Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Politically Incorrect Thought for the Day

Elizabeth Jenkins in 1938 (and subsequent later editions) wrote about how different the world of Jane Austen's was from our own. It was on the one hand much more beautiful ("plain elegance, uncompromising good taste, surrounded them with almost monotonous completeness") and on the other much more cruel ("But if we are in danger of breaking our hearts over this spirit of beauty which has vanished from the earth, it is also our duty to recall there existed with it, ignored or tolerated, a state of squalor and wretchedness which, to this relatively humane and hygienic age, is nearly as difficult to visualize as its heavenly obverse.")

And then she considers the implications of this:

That there was no cheap, sophisticated entertainment for the masses was part of a state of things in which thousands and thousands of people were less comfortable, less well dressed, less entertained, less informed than they are today; but it also meant that there was not a vast majority which by its very numbers imposed its ideas, its prepossessions and tastes on the world in which the educated person must now exist; the lower middle class, as it is the most considerable among consumers, dictates the canons of a taste which, by its preponderating bulk, has corrupted and destroyed the standards of language, of architecture, of entertainment and literature which once prevailed. This development has brought in its train a great increase in human happiness , and it has annihilated something so precious that its very absence has taken away from us the power to estimate its value. One may find an illustration of our gain and loss in the bear-ward who was Tony Lumpkin's companion at The Three Pigeons; he led a dancing bear, something of which we hate to think; but the tunes to which it danced were Dr. Arne's "Water Parted" and Handel's minuet from "Ariadne."

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