Henry Mayhew combines elements from both the Enlightenment and Romanticism as he describes two different children in this excerpt of “London Labor and the London Poor.” From an Enlightenment viewpoint, Mayhew’s way in which he sought out the stories of the children was very systematic and logical. He gathered four volumes worth of testimonies and from just reading a few pages worth, it is evident he worked on how he retrieved this information, which placed him in a social-experimenter’s role. This is demonstrated in the following lines, “At first I treated her as a child, speaking on childish subjects; so that I might, by being familiar with her, remove all shyness, and get her to narrate her life freely” (1108). So instead letting the conversation move more organically, Mayhew purposely manipulates the conversation in order to retrieve specific information he can use for his agenda. This is a value of the Enlightenment.
However, Mayhew’s purpose in writing these testimonies of the poor children of London also serves as a pathos argument, which is a Romantic quality. Pathos can be seen everywhere in Mayhew’s writing because he showcases the words of the children over his words in the majority of the text. This gives readers a stronger grasp of how uneducated and how terrible the lives of these children are. For example, “I bears the cold–you must; so I puts my hands under my shawl, though it hurts ’em to take hold of the creases, especially when we takes ’em to the pump to wash ’em. No; I never see any children crying–it’s no use” (1109). Here, Mayhew conveys to readers that this girl’s one job in life is to sell watercrease, even in the horrible conditions of winter and with proper clothing. Additionally, her blunt language shows how focused these children are that they cannot even bother to be upset about the conditions of their lives. To readers, this would show how much middle-class people take for granted, including even their command of the English language. Another Romantic quote in the text is Mayhew’s description of parks to the watercress girl,”I explained to her, telling her that they were large open places with green grass and tall trees, where beautiful carriages drove about, and people walked for pleasure, and children played” (1108). This paints a very idealized picture of parks in order to heighten the contrast of the lives of the wealthy versus the life of the watercress girl. In these ways, Mayhew’s work encompasses both Enlightenment and Romanticism elements.