Information overload, 18th century style

“Meantime, the pamphlets and half-sheets grow so upon our hands,” groaned Swift in 1710, “it will very well employ a man every day from morning til night to read them.” His solution? Never to open any! The doctor Thomas Beddoes was another who grumbled about the welter of print – all those endless pamphlets and periodicals befuddling the brain. “Did you see the papers today? Have you read the new play – the new poem – the new pamphlet – the last novel?” –  that was all you heard.” You cannot creditably frequent intelligent company, without being prepared to answer these questions, and the progeny that springs from them. The consequence? “You must needs hang your heavy head, and roll your bloodshot eyes over thousands of pages weekly. Of their contents at the week’s end, you will know about as much as of a district through which you have been whirled night and day in the mail-coach.” Yet that didn’t sap his ardour for enlightenment, or his quill.

Roy Porter, “Enlightenment: Britain and the Creation of the Modern World”.

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