This essay studies the issues of The Gentleman's Magazine from 1785 to 1715, selecting those years because of the common view that society and a class system crystalized following the French Revolution. Rather than view society from an economist's or a Marxist's perspective, I am concerned with how London society, during this period, viewed itself. The data demonstrate different ranks, although what constitutes a gentleman remains flexible, with various people in the middling orders capable of ascending to a gentleman's status. While class separations and a disdain for the lowly rabble were clearly apparent, there was no sense that the rabble might become organized under the leadership of a significant section of the elite. Nor did the magazine did envisage a society chronically riven by class conflict, certainly not a clash between a middle and an upper class, and on balance, even the poor were depicted as loyal. The comfortable impression was given that the overwhelming majority of the elite—from aristocracy down to respectable traders and gentlemen farmer—was cemented together by gentlemanly solidarity and loyalty to king and constitution. There was no sense of an antagonism between trade and commerce, and the criteria for gentility that the magazine proposed were sufficiently numerous, and of such a nature, as to open the door to determined and aspiring traders and lesser professionals. The Gentleman's Magazine's synthesis of a hierarchical model with a generous dichotomous one offered its readers an alternative to imagining a middle class.
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William Stafford; Representations of the Social Order in The Gentleman's Magazine, 1785-1815. Eighteenth-Century Life 1 April 2009; 33 (2): 64–91. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/00982601-2008-046
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