One of the small perks of a job like mine is coming across books you'd never encounter otherwise, particularly those with weird and wonderful titles, and the last few weeks have been a particularly productive period in this respect. Usually I don't get to read enough of the book in question to establish what it's about, so, for instance, I never did get to find out what was so impossible about Babs the Impossible (1901) or who or what the "Nobbles" of Me and Nobbles (1908) was. Neither was I able to take the time to discover precisely what sort of climatic conditions the author might have had in mind when he entitled his 1944 book The Incredible Year: An Australian sees Europe in 'Adolf Hitler Weather'.
Sometimes, however, ignorance on the point of subject matter is to be preferred, as the book itself turns out to be nowhere near as interesting as the title might lead one to expected. Imagine my disappointment, for instance, when one of my all-time favourite eighteenth-century titles - The Coal-Heaver's Cousin Rescued from the Bats; and his Incomparable Cordials Recovered (1788) - turned out to be a rather dull religious tract and not a rollicking tale of derring-do at all. Likewise The Mental Accountant (also 1788) proved to be a self-help guide to doing long-division, rather than, as I'd hoped, an early novel about a young man driven to insanity by the exigencies of double-entry book-keeping.
One work which does sound as though it might be a good read, however is The Life and Adventures of Bampfylde-Moore Carew the noted Devonshire Stroller and Dog-Stealer (1745) which purports to be the autobiography of one 'Gypsie Carew'. Described by the Oxford DNB as 'Carew, Bampfylde-Moore (1693-1759), impostor', he was apparently the son of a Devonshire rector who ran away from home to take up a career in swindling and general blackguardry. At various times this included eloping with (and later abandoning) the daughter of a Newcastle apothecary (goodness knows how since his portrait suggests he was a remarkably ugly man with an even uglier dog - presumably stolen), being transported to Maryland as an 'idle vagrant', managing not to be press-ganged on the way back by pretending to have smallpox, being elected 'King or Chief of the Gypsies', and travelling the country with the Young Pretender.
Carew seems to have got away with quite a lot of his nefarious undertakings. Not so another unsavoury character I recently came across in Lloyd's Weekly London Newspaper for Sunday, February 27, 1848. W. Johnson, alias Montroe, alias 'Jim the Greek' and his accomplices J. Flower and J. Bunton were apparently involved in arranging and executing a number of burglaries in and around Woolwich. According to the newspaper, on this occasion they approached a Mr Duffill to see whether he would help them set up another job and the following (rather comical) exchange took place:
'Bunton said, "Would a thick one or two be convenient this cold weather?" Duffill said "I do not understand"- when Bunton rejoined, "Can you tumble?", meaning, understand, Duffill said no, and Bunton said, "Do you know of any one that has any dust?" Duffill said, "I know not what you mean."'
and who can blame him!
You'd have thought that this would have been enough to indicate to the gang that this Duffill chap wasn't perhaps a dyed-in-the-wool crook of their own caliber, but they apparently explained to him in words he could understand that they would "go regulars in" (i.e. give him a share in the proceeds from) any job he could put them up to. At which point Duffill agreed and then promptly went off and told the police, who arranged a set up and caught them in the act. When Flower's house was searched "skeleton keys and various burglarious instruments most ingeniously concealed, were found". And that, as they say, was that.
Now why don't you get crime reports like that in the papers these days?