Spam, apparently, is nothing new. In 1839, in Every day life in London, James Grant tries to track down the number of Begging Imposters: people who make their living by writing fake letters of distress. It was a high-volume trade and, as is the case with our spammers, they were hard to catch. The majority, he notes, write exclusively to the upper classes, because (1) aristocrats have too much else to do to bother with ferreting out and prosecuting imposters and (2) they give more money per letter than the middle classes.
“… I saw a letter from a nobleman of a very humane and benevolent disposition, in which it was stated that, in the course of the year, he had received nearly three hundred and fifty begging letters, all of which were dated from London, and detailed trumped-up cases of the deepest distress.” This nobleman did investigate: 49 out of 50 letters were fakes.
Grant estimated that about 250 people in London lived on these fake begging letters, that the highest income from the business was £1000 per annum, the lowest £100, averaging out, over the 250 scammers to £200 pa. “This, then, would give no less than 50,000l. out of which the benevolent public of London, chiefly the nobility, are annually swindled by the begging-letter imposters.”
There were also imposters who wrote mainly to the clergy and other known benevolent sorts of the middle ranks. Grant knew one who wrote at least 20 such letters a day.
“Not long since, sixteen letters of this description, all sealed and ready for delivery, were found in a basket at the house of one of these persons, in Blackfriars Road ;and it was ascertained that all the sixteen had been intended to be forwarded to their respective destinations within a few hours after the discovery. If then some of these rogues are so indefatigable in their epistolary attempts on the pockets of the charitable and humane, as to pen twenty letters in one day, surely, considering their number, and after making every allowance for the comparatively contracted labors of the least industrious portion of the swindling community, there is nothing extravagant in the supposition that 1000 such letters are daily indited and forwarded to their several destinations in London."
There’s a big difference in how we use history. But we’re equally nuts about it. To us, the everyday details of life in the past are things to talk about, ponder, make fun of -- much in the way normal people talk about their favorite reality show.
We talk about who’s wearing what and who’s sleeping with whom. We try to sort out rumor or myth from fact. We thought there must be at least three other people out there who think history’s fascinating and fun, too. This blog is for them.