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The Poor Little Penny Dreadful
by [?]

Oct. 5, 1895. Our “Crusaders.”

The poor little Penny Dreadful has been catching it once more. Once
more the British Press has stripped to its massive waist and solemnly
squared up to this hardened young offender. It calls this remarkable
performance a “Crusade.”

I like these Crusades. They remind one of that merry passage in
Pickwick (p. 254 in the first edition):–

“Whether Mr. Winkle was seized with a temporary attack of that

species of insanity which originates in a sense of injury, or

animated by this display of Mr. Weller’s valour, is uncertain;

but certain it is, that he no sooner saw Mr. Grummer fall, than

he made a terrific onslaught on a small boy who stood next to

him
; whereupon Mr. Snodgrass–“

[Pay attention to Mr. Snodgrass, if you please, and cast your memories
back a year or two, to the utterances of a famous Church Congress on
the National Vice of Gambling.]

“–whereupon Mr. Snodgrass, in a truly Christian spirit, and in

order that he might take no one unawares, announced in a very

loud tone that he was going to begin, and proceeded to take off

his coat with the utmost deliberation. He was immediately

surrounded and secured; and it is but common justice both to him

and to Mr. Winkle to say that they did not make the slightest

attempt to rescue either themselves or Mr. Weller, who, after a

most vigorous resistance, was overpowered by numbers and taken

prisoner. The procession then reformed, the chairmen resumed

their stations, and the march was re-commenced.”

“The chairmen resumed their stations, and the march was re-commenced.”
Is it any wonder that Dickens and Labiche have found no fit
successors? One can imagine the latter laying down his pen and
confessing himself beaten at his own game; for really this periodical
“crusade” upon the Penny Dreadful has all the qualities of the very
best vaudeville–the same bland exhibition of bourgeois logic, the
same wanton appreciation of evidence, the same sententious alacrity in
seizing the immediate explanation–the more trivial the better–the
same inability to reach the remote cause, the same profound
unconsciousness of absurdity.

You remember La Grammaire? Caboussat’s cow has eaten a piece of
broken glass, with fatal results. Machut, the veterinary, comes:–

Caboussat. “Un morceau de verre … est-ce drole? Une vache de
quatre ans.”

Machut. “Ah! monsieur, les vaches … �a avale du verre à tout
�ge. J’en ai connu une qui a mangé une éponge à laver les
cabriolets … à sept ans! Elle en est morte.”

Caboussat. “Ce que c’est que notre pauvre humanité!”

Penny Dreadfuls and Matricide.

Our friends have been occupied with the case of a half-witted boy who
consumed Penny Dreadfuls and afterwards went and killed his mother.
They infer that he killed his mother because he had read Penny
Dreadfuls (post hoc ergo propter hoc) and they conclude very
naturally that Penny Dreadfuls should be suppressed. But before
roundly pronouncing the doom of this–to me unattractive–branch of
fiction, would it not be well to inquire a trifle more deeply into
cause and effect? In the first place matricide is so utterly unnatural
a crime that there must be something abominably peculiar in a form of
literature that persuades to it. But a year or two back, on the
occasion of a former crusade, I took the pains to study a
considerable number of Penny Dreadfuls. My reading embraced all
those–I believe I am right in saying all–which were reviewed, a few
days back, in the Daily Chronicle; and some others. I give you my
word I could find nothing peculiar about them. They were even rather
ostentatiously on the side of virtue. As for the bloodshed in them, it
would not compare with that in many of the five-shilling adventure
stories at that time read so eagerly by boys of the middle and upper
classes. The style was ridiculous, of course: but a bad style excites
nobody but a reviewer, and does not even excite him to deeds of the
kind we are now trying to account for. The reviewer in the Daily
Chronicle
thinks worse of these books than I do. But he certainly
failed to quote anything from them that by the wildest fancy could be
interpreted as sanctioning such a crime as matricide.