+ ~ -
Please report pronunciation problems here. Select and sample other voices. Options Pause Play
Report an Error


I SUPPOSE that if there were established,
under sundry and divers parts of London,
ovens maintained at a great heat for the
drying of the superincumbent soil, it would
not be thought right that those ovens should
be so hot as to slack-bake the people who
live over them. I take it for granted that if,
while such an arrangement were in force, it
proved a very common thing for people
under whose premises an oven ran, to be
found of a morning smoking hot, covered
with tender crackling, having mattrasses
saturated with their gravy underneath them,
painfully reminding us of Yorkshire pudding;
such a state of things would be considered
uncomfortable, and would excite an outcry
along all the lines of longitude and latitude
that cross the globe between Bermondsey
and Onololu.

Now, if for ovens we read sewers, for
heat stench, and for a baked fellow-creature,
one dried and tortured and destroyed by
putrid fever, do we make the matter
pleasanter? I think not. Surely all people
ought, by this time, to know how dangerous it
is to smell the drains, in or near a house; how
destructive it is to the life overhead, when
there exist under a city, drains that can be
smelt. Such a broth as there is under
London, and such a Babel of cooks as there is
in London, who seem unable ever to agree
how, when, and into what, they shall pour out
that broth, is not to be thought about with a
clear head. Since the remote days in which
we ascertained who was the father of
Zebedee's children, we have never, never, met
with any puzzle like the questionWhich
are the old, new, consolidated, or other-- if
other-- Commissioners of Sewers; what have
they said or done, or meant to say or do;
what have been their intestine wars, their
toils and trials, and in what relation do they
now stand towards the drainage of the
metropolis? Happy are all provincial towns
that are not too unwieldy to be purified at
once. We have had a crow's nest on the top
of St. Paul's, and a tremendous trigonometrical
metrical survey of the whole town, preparatory
tory to a grand measure of universal sewerage
reform; useful local measures have been
discouraged, in anticipation of the coming
universal measure that has never come, and
never can come in our day, simply because
there is no door large enough for it to enter
by. In the same way, not very long since, a
very useful measure of pure water supply by
private enterprise, was checked by Parliament
when on the point of execution, in deference to
a coming comprehensive universal measure
from the Government, which turned out to be
good for nothing when it came. Surely, by this
time, sanitary reformers must have lost their
taste for magnificent prospects, and must
have found out that it is impossible to drive
a coach and four into a parlour. Having cast
a net into the sea, haul in by inches. We
are terribly behind-hand as to public health,
and sanitary boards have recommended to us
seven-league boots, wherewith to make up
for lost time. There may be seven-league
boots, but as there is no one with legs long
enough to bear the stretching they would give
him, we had better move on step by step;
but, above all things, we had better be
instantly and constantly stepping on.

The existence of preventible disease costs,
now, in London ten thousand a year in
lives; and, in one way and another, perhaps
about a million in money, through the loss
of health, and life, and labour. Throughout
the rest of the towns in England and
Wales, the expense of preventible disease
and death is upwards of twelve millions in
money; and in life, the loss is equal to the
depopulation of one large county annually.
To a great and urgent evil, one is naturally in
a hurry to apply a great and instant remedy.
But, since that is impossible, let us work as
we can, hand over hand, remembering,
however, that the simultaneous active help of
every man able to help in amending some
unwholesome state of things, however small
may be the work of each, becomes in fact a
mighty engine working out good over the
whole country daily.

Perhaps it is worth while, by a few
examples, to strengthen our sense of the reality
of drain-poison. Typhus, of course, is not its
only mode of manifesting itself. For the
foul air of our courts and alleys the only two
tests known to chemists are concentrated
sulphuric acid, which it blackens; and organic
life, which it weakens or destroys. In man,
it affects the most delicate bodiesespecially