Any news?

Corantos were early informational broadsheets, precursors to newspapers. Beginning around the 14th century, a system developed where letters of news and philosophical discussion would be sent to a central collecting point to be bundled and sent around to the various correspondents. The banking house of Fugger had an organized system of collecting and routing these letters, which often could be seen by outsiders. This system would not die until the 18th century. The term “newspaper” was not coined till 1670. Prior to this, a welter of terms were used to describe this genre, including “paper”, “newsbook”, “pamphlet”, “broadsheet”, and “coranto”.

The late Raymond A. Jamieson QC taught me many things.  Jamieson was 82 years old when I met him in 1976 at his law office on the second floor of 74 Mill Street. He had practiced law since 1921 after his call to the bar at Osgoode Hall in Toronto. His first words to me were spoken with a twinkle in his eye (he had only one, the other lost in a childhood accident at aged 13). He jokingly asked (a calculated reference to a standard query on any Deed of Land), “Are you not a non-resident ; do you own any adjoining lands?” But as I later learned his more genuine and common question upon inaugurating a conversation was, “Any news?” I quickly adopted the synoptic social convention because it went far beyond the normal inquiries about one’s health and the weather (which were invariably fine or whatever) and initiated instead what was usually a detailed intelligence of a digestible and spacious nature.

Jamieson enjoyed conversation.  And drink.  So active was his pursuit of both that he secreted in his office walk-in safe a folding bed on which I suppose he reclined at the end of a confab. Any booze remaining in the bottle from which he and his guest had drunk was concealed behind the books on his library shelves. When I transported Jamieson’s office furnishings to my new law office at 77 LIttle Bridge Street I filled four green garbage bags with booze bottles of varying degrees of residue and decomposition

Jamieson’s investigation and tolerance of local tittle-tattle was however limited. As much as he clearly appreciated currency, he had less patience for those who sought to abstract from him whatever he may know. As might be imagined, a local solicitor with a practice of almost 55 years and a deep family connection with Almonte (his mother was a Carss and his father had been a lawyer too) had a fathomless number of tales to account.

With the advent of the printing press and the expansion of public literacy, communication of news has come a long way since even Jamieson’s birth around 1894. As recently as my own youth the popular newspapers to my recollection were limited to the Globe and Mail, the Telegram, the Ottawa Journal, the Windsor Star, the Calgary Herald, the New York Times and the Washington Post. You might add to that compendium Time and Life magazines. By comparison there are now endless blogs, journals, magazines, newspapers, podcasts, etc. to which one may subscribe for the news and every partiality thereof.

The emergence of on-line communication has had its obvious advantages; but in two respects I have preserved my conversancy with what are by middling measure considered out-of-date. One, I have recently renewed my subscription to the hard copy of County Life magazine. This colourful and inflated magazine affords a special realm of gossip and pretence. It demands to be read in the paper form in one’s drawing room because turning the pages and seeing the full glossy photographs to advantage characterize the complete experience.  To do otherwise would be equivalent to drinking a fine whiskey from other than a rock crystal tumbler.

The second conventional method of communication I regularly seek to enlarge upon is that of idle chat, or gossip if you will.  Let’s face it, there’s no point running after news unless it has a hopeful element of personality to it. The introduction of this dual gambit by the innocuous enquiry, “Any news?”, is tantamount to sharing a password at a locked door. Its subtlety is at times overlooked by the casual recipient who, whether because of the improper identification of the breadth of information pursued or whether because it is read as a trifling enquiry, misconstrues the evocative nature of the opening. Needless to say evolution without absorption is doomed.