Academic journal article Early Modern Literary Studies

Taking a Walk on the Wild Side: Henry Goodcole's Heavens Speedie Hue and Cry Sent after Lust and Murther (1635) and London Criminal Chorography

Academic journal article Early Modern Literary Studies

Taking a Walk on the Wild Side: Henry Goodcole's Heavens Speedie Hue and Cry Sent after Lust and Murther (1635) and London Criminal Chorography

Article excerpt

1. Before the appearance of serialized printed news in the 1660s, crime stories tended to reduce explanations for real-life homicides to a single cause: sinful human nature. This approach came naturally to writers of early modern murder pamphlets, since many were Calvinist-trained clergy who ministered to convicted prisoners in county jails. The influential Puritan divine William Perkins had theorized that original sin created an inherent disposition towards spiritual and literal murder. Ontologically, therefore, law-abiding citizens were potentially no different from criminals; only self- or externally imposed discipline prevented their fallen human nature from manifesting itself as illegal behaviour.1 When discussing an accused person's motives, clerical crime-writers accordingly focused on internal moral lapses and public transgressions, biographically narrativized as chains of sin culminating in homicide. Contingent circumstances such as poverty, unemployment, gender, class, and the physical environment of crimes, while sometimes mentioned, were rarely taken seriously as contributing factors. This kind of evidence became increasingly visible and debated in popular news after the Restoration, however, owing to nascent formats of commercial journalism such as assize-trial reports and newspapers. These publications expanded the conceptual origins of homicide by recognizing its social and material causes, while retaining traditional - and profitable - perspectives of moral judgement and divine retribution.

2. The arc of this received narrative of early modern murder news has been shaped partly by J.A. Sharpe's and Peter Lake's studies of the puritan ideology of confession and conversion pamphlets, partly by Jürgen Habermas's arguments about the emergence of a secularizing culture of rational debate, which he calls the public sphere, based on the growth of late-seventeenth-century printed news, and partly by studies of post-Restoration competition among crime-news publishers, as well as the enabling impact of judicial licensing on assize-trial reporting.2 Collectively these developments opened the criminal law and individual cases to unprecedented public scrutiny. However, this account tends to neglects pre-Restoration writers who experimented with what we would now call more material and sociological modes of criminal analysis, and who transformed the earlier moralizing genre of criminal biography into more forensically oriented reports of urban homicide.

3. The most influential of these writers was Henry Goodcole, author of an unprecedented half-dozen news-pamphlets between 1618-37. Goodcole's writings were at the forefront of a growing early modern market for crime news, establishing him as England's first professional real-crime writer. As printed reports reached increasing numbers of readers and listeners around the country, they overwrote romanticized memories of notorious murders in older formats such as ballads (oral and printed) and prose fiction. In both narrative and visual terms, Goodcole's Heavens Speedie Hue and Cry Sent After Lust and Murther (1635) was notably ground-breaking. Unusually for an early modern murder pamphlet, it went through several editions, the second of which Goodcole revised substantially; and it is in the differences between the original and later editions that his innovative interpretations of metropolitan homicide become especially visible. The brisk sales of Heavens Speedie Hue and Cry not only reflected the topical notoriety of its criminal subjects and their three socially prominent victims, but also changing public attitudes towards female criminality in the 1630s. By documenting subversive public reactions in an added report about a post-execution protest by members of London's criminal community, Goodcole's second edition also revealed weaknesses in the theory of defensive surveillance which underpinned London policing practices.3 His insights drew on two areas of knowledge new to the genre of printed crime news: empirical evaluation of economic circumstances and gender differences; and the mapping of city and suburban spaces according to his and readers' subjective perceptions of their reputation for life-threatening dangers. …

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