Kenko: In All Things One Looks Back With Regret To The Past

[The short-sighted–showing not much flair for history–are often found lament­ing the past. Two ex­am­ples follow. I would be glad to hear of others.]

Kenko (c. 1283-1382):

In all things one looks back with regret to the past. Modern fash­ions appear to be growing from bad to worse. It is the ancient shapes that are most pleas­ing in the beau­ti­ful uten­sils made by workers in wood. As for the style of letters, even a scrap of waste paper from olden times is admirable.

Every­day speech, too, is growing re­gret­tably bad. Whereas they used to say ‘Lift up the carriage’ and ‘Turn up the lamps’, now they have changed the way they pro­nounce it. Old people say that it is a great pity that for the as­sem­bly of ser­vants of the House­hold De­part­ment they now say ‘Get up and light the lamps’, and at the recital of the Golden Light Sutra, instead of saying ‘Hall of the Im­pe­r­ial Lecture’ they say ‘Lecture Hall’. (#22)

Lady Sarah Lennox (1745-1826), on the changes ob­served between 1760 and 1818:

Theatres.–Were gen­er­ally well at­tended by people of fashion. There were well regulated; of size to see & hear the performers; the access easy and safe; every lady went to her box without in­ter­rup­tion or offence, & return’d equally safe, whether at­tended or otherwise. There were always boxes up­stairs set apart, & gen­er­ally occupy’d by women of bad character.

Now ladies of char­ac­ter can’t go to the Play without gen­tle­men to take care of them, to guard them, to remain with them in their boxes. The avenues are filled with pros­ti­tutes & men that go to meet & talk to them, & people are liable to see & hear very im­proper tings. … The side boxes, which were always filled with the best company, are now fre­quently oc­cu­pied by prentices, valets, & every body that can pay. A man who had offer’d as a cook in the morning was seen by the gen­tle­man who had refused to hire him sitting in the side box near him with some ladies in the evening.

Manners.–Great ci­vil­ity was general in all ranks. … Titles were used in common, & none but by parents of the great­est in­ti­mates were ever call’d by their Chris­t­ian names. Ser­vants always call’d those they served My Lord or My Lady, My Master or My Mistress. They were in general re­spect­ful & anxious to please, & con­tin­ued in the same service.

Now there is a certain rude­ness or care­less­ness of manners af­fected both by men and women. Ladies pretty and young may go and seek their own carriages, & meet with no assistance; persons with or without titles are called by their Xtian names, Mary P., Louisa S., etc. Misses like­wise give up their titles, Maria H., Emily B. … Every man, tradesman, or farmer is Esqr., & every pren­tice girl a young lady. Ser­vants speak of their masters in the third person, Ld I. or Mr F. …

Language–has always been changing, & it has been said, as morals grow worse lan­guage grows more refined. No one can say ‘breeding’ or ‘with child’ or ‘lying in,’ without being thought indelicate. ‘In the family way’ & ‘confinement’ have taken their place. … ‘Stomach’ sig­ni­fies everything. This is delicate, but to very many unintelligible, & in writing wd be en­tirely so, very dif­fi­cult for a for­eigner to translate, or a medical man to un­der­stand that was not in the high ton; ‘fair Cyprians,’ & ‘tender’ or ‘interesting connexions,’ have suc­ceeded to ‘women on the town,’ & ‘kept mistresses.’