‘Friends in Council’ was the title used by T.P.’s Weekly to describe its small ads page, most of which comprised ‘lonely hearts’ type messages. The magazine itself, founded by radical MP T P O’Connor was pitched as a popular literary magazine, and published writing by G B Shaw, G K Chesterton, H G Wells and Arnold Bennett. Though the issue of 6 February 1915 carried the work of none of these luminaries, its ads page does show a remarkable enthusiasm for language-learning.
Between the enticing ‘Jolly Girl (24), well educated, travelled, would enjoy correspondence with lonely sailors or soldiers’ and ‘Companionable bachelor (40), good social position, independent means, barrister-student, wishes to hear from some younger personality, opposite sex, preferably in similar circumstances – view friendship’ we find several people eager to converse in a foreign language, often with conversation in English offered in exchange.
‘Englishman (30), London, would like to meet lady, preferably of French nationality, interested in art, literature, etc., and for mutual help in English and French.’
‘Belgian gentleman from Paris, aged 22, volunteer, wounded and disbanded, refined, professor of French for four years, would be grateful to anyone who would get him pupils or classes. Teaches practically and effectively’
‘Birmingham – Lady, young, engaged commercial work during day, wants chum for some evenings or Saturdays. Man or woman; English, French or Belgian. Would give English lessons for French.’
‘Frenchman desires to exchange conversation with cultured English person.’
‘Young English gentleman (22) wishes to meet (or correspond) with a Dutch young lady, resident in London and speaking English, with an ultimate view to friendship.’
‘Young Englishman (23) wishes meet young Frenchman to exchange conversation.’
Note that few of these carry suggestions of hoped for romance, and in many cases the good time that is called for may indeed have been no more than that: The ‘Two jolly girls, refined, [who] would correspond with cheery Tommies or jolly Tars’ weren’t likely to be fatally compromised by exchanging postcards or letters. But as regards the two ‘jolly girls’ from South London, what exactly would their ‘usual mild amusements’ have been? On the other hand the Civil Servant ‘living in one of the large South African towns’ did have an exact idea of what was required; and this definitely excluded anyone who would ‘talk dress, theatre, love or read penny dreadfuls’. A life of tying flies, loading guns and charging up mountain passes beckoned.
Of the 68 adverts, 9 either specifically mention or imply language-learning or teaching, while two more writers describe themselves as ‘linguists’. It is clear that the preference is for French language learning opportunities; despite some of the writers or desired correspondents being Belgian, there is only one suggestion of learning Flemish or Dutch. But there is a notable appearance of a word that deserves restoration to English conversation:
‘Irish Girl (near Glasgow) would like a few sympathetic correspondents; view chumship.’
The interest in language-learning seems to have waned during 1915; in the issue of 9 October nobody wants to learn French, though one ‘Young Englishman’ wishing to meet a ‘young Colombian gent, for mutual interests and business prospects’ does advertise that he speaks Spanish. In the 11 December issue French featured once only, as an ‘Officier anglais (25), revenu de Flandres, désire étendre ses connaissances du flamand et invite correspondence de demoiselle belge de bonne éducation.’ A rare case of an English soldier wanting to maintain the Flemish he has picked up; incidentally ‘Google translate’ proposes that he ‘invites Belgian maid correspondence of good education’.