I believe the current early chronology of versions containing all the basic motifs is as follows:
- Joseph Fouché was a politician and administrator, and the delightfully wicked creator under Bonaparte of something vaguely resembling the modern police service. According to PBS, he wrote in something called Archives of the police of a series of murders committed in 1800 by a Parisian barber who, in league with a neighboring pastry cook, turned them into pies and sold them for human consumption.
- PBS tells us that The Tell Tale, a London magazine, republished the story in 1824 under the headline “A Terrific Story of the Rue de Le Harpe, Paris”. (Here they say 1825, but hey…)
- Still with PBS, the first appearance of the character named Sweeney Todd is in a 1846 penny dreadful, “The string of pearls: a romance”, written by Thomas Prest and published in the The People’s Periodical.
- George Dibdin Pitt rewrote Prest’s story for the stage, calling it The string of pearls: the fiend of Fleet Street, and describing it at its launch in 1847 as “founded on fact.”
Wikipedia says that the story may be traceable to an episode in the legend of Saint Nicholas, “likely developed in the eleventh century”, in which three clerks are murdered by an innkeeper and, on the advice of his wife, turned into meat pies, before being resurrected by the saint, and recalls also the pie Titus Andronicus made of Demetrius and Chiron in the 1590s. The version I’ve just bumped into has St Nick’s clerks, takes place less than a century after Shakespeare’s, and is considerably closer to nineteenth century versions.
In 1654 Peter Mårtensson Lindeström (also: Lindstrom etc) sailed for New Sweden (see Christopher Ward’s New Sweden on the Delaware (1938)) on the Örn (Eagle) in order to work as a cartographer and engineer. On his death in 1691, he left a manuscript account of his experiences which, in 1925, was published by the Swedish Colonial Society of Philadelphia in annotated translation by Amandus Johnson as Geographia Americae, or a Description of Indiae Occidentalis. From the description given by Johnson in Swedish settlements on the Delaware (1911), the book and its author sound like great fun:
At Dover, Lindeström saw a castle, which Satan had caused to fly out of the city up on a high hill, where the Devil ruled over it, making it impossible for anyone to stay there and, oh, horribile dictu, there were many castles in England to which Satan took a fancy … and over which he held lordly sway. In England, “a land with no forests,” men and women saluted each other with a kiss when they met … and at Pirrinquet the city musicians serenaded the Swedish officers “honoring them with the most delightful and pleasing music, so that they had to open their purses.” At the Canary Islands where the principal men spoke Latin, though with a Spanish accent, Lindeström saw many strange things. At the governor’s palace he attended a banquet, which consisted entirely of sweetmeats and wines. He was visited by “charming nuns” and monks, who “were good drinking brothers … ” and he was once on the point of being murdered by the [French] interpreter … on account of a “trifling affair not worth mentioning.”
But, returning to Geographia Americae, it was in Calais that he met with cannibalism:
At that time, here in Cales, many delicious, palatable and rare pies were baked, which were widely cried out [for sale]. [I] will relate a story which happened then in Cales, concerning an affair between a barber and a pie-baker, which took place thus: The barber had a front chamber in his house in front of his [own] room. Below that chamber-floor he had made for himself a secret cellar and above the floor was a square trap-door, so nicely made that one who did not look for it closely could not see where it was joined, and the said trap-door shut so hard that that a person could sit on a chair on it and [it] did not go down by it. But when one stamped once hard on it with the foot, it fell down immediately. Now when any traveler, who was of a foreign nation, came to this barber to be shaved, then he took him into this said chamber, placed a chair on the aforesaid trap-door for him to sit upon, while he was to shave him. The stranger did thus. When now the barber began to shave him and came to shave him under the chin, he cut his throat, stamped thus while he cut him on the said trap-door with his foot, by which the trap-door with the man and chair fell down into the cellar and immediately thereafter he robbed him. And because the said barber and pie-baker were in company and council together in this [affair], the former sold the human flesh to the latter with which he baked the above mentioned rare pies. These were at last discovered and betrayed in this manner, namely: Two traveling students from a foreign country arrived there, and in going along the street came right before the barber’s [house]. Then one companion said to the other: “Brother go and engage good lodgings for us somewhere, where you can find some good people. I will, in the meantime, go into this barber to get shaved, where I will wait for you so long, until you return here to me again.” However, the barber did away with him, after his usual aforesaid manner and custom with others. Now finally the other one returned and asked the barber after his companion. He answered that he went his way immediately after he had been shaved. But this companion of his not believe it, rather considered his companion’s word to be more creditable, upon which he relied, but did not [yet] know what he should do. Nor would he risk to accuse this barber right away, although he might have his suspicion, but went away at first everywhere
And that’s where my access to the Google Print scan of the reprint of the original 1925 edition stops. If you have access to the relevant libraries in any of these states, or if you are a Swedish Colonial Society bod, I’d be so happy if you’d be a darling and scan the denouement and mail it to me so I can post it here.
There’s yet another version in a piece called “Paris–chronicles of the cité” published in Blackwood’s in January 1842, which locates the action in the Rue des Marmouzets (also Marmousets) in Paris and dates it to at least a century before the reign of Francis I (1515-47). Although the Jews and the gypsies always get the blame, it is now fairly well established that it is the French who eat babies. I’ll bet Marie-Antoinette knew what would be in that cake.
[I’ll probably return to this anon since I think it throws interesting light on ETA Hoffmann and several nineteenth century Gothic tales, as well as on a recent bestseller. I’ve also got something on Swedish tits in Spain which may be of some interest.]
- Return of the demon barber of Calais
Such was the worldwide stir caused by my revelation that the Sweeney Todd story is at least a century older than previously thought that I know many of you will be impatient to read this new story of sinister stylists across the water. It’s from a French tutor, Méthode rationnelle suivant pas à pas la marche …
- Daniel Heinsius’ solitary phoenix and the final words of the beastly bookseller of Barcelona
In 1927 the Catalan literary researcher and writer, Ramon Miquel i Planas (1874-1950; henceforth MiP) wrote a little book, published in a bibliophile edition, called La llegenda del llibreter assassí. In it he reflects on the origins and recycling of “Le bibliomane ou le nouveau Cardillac”, an anonymous tale published as if true in 1836 …
- Monkey hangers in 17th century Barcelona
Xenophobic atavism in the 1640 Reapers Revolt.
- Assaulted by a pine processionary caterpillar!
With chunks of Dioscorides and Andrés Laguna, including the wonderful story of what happened when an impotent bridegroom and a constipated friar involuntarily swapped medicines.
- The 1660 Foire de Saint-Germain
Featuring castanets, monkeys, marionettes, and human and tortoise castles.