the loss of the handwritten letter


At the beginning of the twentieth century, people worried about the future of letter writing.  It was a disturbingly familiar scenario. Was it the “modern art of leisure” or the way we teach english in school?

The whole problem, appears in a wonderful series of quotes by Harry Dwight Sedgwick in Simon Garfield’s book “To the Letter”.

“Hurry has been set on a pedestal, scurry has been set on a pedestal and the taste for leisure has been snuffed out. There are and always will be convalescents, cripples, confirmed idlers and guests marooned in country houses on Sunday mornings – and it is to them we should entrust the future art of letters.”

“Oddly enough, teachers of literature teach almost anything other than the art of letter writing. Boys and girls from twelve to twenty are set writing essays, theses, compositions, as if Tom, Dick, Molly and Polly were going to write essays throughout their lives to their parents, lovers, husbands, wives, children and old cronies.”

“The teaching of English alas, is dominated by the grammarians who desire passionately that every boy and girl shall recognize at sight and call by name a “partative genitive” or an “adverbial clause”, and by educational reformers who regard speaking English and writing English as machinery and not an art. Both sets despise the loafer, and the art of letter writing.”

Most people understood by this time that public interest and funding was doomed for teaching letter-writing or english, in fact all the arts, unless they could turn themselves into a measurable sciences.

And here at the beginning of the twentieth century we can see the glimmer of our modern world. And how the eventual the loss of personal art and leisure would be used to transform us into undeserving and hapless bumblers.

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