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Of "Cocks."
Posted on Oct 13, 2004 - 06:54 AM by Bill McCann

London has always been a noisy place. Amongst the cachophony of sound in the Victorian streets was the chanting of the "Patterers", either moving or stationary. In his London Labour and the London Poor, Henry Mayhew devoted an entire chapter to an investigation of the artistry, lives and habits of these Londoners. In the latest of our extracts we give his description of the various literary forgeries that were available on the Strets of Victorian London.

"Married Man Caught in a Trap!"
These "literary forgeries," if so they may be called, have already been alluded to under the head of the "The Death and Fire Hunters," but it is necessary to give a short account of a few of the best and longest known of those stereotyped; no new "cocks", except for an occasion, have been printed for some years.

One of the stereotyped "Cocks" is, the "Married Man Caught in a Trap." One man had known it sold "for years and years," and it served, he said, when there was any police report in the papers about sweethearts in coal-cellars, etc. The illustration embraces two compartments. In one a severe-looking female is assaulting a man, whose hat has been knocked off by the contents of a water-jug, which a very stout woman is pouring on his head from a window. In the other compartment, as if from an adjoining room, two women look on encouragingly. The subject matter, however, is in no accordance with the title or the embellishment. It is a love-letter from John S-n to his most "adorable Mary." He expresses the ardour of his passion, and then twits his adored with something beyond a flirtation with Robert E-, a "decoyer of female innocence." Placably overlooking this, however, John S-n continues:-

"My dearest angel consent to my request, and keep me no longer in suspense -nothing, on my part, shall ever be wanting to make you happy and comfortable. My apprenticeship will expire in four months from hence, when I intend to open a shop in the small ware line, and your abilities in dress-making and self-adjusting stay-maker, and the assistance of a few female mechanics, we shall be able to realize an independency."

"Many a turn in seductions talked about in the papers and not talked about nowhere," said one man, "has that slum served for, besides other things, such as love-letters, and confessions of a certain lady in this neighbourhood."

Another old "*****" is headed, Extraordinary and Funny Doings in this Neighbourhood. The illustration is a young lady, in an evening dress, sitting with an open letter in her hand, on a sort of garden-seat, in what appears to be a churchyard. After a smart song, enforcing the ever-neglected advice that people should "look at home and mind their own business," are two letters, the first from R. G.; the answer from S. H. M. The gentleman's epistle commences:-

"The love and tenderness I have hitherto expressed for you is false, and I now feel that my indifference towards you increases every day, and the more I see you the more you appear ridiculous in my eyes and contemptible - I feel inclined and in every respect disposed and determined to hate you. Believe me, I never had any inclination to offer you my hand."

The lady responds in a similar strain, and the twain appear very angry, until a footnote offers an explanation: "By reading every other line of the above letters the true meaning will be found."

Of this class of "Cocks" I need cite no other specimens, but pass on to one of another species - the "Cruel and Inhuman Murder Committed on the Body of Capt. Lawson." The illustration is a lady, wearing a coronet, stabbing a gentleman, in full dress, through the top button of his waistcoat. The narrative commences:-

"WITH surprise we have learned that this neighbourhood for a length of time was amazingly alarmed this day by a crowd of people carrying the body of Mr. James Lawless, to a doctor while streams of blood besmeared the way in such a manner that the cries of Murder re-echoed the sound of numerous voices. It appears that the cause of alarm, originated through a courtship attended with a solemn promise of marriage between him and miss Lucy Guard, a handsome young Lady of refined feelings with the intercourse of a superior enlightened mind. She lived with her aunt who spared neither pain nor cost to improve the talents of miss G. those seven years past, since the death of her mother in Ludgate Hill, London, and bore a most excellent character until she got entangled by the allurements of Mr. L."

The writer then deplores Miss Guard's fall from virtue, and her desertion by her betrayer, "on account of her fortune being small." Capt. Lawson, or Mr. James Lawless, next woos a wealthy City maiden, and the banns are published. What follows seems to me to be a rather intricate detail:-

"We find that the intended bride learned that Miss Guard, held certain promissory letters of his, and that she was determined to enter an action against him for a breach of promise, which moved clouded Eclipse over the ecstasy of the variable miss Lawless who knew that Miss G had Letters of his sufficient to substantiate her claims in a court."

Lawson visits Miss Guard to wheedle her out of his letters, but "she drew a large carving-knife and stabbed him under the left breast." At the latest account the man was left without hope of recovery, while "the valiant victress" was "ordered to submit to judicial decorum in the nineteenth year of her age." The murders and other atrocities for which this "*****" has been sponsor, are - I was informed emphatically - a thundering lot!

"Express From Paris!"

I conclude with another "*****", which may be called a narrative "on a subject," as we have "ballads on a subject" (afterwards to be described), but with this difference, that the narrative is fictitious, and the ballad must be founded on a real event, however embellished. The highest newspaper style, I was told, was aimed at. Part of the production reads as if it had done service during the Revolution of February, 1848.

"Express from Paris. Supposed Death of LOUIS NAPOLEON. We stop the press to announce, that Luis Napoleon has been assassinated, by some it is said he is shot dead, by others that he is only wounded in the right arm.
"We have most important intelligence from Paris. That capital is in a state of insurrection. The vivacious people, who have heretofore defeated the government by paving-stones, have again taken up those missiles. On Tuesday the Ministers forbade the reform banquet, and the prefect of police published a proclamation warning the people to respect the laws, which he declared were violated, and he meant to enforce them. But the people despised the proclamation and rejected his authority. They assembled in great multitudes round the Chambers of Deputies, and forced their way over the walls. They were attacked by the troops and dispersed, but, re-assembled in various quarters. They showed their hatred of M. Guizot by demolishing his windows and attempting to force an entrance into his hotel, but were again repulsed by the troops. All the military in Paris, and all the National Guard, have been summoned to arms, and every preparation made on the part of the government to put down the people.
"The latter have raised barricades in various places, and have unpaved the streets, overturned omnibuses, and made preparations for a vigorous assault, or a protracted resistance.
"Five o'clock - At this moment the Rue St. Honore is blockaded by a detachment dragoons, who fill the market-place near the Rue des Petits Champs, and are charging the people sword in hand, carriages full of people are being taken to the hospitals.
"In fact the maddest excitement reigns throughout the capital.
"Half past Six. - During the above we have instituted enquiries at the Foreign office, they have not received any intelligence of the above report, if it has come, it must have been by pigeon express. We have not given the above in our columns with a view of its authenticity, any further information as soon as obtained shall be immediately announced to the public."


The complete text of London Labour and the London Poor can be found on-line as part of the Perseus Project.

Links to the other articles in the series.

The Origins of Patterers
The Morals of Patterers
The Patterers' Street Literature
Long Song-Sellers
The Running Patterer
The Death and Fire Hunters
The Second Edition
The Standing Patterers: I
Pattering Religious and Political Dialogues

Site Map

Note: The Victorian word for these forgeries apparently falls foul of some browser filters which seek to protect modern sensibilities. Throughout the text the word may be replaced by *****. I have tried to get around this by giving it a capital "C" and enclosing it in quotation marks but am not certain that it will always work.


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