UNDER CLOUDS OF STEAM
LONDON . . . Implacable November weather. As much slush in the streets, as if the waters had but newly retired from the face of the earth, and it would not be wonderful to meet a Megalosaurus, forty feet long or so, waddling like an elephantine lizard up Holborn Hill. Smoke lowering down from chimney-pots, making a soft black drizzle, with flakes of soot in it as big as full-grown snow-flakes -- gone into mourning, one might imagine, for the death of the sun. Dogs, indistinguishable in mire. Horses, scarcely better; splashed to their very blinkers. Foot passengers, jostling one another's umbrellas, in a general infection of ill-temper, and losing their foot-hold at street-corners . . . Fog everywhere. Fog up the river. . . . fog down the river, where it rolls defiled among the tiers of shipping, and the waterside pollutions of a great (and dirty) city . . . Fog creeping into the cabooses of collier-brigs, fog lying out on the yards, and hovering in the rigging of great ships . . . Fog in the eyes and throats of ancient Greenwich pensioners . . . fog in the stem and bowl of the afternoon pipe of the wrathful skipper down in his close cabin; fog cruelly pinching the toes and fingers of his shivering little prentice boy on deck.
Thus, in Bleak House, did Charles Dickens in 1853 describe the capital of the country in which occurred the greatest transformation in the history of mankind since the invention of agriculture in Babylon: the Industrial Revolution -- and as a consequence of it the birth of the modern giant city. The first of these cities was London itself. For seventy years it was the largest city in the world, and the population figure of this greatest concentration of human beings rose during this period from 2.5 to 8 million. At present, London is still the largest city in Europe, and most of the nations on earth still acknowledge London's Greenwich Observatory as the spot from which geographic longitude and world time should be measured.
In Roman times Londinium was an important city of approximately 70,000 inhabitants. In the fourteenth century, when England ruled large parts of France, about 35,000 people lived in London.