Making Waste: Leftovers and the Eighteenth-Century Imagination

Making Waste: Leftovers and the Eighteenth-Century Imagination

Making Waste: Leftovers and the Eighteenth-Century Imagination

Making Waste: Leftovers and the Eighteenth-Century Imagination

Excerpt

In 1772 the Frenchman Pierre Jean Grosley's Tour to London; or, New Observations on England and its Inhabitants praised London as Europe's most sophisticated metropolis: well-paved, well-lighted, convenient and modern. The best passages, however, leave us with an altogether different impression of the capital, a dirty, difficult place, darkened by pollution and contaminated with filth:

In the most beautiful part of the Strand and near St. Clement's
church I have, during my whole stay in London, seen the middle
of the street constantly foul with a dirty puddle to the height of
three or four inches; a puddle where splashings cover those who
walk on foot; fill up coaches when their windows happen not to be
up, and bedaub all the lower parts of such houses as are exposed to
it. In consequence of this, the prentices are frequently employed
in washing the fronts of their houses, in order to take off the daub
ings of the dirt which they had contracted overnight. The English
are not afraid of this dirt, being defended from it by their wigs of a
brownish curling hair, their black stockings, and their blue surtouts
which are made in the form of a nightgown.

This visitor starts describing one of the most beautiful ecclesiastical monuments in London, St. Clement's Church, but he is diverted by the filth that surrounds it. Waste animates his prose. The “dirty puddle” is a primordial lake, chaotic and unformed, spawning the life of Grosley's . . .

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