Tom and Jerry were characters created by the London journalist Pierce Egan for his monthly magazine Life in London. They were young men about town, with ambitions no greater than to ‘see a bit of life’, and their escapades were hugely popular in print – and perhaps even more so on stage or in verse adaptations such as this. ‘Tom and Jerry’ became proverbial for describing young men causing disorder. While Tom and Jerry plays travelled across the Atlantic to America, there is no solid evidence that they influenced the cartoon cat and mouse team of the same name.
One of the key achievements of Egan’s Life in London was using contemporary slang as the basis of its style and providing an insight into the lowlife at large in the underbelly of the city. An East End pub is described as follows:
Every cove that put in an appearance was quite welcome, colour or country considered no obstacle… The group was motley indeed – Lascars, blacks, jack-tars, coal-heavers, dustmen, women of colour, old and young, and a sprinkling of the remnants of once fine girls, and all jigging together.
William Moncrieff’s stage adaptation of 1821 was perhaps even more riotous in its presentation of down-at-heel London life: many of the cast were actual beggars and tramps literally discovered on the streets.
How does this relate to Charles Dickens?
While it is perhaps stretching a point to say that Life in London
was a direct influence on the young Charles Dickens, its success did help foster the public taste for street talk and novel phraseology in which Dickens’s early fiction abounds.