A Collection Of Random Facts... hopefully, a few are interesting
English As A Lost Lanuage
Yesterday, I started a new entry in my portfolio. "Did You Know?" My intent to emulate a daily BLOG of random interests and fun facts. As I scrolled (the electronic equivalent of thumbing) through the pages of unsolicited sales and propaganda that clogs the screen when you use today’s search engines, I looked for some item worthy of discussion, that is after all that we hope to accomplish with these wordy vehicles. How grand the idea to provide a spark of intellectual exchange and discourse meant to test our beliefs and preconceived notions on subjects not typically part of our daily life.
But after the first hour of browsing at things that took place in history on March 21st (which was the onus of my first entry on the 20th), I found myself in dismay that not much of interest happened or held any relationship to our craft. Which I discovered was a subconscious, second-qualifier for my choice to write about.
Then to my dismay, I found this headline:
“3/21/1966:"Fanny Hill" ruled not obscene by the US Supreme Court.”
Now, being a self-proclaimed, well-rounded person of letters. I was surprised that I didn’t know anything about this novel. “Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure, Fanny Hill” by John Cleland (written 1748) Illustrations by William Hogarth
Oh, I am sure that somewhere in my past the novel was recommended as a research project or mentioned in a lecture or interviews I read about our craft. However, before today, I never had thought it a bone of contention in any literary circles and I surely had not considered it as wantonly lewd. So, bang… the section of my brain susceptible to testosterone inducements stirred and the idea that I should look up a copy to see what the heck the fuss might be about.
But my preconceived expectations could not have been blasted into oblivion any more completely than if they had been glued to the side of “Fat Boy” back in August 1945. I was expecting the tawdry banter the like of an eighteenth-century Larry Flynn. But no… from the first sentence one cannot deny the eloquence of Mr. Cleland’s skill-craft. This novel demonstrates with great impunity the decline or devolution of the English language.
I know… many will say we have moved on from such archaic styling, that today’s interests and lifestyles demand faster pacing in every aspect of our lives, more especially in our entertainment venues. None-the-less there is a fascinating stir within these words. They paint an image more vivid than anything used in modern writings. I understand that in today’s publishing world this story would not have made it past the publisher’s first-year intern proofing the submissions pile. But then, today’s selections are chosen for their commercial viability and not for their literary attributes.
Cleland’s story provides a focus on the psychological and moral growth of Frances Hill from youth to adulthood In this coming of age novel. The now adult and well to do… Fanny tells her Mistress, in the form of two letters, of her evolution and lively exploits through life in some detail. But unlike the examples of this genre on today’s market shelves. Her discourse is quite genteel.
Yes, it is full of prose including long sentences with many subordinate clauses. But the imagery, the emotion, and flow… quickly pull you into this eighteenth-century world. Even if one holds the subject matter in disdain one cannot argue that its presentation is well-expressed.
I find myself in awe of the artistry of these past linguists when wordsmithing was truly an art form. It is a lost ability, even considered, these days, as stilted and undesirable. But I ask is this sentiment a result of language evolution or more the acceptance of the laziness of its practitioners? I think the latter is more likely the truth.
If you like me have not taken the opportunity to read this novel here is a sample from the first page. I also included a link to a public domain posting if you are of a mind to read more.
LETTER THE FIRST
I sit down to give you an undeniable proof of my considering your desires as indispensable orders. Ungracious then as the task may be, I shall recall to view those scandalous stages of my life, out of which I emerg’d, at length, to the enjoyment of every blessing in the power of love, health, and fortune to bestow; whilst yet in the flower of youth, and not too late to employ the leisure afforded me by great ease and affluence, to cultivate an understanding, naturally not a despicable one, and which had, even amidst the whirl of loose pleasures I had been tost in, exerted more observation on the characters and manners of the world than what is common to those of my unhappy profession, who looking on all thought or reflection as their capital enemy, keep it at as great a distance as they can, or destroy it without mercy.
Hating, as I mortally do, all long unnecessary preface, I shall give you good quarter in this, and use no farther apology, than to prepare you for seeing the loose part of my life, wrote with the same liberty that I led it.
Truth! Stark, naked truth, is the word; and I will not so much as take the pains to bestow the strip of a gauze wrapper on it, but paint situations such as they actually rose to me in nature, careless of violating those laws of decency that were never made for such unreserved intimacies as ours; and you have too much sense, too much knowledge of the originals themselves, to sniff prudishly and out of character at the PICTURES of them. The greatest men, those of the first and most leading taste, will not scruple adorning their private closets with nudities, though, in compliance with vulgar prejudices, they may not think them decent decorations of the staircase, or salon.
This, and enough premised, I go souse into my personal history. My maiden name was Frances Hill….
Here is a link to a public domain copy should you wish to read more of this incredibly written novel.