‘For the various portions of the earth are not more distinct, as regards their aborigines, than the many quarters of London, each to each’
It is strange with how little notice, good, bad, or indifferent, a
man may live and die in London. He awakens no sympathy in the breast of any single person; his existence is a matter of interest
to no one save himself; he cannot be said to be forgotten when he dies, for no one remembered him when he was alive. There is a
numerous class of people in this great metropolis who seem not to possess a single friend, and whom nobody appears to care for.
Urged by imperative necessity in the first instance, they have resorted to London in search of employment, and the means of
subsistence. It is hard, we know, to break the ties which bind us to our homes and friends, and harder still to efface the thousand
recollections of happy days and old times, which have been slumbering in our bosoms for years, and only rush upon the mind, to
bring before it associations connected with the friends we have left, the scenes we have beheld too probably for the last time, and
the hopes we once cherished, but may entertain no more. These men, however, happily for themselves, have long forgotten such thoughts.
Old country friends have died or emigrated; former correspondents have become lost, like themselves, in the crowd and turmoil of some busy city; and they have gradually settled down into mere passive creatures of habit and endurance.
Charles Dickens, Sketches by Boz, 1836
There is no place where the isolation of individual man is
more complete than in London : the great machine of society revolves, like the
tread wheel, by the labours of individuals
"Condemn'd to hope's delusive mine,"
who, while they walk, "their weary round," know only that they are putting in their time, but remain in ignorance whether the machine picks oakum, raises water, or grinds succory; who are unconscious, in a word, of the grand results of that machine revolving by their individually powerless, but united, all powerful exertion. In London, few know their next door neighbour; and still less do they reflect how much, without knowing him, they are obliged to their next door neighbour. Our neighbours in the world of London do the thousand little offices of kindness without interchanging a word with us - put money in our pockets without our knowing it, and enhance, strangers to us though they be, all the little pleasures of a highly civilized society. In London, every individual man revolves in two orbits: first, round his own axis in his individual sphere of action, be it little or great, narrow or widely extended; he revolves also with the huge mass of which he is but an atom, but which is, nevertheless, carried onwards in its course by the united exertion of aggregated atoms like himself.
The World of London, by John Murray, in Blackwoods Magazine, April 1841
‘Londoners have been forced to sacrifice the best qualities of their human nature, to bring to pass all the marvels of civilization which crowd their city; that a hundred powers which slumbered within them have remained inactive, have been suppressed in order that a few might be developed more fully and multiply through union with those of others ... The brutal indifference, the unfeeling isolation of each in his private interest becomes the more repellent and ofference the more these individuals are crowded together, within a limited space ... The dissolution of mankind into monads of which each one has a separate principle and a separate purpose, the world of atoms, is here carried to its upmost extreme.’
Friedrich Engels The Condition of the Working Class in England, 1845
[this article can also be viewed in the original
Cornell University Library - Making of Amercia
THE WEST AND EAST ENDS OF LONDON.
BY RICHARD HARDING DAVIS.
has seemed so difficult to write of the social side of the London season that I
have off, from month to month, saying anything of it directly until now, that
the last of these articles has been reached, it is necessary to touch upon it
here, or to leave it out of consideration altogether. To do the latter would
he like writing of the Horse Show and omitting everything but the horses, and
doing the former puts the writer in the unpleasant light of criticising those
who have been civil to him. It may be possible, and I hope it may prove so, to
avoid speaking of the social side of the London season in anything but
glittering generalities. Of course the most obvious difference between the
season in London and the season in New York is due to the difference in the
season of the year. We cannot give garden parties in December or February, nor,
were the American fashionables given to that form of amusement, attend race
meetings in January. So the out-of-door life of a London season—the lawn
parties in town, the water parties on the Thames, the church parade, and the
gatherings in the Row in the morning and on the lawn opposite Stanhope Gate
before dinner, the week at Ascot, and the closing of the season at Goodwood—is
of a kind with which there is nothing similar to compare in New York. The
elements of fashionable life which are most alike in both cities are the dinners
and dances and the opera. Dinners, I imagine, are pretty much alike all the
world over, and the dances in London, at the first glance, are like as smart
dances in New York, as far as the young people and the music and the palms and
the supper and such things go. There is, however, a very marked difference in the solemnity of the young men and in the
shyness and sedateness of the young girls. There are certain interests to
offset this, which are lacking with us one of which is the number of married
women you see whose faces are already familiar to you on both sides of the Atlantic through their photographs in shop windows, and who keep you
wondering where you have come across them and their tiaras before, and another
is the greater number of servants, whose livery and powdered hair add color to
the halls, and who, when they pass on the word that “Lady Somebody’s
carriage blocks the way,” are much more picturesque than Johnson in his ulster
and high hat calling out “23 East Twenty-second Street.” There is a more
brilliant showing of precious stones in London, and the older men in the sashes
and stars of the different orders of the empire add something of color and
distinction which we do not have at home. Otherwise the scene is much the same.
