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Surprising Adventures of Bampfylde Moore Carew, King of the Beggars

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  • United States
  • English

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The Surprising Adventures of Bampfylde Moore Carew recounts the wide-ranging exploits of a real-life rogue – a wily professional mendicant who roams 18th-century England extracting charity from merchants, clergyman, and members of the landed gentry alike, employing in his craft an ingenious variety of deceptions and disguises put on for the purpose. Often he impersonates a shipwreck-surviving seaman and uses his wide knowledge of foreign parts and personages to achieve plausibility. Or he might appear on a doorstep as a destitute woman in widow's weeds, toting borrowed babes to enhance the effect. In the course of his psychological experiments in the science of inducing charity, Bampfylde Moore Carew takes great delight in touching the same mark more than once, back to back, offering up a different identity each time he scores. Sometimes, after the fact, he unmasks to his prey, and a drinking-party ensues. Twice, though, he is apprehended and transported to colonial America to be sold into slavery. During his first American sojourn, he lives among peaceful Indians before wangling his way back to England, feigning smallpox en route to avoid being pressed into military service. On another occasion, though, he is press-ganged onto a warship bound up the Baltic but, as always, uses his wits to make his way back to his beloved wife and daughter in England.
This book opens a panoramic window onto the day-to-day problems and social practices of those attempting to survive the precarious first half of the 18th century. Appended to the tale is A Dictionary of the Cant Language, listing the colorful, semisecret argot used by mendicants to, among other things, describe targets of opportunity while evading comprehension by overhearing ears. A sort of urban dictionary of its day, it includes such surprising entries as "flaybottomist - a schoolmaster," "lousetrap - a comb" and "tip the velvet - to tongue a woman." (Grant Hurlock)
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