Always, from the first time he went there to see Eros and the lights, that circus have a magnet for him, that circus represent life, that circus is the beginning and the ending of the world. Every time he go there, he have the same feeling like when he see it the first night, drink coca-cola, any time is guinness time, bovril and the fireworks, a million flashing lights, gay laughter, the wide doors of theatres, the huge posters, everready batteries, rich people going into tall hotels, people going to the theatre, people sitting and standing and walking and talking and laughing and buses and cars and Galahad Esquire, in all this, standing there in the big city, in London. Oh Lord.
Upon Westminster BridgeEarth has not anything to show more fair: Dull would he be of soul who could pass by A sight so touching in its majesty: This City now doth, like a garment, wear The beauty of the morning; silent, bare, Ships, towers, domes, theatres, and temples lie Open unto the fields, and to the sky; All bright and glittering in the smokeless air. Never did sun more beautifully steep In his first splendour, valley, rock, or hill; Ne'er saw I, never felt, a calm so deep! The river glideth at his own sweet will: Dear God! the very houses seem asleep; And all that mighty heart is lying still!
His OFELLUS in the Art of Living in London, I have heard him relate, was an Irish painter, whom he knew at Birmingham, and who had practiced his own precepts of economy for several years in the British capital. He assured Johnson, who, I suppose, was then meditating to try his fortune in London, but was apprehensive of the expence, 'that thirty pounds a year was enough to enable a man to live there without being contemptible. He allowed ten pounds for cloaths and linen. He said a man might live in a garret at eighteen-pence a week; few people would inquire where he lodged; and if they did, it was easy to say, "Sir, I am to be found at such a place." By spending three-pence in a coffee-house, he might be for some hours every day in very good company; he might dine for six-pence, breakfast on bread and milk for a penny, and do without supper. On clean-shirt day he went abroad, and paid visits.
For years, walking round London, I had been aware of the actual land, lying concealed but not entirely changed or destroyed, beneath the surface of the nineteenth- and twentieth-century city. It has been said that 'God made the country and man made the town', but that is not true: the town is simply disguised countryside. Main roads, some older than history itself, still bend to avoid long-dried marshes, or veer off at an angle where the wall of a manor house once stood. Hills and valleys still remain; rivers, even though entombed in sewer pipes, still cause trouble in the foundations of neighbouring buildings and become a local focus for winter mists. Garden walls follow the line of hedgerows; the very street-patterns have been determined by the holdings of individual farmers and landlords, parcels of land some of which can be traced back to the Norman Conquest. The situation of specific buildings - pubs, churches, institutions - often dates from long distant decisions and actions on the part of men whose names have vanished from any record.
I love London. I love everything about it. I love its palaces and its museums and its galleries, sure. But also, I love its filth, and damp, and stink. Okay, well, I don’t mean love, exactly. But I don’t mind it. Not any more. Not now I’m used to it. You don’t mind anything once you’re used to it. Not the graffiti you find on your door the week after you painted over it, or the chicken bones and cider cans you have to move before you can sit down for your damp and muddy picnic. Not the everchanging fast food joints – AbraKebabra to Pizza the Action to Really Fried Chicken – and all on a high street that despite its three new names a week never seems to look any different. Its tawdriness can be comforting, its wilfulness inspiring. It’s the London I see every day. I mean, tourists: they see the Dorchester. They see Harrods, and they see men in bearskins and Carnaby Street. They very rarely see the Happy Shopper on the Mile End Road, or a drab Peckham disco. They head for Buckingham Palace, and see waving above it the red, white and blue, while the rest of us order dansak from the Tandoori Palace, and see Simply Red, White Lightning, and Duncan from Blue. But we should be proud of that, too. Or, at least, get used to it.
Darkness. The door into the neighboring room is not quite shut. A strip of light stretches through the crack in the door across the ceiling. People are walking about by lamplight. Something has happened. The strip moves faster and faster and the dark walls move further and further apart, into infinity. This room is London and there are thousands of doors. The lamps dart about and the strips dart across the ceiling. And perhaps it is all delirium...Something had happened. The black sky above London burst into fragments: white triangles, squares and lines - the silent geometric delirium of searchlights. The blinded elephant buses rushed somewhere headlong with their lights extinguished. The distinct patter along the asphalt of belated couples, like a feverish pulse, died away. Everywhere doors slammed and lights were put out. And the city lay deserted, hollow, geometric, swept clean by a sudden plague: silent domes, pyramids, circles, arches, towers, battlements.