It is only when you leave the ballroom and go out on to the lawn or into the
surrounding rooms that you come across an anomaly which is most disturbing. The
American girl who seeks corners and the tops of stairways, or who, when the
weather permits, wanders away from the care of her chaperon and the lighted
rooms into the garden around the house, if the house has a garden, is sure to
suffer the penalty of being talked about. Young married women may do that sort
of thing with us, but a young girl must remain in evidence, she must be where her
partners can reach her, and where whoever is looking after her can whisper to
her to hold herself straight, or that she is dancing her hair down. If she wants
to talk to a man alone, as she sometimes does, and her mother approves of the
man, she can see him at her own home over a cup of tea any afternoon after five.
But she cannot do this if she is an English girl in London. So when the
English girl goes to a dance at a private house she takes advantage of the
long waits between each dance, which are made very long on purpose, and rushes
off, not only into rooms leading from the ballroom, but up stairs to the third
and fourth story, or out into the garden, where she sits behind statues [-280-]
and so, when you wander out for a peaceful smoke, you are constantly intruding
upon a gleaming shirt front and the glimmer of a white skirt hidden away in a
surrounding canopy of green. It is most embarrassing. I have been brought up to
believe that English girls were the most overridden and over-chaperoned young
women in the world, and I still think they are, except in this one particular
license allowed to them at dances. It struck me as most contradictory and
somewhat absurd. Why, if a young girl may not. see a young man alone at her own
house, should she be allowed to wander all over some other person’s house
with him, and penetrate with him into the third floor back, or move on considerately to the fourth floor if she finds the third is already occupied? It seems
to me it is in so much better taste to do as we do and let the girl see the man
under her own roof.
The most novel feature of the dance in London, which does not obtain so frequently with us, is the sudden changing of night into day, at time early hour of two in the morning. Daylight obtrudes so late in New York that it is generally the signal for going home; but it comes so early in the game in London that one often sees the cotillon begun in a clear- sunlight, which does not mar, but rather heightens, the beauty of the soft English complexions and the fair arms and shoulders of the young girls, even while it turns [- 281-] the noblest son and heir of the oldest house present into something distressingly like a waiter.
This is one of the prettiest sights in London. A room full of young girls, the older women having discreetly fled before the dawn, romping through a figure in the smartest of décolleté gowns, and in the most brilliant sunlight, with the birds chirping violently outside, and the fairy- lamps in the gardens smoking gloomily, and the Blue Hungarian Band yawning over their fiddles. It is all very well for the women, but, as one of the men said "I always go home early now; one hates having people one knows take one for a butler and ask after their carriage." There is a decorum about an English dance which, I should think, will always tend to keep the hostess in doubt as to whether or no her guests have enjoyed themselves as keenly as they signify they have done when they murmur their adieus. And I do not mean by this that there is any in-decorum at a dance in America, but there is less consciousness of self, and more evident enjoyment of those things which are meant to be enjoyed, and no such terribly trying exhibitions of shyness. Shyness, so it struck me, is the most remarkable of all English characteristics. It is not a pretty trait. It is a thing which is happily almost unknown to us. The Englishman will agree to this with a smile because he thinks we are too bold, and because he believes that shyness is a form of modesty. It is nothing of the sort. It is simply a sign of self-consciousness, and, in consequence, of bad breeding; it is the acme of self-consciousness, and carries with it its own punishment. People with us are either reserved or over-confident, [-282-] or simple and sincere, or bold and self- assertive; but they are not shy. And what is most aggravating is that the English make shyness something of a virtue, and think that it covers a multitude of sins. If a man is rude or a woman brusque, his or her friends will say, “You mustn’t mind him, he’s so shy,” or, “She doesn’t mean anything; that’s just her manner; she’s so shy.” The English are constantly laughing mockingly at their French neighbor on account of his manner, and yet his exaggerated politeness is much less trying to one’s nerves than the average Englishman’s lack of the small-change of conversation and his ever-present self-consciousness, which render him a torment to himself and a trial to the people he meets.
