The cultivated men of the times before 1900, and for that matter the women, wrote well indeed. Read the memoirs of Ulysses Grant, George Armstrong Custer, [and] John Singleton Mosby... Their prose is strong, polished without ostentation, always clear and devoid of grammatical slips. Yet these were not scholars but soldiers of the Civil War.The Takeaway: You are likely to disagree with some points in Mr. Reed’s essay (I did, too) but agree with the main point. In any event, I welcome your comments.
Why are things that once were the common property of the cultivated now regarded as fossils predating the trilobites? One reason I think is the weakening of the barriers of class. The educated cannot maintain standards of excellence when constantly bathed by television in mangled grammar and illiterate usage.... the vulgar have discovered that it is easier to reject higher standards than to meet them. By sheer numbers they prevail.
In 1850 those deficient in schooling knew their deficiencies, and wanted to learn. Today there is an actual preference for ignorance, which is regarded as authentic or democratic and morally superior to knowing anything, which would be elitist.