Friday, September 09, 2005

Fashionable visiting

From Volume XXII of The British Essayists. Published 1823
Which reproduces THE WORLD described by the editors as a vehicle to address the opinions of the writers, as opposed to complete and thoughtful essays on subjects. In this respect it seems to me to be a lot like a blog. How these guys would have loved today’s technology, even though they would have railed on about all the ways it did not suit their particular way of looking at the world.

The editor says: “The design, as professed in the first paper, was, to ridicule, with novelty and good humour, the fashions, foibles, vices, and absurdities of that part of the human species which calls itself The World; and this the principal writers were enabled to execute with facility, from the knowledge incident to their rank in life, the elevated sphere in which they moved, their intercourse with a part of society not easily accessible to authors in general, and the good sense which prevented them from being blinded by the glare, or enslaved by the authority of fashion.”

It was mostly the work of Edward Moore, (1711 to 1754) but he also was the front man for eminent men of society who wanted to take pot shots at things that irritated them. Once that was known, it became a must-read. It was a weekly publication with about 2,500 copies printed.

Some of the pieces were doubtless shocking or biting in their time. They have no effect on us except in giving a window into that world both in what is considered worth writing about and in how it is regarded. But always remember, this is a biased, and generally cynical, point of view.

This is on fashionable visiting. (The practice of going from house to house to leave a card, to show respect, or in return for a card left at one’s own house. Rarely did people actually go in. In fact, it would probably have ruined their planned afternoon.)
Published on Thursday, March 14th, 1754.

“Among the polite and idle, there are none whom I behold with more compassion than those meagre and half-famished souls whom I meet every day, in fine clothes and gay equipages, going about from door to door, like common beggars: and, like beggars too, as commonly turned away; with this difference, that the porter gives the ragged stroller a surley “no”, and a civil dismission to the vagrant in embroidery. The former to excuse his idleness says, ‘Nobody will employ me:’ the latter does as good as say, ‘I cannot employ myself.’

This in high life is called visiting; which does not imply any friendship, esteem, or the least regard towards the person who is visited, but is the effect of pure generosity in the visitor, who, having more time upon his hands than be knows what to do with, prodigally bestows some of it upon those, whom he cares not one farthing for.

I look upon visiting to be the art of squandering away time with the least loss of reputation: a very great invention indeed! and as the other ingenious arts have been produced by hungry bellies, so this owes its rise to the emptiness of the mind.”

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