There are different kinds of shyness, and different causes for it. To be quite fair, it is only right to say that in many cases the Englishman’s shyness is due to his desire not to appear egotistical, or to talk of himself, or -of what he does or happens to have done. His horror of the appearance of boasting is so great that he often errs in the other direction, and is silent or abrupt in order that he may not be drawn into speaking of himself, or of appearing to give importance to his own actions. Modesty is, I think, the most charming of all English characteristics, only it is rather in some instances over-done. In our country a man likes you to refer to the influence he wields; he likes you to say, “A man in your position,” or, ‘‘Anyone with your influence,” or, “Placed as you are, you could if you would.” It is the breath of his nostrils to many a man. But an Englishman detests any reference to the fact that he is a Member of Parliament as if it were something over which he ought to be pleased; he wears his honors awkwardly; more frequently leaves them at home. He does not wear his war medals with civilian dress. He is quite honest in his disregard of title if he has one, though, being mortal, he thinks as much of it if he lacks it as the chance American does. But he does not say, “Come down to my house and ride my horses and look at my pictures.” If he takes you over his place, he is apt to speak of his ancestor’s tomb as a "jolly old piece of work," just as though it were a sundial or a chimney- piece, and he is much more likely to show you the family skeleton than the family plate and pictures. I was in a boy’s room at Oxford last summer, and saw a. picture of one of the peers of England there, a man who has held the highest offices in the diplomatic service. “Why do you have such a large picture of Lord — here?” I asked. “Do you admire him as much as that?”
"He’s my father," he said. “Of course,” he went on, anxiously, “he doesn’t dress in all those things unless he has to. Here is a better portrait of him.”
And he showed me one of his father in knickerbockers. It struck me as a very happy instance of English reserve about those things of which the average American youth would have been apt to speak. I had known him a couple of weeks, but on account of his bearing the family name I did not connect him with his father. The “things”to which lie referred were the grand crosses of the orders of the Bath, and of the Star of India, and of the Indian Empire. An American boy would have pointed out their significance to you; but the English boy, fearing I would think he and his father thought overmuch of them, proffered the picture of his father in a tweed suit instead. I have heard Americans in London tell very long stories of our civil war, and of their very large share in bringing it to a conclusion, and as no one had asked them to talk about it, or knew anything about it, it used to hurt my feelings, especially as I remember having tried to drag anecdotes of the Soudan and India out of the several English officers present, and without success. So, on the whole, one must remember this form of shyness too. But the shyness which comes from stupid fear is unpardonable.
As an American youth said last summner, "It is rather disappointing to come over here prepared to bow down and worship, and to find you have to put a duchess at her ease." I asked an Englishman once whether or not people shook hands when they were presented in England. I told him we did not do so at home, but that English people seemed to have no fixed rule about it, and I wanted to know what was expected of one. “Well, you know,” he said, with the most charming naivété, “it isn’t a matter of rule exactly; one is generally so embarrassed when being introduced that one really doesn’t know whether one is shaking hands or not.” And he quite [-284-] expected me to agree. If the English themselves were the only ones to suffer from their own lack of ease, and of the little graces which oil the social wheels, it would not so much matter; one would only regret that they were not having a better time. But they make others suffer, especially the stranger within their gates. Mr. Robert Louis Stevenson, in his essay on "The Foreigner at Home," tells of the trials of the Scotchman when he first visits England. He says: “A Scotchman is vain, interested in himself and others, eager for sympathy, setting forth his thoughts and experience in the best light. The egotism of the Englishman is self-contained. He does not seek to proselytize. He takes no interest in Scotland or the Scotch, and, what is the unkindest cut of all, he does not care to justify his indifference.”
