Here I am once more in this Scene of Dissipation & vice, and I begin already to find my Morals corrupted. – Jane Austen writing about London to Cassandra, August 23, 1796
Jane wrote her remark a quarter of a century before Pierce Egan published his book, Life in London: Or the Day and Night Scenes of Jerry Hawthorn, Esq. and and his elegant friend Corinthian Tom, accompanied by Bob Logic, The Oxonian, in their Rambles and Sprees through the Metropolis. The book, written four years after Jane Austen’s death, is largely a description of debauchery in the Great Metropolis during pre-Victorian days. In fact, George Cruikshank, artist and teetotaller, was so taken aback by the book that he allowed his brother Robert to complete two-thirds of the illustrations. Here’s what an early 20th century critique says of this book of vices:
The remainder [of the book] is mainly drinking, gambling, rioting, cock-fighting and other branches of debauchery, either practised or contemplated by the friends. It is significant that, of the three adventurers, the name of Corinthian Tom appears in the largest type upon the title-page. Tom, indeed, is the hero of the tale. He is the ideal “man about town”; and, however lavishly the author may praise his elegance and accomplishment, he remains the type of the polished blackguard, unworthy to associate with his country cousin, Jerry Hawthorn, the cheery fool to whom he shows “the pleasures of the town,” and only a shade more intolerable than the bestial creature, Bob Logic, who is intended for a model of good-humour and wit.
The following links provide more information about our dissipated heroes Tom and Jerry, and the licentious era to which later generations reacted:
- Life in London: Hear a description of a recent play and read a list of slang words from the 1820’s
- Life in London: Or the Day and Night Scenes of Jerry Hawthorn, Esq. and and his elegant friend Corinthian Tom, accompanied by Bob Logic, The Oxonian, in their Rambles and Sprees through the Metropolis, Pierce Egan, 1821, Dedicated to His Most Gracious Majesty King George IVth. Read the entire book at this Google search link.
- Read a critique of the book at this link: Caricature and Literature of Sport, Bartleby.com