Friday, April 06, 2007

The age of cant

At the FT, Jenny Uglow reviews Ben Wilson's Decency and Disorder: The Age of Cant, 1789-1837 (I love it the way that someone over at the FT clearly has a strong interest in the eighteenth century):

This was ”the age of cant”, declared Byron in a scathing letter of 1821: ”cant political, cant poetical, cant religious; but always cant, multiplied through all the varieties of life”.

The term originated from the whining appeals of beggars in Elizabethan times. Then, thanks to a 17th-century preacher, Andrew Cant, it shifted to describe the pontifications of the pulpit, making an easy leap to the jargon of the professions, especially lawyers, ”the canting tribe”. By the end of the 18th century, the main problem was that almost every group had its own language of moral justification, from health fanatics to fashion addicts, from advocates of iron self-restraint to impassioned devotees of ”sincerity”.


  1. Dear Jenny

    Though this is probably not the best place/post to make this announcement, I will anyawy: go see Grindhouse! It's superbly ridiculous and the most fun you'll have in ages!

  2. What's that new book on "the making of Victorian Britain" -- covers about the same period as this, might make a good double bill for anyone who wants to bathe deeply in the Georgian.