If the Scotchman, who certainly seems reserved enough in our eyes, is chilled by the Englishman’s manner, it is evident how much more the American must suffer before he learns that there is something better to come, and that the Englishman’s manner is his own misfortune and not his intentional fault. The English say to this, when you know them well enough to complain, that we are too "sensitive," and that we are too quick to take offence. It never occurs to him that it may be that he is too brusque. If you say, on mounting a coach, “I am afraid I am one too many, I fear I am crowding you all,” you can count upon their all answering, with perfect cheerfulness, “Yes, you are, but we didn’t know you were coming, and there is no help for it,” and it never occurs to them that that is not perhaps the best way of putting it. After a bit you find out that they do not mean to be rude, or you learn to be rude yourself, and then you get on famously. I have had Americans come into my rooms in London with tears of indignation in their eyes, and tell of the way they had been, as they supposed, snubbed and insulted and neglected. “Why,” they would ask, “did they invite me to their house if they meant to treat me like that? I didn’t ask them to. I didn’t force myself on them. I only wanted a word now and then, just to make me feel I was a human being. If they had only asked me, ‘When are you going away?’ it would have been something; but to leave me standing around in corners, and to go through whole dinners without as much as a word, without introducing me to any one or recognizing my existence— Why did they ask me if they only meant to insult me when they got me there? Is that English hospitality?” And the next day I would meet the people with whom he had been staying, and they would say, “We have had such a nice compatriot of yours with us, such a well- informed young man; I hope he will stop with us for the shooting.” As far as they knew they had done all that civility required, all they would have given their neighbors, or have expected from their own people. But they did not know that we are not used to being walked over rough-shod, that we affect interest even if we do not feel it, and that we tell social fibs if it is going to make some one else feel more comfortable. It is as if the American had boxed with gloves all his life, and then met a man who struck with his bare fists; and it naturally hurts. And the most pathetic part of the whole thing is that they do not know how much better than their own the breeding of the American really is. It is like the line in the International Episode, where the American woman points out to her friend that their English visitors not only dress badly, but so badly that they will not appreciate how well dressed the Americans are. I have seen a whole roomful of Englishmen sit still when a woman came into her own drawing-room, and then look compassionately at the Americans present because they stood up. They probably thought we were following out the rules of some book on etiquette, and could not know that we were simply more comfortable standing when a woman was standing than we would have been sitting down. And it will not do to say in reply to this that these Englishmen of whom I speak were not of the better sort, and that I should not judge by the middle class. I am not writing of the middle classes. “It was the best butter,” as the March hare says.
I have had Americans tell me, and most interesting Americans they were, of dinners in London where they had sat, after the women left the room, in absolute isolation, when the men near them turned their backs on them, and talked of things interesting only to themselves, and left the stranger to the mercies of the butler. Imagine anything like that with us! [-285-] Imagine our neglecting a guest to that extent—and an Englishman too! We might not like him, and would find him probably a trifle obtuse, but we would not let him see it, and we would at least throw him a word now and again, and ask him if he meant to shoot big game, or merely to write a book about us. It might not be that we intended to read his book, or cared whether he shot moose or himself, but as long as he was our guest we would try to make him feel that we did not consider our responsibility was at an end when we gave him his bread-and-butter. But the average Englishman and English woman does not feel this responsibility. I remember a dinner given in New York last winter to a prominent Englishman who was visiting this country, and there happened to be a number of very clever men at the table who were good after-dinner talkers, and not after-dinner story-tellers, which is a vastly different thing. The Englishman’s contribution to the evening’s entertainment was a succession of stories which he had heard on this side, and which he told very badly. The Americans were quite able to judge of this, as they had told the stories themselves many different times. But they all listened with the most serious or amused interest, and greeted each story with the proper mount of laughter, and by saying.” How very good,” and “Quite delightful !“ Then they all reached under the table and kicked the shins of the unhappy host who had subjected them to this trial. In England it would not have been the host nor his English friends who would have been the one to suffer. I went with a man who had never been in London before to a garden party last summer, and warned him on the way that he would not be introduced to any one, and that after he had met his hostess he would probably be left rooted to a block of stone on the terrace, and would be as little considered as a marble statue. He smiled scornfully at this, but half an hour after our arrival I passed him for the third time as he stood gazing dreamily out across the park just where I had left him. And as I passed he dropped the point of his stick to the ground, and drew it carefully around the lines of the slab of marble upon which he was standing, and then continued to smile significantly out across the lawn. I do not think they treat us in this way because we are Americans, but because we are strangers, and London is a very busy place, and a very big place, and. those who go about there have their time more than taken up already, and have but little to spare for the chance visitor. It is the same with their own people. The governor’s lady of some little island or military station in the colonies, who has virtually boarded and lodged and danced and wined the distinguished English family who visited the station in their yacht the winter before, thinks, poor thing, when she reaches London that she will receive favors in return, and sends her card expectingly, as she has been urged not to forget to do, and she is invited to luncheon. And after luncheon her hostess says: “Good-by. We are going to Lady Somebody’s musical. Shall we see you there? No? Then we shall meet again, I hope.” But unless they meet at a street crossing, it is unlikely.
