Appendix to A Mystery in Scarlet: Rich and Poor

These four elaborate color prints were distributed "Gratis" with the first number (10 February, 1866) of The London Miscellany, the periodical edited by James Malcolm Rymer that carried his penny dreadful A Mystery in Scarlet as its first leading serial. The four prints preview Rymer's miniature serial Rich and Poor (London Miscellany no. 3 and 4). Like other pull-out prints disseminated with penny periodicals, these were evidently designed to be displayed as wall art in the homes of the target readers, working-class families. We can therefore imagine these families reading A Mystery in Scarlet in domestic spaces decorated, at least momentarily, with these prints. I suspect that this decor reinforced some of the political rhetoric of A Mystery in Scarlet and other London Miscellany content.

The four illustrations were created by Robert Prowse (1826-86), a prolific illustrator of penny dreadfuls who flourished in the 1860s and 1870s. Prowse achieved notoriety for some of the illustrations of Charles H. Ross's Charley Wag, the New Jack Sheppard (1860-1). As John Springhall has observed, one of Prowse's Charley Wag illustrations "shows a grinning Charley fleeing confidently down the Strand ... with a stolen goose and two bottles of rum, hotly pursued by a policeman brandishing a truncheon, and egged on by a smiling crowd ... while a notice on a nearby wall offers £500 for the boy burglar's capture." Charley's exploits also include a daring Tower of London heist, an obvious challenge to the authority of the British state (Springhall 62). Prowse follows up on his outlaw theme in his illustration of other dreadfuls, including an 1880s edition of Percy Bolingbroke St. John's 1869 Dick Turpin adventure The Blue Dwarf, A Tale of Mystery, Love, and Crime. Despite Prowse’s provocative content, his contemporaries "rated [him] amongst the best of the woodcut artists working in the field" of periodical fiction illustration (Holland). He is not to be confused with his son, Robert Prowse, Jr (1858-?1934), also an artist and engraver.

In the Rich and Poor illustrations, Prowse's depiction of Britain's virtuous poor and idle rich promotes working-class pride and self-determination, as do other contents of The London Miscellany.  The images are printed in pairs on two sheets of folded paper.  Prowse has initialled each image in the lower lefthand corner, as he did several of his other known works. The verso of each sheet is blank. There are no visible plate marks. Images derive from the unbound (that is, never-bound) penny part copy of the London Miscellany, no. 1 in the collection of the Lilly Library, Indiana University, Bloomington, Indiana. Images courtesy Lilly Library, Indiana University, Bloomington, Indiana.

Works Cited:

Holland, Steve. "A Tale of Two Roberts." Yesterday's Papers. January 2010. [retrieved June 28, 2018].

Springhall, John. Youth, Popular Culture and Moral Panics: Penny Gaffs to Gangsta-Rap, 1830–1996. Houndmills: Macmillan, 1999.