Life in London: Or, The Day and Night Scenes of Jerry Hawthorne, Esq., and His Elegant Friend Corinthia Tom, Accompanied by Bob Logic, the Oxonian, in Their Rambles and Sprees Through the Metropolis, 1821
The Life of an Actor, 1825
Finish to the Adventures of Tom, Jerry, and Logic, 1829
Boxiana: Or, Sketches of Modern Pugilism, 1818-1824
There are in the history of the English novel many relatively minor figures who, because of some quality of their writing or some type of subject material used, exert a strong influence on the subsequent course of that history. Such a man was Pierce Egan (EE-guhn). He was a journalist and sportswriter who affected the writing of that giant in the history of the novel, Charles Dickens.
Egan was born in London in 1772. Although he made that city his home for the rest of his life, he traveled as much as anyone of his time; it has been said that he knew every city in England and knew it well. For the early part of his life Egan wrote sporting articles and news stories for London newspapers on a freelance basis. He was continually traveling throughout England to cover prize fights, horse races, and any other kind of sporting event. By 1812 he had made his reputation in this sort of reporting, and in that year he secured a permanent position and married. Two years later his son, Pierce Egan the younger, was born. Young Egan became almost equally famous as a writer and as an illustrator, often working in conjunction with his father.
The older Egan, famous for his knowledge of high and low life in London, and for his witticisms, decided to write the adventures of a group of young rakes in London. This serialized piece of fiction is far and away his most important work, and its full title is an indication of its nature: Life in London: Or, The Day and Night Scenes of Jerry Hawthorne, Esq., and His Elegant Friend Corinthia Tom, Accompanied by Bob Logic, the Oxonian, in Their Rambles and Sprees Through the Metropolis. The immediate and tremendous popularity of this series can be attributed to the vivid style and the lively, contrasting pictures of waste and poverty existing side by side. There were many imitations of Life in London; it was later dramatized and performed in both England and the United States. The sequel, Finish to the Adventures, creates tragic ends for most of the characters and has an oddly moral tone, but it still includes an abundance of adventure and shows an advance in literary style.
A more ambitious piece of fiction is The Life of an Actor, which Egan dedicated to one of the greatest of all British actors, Edmund Kean. Egan also edited a sporting weekly, turned out several nonfictional works about sports and the life of the sporting class, and covered famous trials of the day and wrote journalistic histories of several notorious criminals.
In his last years Pierce Egan enjoyed a quiet retirement and the friendship and admiration of many in the social, sporting, and literary worlds. He was admired by Charles Dickens, and many literary historians believe that the latter’s Pickwick Papers (1836-1837) was based in part on Egan’s colorful portrayals of English sporting life.