One afternoon, Tom proposed an evening visit to the theater. Jerry assented eagerly, but Bob begged off; the theater was a bit high-toned for him. That evening, Tom and Jerry went to Drury Lane. There Tom took a quick took at the stage and a longer one at the audience. The two cousins saw few friends and decided to go on to Covent Garden, where the company seemed more congenial. After a glance at the play, they pushed into the Saloon. Jerry was struck by the crowds of laughing, friendly girls. Tom had to tell him that the girls were on the lookout for customers.
Although Jerry was reluctant to leave the Saloon, Tom induced him to visit a coffeehouse. There the raffish hangers-on decided to have a bit of fun with the two swells. In the fight that followed, Tom and Jerry were acquitting themselves well when the watch broke up the riot. Unfortunately, the cousins continued to battle the watch. They were finally subdued and hauled off to jail. Released on bail, they had to appear before a magistrate the next day. Their fine was supposed to pay the watch for the damage they had done.
In turn, Tom, Jerry, and Bob went to a boxing establishment, a fencing salon, the dogfights, and the condemned yard at Newgate. A highlight was a masquerade supper at the opera. Jerry was attracted by a coquettish woman dressed as a nun but was importunate in trying to learn her name. Finally, the nun wrote an acrostic to supply the information. With Bob’s help, Jerry finally learned that his companion had been Lady Wanton.
Tom was reluctant for some time to introduce Corinthian Kate, but he finally arranged a meeting with her for Bob and Jerry. Kate was glad to see them and presented her very good friend Sue. Jerry was interested in analyzing the two beautiful women. Kate was self-possessed and inclined to dramatic settings: an accomplished belle. Sue seemed much warmer and more genuinely sympathetic. While Bob played the piano for them, Jerry and Sue had a pleasant tete-a-tete. Jerry was reluctant to leave.
Tom mysteriously arranged a special trip for the two ladies. He warned them to be dressed by eleven sharp, for the success of the trip depended on punctuality. The ladies were ready when Tom and Jerry called. They were whisked away in a cab to Carleton Palace. There the friends went through the succession of fine rooms and examined the appointments at their leisure.
One of their memorable jaunts was an evening spent among cadgers. Disguising themselves as beggars, they visited a tavern frequented by professional alms takers, where they saw the crippled woman descend a ladder in a lively manner without her crutches. All manner of frauds came to light in the dismal gathering.
All pleasant excursions, however, were drawing to an end; Bob was put in debtors’ prison. Although he was as merry as ever when Tom and Jerry went to see him, he did promise to put his affairs in better order, for he was confident that he would soon be released. When Jerry caught a cold that he could not seem to get rid of, Doctor Pleas’em told him that he could not expect to lead such a life indefinitely, and he must return to Hawthorn Hall for a rest. Then he could come back and plunge into London life once more. Vowing to be back soon and asking Tom to give his best wishes to Sue, Jerry returned to the country.
TOM AND JERRY is a title commonly given to Pierce Egan’s LIFE IN LONDON: OR, THE DAY AND NIGHT SCENES OF JERRY HAWTHORN, ESQ., AND HIS ELEGANT FRIEND, CORINTHIAN TOM, ACCOMPANIED BY BOB LOGIC, THE OXONIAN, IN THEIR RAMBLES AND SPREES THROUGH THE METROPOLIS. The book is a minor masterpiece. Any student of history who wishes to know of life in Regency London must read it, for it is the best single source of its kind. Egan, a sporting gentleman who keenly observed the life around him, put into his picaresque narrative a detailed account of boxing, cockfighting, masquerades, and taverns. Much of the slang of the day can be found in this work—some of it still seems new—carefully explained in footnotes. At the time of publication, the innumerable puns added to the liveliness of the novel, but to most modern readers, the plays on words are often obscure and they can be disregarded. Egan’s comic spirit made him a forerunner of Surtees and Dickens.
Egan’s popularity in his own day was based on two works: BOXIANA: OR, SKETCHES OF MODERN PUGILISM (1818-1824) and LIFE IN LONDON, originally published in monthly serial form and illustrated by George and Robert Cruikshank. The book was immensely popular for a time and was the rage in London; at one point in THE ROUNDABOUT PAPERS, Thackeray pictures himself as a boy getting boxed on the ears by his schoolmaster because he is caught reading a copy of LIFE IN LONDON, which he has hidden behind a pile of Greek and Latin books. Years later, the adult Thackeray, in an article for the WESTMINSTER REVIEW, relates how he was unable to find a single copy of the book in the British Museum and five major circulating libraries. Copies of Egan’s tale are still scarce today, owing to the fact that the work lacks great literary merit; but this is unfortunate, since LIFE IN LONDON is not only highly entertaining but offers one of the most complete pictures available of life in the big city during the reign of George IV.
LIFE IN LONDON is most often classified as a picaresque novel. Although it does utilize some of the more obvious features of the picaresque, Egan did not intend to write in that genre. The two central characters, Corinthian Tom and Jerry Hawthorn, are not rogues in the usual sense but fun-loving rakes out on the town looking for a good time; Egan does not use their adventures as a tool for social satire but merely for entertainment. Furthermore, LIFE IN LONDON is humorous. The plot is fast-paced and filled with madcap action from the first page to the last. In a breathtaking whirl, readers follow Tom, Jerry, and Bob Logic from saloon to saloon, from Temple Bar to theater, from nightclub to dancing hall, as they sing, dance, drink, flirt, and generally make merry. It is said that Egan had intended to bring all three young men to ruin at the end, the proper punishment for their lives of carefree dissipation; but the young rakes are so lovable and captivating in their way that readers are grateful to Tom and Jerry’s original audience for persuading the author to settle them into happy marriages instead.