Writing Greenwood Tree – and more

Salons, WindBags & Windy Vlogs

It was a combination of Breakfast TV, – without the television, and without the breakfast –  more likely tea and delicacies – and an informal concert. A chat show, with the occasional star guest and some music thrown in for good measure. The musical interludes have since been translated into links on Youtube, and where paintings were once pointed out on the walls, participants instead now point to images from Wikimedia, googled in seconds and flung up on the screen.

In fact the format of a good many morning/evening shows regularly viewed on broadcasting channels has changed very little since the 18th century salons of Miller and Montagu.

The purists may tear their hair and bang their heads on their desks, but essentially, it was and is a question of the host and his guests : guests who do not however bring only  their dirty shoes, walking canes and gossip, but ideally, something that can  contribute to the common lot of man  . . . one hopes.

The internet contains many such salons now, blog circles, online communities and forum threads; various individuals develop a gathering, a following, an online audience whereby it is sufficient to write a sentence (however simple, even, dare I say, banal – no, even utter drivel) and be instantly responded to by a series of bright, witty, psychotic or plain dull individuals. Plus ça change.

Dr Johnson would have a field day. After a crash course in IT. Actually, he’d probably break the internet on first encounter . . .

‘Sirs of the Internet, it has come to my notice that there are no oysters to be had on this site. This situation should be rectified immediately, as a site bereft of oysters is :  “. . as bad as bad can be: it is ill-fed, ill-killed, ill-kept, and ill-drest.”

And he would probably hit the ‘send’ button with the full force of his fist, thereby bending the keyboard in two.

Dr Johnson consulting an IT manual prior to breaking the internet

Had we had Aethernet in the 18th century, whole websites, forums, threads would have opened up with the likes of Johnson, Boswell, Seward and Montagu strolling through, offering their pennyworths and exchanging “no solid conversation; for when there is, people differ in opinion, and get into bad humour, or some of the company who are not capable of such conversation, are left out, and feel themselves uneasy. It was for this reason, Sir Robert Walpole said, he always talked bawdy at his table, because in that all could join.”

So bawdiness, no solid conversation, indeed whole threads and forums full of banter and lightheartedness, without (to quote Boswell now): “uttering one sentence of conversation worthy of being remembered.”

As Johnson replied then:  “Sir, there seldom is any such conversation.”

Plus ça change indeed.

Let them stroll into the average salon forum then, as hosted by Mistress Seward, or Mistress Kettle, or Madame ByYourLeave, where the hostess asks : ‘And what have these gentlemen to say for themselves ?’

What can the latest news be ?

‘Why, Mistress Kettle, we have been in a vlog,’ they reply.

‘A vlog,’ she asks – ‘What kind of a thing is that, sirs ?’

‘Why, a very pretty thing indeed, madam, if you cared to try it – and a very ugly thing if others tried it.’

‘How so, pray ?’ she asks, quite perplexed.

‘How so ? Why, it is a fine show, if you have something to say worth listening to, and a view to offer – but a pretty poor show if you babble on and on, and show nothing that is either pretty, original or even inviting.’

‘I wonder so many do it !’ says one of the others, helping himself to some Punch.

‘Ah indeed, we live in an age of mediocrity where the poorest pisspot of a brain  may display a total want of good taste, intelligence, even character and all for a song – indeed, for nothing at all, which is often all it is worth.’

Here Mr Remonstrance interjects, with an air of reproval : ‘It is a spectacle, one that we can all participate in after all.’

‘Yes,’ joins in Mr Irascible, ‘and we can cheer or howl or throw peanuts at the performers all we like – for they shall not hear us – so all are happy, except for those of us who seek only a little entertainment, and get a full spittoon instead.’

‘Indeed, I wonder whether I should try such a thing after all,’ says Mistress Kettle dubiously.

‘Madame Kettle, you could only be an adornment and a treasure were you but to try . . .’ offers Sir Lech, by way of a compliment.

(Here Mistress Kettle blushes and fans herself coquettishly. Sir Lech leers over her, Dr Ponderous takes offence and hurls a pot of ink at him. ‘Music !’ clamour the other guests, wearied unto death . . . and usher in the servants of Euterpe :


The comparison of 18th century salons and their present day online equivalent might be worth a thesis-full for some under-grad of social history or literature; it would surely be an improvement on research into how many people actually frequent a coffee bar . . .

‘Indeed, I wonder whether I should try such a thing after all,’ says Mistress Kettle dubiously.

Some more entertaining visions on view at the following salon  :


How might King Lear have put it, after struggling for hours in front of his laptop? :

‘Blow, blow, thou windy vlog
Thou art not quite a blog
Thou content may be crude
It flows vapid and overkeen
On things best left unseen
– Truly, thy breath be rude.’

Other sites of related interest : http://www.drjohnsonshouse.org/



http://orlando.cambridge.org/public/svPeople?person_id=montel(Elizabeth Montagu)

http://www.chawton.org/library/biographies/seward.html (Anna Seward)



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