The Mysteries of London

Lately I’ve been reading George W. M. ReynoldsThe Mysteries of London (serialized 1844–1845). Or, mostly, speed-reading; it gives the general impression that the author was paid by the column-inch, and it’s not worth too much of one’s full attention. But every so often there’s a gem that makes the exercise pay off.

From the “nothing new under the sun” department, on Facebook friends:

I do not like that system of familiarity based upon no tenable grounds, which is now becoming so prevalent in London. For instance, nothing is more common than for one gentleman to meet another in Bond-street, or the Park, or in Burlington Arcade, for example’s sake, and for the one to say to the other— “My dear friend, how are you?” — “Quite well, old fellow, thank you; but, by-the-by, I really forget your name!”

On John Oliver:

“Ah!” said the bookseller, after a pause; “nothing now succeeds unless it’s in the comic line. We have comic Latin grammars, and comic Greek grammars; indeed, I don’t know but what English grammar, too, is a comedy altogether. All our tragedies are made into comedies by the way they are performed; and no work sells without comic illustrations to it. I have brought out several new comic works, which have been very successful. For instance, ‘The Comic Wealth of Nations’; ‘The Comic Parliamentary Speeches’; ‘The Comic Report of the Poor-Law Commissioners,’ with an Appendix containing the ‘Comic Dietary Scale’; and the ‘Comic Distresses of the Industrious Population.’ I even propose to bring out a ‘Comic Whole Duty of Man.’ All these books sell well: they do admirably for the nurseries of the children of the aristocracy. In fact they are as good as manuals and text-books.”

And from the first page of the first chapter, on privilege:

Crimes borrow their comparative shade of enormity from the people who perpetrate them: thus is it that the wealthy may commit all social offences with impunity; while the poor are cast into dungeons and coerced with chains, for only following at a humble distance in the pathway of their lordly precedents.

Which reminds me of what Anatole France said in The Red Lily (1894) about

la majestueuse égalité des lois, qui interdit au riche comme au pauvre de coucher sous les ponts, de mendier dans les rues et de voler du pain.

That is, “the law, which in its majestic equality forbids rich and poor alike to sleep under bridges, to beg in the streets, and to steal bread.”

Posted 2018-09-05