It is the same with those young English subalterns who come back from India and Egypt tanned and handsome and keen for the pleasures of the town, and who have been singing, “When will we see [-286-] London again?” and who find their three months’ furlough slipping by with nothing to show for it but clubs and theatres, and who go back abusing the country and the town that have failed to mark their return or to take note of their presence. I know one woman in London who expends her energies in asking cards for things for young lieutenants back on leave, who appoints herself their hostess, whose pleasure is in giving these others pleasure, and who makes them think the place they call home has not forgotten them, and so, when they have gone back to the barracks or the jungle, they have more to thank her for than they know, and many pleasant things to remember. I rather like her missionary work better than that of Dr. Bernado’s. There are a great many Americans who will tell you that we, as Americans, are very popular in London; that the English think us clever and amusing on account of our “quaint American humor,” and our curious enthusiasm over their traditions and their history and its monuments. It may be that I am entirely mistaken, but I do not think we are popular at all. I think we are just the contrary. As for our American humor, they do not understand what is best of it, and they laugh, if they laugh at all, not with us, but at us. Those Americans who are willing to be a success through being considered buffoons, are perfectly welcome to become so, but it does not strike me as an edifying social triumph. The Americans who are very much liked in London, whether men or women are not the Americans of whose doings we hear at home; they are not likely to furnish the papers with the material for cablegrams, and do not take the fact that they have been found agreeable by agreeable people as something of so surprising a nature that they should talk about it when they return to their own country. As a matter of fact, I think the English care less for Americans than they do for any other foreigners. They think us pushing, given to overmuch bragging, and too self-assertive. They judge us a good deal by the Americans they meet at Homburg, who give large tips to the head waiter to secure the tables near that of a certain royal personage at luncheon-time, and those whom they chance to meet in a railway carriage, and who spend the time in telling them, uninvited, how vastly inferior are their travelling accommodations to those of the Chicago limited express, with its “barber shop, bath-room, type-writer, and vestibule-cars, sir, all in one.” I used to get so weary of the virtues of this American institution that I vowed I would walk the ties when I returned home sooner than enter its rubber portals again. You can see what they think of our bragging by the anecdotes they tell you, which are supposed to be characteristic of Americans, and the point of which, when there is a point, invariably turns on some absurdly prodigious or boasting lie which one American tells another. They also judge us a great deal, and not unnaturally, by what we say of each other, and one cannot blame them for thinking that those of us whom they meet in town during the season must be a very bad lot.
It is almost as impossible to hear one American speak well of another American in London as to hear the cock crow at dinner-time. “Oh, she’s over here, is she,” they say, smiling mysteriously. “No, I don’t know her. She’s not exactly—well, I really shouldn’t say anything about her; she is not a person I would be likely to meet at home.” I used to get so tired of hearing one American abuse another because he happened to know a duchess and the other one did not, because she was asked to a country house to which the other wanted to go, that I made it a rule to swear that every man they asked me about was considered in America as one of the noblest of God’s handiworks, and I am afraid now that I may have vouched for some very disreputable specimens. They were not worse, however, than those Englishmen who come to us each winter vouched for by equerries of the Queen and several earls each, and who go later to the Island in our cast-off shoes and with some of our friends’ money. If the English judged us by the chance American, and we judged them by the average English adventurer, we would go to war again for some reason or other at once. And yet that is almost what we do. We judge by the men who make themselves conspicuous, who force themselves on our notice whether they do it by bragging offensively in a railway carriage, or by borrowing money, or failing to pay their club dues. We forget that the gentleman, whether he comes from New York or London or Athens, is not conspicuous, but passes by [-288-] unheard, like the angels we entertain unawares, and that where a gentleman is concerned there can be no international differences. There can only be one sort of a gentleman; there can be all varieties of cads. An Englishman used to argue last summer that he was quite fair in judging the Americans as a people by the average American, and not by those he is pleased to like and respect. He said they were not “representative” Americans, and that we could not urge that our best exponents of what Americans should and could be should represent us, which was of course quite absurd. If the English were entering a yacht for an international race they would enter their best yacht, not the third or fourth rate yachts. No women are more intelligent and womanly and sweet than the best of the American women and no men that I have met more courteous and clever than the best American men, and it is by these we should be judged, not by the American who scratches his name over cathedrals when the verger isn’t looking, or the young women who race through the halls of the Victoria Hotel.
