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Judging New WealthPopular Publishing and Responses to Commerce in England, 1750–1800$
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James Raven

Print publication date: 1992

Print ISBN-13: 9780198202370

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: October 2011

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780198202370.001.0001

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Merchants, Gentility and Christian Conduct

Merchants, Gentility and Christian Conduct

(p.83) 5 Merchants, Gentility and Christian Conduct
Judging New Wealth

James Raven

Oxford University Press

During the second half of the 18th century, very particular reinterpretation of ‘taste’ and ‘vulgarity’ supported literary attacks on men of trade. At the same time, many writers sought to protect the long-standing civic reputation of the merchant. The resulting contrast between the images of merchant citizen and of vulgar nouveau riche is important. Distinctions made between the two types throw into relief the ethical values by which businessmen were judged. In many didactic works of popular fiction and drama the merchant was advanced from incidental player to central character. In turn, imaginative portrayals of tradesmen called upon a whole repertoire of encoded statements about social ethics and custom derived from two centuries or more of morality literature. This heritage must be examined in order to understand both local perceptions of the merchant and the contrasting vulgarity charges levelled against the entrepreneur. This chapter reviews works informing the wider moral critique of the businessman and underpinning the analyses offered by the literature of the sampled years and discussed in subsequent chapters.

Keywords:   tradesmen, businessmen, merchants, popular literature, nouveau riche

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