I do hate to be discounted as a conspiracy theorist, but there are certain things I have noticed of late that must be mentioned. I have noticed, for instance, a definite decline in the world of literature. The Golden Age of the poets and singers is gone, and we are left a spectre of the art that, for all its claims to glory of a particularly dazzling caliber, leaves us to stumble in the dark, hemmed in by a roar of unintelligible and unconnected words. I think, then, that it is incumbent on any one of us--even on me--to shed what light I may on the subject. The current state of literature exhibits a strong correlation with the current state of--
But please let me digress a moment. If you ever had a high school English reader, you met, no doubt, with Tennyson's sombre, melodic lines: "Sunset and evening star,/And one clear call for me. . ." The poem was composed in 1889, on the back of an envelope.
Nearer to our own times, you will recall John Gillespie Magee Jr.'s "High Flight," and its clear-cut exuberance over of the "long delirious burning blue." That, too, was written on the back of an envelope.
That it is often claimed that the Gettysburg Address was not written on the back of an envelope can, I darkly suspect, be attributed to those forces towards whom I hinted in my first paragraph, that is, to return to my main theme, to those who seek, for some undisclosed motive of their own, to destroy letters (I mean literature) by destroying the envelope.
But, you say, you have a stack of envelopes which arrived just this afternoon and, repulsive and repetitive as their general contents may be, you have there proof that the envelope is an institution far from destroyed. Look again at today's mail, where it reposes in the Accounts Payable file. Envelopes, you say? Perhaps in appearance, perhaps in some horrible parody of envelopehood, they present themselves as the genuine article. But if you will look closer, you will see that they have no souls.
Pick up that one from the electric company. You recognise your name on the front (I hope) and observe the veritable billboard of a return address plastered over the remaining front. Now, if you dare, turn the envelope over. Do you see that? Can you fathom it? The heart stops at such an act of savage vandalism. The Modern Age has come to mean, evidently, that the backs of envelopes are, henceforward, to come pre-printed. Very thoroughly pre-printed. Just like that.
If Tennyson had lived in our degenerate age, his poem might have started well. He might have slipped a few words into a semblance of a blank spot ("Tirra lirra!" would about cover it). But I suspect, if he had tried to write an entire poem on an electric company envelope, we would either be sadly lacking in high school English books, or they would be sadly burdened with poems such as,"Sunset and evening star,/And GO PAPER FREE!" Go paper free? You might as well, for all the help the electric company gives you in composing anything worthwhile in the way of literature--or even anything legible in the way of a shopping list.
The true culprit behind this cultural outrage is impossible to unmask, for the electric company is far from alone in its depredations. My insurance company sent me something only slightly less printed-upon which defaces the back of the envelope with a suggestion for paying bills in a timely manner. That mightn't have taken up overmuch room by itself, but there was, appended along its edge, a rather charming and cryptic picture of two hands cradling a pot of cosmos. (Though I burn with indignation, as ever, for the denial of the poets' right, I cannot help but be slightly intrigued by the implication that my insurance company accepts pots of cosmos as payment, as long as they are sent in a timely manner.) As unidentifiable as the true foe may be, I believe the phone company is in it deeper than the others: they not only ruin the back of the envelope, they ruin it with a threat: "We're here for you."
Since that is the case, I think I had better hurry off to some other where.