Ropes, Shirts, Dirty Socks, and a Noble Cause

August 20, 2018 - 1:49pm -- Jennifer Arin


In his article "Ropes, Shirts or Dirty Socks" (London Review of Books, 15 June 2017), Adam Smyth reviews the book Paper: Paging through History (Kurlansky 2017), and in the process Smyth pens his own facts about paper, such as this tidbit: "The pages carrying the words of Shakespeare were once ropes, or shirts, and these items, in turn, were owned by people from widely different strata of society ...."


Lending poetic proof to the claim, Smyth includes a verse from the early 17th-century poet John Taylor:

And may not dirty Socks, from off the feet

From thence be turned to a Crowne-paper sheet?"


Gentle readers, please forgive what may seem a paper-thin analogy – but that transformative process reminds me of our students’, since the university helps them become a more noble version of themselves. Students’ heightened knowledge and, along with it, quality of thought, are as pronounced as a poem read aloud.


Our role in that lofty shift, as teachers and advisers, is to transmit knowledge which students synthesize, then retrieve at will – and it is a process which requires at least as much patience as does turning cloth to paper (or is this simply clothes-minded?). But it is also marvelous work, to serve at an institution where knowledge is the crown jewel.