Sunday, 15 June 2014

Writing - Fraud by pen and paper

The pen may well be mightier than the sword. In Victorian times it was certainly more lucrative!

When friend and colleague Bert Carson encouraged letter writing using fountain pen and paper  it was to revive a failing form of communication. In Victorian times it was almost the only form of communication between individuals and so was used and abused a great deal.

Charles Dickens was a good friend to the 'deserving poor', but if tricked or traduced he was famously short on sympathy. In 1850, after discovering that he had made several donations to a man who was later found in good health, and far from dire circumstances, Dickens marched the begging-letter writer to his local magistrate. Aggrieved that the magistrate seemed 'deeply impressed' by this literate rogue - and 'quite charmed to have the agreeable duty of discharging him' - Dickens took aim at his new foe in his magazine Household Words: "He is one of the most shameless frauds and impositions of this time," snarled Dickens, recalling the glut of pathetic appeals that had recently found their way to his home. "In his idleness, his mendacity, and the immeasurable harm he does ... he is more worthy of Norfolk Island than three-fourths of the worst characters who are sent there."

In the late 1830s, the journalist and social investigator James Grant estimated that London's lodging houses were home to at least 250 professional begging-letter writers, the most successful of them able to employ clerks, keep a carriage and earn an income equal to that of a society physician. Grant believed that around a thousand such letters were sent daily and 49 out of every 50 were fraudulent, defrauding the benevolent public of around £50,000 a year - £2 million in today's money.

So, fellow authors, the message is simple, there is power in your words.

God Bless