to a letter to the Sunday Telegraph (23/7/1989)
It is a pity that you included the metric system among the "good things" ascribable to the French Revolution; for the metric system is definitely not a good thing.
It was consciously designed to perpetrate the fundamental mischief of constraining measurement to arithmetic, instead of vice-versa; resulting in an almost complete incompatibility with natural ratios and convenient human-scale sizes. With its dismal, decimal rigidity it destroys practical and harmonious relationships, substituting needless four-figure numbers and clumsy approximations where single figures and simple fractions did previously.
As such, it is a culturally destructive weapon of great efficacy; it seems logical, to the extent that it can seduce intellectuals, who can then be enlisted to assist in its imposition upon a bemused public. No wonder, then, that it was first adopted by the Napoleonic hegemony which ruled Europe during the early part of the 19th century, and second by the Communists after the Russian revolution.
It is indeed a measure of tyranny, as George Orwell noted; and the enforced displacement by it of Anglo-American rational measure, for wholly political reasons, will be a setback from which it will take centuries to recover. Metricate in haste, repent at leisure, indeed.
Many letters of support were received from readers of the Sunday Telegraph after that letter was published and here are some quotations from some of them
"I feel very strongly that we are in danger of losing the very real advantages of all the special systems of measurement that have endured over hundreds of years to best suit the trades concerned."
"Anyone with practical experience of these proven systems must do all in his power to retain them. The bureaucrats have no idea of the damage they are doing to man's accumulated learning by encouraging the teaching of the metric system as being the 'best' and 'only' system." Jeremy Links, GOSPORT Hampshire."
"...I don't like the thought of going over to the metric system fully. I see now that they want to take away the price in gallons from the garage forecourts." K. Davis, Brixham, Devon
"I am deeply concerned at the prospect of further metrication in 1992.... in spite of a government assurance that there would be no more compulsory metrication.
The arguments against metrication are legion and I am sure you know them all. One ray of light is the announcement by the Jockey Club that, unless ordered by the government to do so, they will not change to metric measures as this would make a nonsense of their records." Major J.C. Ratcliffe, BRECON Powys.
"I was surprised to see your letter. Over the last few weeks I have written similar letters to the press with no response. Indeed, since yours was the first I have seen with this point of view, I was beginning to think they were being suppressed!
I concur with everything you say but I feel that this system of measurement is just a symptom of an inhuman attitude to life which is positively evil. I suggest this because the attitudes of planners even in the fifties were showing the arrogance of the metric mind - we are infallible - this is how lt is going to be - many years before the actual measurements were used." Keith. R. Hodgson, CROSTON Lancashlre
"Although, first mooted in 1790 and instituted by the 'Law of' Germinal 18, Year III (April 7 1795), such was the reluctance of the French to use metric measures that further legislation was enacted in 1837 making them obligatory.
The kilo and the litre seem to have caught on fairly quickly, no doubt because of their proximity to established measures (two French pounds = 978 grammes; one French pint = 0.93 litre). But one has only to read nineteenth-century novelists to realize that leagues, fathoms, feet and inches persisted well into the latter part of the century, just as frequently in Zola (b.1840) as in Stendhal (b.1763), Balzac (b.1799) or Flaubert (b. 1821). Even when giving the depth of snow (La Bête Humaine 1890) as 30 or 60 centimetres, Zola was plainly thinking in terms of one or two feet.
Given the slowness of the French to accept the benefits of their metric revolution, why should the rest of us be in any hurry?" Ian Hamilton Walker, Edinburgh University.
"Not only do I dislike the way this country is always expected to do whatever other countries are doing, but ... aspects of the metric system particularly rile me.
At school I was taught that one of its advantages was that you need never go above ten, as that brought another unit into play (even if they were much duller than our own units). Now we find hundreds and even thousands of those awful microbes called millimetres being freely used." Hugh R. Fowler, LITTLEHAMPTON W.Sussex.
" ... I have been pondering for some time the great practicality of the Imperial weights and measures systems and their appropriateness to the various scales of human activity, especially when coupled to the £sd money system. Compared to these the metric weights, measures and money seem to me to be abstract and inhuman in the extreme. I would be most grateful if you would send me some information about the Society." R. S. Pitman Barbican, LONDON.
"May I please say ... how I agree with your views.
After a dozen years of living in Switzerland I could not come to terms with this inhuman and meaningless system, and people there did still sell you a 'livre' of apples and spoke of 'sous' even though the actual values had been altered to fit the metric amounts. I don't know how it is in Hampshire, but here, although of course metric money has been thrust upon us, other measurements have for the most part quietly returned to the former ones.
My late father (Dr. J.C. Willis FRS, who was a botanist but mathematically inclined) always said that the metric system was a retrograde step, and that things should ideally be based on twelve. Anita Binnerts, RIPON, North Yorkshire.
"Your letter struck an immediate chord. Over many years I have felt it to be perverse for the very reasons you give and many more could be added; but you have opened my eyes by giving the French metric system a political raison d'être. Will you please send a little more detail of the DOZENAL SOCIETY?" Russell Stokes, NOTTINGHAM.
"How can this government call itself 'Conservative' when it promotes the destruction of so major a part of our history and culture?
Although I think we have been told that the mile and the pint are to be saved, how can we trust them an inch? I fear for our Rule of the Road as well ... You have probably noticed how Radio 4's wildlife programmes have been rendered almost incomprehensible under a plethora of metres, centimetres and hectares." Carol L.K. Gibbons, CROWBOROUGH Sussex.
"You take a line which interests me; my main concern is that of opposing the actions of bureaucrats in forcing us into a mould which we have not requested nor had any opportunity to express an opinion about...." Graham Boatfield, IPSWICH Suffolk.
"...The last German Kaiser once stated.-. 'The success of the British is their system of measure." Never a truer statement was made. In 1864 the metric system was rejected (for trade) by the British Parllament and from that date we could outstrip our Continental competitors in the manufacture of virtually anything.... ranging from darning-needles and safety-pins to railway locomotives and battleships... " Angus MacDonald, LONDON.
"I have, long been an opponent of metrication but have always felt I was a 'lone voice crying in the wilderness.' I was particularly pleased, therefore, to hear your views and that a Society opposed to this measure exists." C.W.R. Cooke, AMERSHAM, Buckinghamshire.
A forgiveably sarcastic note from a member rounds-off this section appropriately:
"I am able to buy Danish jam in pots clearly marked: '2 lb.(907gm)'. Seems nobody has yet informed them how difficult they find it." Robin Hancock, FOWNHOPE, Herefordshire.