Sunday, 17 October 2010

A Lucky Find

I was browsing a local second hand bookshop the other day trying to find a title that wasn't authored by Dan Brown, a harder task than you might imagine (it seems several million people can be wrong but they realize this by the end of chapter 3 rather than when they are standing in the queue waiting to pay. If you are not sure about the quality of the novel that you are about to purchase you can carry out this simple test. Hold the book somewhere you can see it. Look carefully at the front cover, the spine and then the back cover If the words Dan Brown appear at any point (whether that be as the author or in a quote from a review i.e. “if you loved Dam Brown then you'll love this..” or “..the new Dan Brown,,”) gently place the book back where you found it, go home, sit quietly for a moment and think about how close you came to intellectual death. Maybe you could tell your friends who, seeing how close they came to loosing you, will buy you a drink.)
I was looking through some of the older works in the shop when I spied a battered old tome. The leather binding was fraying and the gold embossed title down the back was difficult to make out. Was it? No, it can't be, can it? I removed it from the shelf and tried to wipe some of the dirt off. A musty smell arouse from it as I opened it to the title page. A deep joy filled me to my very core! It was! It really was!
I held the hallowed book in my hands. They trembled slightly like a frightened vole or a nervous virgin bride on her wedding night might. It was a very rare 1839 copy of “Keeping the Poor in their Place” by Valentine Slaymaker. The volume was subtitled “exploiting those who deserve it or how to keep the mud of your boots by walking on the backs of prostrate oiks.”
Well this excited me greatly, as I am sure you can imagine. In that rare group of people who sit happily in the intersection of the Venn diagram that shows Economists and Bibliolaters, as I do, this was a book that was talked about in hushed, reverential tones. It's revolutionary theories and it's total disregard for human dignity in the face of profit making is legendary. Yet here it was with my slightly sweaty fingers fondling it's content.
As I leafed through the pages of this almost mythical edition dust coated my fingers. Everything pointed to this book being a first edition. I was suddenly having a very good day.
The chapter headings alone indicated the polemic direction of this publication, titles such as “The Poor as a Source of Fuel” and “War is Good for Keeping Their Numbers Under Control and for Profit” didn't really hide the political leanings of the author.
As I read on further something started to dawn on me. I was beginning to recognize some of the ideas. I had heard them before and quite recently as well but I couldn't put my finger on it. So I read on.
The chapter on education, for instance, rang a bell somewhere in my over stimulated brain. Mr Slaymaker's argument was that only a very basic level of literacy was necessary for the poor as their minds could actually be damaged by trying to learn too much. They also had no concept of accruing money so there was no need for them to fully understand finance. (He also has a sub-section on how to entertain the poor and the best way to do this. They could be sated with regular minstrel shows it seems. The better minstrels, he advised, would say that they were singing for their mothers who had recently died of plague, whether or not it was true it was not important, it would get the crowd on their side.)
Higher education should be reserved for those who could afford to pay for it as well. He argues that there only social mobility the country needs is the aristocracy moving from Town to the Country when the weather gets warmer.
Another chapter about “The Natural Sciences” makes the case for private investment, and only private investment, in carrying out experiments. To quote the great man “Why should the working man's hard earned taxes (of which only the poor should pay as large companies should be allowed to keep all of their monies as they invest it, thus creating jobs in sustainable sectors such as tulip bulb speculation) be wasted on finding things out when we already know all of the things that we need to know. God is responsible for all that we don't know and can't understand. The inquiring mind is an ungodly mind.”
He continues by saying that he has nothing against Gentleman Scientists because they have their own money to waste but their work is of no relevance. He gives a for instance, “I have heard of one so-called scientist who is getting his son to play an oboe near a snooker table upon which he has placed any number of earth worms. I ask of you, what can this possible tell us other then whether worms like Vivaldi or not?”
I'm sure you can appreciate how this sort of rhetoric was sounding eerily familiar but still from whence I had heard I could not tell. I continued to flick through the book.
I was checking for damage or defacement that may effect the price that I would pay when I came across some scribblings on the inside of the front and back covers. Most of the childish style script was unreadable and in some sort of crayon but from what I could make out it was a declaration of ownership. It seems that the book had once belonged too, and was well thumbed by, someone called Gideon Osborne.
Who was this mysterious man with the very posh name? We shall never know. Just another one of life little mysteries like rail ticket pricing or where the LibDems backbone has gone? Where is he now I wondered?
I am now, of course, the proud owner of this historical oddity and I regularly read though it having a little chuckle at it's outmoded political sentiments.

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