The Mole had been working very hard all the morning, spring-cleaning his little home.… Spring was moving in the air above and in the earth below and around him, penetrating even his dark and lowly little house with its spirit of divine discontent and longing.
Kellaway recently wrote a column for the Financial Times that is the best thing I’ve read in a long time.
Before I stumbled over this piece via Twitter, I had never heard of Lucy Kellaway. Nor, I’m sure, has she ever heard of me. Sadly, it’s a valedictory column of a sort, in which she sums up her long and futile campaign against corporate codswallop.
“For nearly a quarter of a century,” she writes,* “I have been writing columns telling business people to stop talking rot. For the same amount of time they have been taking no notice.”
When she began, she believed corporate jargon had become so ridiculous that people would soon come to their senses and begin using plain English again. No such luck.
“Over the past two decades, two things have happened. Business bullshit has got a million per cent more bullshitty, and I’ve stopped predicting a correction in the marketplace.”
James Ralph was an 18th-century content creator, scratching out a living in England’s New Economy. In an age of political, social and technological upheaval, life could be precarious for those who kept the printing presses stoked with words.
Writing in 1758, Ralph said “there is no Difference between the Writer in his Garret, and the Slave in the Mines; but that the former has his Situation in the Air, and the latter in the Bowels of the Earth: Both have their Tasks assigned them alike: Both must drudge and starve; and neither can hope for Deliverance.”
The quote comes from The Age of Authors: An Anthology of Eighteenth-Century Print Culture, a remarkable collection of writing about writing and the plight of writers. Editor Paul Keen writes that Ralph was “often dismissed as a Grub Street hack writer,” but managed to produce some important work, including the essay quoted above.
The essay, The Case of Authors By Profession or Trade, Stated, marks the decline of the era when writers relied on patrons. The new commercial model of publishing was generating profits that were being denied to those slaves in the garrets, Ralph argued.
In the new world of letters, anyone, it seemed, could be an author – even women. (Anyone, that is, who belonged to the educated classes. It wasn’t until the mid-1800s that the literacy rate in Great Britain rose above 60 per cent.)