The Compleat Gentleman

David Nickerson, Class of 2019

This exhibit is a collaboration of Tisch Library Special Collections, Tufts Technology Services, and students in History 96: History of the Book, taught by Professor Alisha Rankin at Tufts University, Fall 2018.

Henry Peacham wrote The Compleat Gentleman sometime in late-16th or early 17th century England with the intention of advising the English lower-gentry class on how to act responsibly and modestly in an era of unprecedented change and upheaval. 

Tufts University's copy of the Compleat Gentleman was printed in London in 1634, just eight short year before the bloodiest civil war in English history.  The book itself was addressed to the well-connected London bookstore owner Francis Constable who owned several of his own book shops in and around London. 

Originally written sometime between the latter part of Queen Elizabeth’s reign and the buildup to the English Civil War, the Compleat Gentleman fits squarely within a larger debate waged between two opposing sides of the English gentry – one side which championed old-model Elizabethan stoicism and the contemplative country gentleman, and the other which advocated for a new-model, business minded and overtly political gentleman class.  Throughout the work, Peacham struggles between these opposing older and newer models of the British lower gentry, but in the end his recommendations side decidedly in favor of old gentry values, most especially on issues where the two side most diverge like on country living, modesty, and the preferred scope of upper-class social networks.