Extract from The
Memoirs of Alexander Herzen, trans. Constance Garnett (192427)
Herzen (181270) was a Russian writer and revolutionary.
There is no town in the world which is more adapted for training
one away from people and training one into solitude than London.
The manner of life, the distances, the climate, the very multitude
of the population in which the individual is lost, all this together
with the absence of Continental diversions conduces to the same
effect. One who knows how to live alone has nothing to fear from
the dullness of London. The life here, like the atmosphere here,
is bad for the weak, for the frail, for one who seeks a prop outside
himself, for one who seeks cordiality, sympathy, attention; the
moral lungs here must be as strong as the physical lungs, whose
task is to get rid of the sulphuric acid in the smoky fog. The
masses are saved by the struggle for daily bread, the commercial
classes by their absorption in heaping up wealth, and all by the
fuss and hurry of business; but nervous and romantic temperaments,
fond of living among their fellows, of intellectual sloth and
emotional idleness, are bored to death and fall into despair.
Wandering lonely about London, through its stony
lanes and through its stifling passages, sometimes not seeing
a step before me for the thick, opaline fog, and running against
flying shadowsI lived through a great deal.
In the evening when my son had gone to bed, I
usually went out for a walk; I scarcely ever went to see any one;
I read the newspapers and stared in taverns at the alien race,
and stood on the bridges across the Thames.
On the one hand, the stalactites of the Houses
of Parliament would loom through the darkness ready to vanish
again, on the other, the inverted bowl of St. Pauls [
and street-lamps [
] street-lamps without end in both directions.
One city, full-fed, lay sleeping, while the other, hungry, was
not yet awakethe streets were empty, nothing could be heard
but the even tread of the policeman with his lantern. I
used to sit and look, and my soul would grow quieter and more
peaceful. And so through all this I came to love this dreadful
ant-heap, where every night a hundred thousand men know not where
they will lay their heads, and the police often find women and
children dead of hunger beside hotels where one cannot dine for
less than two pounds.