World of London

London through such enquiring eyes can be fascinating often unearthing living survivals in a modern city, improbable links with a remote past.

To speak of the "World of London," then, is hardly to adopt a metaphor, since the metropolitan people differ from one another — as much as if they belonged to different races — not only in their manners and customs, as well as religion, but in their forms of speech; for, if we study the peculiar dialect of each class, we shall find that there is some species of cant or other appertaining to every distinct circle of society; and that there is a slang of the Drawing-room, of Exeter Hall, of the Inns of Court, the Mess-table, the Editor's-room, the Artist's Studio, the Hospital, the Club-house, the Stable, the Workshop, the Kitchen, ay, and even the Houses of Parliament - as distinctly as there is the slang of Billingsgate and the "padding ken." But London is not only a World: it is a Great World as well.

Not only does London contain nearly twice as many souls as the most extensive division of the French Empire, but it houses upwards of a quarter of a million more individuals than any one county in Great Britain.

In short, London may be safely asserted to be the most densely-populated city in all the world — containing one-fourth more people than Peking, and two-thirds more than Paris; more than twice as many as Constantinople; four times as many as St. Petersburg; five times as many as Vienna, or New York, or Madrid; nearly seven times as many as Berlin; eight times as many as Amsterdam; nine times as many as Rome; fifteen times as many as Copenhagen; and seventeen times as many as Stockholm.

The mere name, indeed, of London calls up in the mind — not only of Londoners, but of country folk and foreigners as well — a thousand varied trains of thought. Perhaps the first idea that rises in association with it is, that it is at once the biggest bazaar and the richest. bank throughout the globe.

Some persons, turning to the west, regard London as a city of palatial thoroughfares, and princely club-houses and mansions, and adorned with parks, and bristHng with countless steeples, and crowded with stately asylums for the indigent and afflicted.

Others, mindful but of the City, see, principally, narrow lanes and musty counting-houses, and tall factory chimneys, darkening (till lately) the air with their black clouds of smoke; and huge blocks of warehouses, with doors and cranes at every floor; and docks crowded with shipping, and choked with goods; and streets whose traffic is positively deafening in the stranger's ear; and bridges and broad thoroughfares blocked with the dense mass of passing vehicles.

Others, again, looking to the east, and to the purlieus of the town, are struck with the appalling wretchedness of the people, taking special notice of the half-naked, shoeless children that are usually seen gamboling up our courts, and the capless, shaggy-headed women that loll about the alleys or lanes, with their bruised, discoloured features, telling of some recent violence; or else they are impressed with the sight of the drunken, half-starved mobs collected round the glittering bar of some palatial gin-shop, with the foul-mouthed mothers there drugging their infants with the drink.

In fine, this same London is a strange, incongruous chaos of the most astounding riches and prodigious poverty — of feverish ambition and apathetic despair — of the brightest charity and the darkest crime; the great focus of human emotion — the scene, as we have said, of countless daily struggles, failures, and successes; where the very best and the very worst types of civilized society are found to prevail — where there are more houses and more houseless — more feasting and more starvation — more philanthropy and more bitter stony-heartedness, than on any other spot in the world — and all grouped around the one giant centre, whose huge dark dome, with its glittering ball of gold, is seen in every direction, looming through the smoke, and marking out the Capital no matter from what quarter the traveller may come.

"Londres n'est plus une ville: c'est une province couverte de maisons," says M. Horace Say, the celebrated French economist.

The remark, however, like most French mots, is more sparkling than lucid; for, if the term "province" be used — and so it often is by the inconsiderate — as if it were synonymous with the Anglo-Saxon "shire," then assuredly there is no county in England nor "departement" in France, which, in the extent of its population, is comparable to the British Metropolis.
The Great World of London, By Henry Mayhew, 1862