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Following moved for Wednesday PMs and is now available for AMs TODAY’S TOPIC: Ancient

March 6, 1985

Following moved for Wednesday PMs and is now available for AMs TODAY’S TOPIC: Ancient Profession Experiences Revival

PARIS (AP) _ The ancient profession of public scribe, which had withered since the introduction of universal education a century ago, is making a comeback.

In 1978, there were three public scribes working in France. Today, there are more than 150 ″ecrivains publics,″ and new ones are opening offices every week.

Public scribes not only write letters for people who can’t. They also prepare job resumes, edit manuscripts and memoires and help people cope with the government bureaucracy. Some even write poetry on demand.

More than 100 of the professional ghostwriters have banded together to form the Academy of Public Scribes, dedicated to promoting the profession and promulgating a code of ethics.

″Now, everybody knows how to write, but not necessarily how to write a letter,′ said Myriam Chatet, a former personnel manager who for the past four years has worked as a public scribe in Paris’ 10th District near the Gare du Nord railway station.

″For people who want to make a complaint, or a request, who have problems with their landlord or social security, there is a special way of presenting things,″ said Mrs. Chatet.

That is particularly true in French, a language of many nuances in which form is as important as content.

Above all, the job requires a wide range of knowledge, particularly of the French bureaucracy, its regulations and the myriad of forms that must be filled out.

Although public scribes are still a common sight in Latin America and much of the Middle East, where they can be seen with table and typewriter working on street corners, they seem an anachronism in today’s modern, highly educated French society.

″Life has become more and more complicated and people need help,″ explained Parisian Jacques Claustres, who styles himself a ″counsellor in correspondence″ and also writes poetry on demand.

″It goes beyond simply writing for the illiterate, it responds to a higher level of needs,″ Claustres said in an interview in his small office in a shopping mall near the Montparnasse Tower. ″People come to see you for all sorts of reasons, seeking intellectual help.″

The public scribe was born in France in the Middle Ages at the same time the middle class emerged. The profession flourished in prosperous times and receded in hard times.

With their quill pens and inkpots, scribes not only served as intermediaries for the illiterate, but often worked for the better educated, writing poetry and love letters for the wealthy and members of the court.

Then came Jules Ferry, the lawyer, education minister and premier who in 1881 and 1882 pushed through legislation creating free public schools and making primary education obligatory. The need for public scribes fell with the rise in education.

However, the profession did not disappear completely, and a small number survived into the 20th century.

In the late 1970s, Francois Boisson, a job counsellor in the northeastern French city of Nancy who was moonlighting as a public scribe, decided to find out how many counterparts he had. He found two others.

In 1980 he founded the Academy of Public Scribes; 30 turned up at the new organization’s first congress. The Academy now numbers slightly more than 100. There are perhaps another 50 in the country who are not members.

Although many customers are poorly educated people, or immigrants, a surprising number of educated, white-collar clients seek the services of today’s scribes.

Prices vary from scribe to scribe. In Mrs. Chatet’s case, she charges an average of about $15 to $20 an hour. Claustres charges about $6 for a 25-line letter and $55 for a 25-line poem.

Some scribes keep busy writing the traditional love letter.

Evelyne Ramelet, who until recently operated a small public scribe office in downtown Perpignan, a city near the border with Spain, said she wrote many love letters. And Claustres said he, too, handles a large number of affairs of the heart.

″There is an enormous number of lonely people in this country,″ said Claustres, a man in his 60s with a salt-and-pepper mustache.

Claustres, who specializes in writing acrostic poetry, interviews clients to get to know their feelings. He often spends more time on writing the poem than he is paid to do. In the end, the clients sign the poems he has helped create.

He called poetry ″a reflex of the mind and heart that comes from the self. It’s like a tear. It comes from you without any education on your part. It is a question of heart and soul.

″I was always a poet. When you create, you have a need to be read. Like a good musician likes to be heard, or a novelist wants to be read.″

In the meantime, the public scribe phenomenon is growing. Similar academies have been created recently in Switzerland and Belgium. And the next target, according to Boisson, is Canada.

″And why not America?″ he asked.

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