Thursday, April 05, 2007

That Will Leave a Mark

[posted by Callimachus]

The personal liberty of every freeborn Englishman and woman to spit, dump and defecate meant considerable misery for everyone. In the streets of London you would stumble over ‘the disagreeable Objects of bleeding Heads, Entrails of Beasts, Offals, raw Hides, and the Kennels flowing with Blood and Nastiness’. I never knew that ‘Mount Pleasant’, near Gray’s Inn, was actually a bitterly ironic name for a huge man-made heap of the most nauseous offal and ordure. It is now, of course, home to the Guardian newspaper.

Emphasis added. From a delightful review by Christopher Hart of a new book, "Hubbub: Filth, Noise and Stench in England, 1600-1770" by Emily Cockayne (the very name!). It will be on my list, though lord knows when I'll get to it. Since Little Boogie was born I haven't even advanced a chapter in what I'm reading now (Dean Acheson's biography, and his prose goes down as smooth as silk). More from the review:

All in all, they were colourful but not kindly times, and to get some sense of what they must have been like to live in, you could indeed go to some hell-on-earth megalopolis in India or China today and see how it feels. Our Health and Safety goons may be completely deranged with power, but back then, every potter had ‘sallow, pale skin due to lead poisoning’, while painters had withered limbs and blackened teeth, if any. You may feel a certain nostalgia for the sheer street liveliness and ebullience of our past, so far removed from our own sterile and neurotically manicured townscapes, infested with surveillance cameras and ‘community support officers’: the open prison that is contemporary England. On the other hand, you can get some sense of what seventeenth-century street life must have been like by trying to make your way down Chandni Chowk in Delhi and breathe at the same time. Almost impossible. England’s past, as so richly revealed by Emily Cockayne, is a bit like that: interesting to visit, but you wouldn’t want to live there.