Last week I came across our copy of a guidebook to London, England and environs brought to you by none other than Charles Dickens.
Yes, that Charles Dickens. [NO, not that Charles Dickens, after all. I guess I should have looked more closely before publishing this. One of my readers posted a comment (q.v.) that points out that that Charles Dickens died in 1870 — and since this volume I quote from wasn’t published until over 20 years later, well, obviously this Charles Dickens is the son of the novelist.] Who knew he did that kind of writing? I didn’t. [The fog description is still good, however. Read more about Victorian London at the reader’s web site: Dictionary of Victorian London.]
It’s an annual with the title “Dickens’s dictionary of London“. The text is laid out with the topics in alphabetical order (hence the “dictionary” of the title). He explains some of the quirks and foibles of London and her residents, and describes the sites/sights that visitors would probably want to visit.
Here is an extract of his entry on “Fog,” which should explain things to readers of Sherlock Holmes, fans of Jack the Ripper minutiae, and viewers of movies set in Victorian London where (if the depictions are spot on) it seemed always to be foggy. Note also the health tip gleaned from George Catlin, artist of the American West.
“Fogs are, no doubt, not peculiar to London. Even Paris itself can occasionally turn out very respectable work in this way, and the American visitor to England will very probably think, in passing the banks of Newfoundland, that he has very little to learn on the subject of fog. But what Mr. Guppy called “a London particular,” and what is more usually known to the natives as “a pea-souper,” will very speedily dispel any little hallucination of this sort. AS the east wind brings up the exhalations of the Essex and Kentish marshes, and as the damp-laden winter air prevents the dispersion of the partly consumed carbon from hundreds of thousands of chimneys, the strangest atmospheric compound known to science fills the valley of the Thames. At such times almost all the sense have their share of trouble. Not only does a strange and worse than Cimmerian darkness hide familiar landmarks from sight, but the taste and smell are offended by an unhallowed compound of flavours, and all things become greasy and clammy to the touch. During the continuance of a real London fog – which may be black, or grey, or more probably orange-coloured – the happiest man is he who can stay at home. But it business – there is no such thing as out-door pleasure during the continuance of a London fog – should compel a sally into the streets, one caution should be observed. Mr. Catlin, well known for his connection with the Indian tribes of North America, once promulgated in print a theory, that a royal road to long life was , sleeping or waking, to keep the mouth as much as possible closed. This advice, whatever its value maybe generally, should always be followed when a London fog has to be encountered. Nothing could be more deleterious to the lungs and the air-passages than the wholesale inhalation of the foul air and floating carbon, which, combined, form a London fog. In connection it may be taken as an axiom that the nose is Nature’s respirator. The extraordinary effect which the fogs of the winter of 1879-80 had upon the health of Londoners will be long remembered. It is almost unnecessary to add that the dangers of the streets, great at all times, are immeasurably increased in foggy weather; and that the advantages of being able to dive into the unnatural darkness after successful robbery, are thoroughly appreciated by the predatory classes.”
From: Dickens’s dictionary of London, 1892-1893 (fourteenth year) : an unconventional handbook. London : Dickens & Evans, [1892?], page 99. State Library call number Rare 914.21 D555d