In my own shire, if I was sadHomely comforters I had:The earth, because my heart was sore,Sorrowed for the son she bore;And standing hills, long to remain,Shared their short-lived comrade's pain.And bound for the same bourn as I,On every road I wandered by,Trod beside me, close and dear,The beautiful and death-struck year:Whether in the woodland brownI heard the beechnut rustle down,And saw the purple crocus paleFlower about the autumn dale;Or littering far the fields of MayLady-smocks a-bleaching lay,And like a skylit water stoodThe bluebells in the azured wood. Yonder, lightening other loads,The season range the country roads,But here in London streets I kenNo such helpmates, only men;And these are not in plight to bear,If they would, another's care.They have enough as 'tis: I seeIn many an eye that measures meThe mortal sickness of a mindToo unhappy to be kind.Undone with misery, all they canIs to hate their fellow man;And till they drop they needs must stillLook at you and wish you ill.
Because it is the triumph of a lack of planning –both for good and bad. It's chaos –and whether you say that with a gasp of despair or glee or both is up to you. Whereas Paris (certainly in the centre) is the success of a single overarching monomaniacal topographic vision, London is a chaotic patchwork of history, architecture, style, as disorganised as any dream, and like any dream possessing an underlying logic, but one that we can't quite make sense of, though we know it's there. A shoved-together city cobbled from centuries of distinct aesthetics disrespectfully clotted in a magnificent triumph of architectural philistinism. A city of jingoist sculptures, concrete caryatids, ugly ugly ugly financial bombast, reconfiguration. A city full of parks and gardens, which have always been magic places, one of the greenest cities in the world, though it's a very dirty shade of green –and what sort of grimy dryads does London throw up? You tell me.
Those who romanticize war often like to think of it, at least in areas of mortal peril, as nothing but “guts and glory.” Those who are inclined to pacifism, by contrast, often think of it as an unbroken sequence of horrors. Actually, however, people in wartime still fall in love, do the laundry, worry about pimples, drink beer, and do most of the same things that they do in times of peace. The patterns of daily life may be mundane, but they are remarkably tenacious. But, while people in wartime still go about their daily routines, the prospect of imminent death can give even quotidian chores a heightened intensity. When the first bombs were dropped on London in autumn of 1940, the population bore adversity better than almost anybody had expected. The danger was mixed with excitement, and the terror had a sort of apocalyptic magnificence.
It is possible that the city of London was initially named for ravens or a raven-deity. According to the Oxford Companion to the English Language, the designation comes from “Londinium,” a Romanized version of an earlier Celtic name. But the word closely resembles “Lugdunum,” the Roman name for both the city of Lyon in France and Leiden in the Netherlands. That Roman name, in turn, was derived from the Celtic “Lugdon,” which meant, literally, “hill, or town, of the god Lugh” or, alternatively, “…of ravens.” The site of Lyon was initially chosen for a town when a flock of ravens, avatars of the god, settled there. Whether or not “Lugdunum” was the origin of “London,” ravens were important for inhabitants of Britain for both practical and religious reasons.
Unreal City, Under the brown fog of a winter dawn,A crowd flowed over London Bridge, so many,I had not thought death had undone so many.Sighs, short and infrequent, were exhaled,And each man fixed his eyes before his feet.Flowed up the hill and down King William Street,To where St Mary Woolnoth kept the hours With a dead sound on the final stock of nine.There I saw one I knew, and stopped him crying: 'Stetson!You, who were with me in the ships at Mylae!That corpse you planted last year in your garden,Has it begun to sprout? Will it bloom this year? Or has the sudden frost disturbed its bed?Oh keep the Dog far hence, that's friend to men,Or with his nails he'll dig it up again!You! hypocrite lecteur!-mon semblable,-mon frere!