All of this of which I have been speaking refers to the Englishman’s manner his outside, his crust, his bark, and bears in no way upon his spirit of hospitality which it disguises, but which is, nevertheless, much his best point, and in which he far outshines his American cousin. If you question this, consider what he gives, and how generously he gives it, in comparison with what we give him. Of course hospitality is not to be judged or gauged by its expense, or how much one makes by it. The mere asking a man to sit down may breathe with truer hospitality than inviting him to consider all that is yours his, as the Spaniards do. What do we for the visiting Englishman who comes properly introduced, and with a wife who happens to be his own? We ask him to dinner, and put him up at the clubs, and get invitations to what- ever is going on, sometimes to give him pleasure, and sometimes to show him how socially important we may happen to be. In doing any of these things we run no great risk, we are not placed in a position from which we cannot at any moment withdraw. He does much more than this for the visiting American. For some time, it is true, he holds you at arm’s-length, as I have just described; he looks you over and considers you, and is brusque or silent with you; and then, one fine day, when you have despaired of ever getting the small-change of every-day politeness from him, he, figuratively speaking, stuffs your hands with bank-notes, and says, “That’s all I have at present; spend it as you like, and call on me for more when it is gone.” He takes you to his house and makes you feel it is your home. He gives you his servants, his house, his grounds, his horses, his gun, and his keepers, and the society of his wife and daughters and passes you on eventually to his cousins and his sisters and brothers. This is a show of confidence which makes a dinner and a theatre party, or a fortnight’s privileges at a club, seem rather small.
It is true he does not meet you at the door with his family grouped about him as though they were going to be photographed, and with the dogs barking a welcome; he lets you come as you would come to your own house, as naturally and with as little ostentation. But you are given to understand when you get there that as long as you turn up at dinner at the right hour, you are to do as you please. You get up when you like, and go to bed when you like; you can fish for pike in the lake in front of the house, or pick strawberries, or play tennis with his sons and daughters, or read in his library, or take the guide-book and wander over the house and find out which is the Rubens, and trace the family likeness on down to the present day by means of Sir Joshua and Romney to Herkomer and Watts, and Mendelssohn in a silver frame on the centre table. He has much more to give than have we, and he gives it entirely and without reserve; he only asks that you enjoy yourself after your own fashion, and allow him to go on in his own house in his own way. When a man has as much as this to give, you cannot blame him if he does not cheapen it for himself amid for others by throwing it open to whoever comes in his way. The club with the longest waiting list is generally the best club.
All of this is rather far away from the London season of which I began to write, but it is the manners and characteristics of people which make society, even fashionable society, and not Gunter or Sherry. You may forget whether it was the regimental band of the First or Second Life-[-289-]guards, but you do not forget that the hostess was gracious or rude.
The East End of London is entirely too awful, and too intricate a neighborhood to be dismissed in a chapter. It is the back yard of the greatest city in the world, into which all the unpleasant and unsightly things are thrown and hidden away from sight, to be dragged out occasionally and shaken before the eyes of the West End as a warning or a menace. Sometimes, or all the time missionaries from the universities and restless spirits of the West End go into it, and learn more or less about it, and help here, and mend there, but they are as impotent as the man who builds a breakwater in front of his cottage at Seabright and thinks he has subdued the Atlantic Ocean. They protect themselves against certain things —ennui and selfishness and hard-hearted- ness—but they must see in the end that they gain more than they can give; for where they save one soul from the burning, two are born, still to be saved, who will breed in their turn more souls to be saved.
There is more earnest effort in the East End of London than there is, I think, in the east side of New York. I do not mean that it is more honest, but that there is more of it. This is only natural, as the need is greater, and the bitter cry of out- cast London more apparent and continual than is the cry that comes from the slums of New York. I have heard several gentlemen who ought to know say that the east side of the American city is quite as appalling as is the Whitechapel of London, but I do not find it so. You cannot judge by appearances altogether; dirt and poverty, after a certain point is reached, have no degrees, and one alley looks as dark as another, and one court-yard as dirty; but you must judge by the degradation of the people, their morals, and their valuation of life, and by their lack of ambition. If one judged by this the American slums would be better in comparison, although when I say "American" that is hardly fair either, as the lowest depths of degradation in New York are touched by the Italians and the Russian Jews, as it is by the latter in London, and by the English too.
