Sunday, May 25, 2014

dear parents, I need money

With classes over until September, I'm reading for pleasure. Just started Andrew Pettegree's The Invention of News, a history of the development of printed news before the 19th century. It turns out that news letters and pamphlets were far more popular in the early centuries after the invention of printing than what became news papers.

But most fascinating so far is the development of letter delivery. At first, only monarchs could afford or much needed to send and receive messages. Later merchants involved in interregional trade needed to communicate with others, and they set up their own letter services. By the 13th century[!] several universities had their own mail systems, with their own couriers, to convey letters between students and parents.

And sure enough, here is a passage from an Oxford student to is parents in 1220:
This is to inform you that I am studying at Oxford with the greatest diligence, but the matter of money stands greatly in the way of my promotion, as it is now two months since I spent the last of what you sent me. They city is expensive and makes many demands....
But news traveled both ways.
A French father wrote to his son at Orleans that he "recently discovered that you live dissolutely and slothfully, preferring license to restraint and play to work, and strumming a guitar while others are at their studies." 
Plus ca change...

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