1884 background to Flatland

Michael Matthews

I went and looked in the 1884 London Times on microfilm in the Rock. The findings were interesting.

I perused the Jan. 1st paper, and then skimmed some others to make sure the new year's day paper was sufficient in representing an average London Times. The front page was filled with announcements: marriages, deaths, performances, police reports, meetings, and other happenings. Many of the announcements were for a large number of music, nursing, and other professional scools. The rest of the paper was filled with large verbose articles. The focus, much like an average NY Times of today, was on foriegn affairs (they had daily synopses of the occurences of the other European and mid-eastern countries, just like the papers today give daily reports on the major league baseball/football/basketball teams). Large articles on Britain's involvement, or rather control over, Egypt's workings in the Sudan. Large articles on the economics of America and Russia were in there as well. Another topic of great interest was on trade: articles explaining in great detail the workings of the commodities home and abroad, as well as the status of the industry. The deapth and detail was overwhelming compared to the amount of information given to the American public today (even in the NY Times). This is also the case in politics and parliament, which was the last area of focus in the London Times.

All of that stuff is interesting (comparing the papers of today w/ the papers of 1884 England), but the most relevent article I found was one reporting on the workings of a group of students in Denmark. A student association, a year earlier, established basically free weekly two hour night classes for the working class. The workers "accepted w/ enthusiasm and gratitude the offer made by the students". 1500 workers in only a few weeks signed up for lectures. They wer from the ages of 25-35 primarilly, and 74 classes were established for 3-6p (pence?) a person. Classes in English, arithematic, languages, writing, physics, chemistry were offered. The instructors ranged from students (presumably college students), educated professionals, and even college professors. The teacher's recieved no pay; the fee was for facilities and heating. By the end of three months, half of the attendance was still there. By the second year, the number of students doubled. One fifteenth of the students in this second year were women, who took women only classes in subjects such as hygene and the chemistry of housekeeping. Even though this occured in Denmark and not England, where Abbott was releasing his book, the fact that it was reported in the most read paper, and probably quite influential on the psyche of the proffesional class, is a reflection of the will of the population. Moreover, the work of the student-teachers was praised very highly in the article. The benefits, according to the reporter, was that education of the working class, even minimal education such as that offered by the weekly classes, would "raise the horizens" of the working class. Furthermore, he said it would bring the largely separated classes closer together. The reporter believe that "the roused interest in the lower class, based on a desire for knowledge, promises benifits for society. It has been considered best to let it run it's course by the will of the lower class and not impose arranged plans upon them".