Philobiblon: London a century ago

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

London a century ago

If you're depressed at the state of the world, I'd suggest a quick read that illustrates how far we've come. The complete text of Jack London's The People of the Abyss is online (and unusually weel-presented for easy reading). A small sample:
Mr. A. C. Pigou has said that the aged poor and the residuum which compose the `submerged tenth,' constitute 7 and 1/2 per cent of the population of London. Which is to say that last year, and yesterday, and to-day, at this very moment, 450,000 of these creatures are dying miserably at the bottom of the social pit called `London.' As to how they die, I shall take an instance from this morning's paper.

Yesterday Dr. Wynn Westcott held an inquest at Shoreditch, respecting the death of Elizabeth Crews, aged 77 years, of 32 East Street, Holborn, who died on Wednesday last. Alice Mathieson stated that she was landlady of the house where deceased lived. Witness last saw her alive on the previous Monday. She lived quite alone. Mr. Francis Birch, relieving officer for the Holborn district, stated that deceased had occupied the room in question for 35 years. When witness was called, on the 1st, he found the old woman in a terrible state, and the ambulance and coachman had to be disinfected after the removal. Dr. Chase Fennell said death was due to blood-poisoning from bed-sores, due to self-neglect and filthy surroundings, and the jury returned a verdict to that effect.
The most startling thing about this little incident of a woman's death is the smug complacency with which the officials looked upon it and rendered judgment. That an old woman of seventy-seven years of age should die of self-neglect is the most optimistic way possible of looking at it. It was the old dead woman's fault that she died, and having located the responsibility, society goes contentedly on about its own affairs.- Chapter 4

So the classic "died alone and body not found for x months" that causes great fuss today is in fact nothing new - except then landladies collected their cash in person.


Blogger clanger said...

Also Engels and Mayhew.
And 'Life on Mars' of course. :-)

2/15/2006 05:52:00 pm  

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