The following passage has been adapted from the Hathi Trust Digital Library online version of English Hours. — George P. Landow.

Decorated initial L

London is so clumsy and so brutal, and has gathered together so many of the darkest sides of life, that it is almost ridiculous to talk of her as a lover talks of his mistress, and almost frivolous to appear to ignore her disfigurements and cruelties. She is like a mighty ogress who devours human flesh; but to me it is a mitigating circumstance — though it may not seem so to every one — that the ogress herself is human. It is not in wantonness that she fills her maw, but to keep herself alive and do her tremen- dous work. She has no time for fine discriminations, but after all she is as good-natured as she is huge, and the more you stand up to her, as the phrase is, the better she takes the joke of it. [25]

The uglinesses, the "rookeries," the brutalities, the night-aspect of many of the streets, the gin-shops and the hour when they are cleared out before closing — there are many elements of this kind which have to be counted out before a genial summary can be made. And yet I should not go so far as to say that it is a condition of such geniality to close one's eyes upon the immense misery; on the contrary I think it is partly because we are irremediably conscious of that dark gulf that the most general appeal of the great city remains exactly what it is, the largest chapter of human accidents. I have no idea of what the future evolution of the strangely mingled monster may be; whether the poor will improve away the rich, or the rich will expropriate the poor, or they will all continue to dwell together on their present imperfect terms of intercourse. Certain it is, at any rate, that the impression of suffering is a part of the general vibration; it is one of the things that mingle with all the others to make the sound that is supremely dear to the consistent London-lover — the rumble of the tremendous human mill. [34]

Other Discussions of London by Henry James


James, Henry. English Hours. Illustrated by Joseph Pennell. Cambridge: Riverside Press, 1905. Hathi Trust Digital Library online version of a copy in the Library of Congress. Web. 12 April 2020.

Last modified 12 April 2020