At about eight in the morning we all had a shave in the Trafalgar Square fountains, and I spent most of the day reading Eugenie Grandet, which was the only book I had brought with me. The sight of a French book produced the usual remarks – ‘Ah, French? That’ll be something pretty warm, eh?’ etc. Evidently most English people have no idea that there are French books which are not pornographic. Down and out people seem to read exclusively books of the Buffalo Bill type. Every tramp carries one of these, and they have a kind of circulating library, all swapping books when they get to the spike.[1]

That night, as we were starting for Kent the next morning, I decide to sleep in bed and went to a lodging house in the Southwark Bridge Road. This is a sevenpenny kip, one of the few in London, and looks it. The beds are five feet long, with no pillows (you use your coat rolled up), and infested by fleas, besides a few bugs. The kitchen is a small, stinking cellar where the deputy sits with a table of flyblown jam tarts etc. for sale a few feet from the door of the lavatory. The rats are so bad that several cats have to be kept exclusively to deal with them. The lodgers were dock workers, I think, and they did not seem a bad crowd. There was a youth among them, pale and consumptive looking but evidently a labourer, who was devoted to poetry. He repeated

‘A voice so thrilling ne’er was ‘eard
In Ipril from the cuckoo bird,
Briking the silence of the seas
Beyond the furthest ‘Ebrides’[2]

with genuine feeling. The others did not laugh at him much.

[1] spike: workhouse

[2] ‘A voice so thrilling…furthest ‘Ebrides’: a corrupted form of a verse from Wordsworth’s poem, ‘The Solitary Reaper’: ‘A voice so thrilling ne’er was heard / In the spring-time from the Cuckoo-bird, / Breaking the silence of the seas / Amongst the farthest Hebrides’ (1805). Peter Davison

This entry was posted in Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s