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Friday, 5 September 2014

More falling standards

Some time ago, I posted a selection of newspaper fulminations about falling standards, some of them almost a hundred years old. I mentioned that in my last post, and that reminded me of something I had seen.

Here is another carry-on, in this case, taken from Scientific American, March 8, 1862, page 146. The introduction tells us that the piece was lifted from some other journal, and the context makes it clear the journal was British.

The Barbarism of Steel Pens.

I am aware, says a recent writer, that it may be very fairly said that if a man is green enough to be induced by any representations of seller or advertiser, to make his coffee with a windlass, and shave himself with a stone, the only verdict he can expect from an intelligent jury is "served him right;" but look at another invention, under the tyranny of which we all groan more or less, but which very few have the strength of mind to resist. 

Has not the curse of steel pens swept over the land until decent handwriting (sic!) is almost unknown? Do not ninety-nine persons in a hundred use steel pens, and has more than one out of the ninety-nine the effrontery to say he can write with them? Lord Palmerston was quite right—the handwriting of this generation is abominable; and as new improvements in steel pens go on, that of the next will be worse. 

The fine Roman hand of the last century has died out; the steel can’t do it. There is neither grace nor legibility in the angular scrawl that prevails now. Open any parish register of fifty years back, and see in what a fine legible hand, and scholar-like too in most cases, the parson of that day made his entries. Our present young parson, though he took a first-class at Oxford, and wears a most correct waistcoat, doesn’t do it, and couldn’t do it if his benefit of clergy depended on it.
The dropping of standards seems to be a perennial complaint! Yet all I can say is that when I meet young people, I find standards often higher than mine. Consider this case study from lunch last Wednesday:

I was talking with some bright 11-year-olds over lunch on Wednesday. In passing, I mentioned, in an off-the-cuff provocative line, the pleasure in eating deep-fried small fluffy animals.

As children of that age do, they loved the idea of being naughty like that but challenged me to explain why the fluffy animals needed to be deep-fried. This sort of challenge gets the creative juices going, because I had no back story, but I found one.

My first attempt was to say that the batter stopped the fluffy animals from tickling my throat when I swallowed them.

On mature reflection, I have now added a second line: that I enjoy battering small fluffy animals, and given that, I will now work on finding a third. If and when I do, it will find a place in the book I am doing at the moment.

But I wouldn't have hot there without provoking a challenge from bright young minds. Life on the edge is SO rewarding — unless you are a small fluffy animal.

Hmmm. I'm short and bearded.

Catch you later, because I feel a sudden but overpowering urge to shave.

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