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.’