In Pursuit of Civility
Manners and Civilization in Early Modern England
Author: Keith Thomas
Series: Menahem Stern Jerusalem Series
Keith Thomas’s earlier studies in the ethnography of early modern England, “Religion and the Decline of Magic,” “Man and the Natural World” and “The Ends of Life,” were all attempts to explore beliefs, values and social practices in the centuries from 1500 to 1800. “In Pursuit of Civility” continues this quest by examining what English people thought it meant to be “civilized” and how that condition differed from being “barbarous” or “savage.”
Thomas shows that the upper ranks of society sought to distinguish themselves from their social inferiors by distinctive ways of moving, speaking and comporting themselves, and that the common people developed their own form of civility. The belief of the English in their superior civility shaped their relations with the Welsh, the Scots and the Irish, and was fundamental to their dealings with the native peoples of North America, India and Australia.
Yet not everyone shared this belief in the superiority of Western civilization; the book sheds light on the origins of both anticolonialism and cultural relativism. Thomas has written an accessible history based on wide reading, abounding in fresh insights, and illustrated by many striking quotations and anecdotes from contemporary sources.