HEEP!

I’m titling this entry HEEP! only because [David Copperfield spoiler alert, skip rest of sentence if you don't want to know] Mr. Micawber’s demolition of Uriah Heep cracked me up so much.

I’ve been getting a deluge of emails about my comment in an earlier post that it may not be possible for a writer today to be as good as Dickens. Just kidding, I have not been getting a deluge of emails or even one email. But I have been thinking I should give a better explanation.

So many people wrote letters back in the 19th century, I think the average person was a better writer than is the average person today. I’ll qualify that by saying the average literate person was a better writer. So you have this pool of decent writers and from that pool a few great writers rise. Today, the pool of average writers is smaller and so the number of great writers is smaller.

Let’s say every kid in America plays basketball. Out of that pool, we will get some great basketball players. But if only 10% of the kids in America play basketball, we will get fewer basketball players. We see this in soccer. If soccer was America’s most popular sport, we would have many more great soccer players. Instead, most of the talented young soccer players move to football or baseball or basketball.

To bring it back to writing, when you read old letters from the 19th century that were written by average people, it’s amazing how clever they are. The pool of writers was so big it allowed a Dickens to emerge. That’s my theory anyway.

4 comments

  1. wratha’s avatar

    In the 19th century there was not much else to do except watch horses crap in the street, or perhaps attend a play or two if you were wealthy. They were also terrible football players, but probably decent at cricket. Everyone was probably also a better musician than today, but if you removed all modern forms or entertainment I’m sure we’d get another Bach or two in just a couple of years. And calligraphy would be used for more than just wedding invitations.

  2. wisco’s avatar

    Good point on music wratha. Every daughter was expected to learn and play music and then entertain the family. I’m not sure if this applied only to the upper classes. I’ve been reading a book about the young Charles Dickens and Dickens was very into the theater. It sounds like theater was big for all classes and they had the equivalent of popcorn movies like Transformers. They would have these very elaborate and “special effects”-laden shows in which, for instance, the entire city (i.e., stage set) would collapse due to an earthquake or some other catastrophe.

  3. Mary’s avatar

    I would say the opposite. Today, word processing makes writing too easy. The Internet makes writing too accessible. One used to have to take time to sort out thoughts, to choose words carefully before committing them to unforgiving ink. Back then, setting print was laborious and reserved for the best writing. Now, anyone can go online and publish a book or post a blog, and many do who shouldn’t. All that bad writing dulls our senses and lowers our standards, and we forget what good writing is. Until Dickens or Hemingway or Melville remind us.

  4. She Dupree’s avatar

    Was reading somewhere, I guess it was the New Yorker, about the marketing of Olympic athletes, and how some athletes make more money due to sponsorships because their sports are just more popular. (http://nyr.kr/QFhuwZ) The article was describing the rivalry between Phelps and Lochte, since Phelps has just been soooo dominant. Apparently, even Lochte’s win over Phelps was undercut by the news that a Chinese woman had actually swum that same length FASTER than Lochte. So of course, that swimmer, Ye Shiwen, was tested for doping. And the New Yorker article quoted a Chinese reporter trying to explain Chinese indignation over such allegations. “It’s because the US has Phelps, and China has soooo many people, so why can’t they have just one like him?” :)))

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