"Every man, woman, and child who fancies him or herself to possess an 'idea' feels called upon … to give that idea to the public. It is amusing, and yet much to be lamented, for we are rapidly becoming a nation of scribblers, instead of readers or thinkers."
But for the word choice, one might easily mistake the quote above as a critique of modern social media habits. In actuality, the quote, presented in full below, is well over 150 years old, the product of a letter written on August 7, 1843.
While some of the letter's other social critiques (which haven't been shared here) might seem off-putting to modern sensibilities, the critique above hopefully serves as a playful reminder that some of the complaints of the modern age aren't necessarily all that modern, and that we probably have more in common with each other than we think, even across the centuries.
The letter that the critique was excerpted from was written by Charlotte A. H. Brooks, likely the former Charlotte Ann Haven Lord, wife of Charles Brooks. Charles Brooks (October 30, 1795-July 7, 1872) was a Unitarian minister, educator, and naturalist, originally from Medford, Massachusetts. Attending Harvard for both his bachelor's degree and master's degree in theology, Charles Brooks served as pastor of the Third Congregational Church in Hingham from 1820 until 1839, the year he married Charlotte. Following a trip to Europe in 1833 and 1834, Charles Brooks became interested in education reform, determined to introduce advances from the Prussian educational system in America. In 1839, he accepted a position at the University of the City of New York as professor of natural history, embarking upon another tour of Europe for four years of scientific study.
The recipient of the letter was Irish-American diplomat David Bailie Warden. Warden was born in 1772 in Ballycastle, Ireland, received a master of arts degree from University of Glasgow in 1797, and was subsequently licensed to preach as a Presbyterian minister. Due to his affiliation with the nationalist Society of United Irishmen, Warden was arrested in 1798 and banished from Ireland as punishment. Emigrating to the United States in 1799, he accepted a position as principal of the Columbia Academy and in August 1801, moved to the Kingston Academy as head tutor.
After becoming an American citizen, Warden traveled to France as private secretary to General John Armstrong, who had accepted an appointment as Minister to France in 1804. In 1808, Warden was designated consul pro tempore, but by 1810, was dismissed by Armstrong. Following his dismissal and Armstrong's eventual relief as Minister by Joel Barlow, Warden returned to the United States in order to secure an appointment as Consul at Paris. Warden returned to Paris in 1811 and served as Consul until his removal from office on June 10, 1814 by the newly appointed Minister to France, William H. Crawford.
Despite his dismissal as Consul, Warden remained in Paris for the remainder of his life, focusing on scholarly and literary pursuits and publishing such works as A Chorographical and Statistical Description of the District of Columbia (1816) and A Statistical, Political, and Historical Account of the United States of North America (1819), on top of his previous publication, On the Origin, Nature, Progress and Influence of Consular Establishments, published while still Consul in 1813. Charles and Charlotte Brooks likely would have made Warden's acquaintance during their four-year tour of Europe.
Brooks' letter to David Bailie Warden, and many others received by Warden from the top minds of his day, is available in the Roney and Warden Family Papers, MS 555, which was recently opened for research.
Roney and Warden Family Papers, MS 555, Special Collections & Archives, Nimitz Library.
Malone, Dumas, ed. Dictionary of American Biography. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1936.
Skeen, C. Edward. "Warden, David Bailie (1772-1845), diplomat and scholar." American National Biography. 1 Feb. 2000; Accessed 15 Apr. 2021. https://www.anb.org/view/10.1093/anb/9780198606697.001.0001/anb-9780198606697-e-2001080.