(un)usual business

This week’s readings proved that London was changing rapidly, and in mere decades were standards different and morals became more prominent. What once was acceptable in one’s eyes was no longer, and a sense of superiority and hierarchy was put in place.

Starting with Pierce Egan’s Life in London, Egan expresses the importance of getting “out into the world” and “seeing Life” (65). Later on in the book, we find Tom and Jerry stopping by Drury Lane Theater, just for a glance, and then heading their way to the saloon. They meet handfuls of prostitutes there and drink away. What’s astonishing about their act here is that they did not seem to care what others thought of them. In fact, it was no big deal for them to be frolicking around with these people of the working class, these wanderers who did not have a steady job or stable income.

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Tom and Jerry’s life in London.

These activities that Tom and Jerry took part in — the gambling, drinking, things that people today would think of as immoral — were accepted and no one asked questions during that time in the 1820s. Tom and Jerry could go out and mingle with the people from St. Giles and it was a widely common thing. There was no separation of race or class that was distinct enough to keep these two kinds of people and neighborhoods away from each other. There was no reason to stay away. However, time went on, and it was not until around the 1840s that things began to change.

In Mayhew’s account of London in London Labor and The London Poor, this is where we first see a fine line drawn between social class, and it goes hand in hand with shutting down this common ground that the elites and the working class had, this common ground where they could get together and have a good night. Mayhew describes the two types of people as those who wander and those who settle. He claims that the elite are the ones that settle, and those that wander should have no business in London if they are frolicking the streets and looking for scraps to pick up as a profession, which he hardly considers as one. It is here that he begins to take into account the structure of bones to distinguish who is who, and the sins that these wanderers commit are what make them the wanderers and the low lives. The elites should focus on making London more modern, faster, and flashier than before, and Mayhew doesn’t seem to have an interest in what will happen to these wanderers in the slums. He shrugs it off, and says that it isn’t a problem he should have to deal with.

This stark contrast is what intrigues me the most. Over the span of just twenty years, what was once accepted was no longer. After this account of wanderers and settlers was published, it would bring a new time for London. What was once never thought about in terms of morals was rising, and the linear clock ran on and broke out of the circular time frame. It seems as though, however, that this back and forth may occur more frequently as time progresses, where one day it might be the thing to do the unexpected, to break these rules. I’m curious and excited to see where London is in terms of morals and place within the next couple decades, and even the next century. I expect there to be more order and reform, but the ideals of the past could come back in forms of nostalgia from the people.

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