Insulting Like a Gentleman

I’m reading through a number of W.H. Hutt’s essays, published throughout a variety of academic journals, with the intention of familiarizing myself more with his work so that I can re-write his Wikipedia page. A couple of days ago, I worked through his “The Factory System of the Early 19th Century” (Economica 16 [1926], pp. 78–93), I believe his first academic piece. It’s an interesting article, having much to do with discrediting some of the evidence used by “opponents” of the “factory system” — showing, mostly, how some historians have cherry picked the evidence, even by misquoting those who generally sympathize with their position! For those interested in reading it, the article is best interpreted within the context of comparing factory conditions to the general conditions of the day. Oftentimes, many of Hutt’s defenses sound deplorable by modern standards, but the factory conditions of the late 18th and early 19th centuries must be compared to the standards of that time.

On page 86, Hutt discusses an essay by one J.P. Kay (Sir James Kay–Shuttleworth), who bemoans the morals of the “factory system.” One of his complaints is the drinking of “weak tea,” which offers “a temporary relief at the expense of a subsequent reaction, which in turn, calls for another and stronger stimulus.” This pushed people to mix gin with their infusions, “to an inconceivable extent.” Immediately after quoting J.P. Kay, Hutt writes,

This is no attempt to ridicule by a carefully chosen passage by a crank. The opinion was common.

I make this out to be a witty, subtle insult. This is the kind of wit characteristic of great writers. It reminds me of how many scholars have described the writings of Keynes. It makes me wish I was more interested in fiction, and that sort of creative writing, rather than just academic non-fiction.

3 thoughts on “Insulting Like a Gentleman

    1. JCatalan

      How I’d paraphrase it, given my interpretation,

      You might think this is nonsense spouted by a crank, but in fact it was a common belief.

      The implication being that an idea fit for a crank was widely shared, suggesting some degree of general ignorance.


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