A New Profession

I FANCY some surprise would be created if the advertising columns of our best newspapers printed the following: —

GENERAL INFORMER

Literary, Historical, Artistic, Political and Miscellaneous Questions answered by correspondence, from two dollars upwards :

Address 593 Fredonia Street: no dealings by Telephone.

Yet there seems to be need of just such a professor. No one who has not been the victim of seekers after miscellaneous truth knows the annoyance to which some men are subjected. The “ To Correspondents” column of some newspapers gives a fair notion of the variety and muddle generally of these queries. But many for one reason or another disdain newspapers and hurl their doubts at some person, who they think is well equipped with general lore, in somewhat this style.

“Should we say to-morrow is Tuesday, or to-morrow will be Tuesday?” Question generally received on a Friday, increasing the difficulty.

“Where do the lines come from under Guido’s Aurora?”

“ Who first said ‘ Consistency, thou art a jewel ’ ? ”

“ I am to take part in a class debate at Niobrara University, on the question, ‘ Should the U. S. tariff be revised ? ’ Please send me any speeches or other documents you may have on the affirmative.”

“An Englishman asserted to me that George Washington was born in that country.” [Which country?] “Is there any foundation for this claim ?”

“Do you think Horace or Whittier the greater bard ? ”

“I send you a poem on the Battle of San Juan. Please give me your advice as to the best way of publishing it.”

Some of the questions so sent are absurd; some have no answer; some may be answered by the commonest books of reference; not a few would require great labor to answer properly. But to send any reply at all requires some expenditure in time, labor, and stationery, and breaks in on one’s ordinary vocations. There is not the excuse of friendship; these questions come from absolute strangers, “knowing your scholarship.”

Now here is my contention: If these same people had an important question which only a physician, a lawyer, an architect, an artist could solve, they would consult an expert and expect to pay for his opinion backed by authority. That authority has cost time, labor, and money to acquire. His bills are not by any means always paid; but they are expected. The student of literature, history, and art,— the man who knows Veronese from Velasquez, and George Washington from William Washington, spent time, money, and labor to acquire that knowledge. Why should not he be paid too ? Yet the very suggestion of accompanying an answer with a charge of two dollars for “ information rendered ” would raise a horse laugh, or a hysteric giggle. Sometimes has the querist had the grace to send a stamp, or perhaps a stamped envelope. Yet, as Dr. Holmes somewhere says, enclosing a stamp does not necessarily entitle the writer to an answer.

Some years ago the late Lord Truro (a lord chancellor’s son) fitted up a spacious house in a once fashionable quarter of London with dictionaries, peerages, encyclopædias, guide-books, and the like, and installed an army of clerks there. He made it the headquarters of information, charging suitably for the article.

Nobilissima cura, e che 1' imiti Ben degno alcun magnanimo.