This must necessarily be a series of obiter dicta, as I cannot quote the incidents or repeat the stories which go to guards, but you do not forget that the prove what I say, and if I did attempt to prove it, somebody who works in the slums would come down with a fine array of statistics and show how wrong I was. So it would be better to take the East End of London from the outside entirely. The best time to see the East End is on Sunday morning in Petticoat Lane, and on Saturday night in the streets which run off the Commercial Road or Whitechapel Road, or in such alleys as Ship’s Alley, off the Ratcliff Highway. On Sunday morning Petticoat Lane is divided into three thoroughfares made by two rows of handcarts, drays, and temporary booths ranged along each gutter. The people pass up and down these three lanes in a long continuous stream, which stops and congests at certain points of interest and then breaks on again. Everything that is sold, and most things that are generally given or thrown away, are for sale on this street on Sunday morning. It is quite useless to enumerate them, "everything" is comprehensive enough; the fact that they sell for nothing is the main feature of interest. It is the most excellent lesson in the value of money that the world gives. You learn not only the value of a penny, but the value of a farthing. A silver sixpence shines like a diamond with the rare possibilities it presents, and a five-pound note will buy half a mile of merchandise. All of the dealers call their wares at one and the same tune, and abuse the rival dealers by way of relaxation. The rival dealer does not mind this, but regards it as a form of advertisement, and answers in kind, and the crowd listens with delighted interest., “Go on,’ one of the men will cry from the back of his cart— "go on an’ buy his rotten clothes. O’course he sells ‘em cheap. ‘Cos why! ‘Cos he never pays his pore workin’ people their waiges. He’s a blooming sweater, ‘e is; e never gives nothink to his workers but promises and kicks; that’s all ‘Ammerstein gives. Yes, you do; you know you do. And what ‘appens, why, ‘is clothes is all infected with cholera, and falls to pieces in the sun and shrinks up in the rain. They ain’t fit for nothink but to bury folks in, ‘cos if yer moves in ‘em they falls ter pieces and leaves you naked. I don’t call no names, but this I will say, ‘Ammerstein is a —— —— —— —— thief, ‘e is, and a —— —— —— liar, and ‘is clothes is —— —— moth-eaten cholera blankets, [-290-] robbed from ‘ospitals and made over.” Then “‘Ammerstein,” on the next cart, who has listened to this with his thumbs in the sleeves of his waistcoat, smiles cheerfully and says: “You musd egscuse that jail-birt on the nexd cart. He vas a clerk of mine, but be stole oud of der till, und I discharged him, and he feels bat aboud id.”
Saturday night is naturally the best time in which to visit the East End, for the reason that the men and the women have been paid off, and are out buying the next week’s rations and visiting from public-house to public-house, and are noisy and merry, or sullen and bent on fighting, as the case may be. The streets are filled with carts lit with flaring oil- lamps, and the public-houses, open on very side, are ablaze with gas and glittering with mirrors and burnished pewter, and the sausage and fish shops, with these edibles frying in the open front windows, send out broad rays of smoky light and the odor of burning fat. It is like a great out-of-door kitchen, full of wonderful colors and flaring lights and inky shadows, with glimpses of stout, florid, respectable working-men’s wives, with market basket on arm, jostled by trembling hags of the river-front, and starving wild-eyed young men with enough evil purpose in their faces to do many murders, and with not enough power in their poor ill-fed and unkempt twisted bodies to strangle a child.
There are no such faces to be seen anywhere else in the world, no such despair nor misery nor ignorance. They are brutal, sullen, and gladless. A number of these men together make you feel an uneasiness concerning your safety which is not the fear of a fellow-man, such as you might confess to if you met any men alone in a dark place, but such as you feel in the presence of an animal, an uneasiness which comes from ignorance as to what it may possibly do next, and as to how it will go about doing it. One night an inspector of police woke fifty of these men in McCarthy’s lodging-house on Dorset Street, off the Commercial Road, to exhibit them, and I felt as though I had walked into a cage with the keeper. They lay on strips of canvas naked to the waist, for it was a warm, close night, and as the ray from the policeman’s lantern slid from cot to cot, it showed the sunken chests and ribs of some half-starved wrecks of the wharves, or the broad torso of a ‘‘docker,” or a sailor’s hairy breast marked with tattooing, and the throats of two men scarred with long dull red lines where some one had drawn a knife, and some of them tossed and woke cursing and muttering, and then rested on their elbows, cowering before the officers and blinking at the light, or sat erect and glared at them defiantly, and hailed them with drunken bravado.
