Detractors delighted in linking “the volatile matter” of wood-pulp paper with the “volatile minds” of pulp readers. Londoner W. Coldwell wrote a three-part diatribe, “On Reading,” lamenting that “the noble art of printing” should be “pressed into this ignoble service.” Samuel Taylor Coleridge mourned how books, once revered as “religious oracles … degaded into culprits” as they became more widely available.
By the end of the century there was growing concern—especially among middle class parents—that these cheap, plentiful books were seducing children into a life of crime and violence. The books were even blamed for a handful of murders and suicides committed by young boys. Perpetrators of crimes whose misdoings were linked to their fondness for penny dreadfuls were often referred to in the newspapers as “victims” of the books.
Wild bit of history.