Tuesday, 3 May 2011

Enquire within ... if I mistake not

I've just been browsing a print copy of the 1870 edition of Enquire Within Upon Everything, a how-to book for domestic life, first published in 1856 by Houlston and Sons of Paternoster Square in London. As the intro says, its brief was:

Whether You Wish to Model a Flower in Wax; to Study the Rules of Etiquette; to Serve a Relish for Breakfast or Supper; to Plan a Dinner for a Large Party or a Small One; to Cure a Headache; to Make a Will; to Get Married; to Bury a Relative; Whatever You May Wish to Do, Make, or to Enjoy, Provided Your Desire has Relation to the Necessities of Domestic Life, I Hope You will not Fail to 'Enquire Within.'

This guidance extended to language, and it's a prime example of Victorian prescriptivism. In part it offers 256 hints on correct forms of phraseology (see page 54 onward - Rules and Hints for Correct Speaking), and in part it classifies and ridicules various forms of lower-class and dialect speech such as Low Cockney, Genteel Cockney, Provincial Brogues, and so on (see page 63). The social-climbing subtext of prescriptivism couldn't be more blatant.

It is at once absurdly prim, hyper-correct and extremely supercilious about popular usage. Imitation of the 'educated' is the key to success. The most reprehensible errors reside in dialect, especially Cockney.
- Visions of the people: industrial England and the question of class 1848-1914, Patrick Joyce, 1993

As with all prescriptivism, it's a mix of generally-agreed grammatical advice and completely arbitrary edicts based on the uncredited author's personal tastes. For example, the advice on "who" and "whom" is perfectly standard for a formal register of English even nowadays, but many more examples are totally subjective. Just a few:

41. Instead of "I had better go," say "It were better that I should go."
45. Instead of "It is raining very hard," say "It is raining very fast."
55. It is better to say "Bred and born," than "Born and bred."
65. Instead of "If I am not mistaken," say "If I mistake not."
66. Instead of "You are mistaken," say "You mistake."
67. Instead of "What beautiful tea!' say "What good tea!"
115. Instead of "Captain Reilly was killed by a bullet," say "Captain Reilly was killed with a bullet."
123. Instead of "In its primary sense," say "In its primitive sense."
133. Instead of "I lifted it up" say I lifted it."
174. Instead of "The very best," or "The very worst," say "The best, or the worst."
226. Instead of "You will some day be convinced," say "You will one day be convinced."
244. Instead of "Is Lord Palmerston in?" say "Is Lord Palmerston within?"
251. Instead of "The weather is hot," say "The weather is very warm."

The section on Rules of Pronunciation (page 65) is potentially interesting, because it's moderately uncommon to find explicit lists of historical pronunciations. However, as with grammar, in Enquire within it's near-impossible to work out whether the writer is promoting real educated pronunciation of the time or some weird private affectation. Many of the examples - see section 184 - don't seem to reflect even Upper Received Pronunciation.

— age, not idge, as cabbage, courage, postage, village.
— el, not l, model, not modl; novel, not novl.
— ed, not id, or ud, as wicked, not wickid, or wickud.

- Ray

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