Duelling was not simply an English affair, but also a social practice indulged in and debated throughout Europe. Originally, the duel was perhaps not as regulated as we have come to think of it, and it proceeded from the disorder and the general violence of society. In spite of the image of the eighteenth century as an age of politeness, duels persisted in the eighteenth century, and their endurance cannot be understood without a reflection on their long history, which is also briefly sketched in this entry.
Gentlemanliness was a contested quality in eighteenth-century Britain. During the century, the term broadened away from men of lineage to encompass the rising middling sort. One criterion used to define these ‘new’ gentlemen’ was sociability, but this was a sociability that now had to conform to other qualities making the new gentlemen: industriousness, sincerity, honesty, benevolence. Lord Chesterfield's instructions to his son on the art of pleasing were now regarded as superficial, corrupting. This entry considers this shift in gentlemanly sociability which intersects with many other entries in DIGIT.EN.S.
Hannah More, a woman of letters, was a Christian activist and philanthropist. Her sociable life in Britain’s major social centers, London and Bath, enabled her to use her closeness to the bluestocking.
The Kit-Cat Club (c.1690s-c.1720) was one of the earliest and most influential London gentlemen’s dining clubs. It kickstarted the English craze for eighteenth century clubbing and was the first to turn membership into a social credential. With members drawn exclusively from one Whig faction, yet with foundations in the literary world, it became a hub of patronage along lines of intellectual friendship rather than kinship, an informal venue of political opposition, and a prototype for Dr Johnson’s Club, among many others.
Sociability was intrinsic to British politics in the eighteenth-century. For Members of Parliament and members of the House of Lords, politics was face-to-face and personal, operating through social networks, personal connexions and extended family interests. Much political networking, solicitation, manoeuvring, and negotiation took place in mixed-sex social arenas that included women, or were hosted by women.