London Life in the XVIIIth Century

London Life in the XVIIIth Century

London Life in the XVIIIth Century

London Life in the XVIIIth Century

Excerpt

This book is an attempt to give a picture of the conditions of life and work of the poorer classes in London in the eighteenth century--a rash attempt in the face of the developments of a century of transition, of many contradictions and complexities, of the differences between localities and between trade and trade. Much use has been made of quotation in order to give some impression of contemporary points of view. It was a time of rigid class distinction, 'low life' was considered a fit subject for comedy, burlesque or satire only--and 'low life' had a very wide interpretation. Till Lillo Barnwell was played in London in 1731, no writer, Tom Davies says, "had ventured to descend so low as to introduce the character of a merchant or his apprentice into a tragedy." Even in satire low life was sometimes thought unsuited to the writer of position. Lord Orrery was shocked that Swift should have written the Directions to Servants. "What intenseness of thought must have been bestowed on the lowest and most slavish scenes of life . . . a man of Swift's exalted genius ought constantly to have soared into higher regions. . . . Let him jest with dignity, and let him be comical upon useful subjects, leaving poor slaves to heat their porridge or drink their small beer in such vessels as they shall think proper." Lady Mary Wortley Montague complained that the levelling tendencies of the times were reflected in the novels she read so insatiably; "the heroes and heroines of the age," she said (with manifest exaggeration), "are cobblers and kitchen wenches."

Though fiction, satire and burlesque, ballads and broadsides, do throw light on the lives and manners of the humbler folk, the conditions under which they lived are hard to come by, and are chiefly to be gathered from the incidental information of trials, depositions of witnesses, petitions to Quarter Sessions, reports of coroner's inquests, settlement cases . . .

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