'The liberty and the whim that reigns there occasions a variety of perfect and curious characters. Then the immense crowd and hurry and bustle of business and diversion, the great number of public places of entertainment, the noble churches and the superb buildings of different kinds, agitate, amuse, and elevate the mind. Besides, the satisfaction of pursuing whatever plan is most agreeable, without being known, or looked at, is very great.’
As an outsider in the metropolis, the sheer scale, complexity and liveliness of London is still something of fascination. I come from a town of less than 3,000 people; I live next to a forest, and, on some days, see more deer than human beings. I recognise almost everyone I pass in the street at home; anonymity is not an option. The predominant industry revolves around farming.
Feelings of excitement at London are heightened as a result. Especially when one considers the history of the place; a great palimpsest documented back to the Roman invasion in 54 AD. The streets I walk along and places I visit - the Strand, Fleet Street, Somerset House - have been trodden by figures like Boswell and Johnson. This is appealing for an historical mind: London has thousands of fascinating little stories to tell. The city knows lots of little things.
|Hogarth is famous for his ability to capture the gritty hustle and bustle of |
eighteenth-century London. Whores, drunks and thieves are all included.
Full of expectations in London, as the 'son setting out from home for the wide world and the idea of being my own master' is an appealing prospect. 'The noise, the crowd, the glare of shops and signs' in London 'agreeably confused' Boswell. It is a feeling of dizziness at the incredible concentration of human activity. A Scotsman from the country is surely to stand in awe of it.
'My companion could not understand my feelings. He considered London just as a place where he was to receive orders from the East India Company.' Indeed, many seem to consider London as little else: a place to work and make money. This is to deny the city any soul or past. Indeed, Boswell later notes that ‘a person of small fortune who has only the common views of life and would just be as well as anybody else, cannot like London.' Simply put, approaching the place with a common sense view which fails to look beyond the immediate logistical problems of life, will result in a failure to appreciate London. Yet, as Boswell goes on, 'a person of imagination and feeling, such as the 'Spectator' finely describes, can have the most lively enjoyment from the sight of external objects without regard to property at all.'