Sunday, July 17, 2011


I Don't Like It

Here are some remarks on that evergreen theme, the city versus the country, from the letters of Edward FitzGerald (1809-1883).

To Mrs. John Charlesworth (April 11, 1844):
London is very hateful to me. I long to spread wing and fly into the kind clean air of the country. I see nobody in the streets half so handsome as Mr. Reynolds of our parish: all clever, composed, satirical, selfish, well dressed. Here we see what the World is. I am sure a great City is a deadly Plague: worse than the illness so called that came to ravage it. I tried to persuade Carlyle to leave his filthy Chelsea, but he says his wife likes London. I get radishes to eat for breakfast of a morning: with them comes a savour of earth that brings all the delicious gardens of the world back into one's soul, and almost draws tears from one's eyes.
To Frederick Tennyson (May 24, 1844):
But one finds few in London serious men: I mean serious even in fun: with a true purpose and character whatsoever it may be. London melts away all individuality into a common lump of cleverness. I am amazed at the humour and worth and noble feeling in the country, however much railroads have mixed us up with metropolitan civilization. I can still find the heart of England beating healthily down here, though no one will believe it.
To Frederick Tennyson (December 8, 1844):
Why should I not live in London and see the world? you say. Why then I say as before—I don't like it. I think the dullness of country people is better than the impudence of Londoners; and the fresh cold and wet of our clay fields better than a fog that stinks per se; and this room of mine, clean at all events, better than a dirty room in Charlotte St.
To Bernard Barton (May 18, 1845):
I was at a party of modern wits last night that made me creep into myself, and wish myself away talking to any Suffolk old woman in her cottage, while the trees murmured without. The wickedness of London appals me; and yet I am no paragon.
To Frederick Tennyson (March, 1846):
But beside my inactivity, I have a sort of horror of plunging into London; which, except for a shilling concert, and a peep at the pictures, is desperate to me. This is my fault, not London's: I know it is a lassitude and weakness of Soul that no more loves the ceaseless collision of Beaux Esprits, than my obese ill-jointed carcase loves bundling about in coaches and steamers. And, as you say, the dirt, both of earth and atmosphere, in London, is a real bore. But enough of that. It is sufficient that it is more pleasant to me to sit in a clean room, with a clear air outside, and hedges just coming into leaf, rather than in the Tavistock or an upper floor of Charlotte Street. And how much better one's books read in country stillness, than amid the noise of wheels, crowds, etc., or after hearing them eternally discussed by no less active tongues!

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