Thoughts on nostalgia, by Jerome K Jerome

Anne reminded me of this quote as we were reading a discussion started by :

…they must have had very fair notions of the artistic and the beautiful, our great-great-grandfathers. Why, all our art treasures of to-day are only the dug-up commonplaces of three or four hundred years ago. I wonder if there is real intrinsic beauty in the old soup-plates, beer-mugs, and candle-snuffers that we prize so now, or if it is only the halo of age glowing around them that gives them their charms in our eyes. The “old blue” that we hang about our walls as ornaments were the common every-day household utensils of a few centuries ago; and the pink shepherds and the yellow shepherdesses that we hand round now for all our friends to gush over, and pretend they understand, were the unvalued mantel-ornaments that the mother of the eighteenth century would have given the baby to suck when he cried.

Will it be the same in the future? Will the prized treasures of to-day always be the cheap trifles of the day before? Will rows of our willow-pattern dinner-plates be ranged above the chimneypieces of the great in the years 2000 and odd? Will the white cups with the gold rim and the beautiful gold flower inside (species unknown), that our Sarah Janes now break in sheer light-heartedness of spirit, be carefully mended, and stood upon a bracket, and dusted only by the lady of the house?

That china dog that ornaments the bedroom of my furnished lodgings. It is a white dog. Its eyes blue. Its nose is a delicate red, with spots. Its head is painfully erect, its expression is amiability carried to verge of imbecility. I do not admire it myself. Considered as a work of art, I may say it irritates me. Thoughtless friends jeer at it, and even my landlady herself has no admiration for it, and excuses its presence by the circumstance that her aunt gave it to her.

But in 200 years’ time it is more than probable that that dog will be dug up from somewhere or other, minus its legs, and with its tail broken, and will be sold for old china, and put in a glass cabinet. And people will pass it round, and admire it. They will be struck by the wonderful depth of the colour on the nose, and speculate as to how beautiful the bit of the tail that is lost no doubt was.

We, in this age, do not see the beauty of that dog. We are too familiar with it. It is like the sunset and the stars: we are not awed by their loveliness because they are common to our eyes. So it is with that china dog. In 2288 people will gush over it. The making of such dogs will have become a lost art. Our descendants will wonder how we did it, and say how clever we were. We shall be referred to lovingly as “those grand old artists that flourished in the nineteenth century, and produced those china dogs.”

The “sampler” that the eldest daughter did at school will be spoken of as “tapestry of the Victorian era,” and be almost priceless. The blue-and-white mugs of the present-day roadside inn will be hunted up, all cracked and chipped, and sold for their weight in gold, and rich people will use them for claret cups; and travellers from Japan will buy up all the “Presents from Ramsgate,” and “Souvenirs of Margate,” that may have escaped destruction, and take them back to Jedo as ancient English curios.

I wonder if this is also the first ever reference in English literature to Japanese tourists?

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1 Response to Thoughts on nostalgia, by Jerome K Jerome

  1. nwhyte says:

    This is a good question. In my view, most political parties are indeed sectional or even sectarian, and exist to promote their own interest group. That is certainly as true of the Nationalist parties in Northern Ireland as of the Unionist parties. (To a lesser extent it is also true of the Alliance Party, whose core interest is to represent those who are irritated by the two blocs.)

    The question for me always is, though, which come first? Are they arguing that the Union benefits everyone because they really have concluded, after mature reflection on the best possible systems of government, that the Union scores top marks? Or are they arguing that the Union benefits everyone because they believe in the Union anyway as a matter of quasi-religious conviction, and are seeking rationalisations for that belief that are more respectable than keeping the Protestants on top? I will always tend to suspect the latter, though I am also ready to be convinced otherwise.

    Of course, the claim that you can promote a state which is generally nice to all its citizens is made not only by Elliott and McCrea but also by me. I happen to believe that you can actually do this, or at least decently aspire to do this, but I don’t think you can do it if you are as clearly identified with the interests of a sub-section of one part of the community as the UUP are, and therefore I think that they are deluded in thinking that this is a viable proposition for the UUP.

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