Pearls upon the Dunghill
‘The contrasts of this great country’, observed P.L. Mac-dougall of Britain in 1848, ‘are … appalling; Dives and Lazarus elbow each other in our crowded thoroughfares by day; by night, the unsurpassed luxury and the unsurpassable misery lie down side by side, separated only by the thickness of a brick’ (Emigration; Its Advantages to Great Britain and her Colonies, p. 3). This image of the lower classes languishing in poverty at the gates of affluence became a recurrent motif in the socio-political discourse and the fiction of the mid nineteenth century. There was a consensus among social critics of all classes that, as the author calling himself ‘R. B. E.’ noted in 1843, ‘There is wealth — associated with privation: grandeur, yet co-existent with misery and despair’ (Thoughts on Thomas Carlyle; or, a Commentary on the ‘Past and Present’, p. 8). The radical John Saunders, though he differe.d from Macdougall and R. B. E. in his explanation of the unequal distribution of wealth, described society in similar terms: ‘Here’, he said, ‘we have the … labours, there the leisure-here the poverty, there the wealth — here the countless host of bodily and mental troubles, privations, and miseries that will spring up in the world, there the enjoyments that no less abound in it’ (‘Some “Points” for a New “People’s Charter”’, Illuminated Magazine, IV, 1845, p. 17).
KeywordsEpidemic Disease Sanitary Condition Labour Population Spontaneous Generation Diseased Poor
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