An adaptation of Pierce Egan's lost comic classic of the 1820s

Life In London is the picaresque adventures of dashing buck Corinthian Tom, his country cousin Jerry Hawthorn and their drunken friend Bob Logic Esq in their sprees and rambles through the Metropolis. It starred Greg Wise as Tom, Mark Gatiss as Jerry, James Bachman as Bob and Geoffrey McGivern as Pierce Egan himself.

The series also featured the vocal talents of Dave Lamb, Morwenna Banks, Laura Shavin, Ben Graves, Neil Edmond, Christopher Douglas, Alex McQueen, Amanda Abbington, Margaret Cabourn Smith and Alys Torrance.

I first came across mentions of Life in London in George Macdonald Fraser's excellent Black Ajax. When I finally tracked down a copy of the book (it's been out of print since 1901) I fell in love with Egan's extraordinary writing style. Brio is the only word. Reading J.C. Reid's Bucks and Brusiers: Pierce Egan and Regency England made me realise that Egan himself was, if anything, more exciting, interesting and inspiring than any of the boxers, bucks, Corinthians and dandies he wrote about.

 

"I claim no attention as a scholar, for the truth is I am not University bred; and I tell you honestly that I am nothing else but a plain unlettered man, one who has read as he ran - treasuring up circumstances and events that crossed his path in the tablet of his memory - through rather a long but merry and diversified life, and I think I may say of myself that I am more of a laughing than a crying philosopher, or, in the words of the poet:-


With mirth and laughter let old wrinkles come,

And let my liver rather heat with wine

Than my heart cool with mortifying groans! 


Therefore I take nothing from the musty, dusty shelves in the closet - neither have I made up my anecdotes by the fireside: No! nothing like it - my observations have been obtained amidst the frost and snow - the pitiless pelting showers! - over hedge and ditch - good and bad roads - turf and turnpike; under which circumstances I trust I shall be able to show you the real thing, namely LIFE to the very echo!"

- Every Gentleman's Manual, Pierce Egan 1845

 


Want to speak like a Regency buck? Then allow me to present...

LIFE IN LONDON - A SLANG DICTIONARY

Taken from Grose's Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue, 1823 edition, edited by Pierce Egan.


Abigail - a lady's waiting maid.


Bang up - quite the thing. Well done. Complete. Dashing.


Blunt - money.


Bosky - in the cant of the Oxonians, being tipsy.


Bottom - a polite term for the posteriors. Also, in the sporting sense, strength and spirits to support fatigue.


Bunter - a low dirty prostitute, half whore, half beggar.


Chaffer - tongue.


Chaffing - to talk aloud.  


Charley - a watchman.


Conk - the nose. Also a thief who impeaches his colleagues.


Corinthian Path - Regent Street.


Crib - a house. To crack a crib: to break open a house.


Cyprian - a prostitute. From Venus, the Cyprus-born goddess.


Daffy - gin. Also known as blue ruin, Old Tom, max, flash of lightning, jackey.


Dipper - a pickpocket.


Duce - two-pence.


Dunagen - a privy.


Dustman - to let the dustman get hold of you: to fall asleep.


Fancy - one of the Fancy means a sporting character that is either attached to pigeons, dog-fighting, boxing etc.


Flash - knowing. Understanding another's meaning. To patter flash: to speak slang.


Flat - an honest man.  


Fly - knowing. Acquainted with another's meaning or proceeding.


Fogle - a handkerchief.  


Glim - a candle.


Heavy wet - beer.


Holy Land - the well-known region of St Giles parish, London.


Isle of Bishop - port wine and roasted oranges and lemons.  


Ivories - teeth. How the swell flashed his ivories; how the gentleman showed his teeth. To sluice the ivories; to drink.  


Knight of the Thimble - a tailor.  


Knowledge box - the head.


Macaroni - an Italian paste of flour and water. Also, a fop.


Mauleys - boxing gloves.


Miller - a boxer.  


Nob - the head.  


Ogles - the eyes.


Panny - a house. The prigs frisked my panny and nailed my screws; the officers searched my house and seized my picklock keys.


Phiz - the face.


Prad - a horse. The swell flashes a rum prad; the gentleman sports a fine horse.


Rattler - a coach.


Scran - food.  


Slavey - a servant of either sex.  


Spoony - foolish, half-witted, nonsensical.


Swell - a gentleman, but any well-dressed person is emphatically termed a swell.


Tonic - a halfpenny.


Uncle - a pawnbroker.