Monday, May 10, 2010

Men Behaving Badly: Life in London

Monday, May 10, 2010
Loretta reports:

One of my prize possessions is a falling-to-pieces copy of Pierce Egan’s Life in London: or, The day and night scenes of Jerry Hawthorn, esq., and his elegant friend Corinthian Tom, accompanied by Bob Logic, the Oxonian, in their rambles and sprees through the metropolis.  It’s beautifully illustrated by George &Robert Cruikshank.  Issued in shilling numbers starting in July 1821, it was hugely popular and remained so into the 20th century.

Basically, it’s a book about Men Behaving Badly.

One of the more famous of its illustrations is TOM GETTING THE BEST OF A CHARLEY.  Yes, this was a Regency “gentleman’s” idea of fun:

Tom had the CHARLEY in his box down in an instant.  HAWTHORNE laughed immoderately at the dexterity of TOM…Indeed it is totally impossible under such circumstances, for a Charley to extricate himself, without the assistance of some of his brother “guardians of the night.”  The noise made by the watchman to get out of his box broke in upon the ears of another old scout, across the road, who, half asleep and without knowing what was the matter, sprang his rattle for assistance.  “Let us be off,” said TOM; “it won’t do to remain her any longer.”  The two Cyprians,* in the most tender and persuasive manner, now endeavoured to gammon JERRY and the CORINTHIAN up Shire Lane to a place of safety, as they termed it.  “No,” replied TOM, “I rather think not!  Your house, I am afraid, is not insured; but, I must admit, your policy is not a bad one neither!”

As the excerpt demonstrates, it’s written in the arch style favored at the time, it’s loaded with incomprehensible slang and obscure puns, and there’s no obvious rhyme or reason to the italics.

Yet the picture it offers of men of the era helps us understand why Conan Doyle, in Rodney Stone, described a character thusly: “He was a type and leader of a strange breed of men which has vanished away from England--the full-blooded, virile buck, exquisite in his dress, narrow in his thoughts, coarse in his amusements, and eccentric in his habits.”  This isn’t Mr. Darcy by a long shot, and while I don’t doubt that Jane Austen’s hero had his counterparts, I suspect the Corinthian Tom type was easier to find in real life.  Certainly the strong Victorian reaction against the type tells us that such men were far from rare.

Here's an early 20th C assessment of the book.  And here's a 1904 edition at Google Books.



Eliza Martin said...

That book sounds delightful. These men sound like the type that would attend those notorious hellfire clubs.

Anonymous said...

Oh wow, what a wonderful sounding book! I love this kind of history book that give you true stories and anecdotes that show you what life really was like.

Jane O said...

LOL Today, I suspect, Corinthian Tom and his friends would be featured in the tabloids dangling at the checkout in the supermarket.

And in Ancient Rome they night have gone by the names of Clodius and Milo.

Some things never change.

ILoveVersailles said...

Jane O is absolutely right. Things never do change. Corinthian Tom sounds like every other badly behaved frat-house boy, pub-crawler or football hooligan. But then that's the purpose of your wonderful 'Men behaving badly' blogs, isn't it? To show us men never do change, or wish to, for that matter? ;)

nightsmusic said...

Okaaaaaaaay then...


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