The Material World: December 6 1857

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I have walked the streets a great deal in the dull November days, and always take a certain pleasure in being in the midst of human life — as closely encompassed by it as possible to be anywhere in this world; and in that way of viewing it there is a dull and sombre enjoyment always to be had in Holborn, Fleet Street, Cheapside, and the other busiest parts of London. It is human life; it is this material world; it is a grim and heavy reality.

I have never had the same sense of being surrounded by materialisms and hemmed in with the grossness of this earthly existence anywhere else; these broad, crowded streets are so evidently the veins and arteries of an enormous city. London is evidenced in every one of them, just as a megatherium is in each of its separate bones, even if they be small ones.

Thus I never fail of a sort of self-congratulation in finding myself, for example, passing along Ludgate Hill; but in spite of this, it is really an ungladdened life to wander through these huge, thronged ways, over a pavement fouled with mud, ground into it by a million of footsteps; jostling against people who do not seem to be individuals, but all one mass, so homogeneous is the street-walking aspects of them; the roar of vehicles pervading me, — wearisome cabs and omnibuses; everywhere the dingy brick edifices heaving themselves up, and shutting out all but a strip of sullen cloud, that serves London for a sky, — in short, a general impression of grime and sordidness; and at this season always a fog scattered along the vista of streets, sometimes so densely as almost to spiritualise the materialism and make the scene resemble the other world of worldly people, gross even in ghostliness.

From Passages from the English Notebooks of Nathaniel Hawthorne, edited by Mrs Hawthorne, 1870 and collected in Pandaemonium 1660–1886: The Coming of the Machine Age as Seen by Contemporary Observers by Humphrey Jennings

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