I have had so many Dwellings, Nat, that I know these Streets as well as a strowling Beggar: I was born in this Nest of Death and Contagion and now, as they say, I have learned to feather it. When first I was with Sir Chris. I found lodgings in Phenix Street off Hogg Lane, close by St Giles and Tottenham Fields, and then in later times I was lodged at the corner of Queen Street and Thames Street, next to the Blew Posts in Cheapside. (It is still there, said Nat stirring up from his Seat, I have passed it!) In the time before the Fire, Nat, most of the buildings in London were made of timber and plaister, and stones were so cheap that a man might have a cart-load of them for six-pence or seven-pence; but now, like the Aegyptians, we are all for Stone. (And Nat broke in, I am for Stone!) The common sort of People gawp at the prodigious Rate of Building and exclaim to each other London is now another City or that House was not there Yesterday or the Situacion of the Streets is quite Changd (I contemn them when they say such things! Nat adds). But this Capital City of the World of Affliction is still the Capitol of Darknesse, or the Dungeon of Man's Desires: still in the Centre are no proper Streets nor Houses but a Wilderness of dirty rotten Sheds, allways tumbling or takeing Fire, with winding crooked passages, lakes of Mire and rills of stinking Mud, as befits the smokey grove of Moloch. (I have heard of that Gentleman, says Nat all a quiver). It is true that in what we call the Out-parts there are numberless ranges of new Buildings: in my old Black-Eagle Street, Nat, tenements have been rais'd and where my Mother and Father stared without understanding at their Destroyer (Death! he cryed) new-built Chambers swarm with life. But what a Chaos and Confusion is there: meer fields of Grass give way to crooked Passages and quiet Lanes to smoking Factors, and these new Houses, commonly built by the London workmen, are often burning and frequently tumbling down (I saw one, says he, I saw one tumbling!). Thus London grows more Monstrous, Straggling and out of all Shape: in this Hive of Noise and Ignorance, Nat, we are tyed to the World as to a sensible Carcasse and as we cross the stinking Body we call out What News? or What's a clock? And thus do I pass my Days a stranger to mankind. I'll not be a Stander-by, but you will not see me pass among them in the World. (You will disquiet your self, Master, says Nat coming towards me). And what a World is it, of Tricking and Bartering, Buying and Selling, Borrowing and Lending, Paying and Receiving; when I walk among the Piss and Sir-reverence of the Streets I hear, Money makes the old Wife trot, Money makes the Mare to go (and Nat adds, What Words won't do, Gold will). What is their God but shineing Dirt and to sing its Devotions come the Westminster-Hall-whores, the Charing-cross whores, the Whitehall whores, the Channel-row whores, the Strand whores, the Fleet Street whores, the Temple-bar whores; and they are followed in the same Catch by the Riband weavers, the Silver-lace makers, the Upholsterers, the Cabinet-makers, Watermen, Carmen, Porters, Plaisterers, Lightemen, Footmen, Shopkeepers, Journey-men... and my Voice grew faint through the Curtain of my Pain.
Be informed, also, that this good and savoury Parish is the home of Hectors, Trapanners, Biters who all go under the general appelation of Rooks. Here are all the Jilts, Cracks, Prostitutes, Night-walkers, Whores, Linnen-lifters, who are like so many Jakes, Privies, Houses of Office, Ordures, Excrements, Easments and piles of Sir-reverence: the whores of Ratcliffe High-way smell of Tarpaulin and stinking Cod from their continuall Traffick with seamen's Breeches. There are other such wretched Objects about these ruined Lanes, all of them lamentable Instances of Vengeance. And it is not strange (as some think) how they will haunt the same Districts and will not leave off their Crimes until they are apprehended, for these Streets are their Theatre. Theft, Whoredom and Homicide peep out of the very Windows of their Souls; Lying, Perjury, Fraud, Impudence and Misery are stamped upon their very Countenances as now they walk within the Shaddowe of my Church.
There were some places, and streets, where he did not venture since he had learnt that others had claims there greater than his own - not the gangs of meths drinkers who lived in no place and no time, nor the growing number of the young who moved on restlessly across the face of the city, but vagrants like himself who, despite the name which the world has given them, had ceased to wander and now associated themselves with one territory or 'province' rather than another. All of them led solitary lives, hardly moving from their own warren of streets and buildings: it is not known whether they chose the area, or whether the area itself had callen them and taken them in, but they had become the guardian spirits (as it were) of each place. Ned now knew some of their names: Watercress Joe, who haunted the streets by St Mary Woolnoth, Black Sam who lived and slept beside the Commercial Road between Whitechapel and Limehouse, Harry the Goblin who was seen only by Spitalfields and Artillery Lane, Mad Frank who walked continually through the streets of Bloomsbury, Italian Audrey who was always to be found in the dockside area of Wapping (it was she who had visited Ned in his shelter many years before), and 'Alligator' who never moved from Greenwich.
Only one thing, in those years, drew from her a cry of fury. This was the publication, in 1563, of a single, stout book. It was known as Foxe’s Book of Martyrs; and it was an astonishing feat of propaganda. For this book, carefully written to evoke every man’s pity and rage, described in detail the martyrs of England – by which it meant those Protestants who had perished under Bloody Mary. Of the Catholics who had suffered martyrdom before then, it said not a word. That some of these Protestants, like vicious old Latimer, had been burners and torturers themselves, it conveniently forgot. The sale of the book was prodigious. Soon, it seemed, only Catholic persecution of Protestants had ever existed. “ ’Tis a lie,” Susan would protest. “And I fear it will persist.” It would indeed. Foxe’s Book of Martyrs was destined to be read in families, to give warning to children, and to shape English people’s perception of the Catholic Church for generations.