The full Mayhew online
September 29, 2003 4:52 AM   Subscribe

The Bolles Collection on the History of London at the Tufts University Perseus Digital Library contains, among other transcripts, the searchable text of all four volumes of the Henry Mayhew's classic 19th century account London Labour and the London Poor: Volume 1 (costermongers and street-sellers); Volume 2 (more street-sellers, cleansing, and sewer work); Volume 3 (vermin destroyers, street entertainers, labourers, cabbies, vagrants); and the Extra Volume (vice and beggars). Read of the sellers of fake pornography; snail-sellers; death and fire-hunters; a depressed street clown; "pure" (i.e. dog dung) finders; and more. The past really is another country.
posted by raygirvan (11 comments total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Well, I guess all the US white collar workers who have just lost their jobs ( I have a relative whose division was just bought out, and she was asked to supervise the firing of hundreds of highly skilled workers and the move of the plant equipment to a new factory in Mexico ) can read this stuff online for free at public library internet terminals to see what their future job prospects are.

* end derail *

raygirvan - Brilliant. My hat's off to you, good sir. This stuff might become my bedtime reading material for the next YEAR:

( supply your own cockney accent )

"I may say I was born to the bug business...... I remember my father as well as possible.....He used, when I was a boy, to go out to his work killing bugs at his customers’ houses with a sword by his side and a cockedhat and bag-wig on his head..... knew a case of a bug who used to come every night about thirty or forty feet--it was an immense large room--from a corner of the room to visit an old lady. There was only one bug, and he‘d been there for a long time. I was sent for to find him out. It took me a long time to catch him.......Lord! yes, I am often sent for to catch a single bug. I‘ve had to go many, many miles--even 100 or 200--into the country, and perhaps catch only half-a-dozen bugs after all; but then that‘s all that are there, so it answers our employer‘s purpose as well as if they were swarming......I work for the upper classes only.....I have noblemen‘s names, the first in England, on my books.

My work is more method; and I may call it a scientific treating of the bugs rather than wholesale murder. We don‘t care about the thousands, it‘s the last bug we look for......The finest and the fattest bugs I ever saw were those I found in a black man‘s bed."

[ there must have been, in that in age in London, an awful lot of lead and heavy metals in the water supply, in the air from coal burning, and in people's dental fillings. ]

This is the real world answer to the question of surplus labor. 'Tis a pity now though - we have ant traps, roach traps, roach bombs, and Raid - and so the bug catchers are unnecessary.

Maybe we can create a new class, the "lint pickers", who stand around on streetcorners picking and vacuuming lint from the clothes of the wealthy?

The chattering classes, such as on Mefi, can work as the "mouthpieces" of the wealthy, to act as intermediaries and deal with the common folk (and to issue suitably scathing rejoinders and put-downs on behalf of their noble masters. )
posted by troutfishing at 5:33 AM on September 29, 2003

What a superb read. I love the story of the depressed street clown, what an unfortunate fellow.
posted by chrid at 6:19 AM on September 29, 2003

Bug catchers -- unnecessary?
posted by rusty at 6:32 AM on September 29, 2003

Thanks for the link, raygirvan! I have a 1930s 2-vol. set of Mayhew, which I love to dig out and read at people when they're bemoaning how we in the US live in the "most illiterate society ever" or with the "greatest gap between rich and poor ever".

Hearing about the people Mayhew interviews who live in London and don't know what London is, don't know what England is, and have never heard of Jesus because they're too busy getting the money to pay someone for a choice sleeping spot in the street generally puts a quick end to that particular discussion.

Mayhew is also good for ending tiresome neo-con blather about how wonderful Victorian England was, because there were three mail deliveries a day, etc., etc., etc.

I am certainly not advocating that the industrialized world rest on its laurels, but at least things are better than they were in Mayhew's London.
posted by Sidhedevil at 7:31 AM on September 29, 2003

Many thanks, raygirvan, for these astonishing riches. Till now I'd only read very general, second-hand material - Peter Ackroyd's magnificent London made a big impression on me when I read it and it's great to be able to flesh out some more detailed portraits. Cheers!
posted by MiguelCardoso at 8:58 AM on September 29, 2003

Great stuff, thanks ray.
posted by plep at 12:12 PM on September 29, 2003

I read this for a university course on Victorian and Edwardian England, and it was a real eye-opener...

I had just been wishing that I hadn't sold it, and now I find it online! Yay! I ? Perseus! And not just because it has Bacchae and Medea by Euripides!
posted by Katemonkey at 2:04 PM on September 29, 2003

I ? Perseus!

Is that the next BBC import? And will Derek Jacobi play Perseus?
posted by languagehat at 3:47 PM on September 29, 2003

The past really is another country.

The Past—the dark unfathom’d retrospect!
The teeming gulf—the sleepers and the shadows!
The past! the infinite greatness of the past!
For what is the present after all but a growth out of the past?

Walt Whitman

Myself, I'm going to get into the golf ball marshall racket if things don't pick up soon.
posted by hairyeyeball at 3:31 AM on September 30, 2003

Or Reality Show Conflict Management, if I can get a break. Remember the joke about the elephant-dung sweeper in the circus?
posted by hairyeyeball at 3:34 AM on September 30, 2003

Fantastic, thanks.
posted by Markb at 5:52 AM on September 30, 2003

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