“The beds seem comfortable,” I said to McCarthy, by way of being civil.
“Oh, yes, sir,” he answered, “comfor’ble enough, only it ain’t proper, after paying twopence for your bed, to ‘ave a policeman a-waking you up with a lamp in your face. It ‘urts the ‘ouse, that’s wot it does.” He added, gloomily, “It droives away trade.” The most interesting group of these men I ever saw gathered together in one place was at Harwood’s Music Hall. This is a place to which every stranger in London should go. It is a long low building near Spitalfields Market, and there are two performances a night, one at seven and another at nine. The price of admittance is fourpence. The seats are long deal benches without arms, and the place is always crowded with men. I have never seen a woman there. The men bring their bottles of bitter ale with them and a fried sole wrapped in paper, arid as the performance goes on they munch at the sole in one hand and drink out of the bottle in the other. When a gentleman in the middle of a bench wants more room he shoves the man next him, and he in turn shoves the next, and he the next, with the result that the man on the end is precipitated violently into the aisle, to the delight of those around him. He takes this apparently as a matter of course, and without embarrassment or show of anger pounds the man who has taken his end seat in the face and ribs until he gets it again, at which this gentleman pounds the man who had shoved him, and so it goes on like a row of falling bricks throughout the length of the bench.
Sometimes you will see as many as three or four of these impromptu battles running from bench to bench in the most orderly and good-natured manner possible. Harwood’s has a tremendous sense of humor, only the witticisms of its clientele are not translatable. The first [-291-] time I went there we were ushered into the solitary private box, and as our party came in, owing to our evening dress, or to the fact that we looked down, I suppose, too curiously on the mass of evil, upturned faces, one of the boys sprang to his feet and cried: “Gentlemen, owin’ to the unexpected presence of the Prince of Wailes, the audience will please rise and sing ‘God save the Queen,’” which the audience did with much ironical solemnity.
The orchestra at Harwood’s, which consists of five pieces, is not very good. One night the stage-manager came before the curtain and stated that owing to the non-arrival of the sisters Barrow, who were to do the next turn, there would be a wait of ten minutes; “this, however,” he added, “will be made up to you by the gentlemen of the orchestra, who have kindly consented to play a few selections.” Instantly one of the audience jumped to his feet, and waving his hands imploringly, cried, in a voice of the keenest fear and entreaty: “Good Gawd, governor, it ‘ain’t our fault the ladies ‘aven’t come. Don’t turn the orchestra on us. We’ll be good.” The East End of London sprang into [-292-] prominence of late on account of the murders which were committed there. These murders are not yet far enough off in the past to have become matters of history, or near enough to be of “news interest.” It is not my intention to speak of them now or here, but twenty years or so from now the story of these crimes must be written, for they are undoubtedly the most remarkable criminal event of the century. But the elements which made them possible exist to-day in the nature of the neighborhood and in the condition of the women of the district. In a minute’s time one can walk from the grandly lit High Street, Whitechapel, which is like our Sixth Avenue filled with pedestrians from the Bowery, into a network of narrow passageways and blind alleys and covered courts as intricate and dirty as the great network of sewers which stretches beneath them. A criminal can turn into one of these courts and find half a dozen openings leading into other courts and into dark alleys, in which he can lose himself and his pursuers as effectively as though they were running in a maze. This .fact explains, perhaps, the escape of the Whitechapel murderer, and serves to excuse in some degree the London police for having failed to find him.
The East End of London is either to be taken seriously by those who study it, and whose aim and hope are to reclaim it as a great and terrible problem, or from the outside by those who with a morbid interest go to walk through it and to pass by on the other side. The life of the Whitechapel coster as shown by Albert Chevalier and The Children of the Ghetto is a widely different thing, yet both are true and both untrue as showing only one side. I confess to having in no way touched upon the East End of London deeply. I know and have seen just enough of it to know how little one can judge of it from the outside, and I feel I should make some apology for having touched on it at all to those men and women who are working there, and giving up their lives to its redemption.
Harpers New Monhtly Magazine, January 1894