This introductory chapter begins with a discussion of sceptical and hostile views towards new-rich tradesmen during the late 18th century. From the 1760s, treatises explaining the decline of empires drew new parallels to the British condition and warned of the dangers that upstart wealth might pose to manners, morality, and national vigour. Tracts and sermons pointed to the ruinous consequences of misused trading fortunes. Publications about India and Anglo-Indian wealth promoted fierce attacks on nouveaux riches nabobs. The chapter then considers how and why tradesmen, manufacturers, and the newly-wealthy came under such prolific literary attack in the second half of the 18th century. It surveys both media and message, investigating the changing context and the changing vocabulary and imagery of debate in literature ranging from novels and periodical essays to courtesy books and popular manuals. The balance of research is weighted heavily towards the reconstruction of a body of imaginative prose literature as published and distributed by the contemporary book trade and providing a basis for checking against bias and selectivity in summarizing popular literary representations.
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