Monday 21 October 2013

The Fog of 1873

For three whole days have I had full blaze of gas burning over my writing desk, and this, the fourth day of the fog is not very much improvement upon its immediate predecessors The dense, muddy, sooty fog of Tuesday and Wednesday has changed into a pale blue frosty mist through which some of the light of day can pass; but the visitation is still upon us. What must be the opinion of our metropolis formed by those numerous bucolic strangers who have favoured as with their company this week by reason of the cattle show? I wonder a week like this doss not partially depopulate the town. Life is hardly worth holding on by under such conditions. The mere inconvenience at darkness and partial darkness are as nothing to the actual physical suffering and misery inflicted upon us. The mid-day fog of Tuesday and Wednesday was absolutely intensely painful to the strongest lungs. The air we breathed scarified where it went, and set up a temporary inflammation There was not a fresh inhalation to be had for life's sake. Here were three or four millions of people struggling against conditions which. if they were permanent instead of temporary, would clear us all off this particular spot of earth, and leave the place untenanted. Human life must succumb after a while in such a place. I have no doubt that the fog has already driven some hundreds of the weakest and meet susceptible into their graves, or a long way in that direction; and after a time the strongest would have to succumb. A few poor creatures, indeed, have taken the shorter cut, and in the blinding, muffled air, have gone under cab or dray wheels, or plunged headlong into canals, and given up the attempt breathe such insufficient and poisonous stuff. You could not compel the mist to remain abroad. You might imagine that it could be escaped at night by shutting all your doors, drawing close your curtains, and making things comfortable for the evening by firelight and gas; but on looking up you would find your room filled as with a light cloud, and your children moving about semi-phantemorgue in appearance. There was no room in the house that was not partly filled with fog. Some of the scenes in the street by night rise up before me now as I write. People ran against one another and shouted. Cab. men called out aloud on the suspicion that something was coming the other way. You could not identity the familiar locality in which you found yourself. You came upon the end of a street suddenly, and lost your bearings. On Tuesday night I dodged a cab-horse at my shoulder in crossing a road, reached the base of the gas-standard at the centre of the way; presently took the remainder of the crossing — it was in a locality which I pass through more than once every day— and ten minutes later, suspecting something was wrong, I discovered with great difficultly that I had turned my back upon my intended destination. and had gone half a mile in the opposite direction. Outside the Metropolitan Railway station at Gower street, stood a boy with a lantern, offering to accompany passengers on their way for a consideration of coppers and other boys with little red torches were prepared to pioneer the path to Euston station for twopence. The lights all burnt red in the busier streets, where the fog was most densely mixed with smoke, and in many cases those lurid flickering specks were all that you could see.  . . . . The asphyxiation of so many of the prize oxen at the Islington Show by the fog is a calamity of the season which seems somewhat to spoil the first aspects of Christmas; but the event will form an addition to our stock of knowledge respecting the conditions under which highly fatted creatures can exist. It is remarkable that no similar incident has occurred before. The meetings have always been held in December, and London fogs in December are the rule rather than the exception. It has been, I suppose, only a question of degree. I have known fogs equal in intensity to the worst we have seen this week— the difference is that I never knew one to last so long. Two or three hours will generally clear off one of these heavy brown clouds which in the city cover all men and women and things with a thin coating of soot, and no doubt even the fattest of these cattle would have recovered from the effects of only two or three bouts of the infliction. There will, no doubt, be some very fine Christmas beef in the London markets, but I as afraid a tendency will exhibit itself on the part of the consumer to avoid prize beef.

'Our London Letter' The Sheffield & Rotherham Independent, December 13, 1873

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