In Regency England, people thought they had to protect themselves from crime. It was the government’s job to protect them from foreign threats like Napoleon; it was your own personal responsibility to keep crime from your own door.
And there was plenty of crime in Regency England, with only a fledgling concept of professional police in the form of Bow Street Runners. People expected petty crimes such as thievery were a constant possibility, and they looked on it more as a nuisance, taking steps to keep themselves from being victims. They watched out for pickpockets, avoided areas known for unsavory business (stay away from the stews, rookeries, and docks!), and protected themselves with outriders when traveling through highwaymen country. Those who did find themselves the object of crime could hire a thief-taker in attempt to recoup their losses, but thief-takers were often little more than middle-men or fencers, taking a cut from both the criminals and the victims. There were over 200 offenses punishable by death at this time, so criminal behavior was not for the novice or faint of heart.
In a case of, once again, history repeating itself, there was a thriving industry of book-stealing. So much so that Thieves’ Cant had a slang term for it.
Thieves who make it their business to steal tradesmen’s shop-books. CANT.
I can’t find any specific cases of book thievery, but one has to assume there could have been executions for this crime since death was the penalty for thievery of an item with a value of five shillings or greater. Yikes.
Modern-day heavers are blessed by operating behind the anonymity of the internet and with the speed of instantaneous digital transfer of money. Not a single week goes by that I don’t receive a Google notice that one of my novels is listed for free on a new thief site. Fortunately for us authors, the overwhelming majority of these sites don’t actually have copies of our books available for free download; they merely have the titles. Their true purpose is not to gift you with a free story but to rob you of your personal information.
And if, by chance, you do secure a free copy of a book by one of your favorite authors, rest assured that legit-looking digital copy likely comes with the added bonus of attached malware, spyware, or your friendly, neighborhood Trojan virus.
There’s no such thing as a free book…unless the author notifies you of such via newsletter, social media announcements, or notification through our online vendors.
So don’t fall victim to 21st century heavers – they rob from the author to give you the gift that keeps on giving: identity theft. A Google search of “free book scams” yields a whopping 31,800,000 hits.
- Slang term taken from the 1811 Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue.
- Read more to learn why The Regency Had No Crime.
- For a particularly interesting bit of history mixed with true crime, venture over to Jane Austen’s World to read about Law & Order and Jane Austen’s Aunt, by Paul Emanuelli.
- Discover a nice sampling of London book sellers at Baldwin Hamey’s fantastic blog, London Street Views.
- The Georgian Underworld by Rictor Norton reveals all you ever wanted to know about The Criminal’s Progress: The Underworld & The Underclass.