“There is the Tower!” suddenly cried one of our traveling companions, as he pointed to a high building which rose like a spectral, gloomy dream above the cloud-covered London.
* * * * *
I have seen the greatest wonder which the world can show to the astonished spirit; I have seen it, and am still astonished; and still there remains fixed in my memory the stone forest of houses, and amid them the rushing stream of faces of living men with all their motley passions, all their terrible impulses of love, of hunger, and of hatred—I mean London.
Send a philosopher to London, but, for your life, no poet! Send a philosopher there, and station him at a corner of Cheapside, where he will learn more than from all the books of the last Leipzig fair; and as the billows of human life roar around him, so will a sea of new thoughts rise before him, and the Eternal Spirit which moves upon the face of the waters will breathe upon him; the most hidden secrets of social harmony will be suddenly revealed to him; he will hear the pulse of the world beat audibly, and see it visibly; for if London is the right hand of the world—its active, mighty right hand—then we may regard that route which leads from the Exchange to Downing Street as the world’s pyloric artery.
But never send a poet to London! This downright earnestness of all things, this colossal uniformity, this machine-like movement, this troubled spirit in pleasure itself, this exaggerated London, smothers the imagination and rends the heart. And should you ever send a German poet thither—a dreamer, who stares at everything, even a ragged beggar-woman, or the shining wares of a goldsmith’s shop—why, then, at least he will find things going right badly with him, and he will be hustled about on every side, or perhaps be knocked over with a mild “God damn!” God damn!—damn the knocking about and pushing! I see at a glance that these people have enough to do. They live on a grand scale, and though food and clothes are dearer with them than with us, they must still be better fed and clothed than we are—as gentility requires. Moreover, they have enormous debts, yet occasionally, in a vainglorious mood, they make ducks and drakes of their guineas, pay other nations to box about for their pleasure, give their kings a handsome douceur into the bargain; and, therefore, John Bull must work to get the money for such expenditure. By day and by night he must tax his brain to discover new machines, and he sits and reckons in the sweat of his brow, and runs and rushes, without much looking around, from the Docks to the Exchange, and from the Exchange to the Strand; and therefore it is quite pardonable if he, when a poor German poet, gazing into a print-shop window, stands bolt in his way on the corner of Cheapside, should knock the latter sideways with a rather rough “God damn!”