Wednesday, 30 May 2012

Nineteenth-century England, by a visitor


Conversation with an Englishman .... Twenty-five years of age; sneering, decided, incisive face; he has made, for his amusement and instruction, a trip lasting twelve months, and is returning from India and from Australia....
Of all the countries this Englishman has seen, England is the most moral. Still, in his opinion, the national evil is " the absence of morality." In consequence he judges France after the English fashion. "The women are badly brought up there, do not read the Bible, are too fond of balls, occupy themselves wholly with dress. The men frequent cafes and keep mistresses, hence so many unfortunate households...."
"Is everything good in your country?" "No; the national and horrible vice is drunkenness. A man who earns 20s. a week drinks ten of them. Add to this improvidence, stoppage of work, and poverty."

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The rain is small, compact, pitiless; looking at it one can see no reason why it should not continue to the end of all things; one's feet churn water, there is water everywhere, filthy water impregnated with an odour of soot.... After an hour's walk in the Strand especially, and in the rest of the City, one has the spleen, one meditates suicide.

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When reading the numerous essays in English literature, and at the present day the moralisings of the Saturday Review, one perceives that commonplaces do not weary them; apparently they consider morality not as an object of curiosity, but as a practical tool, an instrument in daily use which must be sharpened every Sunday.

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Other traces of Puritanical severity, among the rest, are the recommendations on the stairs which lead down to the Thames, and elsewhere; one is requested to be decent. At the railway-station there are large Bibles fastened to chains for the use of the passengers while waiting for the train.

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[T]he Haymarket and the Strand in the evening. Every hundred steps one jostles twenty harlots; some of them ask for a glass of gin; others say,"Sir, it is to pay my lodging." This is not debauchery which flaunts itself, but destitution -- and
such destitution! The deplorable procession in the shade of the monumental streets is sickening; it seems to me a march of the dead. That is a plague-spot -- the real plague-spot of English society.