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   Chapter 31 PART I. No.31

The History of London By Walter Besant Characters: 5323

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:04


Let us walk into the streets. You will not observe, because you are used to these things, and have been brought up among them, and are accustomed to them, that all the men go about unarmed: that they do not carry even a stick for their protection: that they do not fight or quarrel with each other: that the strong do not knock down the weak but patiently wait for them and make room for them: that ladies walk about with no protection or escort: that things are exposed for sale with no other guard than a boy or a girl: that most valuable articles are hung up behind a thin pane of glass. You will further observe men in blue-you call them policemen-who stroll about in a leisurely manner looking on and taking no part in the bustle. What do these policemen do? In the roads the vehicles do not run into one another, but follow in rank and order, those going one way taking their own side. Everybody is orderly. Everything is arranged and disposed as if there was no such thing as violence, crime, or disorder. You think it has always been so? Nay: order in human affairs does not grow of its own accord. Disorder, if you please, grows like the weeds of the hedge side-but not order.

Again, you always find the shops well provided and filled with goods. There are the food shops-those which offer meat, bread, fruit, vegetables, coffee, tea, sugar, butter, cheese. These shops are always full of these things. There is never a day in the whole year when the supply runs short. You think all these things come of their own accord? Not so: they come because their growth, importation, carriage, and distribution are so ordered by experience that has accumulated for centuries that there shall be no failure in the supply.

Again, you find every kind of business and occupation carried on without hindrance. Nobody prevents a man from working at his trade; or from selling what he has made. One workman does not molest another though he is a rival. You think, perhaps, that this peacefulness has come by chance? Nay: strife comes to men left without rule-but not peace.

You may observe further, that the streets are paved with broad stones convenient for walking and easy to be kept clean: that the roadways are asphalted or paved with wood, and are also clean: things that must be thrown away are not thrown into the streets: they are collected in carts and carried away. You think that the streets of cities are kept clean by the rain? Not so: if we had only the rain as a scavenger we should be in a sorry plight.

You find that water is laid on in every house. How does that water come? That gas lights up houses and streets. How does the gas come?

That drains carry off the rain and the liquid refuse. How did the drains come?

You may see as you go along a man who walks from house to house delivering letters. Does he do this of his own accord? You know very well that he does not; that he is paid to do it: that he does his duty. What is the whole of his duty? Who gives him his orders?

Or you may see another man going from house to house leaving a paper at each. He is a rate collector. What is a rate collector? Who gives him authority to take money from people? What does he do with the money?

Or you may see placards on the walls asking people to vote for this man, or for that man, for the School Board, the County Council, the House of Commons, or the Vestry. Why does this man want to get elected to one of those Councils? What will he do when he is elected? What are all these Councils for?

Again, the thing has never been otherwise in your recollection and you therefore do not observe it, but if you listen you will find that men talk with the greatest freedom as they walk with their friends: no one interferes with their conversation, no one interferes with their dress, no one asks them what they want or where they are going. Did this personal freedom always exist? Certainly not, for personal freedom does not grow of its own accord.

You will also observe, as you walk along, churches-in every street, a church-of all denominations: you will find posted on the walls notices of public meetings for discussion or for lectures and addresses on every conceivable topic: you will see boys crying newspapers in which all subjects are treated with the utmost freedom. You suppose, perhaps, that freedom of thought, of speech, of discussion, of writing comes to a community like the rain and the wind? Not so. Slavery comes to a community if you please, but not freedom. That has to be achieved.

You have seen the city growing larger and wealthier: the people getting into finer houses, wider streets, and more settled ways. Now, there is a thing which goes with the advance of a people: it is good government. Unless with advance of wealth there comes improved government, the people fall into decay. But, which is a remarkable thing, good government can only continue or advance as the people themselves advance in wisdom as well as in wealth. Such government as we have now would have been useless in the time of King Ethelred or King Edward I. Such government as we have now would be impossible had not the citizens of London continued to learn the lessons in order, in good laws, in respect to law, which for generation after generation were submitted to the people.

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