Street Dialectics

Street Dialectics. From English Society. Sketched by George du Maurier. Click on image to enlarge it.

Brown ( who was all but run over).— “Why didn't you call out sooner, you stupid ass?”

Cabby.— “I did, sir!”

Brown.— “Why didn't you call out louder, then>?”

Cabby.— “I did, sir!”

This urban scene is unusual in English Society in several ways: it relies upon dialogue of a member of the working classes, and it has both snappy dialogue and dramatic physical action. Note, in particular, the body language of the bobby in the background, the angry pedestrian, the coachman, and, above all, the crossing sweeper.

Having mentioned the street sweeper, I'll suggest that you consider two related questions: (1) Why did Victorian England (and cities everywhere) need so many sweepers (such as Jo in Dickens’s Bleak House)? and (2) Why are modern vehicles so much better for the environment than Victorian ones? Hint: Have you ever seen a street after a mounted policeman or horse-and-carriage have passed? Finally, have you ever seen a film or television show that accurately depicts nineteenth-century city streets?

Related material

Scanned image and text by George P. Landow [You may use this image without prior permission for any scholarly or educational purpose as long as you (1) credit the person who scanned the image and (2) link your document to this URL in a web document or cite the Victorian Web in a print one.]


English Society. Sketched by George du Maurier. New York: Harper and Brothers, 1897.

Created 1 July 2001

Last modified 26 April 2020