Henry Mayhew’s elements on “London Labour and the London Poor”.

Mayhew conveys both elements of the Enlightenment and Romanticism by the concrete evidence of other people that he interviews with and talks about their experiences through their narratives as well. An element of the enlightenment is the sense that commerce is the way to go with society.An instance of this is with the narrative of the “watercress girl” who learnt at a young age that the only way to prevent feeling starved and having food and clothes is selling” water creases” for “four bunches a penny”(1109). She represents how much of a working class is brought up to be and how the majority of them would be put out of school to work and provide for their family. This type of thinking is not supposed be for children at her age, where Mayhew retorts the mindset of this particular girl to be “a women” and that demonstrates how much of an effect that the industrialization had on the city and even on those who are selling goods to help their families(1108). This could also suggest that Mayhew is trying to show how humanity is lost with them as the rise to industrial factories and shops. He expresses the conditions of the slums where the children are living to notify the downfall that society has been trying to hide. Mayhew uses the accounts of two narratives of children to express how drastic and inhumane their conditions are to society that is lacking in fixing it. One instance of this is when he describes the boy on the street to be ” curled round almost as closely as those of a cat on a hearth” and how that exemplifies the conditions of living on the street to be one of great disdain and unhealthy as well (1111). Another account of the girl where Mayhew describes meeting her to be “cruelly pathetic in hearing this infant, so young that her features had scarcely formed themselves” to show innocent children are to be and are forced to learn about the ways to provide for their family that is brutally driven by the association of their social class(1108)These experiences show how much of an health hazard this is to any individual especially for children who are more prone to illnesses than adults. Mayhew exemplifies his accounts to have both elements of  Enlightenment and Romanticism in his narrative through children.


One thought on “Henry Mayhew’s elements on “London Labour and the London Poor”.

  1. I’d like to suggest that the Enlightenment was not about commerce at all, but reason concerning the human spirit. I agree completely with you that the use of the “watercress girl” was Enlightenment minded, due to the fact that Mayhew displays the horrible personal experience of others visibly so that any “reasonable” person would look at it and be horrified by it. I’d also like to add to what you said about childhood. This idea of childhood is highly romanticized and Mayhew plays off this greatly. The innocence of childhood is lost in a sense and Mayhew uses sections such as when the watercress girl speaks of playing games. “I knows a good many games, but I don’t play at ’em, ‘cos going out with creases tires me” (1110). This loss of the joys of childhood play is drastically conflicting with the Romantic view of the innocence of childhood.

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