This amusing foray into eighteenth-century literature is an entertaining tabloid biography of an age t unlike our own; men and women of fashion led their lives under the avid scrutiny of a public who had a sharp appetite for scandal and sensation. In the period between the so-called Age of Reason and the Romantic Revival - that which the author calls the Age of Scandal - aristocratic and privileged eccentrics flourished and the professional writer declined. Here we meet torious persons such as the Marquis de Sade; the Duke of Queensberry; who dislocated London's milk supply; and the countess of Kingston, who journeyed to Rome in the hope of seducing the Pope. There are also lesser figures like the Misses Gunning, who were so beautiful that seven hundred people sat up all night to see them leave an inn. T.H. White contends that these cultivated and fortunate individuals, best represented by Horace Walpole, were Elizabethan in their natures, without the formality of Alexander Pope or the exaggerated raptures of William Wordsworth.
Terrence Hanbury White (1906-1964) was born in Bombay. After a difficult upbringing in India and then Sussex, he studied English at Queen's College, Cambridge. During a year spent in Italy after contracting tuberculosis, White started work on his first novel, They Winter Abroad (finally published in 1932), returning to Cambridge where he continued to write, publishing Loved Helen and other poems (1929). White was a troubled figure, prone to melancholy, guilt and drinking bouts, but a master stylist, with a sharp eye for social observation. After four years as Head of English at Stowe School, White resigned to write full-time, publishing The Sword and the Stone (1938), part one of an Arthurian tetralogy, which was adapted for the stage in 1959 as the musical Camelot. This was followed by the Walt Disney cartoon The Sword in the Stone (1963). White also wrote historical works, including The Age of Scandal (1950) and The Scandalmonger (1952).