When the previous generation looks down on us from their high horses and their ivory thrones of sanctimony, they see a generation of people that they like to call lazy, whingeing and most of all, vulgar. They highlight the ‘depraved’ nature of modern dating, squarely pointing fingers at millennials’ act of sending inappropriate texts and pictures to each other in the place of classical dating. Little do they realise, however, that this is nothing new, and the Restoration period was filled with enough message based tomfoolery to make a harlot blush.
Exhibit A, your honour—Nell Gwyn. Nell was the mistress of Charles II, and famous for being extravagant and full of flair—known as “pretty, witty Nell” by Samuel Pepys. She certainly upped the sauciness factor with a somewhat coarse picture that she had painted of her and sent to Charles II. Bare chested and holding a rather questionable object, this may be one of the several reasons that Charles once uttered “not to let poor Nellie starve”. Charles often let his private life affect affairs of state breaking off peace talks to have dinner with his mistress and conducting political business from her chambers.
They weren’t just content with pictures back in the day either—they were chatting up a storm as well. Francis Grose actually put together the Classical Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue back in 1785 in order to round up some of the choice phrases of the day. Grose collected some of his worst vocabulary by taking night-time strolls through the worst areas of London, such as the dockyards and the slums.
Historians should consider how the romantic lives of prominent people, such as royalty and politicians, have shaped our country’s history. Linguists should consider how messages can be conveyed in more than words. English students may want to look at Nell Gwyn’s contribution to the Restoration movement in theatre. Those brave enough may want to take a look at the ‘Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue’, however we suggest not using some of the words at your interview!
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