852 RARE: The Weekly Special – Light Summer Reading?

Poor Dennis Title PageAccounts of sensational crimes have long been a source of fascination, as illustrated by the Library’s large collection of 19th century British and American crime and trial literature, most produced for the popular press and including hundreds of broadsides as well as pamphlets. The vast majority of these accounts are based on verifiable events and, in an era when hanging was a common punishment for a wide range of crimes, most end very badly for the convicted criminal. But occasionally one encounters a story which, if not actually traceable in court records, does offer entertainment, and sometimes a new slant on crime and redemption. The intriguing title of one such story, the product of Glasgow publishers W. & R. Inglis & Co., caught our eye: An account of the imprisonment and execution of poor Dennis, an Irishman, who was hung for robbery, and afterwards restored to life by his friends, and is now living in America!!! This small pamphlet, cheaply printed on fragile paper is undated, but probably dates from between 1844 and 1846 when William and Robert Inglis were active at 5 Melville Place, 132 Trongate, the address on the title page. The pair is best known for having produced chapbooks on a variety of sensational topics. Here they present the circuitous and dramatic tale of Dennis, an Irish farm laborer convicted of robbery and eventually hung for his crime. But the gallows was low and Dennis was tall, and after cutting him down, his friends managed to revive poor Dennis. “All the vulgar methods in use were practiced to recover him; his feet were put in warm water, he was bloodied by a countryman with a rusty lancet, and rubbed with spirits, which were likewise applied to his nostrils and poured down his throat. He opened, at length, his eyes, and milk was given him from a woman’s breast, which, in Ireland, is considered a medicine of great efficacy.”  His tale ends on a decidedly upbeat note: “He is at present a porter in Baltimore, is married, and the father of several children. When Time has thrown its dark mantle over the origin of their family, the descendants of poor hanged Dennis may rank with the best in America.”

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