Software Musings

Ancient Bloggers

Posted on: 22/10/2006

While away from home recently I needed something to read in bed and bought a copy of Great English Essays from Bacon to Chesterton edited by Bob Blaisdell. Here are the great bloggers of their day: Francis Bacon, Jonathan Swift, Joseph Addison, Samuel Johnson, Oliver Goldsmith, Charles Lamb, William Hazlitt, Charles Dickens, Anthony Trollope, Robert Louis Stevenson, George Bernard Shaw, G.K.Chesterton, Virginia Woolf, D.H.Lawrence and many more. And here are their best blogs so I have been wondering why I found every one flat. In almost every case the language is, as one would expect, wonderful: clear, limpid, lucid and razor sharp, and the content flat. A true separation of content and form well before LaTeX and HTML.

The destinations of the essays are clear early on and the jokes seem laboured. What appears to have changed is our social tolerance. The bloggers are gently tilting at windmills which no longer exist, often defences of mild vices (longing to stay in a warm bed rather than getting up at 05:00 on a bitter winter’s morning, wasting time browsing in a library, etc.) or (now) unobjectionable harsh words for critics from genuinely creative artists. Only Jonathan Swift seems to have a real bite. His blog “A Modest Proposal for preventing the children of poor people in Ireland from becoming a burthen (sic) to their parents or country, and for making them beneficial to the public” demonstrates that his blogging engine allowed longer titles than is common today and proposes serving the infants of destitute parents as meat for the rest of society. He goes into the practicality of this in some detail.

So Swift’s essay would still have impact today (it would probably be considered politically incorrect by some) but the others would be considered obvious: of course wanting to lie in on a cold winter’s morning is not a sin, of course spending time browsing in a library is not a sin.

So this brings me to my question. The blogs in Blaisdell’s books were hot in their day. We have contentious blogging subjects today (homosexual marriage, rights to privacy, George Bush, Ottawa’s light rail system, cannabis or alcohol, fundamentalist religion, etc.) and although I have really very little interest in these topics, other people do. The earliest of the blogs in Blaisdell’s book are about 400 years old so let me ask two questions. When the bloggers of 2400 buy the “Great Blogs of the 21st Century” which parts will they find tame and obvious and will the power of the writing be anything like that of Bacon, Swift, Shaw, etc?


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October 2006
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The author of this blog used to be an employee of Nortel. Even when he worked for Nortel the views expressed in the blog did not represent the views of Nortel. Now that he has left, the chances are even smaller that his views match those of Nortel.
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