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MYSTERIES OF LONDON
GEORGE W.M. REYNOLDS
AUTHOR OF "PICKWICK ABROAD,"
"THE MODERN LITERATURE OF FRANCE," ROBERT MACAIRE, &C
WITH NUMEROUS ILLUSTRATIONS
PUBLISHED BY JOHN DICKS, NO.313 STRAND
BETWEEN the 10th and 13th centuries Civilisation withdrew from Egypt and
Syria, rested for a litt1e space at Constantinople, and then passed sway to the
western climes of Europe.
From that period these climes have been the grand laboratory
in which Civilisation has wrought out refinement in every art and every science,
and whence it has diffused its benefits over the earth. It has taught commerce
to plough the waves of every sea with the adventurous keel; it has enabled
handfuls of disciplined warriors to subdue the mighty armaments of oriental
princes; and its daring sons have planted its banners amidst the eternal ice of
the poles. It has cut down the primitive forests of America; carried trade into
the interior of Africa; annihilated time - and distance by the aid of steam; and
now contemplates how to force a passage through Suez and Panama.
The bounties of Civilisation are at present almost everywhere
Nevertheless, for centuries has Civilisation established, and
for centuries will it maintain, its headquarters in the great cities of Western
Europe : and with Civilisation does Vice go hand-in-hand.
Amongst these cities there is one in which contrasts of a
strange nature exist. The most unbounded wealth is the neighbour of the most
hideous poverty; the most gorgeous pomp is [-2-] placed
in strong relief by the most deplorable squalor; the most seducing luxury is
only separated by a narrow wall from the most appalling misery.
The crumbs which fall from the tables of the rich would
appear delicious viands to starving millions; and yet those millions obtain them
In that city there are in all districts five prominent
buildings: the church, in which the pious pray; the gin-palace, to which the
wretched poor resort to drown their sorrows; the pawn-broker's, where miserable
creatures pledge their raiment, and their children's raiment, even unto the last
rag, to obtain the means of purchasing food, and - alas! too often -
intoxicating drink; the prison, where the victims of a vitiated condition of
society expiate the crimes to which they have been driven by starvation and
despair; and the workhouse, to which the destitute, the aged, and the friendless
hasten to lay down their aching heads - and die!
And, congregated together in one district of this city, is an
assemblage of palaces, whence emanate by night the delicious sounds of
music; within whose walls the foot treads upon rich carpets; whose
sideboards are covered with plate; whose cellars contain the choicest nectar of
the temperate and torrid zones; and whose inmates recline beneath velvet
canopies, feast at each meal upon the collated produce of four worlds, and
scarcely have to breathe a wish before they find it gratified.
Alas! how appalling are these contrasts! And, as if to hide
its infamy from the face of heaven, this city wears upon its brow an everlasting
cloud, which even the fresh fan of the morning fails to disperse for a single
hour each day!
And in one delicious spot of that mighty city - whose
thousand towers point upwards, from horizon to horizon, as an index of its
boundless magnitude - stands the dwelling of one before whom all knees bow, and
towards whose royal footstool none dares approach save with downcast eyes and
subdued voice. The entire world showers its bounties upon the head of that
favoured mortal; a nation of millions does homage to the throne whereon that
being is exalted. The dominion of this personage so supremely blest extends over
an empire on which the sun never sets - an empire greater than Jenghiz Khan
achieved or Mohammed conquered.
This is the parent of a mighty nation; and yet around that
parent's seat the children crave for bread!
Women press their little ones to their dried-up breasts in
the agonies of despair; young delicate creatures waste their energies in toil
from the dawn of day till long past the hour of midnight, perpetuating their
unavailing labour from the hour of the brilliant sun to that when the dim candle
sheds its light around the attic's naked walls; and even the very pavement
groans beneath the weight of grief which the poor are doomed to drag over the
rough places of this city of sad contrasts.
For in this city the daughter of the peer is nursed in
enjoyments, and passes through an uninterrupted avenue of felicity from the
cradle to the tomb; while the daughter of poverty opens her eyes at her birth
upon destitution in all its most appalling shapes, and at length sells her
virtue for a loaf of bread.
There are but two words known in the moral alphabet of this
great city; for all virtues are summed up in the one, and all vices in the
other: and those words are
WEALTH. | POVERTY.
Crime is abundant in this city: the lazar-house, the prison,
the brothel, and the dark alley, are rife with all kinds of enormity; in the
same way as the palace, the mansion, the club-house, the parliament, and the
parsonage, are each and all characterised by their different degrees and shades
of vice. But wherefore specify crime and vice by their real names, since in this
city of which we speak they are absorbed in the multi-significant words - WEALTH
Crimes borrow their comparative shade of enormity from the
people who perpetrate them: thus is it that the wealthy may commit all social
offences with impunity; while the poor are cast into dungeons and coerced with
chains, for only following at a humble distance in the pathway of their lordly
From this city of strange contrasts branch off two roads,
leading to two points totally distinct the one from the other.
One winds its tortuous way through all the noisome dens of
crime, chicanery, dissipation, and voluptuousness: the other meanders amidst
rugged rocks and wearisome acclivities, it is true, but on the wayside are the
resting-places of rectitude and virtue.
Along those roads two youths are journeying.
They have started from the same point; but one pursues the
former path, and the other the latter.
Both come from the city of fearful contrasts; and both follow
the wheels of fortune in different directions.
Where is that city of fearful contrasts? - Who are those
youths that have thus entered upon paths so opposite the one to the other?
And to what destinies do those separate roads conduct them?
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